First we just hear the bells. Three gentle chimes from Tibetan wishing bells symbolizing the beginning of a journey, and creating space for purity and reflection.
After spending five years away from the music business to raise his son Sean and to spend time with his wife Yoko as they made a life for themselves in New York City, we expected Lennon to return with bravado and bluster. Lennon, who stripped off his shirt to muster the energy to belt out a single take of “Money (That’s What I Want)” after spending the whole day recording The Beatles’ first album. Lennon, who accosted our ears with a wall of fuzz guitar opening the song “Revolution.” Lennon, who looped tape backwards and upside to bring us the joyous psychedelic imagery of “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.”
But here we get none of that. Here we get the quiet, introspective Lennon of “Norwegian Wood” and “Julia.” We get space and quiet. The bells welcome us in, and then we hear only Lennon’s voice.
Then, at the end of the word life, we hear the strum of acoustic guitar with every beat.
“Our life together is so precious together
We have grown, we have grown
Although our love is still special
Let’s take a chance and fly away
An angelic background chorus joins John to clear a path for the journey to come. A path that would recall a life of music and love. A path that lead us all to the end.
In my previous blog post This Perfect Live (Part 1) I recalled how, as a young music listener, I bemoaned the autobiographical rock songs that would veer away from interesting stories about musical inspiration being found and young bands being formed, to boring stories about love and relationships. At least, boring to me at the time. It wasn’t until I got a little older that I realized that it was the love stories that made these songs so meaningful. It was love that created the music and made the bands great. Without love, there is no music. Without music, there is no love.
Lennon first recorded the pristine “In My Life.”At only 25 years old, Lennon was recalling his life, and how it was framed and made special by the woman he loves. Now, barely 15 years later, Lennon returns to the familiar theme, yet now the song is only about love. Framed by familiar musical themes from throughout his life, the song focuses on how love makes his life meaningful, how love makes him happy, and about how he just wants to experience it all again.
“It’s been too long since we took the time
No-one’s to blame, I know time flies so quickly
But when I see you darling
It’s like we both are falling in love again
It’ll be just like starting over (over)
Starting over (over)”
As soon as the verse begins, Lennon begins to sing in an ” Elvis Orbison” style, as he called it. The drums kick in, and he returns to the ’50’s doo wop music that first inspired him. The reverb starts on his vocals, the electric guitar is keeping time, and this is the very best 1950’s song you have ever heard.
After five years away, Lennon was absolutely starting over, and he was starting over with this best friend, his musical partner and his wife by his side. He was energized as he recalled the music that inspired him to be a musician in the first place.
The electric guitars provide bright syncopation, and we can imagine the background singers up on stage, step dancing back and forth as they snap their fingers to the beat of the music. “Doo, doo. Doo, doo.” We can hear Lennon doing vocal cartwheels, and we can almost see him as he is stands next to them, crooning into a Shure 55S microphone. He smiles at the band, he winks at the audience.
“Everyday we used to make it love
Why can’t we be making love nice and easy
It’s time to spread our wings and fly
Don’t let another day go by my love
It’ll be just like starting over”
Savor every day. Life is special. The life we have lived. The life we are living now. The life we imagine for ourselves in the future. At the bridge, Lennon imagines going on a trip, far away.
“Why don’t we take off alone
Take a trip somewhere far, far away
We’ll be together all alone again
Like we used to in the early days
Well, well, well darling”
The very last verse is a repeat of the first verse. In the background we hear a strange mumbling, but it’s only John saying “over and over and over.” This beautiful life of his, he never wanted it to end. He just wanted to live it over and over again.
“(Just Like) Starting Over” was the last song recorded for the Double Fantasy album, and it was released as a single on October 23rd, 1980, the same day that a young drifter named Mark David Chapman bought a handgun in Manhattan.
Six weeks later, at only 14 years old, I remember coming downstairs to breakfast on Tuesday, December 9th and seeing the newspaper headline on the breakfast table that John Lennon had been shot and killed the night before by Chapman, using the gun he bought the same day that Lennon shared a dream with the world, a dream that maybe, just maybe, he could start over.
I went back upstairs and listened to music.
“(Just Like) Starting Over”
Written and Performed by John Lennon
Released October 23rd, 1980