JUST LIKE STARTING OVER: THE RECORDING OF DOUBLE FANTASY
John Lennon felt really alive. For the first time since those distant days as a leathered-up rock’n’roller in the bierkellers of Hamburg, he felt that his destiny was in his own hands. Alone at the helm as 20-foot waves crashed down on the bow, he gripped tightly to the wheel, carving a path for his vessel through the squall with just a yellow Sowester for protection, screaming seas shanties in the face of the tempest.
He had locked himself away in the Dakota for five years, watching TV, reading books, ringing-up late-night radio phone-in shows, bringing up his son, baking bread, and above all avoiding most forms of confrontation and danger. Now, with the rain lashing his face and tears streaming down his cheeks, John felt a different man. At the helm of the Megan Jaye, a 43-foot sloop bound for Bermuda, he knew that he was fighting for survival against elements more powerful than himself, a force of nature infinitely more potent than the Beatle machine that had drained away the control he once exercised over his own life – and he felt the rush of blood all the more keenly, the surge of adrenaline in a way that he had forgotten possible. Here was a man in the process of rediscovering that life was for living. From this point on, for John it would be just like starting over!
In May 1980 John Lennon had been a man seeking adventure. Having been dispatched to his recently acquired summer home in Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island’s north shore, as far as Yoko was concerned he was out of sight and out of mind. Away from the watchful eyes of ‘Mother’ and her helpers at the Dakota, who provided a regime of round-the-clock policing that could save him from his own more cavalier gut instincts, John set in motion a plan to fulfil what he claimed to be a lifelong ambition. He wanted to learn how to sail.
“All my life I’ve been dreaming of having my own boat,” he confided that summer, embroidering this desire with tales of haunting the Liverpool docks as a child, wistfully following the boats with a longing stare as he wondered whether each vessel might be the craft carrying his errant father out to sea. This nautical fascination had developed with age. The househusband of the Dakota was an avid reader, with plenty of time to ponder the possibility of a Viking ancestry. He devoured books on the subject, on Eric The Red and Thor Heyerdahl’s ‘Early Man And The Ocean’, and meekly confessed to violent seafaring fantasies, where John the fearless Viking would rape and pillage at will.
Splashing out on a 14-foot sailboat from Coneys Marine, a family-run enterprise in nearby Huntington Bay, John recruited 25-year-old Tyler Coneys to show him how to handle his new toy, named Isis by the former Beatle after the Egyptian fertility goddess. After work each evening Tyler would swing by the Canon Hill mansion to show John the ropes, and soon Lennon and his young bosun were at ease with each other’s company, taking the sailboat around the bay and shooting the breeze, chatting openly about music, relationships, guy-talk.
Learning what he could from the young but experienced sailor, John supplemented these personal tutorials by consuming all the maritime manuals he could lay his hands on. But John’s ambition lay far beyond the small sailboat that he was soon single-handedly piloting around the bay. “He was a doer – the kind of guy who liked to do things,” recalls Tyler Coneys. “He was just a real guy.”
With his heart set on journeying onto the high seas, John was ready for a big adventure, and he set Tyler the challenge of turning this pipedream into a reality. “It all came about suddenly, but he’d had it in his mind for a long time,” says Tyler. “It’s a common thing, isn’t it? You think life is passing you by and when you’re 40 all of a sudden you get that sports car or a motorcycle or go on some adventure. You say ‘I’ve got to do something, get off the couch!’”
Yoko initially insisted that her psychics scour the sailing magazines to perform ‘readings’ in their search for a suitable boat, but soon she relented and allowed Tyler to secure the services of Captain Hank Halsted and the Megan Jaye, a 43-foot Hinckley Centreboard Sloop out of Newport, Rhode Island. Yoko maintained the right to decide upon a destination for John’s little summer adventure and consulted her Japanese ‘directionalist’, Takashi Yoshikawa. The only way for John to escape the clouds that were casting a shadow over his life, to re-find his quiescence and his creativity, his centre and his balance, was to travel south-east towards Bermuda.
Only a matter of weeks previous he had been dispatched alone to Cape Town to similarly escape the gathering clouds. Now, after years fearing to venture out in case Mercury was in retrograde, John was now literally casting himself adrift in the company of people he barely knew.
“Yoko said he could do it because the stars were right,” says Tyler, so on the morning of June 4, 1980, John Lennon, Tyler and his cousins, Ellen and Kevin Coneys departed Farmingdale Airport in a Cosmopolitan Airways twin-engine Cessna. “See you in paradise,” shouted John as he boarded the plane. Waiting in Newport was the Megan Jaye and John Lennon’s date with the unknown.
Cap’n Hank hadn’t been told the identity of his principle passenger, and to be honest, he didn’t really recognize Lennon for the best part of a day as the crew prepared to depart, but eventually the clues began to mount up until the point, just as they were leaving the dock, when Hank turned to his charter agent and said, “What would you say if I told you that I think I have John Lennon on my boat”. “Just what I always say to you,” was the reply, “that you’re full of shit!”
The boat pulled out of Newport into a high-pressure system with the wind coming out of the North West. The weather was clearing and John was excited. “This is good,” he said, “we’re sailing south east.”
“It was an important direction for him in the context of his psychic healing,” explains Hank. “He hung on Yoko’s every word in that department. He had recently flown to Cape Town to literally get out from under the clouds – and he pointed to this cloud that we were sailing out from under, saying ‘boy, this is pretty cool, this feels right’.”
The adventure was beginning in an idyllic fashion. “It was fantastic,” recalls Tyler. “It was sunny, with perfect winds, and there were dolphins swimming off the bow.” John was content with his role in charge of the ship’s galley and with the journey scheduled for six days, he planned to use the vacation for a cleansing fast. With over 700 miles of clear blue water to cover, there was also plenty of time to enjoy the weather and listen to the radio, as each watch took their turn at the helm. John and Tyler formed one watch, Tyler’s cousins another, and Cap’n Hank took the dog watch – the lone spell at the helm reserved for the odd man out.
Tyler noted with interest how Lennon’s ears would prick up when old sparring partner Paul McCartney would hit the airwaves with chirpy ditties like ‘Silly Love Songs’ and current single ‘Coming Up’, then heading towards the very top of the US charts. “John was hearing those songs on the radio a lot,” says Tyler. “Think about it. It was like ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ or ‘She Loves You’ all over again. It was like the same lyrics – and here Paul is, with the Number One hit again. John was saying ‘I could do that’. I wouldn’t call it a rivalry, but it made him think ‘Jesus, what am I doing sitting here, I should get up and do something, because it’s not that hard’.”
John and Cap’n Hank hit it off immediately. Closer in age, they had much more in common with each other than with their younger crewmates. Back in Colorado in the ’60s Hank had experimented with the same kind of psychedelics and had run a drug clinic, while in the early ’70s he had dabbled in concert promotion, staging a festival at Erie Raceway that featured The Allman Brothers and Big Brother and the Holding Company. “John and I pretty rapidly discovered that we’d been around a lot of the same corners in all kinds of things,” says Hank of the drugs and rock’n’roll. “He simply went around his corners on a much grander scale than I did.”
With things peaceful aboard ship, the two would sit and chat, Hank working his way through a pack of Camels. There were a thousand questions that Hank wanted to ask and Lennon was never slow in responding. They would talk about many things and Hank would push Lennon on success, fame and John’s self-inflicted retirement from rock’n’roll. “You just affected 50 million people to the positive there, big boy, what are you going to do to follow that up?” begged Hank. John thought about it for a second, drawing on a Gitane, and looked back. “I’m going to raise my boy Sean,” he said.
Not long into the trip the adventure would take a turn for the unexpected. “That’s when we had the big storm!” recalls Tyler. “It got all grey very suddenly. A group of military ships came by and went around us in a circle and then left, making us wonder what was going on. We were already too far out to go back – once you’re out in the ocean, you can’t turn back anyway. Then it got real bad. It was the worst storm I was ever in, 65mph winds and 20 foot seas – you can get BIGGER waves, but that’s pretty bad in a 43-foot boat.”
With the storm showing no signs of abating, one by one John’s shipmates fell victim to the constant rolling of the boat and were felled by seasickness. Even Tyler, an experienced sailor, eventually succumbed – leaving Cap’n Hank at the wheel and John in the galley. “He was unaffected by it,” remembers Tyler. “He told me later that because he had been a heroin addict for a short time, and that as going through withdrawal is the hardest thing you would ever go through, being out here was nothing compared to that.”
“That’s what smack does to you,” concurs Hank. “He’d been through drugs for so long – you learn to control throwing up.”
With gales blowing at 40 knots and waves relentlessly pounding the deck, the ship was taking somewhat of a battering. “We have what we call a dodger, a stainless steel cover for the hatch,” says Cap’n Hank. “It’s the only time I’ve had one of those absolutely flattened by a wave. It was a pretty serious storm. This was a situation where you had to know what you were doing.”
For reassurance, Lennon would scrutinize the Captain’s face, looking for any signs of worry or fear. “Had he sensed any nervousness on my part, he wouldn’t have had such a good time. He really placed a tremendous amount of faith in me.”
After nearly two days at the wheel, tiredness finally got the better of the Captain and responsibility for piloting the vessel fell to the ship’s cook. Pointing to John, and then to the ship’s wheel, the Captain said, “I’m going to need your help here, big boy.”
John looked back in disbelief. “Hey Hank, I’ve just got these little guitar-playing muscles here.”
The Captain fixed him with a stare. “That ain’t the kind of strength I’m looking for – just come back and drive this puppy and I’ll tell you what to do.”
Sitting with Lennon for the first hour, Cap’n Hank taught his shipmate some of the fundamentals that he would need to weather the storm. “I let him know that you don’t jibe, you don’t let the wind get across the back-end of the boat because that would cause some other violent changes and we don’t want to deal with that. And I gave him his course. He picked it up fast. His intuition about this kind of stuff was remarkable.”
Railing against the storm, Lennon, invoked the name of his father in the face of the gale, hanging on to the wheel for dear life. “At first I was terrified but Cap’n Hank was at my side, so I felt relatively safe, ‘cause I knew he wouldn’t let me do anything stupid,” Lennon would later tell his personal assistant Fred Seaman. “Once I accepted the reality of the situation, something greater than me took over and all of a sudden I lost my fear. I actually began to enjoy the experience, and I began to sing and shout old sea shanties in the face of the storm, feeling total exhilaration. I had the time of my life.”
“That might have been a tremendously cathartic moment for him. When I came back on deck several hours later, this was a man who was just enraptured – it was stimulus worthy of this stimulus-addict of a guy,” says Hank. Tyler could also sense the exhilaration: “Besides having his children I think it was one of the happiest moments in his life.”
The storm lasted for the best part of the six-day journey and John had met every challenge thrown at him. He even helped Cap’n Hank make on-the-spot repairs after damage to the mainsail resulted in the Megan Jaye coasting without sails for a day. “I would venture to say that he discovered the tremendously strong man who had always been there,” concludes Hank. “It was a cool thing to watch, a metamorphosis that occurred.”
The John Lennon who arrived in Bermuda was indeed a very different man. When his personal assistant Fred Seaman caught up a few days later he was immediately struck by the transformation. “The moment I saw John I noticed a difference in him. He had lost the pallor he had acquired over five years at the Dakota. I realized that the whole time I had known him he had always looked like a man suffering from a degenerative illness. Now he was tanned and exuded health and vitality.”
John was quite taken with Bermuda. Still a Crown protectorate, he revelled in the colonial Britishness of the place – it reminded him of the England of his youth, the country he hadn’t seen for nearly a decade. The boat journey having restored confidence in his own powers, here in the Bermudan sunshine, in a makeshift home studio at his rented villa on the outskirts of Hamilton, John Lennon picked up a guitar, rolled his sleeves up, and got back to some serious work. “I was so centred after the experience at sea that I was tuned in to the cosmos – and all these songs came!” he said later.
The first song composed on the island was directly inspired by the experiences on the Megan Jaye. John was looking for a hook on which he could hang all the thoughts and ideas about the frailty of life that had been buzzing around his head since the storm. Listening to Bob Marley’s ‘Hallelujah Time’, he grabbed at the line he needed: “We got to keep living, living on borrowed time”. “That’s the phrase I’ve been looking for. I’ve had this song in my head for ages,” said John. “I’ll write the words around the theme of living on borrowed time, which is exactly what I’m doing… what we’re all doing, even though most of us don’t like to face it.”
Within a few hours, ‘Living On Borrowed Time’ was already roughed out. John was a man with a creative purpose once more. Although he’d never really stopped composing through his Dakota days, he had lacked the motivation to complete anything he would be happy to put his name to. He had brought many of these unfinished fragments with him on cassette, and now, with his songwriting urges restored, he could plunder this treasure trove of ideas whenever the need arose.
Like several of these new hybrid creations, ‘Watching The Wheels’ had its roots in older melodies, or lyrics that had been passed from song to song, then refined aboard the Megan Jaye in philosophical conversation with Cap’n Hank about the meaning of success. Others had a more obvious Bermudan genesis: ‘Stepping Out’ was inspired by a petulant crawl around the nightclubs of Hamilton after Yoko had failed to commit to a visit, while ‘I’m Losing You’ resulted from John’s inability to get his wife on the phone at a time when he feared his relationship might be slipping away from him, turning the unfinished ‘Stranger’s Room’ into a savage rocker that he would ultimately dub “‘Cold Turkey’ rides again”.
According to Tyler, the Lennon who set-sail for Bermuda had shown little interest in re-launching his musical career, but with so much of the inspiration for the new material spinning out of a love for his wife and child, it seemed that his near-to-death experience had helped focus John’s priorities in life. “Yoko was really good for him and he really loved her,” says Tyler. “He was trying to keep everything burning with ‘Double Fantasy’ and I think it worked very well.”
The demoing process was simple but effective. Using a drum machine, a guitar, and two boom boxes to allow him the luxury of very primitive double tracking, John would record a backing track on one cassette and sing along into another, sometimes with Fred Seaman tapping out percussion. Bit by bit, John Lennon was getting ready to go back out into the world. The clouds had lifted.
Producer Jack Douglas was not surprised when he got a call from Yoko Ono. He had worked with John many times in the early ’70s after first meeting him as a young engineer on the New York end of the ‘Imagine’ album sessions. He had worked on several of Yoko’s albums and had subsequently become a Producer in his own right, with major successes under his belt care of Aerosmith and Cheap Trick. When Lennon had stumbled upon him in a restaurant earlier that year, he congratulated Douglas and admitted to having kept an interested eye on the young producer’s career. John quizzed him about current production trends and studio technology, but Douglas thought no more of the chance meeting until Yoko’s call, when she announced she was dispatching a seaplane to pick him up from a pier on the East River to take him to their house in Cold Harbour Bay. On his arrival she handed him a package marked, ‘For Jack’s Eyes Only’.
“Yoko told me that John was going back into the studio to do an album and he wanted me to produce it, and that I couldn’t say anything to anyone,” says Douglas.
The package contained a letter from John, who was in Bermuda, and two cassettes of demos. A few minutes later John was on the phone, talking Jack through the Top Secret plans. “He told me to put together a band of his contemporaries so that if he made a reference to something from the ’50s or the ’60s they would know what he was talking about,” recalls Douglas. Lennon’s only stipulation was that they should be top-notch professionals – he was now totally focussed and didn’t want the distraction of his former studio sidemen and drinking cronies. For Lennon this session was too important to take risks.
Before Douglas could return to New York, Yoko handed him a huge stack of reel-to-reel tapes, containing dozens of her own compositions. “John doesn’t know it yet,” she confided, “but I’m going to have a couple of songs on this album.”
On July 29 Lennon left Bermuda and two days later he was sketching out plans with Jack Douglas. Although the exact form of the album, and it’s content, had yet to be decided, Lennon already had it’s title – Double Fantasy, the name of a freesia that he had chanced upon while taking Sean on a sightseeing trip around Bermuda’s botanical gardens.
Lennon was keen to work quickly in the studio and to that end, Douglas had been rehearsing the musicians in advance. “My immediate impressions were that I was going to have a hard time making it better than the demos because there was such intimacy in the demos,” recalls Douglas. “They were so much fun to listen to.”
On Monday August 4, 1980, dressed in a black embroidered cowboy shirt and brimmed hat, briefcase in hand, John Lennon headed for the Hit Factory on West 48th Street for the first day of recording. “He was in charge from that very first moment,” recalls session drummer, Andy Newmark. “There was not a lapse of ten minutes between when he came in and when things got rolling.”
The band would run through a song a few times to get comfortable before going for a take. John sat close to Jack Douglas and wasn’t slow to pull the musicians up if it wasn’t what he wanted. “John was so blunt,” remembers Newmark. “He didn’t tiptoe around with the way he spoke to people but it wasn’t offensive or nasty – it worked. His usual comment to me was ‘Andy, forget all the fancy shit, I want to get this in three takes, play like Ringo’. All he had to say was ‘play like Ringo’ and it completely focused me on how to approach making his record.”
John was now a man at ease with his past as ‘Beatle John’. Although the 115-hours of Jack Douglas’s covertly taped studio banter reveal him snapping at Yoko when she joked that he was sounding like a Beatle – “an ex-Beatle you cunt!” – he was happy enough to encourage his musicians to regard the beautifully crafted ‘Woman’ as an “early Motown/Beatles circa ’64 ballad”. Indeed, he would reminisce daily about “the B’s” in the studio, never leaving his audience in any doubt that they had, in fact, been HIS band!
Very early in the sessions, Jack Douglas had persuaded John to experiment with a couple of tracks – he wanted to bring in Cheap Trick to add a bit of edge to Lennon’s ‘I’m Losing You’ and Yoko’s ‘I’m Moving On’. Douglas had produced Cheap Trick and had been the man responsible for signing them to Epic Records. He rang up George Martin, who was currently working with the band in Montserrat, and joked: “You’ve got my band and I’ve got one of yours, can I borrow my band for a few tracks?”
Cheap Trick drummer Bun E Carlos arrived at The Hit Factory with guitarist Rick Nielsen, who had been given special dispensation to appear on the session by his wife, who had given birth to their third son earlier that morning. “I don’t think I would have missed being at the hospital for anyone else except for John Lennon,” says Nielsen. The Cheap Trick pair joined regular session bassist Tony Levin and George Smalls on keyboards for the recording of “I’m Losing You”, Lennon and Nielsen trading guitar licks as the band furiously jammed out the song until it had the form they wanted. “It really rocked,” says Douglas. “It was very different from the kind of thing you get from straight-ahead studio musicians and John was thrilled.”
With the basic track nailed in just three or four live takes, the musicians sat in the control booth watching Nielsen doubling his guitar solo. Lennon turned to Bun E and confided: “Man, I wish I’d had him on ‘Cold Turkey’ – we had Clapton on that and he froze up and could only play this one riff.”
John may have been pleased with the track, but Yoko was less happy, and the recording was shelved. According to Jack Douglas there was nothing that he could do or say to persuade her that this wasn’t some unknown band wishing to trade on the Lennon name. “And of course John didn’t argue with Yoko.”
As for Cheap Trick, they were unaware of any problems in the studio. “Yoko was great to us when we were there – and she said great stuff about us when the track was finally released 17 years later,” says Nielsen. “We were thrilled that we got to play on it and when it came out all those years later I felt kind of vindicated as
The Cheap Trick take of the song remained unreleased until its appearance on the Lennon Anthology box-set in 1998, when Yoko reunited Nielsen, Carlos and Levin to make a video for the track. Within a couple of days of the original recording session, however, the house band were instructed to re-play the song, even replicating Rick Nielsen’s guitar licks, much to his annoyance all these years later. “We played the Cheap Trick track into the earphones of the musicians and they played along with it, to kind of get the feel of the original,” says Douglas. “I remember hearing it and thinking, ‘Wow, that sounds so amazing’,” recalls drummer Andy Newmark. “They played it for us a day or two after they had done it, but for whatever reason we cut the tune again.”
Another guest appearance that actually made it onto the album was more bizarre in its origins. Jack Douglas and engineer Lee DeCarlo had come across a street musician playing Hammer Dulcimer in Greenwich Village, enquiring whether he wanted to take part in a recording session. Arranger Tony Davilio remembers the bemusement on the face of the musician as he was preparing to make his contribution to ‘Watching The Wheels’. “He was a really hippie and he was sitting down with his Dulcimer in a yoga position, with his legs folded under him,” recalls Davilio. “Jack and John pretty much told him where they wanted him to play – it went well, but at one point he was staring into the control room. He points at John and says ‘What’s your name?’ ‘I’m John,’ comes the reply. And he goes ‘Hi John’. I really don’t think he knew who John was.”
In just under two weeks all the basic backing tracks were recorded, including all of the songs that would later form Lennon’s half of the ‘Milk And Honey’ collection. The musicians were then called in when required for overdubs, followed by vocals – which brought their own problems. “John stayed away from what should be done with his vocals because he had no objectivity,” says Douglas. “He thought he didn’t have much of a voice left, so he insisted on double-tracking everything. It was only after he heard his performance on ‘Watching The Wheels’ that he told Yoko she could announce this record was being made. He was suddenly very happy and realized he could do it.”
Yoko’s vocals tended to take a little longer, Douglas piecing them together bit by bit. Having worked on several of her solo albums, he knew how to get the best from her. “She could be a handful for sure, but there were certain psychological things you had to do to work with her.” Creating a comfortable environment for her to work in, and employing mic techniques that would suit her style, he would concentrate on achieving several complete performances and after the end of each day’s session he would stay late to ‘comp’ together the best parts of each take. Everybody on the album, from John downwards, was totally focussed on making this a tremendous record – and that meant Yoko’s tracks too.
To get the best out of both of his clients Jack Douglas had already worked out that it was best to keep them apart, not because there was any lack of love between the two principles – everyone who worked on the project came away from the sessions with the distinct impression that here was a couple totally devoted to each other – but because they worked in completely different ways. “I couldn’t have the two of them in the studio at the same time, it just didn’t work,” says Douglas. “John would get really frustrated with Yoko if she was singing flat, and she didn’t really want his interference in what she was doing, so we would work on Yoko’s songs in the afternoon and then John would come at 7pm.”
With enough material in the can for two albums, John, Jack and Yoko each sat down to prepare a potential running order. By now John was completely focussed on making the album an equal showcase for both their talents, but when Jack and John turned in their fairly similar tracklistings, Yoko objected to the way that both had assumed her songs would be on one side of the album and John’s on the other. “She got really mad at us and said ‘no way, because no-one will ever flip the record over – if you want to listen to a John song, you’ve got to listen to a Yoko song, that’s the way it has to be’.”
As the album progressed, one very important thing was still missing – the world’s most famous couple were still to sign a record deal. John had allowed his recording contract with EMI to lapse early in 1976 and had not sought to renew it while concentrating on life as a househusband. Now back in the centre of the creative process, the pair shied from the possibility of record label interference and decided to finance the ‘Double Fantasy’ sessions themselves, with the intention of striking a deal when John was happy with the direction of the album.
Yoko assumed responsibility for securing the contract. John was hard at work in the studio and distanced himself from the deal-making process, refusing to talk to anyone who wasn’t prepared to negotiate with his wife. Privately he had set himself a target of matching the reported $22.5m deal that Paul McCartney had recently signed, and while Bruce Lundvall, President of Columbia Records, was willing to match the deal that he had struck with McCartney, like so many other suitors, he baulked when informed by Yoko that her songs would form half of any album.
With every label determined to clinch Lennon’s signature, and none of them allowed to bypass Yoko, some tried more extreme measures. Legendary Atlantic Records boss Ahmet Ertegun even managed to penetrate the sixth floor security at the Hit Factory before being asked to leave.
David Geffen watched with interest. The one-time founder of Asylum Records had recently formed a new label, Geffen Records, and rather than shying away from Yoko’s involvement in the album, he cannily insisted that if he managed to get them, he would be signing two great artists instead of one. After Yoko had analysed his personal information – date of birth, phone number, address, and concluded that he had “good numbers” – they proceeded to discuss a potential deal, Yoko asking him to throw out figures. Geffen had learnt well from a bad business mistake made early in his career and rather than pitch in with a ludicrously high opening offer, he simply asked Yoko to name her price. She informed him they were looking for at least a million dollars per album. As he had paid a similar amount to clinch the signatures of both Donna Summer and Elton John, he did not hesitate to grab at this bargain. “We’ve got a deal,” he said, having not even asked to hear the music.
With work on the album ongoing, and less than a week after agreeing the deal with Geffen, the couple spent September 26 mixing the first single for release. The chosen A-side was the aptly titled ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’, Lennon’s affectionate nod to his rock’n’roll past. Although its roots were in unfinished older compositions like ‘Don’t Be Crazy’ and ‘My Life’, it was one of the last songs to be completed in time for the sessions. “We didn’t hear it until the last day of rehearsal,” recalls Douglas. John pulled him aside and said: “I was listening to some Roy Orbison and I thought this would be kind of like a Roy thing.” He played ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’ on the piano and Douglas knew straight away that here was John’s opening gambit.
To hit the necessary schedules the single had to be completed long before the album, with work progressing through night and into the next day. That afternoon, Fred Seaman was dispatched to the Dakota to fish out a Tibetan wishing bell for the song’s opening flourish – it would be the final touch added to the recording. The race to finish the mix by 7pm – because Yoko had pointed to a “significant moon change” – was achieved with just seconds to spare, and backed by Yoko’s ‘Kiss Kiss Kiss’, on October 23, 1980, ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’ became John Lennon’s first new release in five years. The final mixes of ‘Double Fantasy’ had been finished just days earlier.
An odyssey that had started on the high seas of the Atlantic was now complete – if there had been rocky moments for John and Yoko on the road to ‘Double Fantasy’, the album proved a Valentine capable of fanning the flames of their love. And for John, there was no doubting what had inspired this renewed spirit of creativity. “I always talked about sailing but my excuse was that I'd never had lessons,” he said. “Yoko's attitude was 'Put up or shut up'. So she sent me on this trip and I went. She sent me specifically to open up my creativity, though she didn't tell me that.”
John had planned to take a break in Bermuda after the recording was over, but so excited was he about a plan he had hatched to make his wife a star in her own right, he soon returned to studio to work on Yoko’s ‘Walking On Thin Ice’. “The last time I saw John he had this incredible smile on his face,” recalls Jack Douglas. “It was the evening we finished ‘Walking On Thin Ice’. He was just thrilled, and so was Yoko, because we all knew we had accomplished what John set out to do with that track. I walked him to the elevator and said goodnight. About 40 minutes later my girlfriend came to the studio, all white. ‘It’s just been on the radio,’ she said. ‘John was shot’.”
For the first time in years Lennon had been making big plans. He had let it be known that he would be calling the ‘Double Fantasy’ musicians back into the studio in mid December to complete unused recordings like ‘Living On Borrowed Time’ and ‘I’m Stepping Out’ for a second album, with a world tour to follow. But that wasn’t to be. Lennon had lived his life demanding truth, but on ‘Double Fantasy’ he had stumbled across the most brutal truth of all – that life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.
© Words copyright Chris Hunt 2007