(This, with a few edits, is a newspaper piece I wrote on the release of John and Yoko’s Double Fantasy. It was published on Nov. 30, 1980, two weeks after the record’s release and eight days before Lennon’s murder. Despite all the hoopla, the much-anticipated album did not shoot straight to the top of the charts until after the tragedy (which gives the phrase “Number One with a Bullet” a chilling irony) and some critics were not kind. My editor at the time told me that following Lennon’s death, some of the bad reviews were pulled before publication and rewritten .)
Whether he was reshaping the world as a Beatle, giving peace a chance, exposing his jagged psyche, traipsing left-ward with the likes of Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, about-facing and shunning the mixed-up media or settling down to family life in any one of his home-sweet-homes, John Lennon and his art have been one.
Mercurial, eccentric, quick-witted and brilliantly talented, Lennon has always plunged heart-first into anything he’s created. He’s given pieces of himself on the printed page (his two books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works) and on celluloid (the avant-garde films he shot with Yoko Ono). Vinyl-ly, with his records, he’s invariably left blood on the tracks (as Mr. Zimmerman would say) with his confessional offerings, beginning with such compositions as “Help” and “I’m a Loser.”
Though the mythology of The Beatles has in some ways proven to be a weighty albatross for him and the rest of the Fab Foursome, it was in the context of the group that he first quaked the earth. Lennon was the controversial one, the dream-weaver and the wave-maker. The intellectually-inclined slice of The Beatles’ audience gravitated, predictably, toward the brainy, zany Lennon.
No, he wasn’t The Beatles. No one of them was. But as Pete Hamill wrote, “In some way, John had been the engine of the group, the artistic armature driving the machine beyond its own limits, restless, easily bored, in love with speed the way Picasso was in love with speed, and possessed of a hoodlum’s fanatic heart.”
The post-Beatles Lennon was once likened to Sisyphus; indeed, ever since Yoko Ono supplanted Paul McCartney as his partner-in-rhyme, Lennon has been a twentieth-century Sisyphus, pushing his rock (and roll) uphill, with snide snipers taking pot shots at him—and, especially, his paramour—at every opportunity.
In their early days together, this ripening pair weathered a lot of bruises and eventually parted ways and means, only to be reunited eighteen months later because, as Lennon put it, “the separation didn’t work out.”
And then in ’75, with a pocketful of fresh songs and on the verge of booking studio time, the Lennons had a baby boy and John unplugged his guitar and stopped dead in his soundtracks.
“I became an artist because I cherished freedom—I couldn’t fit into a classroom or office,” he told Newsweek recently. “Freedom was the plus for all the minuses of being an oddball! But suddenly I was obliged to a record company, obliged to the media, obliged to the public. I wasn’t free at all!”
So he clammed up, offed the record, and became a hearth-and-homebody focused on the raising of his son. The man who back in ‘72 wrote the pro-woman anthem “Woman is the Nigger of the World” (which, sadly, was squashed dead by misguided objections to the title—usually by white males, as Lennon pointed out) went one better and swapped roles with Yoko. She became the breadwinner, he the bread baker. The Lennons invested in dairy cows and real estate, and it was moos and moola for five years.
Now 40, he has rolled away the stone and reappeared with a hot new single, “Starting Over,” and a grand-new album, Double Fantasy. Ah, but to set the record straight, this is not just a John Lennon album. It’s the Second Coming of John and Yoko. And it’s a superlative double-headed triumph.
Like it or not, it took guts on Lennon’s part to divvy up the 14-numbered LP with his wife. After all, their last collaboration, in ’72, was Sometime in New York City, generally considered to be the rough nadir of Lennon’s recorded output (not counting the trio of avant-garde albums, Two Virgins, Life With the Lions and Wedding Album). Consequently, starting over together, for better or for worse, as the wedding vowels go, could be sales-suicide. For the record, while doing well, the album currently is not topping the charts.
“It’s like a play,” Lennon said of Double Fantasy. “We wrote the play and we’re acting in it. It’s John and Yoko—you could take it or leave it…otherwise, it’s cows and cheese! Being with Yoko makes me whole. I don’t want to sing if she’s not there.”
Therefore, she is there with seven originals. One of them, “Kiss Kiss Kiss,” concludes with orgasmic panting, for which Yoko will, no doubt, get slam-banged once again. More exhibitionism, they will say. But no one crucified Donna Summer for doing it in “Love to Love You Baby.” Different strokes? Quite possibly.
Yoko clearly doesn’t have the pipes of a diva, but some credit is due. In 1970, Lennon told Rolling Stone, “She makes music like you’ve never heard on earth…It’s fantastic. It’s like 20 years ahead of its time.” Or maybe 10. Listen to The B-52s. Yoko was on the New Wavelength before it had a name.
But before anyone screams, “Yoko oh no!” about her inclusion on the new album, be advised that the oral hijinks are minimal, and her seven contributions are her finest to date. They include the lovely, classical-tinged “Beautiful Boys,” the edgy “I’m Moving On” and the ska-flavored “Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him.”
John, on the other half, has never sounded more contented overall. As contented as those quarter-of-a-million-bucks-apiece Holstein cows the couple owns. In “Watching the Wheels,” he speaks of his at-long-last peace:
I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go
“I’m not interested in other people’s work—only so much as it affects me,” he said to Newsweek. “I have the great honor of never having been to Studio 54 and I’ve never been to any rock clubs. It’s like asking Picasso, has he been to the museum lately?”
The theme of Double Fantasy, which is a Jack Douglas and Lennons co-production, is simply John loves Yoko loves John. Not forgetting son Sean for whom John’s lovely lullaby “Beautiful Boy” was written. Lennon’s dreamy “Woman” is as beautiful and sensitive as anything in his catalog:
Woman I know you understand
The little child inside the man
Please remember my life is in your hands
In his funky “Cleanup Time,” a verse of which reminds one of his nursery rhyme-like “Cry Baby Cry” from The Beatles’ White Album, Lennon sings of his and Yoko’s juxtapositions:
The queen is in the counting house
Counting out the money
The king is in the kitchen
Making bread and honey
Yet, despite the album’s apparent bliss-blitz, the pair’s life together—“so precious together” (a little too precious for some people, it seems)—is not all Peaches and Herb. The underbellyaches of love are also exposed. Their fears, insecurities and tensions bubble to the surface in such cuts as Yoko’s “I’m Moving On”:
But now you’re giving me your window smile
I’m moving on, moving on, it’s getting phony
In John’s “I’m Losing You,” he sings:
I know I hurt you then
But hell that was way back when
Do you still have to carry that cross?
But the riled side of life is not dwelled upon, and Yoko concludes the album with an expression of hope in the gospel-tinged“Hard Times Are Over”:
It’s been very hard
But it’s getting easier now
Hard times are over
Over for a while
It is a fitting and optimistic finale to John and Yoko’s new peace of the rock.