Enough has been written about Lennon’s Beatle days. But there’s plenty more to this multi – dimensional enigmatic personality.
The angry cry of a newborn baby was heard among the thunder of one of the worst air raids Liverpool had seemed. At 6.30 in the evening on October 9th 1940, Julia Lennon gave birth to a son John Winston. Julia’s husband, Alfred, was a seaman which meant that they saw very little of one another. Eventually they separated and John went to live with his Aunt Mimi one of Julia sisters. John was five years when he went to his first school, Doverdale primary and within five months he had learnt to read and write. About a year later, his father on shore leave came Liverpool to see his son He soon made plans for both to emigrate to New Zealand. Everything was ready until Julia turned up and wanted custody of John. They came to a compromise and the child was left to choose. Though he loved his dad very much it was his mother who he ran to. She took John back to Liverpool and before long he moved back with Mimi and George .By the time he was seven years old John had started to write and illustrate his own little books of stories, jokes and cartoons. In June 1953 his beloved uncle George died. Mimi was left to bring up a rebellious strong willed boy alone.
When John was12 he and a fellow gang member, Pete Shotton started at Quarry Bank Grammar school. Towards the end of their school days they discovered the thrilling anti - establishment Teddy Boy fashions. Mimi disapproved of this. Then came the momentous impact of Elvis Presley whose record “Hearbreak Hotel” was top of the charts in 14 countries in May 1956. John idolised him and like thousand of his contemporaries wanted to emulate him and be a star. It was a totally different brand of music however that gave John the break he was looking for and it came in the song called, “Rock Island Line” sung by Lonnie Donegan. It was called skiffle. The sound could be created using instruments as basic as tin cans and washboards and homemade double basses of broom handles. Now the possibility of forming a group was no longer a hopeless dream. John pleaded with Mimi for a guitar and eventually she gave. Julia who could play the banjo taught John few chords.
John and Shotton set about forming a skiffle group which as the Quarry Bank boys they named themselves ‘The Quarrymen’. An acquaintance in the band in 1957 introduced John to Paul McCartney Before long they became inseparable and Paul taught John many new guitars chords although Paul was left handed. That autumn John started a course at an art college which was just a stone’s throw from Paul’s school the Liverpool institute. Towards the end of that year Paul introduced John to another Liverpool pupil. George Harrison... Now John, Paul and George formed the nucleus of the Quarrymen .They advanced from teachers and washboards to a new sound rock and roll. The group soon started playing at local dance halls and social clubs. They disbanded and regrouped later and became The Beetles, and finally The Beatles. Later the trio pulled in drummer Ringo Starr known from their earlier escapades in Hamburg and the Beatles were now complete.
On August 23 1962, John married Cynthia Powell and they had a baby named Julian born on April 18th 1964. Five years down the line and the marriage began to sour. By the end of November 1968 John and Cynthia had been granted divorce. Earlier in the year a friendship had been growing between John and Yoko Ono, when John met Yoko at the preview of an exhibition ‘Unfinished paintings and objects by Yoko Ono” where instead of giving him a business card she handed him a card with the word ‘breathe’ printed on it. Coinciding for John, a new relationship was the unhappy breakup to wife Cynthia. Later that year, John and Yoko married in Gibraltar on March 20th 1969.Yoko looked after her only daughter, Kyoko from her previous marriage to Tony Cox.
Shortly before Christmas in1969 John and Yoko Lennon printed their Christmas Peace message, “The war is Over (If you want it) Happy Christmas from John and Yoko” Yoko Ono who many blame for the Beatles breakup was at least responsible for the breakup of John Lennon’s marriage. As Lennon’s second wife, Yoko was the single biggest influence in his post Beatle peacenik posturing. Tragically that influence extended to his music as well. Genius tempered with mediocrity. Lennon was so obsessed with Yoko that he dedicated several songs to her and even officially changed his middle name to Ono. There were other bizarre episodes. Yoko’s influence on their honeymoon got the world outraged by the Press. They spent a week sitting in bed in a hotel in Amsterdam, surrounded by slogans advocating peace. The two of them sat in a bag on a table in a luxurious hotel in Vienna, Austria and called it ‘Bagism’. In May that year they staged another ‘Bed - in’ this time in Montreal, Canada which culminated in a besides recording of a song entitled, “Give Peace a Chance” that was also Lennon’s first solo chart single (UK #2) “Cold Turkey” followed, before “Instant Karma” – featuring George Harrison that reached the top credits on both sides of the Atlantic. (Years later footwear giant, Nike used it in their TV campaign. And so started John and Yoko’s Peace Campaign).
Those along with four albums were the highlight of Lennon’s individual scorecard, when the Beatles split in 1970. Hardly any occasion for Lennon to flounder on the contrary the next album, “John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band” instantly returned his best chart rankings till then .(US #6) and (UK # 11) The showcase single was another social album, “Power to the People”.
In August 1971 Lennon left native England never to return again. In any case he always hankered about US citizenship. It wasn’t easy coming attaining it only in 1976 after several deportation orders. (Lennon’s typical protest “We are not prepared to sleep in separate beds.”
“Imagine” the album was released in 1971.To many his finest solo effort and definitely his biggest commercial success. Unfortunately flavoured by cryptic attacks on Paul McCartney it should nevertheless be remembered for its seminal anthems, “Happy X’Mas (War is over)” and the title track possibly Lennon’s most compelling single ever.
The dark side of Lennon’s personality emerged during a subsequent traumatic phase characterised by a drunken brawling lifestyle – undoubtedly provoked by a short term split with Yoko. Thankfully it all passed of emerging with a chart topping album, “Walls and Bridges”. The extract “Whatever gets you through the night” also reached #1 that finally emulated his other Beatles colleagues with a solo #1.The track also brought him out of hermitage. Elton John, who guested on it, was convinced it would top the charts. A sceptical Lennon agreed to appear in concert with Elton if it did. In retrospect that turned out Lennon’s final live concert. Bonus day actually, as John and Yoko sorted out their differences backstage.
Lennon’s final TV appearance followed in mid -1975. He was entering a tranquil self – imposed phase of domestic bliss. Undoubtedly prompted by the birth of his second son Sean, born on October 9, 1975 that also happenened to be Lennon’s 35th birthday .With Yoko conducting his business affairs, he settled down to (by his own admittance) the peaceful life of a house husband n his Manhattan apartment. Five years of bliss indeed. Yet can a mind of genius lie stupored that long? Beneath the veneer of domestication was fermenting some of his best work since, “Imagine”. The result of the exile was the autobiographical, “Double Fantasy”. Unfortunately peppered with atrocities from Yoko Ono. That aberration aside, it’s vintage, triple - distilled Lennon.
Lennon had never got a chance to savor the success of his first album in five years. The day New York will never forget is still a red letter day for Americans. At 10.30 p.m on December 8th 1980 a Beatle fanatic Mark David Chapman pumped five bullets into his 40 year - old idol having barely five hours earlier - secured Lennon’s autograph. Lennon was shot dead in the lobby of the nine – storied Dakota building that had become his home. The man who had tried to give peace a chance met with this cruel and violent death. John Lennon was much more than a musician he was a spiritual leader, a guru. All over the world people gathered to mourn together. Outside Moscow, on Lenin hills, a crowd gathered to pay tributes in a silent vigil. The stars on the American flag had been blacked out because America could not keep the life of Lennon. In New York and Liverpool thousands gathered and as the sun set, the candles flickered they said goodbye.
Chapman was later ruled a psychiatric case with two pet fixations. The Beatles and suicide. Two failed attempts to kill himself led him to plot his hero’s death. A case of suicide turned backwards. Whatever the psychiatrics’ analysis, the fact remains that the pop world lost one of its greatest stars.
A good ten years after his death, over 30 pop stars performed at the John Lennon tribute concert. That same year, “Imagine” was broadcast simultaneously in 130 countries in commemoration of his 59th birth anniversary. In late 1998, the John Lennon penned album that was presented by Chapman to Lennon was put on sale. It is reported that the album was picked up by an unidentified man minutes after the shooting at the building and was kept in a vault for years. It was put on sale for approximately $ 1.8 million. The signature, “John Lennon 1980”was scrawled in blue ink on the album that carried a picture of Lennon kissing his wife Yoko Ono. The signature was written on her neck. The same year a woman claiming to be the lost half – sister of Lennon came forward. Victoria Elizabeth Lennon – born of an unknown father was given away for adoption by Lennon’s mother in Liverpool 53 years ago and lived under the name of Ingrid Penderson. Her adoptive parents who could not have children had changed her name after adoption. John searched in vain for years to discover the whereabouts of his relative after learning from an aunt that he did have a sister aged four years his elder. He hired detectives but in vain. Ingrid was told the story in 1966 when she needed a birth certificate, to get married, but now divorced, had vowed to do nothing until her adoptive mother died. She now lives in the hope that she’ll meet Lennon’s sons.
The memories will linger and slowly fade, but the music is forever. Years later he still achieved his most significant chart –topping feat, when Lennon was voted as the greatest music performer of the 20th century. The poll conducted by over 7,000 Q magazine readers - mainly aged between 30 – 40 is dominated by stars who found fame mainly in the 60’s and the 70’s, that included Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie. Being #1 on the list surely proves one thing that this pop icon will still be important even 10 years from now.
In 1999 end, a piece of Beatles history was snapped up at an auction when the guitar John Lennon was playing the day he met Paul McCartney sold for $ 200,000. Lennon got the acoustic Gallotone Champion guitar at a price of just 10 pounds in 1957 when he was playing with The Quarrymen. The unidentified buyer said he was proud to own something played by Lennon.
The song “Imagine” was re – released as a single in December 1999, after it was voted in one of the nations favorite songs in a recent poll. The lyrics were voted Britain’s all – time favorite in a recent Millennium Music poll, and the song came in second behind only the classic Queen track, “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
Sons, Julian and Sean have taken over where their father left. Julian released a single and later an album that went up the charts and got him noticed. However his stand at the charts plummeted after a few weeks. The song, “Saltwater” is quite a favorite with Lennon fans, done in the same velvety voice that was his fathers. Around the same time differences between Julian and his step - mother Yoko erupted with Julian accusing her of not giving him part of his share of the property his father left him.
Being only 40 when he died, John Lennon has left an indelible mark as a composer of haunting lyrics and hummable melodies. The Liverpudlian will always be remembered as one of the top performers of our century.
Collated by Verus Ferreira