This past weekend, I had the honor of attending the wedding of two friends: a longtime buddy from college and my new friend his bride. My college friend is a giant Beatles fan (like, a GIANT Beatles fan), and the couple chose for their first dance a song by John Lennon called "Grow Old With Me." If you do not know that song, you are not alone: it was originally a demo song from John and was only released after his death on the posthumous Milk & Honey album. I was only passingly familiar with the song myself, but my friends' choice prompted me to do some research.
There is a nice fact about the song that reinforces its message of love for a life partner. Lennon's song was written as a companion to Yoko Ono's song "Let Me Count the Ways;" the two songs were going to appear together on the Double Fantasy record before time ran out to complete that album.
In turn, "Let Me Count the Ways" was inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem "Sonnet 43," which famously begins "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..." Lennon and Ono were fans of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her partner Robert Browning, and when Yoko wrote her song based on work from Elizabeth she suggested that John write a companion based on work from Robert. John found the poem "Rabbi ben Ezra," which begins "Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be..." He took that for his inspiration and wrote the rest of the song.
So, today's True Music Fact is that John Lennon's song "Grow Old With Me" was based on a poem by Robert Browning, and that the song was intentionally written as a response/companion to Yoko's song "Let Me Count the Ways," which was based on a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Isn't that sweet.
BONUS FACT: For a long time, "Grow Old With Me" was known to exist only as the final-released Milk and Honey version and the double-tracked piano demo that formed its basis. But in 1998, Yoko Ono worked with George Martin to create a cleaner version with strings and backing instrumentation added. And in 2009, two other demo versions came to light: a single-tracked, more sparse piano version and a very pretty version with Lennon playing guitar. All of them are uniquely beautiful.
BONUS (NOT) FACT 2: Today's title comes from some of the early research I did for this song, which got me really excited but turned out to be not true.
The Wikipedia entry for "Grow Old With Me" notes its almost-ran status as a Beatles Anthology song, stating "in 1994, Yoko gave Paul McCartney some cassettes containing demo recordings of four of John Lennon's unfinished songs: "Grow Old with Me", "Free as a Bird", "Real Love" and "Now and Then" with "Paul" written on them in John's handwriting" (emphasis added). That statement - that the demos were on a tape labeled "Paul" - is repeated in the Wikipedia entry for the Lennon demo "Now and Then," this time with the added detail that "for Paul" was "scrawled hastily in John's handwriting."
As I read that, I got very excited. "Holy cow," I thought. "At the end of his life, John was working on songs that he wanted to collaborate with Paul on!" I had never heard this before, and was more used to the narrative that John and Paul remained mostly estranged during John's final years. So I went in search of more information to flesh out the story.
Instead, I struck out. There are some sites where the "fact" is repeated, but the source of the fact on Wikipedia is one page in a book about the Beatles' day-to-day lives post-breakup. In a message board post on Paul McCartney's website, some commenters cast doubt on whether that source ever claimed that, so I tracked down the book myself and found the relevant passage. It reads: "During Paul's visit to New York for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame event, Yoko gives him four John Lennon home demos, on which the 'Beatles Comeback' recordings will be based." There is no mention of John's having written anything on a tape, and in fact the recordings Ono handed over were made several years apart and so they were likely on several different tapes.
It would have been a cool story for sure, but instead it's a cautionary tale that not everything you read on Wikipedia is true.