One day in October of 1980, I happened to turn on the radio in the middle of a song that was being broadcast. After about 30 seconds, I shrieked with delight: “He’s back! He’s back!”
I immediately called the radio station and had my happiest wish confirmed — John Winston Ono Lennon, MBE (retd.), had a new single out, “(Just Like) Starting Over,” a teaser from his then-forthcoming “comeback” album.
Double Fantasy was touted as a “conversation” between Lennon and his much-maligned wife, Yoko Ono. The album’s pattern was that John would sing a song, and then Yoko would “answer” it with a song of her own.
(Post-era critique of the album: All of John’s songs are wonderful. Most of Yoko’s songs are tolerable, which is pretty good for her. And there are two Yoko songs which brook no middle ground: “Kiss, Kiss, Kiss,” in which the climax of the song is quite truly, er, the climax of the song; and “I’m Your Angel,” a guilty-pleasure piece of superb schmaltz that I rank as the best song Paul McCartney never wrote.)
At the time of its release, Double Fantasy was mostly sniffed at by critics who resented former rebel John’s newfound cloak of bourgeois respectability. Personally, I wasn’t interested in this “class struggle.” The Voice was back, and he sounded great. When John announced that he might actually do a tour to promote the album, even the thought of Yoko performing with him wasn’t enough to keep me from wanting to buy a ticket to the erstwhile concert.
I neither want nor need to recount the pointless tragedy that occurred two months later and snuffed out John’s voice and life.
At this blog, I have already recounted, ad nauseum, my lifelong love for The Beatles. But I gained a new respect for John long after he left the group.
As a teenager in the mid-1970’s, I decided to collect every solo Beatle album to date, just so that I could compare the good, the bad, and the ugly for myself. When I was 15, I purchased John’s first post-Beatle solo album, starkly titled John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.
I swear to you, that album saved my life.
I was quite the disenfranchised teenager at that point — gangly and quite socially inept. Listening to the Plastic Ono Band album was like having an intimate conversation with one of the popular kids who had suddenly let down his guard. Hearing John sing about his late mother and his painful growing-up years instantly stripped him of his Beatle veneer. (And having lost my own mother at age 4, it wasn’t difficult to identify with those harsh emotions.)
For me, the true kicker on the album was “Working Class Hero,” where he sang:
They hurt you at home,
And they hit you at school.
They hate you if you’re clever,
And they despise a fool,
‘Til you’re so f***in’ crazy
You can’t follow their rules.
My teenage years in a nutshell.
Indulging in all of the post-Beatles albums, I quickly discovered — as did most Fabs fans of the time — that the separated Beatles weren’t nearly as flawless as they were as a group, John included. (Try listening to John and Yoko’s Some Time in New York City, a tackily bourgeois take on the politics of the day.) But there was still enough of Excellent John to hold out hope, in 1975, that he’d return to recording, if not recording with The Beatles.)
Now that decades have passed, it’s easy to scoff at Rich Man John’s takes on socialism. Just today, a Facebook friend of mine posted a photo of John and Yoko from 1969, waiting for the maid to change their bed linens so that they could continue their “radical” Bed-In protest.
But at least John had the right spirit. I’d be amazed if any current politician dared to espouse his philosophy of non-violence and help for everyone on the planet. And he sure sang it in the right key.