Sunday, February 8, 2009

John Lennon's Last Years

Between 1977 and 1979, John Lennon abandoned his solo recording career, allegedly to care for his son Sean, who was born in 1976. There are conflicting reports as to John’s demeanor during these years. Many describe this period at the end of his life as a time when he was finally centered, becoming a “househusband” who baked bread and devoted time to raising Sean. Some stories seem to bear this out. John became concerned, for example, when he thought Yoko wasn’t taking one of Sean’s ear infection seriously enough. There is also film footage and audio tapes that seem to verify how much John doted on his second son.

Other accounts describe a man who had still not exorcised his demons. Some biographers have noted that Lennon was a recluse in his final years at the Dakota, a man who experienced profound bouts of depression and who was still using drugs. This view is reinforced by accounts from John by Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia Lennon. According to Cynthia (and based on reports by John’s first son, Julian, who had visited his father at the Dakota), John had little interaction with Sean, preferring to stay in his room and watch television as opposed to baking bread or playing with his young son. There is probably some truth in both accounts of John’s behavior, and fans of Lennon need to draw their own conclusions based on available biographies.

What can be known for sure is that John felt renewed after sailing to Bermuda in June of 1980 aboard the schooner Megan Jayne. When the boat ran into a storm of considerable force and most of the crew became incapacitated, John lashed himself to the railing and began singing old sea chanteys and ballads he’d learned in Liverpool as a youth. Overcoming his fear, he gained confidence in the face of the elements, and upon arriving in Bermuda he began to compose songs that would eventually be recorded on his final album, Double Fantasy. He even began calling Julian to ask his opinion of certain songs. At last, John seemed to be making a genuine effort to reach out to his older son.

A more serious reconciliation with his Julian was not in the cards, however. John seemed to be in good spirits on December 8, 1980. In the morning, he was filmed by rock and roll photographer Annie Leibovitz for the cover of Rolling Stone. After John gave an interview to a San Francisco DJ in the afternoon, John and Yoko left for the Record Plant around five in the afternoon in order to work on producing a single from the Double Fantasy album, released in November. When they returned later that night, Lennon was shot four times in the carriageway of the Dakota by a fan for whom he’d autographed a copy of Double Fantasy earlier in the evening. Lennon was pronounced dead at 11:15 p.m. at Roosevelt Hospital. Within hours, candlelight vigils formed outside of the Dakota. His body was cremated two days later. His memorial across the street in Central Park, Strawberry Fields, is visited by thousands each year.

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