dorian’s devotional due: john lennon in review
Posted by dorian on March 30, 2009
…didn’t invent rock and roll, nor did he embody it as toweringly as figures like Elvis Presley and Little Richard, but he did more than anyone else to shake it up, move it forward and instill it with a conscience. As the most daring and outspoken of the four Beatles, he helped shape the agenda of the Sixties – socially and politically, no less than musically…
Photo: Imagine sessions, Tittenhurst summer 1971. “I was trying to think of it in terms of children,” said Lennon of the title track.
As a solo artist, he made music that alternately disturbed and soothed, provoked and sought community. As a human being, he served as an exemplar of honesty in his art and life. As Jann Wenner wrote in the foreword to a collection of writings entitled The Ballad of John and Yoko, “Of the many things that will be long remembered about John Lennon – his genius as a musician and singer, his wit and literary swiftness, his social intuition and leadership – among the most haunting was the stark, unembarrassed commitment of his life, his work and his undernourished frame to truth, to peace and to humanity.”
Lennon was born in 1940 during the Nazi bombing of Britain and given the middle name Winston, after prime minister Churchill (he would later change his middle name to Ono). At age five, Lennon was sent to live with his “Aunt Mimi” after his parents separated. In 1956, Aunt Mimi bought Lennon a guitar. His incessant playing prompted her to remark, “The guitar’s all very well as a hobby, John, but you’ll never make a living out of it.” That same year, Lennon formed his first group, the Quarrymen, which evolved into the Beatles.
Having experienced the horror of a world at war as a child and then living through the Vietnam era as a young man, Lennon came to embrace and embody pacifism. His was the voice and vision that powered such Beatles classics as “All You Need Is Love” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Yet Lennon also had a dark side that found expression in pained outcries dating as far back as “Help,” and his was the most naturally adventuresome musical spirit in the band, as evidenced by such outre tracks as “I Am the Walrus” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” The uncensored, self-lacerating aspect of the Lennon persona reached a fevered pitch with the drug-withdrawal blues of “Cold Turkey,” a 1969 single released under the name Plastic Ono Band.
Although Lennon was a complicated man, he chose after the Beatles to simplify his art in order to figure out his life, erasing the boundaries between the two. As he explained it, he started trying “to shave off all imagery, pretensions of poetry, illusions of grandeur…Just say what it is, simple English, make it rhyme and put a backbeat on it, and express yourself as simply [and] straightforwardly as possible.” His most fully realized statement as a solo artist was 1970’s John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. It followed several collaborative sound collages recorded toward the end of the Beatles era with Yoko Ono, his wife and collaborator. The raw, confessional nature of Plastic Ono Band reflected the primal-scream therapy that Lennon and Ono had been undergoing with psychologist Arthur Janov. He dealt with such fundamental issues as “God” and “Mother” and the class system (“Working Class Hero”) on an album as full of naked candor as any in rock has ever been.
Many of Lennon’s post-Beatles compositions – “Imagine,” “Mind Games,” “Instant Karma,” and “Give Peace a Chance” – have rightfully become anthems, flaunting tough-minded realism, cosmic epiphany, hard-won idealism and visionary utopianism in equal measure. For all of the unvarnished genius of Lennon’s recordings, however, much of what lingers in the public memory goes beyond musical legacy. Rather, it has to do with leading by example. The relationship between John and Yoko endured challenges to became one of the most touching and celebrated of 20th-century romances. They were gallantly foolish in undertaking performance art pieces – bed-ins, happenings, full-page ads declaring “War Is Over!” – that spread their message of peace.
During the early Seventies Lennon fought the U.S. government to avoid deportation – a campaign of harassment by Nixon-era conservatives that was overturned by the courts in 1976 – and came to love his adopted city of New York. That same year, Lennon had his first #1 single – somewhat ironically, he was the last Beatle to top the charts as a solo artist – with “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” from the album Walls and Bridges. He was joined on vocals by Elton John, who cajoled Lennon into joining him onstage at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 1974. It would turn out to be Lennon’s last public performance.
Beginning with the birth of his second son, Sean Ono Lennon, in 1975, John Lennon dropped out of sight for five years. During this spell, he chose to lay low and raise Sean as a proud househusband. Simply by stepping back and “watching the wheels,” John Lennon made a statement about priorities that said more than words and music. His eventual return to the recording scene in 1980 was one of the more eagerly anticipated musical events of the year. The album Double Fantasy, jointly credited to John Lennon and Yoko Ono and named for a flower he’d seen at a botanical garden, was released on November 17, 1980. On December 8, a brilliant life came to an untimely end when Lennon was shot to death outside his New York City apartment. He was returning from a recording session for an album that was posthumously released as Milk and Honey. Three weeks after his death, with the entire rock world still in disbelief and mourning, “(Just Like) Starting Over” (from Double Fantasy) hit #1.
October 9, 1940: John Lennon is born at Oxford Street Maternity Hospital in Liverpool, England, to Julia Stanley and Alfred Lennon.
1945: Julia, separated from Alfred, entrusts her son, John Lennon, to the care of her sister, Mary Elizabeth Stanley Smith, “Aunt Mimi.”
1956: Julia, John Lennon’s mother, bought him his first guitar through a mail order ad. His incessant playing prompts John’s Aunt Mimi to say, “The guitar’s all very well as a hobby, John, but you’ll never make a living out of it.” John forms his first group, the Quarrymen.
July 6, 1957: John Lennon meets Paul McCartney at the Woolton Parish Church in Liverpool during a performance by John’s group the Quarrymen. Impressed by Paul’s ability to tune a guitar and by his knowledge of song lyrics, John asks him to join the group.
August 1, 1960: The Beatles make their debut in Hamburg, West Germany, with Stu Sutcliffe on bass and Pete Best on drums.
January 1, 1961: The Beatles make their debut at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.
November 1, 1961: Local record store manager Brian Epstein is introduced to the Beatles. He soon signs a contract to manage them.
April 10, 1962: Stu Sutcliffe dies of a brain hemorrhage.
June 1, 1962: The Beatles audition for George Martin at Parlophone/EMI Records. He agrees to sign the group, but insists that Pete Best be replaced. Within months, Richard “Ringo” Starkey joins the group.
August 23, 1962: John Lennon marries Cynthia Powell. The marriage will last six years.
April 8, 1963: John Charles Julian Lennon is born to John and Cynthia Lennon at Sefton General Hospital in Liverpool.
February 11, 1964: The Beatles begin their first U.S. tour at the Coliseum in Washington, D.C.
March 23, 1964: John Lennon’s first book, ‘In His Own Write,’ is published and becomes an instant best-seller.
July 6, 1964: The world premiere of The Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ takes place in London.
April 1, 1965: John Lennon composes “Help!” the title song for the Beatles’ second film. He later confides that the lyrics are a cry for help and a clue to the confusion and despondency he feels.
June 24, 1965: John Lennon’s second book, ‘A Spaniard in the Works’, is published.
August 15, 1965: The Beatles play in front of almost 60,000 fans at Shea Stadium in New York City.
October 26, 1965: The Beatles are awarded England’s prestigious MBE (Members of the Order of the British Empire). John comments, “I thought you had to drive tanks and win wars to get the MBE.”
March 1, 1966: London’s ‘Evening Standard’ publishes an interview with John Lennon in which he states that the Beatles are “more popular than Jesus now.” The comment provokes several protests, including the burning of Beatles records.
July 31, 1966: John Lennon’s comments on the state of Christianity – made in March, but only lately picked up in the U.S. – spark protests and record burnings on the eve of the Beatles’ 1966 American tour.
August 29, 1966: After their concert at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, the Beatles declare this to be their final concert tour.
September/October 1966: John Lennon makes his first appearance away from the Beatles in the role of Private Gripweed in Richard Lester’s film ‘How I Won the War’. He writes “Strawberry Fields Forever” during the filming.
November 9, 1966: Yoko Ono and John Lennon meet at a preview of her art show, Exhibition #2, at Indica Gallery in London.
June 1, 1967
‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ is released in Britain.
September 1, 1967: John Lennon writes “I Am the Walrus” while under the influence of LSD. He also anonymously sponsors Yoko Ono’s Half a Wind Show (subtitled Yoko Plus Me) at London’s Lisson Gallery.
May 1, 1968: Apple Corps, Ltd. begins operating in London. It is the Beatles’ attempt to take control of their own creative and economic destiny. Later that month, John invites Yoko to his house in Weybridge. They make experimental tapes all night.
May 1968 – June 15, 1968: John Lennon and Yoko Ono exhibit their first official joint venture at the Arts Lab in London. Soon after, they plant acorns outside Coventry Cathedral as a conceptual “living arts sculpture.”
Summer 1968: John Lennon moves out of his house in Weybridge. He and Yoko Ono move into Ringo Starr’s apartment in Montague Square.
July 1, 1968: John Lennon holds his first art exhibition, entitled You Are Here—To Yoko from John, with Love.
October 18, 1968: John Lennon and Yoko Ono are arrested and charged with possession of cannabis.
November 1, 1968: John Lennon pleads guilty to marijuana possession charges. He pays a nominal fine but insists that the drugs were planted by police.
November 8, 1968: A divorce is granted to John and Cynthia Lennon.
November 11, 1968: John Lennon and Yoko Ono release their first album together, ‘Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins’. The cover, a full-frontal shot of them naked, is banned.
January 30, 1969: The Beatles make their last performance as a group on the roof of the Apple building during the filming of ‘Let It Be’.
March 20, 1969: John Lennon and Yoko Ono marry on the island of Gibraltar.
March 25-31, 1969: John Lennon and Yoko Ono celebrate their marriage by hosting a “bed-in” – their “commercial for peace” – at the Amsterdam Hilton.
April 22, 1969: John officialy changes his name to John Ono Lennon.
May 26 – June 2, 1969: John Lennon and Yoko Ono conduct a bed-in at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. They record “Give Peace a Chance,” with Tommy Smothers, Timothy Leary and others.
June 4, 1969: “The Ballad of John and Yoko” – a musical summary of Lennon and Ono’s relationship, containing the lines, “The way things are going/They’re gonna crucify me” – is released. Credited to the Beatles, it will reach #8.
July 26, 1969: “Give Peace a Chance,” recorded by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, enters the charts. It will peak at #14, which barely suggests its lasting significance as a peace anthem.
August 1, 1969: John Lennon and Yoko Ono move to Tittenhurst Park, a 400-acre estate in Ascot.
September 1, 1969: John Lennon returns his MBE. He says it is to protest the British government’s involvement in Biafra, its support of the U.S. in Vietnam and the poor chart performance of his latest single, “Cold Turkey.”
September 12, 1969: John Lennon appears at the Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival concert, accompanied by Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann, Alan White and Yoko. ‘The Plastic Ono Band – Live Peace in Toronto’ is released in December.
September 13, 1969: John Lennon appears at the Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival concert, accompanied by Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann, Alan White and Yoko Ono. ‘The Plastic Ono Band – Live Peace in Toronto’ is released in December.
December 16, 1969: “War Is Over! If You Want It!” billboards go up in 11 cities around the world, as a Christmas message from John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
December 26, 1970: ‘John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band,’ Lennon’s debut album as a solo artist, enters the album charts. This stark, confessional recording is regarded by many as his greatest achievement.
June 6, 1971: John Lennon & Yoko Ono jam with Frank Zappa at the Fillmore East in New York City, recorded for subsequent release on the Plastic Ono Band album ‘Sometime in New York City’.
July 1, 1971: John Lennon cuts ‘Imagine’ at his home studio. The anthemic title track is inspired by a message in Yoko Ono’s book ‘Grapefruit.’
November 1, 1971: John Lennon appears at a benefit concert at the Apollo Theater for the families of inmates at Attica Prison.
January 1, 1972: The staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee prepares a memo about John Lennon’s involvement with such radicals as Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman and Rennie Davis.
February 4, 1972: In a secret memo, Senator Strom Thurmond suggests to Attorney General John Mitchell that John Lennon, whom the government suspects of consorting with “known radicals,” be deported.
February/March 1972: With the expiration of John Lennon’s U.S. non-immigrant visa, deportation proceedings begin. Lennon will wage a four-year battle with the federal government to remain in the U.S.
June 12, 1972: ‘Some Time in New York City,’ a double album by John Lennon backed by the New York rock group Elephant’s Memory is released.
August 30, 1972: John Lennon performs at Madison Square Garden. It will be his last concert as a headliner. The show will posthumously be released in 1986 as Live in New York City.
April 1, 1973: John Lennon and Yoko Ono purchase an apartment at the Dakota on Central Park West and West 72nd Street in New York.
Fall 1973: John Lennon and Yoko Ono begin an 18-month separation, during which Lennon embarks on his infamous “lost weekend” in Los Angeles.
November 1, 1973: John Lennon’s ‘Mind Games’ is released. It peaks at #9, and the title track reaches #18.
August 1, 1974: John Lennon records his ‘Walls and Bridges’ album. He claims to have written ten of the songs in a single week. The album goes to #1, as does its leadoff single, “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.”
November 28, 1974: John Lennon performs three songs with Elton John at Madison Square Garden. It will turn out to be his last public performance.
January 2, 1975: John and Yoko are reunited. The Beatles’ final dissolution takes place in London.
January 11, 1975: “#9 Dream,” from John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges, enters the Top Forty, where it will peak, appropriately, at #9.
September 20, 1975: “Fame,” a song from David Bowie’s ‘Young Americans’ album, tops the US singles charts. It is cowritten by Bowie, John Lennon and guitarist Carlos Alomar.
October 9, 1975: Sean Taro Ono Lennon is born at New York Hospital on father John Lennon’s 35th birthday.
July 26, 1976: John Lennon’s application to remain in the U.S. as a permanent resident is approved at a special hearing.
1977 – 1979: The majority of John Lennon’s time is spent as a “househusband” – taking care of Sean – while Yoko handles the family’s business affairs.
June 1, 1980: John Lennon takes a cruise to Bermuda, where his songwriting muse is rekindled.
October 23, 1980: John Lennon’s first new single in more than five years,, “(Just Like) Starting Over,” is released.
November 17, 1980: ‘Double Fantasy,’ by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, is released.
December 8, 1980: John Lennon is shot by a deranged assailant as he and Yoko return to the Dakota after a recording session. He is pronounced dead at Roosevelt Hospital.
December 27, 1980: “(Just Like) Starting Over,” by John Lennon, reaches #1 for the first of five weeks.
February 24, 1982: John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s ‘Double Fantasy’ wins Album of the Year for 1981 at the 24th Annual Grammy Awards.
January 21, 1984: “Nobody Told Me,” by John Lennon, from the posthumously released ‘Milk and Honey’ album, cracks the Top Forty. It will peak at #5 and be the last of 13 charting singles by Lennon spanning 15 years.
March 21, 1984: An opening ceremony is held for Strawberry Fields, an area in New York City’s Central Park dedicated to John Lennon.
October 9, 1990: On what would have been John Lennon’s 50th birthday, “Imagine” is broadcast simultaneously in 130 countries.
February 25, 1992: John Lennon is given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 34th Annual Grammy Awards.
January 19, 1994: John Lennon is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the ninth annual induction dinner. Paul McCartney is his presenter, and Yoko Ono accepts the award on behalf of her late husband.
November 19, 1995: “Free as a Bird,” the first new Beatles single in 25 years, is premiered on the televised Beatles Anthology. The song, a 1977 demo by John Lennon completed in 1995 by the three surviving Beatles, reaches #6 on the singles chart in early 1996.
March 23, 1996: “Real Love,” a 1979 John Lennon demo finished in 1995 by the other Beatles, becomes the second new Beatles single to chart in less than three months. Released as part of ‘The Beatles Anthology’ recordings and TV special, it reaches #11 – not bad for a band that broke up in 1970.
November 3, 1998: ‘John Lennon Anthology,’ a four-CD box set of unreleased songs and performances, is released.
Instant Karma (We All Shine On)
Give Peace a Chance
Watching the Wheels
Working Class Hero
(Just Like) Starting Over
Whatever Gets You Thru the Night
Lennon: The Definitive Biography
Ray Coleman. New York: Harper Collins, 1992.
The John Lennon Encyclopedia
Bill Harry. London: BPR Publishers, 2001.
In His Own Write
John Lennon. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000 (reprint edition).
Rolling Stone (January 22, 1981)
(Note: The entire issue is a tribute to John Lennon.)
Lennon Remembers: The Famous John Lennon Interviews
Jann Wenner and John Lennon. New York: Verso, 2000.