It’s been many years since I last heard Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce. As so often happens after a long time, my memory mangles things and the lyrics that should be “If I could save time in a bottle…” became “If I could put time in a bottle…” Meh. Save, put? Are they really so different?
As for the rest of the lyrics… Forget about it! What, in my mind, was “If I could put time in a bottle, da dada da dada da daaaaa…” eventually was replaced with “If I could put time in a bottle, if I could make memories come true…” WTF?
But, setting aside the purely invented second line, I’ve often thought about the significance of the first line. Out of respect for Mr. Croce, I’ll happily go with the correct lyrics, “If I could save time in a bottle.” Any way you slice it, putting time into a container would be a neat trick. It suggests that time could be treated as a substance, having mass and form. Or, perhaps the idea is that saving “time” in a bottle is metaphor for somehow altering the physics that are affected by time, or at least altering a person’s perception of time.
But, settings aside the mechanics of actually capturing and holding time in a container, I wonder other things. Like, where did the time originally come from that is in the bottle? Is it “my” time? If it is, what is the advantage of having that time put away (presumably for use at a later… time)? I mean, if I had to sacrifice some of my time to go into the bottle, only to be taken out later, what is the benefit? Unless, of course, the time that is in the bottle is altered in some way. If I put money into a savings account, it accrues interest so, at a later date, I can get back more than the original amount I set aside. Could the same thing happen with time?
But, that suggests that the extra time added must come from somewhere. Is there some kind of universal time bank that pays interest on the time stored away? And, what’s the payoff for this universal bank? Is the time I put into the bottle then put to use, perhaps by someone else who borrows the time and has to pay back interest on the loan? (Sounds a little like making a deal with the devil.)
Alright, perhaps I’m getting a little far-fetched here. Maybe the idea of saving time in a bottle is more about capturing a moment or two and having those moments available for eternity (or the rest of my life, whichever comes first, unless the time saved could be transferred upon my death to another person, in which case, it might be for eternity or until the end of time, if there is such a thing) because they’re moments that I really liked.
In that case, I guess I’d be taking time that has already happened and saving it as opposed to taking time that hasn’t happened yet… Hmm, this could get confusing.
Another question that comes to mind is, how would I access the time that is saved. Does just opening the bottle release it? And how do I know that the time goes to me rather than just floats off into the air, possibly to be ripped off by some passerby? Or, do I have to get into the bottle with the time? And, how the hell do I do that?
Then there’s the question as to what the time would look like. The genius of the song is that the time is being put into a bottle. I immediately think of a clear, glass bottle, not some opaque plastic shampoo bottle. I mean, it just seems like it would have to be glass, doesn’t it? My first thought is that time would be clear, like air. But, that probably comes from an inability to let go of thinking of time as a concept or as a physical property and not as a substance. Maybe it’s actually foggy or smoky. Or, maybe it’s more liquid-y. Or, maybe it somehow displays the contents of the time, like a little movie playing the events that took place in that time over and over.
I think what’s clear here is that I lack the physics background necessary to fully understand the genius of Croce’s lyrics. Maybe I’ll do more research. In the meantime… If I could put time in a bottle, would I? And, why?