John Lennon

 John Lennon

 John Lennon – circa 1971

 “Mother, you had me / But I never had you” – ‘Mother’ (John Lennon)

“Don’t take it out on me just because your mother’s dead!”  With these words, Thelma Pickles exits Ye Cracke, a pub in Liverpool, England.  It is 1958 and Ye Cracke is the favoured watering hole of the students at the Liverpool Art College.  One of those scholars is the young man left standing alone by the departure of Miss Pickles.  His name is John Lennon, and he is destined for both triumphs and tragedies greater than could possibly be imagined at this stage.

John Winston Lennon (9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980) is born at Liverpool’s Oxford Street maternity home.  He is the son of Freddy and Julia Lennon.  Freddy Lennon is a ship’s waiter when he meets Julia Stanley, a cinema usherette.  Julia is a high-spirited girl who marries ‘on an impulse’ in December 1938 at the Mount Pleasant Register Office.  When the Second World War breaks out the following year, Freddy’s ship is in New York in the U.S.A.  Baby John is born during an air raid and Julia gives the child the middle name Winston in honour of Britain’s war-time Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

When John is 5 years old, Freddy Lennon drifts back into his life, but the child elects to stay with his mother.  Julia tells Freddy she wants a divorce.  She has a new man in her life, Bobby ‘Twitchy’ Dykins, a hotel waiter with whom she will go on to have two daughters.  Julia’s elder sister, Mary Elizabeth Smith – John’s Aunt Mimi – offers to raise the boy.  Mimi and her husband, George, have no children of their own.  John is brought up at their house, ‘Mendips’, at 251 Menlove Avenue.  Julia visits from time to time, but she becomes more like a mischievous older sister than a mother to the boy.  In 1953, John’s Uncle George passes away, leaving Mimi to deal with the increasingly troublesome lad alone.

As a teenager, John Lennon discover rock ‘n’ roll.  It is his Aunt Mimi who buys him his first guitar in 1956.  Stern Mimi disapproves of this nonsense, but Julia is a fan and she is the one who teaches John to play, passing along the banjo chords Freddy Lennon taught her.  In 1956 John forms his own group, The Quarrymen.  They take their name from Quarry Bank High School, the educational facility they attend.  “I got f***in’ lost in being at High School,” Lennon claims.  “I used to say to me Auntie ‘You throw my f***in’ poetry out, and you’ll regret it when I’m famous’, and she threw the b*****d stuff out.  I never forgave her for not treating me like a f***in’ genius or whatever I was, when I was a child.”  John Lennon’s impish sense of humour, so much like his mother’s, is bending into brashness.  He is the driving force in The Quarrymen and all too often the leading troublemaker.  Part of this tougher attitude is due to the teen trying to live up to the rebellious rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, but part of it is just survival instinct.  “On the street in Liverpool, you had to walk close to the wall,” John recalls.  “It was pretty tense.”

On 15 July 1958 John Lennon’s mother, Julia, is killed when she is struck by a car while crossing a road.  The vehicle is driven by an off-duty policeman.

In 1958 John Lennon moves on from Quarry Bank High School to the Liverpool Art College.

After Julia’s death, John’s humour is often cruel.  There is a void within him.  The loss of the mother who was never really maternal to him still leaves him devastated.  In some ways, it is a loss that affects his mind-set for the rest of his life.  The cynical aggression he displays to the likes of Thelma Pickles in the pub that day in 1958 threatens to alienate him from everyone.  And then he meets Cynthia Powell in 1958, a fellow student at Art College.  She becomes his girlfriend.  Cynthia says she desperately wanted to see him at peace with himself and the world for his own sake and for hers.

The Quarrymen mutate into a group called The Beatles.  The members of the band are: John Lennon (vocals, rhythm guitar), Paul McCartney (vocals, bass), George Harrison (lead guitar, vocals) and Ringo Starr (drums, vocals).  Ringo is the last to join in August 1962.

Cynthia Powell advises her boyfriend John Lennon that she is pregnant.  The couple quietly wed on 24 August 1962.  Their son, Julian (born 8 April 1963), is named after the paternal grandmother he will never know.

The Beatles’ popularity grows in leaps and bounds.  They become sensations in Great Britain and then international rock stars.  John Lennon remains the group’s nominal leader, but Paul McCartney’s role is closer to co-leader than first lieutenant.  John and Paul co-write most of the songs, dividing the bulk of the lead vocal duties amongst them.  The Beatles albums are almost always chart-toppers and John Lennon provides lead vocals on such songs as ‘She Loves You’ (UK no. 1) in 1963, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) in 1964, and ‘Help’ (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) in 1965.  The Lennon-McCartney relationship frays over time.  Although officially they remain co-authors, more often they write separately and display different characteristics.

On 9 November 1966 John Lennon attends an art exhibition at the Indica Gallery in London.  The exhibit is titled ‘Unfinished Paintings and Objects by Yoko Ono.’  “I got the humour in here work immediately,” says John, “I was very impressed.”  Still, she is just another person that the famous Beatle meets.  There is nothing special about her.  Yet the thought of Yoko Ono stays with John Lennon.

With the many temptations associated with his fame and wealth, John Lennon is not the most faithful of spouses.  The long-suffering Cynthia looks the other way and stands by her husband.  She has no reason to think Yoko Ono will be any different from John’s other paramours…but this time Cynthia is wrong.  On 8 November 1968 John and Cynthia Lennon divorce.

In the latter half of The Beatles career, John Lennon’s most distinctive contributions include ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ (UK no. 2, US no. 8, AUS no. 1) in 1967, ‘Julia’ in 1968 (a song using his mother’s name but seemingly not about her) and ‘The Ballad Of John And Yoko’ (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) in 1969.

On 18 October 1968 John Lennon and Yoko Ono are arrested and charged with possession of marijuana.  It’s a relatively minor charge, but one that will have far-reaching consequences.

On 21 November 1968 Yoko Ono has a miscarriage, losing the child of John Lennon with which she was pregnant.

In November 1968 John Lennon releases his first solo album.  Well, actually, it is the work of John and his partner, Yoko Ono.  ‘Unfinished Music No. 1 – Two Virgins’ (1968) (US no. 124) consists of ‘experiments in avant-garde electronic music.’  They recorded the album the previous May after spending their first night together.  John and Yoko appear naked on the album’s cover and it is this aspect that draws the most attention.

Keenly aware that their relationship is going to be played out in the glare of public attention due to The Beatles’ fame, the couple decide they may as well make the most of it.  Accordingly, they divide their public appearances between pleas for peace (the war in Vietnam is in full swing) and art ‘happenings’ that appeal to their shared ironic sense of humour.  Lennon imagines himself one day “looking at our scrapbook of madness.”

Their first bit of ‘madness’ is what the duo call ‘bag-ism’.  It begins at a Christmas party on 18 December 1968 at the Underground Club in London.  John and Yoko appear on stage from inside a large white bag.  John recalls a later press conference where they do the same thing.  “The reporters all stood back saying ‘Is it really John and Yoko?’ and ‘What are you wearing and why are you doing this?’  We said ‘This is total communication with no prejudice.’”  Or, as Yoko is reported to say, by remaining hidden the meaning of their message is not confused by physical appearances.

On 20 March 1969 John Lennon marries Yoko Ono.  The couple had to delay their nuptials until Yoko’s divorce from her first husband, film-maker Tony Cox, became final on 2 February 1969.  On this occasion, John and Yoko try to avoid publicity and look for a place where they can get married quickly.  This turns out to be Gibraltar, a British colony near Spain.

To counter balance this private moment, the newlyweds have a very public honeymoon at the Amsterdam Hilton hotel in the Netherlands.  This is the first of their ‘bed-ins’.  At the time, ‘sit-ins’ are a popular form of anti-war protest.  Students occupy a building in a university by sitting down until forcibly removed by the authorities.  “The press cam expecting to see us f***ing in bed,” says John, but the hopes for something salacious are dashed when they find the ‘bed-in’ consists of John and Yoko sitting up in bed in clean white pyjamas, clutching flowers, and preaching the cause of peace.  “It was one of our greater episodes,” boasts Lennon.  The wedding and bed-in are faithfully reported in ‘The Ballad Of John And Yoko’.

On 22 April 1969 John Winston Lennon officially changes his name to John Ono Lennon before a Commissioner of Oaths on the roof of 3 Savile Row, The Beatles’ London headquarters.  “Yoko changed her name for me [when we married]; I’ve changed mine for her,” John explains.

On 9 May 1969 John Lennon and Yoko Ono release ‘Unfinished Music No. 2 – Life With The Lions’ (1969) (US no. 174).  The ‘scathingly reviewed’ disc includes ‘a four-minute segment of the heartbeat of the baby that Yoko miscarried’ as well as such items as ‘Yoko singing stories from a newspaper with John chanting in the background.’

On 21 May 1969 John Lennon and Yoko Ono begin a second bed-in.  Originally, they planned to use New York as the venue, but they are denied a temporary U.S. visa due to John’s 1968 marijuana conviction.  So, instead, they go to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Canada.  This bed-in lasts ten days.  During this event, John records his first solo single, ‘Give Peace A Chance’ (UK no. 2, US no. 14, AUS no. 6), an acoustic sing-along that references bag-ism.  It is released in July 1969.

The Toronto Rock and Roll Festival on 13 September 1969 has a surprising addition to its list of performers.  This Canadian concert is where John Lennon makes his first live appearance as a solo act rather than as part of The Beatles.  He is backed by The Plastic Ono Band, a variable group of musical allies.  On this occasion, The Plastic Ono Band consists of famed British guitarist Eric Clapton, The Beatles’ German friend Klaus Voorman on bass, and future drummer for Yes, Alan White.  Yoko Ono spends most of the show inside a bag at the side of the stage.  The bulk of the set consists of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll songs like ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzie’.  “I can’t remember when I had such a good time,” Lennon subsequently exults.

On 9 October 1969 Yoko Ono suffers a second miscarriage.

‘The Wedding Album’ (1969) (US no. 178), released on 20 October, is ‘another experimental album’ that includes ‘newspaper clippings, a fake plastic slice of wedding cake and a copy of John and Yoko’s wedding certificate.’

On the same date – 20 October 1969 – John Lennon releases his second solo single, ‘Cold Turkey’ (UK no. 12, UK no. 30, AUS no. 25).  John wrote the song on 24 August after he and Yoko Ono kicked a heroin drug addiction.  He offered the track to The Beatles, but they declined, finding it a bit too confrontational.  Lennon’s response was “Well, b****r you.”  It’s a harrowing song whose bass and drums pulse is interrupted by Eric Clapton’s scalding bursts of guitar.  “Thirty-six hours / Rolling in pain / Praying to someone / Free me again,” sings Lennon through gritted teeth.  The song climaxes with a series of screams and howls.

In December, ‘Live Peace In Toronto’ (1969) (US no. 10, AUS no. 7) is released.  This is a live recording of John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band at the Canadian festival in September.  ‘Cold Turkey’ was given its live premiere at that show.

February 1970 sees the release of John Lennon’s next single, ‘Instant Karma’ (UK no. 3, US no. 5, AUS no. 6).  ‘Karma’ is an Eastern religious concept that, basically, means if you do bad things, bad things will happen to you.  Conversely, good deeds engender a positive payback.  “Instant karma’s gonna get you / Gonna look you right in the face / You better get yourself together, darlin’ / Join the human race,” urges Lennon.  The track is produced by the legendary Phil Spector, architect of a series of teen dramas in song form issued in the late 1950s – early 1960s.  The song has an oddly disjointed drum rhythm from Alan White over which is laid Lennon’s elemental piano chords and hand-claps.

By the middle of March 1970, Yoko Ono is pregnant once again.  This too results in a miscarriage.

In April 1970, The Beatles effectively disband.  It takes the rest of the year for all the details to be settled.  If John Lennon feels any sense of loss, it is not obvious.  “The Beatles was nothing,” he barks.

Freed from The Beatles, John Lennon gets more serious about his solo career.  Up to this point he has released three albums of electronic experimentation and one live album of old-time rock ‘n’ roll.  Aside from that, there are only three singles.

There is no tremendous change in style for John Lennon after leaving The Beatles.  This just means that, in their latter days, The Beatles had little group identity and operated more like a clearing house for the works of their component members.

The key factor in John Lennon’s music is honesty.  It is there in his voice, and in his simple, yet effective, guitar work or piano playing.  For the most part, his musical backing is kept similarly spartan.  “I always liked simple rock,” he claims.  “When I was 15…rock and roll was real, everything else was unreal…It is primitive enough and has no bulls***, really, the best stuff, and it get through to you its beat…I don’t like much else…There is nothing conceptually better than rock and roll.”

Part of John Lennon’s honesty is owning up to both his positive and negative impulses.  He insists on being understood as both a visionary of utopian peace and an angry and cynical individual.  “You see I’m shy and aggressive, so I have great hopes for what I do with my work and I also have great despair that it’s all pointless and it’s all s***.”

In November, John Lennon releases his first proper solo album, ‘Plastic Ono Band’ (1970) (UK no. 11, US no. 6, AUS no. 3).  On this recording, The Plastic Ono Band is Klaus Voorman (bass), Ringo Starr (drums) and Yoko Ono (‘wind’).  The songs are the product of John Lennon and Yoko Ono undergoing primal scream therapy with Dr Arthur Janov.  This rather radical concept has it that there is a central trauma early in everyone’s life and by going back to the state of mind at that point the pain can be released with a tremendous cry, a primal scream.  “Primal therapy allowed us to feel feelings continually and those feelings usually make you cry,” Lennon explains.  As an added bonus, by having an appointment at Janov’s facility in California, John is allowed entrance to the U.S.A. on the grounds of seeking specialised medical treatment, thereby circumventing the immigration visa problem.  Lennon loses interest in the therapy by June 1970, but it is part of the fibre of this album.  Rather optimistically, ‘Mother’ (US no. 43, AUS no. 57) is released as a single on 4 January 1971.  Hearing John Lennon scream over his childhood abandonment issues is a bit too disconcerting for many listeners.  ‘Love’, a stark ballad for piano and voice, is a little more palatable.  “If I can capture more sales by singing about love than singing about my mother, I’ll do it,” admits Lennon.  The former Beatle exorcises some of his problems with his old band too on ‘Working Class Hero’.  He includes in ‘God’ the line “I don’t believe in Beatles” amongst the list of things in which he has no faith.  He concludes, “I just believe in me / Yoko and me.”  The album is ‘a powerful statement, and for some it is too raw and aggressive to swallow easily.’

From personal politics, John Lennon returns to society’s politics for the single ‘Power To The People’ (UK no. 6, US no. 11, AUS no. 21), released on 12 March 1971.  “Say we want a revolution / We better get it on right away,” bellows the singer.  On this militant anthem, John Lennon is backed by Elephant’s Memory, a New York band.

In September 1971 John Lennon relocates to New York City where he will reside for the rest of his life.  “America is where it’s at,” he asserts.  “I should have been born in New York.

‘Imagine’ (1971) (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1), released in September, is John Lennon’s best album.  Apparently having learned a lesson from his previous album, Lennon presents this effort in an easier to digest form.  “Now I understand what you have to do,” he says.  “Put your political message across with a little honey.”  The title track, ‘Imagine’ (UK no. 1, US no. 3, AUS no. 1), is his finest song.  “Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky.”  While this is a bare-bones voice and piano arrangement, there is not only a sympathetic rhythm section added but also clouds of luxuriant strings.  The song ‘Imagine’ is the singer’s most virtuous moment as he foresees “A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people / Sharing all the world.”  ‘Jealous Guy’ has a similarly memorable tune with which Lennon whistles along, but on closer examination the song has a darker side.  It is actually an apology for his possessive behaviour: “I didn’t mean to hurt you / I’m sorry that I made you cry / Oh well, I didn’t want to hurt you / I’m just a jealous guy.”  ‘Oh Yoko!’ is a more upbeat ode to the missus.  ‘Gimme Some Truth’ is ‘stinging’ but ‘How Do You Sleep?’ is positively poisonous.  It’s a thinly veiled attack on his former collaborator, Paul McCartney.  Even George Harrison, another ex-Beatle, plays on the ‘sinister’ piece.  The album as a whole illustrates the duality of Lennon’s musical persona.  The universal love of the song ‘Imagine’ and the withering scorn of ‘How Do You Sleep?’ are both products of the same mind.

In December 1971 John Lennon issues the single ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ (UK no. 2, AUS no. 9).  As the title suggests, this is both a modern Christmas carol and an anti-war message.  The sentiment is given some resonance by the backing vocals of the Harlem Community Choir.  The song proves to have a long shelf-life, regularly being given radio airplay every year around Christmas time.

On 24 February 1972 John Lennon’s U.S. immigration visa expires.  A lengthy legal battle ensues for the British-born recording artist.  Using his 1968 conviction for marijuana possession as justification, the authorities seek to have Lennon deported as an undesirable alien while he battles to stay in his new homeland.  On 11 May 1972 Lennon claims his telephone has been tapped.  There are fears that the administration of U.S. President Richard Nixon wants the singer removed because of Lennon’s political stance and his association with dissidents and radicals.

Given this backdrop, John Lennon’s next album, ‘Some Time In New York City’ (1972) (UK no. 11, US no. 48, AUS no. 10), released in June, seems ill-considered.  With a record sleeve that looks like a newspaper, Lennon is cast as a correspondent from the political frontlines.  He composes ‘John Sinclair’ for the left-wing political activist facing a jail sentence for marijuana possession, and ‘Angela’ for the African-American militant Angela Davis.  The album’s most successful effort may be ‘Woman Is The Nigger Of The World’ (US no. 57) in which Lennon questions his own attitude towards the female of the species.  Elephant’s Memory again supplies musical backing.  ‘Some Time In New York City’ is actually a double album with the second disc, ‘(Plus Live Jam)’, featuring Lennon’s musical encounter with the idiosyncratic rock star Frank Zappa at the Fillmore East venue in 1971.

Early in 1973, John Lennon and Yoko Ono take an apartment at the Dakota, a ‘forbidding-looking…Gothic fortress in the corner of Central Park West and Seventy-Second Street.’  However, their domestic arrangement is short-lived.  After a hectic few years, John and Yoko find themselves ‘bickering almost constantly.’  Exasperated, Yoko suggests that John move out to Los Angeles.  In a strange move, she suggests he take with him May Pang, their administrative assistant.  May Pang becomes part-girlfriend and part-nurse to the dissolute rock star.  John Lennon embarks on an epic drunken bender in Los Angeles, hanging out with producer Phil Spector and fellow rock stars Harry Nilsson, The Who’s Keith Moon, and ex-Beatle Ringo Starr.  “My goal was to obliterate the mind so that I wouldn’t be conscious,” Lennon claims.  “I think I was maybe suicidal on some kind of subconscious level.”

‘Mind Games’ (1973) (UK no. 13, US no. 9, AUS no. 8), issued in October, is John Lennon’s next album.  Breaking from Phil Spector, Lennon produces this album himself.  The title track, ‘Mind Games’ (UK no. 26, US no. 18, AUS no. 16), reverberates like a bell.  The song envisions “Millions of mind guerrillas / Putting their soul power to the karmic wheel.”  The album is ‘an uneven collection that includes both top drawer Lennon and automatic-pilot riffing.’

On 12 March 1974 John Lennon and Harry Nilsson are ejected from the Troubadour club in Los Angeles.  John gets into a fist-fight with a photographer on the street.

In September comes John Lennon’s next disc, ‘Walls And Bridges’ (1974) (UK no. 6, US no. 1, AUS no. 4).  The album includes ‘# 9 Dream’ (UK no. 23, US no. 9), an echoing illusion with a string-section accompaniment.  The album’s biggest hit is ‘Whatever Gets You Through The Night’ (UK no. 36, US no. 1, AUS no. 34).  This party soundtrack for the neurotic 1970s claims “Whatever gets you through the night / ‘Salright, ‘salright.”  Backing vocals on this song are provided by pop superstar Elton John.  Elton agrees to the appearance on the condition that, if the single reaches number one on the charts, John Lennon will perform with him on stage.  Lennon ‘loses’ the bet.

On 28 November 1974 John Lennon appears with Elton John at the latter’s concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden.  Attending the show is Yoko Ono.  Elton surprises John by having Yoko meet him backstage.  The estranged couple find they are still very much in love.  John is invited back home again providing he cleans up his act: no drinking, no drugs, no cigarettes, healthy diet.  John manages all of this with the exception of the cigarettes.

The following February, John Lennon issues the album ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll’ (1975) (UK no. 6, US no. 6, AUS no. 5).  This is a collection of cover versions of old rock ‘n’ roll songs.  John started work on this when he was first sent into exile by Yoko and it was completed in fits and starts.  Some of the earlier recordings on the disc are produced by Phil Spector.  The most notable piece on the album is Lennon’s take on Ben E. King’s 1961 hit ‘Stand By Me’ (UK no. 30, US no. 20, AUS no. 61).

In early 1975 Yoko Ono again falls pregnant.  Given the multiple miscarriages she has previously suffered, John devotes himself fully to her welfare and ensuring that, this time, the pregnancy will have a successful outcome.

On 7 October 1975 John Lennon’s struggle with the immigration authorities concludes.  Lennon emerges triumphant and is allowed to remain in the U.S.A.  The court ruling states, “Lennon’s four-year battle to remain in our country is testimony to his faith in this American dream.”

Two days later, on 9 October 1975 (John Lennon’s 35th birthday), Yoko gives birth to his son, Sean Ono Lennon.  John sets aside his own career to be a house-husband and care for the baby.  “I wanted to give five solid years of being there all the time,” he says.  And he is true to his word.

On a trip to Bermuda with Sean in 1980, John Lennon sees a white flower called ‘double fantasy’ and it inspires him to return to songwriting.  The Apple record label The Beatles created, and on which all John’s previous solo material was released, is reduced to virtual dormancy by this time.  So a recording contract is secured with Geffen Records, the new enterprise created by David Geffen, former head of Asylum Records.  A new single, ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’ (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) is released on John’s 40th birthday, 9 October 1980.  It starts with the sound of a bell chiming.  Yoko Ono claims this is a bell used for wishes.  “Our life together is so precious together,” croons Lennon to his wife at the start of this 1950s-style rock song.  The album ‘Double Fantasy’ (1980) (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) by John Lennon and Yoko Ono goes on sale on 17 November.  ‘Double Fantasy’ is produced by Jack Douglas and features some of New York’s finest session musicians.  John explains that the album is “really a play using ourselves as characters.”  Thus each song by John Lennon is followed by a Yoko Ono tune so it becomes a dialogue.  For the most part, John writes soft-focus romantic fare, ranging from the profound ‘Woman’ (UK no. 1, US no. 2, AUS no. 4) through to the playful ‘Dear Yoko’ to ‘Beautiful Boy’, a tribute to young Sean.  ‘Watching The Wheels’ (UK no. 30, US no. 45, AUS no. 10) addresses Lennon’s long absence from the music scene: “People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing…Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game?”  Amongst the congenial atmosphere, Lennon, in standard form, also has to show his uglier side.  ‘I’m Losing You’ chronicles his 1973 -1974 separation from Yoko in an angry spit: “So what the hell am I supposed to do? Just put a Band-Aid on it?”  For her part, Yoko offers the tart rejoinder ‘I’m Movin’ On’.

Invigorated, John Lennon and Yoko Ono begin working on a follow-up album.  Fans get used to the couples’ comings and goings, hanging about outside the Dakota apartments, hoping for a photo or autograph.  On 8 December 1980 at 5:00 P.M. Lennon signs a copy of ‘Double Fantasy’ for one of the waiting crowd, Mark David Chapman.  When John and Yoko return at 10:50 P.M. Chapman shoots John Lennon five times.  ‘Gasping “I am shot” repeatedly, he manages to climb six steps before collapsing face down in a pool of blood.  As he lies dying in his wife’s arms he softly whispers: “Help me.”’  The singer is rushed to hospital, but he cannot be resuscitated.  John Lennon is dead.

Mark David Chapman’s motivation, so far as one can be discerned, seems to be that he regarded John Lennon as a ‘phoney’ who had sold out.  Although rock stars had died tragically and prematurely before this, it was usually the result of a drug overdose or an accident travelling from one gig to another.  This time, disturbingly, it is premeditated murder.  It could even be termed an assassination.

‘Milk And Honey’ (1984) (UK no. 3, US no. 11, AUS no. 4) is the follow-up to ‘Double Fantasy’ John Lennon and Yoko Ono had been working on.  ‘I’m Stepping Out’ (UK no. 88, US no. 55) looks at Lennon the house-husband venturing into the world and ‘Nobody Told Me’ (UK no. 6, US no. 5, AUS no. 6) expresses bafflement with the world in a similarly jaunty style.  Most heartbreaking is ‘Grow Old With Me’, present only in a ghostly demo form.  The rough vocal finds Lennon bidding “Grow old along with me / The best is yet to be.”

A set of mid-1970s studio outtakes is later issued as ‘Menlove Avenue’ (1986) (US no. 127), after the address where the young John Lennon lived with his Aunt Mimi.  This clears out the vaults.

In the wake of his murder, grief-stricken fans deify John Lennon.  He is trumpeted as an angelic envoy of peace and love.  Not short of ego, the self-styled ‘genius’ John Lennon would have been gratified by the adulation.  Yet, at the same time, it seems likely he would have been dismayed at the whitewashed portrait of himself.  Few artists have so ruthlessly and relentlessly exposed their flaws for public consumption.  Lennon insisted on being seen as human.  He was not a ‘phoney’.  He was no saint.  He was prone to cruelty, jealousy and arrogance.  These traits co-existed with his better impulses.  Although he may have grown disenchanted with Dr Arthur Janov’s primal scream therapy, it did underline the scars left on John Lennon’s psyche by the loss of his mother.  This seems the basic trauma that reverberates through Lennon’s life, spawning both his demons and his hopes for a brighter future.  ‘He was both in awe and in terror of the power he had over his own life, but he never lacked the courage to exercise it in new ways.’  ‘A clear thread of anger, idealism, and rock & roll ran right through [John Lennon’s] antics and his different albums.’


  1. ‘The Love You Make – An Insider’s Story Of The Beatles’ by Peter Brown, Steven Gaines (Pan Books, 1983) p. 1, 12, 13, 14, 17, 19, 26, 72, 83, 198, 301, 313, 314, 315, 319, 320, 322, 326, 328, 366, 374, 375, 381, 383, 384, 389, 390, 391
  2. ‘Rock Stars’ by Timothy White (Columbus Books, 1984) p. 100, 108
  3. ‘Shout –The True Story Of The Beatles’ by Philip Norman (Corgi Books, 1981) p. 20, 54, 60, 61, 356
  4. ‘Lennon Remembers’ interview by Jann Wenner (Penguin Books, 1970) p. 24, 30, 42, 44, 100, 110, 163, 164, 172, 175, 182, 188
  5. ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ (U.K. television program) John Lennon interview conducted by Bob Harris (18 April 1975)
  6. ‘The Beatles’ edited by Jeremy Pascall, Robert Burt (Octopus Books, 1975) p. 15, 65, 66, 68, 70
  7. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 149, 150, 151, 158, 162, 163, 178, 182, 184, 193, 197, 200, 201, 219, 226, 234, 317
  8. as at 23 May 2013
  9. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 139
  10. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘The Solo Beatles’ by Allan Kozinn (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 229, 230
  11. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 46
  12. U.S. Radio interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono conducted by Dave Sholin twelve hours before Lennon’s death (8 December 1980)
  13. ‘The New Standard’ (U.K. newspaper) ‘Help me…I’ve been shot’ by Nicky Holford in New York (9 December 1980) p. 1
  14. as at 22 April 2013

Song lyrics copyright Lenono Music / BMG Music Publishing Ltd. – except ‘Cold Turkey’ (copyright Northern Songs Ltd)

Last revised 13 February 2016


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