John Lennon’s comeback album after five years out of the public eye, Double Fantasy was also the last to be released in his lifetime.
His career break had come about after his 1974 reunion with Yoko Ono, from whom he had separated in the previous year. He had pulled himself back from the excesses of the Lost Weekend, had settled his court case with Morris Levy over plagiarism charges, and after issuing the hits collection Shaved Fish in October 1975 he found himself without a record deal for the first time since 1962.
That month also saw the birth of his second son, Sean, and Lennon gratefully took the opportunity to devote time to bringing him up, to re-evaluate his lifestyle and contemplate the future. The business-minded Ono became the main breadwinner in the household, while Lennon became the bread-maker.
There is great satisfaction. I took a Polaroid of my first loaf. I was overjoyed! I was that excited by it. I couldn’t believe it! It was like an album coming out of the oven. The instantness of it was great…
But then it was beginning to wear me out, you see. I thought, What is this? Screw this for a lark. I’d made two loaves on Friday and they’d be gone by Saturday afternoon. The thrill was wearing off and it bcame the routine again. So the joy is still there when I see Sean. He didn’t come out of my belly but, by God, I made his bones, because I’ve attended to every meal, and to how he sleeps, and to the fact that he swims like a fish.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
It was a role he relished, at least temporarily. Househusbandry proved a welcome break from the mayhem that had enveloped Lennon for most of his adult life, but he quickly became bored, an inertia which often resulted in depression.
Although Lennon continued writing music throughout his house husband period, the absence of a record deal left him with a series of half-completed sketches. Unable to read or write music, he recorded many demo tapes of these compositions, but often lacked the discipline necessary to finish them.
Nonetheless, these fragmentary works formed the basis for many of his songs on Double Fantasy and its posthumous follow-up, Milk And Honey. In 1980 interviews Lennon claimed that the songs came to him in a sudden burst of creativity, but the truth is somewhat more prosaic: the songwriting muse never left him and he continued making music right through his temporary retirement.
Yoko Ono encouraged him to travel, in an attempt to fend off his listlessness. He visited Hong Kong, South Africa, Egypt and Florida, but the most significant was a two-month trip to Bermuda in June 1980. He sailed there with a small crew on board a 43-foot sloop, the Megan Jaye.
During the journey the ship encountered a mid-Atlantic storm, and the boat was pounded by 20-foot waves. The crew members each succumbed to seasickness, leaving Lennon and the ship’s captain Hank Halstead above deck. After two days at the wheel Halstead needed to sleep and left Lennon in charge.
Lennon had some previous experience of sailing, and Halstead remained with him for an hour to ensure he was familiar with the ship’s controls. Once alone on the deck, Lennon found the experience a transformative one.
I was there driving the boat for six hours, keeping it on course. I was buried under water. I was smashed in the face by waves for six solid hours. It won’t go away. You can’t change your mind. It’s like being on stage; once you’re on there’s no gettin’ off. A couple of the waves had me on my knees. I was just hanging on with my hands on the wheel – it’s very powerful weather – and I was having the time of my life. I was screaming sea chanteys and shoutin’ at the gods! I felt like the Viking, you know, Jason and the Golden Fleece. I arrived in Bermuda. Once I got there, I was so centered after the experience at sea that I was tuned in, or whatever, to the cosmos. And all these songs came!
The experience revitalised Lennon, and a visit to a nightclub, where he was struck by the similarity of the B-52s’ ‘Rock Lobster’ to some of Ono’s recordings, gave him the impetus to return to the studio. He recorded a number of complete demos in Bermuda, which were intended as reference works for the session musicians he recruited for his first original album in five years.
In Bermuda Lennon also found a title for the collection. Double Fantasy was the name of a freesia, and appealed to Lennon’s concept for the album: presenting his songs alongside Ono’s, a collection celebrating their lives together and offering themselves once again to the world.