The word “border” has several meanings in the Russian language, some of which existed almost in the days of epic heroes, while others have established themselves relatively recently. For example, “personal boundaries” – not the fortifications that protect your home-fortress from strangers, but the distance to which you are willing to let only the closest people and in no case strangers who are trying to teach you about life. This definition also applies to “Border Song,” one of the earliest of Elton John’s works.
History of the “Border Song”
This cover first failed on the charts and the charts in the singer’s homeland, though it did not make him give up and lose faith in his lucky star. But in the more cosmopolitan and open USA of 1970, “Border Song” was a real sensation, even though Americans, proud of their republican freedoms, are still not inclined to trust their countrymen on the other side of the Atlantic unconcerned! In short, “Border Song,” which all Elton John fans know by heart even now, turned out to be one of the songs that swept away the boundaries erected in human minds and hearts. A similar warm reception awaited this song in most European countries, from the Netherlands to Italy. As for the videos that used the melody and imagery of “The Border Song” and the amateur and professional singers who performed it, they are countless!
Critics have noted the distinctly biblical tone of the song, reminiscent not so much of European soul, as of the same soulful Negro spritzes that grew out of religious chants. Elton John himself has never called himself a religious man, although, as befits an heir to European culture, he has used biblical imagery in his compositions. But “The Border Song,” addressed to the Old Testament prophet Moses, is far from the fierce intolerance toward non-believers and the merely unlikeable, typical of Old Testament ethics. It is sung on behalf of a man who is willing to break his journey to the Promised Land, to give up the divine blessing promised to Moses and his companions in order to stay with his “brother,” a Gentile man whom the hero of the Border Song sees for the first time in his life and does not even understand his language.
The Meaning of Elton John’s “Border Song”
Thus, the action of this song takes place almost three thousand years ago, when the fearless leader and prophet Moses, faithful to one God, led his fellow Jews out of Egypt, so that after forty years of wandering among unknown nations they would come to the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. It was there that the weary travelers found a semblance of the paradise that Adam and Eve had lost. But to become masters of this paradise, the newcomers from Egypt had to fight a hostile tribesmen who had lived in Palestine for hundreds if not thousands of years and were not going to give up their fathers’ land without a fight.
The hero of the song is one of the participants in Moses’ campaign who doubts that the prophet possesses absolute irrefutable truth and personally speaks to God, invisible to mere mortals. He does not question the authority of Moses, who is not inclined to have intellectual conversations with his opponents and, in addition, is surrounded by a host of armed bodyguards protecting the holy prophet from the “ungodly. He simply feels that he cannot live in the midst of fanatical religious exaltation and a hatred of non-Christians and foreigners that burns like fire. And so he is not ready to cross the invisible border with Moses and cross the Jordan River to obey the orders of the prophet and his companions, to die in battle or to be killed himself.
The man to whom the hero of the song is drawn is his distant kinsman, if not by blood, then by spirit, a wanderer as untraveled as he is. Turning back, Moses’ rebellious companion returns to a pagan world where he will not be reviled and cursed, and feels that this decision will help eradicate hatred between the nations. Even if it happens many years later, the hero is unable to breathe the same air as his fellow tribesmen. And now he breathes with full breath, as if he had been poisoned, and now he is out in the wild.
Elton John himself defined this song as a protest against discrimination and prejudice expressed in legendary form. So “Border Song” remains relevant in the days of the semi-legendary Moses, in the early 1970s, and today.