John Lennon’s death was the first one that I really grieved. I was too young to remember my Grandfather’s death. I was sad when Elvis Presley and Marc Bolan died about a month apart in 1977 but though they were heroes Lennon was more like a companion through my late teens. Indeed, Lennon helped shaped my worldview.
In later years I would question my loyalty to Lennon. He would drift down the charts to become my third favourite Beatle (sorry Ringo!) but in 1980 he was my man.
I remember at the time that I was most gutted by the exuberance of life that was just snuffed out. We hadn’t seen much of Lennon for 5 years but suddenly here he was enjoying New York, enjoying his wife and particularly his son Sean and he was back in the studio making music. All that energy - gone. I was heartbroken.
Kenneth Womack is the new Beatles’ historian on the block. He has written quite a number of books on the band as well as two biographies of George Martin and another on George Harrison and Eric Clapton out next summer (cannot wait!).
I am not sure that I am a massive fan of Womack’s style. He has written for Cambridge University press but what his writing loses a little when it betrays an academic style is more than made up for in his thorough research.
Womack’s account of the last year of Lennon’s life is set up by sketching a pretty bleak scan across the four years before it. From retiring to his apartments in the Dakota after the release of Rock N Roll in 1975 Womack suggests Lennon was a creatively scant and without much purpose. Womack does give a really good feel for life in the Dakota and how the Lennons fitted into their district of New York
1980 however saw some new focus. Helped by Paul McCartney’s Coming Up single as competitive impetus, a new hobby in sailing and a holiday in Bermuda, Lennon started dreaming of a return to the studio.
I loved the investigative thread where Womack delves through Lennon’s demos and fragments and unveils as the pages turn how the songs on Double Fantasy and Milk And Honey came together. All these years later I got a bigger vision of the project. The love story and starting over for the 60s generation.
Most of all, this book 40 years after the event expresses my feeling about the biggest tragedy of the tragedy. Womack paints the picture of a man who was living 1980 full on. The speed of his life, vision and art was accelerating month by month and then… with the futile act of one mad man… the life, vision and art was gone.
That will always be the sad ending of such a Lennon book but John Lennon 1980: The Last Days in the Life has a very positive hue, until that last page!