John Lennon and son's double-fantasy trip
Friday 24 May 2013
This is no ordinary tourist guide to Bermuda. Lennon Bermuda, by Scott Neil, tells the largely untold story of John Lennon setting sail on a 43-foot yacht from Newport, Rhode Island, to Bermuda for his last summer holiday with his young son Sean, before the singer was shot dead later that year.
Bermuda was the place that inspired John to write 30 new songs – the first in five years, including "Woman". He named his last album Double Fantasy after a freesia flower he saw in the Bermuda Botanical Gardens. Inside the book are unseen photographs of John and Sean, then four years old, thank-you notes from John for a starfish, and hand-written lyrics of songs, even his customs declaration form stamped by Bermuda immigration, as well as places he visited and people he met along the way. To accompany the book is a double CD of musicians paying tribute to Lennon with interpretations of his songs.
John Lennon's arrival on the island was quite a shock for the American artist Nancy Gosnell, who ended up painting a portrait of John and Sean. John had seen her paintings at a house that he rented from her friend Rolf Luthi, she explained. "He said: 'John would like to have a portrait of Sean painted as a present for Yoko.' I said: 'Oh wonderful, I can do that.' Then I heard John wanted to have his portrait in the painting as well," says Gosnell, who was always fully booked.
Lennon and Sean – both wearing shorts and T-shirts – came to the door of the rented house. "They both sat down on the rug in the living room where I had set up my easel. Their house was on the water so I painted the scene [below] right outside their house so it looked like they were sitting on the beach. They had a big grand piano. John would call Yoko on the phone and play [songs on] the piano." These ended up on Double Fantasy.
"He spoke about his life and the Beatles and how Yoko had been his saviour, and he had been a mess and overweight and she had put him on a brown-rice diet. He did impersonations for me. I remember him doing Henry Kissinger, and he sang a little. One of the songs he sang was "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds".
John told her he "got tired of being a Beatle" because "he was writing music for teenagers", and now he wanted to "write for adults". He also asked for Gosnell's teacher's name in New York so that he could take lessons in portrait painting. Back home, the picture hung in his Dakota apartment, above his piano. "It almost seems like a fantasy in retrospect – John Lennon – probably the most famous person in the world," she says.
'Lennon Bermuda' is out on 3 June (doublefantasybermuda.com)
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