“I was Screaming Sea Shanteys and Shoutin’ at the Gods!” A Glimpse Inside John Lennon’s Sailing Diary.
by Chris Dixon
John Lennon. Bermuda Bound. Photo Source: Unknown.
When I was a kid, I was a Beatles fanatic. I was turned onto the band, by my mom of all people, who for some reason gave me the album Magical Mystery Tour when I was maybe nine years old. For some reason too deep for my young mind to fathom, I literally wore out the vinyl grooves pondering its dense layers of sound and meaning. Yellow Submarine and Revolver would have the same effect. The band’s legend was always writ a little more large for me because my aunt lived in a building called the Oliver Cromwell, right across the street from the Dakota, which was home to John Lennon and Yoko Ono. She caught occasional glimpses of the pair ducking in and out of their home right there in front of Central Park. I always craned my neck when we walked by the Dakota, but never got my own glimpse. When Lennon was shot, 35 years ago yesterday, I remember my aunt telling me how for days it was nearly impossible to leave her building for of all the mourners. Even though I was only in eighth grade, I wished I could have been among them.
Today, Scuttlefish commodore Brian Lam hipped me to something I didn’t know about Lennon. He actually became a pretty hardcore sailor late in life. In fact, he credits a hairball journey in June, 1980 from Rhode Island to Bermuda with curing a debilitating bout of writer’s block. It was a voyage that inspired “Watching the Wheels,” “I’m Losing You,” and an early version of “Woman.”
John Lennon and his son Sean. Photo source: Unknown.
Lennon told Playboy a few months after the journey: “So, 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 time there was amazing. Fred [Seaman] and Sean and I were there on the beach taping songs with this big machine and me just playing guitar and singing. We were just in the sun and these songs were coming out.”
It made me appreciate him even more.
A fascinating story from the Paste magazine archives details Lennon’s storm-tossed passage, and time in Bermuda, through an obscure 600-page journal that emerged from this seminal, if short, period in his life. In 2013, the organization WhyHunger created an immersive app based on Lennon’s Bermuda tapes.
And you can change a nine-year-old’s outlook, or blow their minds, by giving them a Beatles album as a holiday gift.