I Remember John Lennon @ Here!
*Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.* [John Lennon/ Beautiful Boy]
What's there not to love about a straight faced Beatle who could claim that God had appeared to him on a flaming pie to tell him the group's name? Or that they were more bigger, though not better, than Jesus Christ? Lot's it seems. Unfortunately, on December 8th 1980 a crazed fan would silence the most outspoken and controversial of the Fab 4 forever.
All it took was a Charter Arms .38 Special revolver and 4 four hollow-point bullets, in a senseless, unsuspected late night ambush out front of John Lennon's 75th Street Dakota digs across from Central Park, New York. Mark David Chapman was shortly afterwards arrested by police waiting at the murder scene with an autographed copy of "Double Fantasy", Lennon's new comeback album with wife and musical partner Yoko Ono. He was also carrying a copy J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye". He surrendered without a fight claiming he killed a phony who'd sold out his sixties ideals.
Lennon autographs Chapman's copy of Double fantasy earlier in the day.
Chapman has quite rightfully become a largely forgotten footnote to the baby boomer generation. He ended the life of a great creative artist and spokesman for his times who wasn't afraid to speak out for peace, justice, human rights and social change during the tumultuous 1960's and 70's. Sadly, we will never know with any certainty what the future with John Lennon might've been like in our post 9/11 world.
"Double Fantasy" [Hear] was released just weeks before John Lennon's death. It was his first record of new songs since 1974's chart topping "Wall and Bridges" album. Back then Lennon scored his first solo number 1 US hit with "Whatever Gets You Through the Night" [Video]. He had been rediscovered with 1970 superstar cover versions of his classic Beatle songs by such luminaries as Elton John ["Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds"] [Hear] [Live] and David Bowie ["Across the Universe"] [Hear]. He and Bowie had also scored a huge contemporary dance club hit with "Fame" [Hear] [Soul Train Version]
The door to success reopened and then was quickly closed shut by Lennon to the prospect of a second "second coming" since the Beatles breakup in 1970. He decided to call it quits from the music industry after the birth of John + Yoko's son Sean in 1975. Lennon's initial solo fame and fortune had dwindled after the blockbuster 1971 "Imagine" album. From 1973-75 with his marriage also on the rocks, he'd left for an 18 month drug and booze addled "lost weekend" [Link],in Los Angelos with fellow rock and roll partners in crime Harry Nilsson, Phil Spector, Keith Moon, Ringo Starr and girlfriend May Pang his new main squeeze, hand picked for him by wife Yoko Ono, after a long string of affairs.
At the Dakota
Fellow Beatlemeister Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs" had rocketed him back up into the superstar stratosphere during the disco era. Having finally received his green card to stay in the United States, Lennon instead decided to retire for the next 5 years in seclusion at his Dakota home beside Central Park in New York City. For the first time since the dizzying heights of Beatlemania 1964 John felt free to live a fairly normal life. He'd come and go as he please, greeting his fans, readily signing autographs out front of the Dakota, mostly just living a life of post fame seclusion as a "house husband" relaxing with Yoko at home while raising their son Sean.
In a shrewd business switch, the financially inept John turned control of his tight finances over to Yoko, who soon made a huge fortune in real estate, art, and believe it or not, dairy cattle.  John for his part claimed that he'd "hung up his guitar on the wall". He would give up being a rock star to play house husband, fight his demon alcohol and drug addictions while Yoko took care of business.
Having rediscovered his muse, John would then resurface for another kick at the musical can with his critically praised "Double Fantasy" album in November 1980. With another album in the works, and working demos for at least one or two more albums worth of songs, the future looked bright for John and Yoko, the avatars of our baby boom generation. Indeed a world tour was booked for that spring, his first since 1966!
The autographed album
"Double Fantasy" was organized as a back and forth musical dialogue between John and Yoko squaring off in a song cycle. "[Just Like] Starting Over" [Hear] begins the album with chimes, a comical echo of the funeral bells that had begun the ominous first post Beatle album "John Lennon + The Plastic Ono Band", his so called "primal scream" record from 10 years before. A rock and rollicking souped up 50's good time number and the first single off the album, the song announced in no uncertain terms that John and Yoko were back in top form again.
Post Lennon revisionism often suggests that the album was all ready rocketing up the charts to number 1 on December 8th when Lennon's life was so unceremoniously cut short by a hail of bullets. As the first new Lennon album in 5 years it certainly raised a lot of interest. Also a certain degree of critical acclaim. However, the quite incongruent mix of John and Yoko's very different and divergent musical styles certainly left many of his fans scratching their heads. We'll never know if "Double Fantasy" would in fact have been a big chart topper had his sudden and unexpected death not resulted in huge sales of anything and everything by John Lennon. "Double Fantasy", despite a great plethora of great trax, is not an easy listen.
On one hand, Lennon decided to play it safe with a collection of Beatlesque songs that have since mixed quite well side by side with his earlier work in any number of solo greatest hit packages. "Watching the Wheels" [Hear] is built around the "Three Blind Mouse" chords he claims were the musical base for all his great songs. It's a story of giving up fame and fortune to finally do as he pleased; stay at home with his family, raising his son and baking bread while life went on without him.
When the Beatles crooned smokey rhythm and blues numbers in the studio, Lennon has claimed that they'd close their eyes and pretend they were Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. "Woman's" [Hear] ringing, jingle jangle guitars smack of the Beatles. The lush vocal and chorus arrangement provide a very Lennonesque ode to womanhood, a textbook case in point.
In "Dear Yoko" [Hear] she's still the key to his rapture. Indeed, "Clean Up Time" [Hear] paints for us a free flowing but musically disciplined image of a tranquil, well centred home life. Everything is now in seemingly in order such that Lennon confidently proclaims;
The queen is in the counting house/ Counting out the money./ The king is in the kitchen/ Making bread and honey/ No friends and yet no enemies/ Absolutely free/ No rats aboard the magic ship/ Of perfect harmony/ Now it begins -let it begin ....On the other hand, in "I'm Losing You" [Hear] an angst ridden Lennon, in a tone reminiscent of the Beatles classic "Anna [Go To Him]" [Hear] from "Please Please Me" spits out the words of betrayal, both his and Yoko's, in a jealous rage. His whoops and yelps ride a bloody tidal wave of searing guitar licks. They cascade into a tormented cry of "what the hell am I supposed to do", before sarcastically offering to "put a band aid on it" and "stop the bleeding now". However, he is not singing about his past litany of affairs so much as he is squarely placing the song within the here and now of his supposed domestic bliss with the revealing line;
"I know I hurt you then/ But hell that that was way back when/ ...do you still have to carry the cross?"We shouldn't be surprised if the Lennon's maritial bliss is not as it might seem. Lennon was very much a nuanced character and a master at myth making. There's also a strong ying and yang contradiction within each image of himself that he created over the course of his artistic career.
Beautiful Boy: John, Sean + Yoko
Was John really the lovable "I Want to Hold Your Hand" Beatle mop top? The lost rockin' movie superstar Beatle who's "feeling down" and needs "Help"? The misunderstood hippie Beatle who's going to take you on a trip down to "Strawberry Fields", where "nothing is real"? Or the "Walrus" sprouting profoundly nonsensical verses like "Goo Goob a Joob"?
Then again maybe he actually was the solo Ex Beatle "Give Peace a Chance" pacifist? The "Power to the People" activist? The abandoned man child in "Mother"? A "Working Class Hero"? Or maybe after all is said and done, he was just a "Jealous Guy"?
Within each Lennon myth, there seems to be a multifaceted truth about John as he struggled back and forth between his angel and demon muses, in a never ending battle between the epic forces of good and devil in his own life and that of the world around him. If so, where then does the truth behind John and Yoko's 1980 "Double Fantasy" begin and end?
According to Lennon, "Double Fantasy" was dramatically written and recorded for the first time in acoustic demo form during his creative rebirth while on a getaway to the Bahamas with Sean during winter 1980. Excited, he phoned Yoko to play his new tunes. She was inspired and came up with some too. And so "Double Fantasy" was supposedly born. However, the wealth of home recordings discovered after his death, at first on "lost" bootlegs, then on later official radio and album release, clearly show that most of the songs were works in progress throughout the Dakota years. John claimed he'd lost his muse and hadn't written anything during his house husband years. Though the songs were incomplete, it is here then that slight of hand behind the "Double Fantasy" myth begins.
It is with 4 bullet shots that our definitive understanding of the dynamics at play in Lennon's life during "Double Fantasy" must invariably end. Of course, afterwards we couldn't ever really know for sure what would've come next. Ironically John's dreamy idyllic song for Sean, "Beautiful Boy [Darling Boy]" [Hear] contains what in retrospect would turn out to be a horrible twist of irony considering his own untimely demise. Promising Sean "the monster's gone/ He's on the run/ And your daddy's here", John notes that he should rest assured that life is "getting better and better" in "every day and everyway". Alas, as he also wisely adds, almost as an afterthought, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans"
It is interesting that Yoko had the most progressive, experimental and underground music offerings on "Double Fantasy". While John might have been content to look back and play Beatle again, Yoko's album tracks provide an 80's stylistic breakthrough for her. Yoko's success would continue for many years to come. By the time "Double Fantasy" was recorded, new wave-sters the B-52's ["Rock Lobster" [Hear], "Love Shack" [Hear] were citing her as a major influence. Later alt rock bands Sonic Youth and Cibo Mati would also consider themselves firmly within her artistic camp.
Indeed "Kiss Kiss Kiss" [Hear] is a riveting dance floor explosion of discombobulated screaming voices and screeching guitars building up to a crashing musical orgasm. Her musical prance through "Yes I'm Your Angel" [Hear], is pure music hall/ vaudeville. John seems happy to nonchalantly whistle along to the "tra la la's" of her whimsical music daydream. But come midnight will her "prince" turn back into a "frog"? Or dare we venture that he's the "pumpkin" who's been providing carriage for her musical career?. A happier alternative might be that for John and Yoko the notion of a heavenly marriage is a hopeful "Imagine" moment that they will dream and make come true?
Or maybe not. Yoko is pretty royally p.o'ed. Her rock star of a man with his "window smile" is found very badly lacking in "I'm Moving On" [Hear]. It's a counterpart to John's "I'm Losing You". Among the otherwise seeming domestic bliss of John + Yoko's "Double Fantasy", the song was apparently a leftover from during their 1973 marriage breakup. We might leave it at that, as just a recognition of their earlier falling out . However Yoko expresses her frustration further in "Beautiful Boys" [Hear] evoking images of Sean and John with their "little toys" and "little ploys" who are "afraid to cry". In "Give Me Something' [Hear] it is unclear what she wants from them instead, but it better not be anything more that's "cold" or "hard".
Both John and Yoko recorded a vocal track for the breathtaking "Every Man has a Woman who Loves Him" [Hear] [Hear]. In John's case he sings about "Every Woman...",and the message is the same. Despite their differences, and as difficult as their relationship can be, both believe in destiny. Each of us has one other person in the world with whom we are meant to be. After all is said and done, John and Yoko are very lucky to have found each other. Finally in "Hard Times Are Over" [Here] Yoko leads us in a gospel sing-along. It's a song of hope seemingly as strong as the rock of the ages on which the song is stylistically based. Speculation about whether this could continue to sustain their double fantasies beyond the 1980 comeback album is pointless. It will now forever be a moot point.
John and Yoko left the recording studio very happy and excited at 10:50 pm on the night of December 8th. They had the finished tapes for what, as they correctly guessed, would finally be Yoko's big hit. With "Walking on Thin Ice" [Hear] in hand, John quickly jumped out of the limousine on the street and raced to the Dakota door. He planned to quickly drop off the tapes. Check up on 5 year old Sean. Then he and Yoko would celebrate by heading back out for a late night bite to eat.
At entrance way outside the Dakota, an exhausted Mark David Chapman was just about ready to give up on his freezing cold New York "Catcher on the Rye" vigil. He heard the "little people" inside his head tell him to go home. He could return to Hawaii with the autographed "Double Fantasy" album John had signed for him on his way to work earlier that day. Hang it up behind the TV set for everybody to see. Consider the trip an adventure. Just as he was about to leave he caught sight of the car .
"Mr. Lennon?", Chapman called out as John leaped out and raced by. John slowed down to turn around at about 9 or 10 feet away. Chapman, in combat stance shot him from behind; 4 fatal exploding bullets senselessly ripping through his chest and neck.
Arriving quickly and realizing there wasn't much time, the police put John in the back of their cruiser. Heading fast for the emergency room at Roosevelt Hospital a shocked, officer James Moran turned around to ask, "Are you John Lennon?".
Lennon nodded yes. There was nothing anybody could do. John Lennon choked to death on his own blood alone in the backseat of the car. He was pronounced DOA at 11:15 pm on December 8 1980, a life cut short, his art unfinished.
John Lennon [October 9 1940 -December 8 1980] RIP!
"I may cry some day/ But the tears will dry whichever way/ And when our hearts return to ashes/ It'll be just a story ....."
[Yoko Ono/ Walking On Thin Ice] [Hear]
 Take your pick of Chapman's reasons. On one hand he was mad that Lennon had given everything up to become a rich excluse at the Dakota for the past 5 years. As a born again Christian, he was also angry and fearful of the impact of Lennon's Jesus statements, especially now that the was making a comeback. Essentially Chapman comes across as a disturbing narcissist looking to fix his name to Lennon's star in the extensive interviews quoted in Jack Jone's book [See below].
 Chapman believed that their wealth meant John Lennon had become a phony and sold out @ Imagine?
More to come .......
Jack Jones. Let Me Take You Down. Toronto: Random House, 1992.
Christopher Lasch. The Culture of Narcissism. New York: Norton + Co. Inc.,1979.
John Robertson. Art + Music of John Lennon. New York: Omnibus Press, 1990.
Lennon's last Rolling Stone interview @ Lennon
"The Man Who Killed John Lennon" [Documentary 1980] @ Here
"The Day John Lennon Died" [Documentary 1980] @ Here
Kulture kult Ink Bonus ....
Original pre December 8 1980 promo video for "Starting Over". Filmed in Central Park + SoHo @ Here
Yoko Ono video for "Walking On Thin Ice" @ Here
Trez kool alt.take of "I'm Losing You" with Cheap Trick. Original drawings by John @ Video