Pop's biggest 'what if?': Double Fantasy and the tragedy of John Lennon's 'comeback' album
John Lennon - BBC
When John Lennon was gunned down in front of his New York apartment on December 8, 1980, the world mourned the loss of one of the cultural icons of the 20th century. The blizzard of shocked eulogy that followed inevitably focused on Lennon's past as a Beatle.
However, attention to the musician's legacy eclipsed one tantalizing fact: Lennon was only months away from one of the most ambitious tours in rock history. The 40-year-old "One World, One People" tour developed into a futuristic extravaganza that was years ahead of its time.
With an uncanny conscience in view of the development of the concerts in recent decades, Lennon planned a tour with holograms and huge video screens. Its avant-garde stage was to resemble a colossal crab with wandering claws with video cameras attached to send images back to the screens. The singer also considered pay-per-view screenings to cater to the burgeoning cable television audience of the 1980s. Six years before David Bowie brought his glass spider around the world and eleven years before U2 started their post-modern multimedia zoo TV tour, the Liverpudlian had imagined the template.
The plans for the tour, on which Lennon would have played live for the first time in over six years, were cruelly thwarted by the bullets of the assassin Mark Chapman. However, details of the ambitious production are revealed in a new book, the John Lennon 1980: The Last Days of Life, released this week to mark the singer's 80th birthday.
In the book, Lennon's producer and bandmates at the time share what could have been one of the most dazzling live events of the new decade, a decade in which modern rock concerts solidified their form and became multi-million dollar dollars. They're crazy today.
One for all and all for one: The Beatles - PA
"It was all right," says Earl Slick, who played guitar on Lennon's Double Fantasy album - released just 21 days before his murder - but is probably best known as a longtime Bowie collaborator. “We wanted to come back in January and finish the tracks for the next album and get that done. And then we wanted to do a tour. I don't remember talking about overseas, but I know we were talking about the states. The band would have been the guys from the sessions: two guitarists, bass, drums, percussion and John and Yoko. "
In fact, the tour would have been global. For the singer's 40th birthday, he issued a press release in which he and his wife Yoko Ono would tour the United States, Japan and Europe in the spring of 1981. According to the book's author, Kenneth Womack, the news of the "real world tour met with real excitement". Unfortunately, Lennon's great tour that never was remains one of the greatest "what if?" In pop music.
Lennon's motivation for taking to the streets was largely due to the fact that he found his creative mojo again in 1980. During the second half of the 1970s, he lived semi-isolated with Ono and their new son Sean in the luxury of their ever-expanding suite of apartments in the Dakota building on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Lennon's last live performance was with Elton John at Madison Square Garden in November 1974, and he hadn't released an album since Rock 'n' Roll 1975, the year he returned from his 18-month so-called "Lost Weekend" 'in Los Angeles after they temporarily separated from Ono and had an affair with her personal assistant, May Pang.
Back in New York, he spent his days raising Sean, reading and watching TV in his bedroom, drinking coffee in nearby cafes, smoking his beloved Gitanes, successfully fighting for his green card, shopping, and baking bread. He wrote music sporadically (he recorded fragments of songs and, for example, designed a musical about his life with Yoko), but suffered from a prolonged blockade from writers. He was also torn between the feeling of nothing more to prove - after all, this was the man who wrote Strawberry Fields Forever and A Day in the Life - and the urge to create. However, a series of events in the spring and summer of 1980 changed things dramatically.
First, he heard former bandmate Paul McCartney's new solo song Coming Up, a synth-driven curiosity that was nonetheless very catchy ("F__k a pig! It's Paul!", Lennon is said to have exclaimed when he first heard it on the radio heard). He enthusiastically sent his assistant, Fred Seaman, to buy as much contemporary music as he could find. According to Womack, Lennon was particularly fond of Madness, The Pretenders, The Selecter, and The Specials. In the B-52's Rock Lobster song, he also heard the kind of high-pitched vocals that Ono had specialized in, but had so far had little commercial acceptance. For Lennon, Rock Lobster suggested that things may have changed. "They're doing yoko!" he said.
Yoko Ono - AP
Second, and slightly by accident, he discovered sailing. After buying a house in Long Island's Cold Spring Harbor (Lennon wanted to feel like he was in Scotland), he was bitten by a boat bug. In June 1980, Lennon arranged a sailing trip from Long Island to Bermuda, about 700 miles away. One night during a storm on this voyage, the exhausted captain instructed Lennon to take the helm so he could sleep. Lennon steered the boat alone in raging seas for six hours. He was petrified, but "had the time of my life: I screamed sailor songs and screamed at the gods," Lennon said later. The captain said he met "another man" when he woke up. The former Beatle had a full "catharsis". He had found his drive again.
Lennon rented a house in Bermuda and had his tapes of semi-molded songs shipped from New York. He bought two tape recorders, a microphone, and headphones from an electronics store in the island's capital, Hamilton, and began compiling songs for Double Fantasy. With an old George Martin trick, he used the two tape machines to double his compositions, bounce recordings between devices, and slowly build up the songs.
Later that summer in New York, he and Yoko began recording the album. The idea was that they would each contribute half of the songs and the record would act as a kind of sound dialogue between them. While Lennon wrote songs like (Just Like) Starting Over, Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy), and Woman, Ono wrote tracks including the Showtune-esque Yes, I'm Your Angel, and the brilliantly disco-esque Kiss Kiss Kiss in which she performed there was a simulation of an orgasm (the so-called "yokogasm"). On the critically acclaimed album, the couple signed a new million dollar record deal with Geffen Records.
John Lennon at Heathrow Airport in 1968 with his then wife Cynthia Lennon - PA
A tour was first discussed over a band dinner at Mr Chow Restaurant when the album was nearing completion. Stan Vincent, an associate of Double Fantasy producer Jack Douglas, reached out to Lennon and asked him to get the songs out on the streets. Lennon initially said he wasn't interested, but Vincent insisted. Lennon agreed and the table got up, saluted and clinked glasses.
"I would love to go on stage with Yoko and a good band and play these songs and really do them because the band is as hot as sh_t," Lennon said in one of his recent interviews with journalist David Sheff. "We feel good about ourselves. So it would be great."
The tour has been referred to as the "One World, One People" tour. According to Douglas, the plans were downright high-profile. "John's idea was that the stage should look like either a spaceship or a crab, depending on how you see it. It had two crab-like arms that came out and there were cameras on the arms, and all of the cameras were moving. It. It would give a huge screen that projects all of this, ”says Douglas in Womack's book.
Lee DeCarlo, the engineer at Double Fantasy, says Lennon "had really futuristic ideas." One was "the band's use of holograms on stage like Star Trek". Lennon could only have guessed that forty years later, hologram tours would become an important part of the live music scene. Pay-per-view events were also discussed so fans could watch the show from the comfort of their homes.
Double your imagination - Alamy
In terms of the setlist, Lennon had to learn to play longer than ever before in the Beatles' heyday (the band famously abandoned their tour in 1966). According to an anecdote in Ken Sharp's book "Starting Over", Lennon was surprised when Paul Simon's saxophonist Howard Johnson told him that Simon's band played two hours a night. "Really? We'd only do a single 40-minute set," answered the stunned ex-Beatle.
But Lennon had a firm idea of what to do: he planned to play new arrangements of old Beatles songs, and he also has his new compositions. According to Ono, when Lennon played I Want To Hold Your Hand he would fall on his knees and take her hand. In addition to the possibly kitschy staging, Lennon wanted to modernize the songs. He asked the band to show the audience that the compositions weren't "old hat" and asked them to present their "freak stuff" on stage.
Of course the concerts never took place. But 1980 and 1981 were milestones for the live music industry, and Lennon's extravagance would have played a part in it. As he anticipated, rock shows became more theatrical and used new technology in increasingly creative ways. Pink Floyd played her spectacular tour for The Wall during this time and U2 started their first tour through continental Europe and North America. The Irish band would later become kings of stadium rock, and their spaceship-like claw stage "in the round" from their 2009-2011 world tour was as eerie as the crab setup Lennon planned.
Cruel Ending: Double Fantasy - Alamy
But the biggest tour of 1981 - and something that would have made Lennon either laugh or cry - was The Rolling Stones. The Beatles' arch-rivals played in front of three million people in 50 shows in America and earned over $ 50 million in the process. It was probably the beginning of the second coming of the Stones as stadiums-killing older statesmen of music. As part of the tour, the band played what is likely to be the first pay-per-view concert (Keith Richards, memorable, attacked a stage invader with his guitar). The Stone's pay-per-view appearance took place in Virginia on December 18, 1981, about nine months after Lennon's tour began. It's a small but remarkable irony that if a Beatle had lived he would have beaten The Stones by this particular milestone.
Lennon repeatedly said before he died that Double Fantasy felt like a fresh start for him and Ono. It won Album of the Year at the 1982 Grammys. Given what Lennon was up to for his concerts, he could have been part of the new avant-garde of live performers of the decade. "It'll be like starting over," Lennon sang on the album's opening track and lead single. His muse had returned and his ideas turned out to be extraordinarily prophetic. The cruellest thing is that we will never know what could have been.
John Lennon 1980: The Last Days of Kenneth Womack's Life is published by Omnibus Press
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