In June 1980, when John Lennon docked his yacht in Bermuda, the former Beatles genius hadn’t finished a song in almost five years. After spending more than a decade as one of the world’s greatest songwriters – from She Loves You to A Day in the Life to Imagine – the tap seemed to have run dry. He felt burned out. Bermuda changed all that.
Beatle at Sea
Lennon wanted to visit Bermuda to escape the hustle and bustle of New York City, but getting to the island was a harrowing adventure.
The tiny sailing yacht he boarded in Newport, Rhode Island, was pounded mercilessly by powerful 120-mph winds and terrifying 20-foot waves during the 700-mile journey. Things looked grim. At one point, the skipper, having been awake for three straight days, put Lennon – a novice sailor at best – at the helm. It could have been a disaster. John later recalled:
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.
So much for rest and relaxation. Calmer seas prevailed, however, and soon Lennon and the yacht’s crew sailed into St. George’s Harbour, surely breathing a collective sigh of relief. Lennon rented a home in Bermuda’s quiet Fairylands district and settled in.
But instead of a lazy island vacation, the songwriter quickly discovered that his muse had returned.
It all started when Lennon, on one of his first few nights on the island, stumbled into a Front Street nightclub, where patrons were dancing the Bermuda night away to the sound of Rock Lobster by the B-52’s. The strange rhythms, whooping vocals and infectious melodies transfixed him. The next day Lennon picked up his guitar.
I was so centred 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 … [I was] there on the beach taping songs … just playing guitar and singing. We were just in the sun and these songs were coming out.
- John Lennon
For the next several weeks, Lennon was a fixture on the island, wandering the Town of St. George's historic streets with his four-year-old son Sean or strumming his guitar on a secluded beach and exploring the lush, 36-acre Bermuda Botanical Gardens in the City of Hamilton. It was there the songwriter encountered the lovely freesia flower that would give his final album its title: Double Fantasy.
“In Bermuda, having a lovely time…”
All in all, Lennon composed about 25 songs during his stay in Bermuda, including such classics as Watching the Wheels, Woman and (Just Like) Starting Over. This burst of creativity meant that he had plenty of tunes to begin recording Double Fantasy, a collaboration with his wife Yoko Ono and his first album of original material since 1974’s Walls and Bridges.
With Yoko at his side, he holed up in NYC’s Hit Factory Studio in the fall of 1980 (you can listen to demo recordings here) and emerged several weeks later with one last masterpiece. At the end of one song, you can hear Lennon pay tribute to the island that kicked off his creative renaissance: “In Bermuda, having a lovely time …” Take a listen to the full album.
Tragically, Lennon never returned to Bermuda. But you can still find traces of his Bermuda escape today.
Head to the Bermuda Botanical Gardens, where Lennon spotted the flower that would inspire the title of the last album released during his lifetime. Spend a few hours exploring the manicured gardens and see the Camden House, the designated home of the Bermudian Premier (though he doesn't actually reside here).
Explore Bermudian art at the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art and take a picture by the sculpture dedicated to the late Beatle, created by local artist Graham Foster. Have lunch at the Homer's Café on the museum grounds.
Front Street, where Lennon was introduced to the modern music of the time, is a happening nightlife district full of clubs, bars and restaurants. Go out for a night of dancing and music and let the mood inspire you.