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Life of John Lennon: Rock and Roll Beatles Legend, Poet, Author and Philosopher

Updated on February 5, 2013

Young Talent

A short life well lived, he was with us, only 40 short summers - from 9 October 1940 to 8 December 1980. He was ironically assassinated by a deranged fan who had just a few hours earlier requested his autograph.

The only child born to an eclectic mother, Julia, he was always an individualist. His father was a merchant seaman, and after a fight with his mother, the couple parted. Because of her unusual way of life, he spent most of his childhood with his legal guardian and aunt, Mimi. His mother was however a profound influence upon him. She thought that everything was possible in life, and believed in his musical talent most of all. She taught him how to play the banjo and lent him money for his first guitar.

John spoke about his childhood in later years and how his unusual childhood affected him.

  • “There were five women who were my family. Five strong, intelligent women. Five sisters. Those women were fantastic ... that was my first feminist education ... One happened to be my mother ... she just couldn't deal with life. She had a husband who ran away to sea and the war was on and she couldn't cope with me, and when I was four-and-a-half, I ended up living with her elder sister ... the fact that I wasn't with my parents made me see that parents are not gods.”


Even as a young child, he knew he would be a legend someday.

"I used to say to my auntie, 'You throw my f***in' poetry out, and you'll regret it when I'm famous,' and she threw the bast*rd stuff out. I never forgave her for not treating me like a fu*kin' genius or whatever I was when I was a child."

The British Invasion 1964

The Fab Four debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.  After that, there was no turning back.
The Fab Four debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. After that, there was no turning back.

Paul Mc Cartney

John Lennon and Paul McCartney met at school where they played in the same skiffle band. A skiffle band specializes in instruments made from household items, like a paper and comb kazoo, washboards, cigar box violins. The effects of this skiffle band beginning could be heard in Beatles songs like Penny Lane, Yellow Submarine and others - unlike other rock bands at the time, the Beatles combined a variety of music sources, which helped put their music on a classic rock level. Half a century later, their music has endured.

"Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted."

Their friendship evolved into the hugely successful musical writing team of Lennon and McCartney which helped define the music of the era and has been considered a highly evolved, classical form of rock and roll.

Young Love - circa 1959

"Boy next door" with first wife, well bred Cynthia Powell who left her college boyfriend to be with bad boy musician John.
"Boy next door" with first wife, well bred Cynthia Powell who left her college boyfriend to be with bad boy musician John. | Source

Father and Husband John

John met and married his high school sweetheart Cynthia Powell, a lovely art student who he met in calligraphy class. In spite of her upper class background, he called her Cyn. After some time she became pregnant with his first son Julian, who he named in honor of his mother, Julia.

In Cynthia's biography of John "A Twist of Lennon" (her second husband's name was Twist, and this was her new surname), she recalled many private moments with the man she loved.

"He's bloody marvelous, Cyn! ... Who's gonna be a famous rocker like his Dad then?"

But as Julian grew up, John became more cynical. Later on in life, he would refer to Julian as (a):

"Saturday night special; the way that most people get here",

or that his only son:

"came out of a whiskey bottle"

Cynthia shared an apartment with his aunt Mimi, and things didn't go so well. They were on the third floor without an elevator, and John spent long weeks on the road, often finding another woman, but always returning home to his lovely wife.

Band manager Brian Epstein didn't want people to know that John was a married man, capitalizing on his appeal to the young girls who adored him. Brian Epstein even invited himself on Cynthia and John's honeymoon and vacations. Being the wife of a rock and roll star was not the lifestyle of a typical marriage, but Cynthia adapted and made the best of it.

Later in life, after he had become the father of his son Sean, John had a few more words to say about the art of parenting:

"The pressures of being a parent are equal to any pressure on earth. To be a conscious parent, and really look to that little being's mental and physical health, is a responsibility which most of us, including me, avoid most of the time because it's too hard."

"The reason why kids are crazy is because nobody can face the responsibility of bringing them up."

BEATLES - Continental Classic Rock and Roll Sensations

Meanwhile, the Beatles were making history in Great Britain. They recorded their debut album in only ten hours in February 1963 with no idea what the future would hold. It was fun for them, no one could guess that their music would change the world.

"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"

A year later, in February 1964 the Beatles invaded America. Their world famous debut on the Ed Sullivan show was mobbed with feverish teen-aged girls. This event alone opened the door to international stardom. Two year of non-stop touring, recording and book writing followed. The band was unstoppable, despite the protests of the older generation, who often criticized the band’s mop-top hairdos.

"[Reporter: How did you find America?] We turned left at Greenland."

Modesty was part of his style. He didn't forget to give credit where credit was due.

  • “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'. “
  • "I leaned over and said, 'sorry about that,' but Lennon didn't even move and said it was all right. I said, 'you know we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you guys, The Beatles,' and he said, 'Everything we got, we stole from Chuck Berry.' And that was my first brush with The Beatles."

At the ripe old age of 23 years old, John was a husband, father, and rock and roll sensation.

Many baby boomers looked to the Beatles, especially John, who was the oldest and perhaps the most intellectual and philosophic. He was their own little Elvis, and when he gained weight they said he was in his "fat Elvis" stage.

John explains the phenomenon of the group's popularity very philosophically:

  • "We were all on this ship in the sixties, our generation, a ship going to discover the New World. And the Beatles were in the crow's nest of that ship."
  • "We were a band who made it very, very big. That's all."

and perhaps the best explanation of all :

  • “The world went mad and used us as an excuse.”

Sergeant Pepper's LHCB, 1968

"Paul is dead" could be heard when the music was played backgrounds.  Many records were sold because of this marketing trick.
"Paul is dead" could be heard when the music was played backgrounds. Many records were sold because of this marketing trick. | Source

The Jesus quote

John, like many of his generation, was angry with the older generation, which he called "the Establishment".

  • "The older generation are leading this country to galloping ruin!"

He managed to make quite a few people angry with him, and the following quote nearly did the group in:

  • "I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity
  • "We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first, rock 'n' roll or Christianity."

The entire quote goes like this:

  • "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock and roll or Christianity."

Although the comment went nearly unnoticed in England, it created a huge backlash of publicity in the United States. There were Beatles album smashing and varied threats on John’s life, including threats from the Ku Klux Klan. After that, the Beatles stopped touring entirely after 1966.

Bye Bye Beatles

The Beatles’ disintegration was also apparent. There were hard feelings between the band members, especially towards co-founder Paul McCartney. Paul had already tried to leave the group in 1967, but held off for awhile. The Sergeant Pepper album created a hoax that "Paul is dead" designed to sell many more albums. Secret messages were recorded which could be heard when the album was played backwards.

In 1970, Paul decided to release his first solo album called “Ram” in early 1970. Together with his wife Linda Eastman McCartney, he later formed the hit group Wings which recorded many Top 40 singles. John recollected what the Beatles really were - just a supergroup.

  • "One has to completely humiliate oneself to be what the Beatles were . . . . It happened bit by bit, until . . . you're doing exactly what you don't want to do with people you can't stand -- the people you hated when you were ten."
  • "A more interesting question is not 'Why did they break up?' but 'Would they have gotten back together?' ... There's always a chance we'd work together again, but I can't see us touring. I just see us making records."

John's grudge against friend and band member Paul McCartney continued until the last few years of his life. He felt that Paul had gotten the best situation of the bunch. A few years before he died he and Paul finally reconciled.

Other band members, Ringo Starr and George Harrison also went solo, with relative but limited success in comparison to John and Paul.

Love and Partnership in 1980

This photo was released the same  year he produced his popularly upbeat, Milk and Honey album right before his untimely death.
This photo was released the same year he produced his popularly upbeat, Milk and Honey album right before his untimely death. | Source

Deterioration of a Marriage - Drugs + Mistress Yoko Ono

After being introduced to LSD at a dinner party, drugs were in the picture and John's life spiraled downwards. A friend had slipped them LSD and John began daily drug use. There were troubles at home and in the group. John's ability as a songwriter suffered.

"The worst drugs are as bad as anybody's told you. It's just a dumb trip, which I can't condemn people if they get into it, because one gets into it for one's own personal, social, emotional reasons. It's something to be avoided if one can help it."

In 1967, their long time band manager and friend Brian Epstein unexpectedly died, leaving the band without course of direction. Paul informally attempted to lead the group, but in reality, it was the beginning of the end.

"I knew we were in trouble then. I didn't have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music, and I was scared"

John was rarely home, and when he was, he was highly uncommunicative. At this point in John's life, he became romantically involved with an avant-garde artist of Japanese origin named Yoko Ono. After his wife’s vacation in Greece, she returned home to find them alone together, Ono brazenly wearing Cynthia's bathrobe. The marriage, which had long been strained, was now officially over. John and Cynthia divorced in 1968, and John married his mistress in 1969.

Imagine - John Live in Concert - 1972

John, Yoko and Sean - Happy at last

On John's 35th birthday, 9 October 1975, Yoko gave birth to their son, Sean Lennon.

"He didn't come out of my belly, but my God, I've made his bones, because I've attended to every meal, and how he sleeps, and the fact that he swims like a fish because I took him to the ocean. I'm so proud of all those things. But he is my biggest pride."

Yoko, the manager, knew how to handle everything.

"I don't know how much money I've got . . . I did ask the accountant how much it came to. I wrote it down on a bit of paper. But I've lost the bit of paper."

His home life obviously had the stability that he craved.

"I've had the boyhood thing of being Elvis. Now I want to be with my best friend, and my best friend's my wife. Who could ask for anything more?"

"As usual, there is a great woman behind every idiot"

"Throughout my career, I've selected to work with...only two people: Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono....That ain't bad picking."

Never materialistic, he gave the old adage a new twist.

"Possession isn't nine-tenths of the law. It's nine-tenths of the problem."

"I don't care too much for money, money can't buy me love."

After a five year pause from the music industry, John released a hit “(Just Like) Starting Over” in October of 1980 followed by his album “Double Fantasy”. John had considered altering the name of one song “I’m Losing You” to Afraid I’m Losing You. He had felt superstitious that it invited negativity and bad luck

"Nothing's gonna change my world, Nothing's gonna change my world"

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans"

Imagining John Lennon

Your opinion of John Lennon

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Senseless Murder

a photo of John autographing for Chapman hours before his murder
a photo of John autographing for Chapman hours before his murder

Changing Cars

Three weeks after Double Fantasy was released, the most unexpected of things happened.

On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was assassinated. In every way, the incident was unthinkable. A few hours earlier, John had autographed a Double Fantasy album for the man, who unceremoniously shot John four times in the back. Standing at the entrance to their building, he never knew what hit him.

"I'm not afraid of dying. To me dying is like getting out of one car and into another."

John Winston Ono Lennon was pronounced dead upon arrival at 11:17 p.m.

"Yeah we all shine on, like the moon, and the stars, and the sun."

Rest in peace, dear John.

Peace and Love Activism

For John Lennon, despite the fun and chaotic road from his obscure life to superstar and back again, he was remarkably grounded. For him, love and simplicity was life. More than anything, everything revolved around love...

  • "Love is the answer, and you know that for sure; Love is a flower, you've got to let it grow."
  • "Everything is clearer when you're in love."
  • “Love is like a promise, a treasured souvenir, once given never forgotten, let it never disappear.”
  • "We've got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can't just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it's going to get on by itself. You've got to keep watering it. You've got to really look after it and nurture it."
  • "If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliché that must have been left behind in the Sixties, that's his problem. Love and peace are eternal."

...and especially Peace:

  • "All we are saying is give peace a chance."
  • "You are all geniuses, and you are all beautiful. You don't need anyone to tell you who you are. You are what you are. Get out there and get peace, think peace, live peace, and breathe peace, and you'll get it as soon as you like."
  • "If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace."
  • "Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one."
  • "You either get tired fighting for peace, or you die.

Happy Music

lenono records

A statue of John "hanging out" in Liverpool
A statue of John "hanging out" in Liverpool | Source

Nostalgia - Classic Beatles


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