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John Lennon (1940-1980)

 

Singer, writer, poet, and composer, the Beatles' most committed rock artist. With his social conscience, cynical wit, and willingness to experiment, John Lennon was in constant conflict with conservative values. The poet and novelist Philip Arthur Larkin described the Beatles' work as "an enchanting and intoxicating hybrid of Negro rock-and-roll with their own adolescent romanticism", and "the first advance in popular music since the War." Many of the group's lyrics (e.g. 'Penny Lane', 'Eleanor Rigby', 'She's Leaving Home') had a considerable influence on the success of the Liverpool Poets (Adrian Henri, Roger McGough, Brian Patten) and the Underground poetry movement.

"I'm a moldy moldy man..." (from In His Own Write, 1964)

John Lennon was born in Liverpool, Merseyside, into a working class family. His parents, Julia and Alfred (Freddie), separated before he was two, and Lennon went to live with his mother's sister, Mimi Smith. Freddie spent much time at sea. After serving some time in prison, his future in the merchant navy was finished, and he worked then in odd jobs, often as a pot scrubber or pan scourer in hotel kitchens. Lennon attended Liverpool's Dovedale Primary School and later the Quarry Bank High School. Only late in life, Lennon discovered that his lifelong inability to spell and tendency to transform one word into another of similar sound was a sign of dyslexia. In 1955 he started a skiffle group, called the Quarrymen, which took the name from his school. During these years Lennon wrote a book which he called the Daily Howl – a kind of newspaper with little jokes and cartoons. When Lennon was 17, his mother was killed in an accident. She was knocked down by a car, driven by a police officer, who was driving without a license. "I've no responsibility to anyone now," Lennon recalled his bitter thoughts after Julia's death.

In the summer of 1956 Lennon met Paul McCartney and they began to write songs together. In Hamburg, where the Beatles played in the early 1960s, they learned to play as a band, eventually becoming "more popular than Jesus," in Lennon's words. His remark, infuriated religious conservatives, launched a "Ban the Beatles" campaign and a wave of record burning events. "When they started burning our records," Lennon said, "that was a real shock, the physical burning. I couldn't go away knowing I'd created another little piece of hate in the world . . . so I apologized." The Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan denounced the band as "atheistic." Several members of the KKK picketed the band's concert in Washington, D.C. Later on in a new single 'Ballad of John and Yoko' Lennon sang "They're gonna crucify me".

But the time meant also a sexual awakening for the Beatles. "We were baptised in Hamburg because there were the girls," McCartney said in Barry Miles biography. When Bill Harry launched the Mersey Beat in Liverpool in the summer of 1961, Lennon wrote for the paper. He admired the column "Beachcomber" in the Daily News and created his own "Beatcomber."

In His Own Write (1964), Lennon's first book, was partly based on material he had made while still at school. Its alternative titles were among others The Transistor Negro, Left Hand Left Hand (after Osbert Sitwell's Left Hand Right Hand) and Stop One and Buy Me. Lennon signed the contract in January 1964 and the book – with 31 pieces of writing and enough drawings – was published three months later on March 23, 1964. Introduction was written by Paul McCartney and the work was designed by Robert Freeman. By January 1965 it had sold nearly 200 000 copies. (Source: John Savage, introduction in Pimlico double edition, 1997) Lennon once said, that he had always wanted to write Alice in Wonderland. Another favorite was James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, "so way out and so different." A Spaniard in the Works, Lennon's second book, was published on June 24, 1965. It went through four impressions and sold 100 000 copies within three month, not so well as the first. "There are some stories and bits in it that even I don't understand," Lennon later revealed. Young readers hailed the books as a new and inspiring way of writing, but actually Lennon followed in the footsteps of the French surrealists of the 1920s.

"I hardly ever alter anything because I'm selfish about what I write, or big-headed about it. Once I've written it, I like it. And the publisher sometimes says, 'Should we leave this out, or change that?' and I fight like mad, because once I've done it I liker to keep it. But I always write it straight off. I might add things when I go over it before it's published, but I seldom take anything out. So it is spontaneous." (from The Beatles Anthology, 2000)

Meeting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, writer of The Science of Being and the Art of Living, helped Lennon to abandon booze and some drugs for a short time. In 1968 the Beatles flew from England to India, where they joined the maharashi at his meditation center, which was built for rich foreigners. Indian culture had already inspired the Beatniks of the 1950s. This tradition was continued by a number of the hippies of the next decade who considered India their spiritual home.

The Beatles' pilgrimage was widely commented by the media, especially when Lennon admitted, "We made a mistake," when he returned back to England. However, during this period the group wrote most of the White Album. After 1969, which was the final year of Lennon's activities with the Beatles, he grew closer to his second wife Yoko Ono, whom he married in 1969. They arranged much publicity for peace movement by staying in bed while being filmed and interviewed, and their single with Plastic Ono Band 'Give Peace a Chance' (1969) became the "national anthem" for pacifist. John himself was no angel, he could be violent, provocative, mean – and he was far from a model father. "They want me to be lovable," Lennon had said in an interview. "But I was never that." In 1974 at L.A.'s Troubadour Club, after allegedly assaulting the manager of the Smothers Brothers and a waitress, he was thrown out onto the street.

"What we're really doing," said John, "is sending out a message to the world, mainly to the youth, to anybody who is interested in protesting for peace or protesting any form of violence." John summoned up the message in one colloquial phase: "Give peace a chance."
As the phasing of John's famous chant suggests, the model for all the Lennon's peace propaganda was Madison Avenue advertising. John believed deeply in the power of images and slogans to affect the mass mind. He was sure that during his years as a Beatle he had mastered the techniques of manipulating the media, and of course, he had a very able partner in this work in Yoko Ono... (from The Lives of John Lennon by Albert Goldman, 1988)

From 1968 to 1969 Lennon recorded Two Virgins, Life With the Lions, The Wedding Album and Plastic Ono Band, but generally agreed his best solo album was Imagine, which appeared in 1970. In the 1970s Lennon emerged as a significant political threat to the Nixon administration. He planned in the summer of 1972 a concert tour to rouse the youth against the Vietnam war. Parts of the FBI's Lennon file, dealing with his ties with anti-war movement, was kept secret for reasons of "national security" until 2006. Following the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War in 1990 and President George H.W. Bush's military effort  to protect the West's oil supplies, the United Kingdom's Radio One (the BBC's pop channel) produced a list of 67 songs unfit for broadcast. Among them was not only Lennon's anti-war 'Give Peace a Chance' but also 'Walk Like an Egyptian' by Bangles and Roberta Flack's love song 'Killing Me Softly'.

When Mind Games appeared in 1973, John was not living with Yoko. He had moved to Los Angeles with May Pang, his wife's former secretary. In 'Bless You' from Walls and Bridges (1974) he wrote: "Some people say it's over," and in 'Scared' he confessed: "Hatred and jealousy / gonna be the death of me". By January 1975 John and Yoko were living together once more. On the birth of his son Sean (1975-), Lennon retired from music, and plunged in a self-destructive life-style like Elvis Presley, whose 'Heartbreak Hotel' had made him a rocker at the age of fifteen. Lennon used Thai sticks, or heroin, left rarely his bed, and complained about television, his chronic indigestion, or the soap in the kitchen. After a long period of hibernation, Lennon released with Yoko Ono in 1980 Double Fantasy which won a Grammy for the Album of the Year.

Jonh Lennon was murdered on December 8, 1980, in New York. His death affected millions of people. John Lennon continues to be admired by new generations of fans – as a troubled Jesus-like figure, icon of the peace-movement, drug-using rebel, hard rocker, and a song writer who had more to say than the simple "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da."

"After his death, Linda and I went round to Yoko's and we all cried so hard, you know, we had to laugh. She wanted to get us something to eat and she mentioned caviar. We all said, 'Let's do it.' Her houseman brought it in, mumbling, and he backed out and there was the caviar tin with just a little bit in the bottom. Her servants had eaten it all!" (from Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now by Barry Miles, 1997)
For further reading: The Beatles by Hunter Davies (1968); Lennon Remembers: The Rolling Stone Interviews by Jann Wenner (1971); A Twist of Lennon by Cynthia Lennon (1978); The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon & Yoko Ono, ed. by G. Barry Golson (1982); The Ballad of John and Yoko by Jonathan Cott and Christine Doudna (1982); Loving John by May Pang (1983); John Lennon: In My Life by Peter Shotton and Nicholas Schaffer (1983); John Oko Lennon 1967-1980 by Ray Coleman (1984); John Winston Lennon 1940-66 by Ray Coleman (1984); Lennon: Definitive Biography by Ray Coleman (1985); John Lennon: For the Record by Peter McCabe and Robert D. Schonfeld (1984); The Lives of John Lennon by Albert Goldman (1988); Come Together: John Lennon in His Time by Jon Wiener (1995); Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files by Jon Wiener (1999); The Songs of John Lennon: The Beatle Years by John Stevens and John Lennon (2002); Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon by Robert Rosen (2002); John by Cynthia Lennon (2005); John Lennon: All I Want is the Truth by Elizabeth Partridge (2005); John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman (2008)
Yoko Ono: raised in Tokyo by her wealthy Japanese banking family. She became the first woman admitted to study philosophy at Japan's Gakushuin University. In 1953 she moved to the US to study at Sarah Lawrence College. After dropping out she joined New York avant-garde movement. During the early sixties, Ono's works were exhibited and/or performed at the Village Gate, Carnegie Recital Hall and numerous New York galleries. In mid-sixties, she lectured at Wesleyan College and had exhibitions in Japan and London, where she met John Lennon at the Indica Gallery. Lennon separated from his wife Cynthia, with whom he had one child, Julian. Ono's best known solo album Season of the Glass appeared in 1981 and received much attention also outside avant-garde and critical circles. Other pop or rock stars with literary merits (novels, collections of poems, short story collections): Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Nick Cave, Ulf Lundell. Collections by the Liverpool Poets: The Mersey Sound (1967), The Liverpool Scene (1967), New Volume (1983)

Books:

  • In His Own Write, 1964 (first published by Jonathan Cape) - John Lennon panee omiaan (suom. Anselm Hollo, 1964)
  • A Spaniard in the Works, 1965 (first published by Jonathan Cape) - Hispanialainen jakovainaa (suom. Anselm Hollo, 1966)
  • Lennon Remembers, 1971 (with Jann Wenner; originally published in Rolling Stone) - Lennon muistelee (suom. Markku Into, 1973)
  • Skywriting by Word of Mouth: And Other Writings, Including "The Ballad of John and Yoko", 1986
  • Ai: Japan Through John Lennon's Eyes: A Personal Sketchbook, 1991
  • Real Love: The Drawings for Sean, 1999 (introduction by Yoko Ono)
  • The John Lennon Letters, 2012 (edited by Hunter Davies)

Films and videos:

  • A Hard Day's Night, 1964, dir. by Richard Lester
  • Help, 1965, dir. by Dick Lester, written by Charles Wood, Marc Behm
  • How I Won the War, 1967, dir. by Richard Lester, written by Charles Wood from Patrick Ryan's novel, starring Michael Crawford, John Lennon, Roy Kinnear, Lee Montague. Story was set during the WW II, where an earnest young man becomes an officer and survives many tribulations including the death of his comrades
  • Magical Mystery Tour, 1968
  • Let It Be, 1971
  • The Bed-In (video), 1991
  • The John Lennon Video Collection, 1992
  • One To One, 1993

Selected albums / The Beatles:

  • Please Please Me, 1963
  • With the Beatles, 1963
  • A Hard Day's Night, 1964
  • Beatles For Sale, 1964
  • Help, 1965
  • Rubber Soul, 1965
  • Revolver, 1966
  • Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967
  • The Beatles/White Album, 1968
  • Yellow Submarine, 1969
  • Abbey Road, 1969
  • Let It Be, 1970

Selected albums from 1968:

  • Two Virgins, 1968
  • Life With the Lions, 1969
  • The Wedding Album, 1969
  • Plastic Ono Band, 1969
  • John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band, 1970
  • Imagine, 1970
  • Some Time in New York City, 1972
  • Mind Games, 1973
  • Walls and Bridges, 1974
  • Rock'n Roll, 1975
  • Shaved Fish, 1975
  • Double Fantasy, 1980
  • The John Lennon Collection, 1982
  • Heartplay - Unfinished Dialogue, 1983
  • Milk And Honey, 1984
  • Live In New York City, 1986
  • Menlove Ave, 1986
  • The Last Word, 1988
  • Imagine - Music From The Motion Picture, 1988
  • John & Yoko: The Interview, 1990
  • The Ultimate John Lennon Collection, 1990


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