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Sunday, December 13, 2020

Octopus' Garden Review of "John Lennon, 1980" Book

2:17 PM Posted by Nicole M

Adapted with permission from Octopus' Garden fanzine, Volume 30, Issue #2, December 2020. Review by Tom Aguiar.

John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days in the Life by Kenneth Womack, Omnibus Press.

Nineteen-eighty was a landmark year for John Lennon, as he was ending his self-imposed exile and rediscovering his muse in dramatic fashion with the release of his and Yoko’s most mature album to date, Double Fantasy.

John had left music behind five years earlier and dedicated himself to the role of househusband and father to his son Sean. He had missed his older son Julian’s childhood and was determined not to make the same mistake again.

He claimed that he spent his time baking bread and that was true, at least until the thrill wore off and it became routine and then he stopped. He continued to write little snippets here and there, never fully giving up his music.

During the period leading up to 1980, John and Yoko continued to work on the longform adaptation of "The Ballad of John and Yoko," and purchased El Solano in Palm Beach, Florida. Bag One Productions and Joko Films had been inactive and subsequently dissolved leaving just Lenono Music, which ended up encapsulating all of their projects. John even became interested in sailing and took lessons.

The beginning of the return of John’s muse began in Bermuda, but it was the trip aboard the Meghan Jaye that really reawakened his musical spirit. It was a trip into the unknown for John, who had always held dreams of going to sea, just like his father. A few days into the trip, the boat ran into a storm and the crew was incapacitated by illness. During the storm, John had to take the wheel. As his courage rose, he was able to sail the Meghan Jaye through the tempest, shouting and singing.

Once settled in Bermuda, John felt an onrush of songs. Visiting a garden, John viewed a plant called Double Fantasy and thought it would be a great title. John feverishly wrote and recorded songs that just came pouring out of him.

Back in New York, John and Yoko entered the studio to record the album. John was still apprehensive but as time went on, he felt more and more that the album would be a success. Encouragement from Yoko, producer Jack Douglas, and the music involved raised the excitement level within John. Soon he would begin to talk about touring.

Renowned music historian Kenneth Womack reveals in vivid detail the events of that pivotal year. John had found his muse in unforgettable moments of creative success. Womack’s skill as a researcher uncovers many incidents that contributed to John’s return to artistic success in Bermuda and the studio. John was ready to have an unprecedented year and was ready for anything. Double Fantasy was completed and a success, and John was now working on his next album, Milk and Honey, as he returned from the Record Plant recording studio on December 8, 1980.

Womack describes what happened next with one sentence, “All that changed at 10:45 PM” and the reader immediately knows. Womack deals with the aftermath by visiting the legacy that John left on the world through the eyes of Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and all of John’s fans. There were tributes such as Strawberry Fields, a statue of John in Cuba, and a memorial in Bermuda, and those are things on which Womack focuses. It’s the story of John Lennon’s life, not his death.

Womack is a renowned author, researcher, and master storyteller. and John Lennon 1980: The Last DaysIn The Life is one of his best. Where Womack surpasses himself is that he able to take the renaissance that John experienced, lift it off the pages, and place it into the soul of the reader. Yes, John had a renaissance and the reader is able to actually feel it through Womack’s writing. That is very rare for any author and it is a tribute to Kenneth Womack’s skills as a writer. He is a master and if I could give this book a grade higher than A plus, I would.