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|Born||October 9, 1940|
|Died||December 8, 1980|
|Association with the Beatles||Rhythm Guitarist and Singer/A founding member.|
John Winston Ono Lennon, MBE (9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980), was a 20th-century Academy Award and Grammy Award-winning English songwriter, singer, instrumentalist, graphic artist, author and political activist who gained worldwide fame as one of the founders of The Beatles. Lennon and Paul McCartney shared a partnership for writing songs. Lennon, with his cynical edge and knack for introspection, and McCartney, with his optimism and gift for melody, complemented one another uniquely. In his solo career, Lennon wrote and recorded such classic songs as "Imagine" and "Give Peace a Chance".
Lennon often revealed his rebellious nature and acerbic wit on television, in films such as A Hard Day's Night (1964), in books such as "In His Own Write", and in press conferences and interviews. He channelled his fame and penchant for controversy into his work as a peace activist, artist, and author.
He had two sons, Julian Lennon (with his first wife Cynthia Lennon), and Sean Lennon, with his second wife, avant-garde artist and fellow peace activist Yoko Ono. Lennon was murdered by a deranged fan Mark David Chapman in front of his home, the Dakota Building in New York City on December 8, 1980 as he and Ono were returning home from a late recording session.
In 2002, respondents to a BBC poll on the 100 Greatest Britons voted Lennon into eighth place. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Lennon number 38 on their list of "The Immortals: The Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time" and ranked The Beatles as the best band.
Of the four Beatles he was nicknamed "The Witty One". He was the most outspoken and brash with his opinions and, to a degree would say whatever was on his mind, regardless of public opinion or the consequences thereof. This characteristic behaviour led to the infamous media scandal that occurred when Lennon stated that "We're [The Beatles] more popular than Jesus now..." Lennon ended up regretting the statement and grudgingly apologized publicly, although he believed the uproar was ultimately due to his comment(s) being taken out of context.
John Winston Lennon was born on 9 October 1940, in the Oxford Street Maternity Hospital in Liverpool, to Julia Lennon and Alfred "Freddie" Lennon, during the course of a German air raid in World War II. He was named after his paternal grandfather, John 'Jack' Lennon, and Winston Churchill. Both parents played the banjo and sang (Freddie specialised in impersonating Al Jolson) though neither pursued music professionally. Freddie Lennon was not present at John's birth. He was a merchant seaman during the war and sent regular paychecks to Julia, who was living with John in Newcastle Road, Liverpool. The cheques stopped when Freddie went AWOL. As Freddie was seldom in Liverpool, Julia started going out to dance halls and met a Welsh soldier called 'Taffy' Williams by whom she became pregnant in late 1944. When Freddie Lennon eventually came home in 1944 he offered to look after Julia, John, and the expected baby, but Julia rejected the idea. On 19 June 1945 she gave birth to a daughter, Victoria, who was given up for adoption after intense pressure from Julia's family (the girl was later re-named Ingrid). Lennon was not told about his half-sister's birth and never knew of her existence.
Julia later met John 'Bobby' Dykins and moved into a small flat with him. After comments on the still-married Julia 'living in sin' with Dykins and after considerable pressure from her sister, Mary "Mimi" Smith — who contacted Liverpool's Social Services and complained about John sleeping in the same bed as Julia and Dykins — Julia reluctantly handed the care of John over to Mimi. (Julia later had two daughters - Julia and Jackie - with Dykins.) In July 1946, Freddie visited Mimi and took John to Blackpool for a long 'holiday', secretly intending to emigrate to New Zealand with him. Julia and Dykins found out and followed them, and after a heated argument Freddie made the five-year-old John choose between Julia or him. John chose Freddie (twice) and then Julia walked away, but John, crying, followed her. Freddie then lost contact with the family until Beatlemania, when father and son met again.
Throughout the rest of his childhood and adolescence, Lennon lived with his 'Auntie Mimi' and her husband George Smith (who had no children of their own) in a middle class area of Liverpool at 'Mendips' (251 Menlove Avenue). Family friends described Mimi as stubborn, impatient, and unforgiving, but she also had a sense of humour. Often, when she criticized Lennon he would respond with a joke, and the two of them would be "rolling around, laughing together". Mimi confided to a relative that although she had never wanted children, she had always wanted John. Mimi and George gave Lennon all of their attention: Mimi bought volumes of short stories, and George, who was a dairyman at a local farm, engaged John in solving crossword puzzles and bought him a harmonica. Julia Lennon visited 'Mendips' almost every day and John often visited her; she taught John how to play the banjo and the piano. She also played Elvis Presley's records to John, and would dance around her kitchen with him. Lennon was later inspired by Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Little Richard.
Lennon was raised as an Anglican, and like much of the population of Liverpool, he had some Irish heritage. Lennon attended Dovedale County Primary School until he passed his Eleven-Plus exam. From September 1952 to 1957, he attended the Quarry Bank Grammar School in Liverpool where he was a "happy-go-lucky" pupil, known for drawing comical cartoons and making fun of his teachers by mimicking their odd characteristics.
Julia bought Lennon his first guitar, an inexpensive model that was "guaranteed not to split", but insisted it be delivered to her house and not Mimi's. Mimi hoped that John would soon grow bored with it - she was sceptical of Lennon's claim that he would be famous one day, and often told him, "The guitar's all very well, John, but you'll never make a living out of it." Years later, when The Beatles were successful, John presented Mimi with a silver platter engraved with those words.
George Smith died in 1955 and on 15 July 1958 (when Lennon was 17) Julia was killed on Menlove Avenue by a car driven by a drunken, off-duty police officer — close to Mimi's house. Her death was one of the most traumatic events in John's life and one of the factors that cemented his friendship with McCartney, who had lost his own mother to breast cancer in 1956. Lennon named his first-born son Julian after his mother, and later wrote the song, "Julia".
Lennon failed all his GCE O-level examinations by one grade. He was accepted into the Liverpool College of Art with help from his school's headmaster and his Aunt Mimi, who was insistent that John should have some sort of academic qualifications. It was there that he met his future wife, Cynthia Powell, when Lennon was a Teddy Boy. Lennon failed his exams despite help from Powell, and was often disruptive in class with most of the teachers refusing to take him on in their classes. He also picked on anyone that was in anyway different, using his quick wit and sense of humour to bully them. He dropped out before the last year of college.
The Quarrymen and the Silver Beetles
Lennon started the Quarry Men skiffle band in March 1957 whilst attending Quarry Bank Grammar School. Their first engagement was on 9 June 1957 at an audition for impresario Carroll Levis, known as "Mr. Star-Maker." A few weeks later, on 6 July 1957, Lennon and The Quarrymen met guitarist Paul McCartney at the Woolton Garden fête held at St. Peter's Church. McCartney's father later allowed the Quarrymen to rehearse in his front room at 20 Forthlin Road. During their early friendship Lennon encouraged McCartney to steal cigarettes, sweets, or books from shops, and they found a shared interest in playing jokes on the other band members and on their teachers. It was around this time that Lennon and McCartney started writing songs with each other and separately. The first song that John completed was "Hello Little Girl" when he was eighteen years old. This later became a hit for the Fourmost.
McCartney convinced Lennon to allow George Harrison to join the Quarrymen - although Lennon considered Harrison to be too young - after Harrison played at a rehearsal in March 1958. Harrison joined the group as lead guitarist, and Stuart Sutcliffe (Lennon's art school friend) later joined as bassist. The band soon switched to playing rock 'n' roll, using the name 'Johnny and the Moondogs', but Lennon found it too musically associated with skiffle. In mid-1958, the Quarrymen made their first recording: a cover of "That'll Be The Day" by Buddy Holly and a McCartney-Harrison original called "In Spite of All the Danger".
In 1960, the band changed its name five times. Stuart Sutcliffe suggested 'the Beetles' as a form of tribute to Buddy Holly and The Crickets, which he and Lennon then thought of changing to the 'Beatals'. They changed their name again to the 'Silver Beats', The Silver Beetles, and the 'Silver Beatles', but Lennon shortened it to The Beatles, to avoid being introduced as "Long John Silver of the Silver Beatles", which was too similar to 'Johnny and the Moondogs'. After a tour with Johnny Gentle in Scotland, they changed their name to the 'Beatles'.
Lennon was considered the leader of The Beatles, as he founded the original group. McCartney said, "We all looked up to John. He was older and he was very much the leader - he was the quickest wit and the smartest and all that kind of thing."
Allan Williams started to manage The Beatles in May 1960 after they had played in his Jacaranda club. A few months later he booked them into Bruno Koschmider's Indra club in Hamburg, Germany. Mona Best ran the Casbah Club in the basement of her home in Liverpool, where The Beatles often played in 1959, and Mona's son Pete Best joined The Beatles on drums as soon as their first Hamburg season was confirmed. Aunt Mimi was horrified when Lennon told her about Hamburg. She pleaded with him to continue his studies, but was ignored. The Beatles first played at the Indra club - sleeping in small, dirty rooms in the Bambi Kino - and after the closure of the Indra moved to the larger Kaiserkeller In October 1960, they left Koschmider's club and worked at the "Top Ten Club", which was run by Peter Eckhorn. Koschmider reported McCartney and Best for arson after the two attached a condom to a nail in the 'Bambi' and set fire to it. They were deported, as was George Harrison for working under-age. Days later Lennon's work permit was revoked and he went home by train, but Sutcliffe had tonsillitis and flew home. When Lennon got back to 'Mendips', his Aunt Mimi threw a cooked chicken (that Lennon had bought for her) and a hand-mirror at him for spending money on a leather coat for Cynthia Powell (John's girlfriend, and later, his wife) whom she referred to as "a gangster's moll".
In December 1960, The Beatles reunited, and on 21 March 1961, they played their first concert at Liverpool's Cavern club. They went back to Hamburg in April 1961, and recorded 'My Bonnie' with Tony Sheridan. Sutcliffe stayed with Astrid Kirchherr when it was time to go home, so McCartney took over bass. When Lennon was nearly 21 in October 1961, his Aunt Mater (who lived in Edinburgh) gave him 100 pounds, which he spent on a holiday to Paris with McCartney. Brian Epstein first saw The Beatles in the Cavern Club on November 9, 1961, and later signed them to a management contract.
The Beatles were driven to London by their road manager, Neil Aspinall, on 31 December 1961 and auditioned the next day for Decca Records, who rejected them. In April 1962 they returned to Hamburg to play at the Star-Club, but they learned that Stuart Sutcliffe had died a few hours before they arrived. This was another shock for Lennon, after losing Uncle George and Julia.
They finally signed a record contract on 9 May 1962, with Parlophone Records, after having been turned down by many labels. "Love Me Do" was released on 5 October 1962, featuring Lennon on harmonica and McCartney singing solo on the chorus line.
All Lennon-McCartney songs on the first pressing of Please Please Me (recorded in one day on 11 February 1963) as well as the single "From Me to You", and its B-side, "Thank You Girl", are credited to "McCartney-Lennon", but this was later changed to "Lennon-McCartney". They usually needed an hour or two to finish a song, most of which were written in hotel rooms after a concert, at Wimpole Street, at Cavendish Avenue, or at Kenwood (John Lennon's house).
As recording technology improved, and they were doing more work in the studio than live, overdubbing was used so that Lennon might provide the harmony parts as well as the lead for his songs. The "Beatles" sound was a three-part harmony with Lennon or McCartney singing lead, and harmony provided by the others.
The group's decisions were democratic, with the rule that if any member objected to an idea, the group wouldn't pursue it. The Beatles decided to stop touring after their San Francisco concert in 1966, and never performed a scheduled concert again.
Lennon resented McCartney taking control of the band after Brian Epstein's death in 1967, and disliked some of the resulting projects such as Magical Mystery Tour and particularly Let It Be ("That film was set up by Paul, for Paul," as he said later to Rolling Stone). He was the first to break the band's all-for-one sensibility, and also the rule that no wives or girlfriends would attend recording sessions, as he brought Yoko into the studio.
Lennon was also the first member to quit the group, which he did in September 1969 (Starr had left during 1968, but was persuaded to return; Harrison stated he was "leaving the band" on January 10, 1969 during the rehearsal sessions for Let It Be, but returned after negotiations at two business meetings). Lennon agreed not to make an announcement while the band renegotiated their recording contract, and blasted McCartney months later (with the negotiations complete) for going public with his own departure in April 1970. Phil Spector's involvement in trying to revive the Let It Be material then drove a further wedge between Lennon (who supported Spector) and McCartney (who opposed him). With the public unaware of the details, McCartney appeared to be the one who dissolved the group, depriving Lennon of the formalities. Lennon told Rolling Stone, "I was a fool not to do what Paul did, which was use it to sell a record," and later wrote, "I started the band. I finished it." Though the split would only become legal some time later, Lennon's and McCartney's partnership had come to a bitter end. McCartney soon made a press announcement, declaring he had quit The Beatles and promoting his new solo record. McCartney later admitted Lennon had been the first to quit.
In 1970, Jann Wenner recorded an interview with Lennon that was played on BBC in 2005. The interview reveals his bitterness towards McCartney and the hostility he felt that the other members held towards Yoko Ono. Lennon said: "One of the main reasons The Beatles ended is because ... I pretty well know, we got fed up with being sidemen for Paul. After Brian Epstein died, we collapsed. Paul took over and supposedly led us. But what is leading us when we went round in circles? Paul had the impression we should be thankful for what he did, for keeping The Beatles going. But he kept it going for his own sake."
Lennon had a varied recording career. Whilst still a Beatle, Lennon (along with Ono) recorded three albums of experimental music, Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions, and Wedding Album. His first 'solo' album of popular music was Live Peace in Toronto 1969, recorded prior to the breakup of The Beatles, at the Rock 'n' Roll Festival in Toronto with The Plastic Ono Band. He also recorded three solo singles: the anti-war anthem "Give Peace a Chance", the heroin withdrawal report "Cold Turkey", and "Instant Karma!". Following The Beatles' split in 1970 Lennon released the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album. The song "God" lists people and things Lennon no longer believed in — ending with "Beatles". The album also included "Working Class Hero" which was banned from the airwaves for its use of the F-word. The album Imagine followed in 1971, and its title song soon became an anthem for anti-religion and anti-war movements. The song's video was filmed during Lennon's "white period" (white clothes, white piano, white room, and the like). He wrote "How Do You Sleep?" as an attack against McCartney, with George Harrison on slide guitar, but later claimed that it was about himself.
Some Time in New York City (1972) was loud, raucous, and explicitly political, with songs about prison riots, racial and sexual relations, the British role in Northern Ireland, and his own problems in obtaining a United States Green Card. Lennon had been interested in left-wing politics since the late 1960s, and was said to have given donations to the Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party.
In 1972 Lennon released "Woman Is the Nigger of the World", which drew parallels between exploitation of women and discrimination against blacks. Radio stations refused to broadcast the song and it was banned nearly everywhere, though he managed to play it to television viewers during his second appearance on The Dick Cavett Show.
On 30 August 1972 Lennon and his backing band, Elephant's Memory, staged two benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York. These were to be his last full-length concert appearances. Lennon and Ono also did a week-long guest/co-hosting the Mike Douglas Show.
Following Ono's second miscarriage, she and Lennon had an argument that resulted in their separation. He moved to California and embarked on a period he would later dub his "lost weekend" (despite the fact that it lasted approximately eighteen months). Lennon released Mind Games in 1973, which was credited to "the Plastic U.F.Ono Band". It was the first solo album produced by Lennon with no input from Yoko. He wrote "I'm the Greatest" for Ringo Starr's album Ringo, and recorded his own version of the song (which appears on the John Lennon Anthology). Lennon's behaviour during this period was notoriously bad, with many nights spent in a drunken stupor. The songs from this period (appearing on Mind Games and Walls and Bridges) took an apologetic tone that seem to be directed at Ono. At Ono's suggestion he took May Pang along as his assistant and his lover during this period.
Lennon released Walls and Bridges (1974), which featured a duet with Elton John on the #1 hit "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night". The album was released under the name "the Plastic Ono Nuclear Band". Another hit from the album was "#9 Dream". Lennon also produced Nilsson's Pussy Cats album during 1974.
Lennon made a surprise guest appearance at an Elton John concert in Madison Square Garden where they performed "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" and "I Saw Her Standing There" together. It was to be his last-ever concert appearance in front of a rock audience. Coincidentally, Yoko Ono happened to be present at the concert, and after a backstage meeting, the two got back together. Following the performance, Lennon travelled to Florida and signed the papers legally breaking up The Beatles. After the Christmas holidays he returned to live with Yoko Ono, and she soon became pregnant with their first child.
In 1975, Lennon released the Rock 'n' Roll album of cover versions. It had been conceived several years earlier, but was complicated by the unpredictable Phil Spector's involvement as producer, and by several legal battles. The album garnered mostly negative or indifferent reviews, but included a well-received cover of "Stand by Me". David Bowie achieved his first U.S. number one hit (in 1975) with "Fame", co-written with Lennon (who contributed vocals and guitar) and Carlos Alomar.
Lennon made his last public musical appearance on ATV's April 18, 1975 special A Salute to Lew Grade, performing "Imagine" and "Slippin' and Slidin'" from his Rock 'n' Roll LP. Lennon's band was billed as "Etc." and the band members were costumed in two-faced masks. The "two-faced" stunt, and the line "don't want to be your fool no more" (from "Slippin' and Slidin") were seen as digs at Grade, with whom Lennon and McCartney had been in conflict over his previous control of The Beatles' publishing concerns. Dick James had sold Lennon's and McCartney's publishing rights to Grade in 1969. During "Imagine" Lennon interjected the line "and no immigration too" - a reference to his battle to remain in the United States.
On 9 October 1975 – Lennon's 35th birthday – his son Sean Ono Lennon was born, and Lennon retired from the music business to care for him.
Lennon's retirement came to an end in 1980, a year in which he wrote an impressive amount of material during a lengthy vacation in Bermuda and began to think about recording a new album. For this comeback, he and Ono produced Double Fantasy, a concept album focusing on their relationship. The name came from a species of freesia Lennon saw at the Bermuda Botanical Gardens; he liked the name and thought it was a perfect description of his marriage to Yoko.
The Lennons once again began a series of interviews and video footage to promote the album. Although Lennon would say in interviews for the album that he had not touched a guitar for five years, several of the tunes, such as "I'm Losing You" and "Watching the Wheels", had been worked on at home in The Dakota in various stages with different lyrics from 1977 onward. "(Just Like) Starting Over" began climbing the singles charts, and Lennon started thinking about a brand new world tour. Lennon also commenced work on Milk and Honey, which he would leave unfinished. It was some time before Ono could bring herself to complete it.
Towards the end of his life, Lennon expressed his displeasure with the scant credit he was given as an influence on George Harrison in the latter's autobiography, I Me Mine. According to Ono, he was also unhappy that McCartney's Beatles songs, such as "Yesterday", "Hey Jude" and "Let It Be" were more covered than his own contributions.
In a 1980 Playboy interview Lennon claimed that some of his Beatles songs were subconsciously sabotaged, and that the group put more work into and paid more attention to McCartney's songs, whereas with his, they tended to experiment. In the same interview, Lennon was ambivalent about his time with The Beatles and the group's legacy and was not interested in talking about them any more than he would about old high school buddies. He was prompted that there was considerable speculation about whether The Beatles were now "dreaded enemies or the best of friends." He replied that they were neither, and that he hadn't seen any of The Beatles for "I don't know how much time." He also said that the last time he had seen McCartney they had watched the episode of Saturday Night Live where Lorne Michaels made his $3200 cash offer to get The Beatles to reunite on the show. The two had seriously considered going to the studio to appear on the show for a joke, but were too tired.
In one of the last major interviews of his life conducted in September 1980, three months before his death, Lennon said that he'd always been very macho and had never questioned his chauvinistic attitudes towards women until he met Ono. Lennon was always distant with his first son (Julian) but was very close to his second son (Sean), and called him "my pride". Near the end of his life, he had embraced the role of househusband and even said that he had taken on the role of wife and mother in their relationship.
Cynthia and Julian Lennon
Cynthia Powell met Lennon at the Liverpool Art College in 1957. After hearing Lennon comment favourably about another girl who looked like Brigitte Bardot, Powell changed the colour of her hair to blonde. Their relationship started after a college party before the summer holidays when Lennon asked Cynthia to go a pub with him and some friends. At this point Cynthia was already engaged to another man, a fact which she brought up when Lennon asked her to dance. Lennon replied, "I didn't ask you to fucking marry me, did I?" and stormed off. Although Lennon ignored her for the rest of the party, he talked to her as she was ready to leave, and then grabbed her hand and took her to a room Stuart Sutcliffe was renting, where they had sex. If Sutcliffe's room was not available, they often had sex in alleyways or shop doorways, but Cynthia didn't enjoy those "snatched encounters". Lennon's jealousy could manifest itself in cruel and aggressive behaviour towards Cynthia, as when Lennon slapped her across the face (knocking her head against the wall) the day after he saw her dancing with Stuart Sutcliffe. Cynthia broke up with Lennon for three months, but resumed their relationship after Lennon's profuse apology. Cynthia visited Lennon in Hamburg for two weeks in 1960, but in 1961 Lennon left her at home and went to Paris with McCartney for a holiday.
In mid-1962, Cynthia discovered she was pregnant. Lennon proposed marriage, but when he told Mimi she screamed and raged at Lennon to stop him from going through with it. Lennon and Cynthia were married on 23 August at the Mount Pleasant Register office in Liverpool. Mimi did not attend.On April 8, 1963, John Charles Julian Lennon was born in Sefton General Hospital. John did not see Julian until a week after he was born because of commitments with The Beatles. The birth of John's son and his marriage to Cynthia was kept secret from the public, due to Brian Epstein's insistence that it would harm John's image with The Beatles' female fans.
According to Cynthia, in a 1995 interview, there were problems throughout their marriage because of the pressures of The Beatles' fame and rigorous touring, and because of Lennon's increasing use of drugs. Their marriage all but came to an end when Cynthia came back from a holiday in Greece with friends to find that John and Yoko had been in bed together. John did not deny the fact but when Cynthia left for a while he phoned her and said "I can't understand why you went off". Cynthia found out about the definite end of their marriage when John refused to go on a family holiday with them and was later shown in a newspaper making his affair with Yoko public. To make matters worse Lennon sent a mutual friend to Italy to inform her that he was going to take their child and force her to leave their home. He also arranged for divorce, stating that she was the one who had committed adultery, not him. In the ensuing court case Lennon refused to give his wife anymore than £75,000, telling her "What have you done to deserve it? Christ, it's like winning the bloody pools". In the end, she got £100,000 plus £2,400 a year, custody of Julian and the house.
Lennon was distant to his son, Julian, who felt closer to McCartney than to him. The younger Lennon later said, "I've never really wanted to know the truth about how dad was with me. There was some very negative stuff talked about me ... like when he said I'd come out of a whiskey bottle on a Saturday night. Stuff like that. You think, where's the love in that? Paul and I used to hang about quite a bit ... more than dad and I did. We had a great friendship going and there seems to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing together at that age than there are pictures of me and my dad." When Lennon moved to New York in 1971, Julian did not see him until 1973. After encouragement from May Pang, it was finally arranged for Julian to visit John and her in Los Angeles. Lennon was said to be very nervous beforehand but the visit went well. After this point, Julian started to see his father more regularly, and played drums on "Ya Ya" from Lennon's 1974 album, Walls and Bridges. Lennon also bought Julian a Gibson Les Paul guitar for his eleventh birthday in 1974 and encouraged his growing interest in music.
Lennon was quoted as saying: "Sean was a planned child, and therein lies the difference. I don't love Julian any less as a child. He's still my son, whether he came from a bottle of whiskey or because they didn't have pills in those days. He's here, he belongs to me, and he always will."
According to Cynthia, after the break-up with John, McCartney visited Cynthia and jokingly suggested marriage, reportedly saying, "How's about you and me, Cyn?"
In an interview, Lennon said he was trying to re-establish a connection with the then 17-year-old Julian, and confidently predicted that "Julian and I will have a relationship in the future."
Both Julian and Sean Lennon went on to have recording careers years after their father's death.
On 9 November 1966, after The Beatles' final tour and just after he had finished filming How I Won the War, Lennon visited an art exhibit of Yoko Ono's at the Indica gallery in Mason's Yard, London. Lennon began his relationship with Ono in May 1968 after returning from India. Cynthia filed for divorce later that year, on the grounds of John's adultery with Ono which was evidenced by the latter's pregnancy and miscarriage of their son. Lennon and Ono became inseparable, even during Beatles sessions.
The press was unkind to Ono — writing unflattering articles about her, with frequently racist overtones — and one called her "ugly". This angered Lennon, who said that there was no John and Yoko, but they were one person; "JohnandYoko". Yoko's constant presence in the studio led to tension within The Beatles during the White Album recordings in 1968.
At the end of 1968, Lennon and Ono performed as Dirty Mac on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. During Lennon's last two years in The Beatles, he spent much of his time with Ono partaking in public protests against the Vietnam War. Lennon sent back his MBE medal, which Queen Elizabeth bestowed during the height of Beatlemania, "in protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing (a reference to the Nigerian civil war of 1967-70), its support of America in Vietnam, and 'Cold Turkey' slipping down the charts." (Return of the medal did not formally negate his appointment to the Order.)
On 14 March, as Lennon and Ono were being driven to Mimi's house, in Poole, Dorset, they asked if it was possible to get "married at sea". On 20 March 1969, they were married in Gibraltar, and spent their honeymoon in Amsterdam in a "Bed-In" for peace. Behind their bed were posters that displayed the words "Hair Peace. Bed Peace." They held another "Bed-In", in Montreal, at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, where they recorded "Give Peace a Chance", which became an anthem for the peace movement. They were mainly patronised as a couple of eccentrics by the media, yet they did a great deal for the peace movement, as well as for feminism and racial harmony. Lennon and Ono often combined advocacy with performance art, as in their "Bagism" introduced during a Vienna press conference. Shortly after, Lennon changed his name to John Ono Lennon. Lennon wrote "The Ballad of John and Yoko" about his marriage and the subsequent press coverage it generated.
The failed Get Back/Let It Be recording/filming sessions did nothing to improve relations within the band. After both Lennon and Ono were injured in the summer of 1969 in a car accident in Scotland, Lennon arranged for Ono to be constantly with him in the studio (including having a full-sized bed rolled in) as he worked on The Beatles' last album, Abbey Road. While the group managed to hang together to produce one last acclaimed musical work, soon thereafter business issues related to Apple Corps came between them.
May Pang and the 'lost weekend'
In 1973, Yoko approached May Pang (their personal assistant) with a proposal. Ono, who thought May Pang would be an "ideal companion" for Lennon, asked her to "be with John, help him, and see that he gets whatever he wants." Yoko then kicked Lennon out of the house. Lennon and Pang moved to Los Angeles - a period which has been dubbed the "lost weekend", though it lasted until the beginning of 1975. During their time together, Pang encouraged Lennon to spend time with his son, Julian Lennon, and she became friends with Cynthia Lennon.
After arriving in Hollywood, Lennon reunited with producer Phil Spector and began work on recording and some of their efforts were eventually released as part of his 'farewell' LP Rock 'n' Roll. However their work together was ended by interpersonal conflict—some sources blame this on Spector while others cite Lennon's increasingly out-of-control behaviour in the studio, which led to Lennon being banned from A&M Studios in Hollywood after the studio was repeatedly vandalized.
During this time Lennon often caroused with an assortment of his drinking/drug buddies including singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Alice Cooper, Micky Dolenz and others, who dubbed themselves the 'Hollywood Vampires'. One of the most oft-repeated incidents was that in which Lennon and Nilsson were ejected from The Troubadour club after repeatedly heckling comedians The Smothers Brothers during their act. During the evening, a drunken Lennon was also reported to have gone into the women's toilet and emerged with a sanitary napkin on his head; when challenged by a waitress, he yelled "Don't you know who I am?"—to which the waitress famously replied, "Yeah, you're an asshole with a Kotex on your head!".
Though Lennon's public drunkenness had been the subject of gossip during 1974, Pang said that he was usually sober in his private life and recorded a large body of work. One notable session, captured on the bootleg recording A Toot and a Snore in '74, had Lennon and his friends jamming with Paul McCartney. Others included on the session were Harry Nilsson, Stevie Wonder, Jesse Ed Davis, and Bobby Keys.
On 9 October 1975 — John Lennon's 35th birthday — Yoko Ono gave birth to a son, Sean Ono Lennon, after having suffered three miscarriages of babies fathered by John. Regretful of the limited relationship he had with first son, Julian, Lennon decided to retire from music so he could dedicate himself to family life: he thus became a house husband. Deeply aware, after his experience of Primal therapy, of the crucial importance of the parent-child bond, he devoted his energies to nurturing young Sean in every possible way. He also made a point of learning how to bake a loaf of bread, an accomplishment which he proudly showed off to visitors.
In 1976, Lennon's U.S. immigration status was finally resolved favourably, after a years-long battle with the Nixon administration that included an FBI investigation — a full-scale effort involving surveillance, wiretaps, and agents following Lennon around as he travelled. Lennon insisted that the investigation was politically motivated, a claim that was later proven true. With the departure of Nixon from the White House, the administration of his successor, Gerald Ford, showed little interest in continuing the battle.
When Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as President on 20 January 1977, Lennon and Ono were invited to attend the Inaugural Ball, signalling the end of hostilities between the U.S. government and Lennon. After that appearance, Lennon was rarely seen in public for the next 3½ years, until his 1980 comeback.
Estrangement from his father
At the time that Beatlemania took off, John had not seen or heard from his father, Freddie Lennon, since he was five years old. When Freddie realized that his son was the famous John Lennon of The Beatles, he pursued John until finally meeting him during a film shoot. John did not receive this visit well and told Freddie to leave him alone. John later warmed a bit to Freddie and they continued to see each other occasionally for the next few years, until 1969 when John ordered Freddie to get out of his house in a storming rage. John did not talk to his father again until 1976, when he heard that Freddie was dying. John telephoned Freddie on his deathbed, and they reconciled.
Political and lifestyle controversies
Lennon's humour was often quoted during his time with The Beatles, but he later rejected the idea of being a "lovable mop-top" and concerned himself with drug experimentation, meditation, therapy cures, world peace, and was active for a range of anti-government causes.
On 4 March 1966, Lennon was interviewed for the London Evening Standard by his friend Maureen Cleave and made an off-the-cuff remark regarding Christianity: "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink.... I don't know what will go first, rock 'n' roll or Christianity. We're more popular than Jesus now. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me." The article was printed and nothing came of it — until five months later, when an American teen magazine called Datebook reprinted part of the quote on its front cover.
A firestorm of protest erupted across the American Bible Belt in the South and Midwest, as conservative groups staged public burnings of Beatles records and memorabilia. (The Beatles at first viewed this in a wry way, saying, "They've got to buy them first before they burn 'em.") Many radio stations banned Beatles music, and some concert venues cancelled performances.
On 11 August 1966, The Beatles held a press conference in Chicago, in order to address the growing controversy. Lennon: "I suppose if I had said television was more popular than Jesus, I would have got away with it, but I just happened to be talking to a journalist friend, and I used the words "Beatles" as a remote thing, not as what I think — as Beatles, as those other Beatles, like other people see us. I just said "they" are having more influence on kids and things than anything else, including Jesus. But I said it in that way, which is the wrong way."
Reporter: Some teenagers have repeated your statements — "I like The Beatles more than Jesus Christ." What do you think about that?
Lennon: "Well, originally I pointed out that fact in reference to England. That we meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion at that time. I wasn't knocking it or putting it down. I was just saying it as a fact, and it's true more for England than here. I'm not saying that we're better or greater, or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing, or whatever it is. I just said what I said and it was wrong. Or it was taken wrong. And now it's all this."
Reporter: But are you prepared to apologize?
Lennon: "I wasn't saying whatever they're saying I was saying. I'm sorry I said it really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. I apologize if that will make you happy. I still don't know quite what I've done. I've tried to tell you what I did do, but if you want me to apologize, if that will make you happy, then OK, I'm sorry."
The Vatican accepted his apology, but the Southern Baptist Convention (the predominant religion in the U.S. Bible Belt) did not. Lennon wrote later, "I always remember to thank Jesus for the end of my touring days; if I hadn't said that The Beatles were 'bigger than Jesus' and upset the very Christian Ku Klux Klan, well, Lord, I might still be up there with all the other performing fleas! God bless America. Thank you, Jesus."
Political activism and the deportation battle
"Give Peace a Chance", recorded in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War, marked Lennon’s transformation from mop-top to anti-war activist, and began a process that culminated in 1972, when the Nixon Administration sought to silence him by ordering him deported from the US.
The Vietnam War mobilized a great many young people to take a stand opposing US government policy, but few pop stars joined them: antiwar protest was more common among folk musicians like Phil Ochs, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan (the British musician Donovan was a notable exception).
Lennon, however, was determined to use his power as a superstar to help end the war, especially after he left The Beatles and teamed up with Yoko. The couple declared their honeymoon at the Amsterdam Hilton, in March 1969, a "bed-in for peace," winning world-wide media coverage. At a second "bed-in" in Montreal, in June 1969, they recorded "Give Peace a Chance" in their hotel room.
The song quickly became the anthem of the anti-war movement, and was sung by as many as half a million demonstrators in Washington, D.C. at the second Vietnam Moratorium Day, in November 1969. They were led by the renowned folk singer Pete Seeger, who interspersed phrases like, "Are you listening, Nixon?" and "Are you listening, Agnew?", between the choruses of protesters singing, "All we are saying ... is give peace a chance".
When Lennon and Ono moved to New York City in August 1971, they became friends with antiwar leaders Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and others, and planned a national concert tour to coincide with the 1972 presidential election. It would have been the first U.S. tour by any of the ex-Beatles since the lads had waved farewell at Candlestick Park in San Francisco at the end of their 1966 tour. But it would not have been the usual rock tour. 1972 was the first year 18-year-olds had been given the right to vote in the U.S., and Lennon wanted to help persuade young people to register to vote and to vote against the war — which meant voting against Nixon. Thus, the planned tour was to combine rock music with anti-war organizing and voter registration.
The Nixon Administration found out about Lennon's plans from an unlikely source: Republican Senator Strom Thurmond, who suggested in a February 1972 memo that "deportation would be a strategic counter-measure." The next month the Immigration and Naturalization Service began deportation proceedings against Lennon, arguing that his 1968 misdemeanour conviction for cannabis possession in London had made him ineligible for admission to the U.S. Lennon spent the next two years in and out of deportation hearings and constantly under a 60-day order to leave the country, which his attorney managed to get extended repeatedly.
The 1972 concert tour never happened, but Lennon and his friends did put on the "Free John Sinclair" concert in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in December 1971. Sinclair was a local antiwar activist and poet who was serving ten years in state prison for selling two joints of marijuana to an undercover cop. Lennon and Ono appeared on stage (in his first live appearance since The Beatles' breakup) along with Phil Ochs, Stevie Wonder and other musicians, plus antiwar radical Jerry Rubin and Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers. Lennon performed the song, "John Sinclair", which he had just written, calling on the authorities to "Let him be, set him free, let him be like you and me." Some 20,000 people attended the rally, and two days after the concert, the State of Michigan released Sinclair from prison. (A bootleg recording of the live performance circulated for years, but was later released on the 2-CD John Lennon Anthology , and the album, Acoustic ). Lennon performed the song on the David Frost Show accompanied by Ono and Jerry Rubin.
While his deportation battle was going on, Lennon spoke out against the Vietnam War - appearing at rallies in New York City and on TV shows, including a week hosting the Mike Douglas Show in February 1972, where Jerry Rubin and Bobby Seale appeared as his guests. He was tailed by a team of FBI agents, who concluded, "Lennon appears to be radically oriented however he does not give the impression he is a true revolutionist since he is constantly under the influence of narcotics."
Nixon left the White House after the Watergate scandal, and Lennon won his green card in 1975. After Lennon’s murder, historian Jon Wiener filed a Freedom of Information request for FBI files on Lennon. The FBI admitted it had 281 pages of files on Lennon, but refused to release most of them, claiming they were national security documents. In 1983, Wiener sued the FBI with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. The case went to the Supreme Court before the FBI settled in 1997—releasing all but ten of the contested documents. The story is told in the documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon, by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld, released in theatres in September 2006 and on DVD in February 2007. The final ten documents in Lennon's FBI file were finally released in December 2006 and are available on the web.
Recreational drug use
Although drinking beer was commonplace in Liverpool, Lennon was first given drugs in Hamburg, Germany. The Beatles had to play long sets, and were often given "Prellies" (Preludin) (slimming pills) by customers or by Astrid Kirchherr, whose mother bought them for her. McCartney would usually take one, but Lennon would often take four or five. He later took amphetamines called 'Black Bombers' and 'Purple Hearts'.
After having smoked cannabis with Bob Dylan in New York in 1964, McCartney remembered all of The Beatles being "very high" and laughing a lot.
Lennon largely abandoned his leadership role under the influence of LSD and Timothy Leary's book The Psychedelic Experience, believing he needed to "lose his ego" to become enlightened. His drug experiences, which his first wife Cynthia did not want to join him in were also a major factor in their divorce. He later dabbled in heroin and wrote about its effects in the song "Cold Turkey."
On 24 August 1967, Lennon met the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the London Hilton, and later went to Bangor, in North Wales, to attend a weekend 'initiation' conference with The Beatles. The time Lennon later spent in India at the Maharishi's ashram (with Cynthia) was highly productive, as practically all of the songs that would later be recorded for The White Album and Abbey Road were composed there by Lennon, McCartney, or both together. Although later turning against the Maharishi, Lennon still advocated meditation when interviewed.
In 1970, Lennon (and Yoko Ono) went through Primal therapy with Dr. Arthur Janov, in Los Angeles, California, though he ended the sessions before completing a full course of therapy. The influence of the therapy, which consists in part of screaming out the depths of one's emotional pain, is apparent in many of the songs on his album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, including "Mother" ("Mama don't go!! / Daddy come home!!"), "Remember", "Isolation", "I Found Out", "My Mummy's Dead", and "Well Well Well".
Lennon's "God" song opens with the simple observation that "God is a concept... by which we measure... our pain." The middle section, in which he dramatically names people and things he no longer believes in — such as Bible, Jesus, Kennedy, Buddha, and yoga — ends with an emphatic, "Beatles". Lennon's political radicalization is evident in the song "Working Class Hero", whose lyrics also show traces of Primal therapy all the way through, beginning with, "As soon as you're born they make you feel small ... Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all."
Each of The Beatles was known, especially during Beatlemania, for his sense of humour. Lennon's style of humour was always to combine the normal with the absurd, and then make it appear as just a normal comment. After Starr said, "It's been a hard day's (work) night", Lennon laughed, but then turned it into a song.
During live performances of "I Want to Hold Your Hand", Lennon often changed the words to "I want to hold your gland" (meaning breast/mammary gland), because no one could hear the vocals anyway, above the noise of the screaming audiences. While performing live in Blackpool, Lennon mumbled parts of Help! for the same reason.
Lennon's humour also showed up often in The Beatles' music and in his solo work. For instance, during the aborted Get Back sessions, he was recorded introducing "Dig a Pony" by shouting, "I dig a pygmy by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf Aids, phase one in which Doris gets her oats!" The phrase was later edited to precede the first song on Let It Be, the McCartney-penned "Two of Us".
On one occasion, when asked if Ringo Starr was "the best drummer in the world", Lennon replied, "He isn't even the best drummer in The Beatles", showing again how he would turn things upside down to create laughter. Perhaps regretting the remark, Lennon in later years was outspoken in his conviction of Starr's importance to the band. (This is an urban legend as it was actually a joke from Jasper Carrot's stand up routine)
It was Lennon who, at the Royal Variety Show in 1963, in the presence of members of the British royalty, told the audience, "Those of you in the cheaper seats can clap your hands. The rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewellery."
Lennon's humour was apparent during The Beatles' first American press conference, immediately after they stepped off the plane in February 1964.
Reporter: "Will you please sing something for us?" Lennon: "No, we need money first."
Reporter: "What is it about your music that excites people so much?" Lennon: "If we knew, we'd form another group and be managers."
Once, in an elevator of a hotel in New York where they were staying, Brian Epstein asked Lennon what a good title would be for the autobiography he was planning to write. He answered: "How about Queer Jew?" Epstein was extremely upset by his remark. Later, when Lennon learned that the title of the book would be A Cellarful of Noise, John said to a friend: "More like A Cellarful of Boys." In his early years Lennon also liked to make fun of cripples and people who were disfigured.
Lennon would sometimes use his humour to be extremely sarcastic and caustic in interviews. "We created Apple so someone wouldn't have to go down on their knees in an office — probably yours." Whilst the other Beatles laughed, he would glare to make his point, although nobody was quite sure if he was joking or not.
When Lennon once had put on a lot of weight and had been drinking heavily, he said, "I was eating and drinking like a pig, and I was fat as a pig, dissatisfied with myself, and subconsciously I was crying for help. It was my fat-Elvis period."
Lennon's partnership in songwriting with McCartney involved him — many times — in opposing McCartney's upbeat, positive outlook, with a sarcastic counter-point, as seen, for example, in "Getting Better":
McCartney: "I've got to admit it's getting better, a little better all the time."
Lennon: "Can't get no worse."
The Beatles often made fun of George Martin, as they once sang "tit-tit-tit", as backing vocals instead of "dit-dit-dit" on the 1965 song "Girl" from Rubber Soul. When Martin (who was upstairs in the control room and could not see them) asked, "Boys, was that dit, or... tit?" "It was dit, George", Lennon replied, as the others doubled up in silent laughter. They thought of George Martin (who was always dressed in a suit and tie) as being part of the establishment and therefore open to jokes, but never ridicule.
Lennon’s wit often reflected his strong political beliefs. While visiting Canada, which at the time was still flying under the British Union Flag, Lennon was asked by a reporter what he thought of a country that did not have its own flag. Lennon replied, “It’s a start.”
Writing and art
Lennon started writing and drawing early in life, with encouragement from his Uncle George (Mimi's husband). He often drew caricatures of his school teachers; when he attended art school he penned love poems to Cynthia Lennon on scraps of paper, once writing, "Our first Christmas, I love you, yes, yes, yes."
Lennon even created his own comic strip, which he called "The Daily Howl". This contained drawings, frequently of crippled people, and satirical writings, often with a play on words. For example, in one page, Lennon wrote a weather report saying that "Tomorrow will be Muggy, followed by Tuggy, Wuggy and Thuggy."
When Liverpool's "Mersey Beat" magazine was founded, Lennon was often asked to contribute. His first piece was about the origins of The Beatles and contained the line, "A man appeared on a flaming pie, and said you are Beatles with an 'A'."
Books written by Lennon, or with contributions. Some were published posthumously. The first three works here are generally considered to be unique examples of literary nonsense. Some of Lennon's books include In His Own Write, A Spaniard in the Works and Skywriting by Word of Mouth.
- Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins (with Yoko Ono) (1968)
- Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions (with Yoko Ono) (1969)
- Wedding Album (with Yoko Ono) (1969)
- John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970)
- Imagine (album) (1971)
- Sometime in New York City (1972) (With Yoko Ono)
- Mind Games (1973)
- Walls and Bridges (1974)
- Rock 'n' Roll (1975)
- Shaved Fish (1975)
- Double Fantasy (1980) (With Yoko Ono)
- Milk and Honey (1984) (With Yoko Ono)
- 1958 Rickenbacker 325 Capri (1960-1964)
- 1963 Rickenbacker 325c64 Jetglo (1964-1965)
- 1961 Fender Stratocaster Sonic Blue (1964-1967)
- 1965 Epiphone 230TD Casino Sunburst (1965-1971)
- 1961 Gibson SG Standard Standard (1966-1968)
- Les Paul Jr. Red (1969-1980)
- 1962 Gibson J-160E Sunburst (1962-1964)
- 1964 Gibson J-160E Sunburst (1964-1980)
- 1964 Framus Hootenanny 12-String Natural (1964-1970)
- 1967 Martin D-28 Natural (1967-1980)