Borrowed Time logo

Borrowed Time photo by Sean Smuda

The Last Dance DVD cover
[still from video by Sean Smuda]

phase three:

Melne Murphy:
guitar, vocals, bass, keys
J. Free:
vocals, guitar, keys, bass
Bill Wilson:
Ward Harper (aka idb):
bass, guitar, keys

After playing musical chairs for about a year, by 1984 it seemed at last we had a definitive four-person line-up: Melne, Ward, Bill, and myself. Together, we channelled a plethora of indulgences and influences that blurred the lines between each of our individual fascinations with sound. In the collective mode, it almost seemed... cohesive, if not just a wee bit cathartic.

phase three:

Borrowed Time - In A New Land album cover by Sean Smuda

In A New Land album cover shot [photo © Sean Smuda]

The impression we left on people seemed to be largely favorable - which in retrospect is kind of amusing, as the attitude we projected might have appeared to be a mix of utter hopelessness and angry frustration.

After a show during our three-night stand at the former Yukon Club in Mpls, a woman told Ward and I that our music made her question her own existence - that it made her feel primal, like she wanted to tear off her clothes and live in the wild, and feel the sensation of her teeth tearing into the flesh of another animal. Umm... really, I'm not making that up.

A couple of young kids with big mohawks who used to come to all of our shows - dutifully purchasing every new release - once told Melne and I that they had been planning to start a punk band, until they saw us. They said our music made them realize they could express themselves in more creative ways then simply following a trend. (I just hope they didn't start a band that sounded like us!)

Borrowed Time: In A Free Land album cover

The first - and last - studio album
[cover design by Melne]

It was fun for a while, then all the usual pitfalls presented themselves before us: relationship dramas, misguided ambitions, and the ever-popular creative conflict: artistic differences. We were young. Some of us didn't really know what we believed in, some of us weren't sure of what we really wanted, but some of us were sure at least some of the time that we had something to to say, and that it might be important.

All of those ideas gave birth to some pretty innovative music, while at the same time, slowly shoved the proverbial nails into the lid of the coffin. It couldn't have lasted forever, and I think everyone involved might have been more than a little grateful when it came to an end. Fortunately - considering the era during which all of this took place - we all came out in relatively good health, and some of us actually still talk to one another from time to time, although the prospect of a post-20-year reunion seems rather unlikely.

In early 1985, we recorded a couple of albums' worth of material at Pax Studios in Apple Valley. On 10 February 1985, we performed our final show at Whole Music Club on the The University of Minnesota campus. Our friends Technique Niquee shared the bill. Even as we began drifting away from each other, we somehow managed to assemble and produce one solid album, titled In A New Land. I'm told that the finished studio reels fell prey to the ravages of time, but a clean cassette master from the original reels survived, and was carefully mastered to CD, as well as a couple of albums' worth of outtakes, so the ones and zeros of our brief but prolific past can outlive us all.

1985 flyer for the last Borrowed Time show

1985 Whole Music Club flyer


So where are they now, one might wonder? All things being relative, one might suppose still more or less following the logical extent of the same urges which brought us all together in the first place. Melne (aka The World Famous Melne) has presided over the worldwide fan club of the Blue Oyster Cult for as long as I can remember, and has illustrated at least one of their album covers; she currently plays in a Bay Area group called Cover Grrlz.

IDB has played with the cremé de cremé of the Mpls avant-garde music scene, including such notables as Exploding Head Trick], and is reported to be happily married, and raising a couple of sons. He is also to be blamed for the existence of a Borrowed Time MySpace page, as well as about one-third of the band pages on MySpace (seriously, I counted twenty pages of projects he has been involved with, and that's not even counting the fan pages...!).

I'm not entirely certain, but I could have sworn I once saw our former drummer Bill working in a local Realtor agency in Minneapolis. I refrained from stopping in, if only because I couldn't think of any previously unfinished conversations waiting to be picked up. Delving into the past can be like that at times, eh?

Me, I've traveled around the country for a number of years, along the way, carving out a niche as a music writer for publications in several states. In recent years, I've played and recorded with some of the sleaziest rock bands in the Twin Cities, (including The Pushrods, Panel Of Experts, The Summer People, and Demolition Factor, to name a few). I've also become happily married, and work alternately as a web designer and an audio engineer, but I still find time to continue recording and making music in some fashion or another. In a parallel universe, it seems I have also become a four-time grandfather - how that happened, no one can really be sure.

Borrowed Time live at The Whole 1985

Borrowed Time - the final show - The Whole, Mpls 10 February 1985

Looking back, it was one hell of a roller-coaster ride, but a good deal of the music we made together is something I can be proud to have contributed to - even if everyone may have entertained serious doubts about my sanity at times. I may lived a little more for my so-called "art" than some folks might have considered healthy on occasion, but I wouldn't have been setting any precedents there. At any rate, the more people speculate about such things, the more interesting my life story seems to become.

So, there you have it. Fifteen minutes of history that left a much-longer-lasting impression on a handful of people than any of us might have expected at the time. Not bad in the long run, I suppose.


On Tuesday, 2 December 2008, idb / Ward Harper lost a long-term battle with a chronic condition.
He was loved by many, and will be deeply missed.

2010 Update:

Four tracks from In A Free Land were given to Buck Dharma from Blue Oyster Cult to work with in his own home studio. For the first time in 25 years, I became aware that the reels were not destroyed, as I had been previously led to believe.

2011 Update:

Out of the blue, four reels' worth of 16-track digital files found their way to my Portland home, which means that I can finally continue the work I started all those years ago, now that everyone else has had their fun. You know what they say, some kids never grow up...

These recordings exist:

Borrowed Time [BT-1; cassette album (1983)]
   Post-Difference line-up; 4-track home studio recordings

Living On Borrowed Time [BT-2; cassette album (1983)]
   The last studio & live recordings of the original line-up; live at Goofy's Upper Deck

Fair Warning [BT-3; cassette album (1983)]
   The final performance with Zel, and the beginning of a new direction; live at 7th St. Entry

Songs That Come True [BT-4; cassette album (1983)]
   The Borrowed Time Big Band & Trio; live at 7th St. Entry

I.C.B. [BT-5; free "bonus" cassette album (1984)]
   A tribute to Joy Division; live in the studio

Anarchy In The Yukon [BT-6; cassette album (1984)]
   Three-night stand, live at The Yukon Club

The Last Dance [BT-7; cassette album (1985)]
   The final show, live at The Whole Music Club

From The Forth World, vols. 1 + 2 [BT-8; cassette album (1985)]
   Double-length compilation; solo and collaborative works from the members of Borrowed Time, and their friends

In A New Land [CD-R (1985)]
   The swan song studio album

The Last Dance [DVD-R (2008)]
   The final show - the final release

The Buck Dharma Re-mix Project [mpegs (2010)]
   Remixed tracks from the In A New Land sessions

Various other live recordings, rehearsal tapes, and studio outtakes also exist,
and may or may not ever see the light of day.
We are, however, registered in
The Library Of Congress.

De mortuis nil nisi bonum
(Say nothing but good of the dead)

Borrowed Time photo by Sean Smuda
from the In A New Land photo session: Melne, Bill, Ward, J.
[photo © Sean Smuda]