Back around 1980, the two things that really mattered to me in life were sports and music. On December 8th of that year, I never could have predicted how those worlds would intersect. Back then, our television choices were still very limited to the three major networks and one or two public broadcast stations. One of my weekly highlights was watching Monday Night Football. While watching the end of a relatively insignificant game between the Dolphins and the Patriots, Howard Cosell stunned us all with the jarring news that John Lennon had been shot and killed outside of his apartment in New York City. As one who had followed and appreciated the Beatles for many years, even at that early age, it was really tough to process. Comparing only with the unexpected death of Elvis three years before, I vividly recall the rush of radio and television stations around the world to honor John for his music and his influence on the world dialogue of peace and love. John Lennon, like all of us, was a very imperfect person who had a lot of difficult moments throughout his life. Way beyond the selfish loss all of us as music fans experienced, one of the most notable tragic elements of this story was that through many years of relative isolation and relationship difficulties, John was happier than he had been in a long time in his life and marriage with Yoko Ono, and he had even recently reconciled a bitter personal dispute with Paul McCartney. Upon hearing “Coming Up” from “McCartney II”, John was inspired to return to the studio after a five-year hiatus, and the collective product of this work was the album “Double Fantasy”.
Until I listened to this album, I didn’t fully appreciate that it was truly a 50/50 split of songs written and performed by John, and the other half written and sung by Yoko. I will focus on the John Lennon content primarily on this album, as it is the stronger musical contribution. That said, the Yoko Ono songs on this album, particularly “Beautiful Boys” and “Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him”, are not terrible, and are fair efforts, much better than her maligned reputation as a singer. And just to briefly address one other sad footnote in their relationship that has hopefully been mostly dismissed with time, Yoko Ono was in no way responsible for the breakup of the Beatles. By the end of the 1960s, they were headed in that direction no matter who else was in the equation. Paul McCartney’s controlling ways in the studio, George Harrison’s complete saturation with his second-tier status in the band and this treatment, and John Lennon’s unchallenged independence all took the Beatles to a place where they could not continue as a single unit.
“Double Fantasy” was released just weeks before John Lennon was killed. The initial reaction was lukewarm, but for perhaps the wrong reasons, it surged in success as a tribute following his death. To me, it really is a beautiful and memorable collection of songs from an artist who had been effectively retired for years, focusing on raising his son Sean. I think some Lennon diehards dismiss it for lacking some of the edge of his early solo efforts, but for me that is exactly what I love about it. In my head and heart, John and Paul always made each other’s music better, and even if only imagined, I hear the melodic and sentimental influences of Paul McCartney all over this record. From the early rockabilly roots that fuel “(Just Like) Starting Over”, to the lush melodies and sincere affection on “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”, “Watching The Wheels” and my absolute favorite, “Woman”, I hear a very talented artist who sounds truly full of happiness, perhaps for the first time in his life. I had not heard his personal love letter before, “Dear Yoko”, but it is another song I truly enjoy, inspiring happiness and sadness as I think of the senseless ending of his life, just as the pieces were all finally coming together.
The impact on my life from John Lennon is huge, and I will always appreciate what he gave us, and miss what else could have been. I am very grateful that we have this last effort, and that it is something as positive and impactful as it is to me.