John Lennon, 1969
|Birth name||John Winston Lennon|
|Born||9 October 1940|
|Died||8 December 1980 (aged 40)|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, singer-songwriter, record producer, artist, writer|
|Instrument(s)||Vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica, harmonium, electronic organ, six-string bass|
|Years active||1957–75, 1980|
|Label(s)||Parlophone, Capitol, Apple, EMI, Geffen, Polydor|
|Associated acts||The Quarrymen, The Beatles, Plastic Ono Band, The Dirty Mac, Yoko Ono|
John Winston Ono Lennon, MBE (October 9, 1940 – December 8, 1980), (born John Winston Lennon, known as John Ono Lennon) was an iconic English twentieth-century rock and roll songwriter and singer, best known as the founding member of The Beatles. Between 1960 and 1966, the story of Lennon’s life and that of his group were one. Their constant re-inventing of rock music, and themselves, evolved The Beatles from pop quartet to movie stars, explorers of inner-space, spiritual adepts, and then dispersion into individual paths beyond the group.
This path defined the sixties generation and Lennon was an archetype of that decade and the next. The psychedelics and meditation of the 1960s did not satisfy him, nor did psychotherapy, politics, or drugs and alcohol in the 1970s. He left his wife Cynthia for Yoko Ono, a Japanese avant-garde artist, with whom he worked for peace and then, exhausted by his struggle for a U.S. green card, settled down as a family man. His creativity waned and with this his power to shape culture.
Lennon had one son, Julian, with his first wife, Cynthia; and another, Sean, by second wife, Yoko Ono. John Lennon was murdered in New York City on December 8, 1980, by a deranged fan.
John Lennon was born in Liverpool, England to Julia Stanley Lennon and Alfred "Alf" Lennon. Lennon's father, a merchant seaman, walked out on the family when John was five years old. Due to a lack of home space and concerns expressed about her relationship with a male friend, John's mother handed over his care to her sister, Mary Smith (known as Mimi). Throughout the rest of his childhood and adolescence, Lennon lived with his Aunt Mimi and her husband, George Smith, in a fairly middle class section of Liverpool. He was raised an Anglican.
On July 15, 1958, when Lennon was 17, his mother Julia was struck and killed by a car. Her death was one of the factors that cemented his friendship with Paul McCartney, who had lost his own mother to breast cancer in 1956, when he was 14.
Lennon was a troublemaker in school and did little work, sinking to the "C-stream." Though failing at his exams by one grade at grammar school, Lennon was accepted into the Liverpool College of Art. It was there that he met his future wife, Cynthia Powell. Lennon would steadily grow to hate the conformity of art school and drop out.
Lennon devoted himself to music, inspired by Americans such as Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Little Richard. Lennon started a skiffle band in grammar school that was called The Quarry Men after his alma mater, Quarry Bank Grammar School. With the addition of Paul McCartney and George Harrison, the band switched to playing rock and roll, taking the name "Johnny and The Moondogs," followed by "The Silver Beetles," a knock-off on Buddy Holly's band The Crickets. This was later shortened to The Beatles spelled with an "a" in reference to their identification with "beat groups."
Lennon was usually considered the leader of The Beatles, as he founded the original group, inviting his art school friend Stuart Sutcliffe and Paul McCartney to join; McCartney in turn invited George Harrison. Ringo Starr was brought into the group last.
At age 17, Lennon led The Beatles to pay their dues in the waterfront bars of Hamburg, Germany, a life filled with amphetamines and sex. After two years, they returned to steady work at Liverpool’s Cavern Club where they met the manager who took them to stardom, Brian Epstein. A young woman they met in Hamburg gave them their distinctive “pudding basin” haircuts and Epstein guided them to engagements in larger venues, the recording studio and regular concerts on the BBC. Within a year they had polished their sound and songwriting and reached the top of the charts. A tour of America, a non-stop succession of smash hit singles, and the appearance of a dozen or more look-alike English bands confirmed their status. By the time Lennon was 24, the group not only dominated the rock and roll world, they invested that art form with a power it had never before achieved. Their hair, attitude, and music defined the identity of the young generation. They were invited to a command performance for the British royalty and soon thereafter awarded the by the Queen the MBE Award (Member of the British Empire).
The group’s unique and recognizable sound was the three-part harmony with Lennon or McCartney at lead. He and McCartney formed the massively successful Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership. His songwriting was full of pain and hope, at times beautiful and at times dark. As a writing pair, Lennon's hard-edged rock and McCartney's optimistic lyricism complemented one another. The Beatles’ lyrics, instrumentation, harmony, and electronic effects created a series of new paradigms for popular music and propelled their music—and rock in general—into the center of culture-creation. They constantly re-invented their music, and themselves, from pop quartet to movie stars, explorers of inner-space, serious composers, and spiritual adepts, before their dispersion into individual paths beyond the group.
Lennon often spoke his mind freely and the press was used to querying him on a wide range of subjects. On March 4, 1966, in an interview for the London Evening Standard, Lennon made a remark regarding religion:
"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."
This remark made no appreciable impact in England, but five months later, when this hit America on the cover of Datebook magazine a firestorm of protest swelled from the Bible Belt area, as Christian youths publicly burned The Beatles’ records and memorabilia. Radio stations banned The Beatles’ music and concert venues cancelled performances. Even the Vatican publicly denounced Lennon's comments. On August 11, 1966, Lennon addressed the growing furor at a press conference in Chicago. Lennon apologized, saying his comments were “never meant to be a lousy anti-religion thing."
The governing members of the Vatican accepted his apology, but the episode revealed the tipping point at which The Beatles were situated. Their ever-increasing cultural authority, with the pressure, scrutiny, and danger attached, led them to discontinue live concerts. They had reached the top. Lennon sought new ladders to reach a higher goal.
Lennon led the group into the culture’s next phase through the pathway of LSD. The albums Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released in the summer of 1966 and spring of 1967, created the genre of psychedelic music, most forcefully through Lennon’s works such as “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and “A Day in the Life.”
The group at the same time sought answers through meditation, studying under India’s Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Lennon’s positive experience with meditation was expressed in songs such as “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “Because” and “Across the Universe.” His rejection of gurus was expressed in “Sexy Sadie” (meaning “maharishi”), “I Found Out” (“There ain’t no guru who can see through your eyes”), and “God.”
Lennon’s looking outside the group, including acting on his own in the film How I Won the War, created a vacuum McCartney filled with the music and film projects Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be, both disliked by Lennon. He quit the group in September 1969, but agreed not to make an announcement at the time. To Lennon’s chagrin, McCartney went public with his own departure in April 1970, appearing to be the one who dissolved the group. Lennon later wrote, "I started the band. I finished it." McCartney concurred that Lennon had been the first to quit, and in a subsequent Playboy interview 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."
The rise of Beatlemania and the rigors of touring strained his marriage with Cynthia. On November 9, 1966, Lennon visited a gallery featuring an art exhibit of Yoko Ono in London. Their love affair began in 1968, when Lennon left his estranged wife. Cynthia filed for divorce later that year, on the grounds of John's adultery with Ono. Lennon and Ono became inseparable in public and private.
The press was extremely unkind to Ono, posting a series of unflattering articles about her, frequently with racist overtones. This infuriated Lennon, who stood ever more staunchly with his new partner. At the end of 1968, Lennon and Ono performed as Dirty Mac on The Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus. During his last two years with The Beatles, Lennon spent much of his time with Ono, partaking in public protests against the Vietnam War. He sent back his MBE. These developments led to friction with the other members of the group, who had separated their wives and girlfriends, as well as politics, from their professional life.
John Lennon had two sons, one by each of his wives.
Julian Lennon, John’s son with Cynthia, was born in 1963. The Beatles’ song “Hey Jude” was written for Julian by Paul McCartney to help Julian through his parents’ divorce. Julian has been quoted as saying that he felt closer to McCartney than to his own father.
Sean Lennon, John’s son with Yoko, was born in 1975.
Both Julian and Sean Lennon went on to have recording careers years after their father's death.
On March 20, 1969, Lennon and Ono were married in Gibraltar and his marriage immediately assumed a place in his life far surpassing that of The Beatles. In the summer of 1969, The Beatles' last album, Abbey Road, was produced, an acclaimed musical work.
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."
While he was still a Beatle, Lennon and Ono recorded three albums of experimental and difficult 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 with The Plastic Ono Band, which included Eric Clapton and Klaus Voormann. He also recorded three singles in his initial solo phase, the anti-war anthem "Give Peace a Chance," "Cold Turkey" (about his struggles with heroin addiction), and "Instant Karma!"
Following The Beatles’ split in 1970, Lennon released the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album, a raw, brutally personal recording, which was directly inspired by what he had experienced earlier that year while going through Primal therapy with Arthur Janov in Los Angeles. The centerpiece of the album is "God," in which he lists all of the people and things he no longer believed in, including Jesus, Buddha, kings, magic, and ending with "Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, [and] The Beatles." Many consider the Plastic Ono Band to be a major influence on later hard rock and punk music.
That album was followed in 1971 by Imagine, Lennon's most successful solo album, which alternates in tone between dreaminess and anger. The title track has become an anthem for anti-religion and anti-war movements. He specifically wrote one track, “How Do You Sleep?” as a biting personal attack against McCartney, but later admitted that, in the end, it was really about himself. His next album, Some Time in New York City (1972), was loud, raucous, and explicitly political. 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.
On August 30, 1972, Lennon and his backing band Elephant's Memory staged two benefit concerts at New York’s Madison Square Garden. In 1972, Lennon released an anti-sexism song, “Woman Is the Nigger of the World,” which appeared on the Some Time in New York City album. Radio refused to broadcast the song, and it was banned nearly everywhere.
Lennon rebounded in 1973 with Mind Games, which featured a strong title tune and some vague mumblings about a "conceptual country" called "Nutopia," which satirized his ongoing immigration case.
The Vietnam War mobilized a generation of young people to take a stand opposing U.S. government policy and Lennon was determined to use his power as a superstar to help end the war. Lennon and Ono spent their honeymoon in Amsterdam in a "Bed-In" for peace. They followed up their honeymoon with another "Bed-In,” this time held in Montreal at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. During the second "Bed-In," the couple recorded "Give Peace a Chance," which became an international anthem for the peace movement. They were mainly patronized as eccentrics by the media, yet they did a great deal for the peace movement, as well as for other related causes, such as feminism and racial harmony.
When John and Yoko 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. The tour was to combine rock music with anti-war organizing and registration of the new electorate of 18-year olds. Lennon had transformed from loveable mop-top to anti-war activist. The next month the Immigration and Naturalization Service began deportation proceedings against Lennon. The 1972 concert tour never happened, but Lennon and his friends did do one of the events they had been thinking about: the "Free John Sinclair" concert in Ann Arbor, Michigan in December 1971. Twenty thousand people attended the concert; two days after the concert, the state of Michigan released John Sinclair from prison.
While his deportation battle was going on, Lennon spoke often against the Vietnam War. 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."
Lennon finally obtained his green card in 1975. After Lennon’s murder, historian Jon Wiener filed a Freedom of Information request for FBI files on Lennon. The documentary, The U.S. Versus John Lennon, by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld, released by Lions Gate in September 2006 tells the story.
In 1973, Yoko approached May Pang, their personal assistant, and asked her to "be with John and to help him out and see to it that he gets whatever he wanted." Soon thereafter Yoko kicked John out of the house. He moved with Pang to Los Angeles until the beginning of 1975. Pang encouraged Lennon to spend time with his son, Julian, and she became friends with Cynthia Lennon.
Lennon also spent his time during these months with his close friend, the singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson, and an assortment of his drinking buddies (Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Alice Cooper, Micky Dolenz, and others). The period included a jam session with Paul McCartney. Despite publicized episodes of drunkenness, Lennon put together the well-received album Walls and Bridges (1974) and produced Nilsson's Pussy Cats album. He capped the year by making a surprise appearance at an Elton John concert in Madison Square Garden, his last concert appearance in front of a rock audience. Following the Christmas holidays, he returned to Yoko Ono in New York.
On April 18, 1975, John Lennon made his last public appearance on ATV's special A Salute to Lew Grade. In 1975, Lennon released the Rock 'n' Roll album of cover versions of old songs of his youth. Also in 1975, David Bowie achieved his first U.S. number one hit with "Fame," co-written by Lennon (who also contributed backing vocals and guitar), Bowie, and Carlos Alomar.
Yoko Ono was pregnant with their only child when Lennon retired from music and dedicated himself to family life. In the last major interview of his life, conducted in September 1980, three months before his death (published in the January 1981 issue of Playboy), Lennon said that he had always been very macho and had never questioned his chauvinistic attitude towards women until he met Yoko Ono. By 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. While Lennon was always distant with his first son (Julian) he was very close to his second son (Sean), and called him "my pride." Lennon also spoke about having a child with Ono: "We were both finally unselfish enough to want to have a child."
When Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as president on January 20, 1977, John and Yoko were invited to attend the Inaugural Ball, signaling the end of hostility from the U.S. government. After this appearance, Lennon was rarely seen in public until his 1980 comeback.
Lennon's retirement, which he began following the birth of his son Sean in 1975, lasted until 1980, when Lennon wrote an impressive amount of material during a lengthy Bermuda vacation. For this comeback, he and Ono produced Double Fantasy, a concept album dealing with their relationship.
The Lennons began a series of interviews and video footage to promote the album. “(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 Ono completed after his death.
At 10:50 P.M. on December 8, 1980, Mark David Chapman shot and fatally wounded John Lennon in front of Lennon's residence, the Dakota Building in New York City, when Lennon and Ono returned from recording Ono's single "Walking on Thin Ice" for their next album. According to police, upon being hit by four bullets, Lennon staggered up six steps, said, "I'm shot," and then collapsed. After shooting Lennon, Chapman calmly sat down on the sidewalk and waited. The doorman walked to Chapman and reportedly said, "Do you know what you've just done?" Chapman replied, in a matter-of-fact tone, "I just shot John Lennon."
The first policemen at the scene found Chapman sitting "very calmly" on the sidewalk. They reported that Chapman had dropped the revolver after firing it, and that he had a cassette recorder with over 10 audio cassettes, which had 14 hours of The Beatles’ songs on them.
The second police team at the Dakota—Officers Bill Gamble and James Moran—rushed Lennon to Roosevelt Hospital. Officer Moran said they stretched Lennon out on the back seat and that the singer was "moaning." Moran asked, "Do you know who you are?" Lennon nodded slightly and tried to speak, but could only manage to make a gurgling sound. Lennon lost consciousness shortly after.
John Lennon, at the age of forty, was pronounced dead on arrival at Roosevelt Hospital at approximately 11:15 P.M. by Dr. Stephen Lynn. Yoko Ono, crying "Tell me it's not true," was taken to Roosevelt Hospital and led away in shock after she learned that her husband was dead. David Geffen later issued a statement on her behalf: "John loved and prayed for the human race. Please do the same for him." Within the first minutes after the news broadcasts announcing the shooting, people began to gather at Roosevelt Hospital and in front of the Dakota, reciting prayers, singing Lennon's songs, and burning candles.
On December 14, 1980, all around the world, people paused to stand alone or come together in silence, heeding a plea from Yoko Ono that they take 10 minutes to remember the former Beatle.
Lennon was cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, and his ashes were kept by Yoko Ono. Chapman pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life. He has been denied parole several times and remains incarcerated at Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York.
A much-missed figure, Lennon has been the subject of numerous memorials and tributes, principally the Strawberry Fields Memorial, constructed in Central Park across the street from the Dakota building where he lived and where he was shot. In 2002, Liverpool also renamed its airport the Liverpool John Lennon Airport, and adopted the motto "Above us only sky."
Every December 8—the anniversary of his death—there is a memorial in front of Capitol Records on Vine Street in Hollywood, California. It includes speakers discussing Lennon, musical tributes, and groups singing. A similar gathering takes place every year on his birthday, as well as on the anniversary of his death, at Strawberry Fields.
In 2002, the BBC polled the British public about the 100 Greatest Britons of all time. Respondents voted Lennon into eighth place.
The twenty-fifth anniversary of John Lennon's death, December 8, 2005, was a particularly emotional milestone for Beatles and Lennon fans. Celebrations of John Lennon's life and music occurred in London, New York City, Cleveland, and Seattle. A tribute concert took place at John Lennon Park in Havana, Cuba.
The minor planet 4147, discovered January 12, 1983, by B. A. Skiff at the Anderson Mesa Station of the Lowell Observatory, was named in memory of John Lennon. 
Numerous biographies of John Lennon have been published. Notable are Lennon: The Definitive Biography by Ray Coleman and the relentlessly hostile The Lives of John Lennon by Albert Goldman.
John Lennon wrote three books himself: John Lennon: In His Own Write, A Spaniard in the Works, and Skywriting by Word of Mouth (the last published posthumously). A personal sketchbook with Lennon's familiar cartoons illustrating definitions of Japanese words, Ai: Japan Through John Lennon's Eyes, was also published posthumously. The Beatles Anthology also contains writings, drawings, and interview transcripts by Lennon, along with the other three Beatles.
All links retrieved March 30, 2014.
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