“The music on this compact disc was originally recorded on analog equipment. We have attempted to preserve, as closely as possible, the sound of the original recording.”
I deal so much in digital music these days; I hadn’t read that line in awhile. I read it recently on the back of John Lennon’s Double Fantasy album as I ripped it onto my computer. At some point I realized that my database of nearly 17,000 songs had only a couple Lennon solo songs. Needed to fill in the gaps.
As the computer hummed and whirred, assembling 1s and 0s out of Lennon’s final works, I found myself studying the photo of John and Yoko below the warning that “the sound might have some limitations.”
I know the story of the photo. It’s 1979 or ’80. John and Yoko are standing in front of the Dakota building in Manhattan where they lived while the album was being recorded. A gray line of buildings recedes into the background. Lennon stands in profile looking toward Central Park. His hair is cut surprising close to the version he had ala-“Help”-era Beatles. Not the shorter version of the Ed Sullivan show, nor the longer hair of the late ‘60s that made him look like a feeble old man. Beneath the hair, that sharp, almost Greek nose dominates the face. And his chin reminds me of what a young British gal recently told me she was looking for: “A man with money and a chin.”
Lennon had both. But he wasn’t chasing drugs or women any longer. You can see it in his face. He’s at the leading edge of middle age, trying to be a good father and husband. The cocky swagger of “Twist and Shout,” and the taunting righteousness of “Give Peace a Chance,” are gone. Instead, he looks simply content. It’s apt that a song on the album has a lyric the read, “feels like we’re starting over.”
But he couldn’t know what would happen to him on that sidewalk in the months ahead. It was not a new beginning, but an ending.
A couple years ago I walked up to the iron-gated drive in Manhattan, along that spot in the photo with one of my kids. We’d been across the street in Central Park at the spot Lennon was looking toward on the Double Fantasy back-cover. We were watching the gurus and mesmerized tourists light candles in Lennon’s memory in the little spiral of asphalt known as Strawberry Fields. We walked up to the gate and a guard on the other side pointed at the ground and said, “He was killed right there. That man shot him right here.”
I remember the night it happened. It was a Monday night and I was a college student at Ball State. Our dorm room door was open and Monday Night Football played on a TV across the hall while I studied. Somebody stuck their head into my room exclaiming, “John Lennon’s been killed. Somebody shot him’.”
A few years later, while pumping gas with the windows down and the car radio on, I heard a familiar voice singing an unfamiliar song. At first, I thought it was Lennon, but no, it couldn’t be.
I’ve often thought about that little moment of joy, the pleasure of being surprised by an old friend’s voice– maybe someone you hadn’t thought of or heard from in awhile. How many hours of my youth did I sit in my attic bedroom in Tipton with headphones on, listening to Lennon? Uncountable.
Turns out the eerily similar voice on the radio was Lennon’s son Julian, singing the song, “Valotte.” When Julian was a child, Paul McCartney wrote “Hey Jude” for him.
So I’ve corrected that unforgivable sin – having thousands of pieces of music in my computer data base and almost no solo Lennon. That is the unending task of the audiophile – making sure you’ve got everything you need, especially from familiar voices of the past.