George Belanger is the acclaimed singer and songwriter for the Canadian rock band Harlequin. He and the band have received numerous music awards including most recently Socan’s Classic Award for radio airplay.
It was 1980 and the band was recording at The Record Plant in NYC with producer Jack Douglas. One afternoon, Jack was called to the phone … he was out of the room for quite some time which was unusual as he hated any distractions.
I feared it could be “bad news” and was expecting a sad face to re enter the studio but to my surprise he was grinning from ear to ear!
He looked at us all and said: “I just got some wonderful news but I am sworn to secrecy.”
I immediately knew it had to be a music project so I quickly put in … “You’re recording John Lennon, right?”
He turned to face me and said … “Ahhh … No!”
I had never seen him so excited so I knew this was big!
Being a very curious person and an avid puzzle solver, I eventually pulled him aside and informed him that if he told me who it was … I could be trusted to keep a secret.
“Uhhh … Nah!”, was his reply.
“If I guess who it is … can you just nod or something?” I said.
I kept pestering and eventually he replied in the affirmative.
For an entire week I kept passing him names scribbled on a piece of paper but I failed at every attempt.
I was down to the likes of Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand … totally baffled and about to concede when I thought I would try, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
He immediately stood up and pulled me into Studio B.
He reached into his duffle bag and pulled out a cassette.
“Ok … listen to this with headphones and give it back to me right away.” he said.
I put the tape in my Walkman and time was suspended.
It was … John “Fucking” Lennon strumming his acoustic version of “Woman”.
Man … I had a lump in my throat and one in my pants … I could not believe how lucky and privileged I was to have this honour.
He then went into” Watching the Wheels”
It was like he was talking to me and catching me up on his life.
I was beside myself and eyeing a high speed dubbing deck with the thought of making my own copy of that tape but I just couldn’t bring myself to betray Jack’s trust.
John had some banter going on between tracks like … “Not sure I like this one … may give it to Ringo.”
On the other side of the cassette the songs were more fleshed out with electric guitars and drums.
Jack informed me later that these tracks were recorded with Cheap Trick in his apartment at The Dakota.
Then came, I’m Losing You … raw and soulful and I now I had a lump in my throat!
There were songs on that tape that were never published I’m sure but I only got a chance to listen to the damn thing once!
Jack came back into the room with a big grin on his face.
I smiled right back and thanked him profusely and I managed to keep my secret as per our agreement until it was made public.
Two days later, we were doing over dubs very late at night and I was finished with my scratch vocals so I decided to retire to the lounge with a libation to rest my ears.
At 2 o’clock in the morning the phone rang.
I was going to ignore it … who could it be at this time anyways … but it kept on ringing insistently.
So … I picked it up and spoke into it … ” Record Plant”.
That’s when I heard that unmistakable Beatle patois intone ” Allo … is Jack there?”
Sounded like JOHN FUCKING LENNON!!!
I felt like a 15 year old girl … couldn’t believe my luck … I had to keep him on the line … it’s JOHN FUCKING LENNON for God’s sake!
The only thing I could think to say was …
There was a pause …
” Tell im it’s John.”
It’s JOHN FUCKING LENNON!!!!
Trying again to keep it going … my mind is racing!
Nanoseconds seem like an eternity, I’m almost swooning, my pulse is racing I’ve got a goddamn Beatle on the phone for fuck’s sake!
I am tongue tied but eventually manage to utter a phrase that had the opposite intent of what I had in mind because I wanted to praise him … tell him what he meant to me … how big a fan I was and how I admired his mind, his music, his quirky lyrics, to tell him I thought he was the coolest guy in the universe! There were literally a million things I could have said but … noooooo! I say….
Another pause and a slight change in the delivery of his next few words … using the kind of tone a teacher uses when you weren’t paying attention in class and gave a totally stupid, unrelated answer.
Sadly his final words to me were ….
” Just tell im it’s JOHN.”
The lump in my pants returned … this time occupying different quarters and I dutifully went to fetch Jack.
I was sweating and mumbling and it was as though Jack could tell what must have occurred. Beatle Fucking Maniac!!!
He walked into the lounge, picked up the phone and said … “Who is this?”
I could “Imagine” John’s eyes rolling skyward.
I left New York without ever seeing him and without a clue that his brilliant life would be taken only a month later.
In fact, the night John was assassinated he was coming from The Record Plant and he had invited Jack back to The Dakota.
Jack told him that he couldn’t because he had to finish mixing Harlequin’s record.
Had Jack gone with him … things may have panned out differently as Jack is a savvy, street smart New Yorker who may have intervened and changed history as we know it.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!