Double Fantasy

“Our life together is so precious together, we have grown–we have
grown.” These were the first words we heard John Lennon intimate on his
classic album, Double Fantasy, released November 17th, 1980, after a
pretty long hiatus from commercial recording as a solo artist. Taken
from the song “Starting Over,” these lyrics were written, with love, for
his wife–the eternally controversial and inspiring Yoko Ono–though
they also were appropriate for both old and new fans who felt quite
close to the pop icon due to his backlog of profound musical work and
years of championing various political or social causes. Even without
lyrics, “Starting Over” told the story of beginnings, using a
fifties-inspired musical backing track that communicated as much
innocence as its words. In a sense, Lennon and Ono really were staring
over with their new, romantic, tell-all of a concept album, it debuting
on a brand new label (Geffen Records) with a fresh way of having
captured their recording process (Jack Douglas’ engineering the LP as
two separate projects while treating it as a whole). Joy replaced
burnout in Lennon’s voice. Ono never sounded better.

Regardless of it being a Lennon/Ono affair, Double Fantasy would have
been an impressive work for most other artists since it dared to ignore
pop music trends of the late seventies and early eighties in order
to–in more ways than one–properly get the record straight. It featured
some of Lennon’s most personal, original songs, though he went nowhere
near his dark “Mother” and the like for inspiration. This time out,
Lennon proved that he not only “got” what love was about, but also that
he embraced the maturity that emotion nurtured. This was most obvious in
the lullaby to his young child, Sean, “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy),”
that is easily one of the sweetest songs ever written by a father to his
son this side of Paul Simon’s “St. Judy’s Comet.” Think of how many
times over the years friends, relatives or New Age enthusiasts have
over-quoted the line, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy
making other plans,” and that’s probably the amount of times more you
could hear this song and not grow cynical about it’s message or honesty.
And while Lennon was penning some of the most earnest and simple works
of his life, Ono was doing the same.

On Double Fantasy, Yoko Ono’s tracks, whether you love ’em or hate ’em,
found her on solid songwriting ground. Her new wave romps such as “Kiss,
Kiss, Kiss” and “Give Me Something”–both complete with trademark
experimental howls and perfectly-timed, musical caterwaulings–were fun,
puzzle-pieces that mostly alternated sequentially with Lennon’s
recordings. Aesthetically, this approach functioned as a “he said/she
said,” commenting on Lennon/Ono drama (“Give Me Something”/”I’m Losing
You”), home life (“Watching The Wheels”/”I’m Your Angel”), and mostly,
their genuine love for and commitment to each other (“Woman,”/”Beautiful
Boys”). By the last song, “Hard Times Are Over,” it was clear that this
couple’s relationship always did have the strength to survive over a
decade of controversy, Nixon’s attempts at deportation, Lennon’s very
public drunken binges with his pal, the late Harry Nilsson, religious
groups’ fury from the suggestion that souls might be better served
without their control or corruption, and, in general, just too much
celebrity. Their strength as a unit was audibly apparent throughout the
seamless vocal blend on Ono’s “Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him,” a
recording that took devotion and turned it into an anthem. Overall, one
could think of Double Fanatasy as the story of a middle-aged couple
growing old together, enjoying each other’s company and living happily
ever after. By the album’s waltzing last track, “Hard Times Are Over,”
one might even picture that “Starting Over” pony-tailed/slicked-back
pair, forty years later, embracing in dance, with an old-timey “The End”
scripting across the screen. Well, that’s another fantasy, anyway.

But sadly, “The End” came too quickly thanks to Mark David Chapman,
though, for a brief time, Lennon and Ono’s double fantasy of a happy,
familial life off Central Park West in New York City’s Dakota apartments
was quite fantastic. The challenges that Lennon and Ono’s relationship
survived is the stuff that American Dreams are made of–if that includes
anti-war demonstrations, bed-ins, primal screaming, being accused of
breaking up the Beatles, and other awful tabloid teardowns. Not
surprisingly, it was songs like “Imagine,” “Happy X-Mas (War Is Over),”
“Power To The People,” “Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” “Mind
Games,” etc., that have stayed lively in the culture over most monster
hits by the other solo Beatles. John Lennon’s spontaneous wit, working
class sensibilities and overall brilliance made him the most interesting
ex-Beatle, and his works continue to inspire new college-age fans
generation after generation, probably due to his recordings’ sheer
audacity to challenge, not coddle. And it could be said that Double
Fantasy, beyond the simple love poem it was, from another perspective,
was an audio documentary of both a special period in musical history,
and a relationship that withstood unbelievable eccentricities and much
more than a lifetime’s worth of challenges.

One last thought. It’s said that Lennon lost his life coming home from a
session for “Walking On Thin Ice,” an Ono recording that her husband
believed was a tremendous track and a potential single. Among
Lennon’s Double Fantasy recordings were tracks that never made the
project like “I’m Stepping Out,” “Nobody Told Me,” “Borrowed Time,”
“(Forgive Me) My Little Flower Princess” and the lovely “Grow Old With
Me” that were released on Milk And Honey, a posthumous follow-up
to Double Fantasy , also with Yoko Ono sharing the billing and
creativity. In existence, there is video and film footage of the period,
and there have been radio interviews, alternate takes (such as the
slightly different “Losing You” recorded with Cheap Trick that featured
a Rick Nielsen guitar solo), edits and remixes that have been released.
And there’s Ono’s poignant album, 1981’s Season Of Glass, her first
recorded work post Lennon’s death, plus, possibly a little more
unreleased material. As a whole, maybe in the box set format (while
there is still such a product being marketed by the music industry),
this could serve as a testament to Lennon and Ono’s last works together,
a true statement of the time. The set could be supplemented with
photography by Bob Gruen, Allan Tannenbaum, Paul Goresh, Nishi F.
Saimaru, Lilo Raymond, and Shinoyama, and additional drawings,
conceptual art and liner notes by the couple as well as Julian Lennon
and Sean Lennon, and those most involved during the period. On this
strange anniversary, it seems that it’s a moment to suggest something
positive such as celebrating the project that framed his family life so
dearly as opposed to again revisiting nothing but the tragic details of
his death.

by Mike Ragogna, Huffington Post