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The story of Johnny Barnes lives on through new music

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Johnny Barnes (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Johnny Barnes is once again the subject of a song.

03:45 I Love You was written by Phil Broikos, an American musician who did not know the man behind the statue on Crow Lane but became fascinated with his life story after stumbling upon it on the internet.

The song is part of an ambitious goal Mr Broikos embarked on three years ago: creating 24 albums featuring songs inspired by events that occurred in a specific hour of time.

“This project, of writing 24 hours of music, will take me essentially 24 years to complete. I started in 2020 and I'm releasing one hour of music every year for the next 20 or so years,” he said.

“The idea is to create 24 hours of music that correspond to a clock. So 12am was released and that looked at all sorts of different events that happened between 12am and 1am.”

Phil Broikos has written 03:45 I Love You, a song about Bermuda’s Johnny Barnes (Photograph supplied)

Each song lasts exactly five minutes. It was as Mr Broikos searched for interesting occurrences around 3.45am, that he discovered Mr Barnes. For close to 30 years the former bus driver waved and shouted ‘I love you’ to commuters every weekday, from roughly 3.45am until 10am, as they passed the Crow Lane roundabout.

The statue of Johnny Barnes (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

“Part of the bizarreness of this project is that it looks at all recorded events. So he didn't have to necessarily be in Bermuda. I wasn't looking at Bermuda. I was just looking at 3.45 to 3.50 and he happened to show up along with all sorts of other crazy things,” Mr Broikos said.

Mr Barnes, who died in 2016, had “a pretty compelling story”.

“Typically, this is what happens – I'll get sort of a headline and then I might be attracted to that headline for whatever reason, but once I start researching it, that kind of is the nail in the coffin for me.

“There were so many things that I wanted to put in the song but there's only so much space to do that; the fact that when he started out doing this people were calling the police saying ‘Hey, there's some crazy guy in the middle of traffic, waving to people’ and then fast forward where he's now a hero with a statue.”

Mr Broikos, a retired lawyer and entrepreneur who plays multiple instruments and graduated with a degree in music production and engineering from Berklee College of Music, could not leave the story alone.

“What compelled him? How did he get there that first morning? How does a person wake up that early? Is that part of his schedule? Maybe he couldn't sleep that night. Maybe he was bothered by something, decided to take a walk, found himself in the middle of this roundabout and then what, just decided to start waving at people? And even if there's any truth to that, then the next question is what would make him do that the next day and then the day after that?”

Also interesting to him were the many anecdotes.

“Like when a groom-to-be was arrested because he was naked and giving the statue of Johnny Barnes a hug, or the time that Johnny Barnes was accosted by a woman who was looking to get a light for her cigarette. There's just so many stories that go along with him.”

His challenge then became how to decide which of the tales were best suited to the musical story he hoped to share.

“I had to kind of whittle them down to figure out, you know, what's the essence here. Which was essentially this guy who really believed in the power of a very simple message.”

Phil Broikos has written 03:45 I Love You, a song about Bermuda’s Johnny Barnes (Photograph supplied)

Mr Broikos enrolled in law school only because he was uncertain about a career as a musician. For a while he was part of Push Stars, a band signed by Capitol Records. During a tour of the US, the group opened for Julian Lennon and met Manny Elias, the original drummer with the pop band Tears for Fears.

“We were kind of star-struck initially but after a while it became apparent that he was a very approachable guy,” Mr Broikos said.

“I got to know him, got to be friends with him over the years and when I was starting my project, I got the courage to ask him if he might be interested in playing on some of my music.”

Mr Elias “was super nice about it”. With Mr Broikos he takes centre stage on 03:45 I Love You.

03:45 I Love You

Time to wake the dead

move these creaky old bones as I will myself out of bed

started long ago

felt a love in my heart, wanted everyone else to know

weather’s gonna change

don’t like lighting that much but I really don’t mind the rain

just three simple words

if you say them enough you can bet that you’ll change the world

I love you

when it first began

they complained about me but I kept coming back again

now they cheer and wave

built a statue of me for the smiles and the love I gave

I even saw the queen

she said, “Johnny I love you” from the back of her black limousine

simple words to say

if you say them enough yours is not the only life you may save

The project is an important one for the songwriter who received a cancer diagnosis eight years ago.

“It was a moment that kind of changed everything. When you're faced with: you could die very soon without treatment … When I was faced with that it changed me and I made a decision. What am I doing with my life? When I die am I going to look back with regret saying I wish I would have done this or this or this? And so for me to eliminate that I'm focusing on this project which has given me purpose.

“There's something special about creating and creativity. Just as people understand the benefits of eating healthy, exercising and proper sleep, I'm of the belief that creating on a regular basis could have health benefits for me in the long term. So I wanted to come up with a project where I could be creating regularly over a very long period of time.”

The Rochester, New York, resident knew of the Bermuda shorts worn here but little else about the island before he began researching Mr Barnes. He soon discovered local songwriters Greg Morrison, Val Sherwood and Ninja Cutty had also been inspired by him.

“I've been to a number of places in the Caribbean. I haven't gone to Bermuda yet. After writing the song it is something I definitely want to do. I'm confident it'll happen at some point and when it does, one of my first stops would be the roundabout.”

He is pleased with the response he has had to 03:45 I Love You.

“If I was just focused on one album I might not say I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you repeatedly [as I do in] the chorus. Probably that's not strong enough. And I've never done that before. But for him, this is what he did. The amount of times that I said I love you in that song he might say that in his first half-hour.

“I wanted to honour that and say this is his message. And just focusing on that message, surprisingly, people have said to me: ‘That's one of my favourite songs.’ So yeah, it's pretty cool.”

Listen to 03:45 I Love You on Spotify and Bandcamp

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Published June 02, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated June 02, 2023 at 7:13 am)

The story of Johnny Barnes lives on through new music

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