John Lennon’s Got Soul (A) by Anthony Bromberg
John sat alone in his recording studio. He had been working on the record for weeks. It was early.
He was sitting at the production board, just twiddling things. He was humming. The same tune over and over. Yoko wasn’t there. No one was there. He smoked a cigarette, didn’t even bother to turn on the fan. He put on his sunglasses, making all the little white and grey knobs go dark. He put on his hat to see if his hair would disappear. It was unkempt; it didn’t. He hadn’t showered since the morning of the day before, and he’d been going at it, with the songs, with himself, with everybody ever since. He stood up to look out of the window behind him, which he knew wasn’t there. He hummed the tune again looking at the wall. He was Lonely.
About nine o’ clock people started showing up. John had just brewed a fresh pot of coffee and another of tea. He was sitting in the singer’s room, bobbing his head, humming, and sipping a cup of black coffee.
‘Hey John!’ someone said, tapping the glass.
He gave them a nod.
‘You ready to start rolling?’
‘Yeah.’ He nodded again.
It was just him and a couple of the engineers. He had some vocals he needed to redo (he’d been listening to the tapes the night before, and his voice hadn’t been raw enough), and then there was this thing he wanted to try and get right on the piano. Then later, he knew, sometime after ten maybe, Yoko would get there, and they’d try to lay down something new.
John was munching on a sandwich, sitting on a bench beneath a tree that even in full bloom didn’t have many leaves. It was the first real meal he’d had all day, not counting the crackers he’d eaten earlier with his tea. He took a bite and wondered why he hadn’t been sleeping better.
He had finished his sandwich and was just sitting there, watching the cars whizzing by on the road in front of him, whistling a little bit, when he was joined by one of the engineers.
‘What you thinking about?’ said the engineer, the one named Gus, who’s name no one ever seemed to remember.
‘I was just thinking of turning this record into something completely different.’
‘Yeah,’ John said. ‘What if we make it ten different covers of ‘I’m So Tired’?’
‘I thought this was going to be all new stuff.’
‘Yeah, but what about instead we throw out the new stuff and do like the zydeco blues ‘I’m So Tired’ and the broadway jazz throat singing mix of ‘I’m So Tired’.’
‘Still not sleeping much? Sorry.’
‘No, indeed. Not much. Recording’s going well though, I think. It’s going to be a great record, they say. You know what it says at the end of ‘I’m So Tired’?’
Yoko came up behind him at that moment and rubbed a wet hand in his hair, laughing. He laughed too. She didn’t believe in using those brown paper towels in the bathroom. He turned around to look at her through her big glasses.
‘Yeah, it is going well,’ Gus said.
‘Last take?’ Yoko asked.
‘Sure, for now,’ John said, then mumbled something to himself.
Everyone was electrified by this point in the evening. John’s singing had been primal rock n’ roll one moment and then five minutes later beautiful folk ballad. Not to mention he had finished the first half of a new song that everyone said was the best thing he’d written for the record. Still, it was dinner time.
After John sang the last note, a low, brooding ooooooh, he stepped back out and joined everyone in the main office. Yoko kissed him and said she needed to get home. Some other people got in line to shake his hand. A group of them asked if he wanted to come out for a drink. A few of the people employed by the hour stayed behind with him to clean up and see what might come next.
The drummer was tidying up around the studio. A couple guys were listening to the day’s tapes. John was walking in and out of the rooms.
‘Hey, what’s that one?’
‘That song you’re humming. That’s not one of the ones we’ve been doing today?’ It was Gus, the engineer with the big eyebrows, asking.
‘No, it’s not.’
‘It’s a good tune. We could lay it down right now if you wanted.’
‘No, it’s not mine. We’re not doing any covers on this record, remember? All new ones.’
‘Oh, I didn’t realize, sorry.’
‘Hey, no problem,’ John said and went to do something else.
He was alone in the studio, sitting at the drum kit, humming. Everyone else had been gone for hours, but John was still there thinking, restless.
‘Mmmmm mmm-mmmmm. Mmmmmm mmm-mmmm mmmm.’
He picked up some sticks and started slamming on the drums in no particular order. Then he got up and went to get a drink of water. Then he went back to sit down and think for a minute at the production board. He flipped on the latest track they’d been doing. His own voice assaulted him from the speakers. He flipped it off. He sat and started humming again.
Finally, he decided he couldn’t stand it anymore.
‘Who’s this? I’m sorry?’
‘This is John, Paul. This is John.’
‘It’s rather late.’
‘Were you sleeping?”
‘Yeah, I was actually.’
‘Sorry. I’m sorry. I was just up doing this thing, and then I thought about calling you. It was a bad idea. Go back to sleep man. Sorry.’
‘No, well, I’m up now, aren’t I? So, what the hell’s going on then, John? Something pretty urgent, I guess. What are you doing?’
‘I’ve been recording. Got some new songs. I was just spending some time here, like, after hours, twiddling with some things. I wasn’t ready to go home yet, and I was kind of being bothered.’
‘You recording in the middle of the night?’
‘Yeah, that’s right. You’re not, I guess.’
‘Well, what’s been bothering you? I’m kind of tired.’
‘Right. I was wondering. Okay, I was getting a bit bloody frustrated by this thought, to be quite honest, and I was just thinking I don’t really understand you sometimes.’
‘Well, we haven’t been talking much the past couple of years have we? I don’t really have any idea what you’re talking about.’
‘How come you didn’t let me sing, ‘Oh! Darling’?’ John said. ‘Now hold on, don’t start yet. What I’m saying is, I mean, I think I would’ve sung it really really well. I think I could’ve done a really good job with it if you’d given me the chance. There.’
‘You know what I’m talking about. Your song, ‘Oh! Darling’ on Abbey Road, Track 4 man, last time we were recording a whole one together. I wish you’d let me sing it. I could’ve really sung my heart into that one.’
‘Are you serious?’
‘Yeah, of course. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. You might have at least given me the chance.’
‘Well, mate, I didn’t really know you wanted to, to be quite honest.’
‘Of course I did. That’s my type of song. Exactly my kind of thing. You’d have to be blind, daft, dumb not to figure that out. Of course, I wanted to sing it.’
‘This is what you wanted to tell me?’
‘Was that it?’
‘Well, I wanted to know why?’
‘I told you I didn’t know you wanted to. And besides, you’re John fucking Lennon. You’re the best songwriter in the world. You don’t need to ask me for a song. That Abbey Road. All I ever hear about on Abbey Road is ‘Come Together’ and ‘Something’ or ‘Because’ and ‘Here Comes the Sun’. No one gives a damn about any Paul McCartney songs from that record. It’s like that song doesn’t even matter anyway, so I had no idea you wanted to sing it.’
‘That’s bull shite. ‘Oh! Darling’ “Yes!” I think when I put it on the record player. I put that LP on just to sing along with that song. I don’t even listen to the rest of them. That’s a really bloody great song, man.’
‘Yeah. Absolutely. It hurt my feelings you didn’t ask me to sing it. I really could’ve if I’d gotten the chance I think.’
‘I’m sorry, John. I really am. Thanks for that,’ Paul said, holding in a sigh. ‘I miss you sometimes, mate. I miss working with you.’
‘Yeah, me too. For a long time.’
‘It’s just too hard now, isn’t it?’
‘I guess so.’
‘Hey, do you really think I’m the best songwriter in the world?’
‘Definitely. No question. We always did.’
‘Even better than Dylan? Joni Mitchell? All those American poets.’
‘Come on. Their songs aren’t as good as your outtakes, mate. Not even close.’
‘Thanks. It’s hard keeping it up on my own, you know.’
‘Yeah. Me too… Hey, John, since I’ve got you, you mind if I ask you something?’
‘Shoot, man. Go for it. Anything.’
‘Well, why’d you write that song, ‘How Do You Sleep?’ I guess that hurt my feelings pretty badly since we’re on the subject.’
‘What? What do you mean?’
‘You know, that song you wrote about me. I lost sleep over it. Literally.’
‘What? That song?’
‘That song wasn’t about you.’
‘Yeah. Of course. Really.’
‘That makes me feel better. What was it about if it’s okay to ask?’
‘Okay. My song, ‘How Do You Sleep?’?’
‘Yeah, that one.’
‘That one’s about my dad.’
‘Yeah. You know, I’m still working out a lot of my feelings about him, him not being there. I’ve been trying to lay that down on record, see if it helps.’
‘Right. That makes sense. I just didn’t realize. Thanks for telling me that. It means a lot. I won’t spread it around or anything.’
‘No, of course not. Anytime.’
‘Hey, John, I should probably be getting back to sleep. We’re rehearsing for tour you know. Hitting the road again soon.’
‘Didn’t you do that last year? You’re a workhorse.’
‘Well, I’m glad you picked up the phone Paul. You’re a good bloke.’
‘You too. It was good talking to you. We shouldn’t wait this long for the next time.’
‘No. We definitely shouldn’t.’
‘Well, good night, brother. Give Yoko my love. And John?’
‘You can sing, ‘Oh! Darling’ anytime. It’s yours. I always wished you sang it anyway.’
‘Thanks. You’re the best. Give our best to your wife as well.’
‘Her name’s Linda.’
‘Yeah. Obviously, I know that. You sleepy git. Hey, I’ll talk to you soon, Paul. Thanks again.’
‘Good night. I’m sure the record’ll be great. Bye.’