John Lennon


Image source: Lennons by Jack Mitchell

John Winston Lennon was born on October 9th of 1940 in Liverpool, England. Lennon’s mother, Julia Stanley, spent much of her time taking care of her father with the help of her four sisters. Lennon’s father, Alfred “Alf” Lennon, was an Irish merchant seaman whose job frequently kept him away from home, but would regularly send money to Julia. Alfred, however, disappeared for roughly six months, in which time Julia became pregnant with the child of another man. Alfred offered to take care of Julia and the baby, but Julia rejected his offer.

Later on, Julia’s sister Mimi made several calls to Liverpool Social Services, complaining that the infant John was sleeping in the same bed as Julia and her new partner, John Albert Dykins. Julia was later persuaded to allow John to live with her sister Mimi. Alfred visited Mimi and his son from time to time, and at one point took young John on an extended holiday to Blackpool. Julia then discovered that Alfred planned to steal John away to New Zealand. Julia and Alfred got into a heated argument, which forced John to chose between the two. Ultimately John chose his mother, returning to her house in Liverpool, and several weeks later, went back to live with Mimi.

John lived the rest of his childhood with his aunt Mimi and uncle George on their farm. Mimi read him short stories, while George would solve crossword puzzles with him. At the age of 11, John would began to visit his mother in Liverpool, rather than her coming to visit him on the family farm. On these trips, Julia would play John records by Elvis Presley as well as teach him how to play the Banjo.

As a young adult, John was happy-go-lucky, good-humored, and easygoing. He was also creative, starting up his own high school magazine called The Daily Howl, in which he published many of his own comical cartoons. However, his school reports were never the best, as John prefered making jokes in class rather than studying, and it was thought that Lennon would fail out of his schooling.

In 1956, Julia bought her son a guitar, a cheap Gallotone Champion, which he took a strong liking to. His aunt was less supportive, however, claiming, "The guitar's all very well, John, but you'll never make a living out of it." Even though Lennon failed the required exams, he was still accepted into the Liverpool College of Arts thanks to the intervention of his aunt as well as the headmaster of the college. Despite this, Lennon retained his clownish nature in his classes, never taking any of them seriously. He was constantly disrupting class and criticizing his superiors, and was eventually thrown out right before his senior year after failing an annual exam. 

In the same year, John Lennon formed a small skiffle band (skiffle being a type of music that has strong jazz, blues, and folk influences). Lennon’s band, known as The Quarrymen, named after Quarry Bank High School, became a half-skiffle, half-rock n’ roll group. At the band’s second show, Lennon met the young Paul McCartney, and not too long after asked Paul to join the band. Later McCartney suggested that his friend George Harrison should be their lead guitarist. At first Lennon was not too keen on the idea, feeling that the 14-year old Harrison was too young to be in a band. After an audition coordinated by McCartney, however, Lennon agreed to allow Harrison in the band. It is at that point which Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and their bassist Sutcliffe officially became ‘The Beatles.’

The band was offered three different 48-night residencies in Hamburg, Germany, spread out between the years 1960 and 1963. During these residencies, Pete Best joined the band as the drummer, and The Beatles played in many different clubs throughout Hamburg, honing their performance skills and developing a name for themselves. During this time, Lennon began using amphetamines as way to get through their long nights of performing. After these residencies, Sutcliffe left the band to pursue his art career in Hamburg, and Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best as the drummer. These four, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr would go on to be The Beatles that millions of people know and love today. 

The Beatles went on to write famous songs like Love Me Do and Twist and Shout, and their debut album Please Please Me, debuting on the 11th of February. Lennon was not always happy with the type of music they were producing, however, saying "We were just writing songs ... pop songs with no more thought of them than that—to create a sound. And the words were almost irrelevant." McCartney would later reveal in an interview that the other members of the band thought very highly of John, commenting "He was like our own little Elvis ... We all looked up to John. He was older and he was very much the leader; he was the quickest wit and the smartest."

Over the next 8 years, The Beatles came out with over 20 separate albums, not including their combination and live albums. They made their United States debut when they played on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, furthering their fandom across the Atlantic. They also were appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1965 during her honors.

During this time, Lennon’s first son Julian was born, and he had written two books titled In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works. During dinner party attended by Lennon, Harrison, as well as both of their wives, their coffee was spiked with LSD. Later that night the drugs caused them to hallucinate and believe that the elevator that they were in had caught fire. As the years went on, Lennon would voluntarily use more and more of the drug, eventually reaching the point in which he was under the influence of LSD for the majority of the time during the year 1967. In March of 1969, John Lennon had married the Japanese singer and artist Yoko Ono, releasing multiple musical albums as a duo over the next several years.

John Lennon made the decision to leave The Beatles in September of 1969, but agreed not to make any public mention of it until a decision was made in regards to the negation of the band’s current record deal. However, McCartney took this opportunity to release his first solo album while simultaneously announcing his own resignation from the band. Enraged by this, Lennon commented saying “Jesus Christ! He gets all the credit for it! I started the band. I disbanded it. It's as simple as that.” 

Afterwards, Lennon went on to focus on his work with Ono as well as his own music, releasing the album Imagine as well as the singles Working Class Hero, Power to the People, Mother, and How Do You Sleep?. McCartney felt as though the song How Do You Sleep? was a personal attack on him, but Lennon stated that while his resentment towards Paul was an inspiration for the song, the song itself was not directed at him. 

Lennon and Ono release a single titled Happy Xmas (War is Over) in 1971, often viewed as anti-war and anti-Nixon propaganda. This led to a 4-year struggle in an attempt to deport John Lennon, which also made it increasingly difficult for Lennon to gain permanent residency for his green card. In 1976, after Nixon left office and president Gerald Ford took his place, the issue was resolved and Lennon was granted permanent residency in the United States. In this time Lennon’s second son Sean had been born to Ono, and Lennon took up the role as House Husband, taking a 5 year break from the music industry. 

On January 30th, 1972, British soldiers shot at a group of unarmed civilians during a protest, killing 14 people and injuring another 14. This event would come to be known as Bloody Sunday. In response to this tragedy Lennon and Ono wrote 2 songs, Sunday Bloody Sunday and Luck of the Irish, that would later be published in their album Some Time In New York City, these songs were written in strong protest of the involvement of Britain in Ireland. It was later suggested, though falsified by Ono, that Lennon had been financially supporting the IRA, though the couple did go on to financially support the production of the documentary The Irish Tapes, which held a republican slant. Both Lennon and McCartney felt strong sympathies with Irish Republicanism, which led to their support of the cause. 

On December 8th of 1980, John Lennon was shot in the back 4 times by Mark Chapman, a man who had received an autograph from Lennon earlier that evening. John was pronounced dead just 10 minutes later when he arrived at the hospital. The next day Yoko Ono announced that there would not be a funeral for John, ending the statement with “John loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him." Lennon’s body was cremated, and his ashes spread across Central Park my Ono. His killer, Chapman, was convicted of 2nd degree murder, and remains in prison to this day. Later John Lennon would be recognized amongst the “Top 100 Greatest Britons,” “Top 100 Singers of All Time,” and “Top 100 Artists of All Time,” as well as be inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.



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