NEW YORK, N.Y. – Six months before he died, John Lennon set sail from Newport, R.I., on an ocean adventure to Bermuda that awakened his desire to make music again and is now being chronicled in an electronic format he could not have conceived of.
A new app, “John Lennon: The Bermuda Tapes,” is being offered for sale on Apple devices Thursday for $4.99. It’s loaded with interactive features, music, photos and interviews that detail a relatively unexamined slice of the former Beatle’s life.
More important, it opens the door to a potentially potent new creative outlet for musicians and the struggling industry.
Users of the app can simulate the six-day journey through the recollections of two crew members and Lennon himself, in a Playboy interview conducted shortly after the trip. They can virtually visit the disco where Lennon heard a recording of The B-52s’ “Rock Lobster,” which reminded him of his wife Yoko Ono’s music and coaxed him back to work. They can eavesdrop on the creative process as Lennon’s last recordings took shape.
The project’s director, “LennonNYC” filmmaker Michael Epstein, said he wanted to recreate the experience of becoming immersed in a record album, which he feels is lost in a world of electronic music files.
“That relationship that MP3s have severed, we tried to put back together,” he said.
Lennon’s wife had encouraged John to take the Bermuda trip in June 1980, which turned into a deeply cathartic experience.
“He was a macho guy in a very old-fashioned way and he just wanted to conquer things,” Ono said. “And he did. It was amazing.”
A few days into the trip they ran into a strong storm. Two crew members became violently seasick and the captain, Hank Halsted, succumbed to exhaustion. A rock star and novice sailor was left to keep the “Megan Jaye” afloat despite the wind and waves. The crew members remember Lennon singing sea chanteys as he steered the ship to safety.
The experience gave Lennon some pride at a time in his life when he was having some issues with self-confidence, she said.
“It opened up a kind of frozen part of his soul and he started creating,” she said.
Lennon excitedly called Yoko after hearing “Rock Lobster” and they started writing songs together in a sort of call-and-response style, with Ono back in New York. The result became the “Double Fantasy” album. Epstein interviews B-52s members for the app and they discuss the influence she had on their music.
“There was nothing that was making us feel good at the time,” said Ono, who is still recording at age 80. “The whole world didn’t want my music. They were feeling almost abusive about my creative work and that really choked him up in a way.”
It was time, as Lennon sang, to start over.
With the material available, Epstein and his partners found the story a great creative starting point. There have been some musical apps in the past, with artists like Bjork, Bob Dylan and Lady Gaga, but he feels the technology’s potential is largely untapped.
Some of the features are clearly fanciful, like a virtual visit to a garden in Bermuda. Users can “steer” an on-screen boat by moving their tablets. They can play back music with buttons that seem to come from a tape recorder.
Artists in the future can use apps to bring back immersive experiences, he said. They can design one around a classic album, for example, including interviews, video and outtakes that show how the project came together. New musicians can use them to make releases more of an event.
“This is an opportunity to take music to a new place,” he said.
The app is for use just on Apple devices at this point. Apple gets a portion of the revenue, but the majority will go to the organization WhyHunger for use on an anti-poverty campaign.
EDITOR’S NOTE — David Bauder can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter@dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder.