"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.