Gary James' Interview With The Author Of
Starting Over: The Making Of
John Lennon And Yoko Ono's Double Fantasy
Starting Over is an oral history of the making of John and Yoko's "Double Fantasy" album. It's a fascinating, detailed look from all of the key players involved, Yoko Ono, David Geffen, producer Jack Douglas, engineers, arrangers, session musicians, music journalists, photographers
David M. Spindel and
Roger Farrington and even John Lennon himself.
We talked to Ken Sharp, who put this book together.
Q - Ken, how long did it take you to put this book of your together? I take it, it was a labor of love?
A - Yeah. It was definitely a labor of love. Elvis and The Beatles are my two favorite artists. With The Beatles there's been so many books and lots of books on John too. It's kind of like I'm the kind of person if it's already been done, I have no intent in going down that track. But somehow, I was thinking about "Double Fantasy" and realized this was a really important record in a really important period. It was near the end of John's life. I thought, Wow! This could be really interesting to kind of chronicle what went on 'cause it really hadn't been done to any great extent. So that was my impetus to doing the book. It turned out to be a really fascinating project. The more people I spoke to, the more interesting it got. It led me to various different people and I really, really wanted to speak to as many different people involved with the record from top to bottom, whether it was Yoko or Jack Douglas or the studio musicians or the engineers or the people who worked at the record company or journalists, to see how the record was perceived at the time and then how it's perceived now. So, it was really, really a joyous experience. A lot of hard work, but it was well worth it.
Q - How difficult was it to get the people in your book to speak to you? Did anybody say no?
A - There were a few people in John's band that felt a little uncomfortable, but once they could sense the angle I was coming from... I wasn't digging for dirt. It was really more to chronicle a really, really upbeat period, actually even though it's tempered by the unbelievable tragedy of John being killed. Andy Newmark, the drummer on the record, he was really my champion. He helped open some doors with some people that were perhaps a little more reluctant to speak, in the studio band. Once that happened, it certainly helped me with some of those folks. I would say for the most part, I'm a genuine person and I think my excitement and enthusiasm for a subject I hope translates. I think I was able to convey that to the people I spoke to, to engender their trust.
Q - How emotional was Jack Douglas when he talked about December 8th, 1980?
A - Very emotional. Pretty much everyone you spoke to when we talked about that, whether it was the engineers at the session or Jack or the studio receptionist at The Record Plant who got John's autograph, John and Yoko's autograph when they left that night, fifteen to twenty minutes before John would be killed. Very, very emotional. You certainly were able to get a sense of the great pool and depth of love that people felt toward John. I tried to be respectful about that. I didn't want to get into too much about what happened that day in terms of... I don't even want to say the name of the person who stole John away from us, but I really tried to set the stage for that day and that evening and give as much information of what happened. I was really, really excited by some reviews of the book where it made people feel good to know that John was in a very, very up creative space near the end of his life. While that's never going to temper the awful tragedy that happened afterwards, that was something I was reading from some people that bought the book. That was something they liked about it.
Q - That's interesting that you would say John was upbeat. I talked to a gentleman by the name of Fred Seaman. He told me John was down because sales of "Double Fantasy" were disappointing, hovering around the 700,000 mark. Could it be that John was both up and down?
A - Well, I can't really speculate because I wasn't there in the inner circle, but from the people I spoke to that worked with him, everyone worked with him peripherally. They weren't living with John at the Dakota. So, I can't speculate and give you a firm answer of where John's head was at. But the people I spoke to certainly conveyed that he was excited. If you listen to the interviews he did near the end of his life, it certainly sounds like someone who was excited by what was to come.
Q - Did you ever ask why fans were allowed to gather in front of The Dakota?
A - No. I never got into that. I was much more interested in the creative aspect and what was happening with the music making.
Q - As I look at the pictures of John in this book, he's the oldest looking 40 year old guy I've ever seen. He looks like a man in his early 60s in the photo on the back cover of the book.
A - Well, we're gonna disagree on that one. I think he looks pretty great, and healthy and happy.
Q - Did you ever meet John Lennon?
A - No. I wish. I met the other three Beatles. I'm so fortunate to be able to say that. I never got to meet John. Certainly I would have loved to have done that. I think he would've liked this book because it really concentrated on the music and really tried to provide a window into the creative thrust of the sessions and music making that occurred. Doing the book, I really feel even closer to John. In some ways it was my selfish way of getting closer in a vicarious sense by speaking to all of the people who worked with him. I'll tell you one thing that was really interesting: I did a book signing in December (2010) that Roger Farrington was at too, one of the great photographers. We did it in New York. During the day we got to go to the studio where John worked and recorded the record. It's no longer that studio (The Hit Factory). It was amazing to be up in that studio. The control room hasn't changed. The area where he recorded hasn't changed. Even looking at the photographs that are in the book, you're pretty much able to figure out where a lot of the photos were taken. So, that to me was a great, great treat. It was December 8th ironically that we had a book signing and visited the studio.
Q - Where did you meet the other three Beatles?
A - I've interviewed Ringo a bunch of times. I've never done a one-on-one interview with Paul. I've asked him a bunch of questions at various press conferences, but I've met him a few different times, including one when I interviewed Linda backstage at the dressing room across from where I did the interview to meet Paul. I first met him in 1984 at a press party in New York for "Give My Regards To Broadstreet". George, I met twice. I met him once at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame when The Beatles where inducted. That was a thrill. The best time was in '93, September of '93. George was a surprise guest at the "Red And Blue" album lunch for journalists inside Abby Road Studios Two. I spoke to him briefly and we talked about The Ruttles and guitars. That probably was the biggest thrill of all. It was a one-on-one discussion with George. And he couldn't have been sweeter.
Q - How do you follow up a book of John Lennon? Do you write about Kurt Cobain?
A - No. (laughs) I won't be doing anything on Kurt Cobain. I'm working on a bunch of different projects. Things just kind of came to me. The one thing I will say is you'll never see me do a book on Bon Jovi or Carrie Underwood. I pretty much am driven by passion of things that I'm interested in. I'm not interested in Bon Jovi or Carrie Underwood. No offence to either. In terms of doing a book, it basically has to be someone I have a great passion for, because I find when I'm driven by passion I can do my best work. I'm never gonna do a cash grab and no offence to Kurt Cobain. He was really talented, but I have no interest in doing a book on him either. (laughs)