John Lennon

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Performers and composers

John Lennon
Lennon rehearsing "Give Peace a Chance"
Lennon rehearsing "Give Peace a Chance"
Background information
Birth name John Winston Lennon
Born 9 October 1940 (1940-10-09)
Liverpool, England
Died 8 December 1980 (aged 40)
New York City, New York, United States
Genre(s) Rock, pop, experimental
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter, Musician, Poet, Artist, Peace activist
Instrument(s) Guitar, Harmonica, Piano
Years active 1957 – 1975, 1980
Label(s) Parlophone, Capitol, Apple, Vee-Jay, EMI, Geffen
Associated acts The Beatles
Plastic Ono Band
The Dirty Mac
Notable instrument(s)
Rickenbacker 325
Epiphone Casino
Gibson J-160E
Les Paul Junior

John Ono Lennon, MBE (born John Winston Lennon; 9 October 1940 8 December 1980) was an English rock musician who gained worldwide fame as one of the founders of The Beatles. In his solo career, Lennon wrote and recorded songs such as " Give Peace a Chance" and " Imagine".

Lennon revealed his rebellious nature and irreverent wit on television, in films such as A Hard Day's Night, in books such as In His Own Write, and in press conferences and interviews. He channelled his penchant for controversy into his work as a peace activist, artist, and author. Lennon had two sons: Julian, with his first wife Cynthia Lennon, and Sean, with his second wife, avant-garde artist Yoko Ono. During a separation from Ono, Lennon spent almost two years with May Pang in Los Angeles and New York from 1973 to 1975, before returning to Ono, even though Lennon called this period his "lost weekend".

Lennon was murdered in New York City on 8 December 1980. In 2002, respondents to a BBC poll on the 100 Greatest Britons voted Lennon into eighth place. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Lennon number 38 on its list of "The Immortals: The Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time" and ranked The Beatles at number 1.

Early years: 1940–1957

John Winston Lennon was born on 9 October 1940, in the now-closed Maternity Hospital on Oxford Street, Liverpool, to Julia Lennon (née Stanley) and Alfred "Freddie" Lennon, during the course of a German air raid in World War II. He was named after his paternal grandfather, John 'Jack' Lennon, and Winston Churchill.

Freddie was a merchant seaman during World War II, thus was often away from home, but sent regular pay cheques to Julia, who was living with Lennon in 9 Newcastle Road, Liverpool, although the cheques stopped when Freddie went AWOL. When Freddie eventually came home in 1944, he offered to look after Julia and Lennon, but Julia rejected him. After considerable pressure from her sister, Mary "Mimi" Smith—who contacted Liverpool's Social Services—Julia handed the care of Lennon over to Mimi. In July 1946, Freddie visited Mimi and took Lennon to Blackpool, secretly intending to emigrate to New Zealand with him. Julia followed them, but after a heated argument Freddie made the five-year-old Lennon choose between Julia or him. Lennon chose Freddie (twice). As Julia walked away, Lennon began to cry and followed her. Freddie then lost contact with the family until Beatlemania, when father and son met again.

Throughout the rest of his childhood and adolescence, Lennon lived with his Aunt Mimi and her husband George Smith—who had no children of their own—in a middle class area of Liverpool at "Mendips" ( 251 Menlove Avenue). Mimi bought volumes of short stories, and George—who was a dairyman at a local farm—engaged Lennon in solving crossword puzzles and bought him a harmonica. Julia Lennon visited Mendips almost every day and Lennon often visited her at 1 Blomfield Road, Liverpool. Julia taught Lennon how to play the banjo, and played Elvis Presley's records to him. The first song he learned was Fats Domino's " Ain't That A Shame".

Lennon was raised as an Anglican, and attended Dovedale County Primary School until he passed his Eleven-Plus exam. From September 1952 to 1957, he attended the Quarry Bank Grammar School in Liverpool, where he was known as a "happy-go-lucky" pupil, drawing comical cartoons and making fun of his teachers by mimicking their odd characteristics.

Julia bought Lennon his first guitar in 1957, which was a Gallotone Champion acoustic. It was a cheap model that was "guaranteed not to split". She insisted it be delivered to her house and not Mimi's, who hoped that Lennon would soon grow bored with music, as she was sceptical of Lennon's claim that he would be famous one day, and often told him, "The guitar's all very well, John, but you'll never make a living out of it." On 15 July 1958, when Lennon was 17, Julia was killed on Menlove Avenue (close to Mimi's house) when struck by a car driven by an off-duty police officer. Her death was a major bond between Lennon and Paul McCartney, who also had lost his own mother (to breast cancer) at an early age.

Lennon failed all his GCE O-level examinations, and was only accepted into the Liverpool College of Art with help from his school's headmaster and Mimi. Lennon met his future wife there, Cynthia Powell, when Lennon was a Teddy Boy. Lennon was often disruptive in class, and ridiculed his teachers by mimicking them, resulting in teachers refusing to have him as a student. Lennon failed his annual Art College exams despite help from Powell, and dropped out before the last year of college.

1957–1970: The Beatles

Lennon's guitars.
Lennon's guitars.

Lennon started The Quarrymen, a skiffle band, in March 1957, while attending Quarry Bank Grammar School. On 6 July 1957, Lennon met Paul McCartney at the Quarrymen's second gig at Woolton Garden fête at St. Peter's Church. Lennon did not know the lyrics to the songs he was singing and made them up as he went along, which impressed McCartney. McCartney knew many more chords than Lennon, and could play the current hit at the time, " Twenty Flight Rock", which impressed Lennon. Soon, guitarist McCartney was a member of the Quarrymen.

McCartney's father later allowed the Quarrymen to rehearse in his front room of their home at 20 Forthlin Road. It was here that Lennon and McCartney began writing songs together. The first song Lennon completed was "Hello Little Girl" when he was 18 years old, which later became a hit for the Fourmost. With the dream of become the next big songwriting team, Lennon-McCartney was formed on a handshake.

McCartney convinced Lennon to allow George Harrison to join the Quarrymen - even though Lennon thought Harrison to be too young - after Harrison played the song "Raunchy" for him on the upper deck of a bus. Harrison joined the band as lead guitarist, and Stuart Sutcliffe—Lennon's art school friend—later joined as bassist.

After a series of name changes, the group decided on the name The Beatles. Lennon was considered the leader of the group, as McCartney explained: "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."

Allan Williams managed The Beatles in May 1960 after they had played in his Jacaranda club. A few months later he booked them into Bruno Koschmider's Indra club in Hamburg, Germany. It was in Hamburg that The Beatles became a tight band with a larger-than-life stage presence by playing 16 hours a day. It had become apparent that original bassist (and Lennon's best friend) Stuart Sutcliffe's musical abilities weren't on par with the rest of the group. He would leave The Beatles and concentrate on his artwork and remain in Hamburg with his new love, early Beatle photographer Astrid Kirchherr. McCartney would assume his role as bass player. It was also in Hamburg that the group was introduced to drugs.

Lennon's Aunt Mimi was horrified when Lennon told her about Hamburg. She pleaded with him to continue his studies, but was ignored. Koschmider reported McCartney and Best for arson after the two attached a condom to a nail in the 'Bambi' and set fire to it. They were deported, as was George Harrison for working under age. A few days later Lennon's work permit was revoked and he went home by train. The Beatles went back to Hamburg in April 1961 and recorded " My Bonnie" with Tony Sheridan.

Legend has it that that recording would bring The Beatles to the attention of Brian Epstein, the owner of a Liverpool record store called NEMS. Fans of the group would go in the store and ask for the new record by the Beatles, and Epstein, who had no knowledge of the group nor the record, was intrigued. In fact, news of The Beatles' Hamburg recording session hit the front page of the Mersey Beat, a local music paper that was sold at Epstein's store, prompting Epstein to order a box from Polydor.

Epstein did go see the group at the Cavern and was instantly enamoured. On 24 January 1962, the Beatles signed Epstein as their manager, at 25% (only after he secured them a recording contract).

In April 1962, The Beatles returned to Hamburg to play at the Star-Club, and were told that Sutcliffe had died a few hours before they arrived. This was another shock for Lennon, after losing Uncle George and Julia. He dealt with the loss of his best friend by laughing hysterically at the news.

On 9 May 1962, George Martin signed The Beatles to EMI's comedy label, Parlophone. But there was still one personnel change in store for the group. After their first recording session, Martin voiced his displeasure with drummer Pete Best. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison had been thinking that Best didn't fit in with the group; this was all the affirmation they needed. So it was decided that Best was out and Ringo Starr, drummer with another Liverpudlian band called Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, was in. It was left to manager Epstein to inform Best. They released their first double-sided original single, " Love Me Do" b/w " P.S. I Love You" on 5 October; it reached #17 on the British charts (although Starr did not play on these tracks, Martin having secured the services of Andy White, an American session drummer, before he knew Best had been replaced).

On 11 February 1963, the group recorded their first album, Please Please Me. They recorded the entire album in one day with Lennon suffering from a winter cold. The last song recorded for the album, " Twist and Shout", is considered one of the great rock 'n' roll vocal performances on record. In the fade out, you can hear an exhausted Lennon sigh, "God."

Originally, the Lennon-McCartney songs on the first pressing of the album (recorded in one day on 11 February 1963) as well as the single " From Me to You", and its B-side, " Thank You Girl", are credited to "McCartney-Lennon", but this was later changed to "Lennon-McCartney". Lennon and McCartney usually needed an hour or two to finish a song; most of which were written in hotel rooms after a concert, at Wimpole Street— Jane Asher's home—or at Cavendish Avenue; McCartney's home or at Kenwood (Lennon's house).

The album and single hit #1 in Britain and Epstein began to look at bringing the group to America. EMI offered the album to their U.S. subsidiary, Capitol Records, but they turned it down. Epstein finally secured a deal with Vee-Jay Records, a predominantly black R&B label. It wasn't as successful in the U.S. By the time the group recorded " She Loves You", they were dropped from Vee Jay and once again, Capitol declined. They were forced to release it on the even more obscure Swan Records label. It eventually hit #1 in January 1964 as the Beatles were poised to conquer America.

On 4 March 1966, Lennon was interviewed for the London Evening Standard by Maureen Cleave, and talked about Christianity: "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." Five months later, an American teen magazine called Datebook reprinted part of the quote on its front cover. The American Bible Belt protested in the South and Midwest, and conservative groups staged public burnings of Beatles records and memorabilia. Many radio stations banned The Beatles' music, and some concert venues cancelled performances. At a press conference in Chicago, on 11 August 1966, Lennon addressed the growing controversy:

Lennon: I wasn't saying whatever they're saying I was saying. I'm sorry I said it really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. I apologise if that will make you happy. I still don't know quite what I've done. I've tried to tell you what I did do, but if you want me to apologise, if that will make you happy, then OK, I'm sorry.

The Vatican accepted his apology. Lennon later wrote, "I always remember to thank Jesus for the end of my touring days; if I hadn't said that The Beatles were 'bigger than Jesus' and upset the very Christian Ku Klux Klan, well, Lord, I might still be up there with all the other performing fleas! God bless America. Thank you, Jesus."

At the end of 1968, Lennon performed as part of the group Dirty Mac, in The Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus film. The supergroup, made up of Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Mitch Mitchell, also backed Yoko Ono's performance.

Lennon left The Beatles in September 1969 (Starr had left and returned during 1968, and Harrison had left on 10 January 1969 during the filming for Let It Be, but returned after a Beatles' meeting at Starr's house two days later). Lennon agreed not to make an announcement while the band renegotiated their recording contract, but McCartney released a question and answer interview that he had written himself in April 1970, declaring that he was no longer a member of The Beatles. Lennon's reaction when told was, "Jesus Christ! He [McCartney] gets all the credit for it!" Lennon later told Rolling Stone: "I was a fool not to do what Paul did, which was use it to sell a record," (McCartney's first solo album) and later wrote, "I started the band. I finished it."

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 Ono. Lennon said: "One of the main reasons The Beatles ended is because 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?" Lennon later expressed his displeasure with the scant credit he was given as an influence on George Harrison in his autobiography, I Me Mine, and unhappy that McCartney's Beatles songs, such as " Yesterday", "Hey Jude" and " Let It Be" were more covered than his own contributions, but Lennon also stated his true feelings about his former band members by saying: "I still love those guys. The Beatles are over, but John, Paul, George and Ringo go on."

1970–1975; 1980: Solo career

John Lennon in early 1970, after he cut his hair for charity.

Whilst still a Beatle, Lennon and Ono recorded three albums of experimental music, Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins, Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions, and Wedding Album. His first "solo" album was Live Peace in Toronto 1969—recorded prior to the breakup of The Beatles—recorded at the Rock 'n' Roll Festival in Toronto with The Plastic Ono Band. He also recorded three solo singles: the anti-war anthem, " Give Peace a Chance", " Cold Turkey", and " Instant Karma!". Following The Beatles' split in 1970, Lennon released the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album. It included " Working Class Hero", .

His album Imagine followed in 1971, and its title song became an anthem for anti-war movements. " How Do You Sleep?", was written as a personal attack against McCartney, although Lennon later claimed the song was about himself. On 31 August 1971, Lennon left England for New York, and released the " Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" single in December of 1971. To advertise the single, and to make a statement about war, Lennon and Ono paid for a billboard in Times Square, New York, which read, "WAR IS OVER, if you want it". Some Time in New York City was released in 1972. Recorded with Elephant's Memory, it contained songs about women's rights, race relations, Britain's role in Northern Ireland, and Lennon's problems obtaining a United States Green Card. Lennon had been interested in left-wing politics since the late 1960s, and reportedly donated money to the Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party.

In 1972, Lennon released " Woman Is the Nigger of the World", but many radio stations refused to broadcast the song, although Lennon performed it on The Dick Cavett Show. On 30 August 1972 Lennon and Elephant's Memory gave two benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York to benefit the patients at the Staten Island mental facility, Willowbrook State School. These were to be Lennon's last full-length concert appearances. In November 1973, Lennon released Mind Games, which was credited to "the Plastic U.F.Ono Band". He also wrote " I'm the Greatest" for Ringo Starr's album Ringo (his own demo version of the song appears on the John Lennon Anthology) and produced "Too Many Cooks (Spoil The Soup)" for Mick Jagger. In September 1974, Lennon released Walls and Bridges and the single " Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" (a duet with Elton John). Both rocketed to the top of charts, the single becoming his only #1 in his lifetime. A second single from the album, "#9 Dream", was released in December. He also wrote and recorded " Goodnight Vienna" for Starr.

On 28 November, Lennon made a surprise guest appearance at Elton John's Thanksgiving concert at Madison Square Garden after he lost a bet with Elton that "Whatever Gets You" would reach #1. Lennon performed " Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" and " I Saw Her Standing There". Lennon rush-released his Rock 'n' Roll album of cover songs in February 1975 – with Phil Spector as producer – before Roots: John Lennon Sings the Great Rock & Roll Hits was released (issued by Morris Levy on the Adam VIII label).

Lennon's last stage appearance was on ATV's 18 April 1975 special called A Salute to Lew Grade performing "Imagine", "Stand By Me" (cut from the televised edition), and "Slippin' and Slidin'" from his Rock 'n' Roll LP. Lennon's backup band was BOMF (also known as "Etc." that evening). The band members wore two-faced masks, which were digs at Grade, with whom Lennon and McCartney had been in conflict with because of Grade's control of The Beatles' publishing company. Dick James, The Beatles' publisher, had sold his majority share in Maclen Music (Lennon's and McCartney's publishing company) to Grade in 1969. During "Imagine", Lennon interjected the line "and no immigration too", a reference to his battle to remain in the United States. In October 1975, Lennon fulfilled his contractual obligation to EMI/Capitol for one more album by releasing Shaved Fish, a greatest hits compilation. On 9 October 1975 – Lennon's 35th birthday – his son Sean Ono Lennon was born, and Lennon retired from the music business to care for him.

Lennon interrupted his retirement briefly for Ringo Starr, writing and recording "Cookin' (In The Kitchen of Love)" in June 1976. This was his last recording session until his 1980 comeback.

Lennon emerged from retirement in November 1980 with Double Fantasy, a "comeback" album which also featured Ono. The songs, arranged back-to-back by the couple, created a "dialogue" that focused on their relationship. In June 1980, Lennon travelled to Bermuda, and began writing songs for the album. "Double Fantasy" was a species of freesia Lennon saw at the Bermuda Botanical Gardens; he liked the name and thought it was a perfect description of his marriage to Ono. After the release, Lennon was already planning the next album, Milk and Honey, and an international world tour in 1981.

Lennon was asked whether The Beatles were now "dreaded enemies or the best of friends" in 1980. He replied that they were neither, but he had not seen any of The Beatles for a long time. The last time McCartney visited Lennon they watched the episode of Saturday Night Live in which Lorne Michaels made his $3,000 cash offer to get The Beatles to reunite on the show. They seriously considered going to the studio to appear on the show as a joke, but were too tired. This event was fictionalized in the 2000 television film, Two of Us.

Marriages and relationships

In one of his last major interviews, in September 1980, Lennon said that he had never questioned his chauvinistic attitudes towards women until he met Ono. Lennon was always distant with his first son (Julian) but was close to his second son (Sean), and called him "my pride". Near the end of his life, he embraced the role of househusband and said that he had taken on the role of wife and mother in his relationship with Ono.

Cynthia Lennon

Cynthia Powell met Lennon at the Liverpool Art College in 1957. Although the teddyboy was "not her type", she was attracted to him immediately. After hearing Lennon comment favourably about another girl who looked like Brigitte Bardot, Powell changed the colour of her hair to blonde. Their relationship started after a college party before the summer holidays when Lennon asked Powell to go a pub with him and some friends. She pretended to be engaged (to Barry, in Hoylake) and Lennon stormed off, shouting, "I didn't ask you to marry me, did I?" Lennon was often jealous, as he once slapped Powell across the face (knocking her head against the wall) the day after he saw her dancing with Sutcliffe. In mid-1962, Powell discovered she was pregnant with Lennon's child. They were married on 23 August at the Mount Pleasant Register Office in Liverpool. Manager Brian Epstein thought a married Beatle might alienate some fans and insisted the Lennons keep their union a secret. John Charles Julian Lennon was born in Sefton General Hospital on 8 April 1963.

Lennon was on tour and wouldn't see Julian for three days. Shortly after Julian's birth, Lennon went on holiday to Spain with Epstein. This vacation would lead to speculation of an affair between the two that continues to this day. At Paul McCartney's twenty-first birthday party, a drunken Lennon beat up his old friend (and Cavern Club MC) Bob Wooler for implying that the two had had an affair. In 1991, a fictionalized account of the Lennon/Epstein holiday was made into an independent movie called The Hours And Times.

Lennon was distant to Julian, who felt closer to McCartney than to his father. Julian later said, "I've never really wanted to know the truth about how dad was with me. There was some very negative stuff talked about me ... like when he said I'd come out of a whiskey bottle on a Saturday night. Stuff like that. You think, where's the love in that? Paul and I used to hang about quite a bit ... more than dad and I did. We had a great friendship going and there seems to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing together at that age than there are pictures of me and my dad."

Cynthia Lennon had become aware of Lennon's infidelities, but cites his increasing drug use for their growing apart. She was also aware of the presence of an avant-garde artist named Yoko Ono. At first, she thought nothing of it. Eventually, she actually suggested to Lennon that perhaps Ono was the woman for him.

When Lennon and the Beatles went to India to meditate, Cynthia and Lennon were separated on the train platform. A policeman, who didn't recognize her, kept her from boarding the train. As she watched Lennon pull out of the station, she broke into tears. In the documentary Imagine she explained, "Normally I wouldn't have broken down, I'd have kept my cool... I knew I'd get there anyway. But at that point I felt so sad. This was symbolic of our life... I'm getting off at this station."

Soon after their marriage was over. Lennon refused to go on a family holiday and was later photographed with Ono. He then tried to sue Cynthia for divorce, claiming she had committed adultery. But when it was discovered Ono had become pregnant, it was Cynthia who petitioned for divorce. In the ensuing court case Lennon refused to give his wife any more than £75,000, telling her, "What have you done to deserve it? Christ, it's like winning the bloody pools." Cynthia received £100,000, £2,400 annually, and custody of Julian and the house (Kenwood).

Julian had less and less contact with his father. When Lennon and Ono moved to New York, Julian would not see his father until 1973. Lennon and Ono had separated, and he was living with his personal assistant, May Pang. With Pang's encouragement, it was finally arranged for Julian (and Cynthia) to visit Lennon in Los Angeles, where they went to Disneyland. After that, Julian started to see his father more regularly, and even played drums on "Ya Ya" from Lennon's 1974 album Walls and Bridges. Lennon also bought Julian a Gibson Les Paul guitar, and a drum machine for Christmas in 1973, and encouraged Julian's interest in music by showing him some chords.

In his 1980 Playboy interview, Lennon was quoted as saying: "Sean was a planned child, and therein lies the difference. I don't love Julian any less as a child. He's still my son, whether he came from a bottle of whiskey or because they didn't have pills in those days. He's here, he belongs to me, and he always will." which hurt Julian. In an interview shortly before his death, Lennon said he was trying to re-establish a connection with the then 17-year-old Julian, and confidently predicted that "Julian and I will have a relationship in the future." Both Julian and Sean Lennon went on to have recording careers years after their father's death. After Lennon's death, it was revealed that Julian was not mentioned in Lennon's will. It was said that Ono gave Julian £20 million, which Julian refuted by saying that it was minimal compared to the figure reported.

Yoko Ono

There are two versions of how Lennon and Ono met. On 9 November 1966, Lennon went to the Indica gallery in London, where Ono was preparing her conceptual art exhibit, and were introduced by gallery owner John Dunbar. Lennon was intrigued by Ono's "Hammer A Nail" Piece: patrons hammered a nail into a wooden board, creating the art piece. Lennon wanted to hammer a nail in the clean board, but Ono stopped him because the exhibit hadn't opened. Dunbar then said to Ono, "Don't you know who this is?" Ono had not heard of The Beatles but relented, on the condition that Lennon pay her five shillings. Lennon then said, "I'll give you an imaginary five shillings and hammer an imaginary nail." The second version is that in late 1965, Ono was in London compiling original musical scores for a book that John Cage was working on. She knocked on McCartney's door, but he declined because he kept all his original manuscripts. However, he suggested that John Lennon might oblige. Lennon gave the original handwritten lyrics to "The Word" from Rubber Soul to Ono. It was reproduced in Cage's book, Notations.

Lennon began his physical relationship with Ono—seven years his senior—in May 1968, after returning from India, where the pair had been exchanging numerous postcards. Cynthia Lennon was in Greece on holiday, so Lennon invited Ono to his home where they spent the night recording what would become the Two Virgins album and made love at dawn. When Cynthia returned home, she found Lennon and Ono, who was wearing her bathrobe, having tea. Lennon simply said, "Oh, hi". Cynthia filed for divorce later that year, on the grounds of John's adultery, which was proven by Ono's pregnancy. Ono later miscarried John Ono Lennon II on 21 November 1968.

During Lennon's last two years in The Beatles, he and Ono began public protests against the Vietnam War. Lennon sent back his MBE insignia in 1969, which Queen Elizabeth had bestowed upon him in 1965. He wrote: "Your Majesty, I am returning this in protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts. With love. John Lennon of Bag." The couple were married in Gibraltar on 20 March 1969, and were inseparable until 1973. Their honeymoon in Amsterdam became an international " Bed-In" for peace. They planned another "Bed-in" in the United States, but were denied entry. Instead, the couple went to neighboring Montreal, and at a "Bed-in" at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel recorded " Give Peace a Chance", which became an anthem for the peace movement. They were mainly patronised as a couple of eccentrics by the media, yet they did a great deal for the peace movement, as well as for feminism and racial harmony. Lennon and Ono often combined advocacy with performance art, as in their " Bagism" introduced during a Vienna press conference. Lennon detailed this period in the Beatles' song " The Ballad of John and Yoko".

In April 1969, on the roof of Apple Records, Lennon changed his name to John Ono Lennon. After Ono was injured in a car accident, Lennon arranged for a king-sized bed to be brought to the recording studio as he worked on The Beatles' last album, Abbey Road. To escape the acrimony of the Beatles' breakup, Ono suggested they move permanently to New York. After months of living in hotels, the Lennons rented a street-level apartment in Greenwich Village, the "artist/bohemian" section of the city. After a robbery, they relocated to the more secure Dakota on Central Park West in February 1973.

May Pang and the "Lost Weekend"

May Pang.
May Pang.

By the end of June 1973, Lennon's immigration battles and depression over the poor sales of his Sometime in New York City album had put a strain on Lennon and Ono's marriage, so Ono decided that they should separate. Lennon moved to California with Pang and embarked on a period he would later call his "lost weekend", even though it lasted approximately eighteen months. Surprisingly, it was Ono who suggested that he take Pang as his lover and assistant. Pang had been the couple's personal assistant since the Lennons arrived in New York in December 1970, and became production coordinator of both Lennon's and Ono's recording projects in 1972.

When Lennon and Pang first arrived in L.A., his drunken behaviour was reported by the media after an evening at the Troubadour club, where he stuck a Kotex on his forehead and scuffled with a waitress, and a few weeks later when Lennon and Harry Nilsson were ejected for heckling the Smothers Brothers. Lennon began recording a covers album of his favorite songs to be produced by Phil Spector, but stopped the recording because of Lennon's drinking and Spector's erratic behaviour. With Pang's encouragement, Lennon took the opportunity to be reacquainted with his son, Julian, whom he hadn't seen in four years. Lennon invited Julian for Christmas, and kept in contact with him throughout the next year. Lennon produced Harry Nilsson's Pussy Cats album in March 1974, and rented a beach house in Santa Monica where the musicians on the album, including Starr, could live together. On the first night of the recording, McCartney dropped by the studio, to Lennon's surprise. Stevie Wonder also showed up and they had an impromptu jam. This was the first and only time Lennon and McCartney played together since The Beatles. McCartney and his wife Linda became frequent guests at the house.

Lennon stopped drinking when he and Pang returned to New York in May 1974, and they rented a penthouse apartment on New York's East 52nd Street. On the evening of 23 August 1974, both Lennon and Pang claimed to have seen a U.F.O. in the sky from their balcony. Lennon mentioned the sighting in the booklet accompanying the Walls and Bridges album. During this period, Lennon re-recorded " Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" with Elton John, and later the "Whatever Gets You Thru the NIght" duet with John. When Lennon joined John on stage at Madison Square Garden in November 1974, Ono was in the audience. Although Lennon would later claim he had no idea that she would be there, it was he who arranged for her seats. Ono gave both Lennon and John gardenia corsages for good luck, and she said hello to Lennon backstage after the show. It has been claimed that the Lennons reunited at the concert, but this was not the case.

In December 1974, Harrison was in New York on the Dark Horse tour, and Lennon agreed to join him on stage, but they had an argument over Lennon's refusal to sign the agreement that would legally dissolve The Beatles partnership – at New York's Plaza Hotel on 19 December 1974. Lennon finally signed the papers in Disney World in Florida, while on holiday there with Pang and Julian. In January 1975, David Bowie achieved his first U.S. #1 hit with " Fame", co-written with Lennon (who contributed vocals and guitar) and Carlos Alomar. Lennon and Pang were planning to visit Paul and Linda McCartney in New Orleans, where the McCartneys were recording the Venus And Mars album, but on 1 February 1975, Lennon returned to live with Ono, which "officially" ended his "lost weekend".

Shortly after the Lennons reunited, Ono became pregnant, and on 9 October 1975 – Lennon's 35th birthday – Ono gave birth to a son, Sean Ono Lennon, after earlier miscarriages. Lennon issued a statement: "I feel higher than the Empire State Building" and soon decided to retire from the music business. He cited many reasons, but they were primarily the fact that he had been under contract since he was 22-years-old and he was now free, rock 'n' roll was was not as interesting as it once was, and the limited relationship he had had with first son made him decide to live a family life and become a househusband.


Political activism

Recording "Give Peace A Chance" (Photo by Roy Kerwood).
Recording "Give Peace A Chance" (Photo by Roy Kerwood).

Lennon and Ono used their honeymoon at the Amsterdam Hilton in March 1969 as a "Bed-in for Peace" that attracted world-wide media coverage. At the second "Bed-in" in Montreal, in June 1969, they recorded " Give Peace a Chance" in their hotel room. The song was sung by over half a million demonstrators in Washington, D.C. at the second Vietnam Moratorium Day, on 15 October 1969. When Lennon and Ono moved to New York City in August 1971, they befriended peace activists Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. Lennon performed at the "Free John Sinclair" concert in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on 10 December 1971. Sinclair was an antiwar activist and poet who was serving ten years in state prison for selling two joints of marijuana to an undercover cop. Lennon and Ono appeared on stage with Phil Ochs, Stevie Wonder and other musicians, plus antiwar radical Jerry Rubin and Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers. Lennon performed the song, "John Sinclair", which he had just written, calling on the authorities to "Let him be, set him free, let him be like you and me". Some 20,000 people attended the rally, and three days after the concert the State of Michigan released Sinclair from prison. This performance was released on the two-CD John Lennon Anthology {1998} and the album Acoustic (2004). Lennon later performed the song on the David Frost Show accompanied by Ono and Jerry Rubin.

In 1972, the Richard Nixon Administration sought to silence Lennon by trying to have him deported from the U.S., as Nixon believed that Lennon's support for George McGovern could lose him the next election. Republican Senator Strom Thurmond suggested in a February 1972 memo that "deportation would be a strategic counter-measure" against Lennon. The next month the Immigration and Naturalization Service began deportation proceedings against Lennon, arguing that his 1968 misdemeanour conviction for cannabis possession in London had made him ineligible for admission to the U.S. Lennon spent the next four years in deportation hearings.

Lennon at an anti-war protest in Manhattan, New York City in 1972.

While his deportation battle continued, Lennon appeared at rallies in New York City and on TV shows, including a week hosting the Mike Douglas Show in February 1972, where Jerry Rubin and Bobby Seale appeared as his guests..

On 23 March 1973, Lennon was ordered to leave the U.S. within 60 days, while Ono was granted permanent residence. In response, Lennon and Ono held a press conference at the New York American Bar Association on 1 April 1973 to announce the formation of the conceptual state of " Nutopia"; a place with "no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people", and all of its inhabitants would be ambassadors. The Lennons asked for political asylum in the U.S. while waving the white flag of Nutopia: two white handkerchiefs. The entire press conference can be seen in the 2006 Lion's Gate movie The U.S. vs. John Lennon. In June 1973, Lennon and Ono made their last political statement by attending the Watergate hearings in Washington, D.C.

Lennon's order of deportation was overturned in 1975. After Lennon’s murder, historian Jon Wiener filed a Freedom of Information request for FBI files on Lennon. The FBI admitted it had 281 pages of files on Lennon but refused to release most of them, claiming they were national security documents. In 1983, Wiener sued the FBI with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. The case went to the Supreme Court before the FBI settled in 1997 — releasing all but ten of the contested documents. The story is told in the documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon, by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld, released in theatres in September 2006, and on DVD in February 2007. The final ten documents in Lennon's FBI file were released in December 2006.

In 1976, Lennon's U.S. immigration status was finally resolved favourably, and he received his green card. Lennon insisted that the investigation was politically motivated, a claim that was later proven true. With the departure of Nixon from the White House, the administration of his successor, Gerald Ford, showed little interest in continuing the battle. When Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as president on 20 January 1977, Lennon and Ono were invited to attend the Inaugural Ball. After that appearance, Lennon was rarely seen in public until his 1980 comeback. Lennon had planned a return to activism on 14 December 1980, when he and Ono were scheduled to travel to San Francisco and protest for migrant workers' rights.

Drugs, Meditation and Primal therapy

Lennon was first given drugs in Hamburg, Germany, as The Beatles had to play long sets and were often given "Prellies" ( Preludin) by customers or by Astrid Kirchherr, whose mother bought them for her. McCartney would usually take one, but Lennon would often take four or five, and later took amphetamines called "Black Bombers" and "Purple Hearts". The Beatles first smoked cannabis with Bob Dylan in New York in 1964; Dylan mistakenly interpreted the lyric "I can't hide" from "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as "I get high" and presumed that the Beatles were already familiar with the drug. Lennon later said the Beatles "smoked marijuana for breakfast", and that other people had trouble talking to them, because they were giggling all the time.

Lennon tried LSD and read The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner, which was based on, and quoted from, the Tibetan Book of the Dead. He later used heroin, and wrote about the withdrawal symptoms he experienced in " Cold Turkey". In a 1995 interview, Cynthia said there were problems throughout their marriage because of the pressures of The Beatles' fame and rigorous touring, and because of Lennon's increasing use of drugs. On 24 August 1967, The Beatles met the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the London Hilton, and later went to Bangor, in North Wales, to attend a weekend of personal instruction. The time Lennon later spent in India at the Maharishi's ashram was productive, as most of the songs recorded for The White Album, and Abbey Road were composed there by Lennon and McCartney. Although later turning against the Maharishi, Lennon still advocated meditation when interviewed.

In 1970, Lennon and Ono went through Primal therapy with Dr. Arthur Janov in Los Angeles, California. The therapy consisted of releasing emotional pain by screaming, but Lennon and Ono ended the sessions before completing a full course of therapy, as Ono constantly argued with Janov.


Each of The Beatles was known, especially during Beatlemania, for his sense of humour. During live performances of "I Want to Hold Your Hand", Lennon often changed the words to "I want to hold your gland", because of the difficulty hearing the vocals above the noise of screaming audiences. At the Royal Variety Show in 1963—in the presence of members of the British royalty—Lennon told the audience, "Those of you in the cheaper seats can clap your hands. The rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewellery." Lennon put on weight during 1965, and later said, "It was my fat-Elvis period."

During the " Get Back" sessions, Lennon introduced " Dig a Pony" by shouting, "I dig a pygmy by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf Aids; phase one in which Doris gets her oats!" The phrase was later edited to precede " Two of Us" on Let It Be. Lennon often counter-pointed McCartney's upbeat lyrics, as in " Getting Better":

McCartney: "I've got to admit it's getting better, a little better, all the time."
Lennon: "Can't get no worse."

Lennon appeared in various television comedy shows, such as the Morecambe and Wise show with the rest of The Beatles, and played a doorman in a gents' toilet in Not Only But Also. In the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus film, Lennon changed the title of " I Wanna Be Your Man" (which was recorded by the Rolling Stones in 1963) to "I Want to Hold Your Man", while talking with Mick Jagger.

Lennon's humour could also be caustic, such as when Brian Epstein asked Lennon for a title for Epstein's autobiography, and Lennon answered: "How about, Queer Jew?" When Lennon heard that the title of the book would be A Cellarful of Noise, he said to a friend: "More like A Cellarful of Boys."

Writing and art

Lennon started writing and drawing early in life, with encouragement from his Uncle George, and created his own comic strip in his school book, which he called "The Daily Howl". It contained drawings—frequently of crippled people—and satirical writings, often with a play on words. Lennon wrote a weather report saying, "Tomorrow will be Muggy, followed by Tuggy, Wuggy and Thuggy." He often drew caricatures of his school teachers, and when he was in Hamburg he sent love poems and drawings to Cynthia Lennon, once writing, "Our first Christmas, I love you, yes, yes, yes." When Liverpool's Mersey Beat magazine was founded, Lennon was asked to contribute. His first piece was about the origins of The Beatles: "A man appeared on a flaming pie, and said you are Beatles with an 'A'." The first two books by Lennon are examples of literary nonsense: In His Own Write (1964) and A Spaniard in the Works (1965). Ono later allowed the works of Lennon to be published after his death: Skywriting by Word of Mouth (1986) and Ai: Japan Through John Lennon's Eyes: A Personal Sketchbook (1992), which contained Lennon's drawings illustrating the definitions of Japanese words. Real Love: The Drawings for Sean followed in 1999. The Beatles Anthology included writing and drawings by Lennon.


Throughout his solo career, Lennon appeared on his own albums (as well as those of other artists like Elton John) under such pseudonyms as Dr Winston O'Boogie, Mel Torment (a play on singer Mel Tormé), and The Reverend Fred Gherkin. He and Ono (as Ada Gherkin "ate a gherkin", and other sobriquets) also travelled under such names, thus avoiding unwanted public attention.

Lennon also named his session musicians under various different band names during his career, including:

  • The Plastic Ono Band (for the Plastic Ono Band album)
  • The Plastic Ono Band with the Flux Fiddlers ( Imagine)
  • The Plastic U.F.Ono Band (Mind Games)
  • The Plastic Ono Nuclear Band/Little Big Horns and the Philharmonic Orchestrange (Walls and Bridges)


The entrance to the Dakota building where Lennon was shot.
The entrance to the Dakota building where Lennon was shot.

On the night of 8 December 1980, Lennon was shot in front of his home, the Dakota by Mark David Chapman. Lennon had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for Chapman earlier that same night.

Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival in the Emergency Room at the Roosevelt Hospital at 11:15 p.m. On December 9, the following day, Ono issued a statement: "There is no funeral for John. John loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him. Love, Yoko and Sean." Chapman pled guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life. He is still in prison as of 2007, 27 years since his arrest, having been denied parole four times.

Memorials and tributes

The Strawberry Fields Memorial in Central Park, New York City.
The Strawberry Fields Memorial in Central Park, New York City.

A crowd gathered outside the Dakota the night of Lennon's death. Ono sent word that their singing kept her awake and asked that they re-convene in Central Park the following Sunday for ten minutes of silent prayer ( see also the 1980 Central Park Vigil - Tribute to John Lennon). On 14 December 1980, millions of people around the world responded to Ono's request to pause for ten minutes of silence to remember Lennon: Thirty thousand gathered in Liverpool, and the largest group - over 100,000 - converged on New York's Central Park, close to the scene of the shooting.

Lennon continues to be mourned throughout the world and has been the subject of numerous memorials and tributes, principally New York City's Strawberry Fields, a memorial garden area in Central Park across the street from the Dakota building. Shortly after his death, Ono donated $1 million for its maintenance. It has become a gathering place for tributes on Lennon's birthday and on the anniversary of his death, as well as at other times of mourning, such as after the September 11, 2001 attacks and following George Harrison's death on 29 November 2001.

Awards and critique

With The Beatles

BRIT Awards:

  • 1977: Outstanding contribution to music during the past 25 years
  • 1977: Best British band of the past 25 years
  • 1977: Best British album of the past 25 years (for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)
  • 1983: Outstanding contribution to music

Solo career

  • 1982 BRIT Awards - Outstanding contribution to music.


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