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Hamptons Life

Nov 1, 2018 4:29 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Arlene Reckson Talks Life At The Record Plant, Working For John Lennon

Arlene Reckson with a copy of the book
Nov 6, 2018 6:35 AM

It’s July 4, 1971. Arlene Reckson walks into The Record Plant recording studio on West 44th Street in New York City.

She thinks it’ll be just another day working as a receptionist at the place that had so far been responsible for Don McLean’s “American Pie,” Sly & the Family Stone’s “There’s a Riot Goin’ On,” and The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Electric Ladyland.” There was no fuss in the building and no sense of pressure, just another Sunday scheduling studio time for artists and getting equipment ready.

And that laid-back vibe stayed in the air even when the day’s guests had arrived: John Lennon and Yoko Ono, looking to record a string section overdub of a song called “Imagine.”

“It was magic,” Ms. Reckson said, years later, on a cool afternoon in East Hampton. “There’s an energy that some artists have—it’s a gift that they’re given. Sometimes it comes out of their fame, and sometimes it’s something that they have that makes them get to where they are.”

Ms. Reckson is a ways away from the music industry nowadays: The 71-year-old Amagansett resident is currently a real estate broker for Corcoran and has been in real estate for 33 years.

But with the world having remembered Mr. Lennon on what would’ve been his 78th birthday on October 9 this year, and with the reissue of his classic album “Imagine” on October 5, Ms. Reckson was brought back to her time in the studio and in life with the late Beatle and his famous muse.

Ms. Reckson was recently quoted in the book “Imagine,” a new inside look at the making of Mr. Lennon’s iconic album, with archival photos curated by Ms. Ono and interviews with those involved in the album’s production. One of those interviews was with Ms. Reckson—who not only helped organize a piece of one of the most beloved songs in pop music history but also served as personal assistant to the couple.

It’s quite a life to have lived, one that started in a Jewish-Italian ghetto in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Ms. Reckson said she “dove in headfirst” with Beatlemania ever since she first heard their music played on “American Bandstand,” and then, at the age of 16, first saw the Beatles perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and then live in concert at Carnegie Hall a few days later in 1964.

“I remember the first time I saw the hysteria at Carnegie,” she said. “It was this wilding mentality. By the third song in their set, it took one person to rush the stage and mayhem broke loose. We all starting screaming once one person did.”

After graduating from high school and then from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Ms. Reckson said she had set up two interviews for jobs at two locations: one at the William Morris talent agency, and one at the newly established Record Plant studio. Founded by Chris Stone and recent Hendrix collaborator Gary Kellgren, the Record Plant was meant to be less rigid and regimented than the typical studio at the time, Ms. Reckson said.

“Before that, studios were like factories,” she added. “The idea with the Record Plant was to create an environment like you’re coming into someone’s home. Working there was like being on a sitcom—everyone there was extremely fun, and people coming in to record were like that week’s guest stars.”

That environment was, according to Ms. Reckson, what drew Mr. Lennon to frequent the Record Plant as a hangout as well as a place to work. She said he enjoyed hanging out at the studio and saw it as his “second home.” The ex-Beatle was comfortable enough around Ms. Reckson to ask to borrow her copy of the book “Edgar Cayce on Atlantis” for a random trip to the bathroom.

“I think he liked just hanging out there and making music,” Ms. Reckson said. “He’s a music guy—that was his life. Yoko liked to have people around, and if you were somebody that they liked and felt comfortable with, you would be welcomed into the inner sanctum.”

Ms. Reckson became such a trusted confidant to John and Yoko that she was invited to join the couple in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally on December 10, 1971. Afterward, Ms. Reckson became something of a personal assistant to the couple, running the occasional errand for them.

One was the difficult task of recruiting a children’s choir for the single “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” recorded at the Record Plant in October 1971. She found a children’s choir from a church in Harlem in a matter of 12 hours by asking the church’s pastor permission, then renting a bus, ordering food from McDonald’s to keep the kids occupied, and having them sign release forms to be taken to the studio for recording.

She continued to work for John and Yoko while still logging hours at the Record Plant in 1971. Ms. Reckson said that when she left the Record Plant around 1974, she received an interesting offer from Yoko. At the time, Yoko and John were separated, and John had been in a relationship with May Pang, another former assistant to the couple. A time referred to as John’s “Lost Weekend,” he and Ms. Pang were living in California, and since Ms. Pang didn’t have a driver’s license, she and Ms. Reckson chatted on the phone about an idea.

“It was decided that they really need an assistant, someone with a driver’s license—even though I’m a terrible driver and his life would be in my hands at all times,” Ms. Reckson said. “I basically was just driving the car, keeping her company, going shopping for food, cooking the two dishes that I knew how to make that he, thank goodness, liked: steak with potatoes from a can, and macaroni and cheese. I basically started doing errands, and errands turned into trust, trust brought you into the inner sanctum.”

Ms. Reckson said she stayed out in California with the couple for a few months before moving back to New York and, at the request of John, started working as Yoko’s assistant for a year. She described the work with John and Yoko as being a part of their entourage, hanging out with them in the studio and in public.

Despite the casual appearance she had with two of the most famous musicians in the world at the time, Ms. Reckson still had numerous conversations with the couple.

“John was more talking about music, like, ‘What did that song mean? What did you mean by that song?’” she said. “Yoko was much more personal—we really became very close friends during that time.”

She added, “As many things people say about her, I can only say she was very kind and generous to me. She was also doing an album at the time and was also performing at the time. This was a woman who had a career and was an artist. I think that she needed to get that in her life, too, and not to be considered just John Lennon’s wife.”

So many years on, Ms. Reckson still remembers Mr. Lennon for the humor he displayed outside of a recording studio, particularly on a random trip to an Orange Julius while the two were in California.

“Somebody came up to him and said, ‘Oh, you look like John Lennon!’ and he said, ‘Oh, yeah, it gets me a lot of free drinks.’”

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