One evening, Lennon made an expedition into Hamilton. Lennon had not visited a nightclub since the mid-1970s but on this evening he decided to go to the 40 Thieves, a Hamilton nightspot with an international reputation. Tony Brannon (Tony B), who was the manager of the 40 Thieves at the time, remembers seeing someone who looked like John Lennon talking to some other guests. Since Lennon’s visit to the island was a private one, there had been no publicity that he was in Bermuda. Consequently, Brannon’s first thought was that this could not be the former Beatle. However, as the evening wore on, Brannon became sure of his guest’s identity. Still, he decided not to intrude on Lennon’s privacy.
In fact, Lennon was having an epiphany as he sat in the 40 Thieves. As he later told an interviewer for Rolling Stone: “I was at a dance club one night in Bermuda. Upstairs, they were playing disco, and downstairs, I suddenly heard 'Rock Lobster' by the B-52's for the first time. . . . It sounds just like Yoko's music, so I said to meself, 'It's time to get out the old axe and wake the wife up!' We wrote about twenty-five songs during those three weeks, and we've recorded enough for another album."
Lennon returned to Villa Undercliff, picked up an acoustic guitar and began to write songs. The writer’s block was gone.
One of the decorative features of the 40 Thieves was wheels with colored lights that spun behind the bar. Lennon immortalized them in a song “Watching The Wheels,” which explained why he had dropped out of the public spotlight:
“I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round, I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go.”
Front Street has changed since Lennon’s visit. Whereas a column of cruise ships used to tie-up along the street, only a couple of smaller ships dock there these days. The quaint English-style shops are gone, replaced by the offices of international businesses. So too is the 40 Thieves, which was on the site where Magnolia House now stands. But the change is not so much that you cannot picture Lennon strolling happily down the street unrecognized in the white linen jacket and wide-brimmed hat that you see him in in photographs taken during his visit.
Another place that had a profound effect on Lennon was the Bermuda Botanical Gardens. Lennon visited the Gardens several times and enjoyed lunch at the Chianti restaurant that used to be on the grounds. While looking around the Gardens, he came across a species of freesia called “Double Fantasy.” The idea of one living thing incorporating the ideas of two minds struck him as symbolizing his relationship with Yoko. Accordingly, Double Fantasy became the name of the album that he recorded upon his return to New York from Bermuda. Appropriately, it combines both his music and her music.
The Botanical Gardens is a short drive outside of Hamilton. (You can also get there by taxi or by bus – routes 1, 2 & 7). It is a peaceful place with green fields descending a gentle slope. In some ways, it reminded me of the green parks near Lennon’s boyhood home in Liverpool.
In 2012, a memorial to Lennon was unveiled at the Botanical Gardens. The centerpiece is a sculpture by Bermuda artist Graham Foster. In keeping with Ms. Ono’s wishes, the sculpture is not a likeliness of Lennon but rather a design symbolizing his visit to Bermuda. It will incorporate Lennon’s profile, peace doves and the double fantasy flower. (See http://www.doublefantasybermuda.com/)
At the same time, the Double Fantasy Flower Garden will open. The Bermuda Parks Department is importing 4,000 double fantasy flowers from Japan for this special garden.
The Chianti restaurant where Lennon lunched is not there anymore. However, near where it was is the Masterworks Museum of Art. Although the museum opened on the grounds of the Botanical Garden after Lennon’s visit to Bermuda, there is a connection. In addition to being a musician, Lennon was a visual artist. Indeed, he studied for a time at the Liverpool Institute of Art. Masterworks will host an exhibit of his works to coincide with the opening of the memorial.
A Lennon memorial concert was held on the Botanical Gardens grounds in September 2012. Many of the artists performed also contributed to a tribute CD honoring Lennon. The concert drew over 2,000 people and is slated to be an annual event.
Lennon stayed in Bermuda for six weeks. In the photographs and videos that have been released of the visit, you can see him and Sean looking out to sea and playing on the island’s beaches. It must have been a wonderful time.
But what was the source of his inspiration? Focused by his experiences during the storm at sea, he was revitalized by the sunshine and tranquility of the island. This enabled him to tap once again his inherent abilities. That is what a voyage to Bermuda is all about.
Cruise ship articles - - Following John Lennon's Footsteps in Bermuda - page two