John Lennon was my favorite Beatle, but that wasn’t always true. At first, I was like many other young girls who were infatuated with Paul McCartney because he was so cute. But gradually John’s wit, humor, creativity, and unique personality captured my attention and admiration…
John had a keen mind and sharp tongue, which sometimes got him into trouble. One time during a private interview he made a comment that the Beatles were more popular that Jesus. Unfortunately, his statement was released to the public. As a result, many radio stations banned their music and fans burned and broke their records. But John wasn’t an atheist. In fact, I’ve read that he believed the Gospel and became a born again Christian before he died.
During 1967-69, the Peace Movement had become very important to me and my hero in this effort was John Lennon. Back then it seemed like the world was falling apart. Revolution and anarchy were on the doorstep. John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had each been assassinated. Riots were springing up all over the south, Watts was burning and the war in Vietnam was escalating. Out of all this turmoil I began to feel a growing hunger for truth and peace along with many other kids of my generation.
During this period one of my brothers was fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. My other brother had already served and returned from his tour of duty overseas. I can still remember taking part in some of the protests at my school, which consisted of “sit-ins”, walking out of class, and wearing black arm bands in recognition of the soldiers who had died in the war.
John and Yoko began staging several peaceful protests in an effort to end the war in Vietnam and raise public awareness for other human rights issues they cared about. I followed there activities with great interest, giving what I could to their cause. Somewhere during this time John Lennon wrote Revolution, which became one of my very favorite anti-war protest songs.
Many years later it seemed very strange to find myself standing in the boyhood home of John Lennon, quietly paging through a book he had written.
It was the summer of 2003 and James (my husband) and I were on an extended honeymoon in Britain. Two years earlier he had met a woman at work whose husband had gone to school with John. When she learned that we were planning a trip to England, she offered to give us a private tour of the Beatles’ stomping grounds. Wow!
Through a mysterious set of “circumstances” we were able to visit the home where John Lennon lived as a boy, as well as each of the other Beatles’ homes in Liverpool. We also went to The Cavern, where the Beatles often played and were later “discovered” by Brian Epstein. Then we visited Abbey Road Studios in London where the Fab Four produced their last album and gave their final concert on the roof. This concert was filmed live for the “Let It Be” movie.
John Winston Lennon was born on October 9, 1940 in Liverpool, England to Fred and Julia Lennon. They divorced when he was about four or five years old, leaving him to be raised by his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George. John never saw his father again (except for one very brief episode in 1964), but Julia continued to make sporadic visits from time to time.
As a little boy, John would sometimes hide when his mother Julia came to see him, because the emotional pain was too much for him to bear. Though his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George did their best to provide a good home, John always felt abandoned and unloved. He became angry and rebellious as a result and gained a reputation as a bully or “Teddy-Boy”.
Then one day John heard a new kind of music on the radio, called Rock and Roll, and his life was changed forever. From that moment forward, all he wanted to do was learn how to play the guitar.
Well, as they say, the rest is history. John Lennon’s song “Love Me Do” became The Beatles first #1 single in England. Then the band took the world by storm in 1964 when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. Their first American single “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was released and distributed through a small record label in December of the previous year, and by January it had leaped to number one. The song sold 1.5 million copies within five days and was expected to reach two million in another month.
This was an unprecedented phenomenon in the recording industry at the time when a hit song usually reached it’s peak in sales at 200,000. Now all the other “big” record companies that had originally scoffed at them, were kicking themselves in the you know what for being so blind to the Beatles unique sound and charisma. Since then, The Beatles and their music have exceeded more than three decades of fame and popularity.
John Lennon was, himself, a very gifted writer, songwriter and poet. To this day, the “Songwriting Techniques of John Lennon; The Beatle Years” is one of the most popular classes offered at California’s Berklee School of Music.
Lennon’s lyrics could be abstract and difficult to understand, or extremely simple and straightforward, often providing a rich spectrum of color and creativity through the use of metaphor and simile. He was an independent thinker, not a crowd follower or people pleaser. Consider his following statement regarding evolution for example…
“I don’t believe in the evolution of fish to monkeys to men. It’s absolutely irrational garbage. They set up these idols and then they knock them down. It keeps all the old professors happy at the university. It gives them something to do. Everything they told me as a kid has already been disproved by the same type of “experts” who made them up in the first place.” – John Lennon
It seemed as if he was always searching for something just beyond his reach, something to fill the emptiness in his soul and give meaning to his life.
Happiness had somehow eluded him until he met Yoko Ono, after which he became completely disenchanted with the Beatles, and announced that he was leaving the group for good. “I want a divorce” he told Paul, and the Beatles were formally dissolved by January of 1971, each going their separate ways.
On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was shot dead on the streets of Manhattan, New York, just outside his home, by a lone gunman named Mark Chapman. Chapman later signed a statement for the police saying “I never wanted to hurt anybody. My friends will tell you that. I have two parts in me. The big part is very kind; the children I worked with will tell you that. I have a small part in me that cannot understand the world and what goes on in it. I did not want to kill anybody and I really don’t know why I did it…”
John Lennon had come to represent a message of hope and peace for the ’60s generation and it still seems hard to believe that he was murdered. John had developed a social consciousness that was not unlike others who had gone before him; men like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.
None of these men were perfect, but they were all influential in making us aware of the larger picture. They pointed out the need for change and the importance of developing new ideas. They inspired us to dream and imagine a more peaceful world.
Someday, the true “Prince of Peace” will create a new heaven and earth where there will be “…no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain…” I’m certainly looking forward to that day. What about you?