John Lennon Biography
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 Woolton, in a house called "Mendips" (251 Menlove Avenue). Mimi bought volumes of short stories for Lennon, and George, who was a dairyman at his family's farm, engaged Lennon in solving crossword puzzles, and bought him a harmonica. (Smith died on 5 June 1955). Julia Lennon visited Mendips almost every day, and when Lennon was 11 he often visited her at 1 Blomfield Road, Liverpool. Julia taught Lennon how to play the banjo, and played Elvis Presley's records for him. The first song he learned was Fats Domino's "Ain't That A Shame".
Lennon had a large affiliation with Fleetwood where he regularly visited his cousin Stanley Parkes, the 'big brother' to the young John, the son of his Aunt Elizabeth (known as Mater). Unfortunately George Parkes, the husband of Elizabeth and father of Stanley, died young and they moved to 33 Galloway Road where they lived with a local Fleetwood solicitor Mr Hodson. Stanley recalls he would often visit Liverpool and return to Fleetwood in the school holidays with his other cousin Leila, Aunt Harriet's daughter. Stanley recalls they would all go up to Blackpool on the tram two or three times a week during their summer holidays to see separate shows. They would visit the Blackpool Tower Circus and see artists such as Dickie Valentine, Arthur Askey, Max Bygraves and Joe Loss and his big band. However, Stanley recalls it was George Formby who John particularly liked. The duo used to pass Formby's house regularly on the bus journey from Preston to Fleetwood where he and his wife would often be sitting in deck chairs in their garden at the front of their house. Stanley recalls he and John would wave and they would wave back. Stanley and the young John were keen fans of Fleetwood Flyers Speedway Club and Fleetwood Town FC.
Lennon was raised as an Anglican and attended Dovedale Primary School until he passed his Eleven-Plus exam. From September 1952 to 1957, he attended the Quarry Bank High School in Liverpool, where he was known as a "happy-go-lucky" pupil, drawing comical cartoons and mimicking his teachers.
Julia bought Lennon his first guitar in 1957, which was a Gallotone Champion acoustic (a cheap model that was "guaranteed not to split"). Julia insisted it be delivered to her house and not to Mimi's, who hoped that Lennon would grow bored with music; she was sceptical of Lennon's claim that he would be famous one day, often telling 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 in Menlove Avenue (close to Mimi's house) when struck by a car driven by an off-duty police officer. Her death would be a bond between Lennon and McCartney, who also lost his mother (to breast cancer) on 31 October 1956.
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. There, Lennon met his future wife, Cynthia Powell, when he was a Teddy Boy. Lennon was often disruptive in class and ridiculed his teachers, resulting in their refusing to have him as a student. Lennon failed an annual Art College exam despite help from Powell, and dropped out before his last year of college.
When Lennon decided that he wanted to try making music himself, he and fellow Quarry Bank High School friend Eric Griffiths took guitar lessons at Hunts Cross in Liverpool, although Lennon gave up the lessons soon afterwards. Lennon started The Quarrymen in March 1957. On 6 July 1957, Lennon met McCartney at the Quarrymen's second concert at the St. Peter's Church Woolton Garden fête. McCartney's father told his son that Lennon would get him "into a lot of trouble", but later allowed The Quarrymen to rehearse in the front room at 20 Forthlin Road. There, 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. 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 Lennon on the upper deck of a bus. Harrison joined the band as lead guitarist, and Stuart Sutcliffe — Lennon's friend from art school — later joined as bassist. After a series of name changes, the group decided on The Beatles. Lennon was always 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 became the Beatles' first manager 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. Lennon's Aunt Mimi was horrified when he told her about the trip to Hamburg, and pleaded with him to continue his studies. After the first residency Sutcliffe left The Beatles to concentrate on his artwork, and to be with his girlfriend, Astrid Kirchherr. McCartney took over as bass player for the group. Koschmider reported McCartney and drummer Pete Best for arson after the two attached a condom to a nail in the 'Bambi' (a cinema where they were staying) and set fire to it. They were deported, as was Harrison for working under age. A few days later Lennon's work permit was revoked and he went home by train.
After Harrison turned 18 and the immigration problems had been solved, The Beatles went back to Hamburg for another residency in April 1961. While they were there, they recorded "My Bonnie" with Tony Sheridan. In April 1962, The Beatles went back to Hamburg to play at the Star-Club, and were told that Sutcliffe had died two days before they arrived. This was another blow for Lennon, after losing his uncle and his mother.
On 9 November 1961, The Beatles performed a lunchtime concert at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. Brian Epstein, owner of NEMS Music Store, attended the performance and was quite impressed. In a meeting with the group at NEMS on 3 December 1961, Epstein proposed the idea of managing them, and they ultimately agreed.
Although Epstein had had no prior experience of artist management, he had a strong influence on their early dress-code and attitude on stage. He encouraged them to wear suits and ties and insisted that they stop swearing, smoking, drinking or eating onstage. He also suggested the famous synchronised bow at the end of their performances. Lennon was against the idea of wearing suits and ties, but later agreed, saying "I'll wear a bloody balloon if somebody's going to pay me". Epstein began auditioning the group to all the major record labels, and was rejected by all. His persistance paid off when on 9 May 1962, George Martin signed The Beatles to EMI's comedy label, Parlophone.
The Beatles 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. On 11 February 1963, the group recorded their first album Please Please Me in one day with Lennon suffering from a common cold. Originally the Lennon-McCartney songs on the first pressing of the album, as well as the single "From Me to You" and its B-side "Thank You Girl", were 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 EMI offered the album to their US subsidiary, Capitol Records, but they turned it down. Epstein finally secured a deal with Vee-Jay Records; a predominantly black R&B and gospel label. Neither the single nor the accompanying album, Introducing... The Beatles was successful in the US. By the time the group recorded "She Loves You", they were dropped from Vee Jay and once again, Capitol declined to release their records. EMI were forced to release it on the even more obscure Swan Records label. It did eventually hit #1 in January 1964, after Capitol Records finally released "I Want To Hold Your Hand" in America. Following their historic appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Beatles would embark on a two-year non-stop period of productivity: constant international tours, making movies, and writing hit songs. Lennon wrote two books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works, while The Beatles achieved recognition from the British Establishment when they were appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire in the 1965 Queen's Birthday Honours.
Lennon complained that nobody heard them play for all the screaming, and their musicianship was beginning to suffer. By the time he wrote his 1965 song "Help!", Lennon had put on quite a bit of weight (and would later refer to this as his "Fat Elvis" period) and realised he was subconsciously crying out for help and seeking change.
The catalyst for this change occurred on 4 March 1966, when Lennon was interviewed for the London Evening Standard by Maureen Cleave, and talked about Christianity by saying: "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink… We're more popular than Jesus now—I don't know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity." Lennon's comment went virtually unnoticed in England but created a controversy when quoted by American teen magazine Datebook five months later. Burning of Beatles records, the involvement of the Ku Klux Klan and threats against Lennon greatly contributed to the band's decision to stop touring.
But Lennon soon felt lost without the group. "No more touring... life without the Beatles, it's like a black space in the future", he said, and considered leaving the band at this time. With the group's live performance days behind them, they concentrated on studio recording and songwriting. Up to this point, Lennon had been the more dominant songwriter (more of his songs were featured as singles), but from the album Revolver, McCartney would become the driving force behind the band. Harrison was also becoming a prolific songwriter. Shortly after their landmark album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, the sudden death of Brian Epstein also changed the dynamic within the group.
McCartney orchestrated the group's first post-Epstein project, the film Magical Mystery Tour, which proved to be the group's first critical flop. "I knew we were in trouble then", Lennon said later. "I didn't have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music, and I was scared".
To further complicate things, The Beatles would, as Lennon put it, "become businessmen" and form their own record (and film, clothing, electronics and publishing) company, Apple. By now Lennon had met Yoko Ono and was retreating into his own world of drugs, McCartney had met his future wife, Linda Eastman, and the group realised that they needed professional management of Apple. Lennon reached out to American music executive Allen Klein to take the helm, despite warnings from Mick Jagger (Klein had also managed The Rolling Stones). McCartney also voiced his displeasure, preferring his future in-laws to take charge. Harrison and Starr, however, also went with Klein and tensions were mounting.
Just as The Beatles released their final album, Abbey Road, Lennon left the group in September 1969, but agreed not to make an announcement while the band renegotiated their recording contract. He became irate when McCartney issued a self question-and-answer interview 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 conducted an interview with Lennon for Rolling Stone (known as "Lennon Remembers") that revealed his bitterness towards McCartney and the hostility he felt that the other members had for Ono. Lennon said: "[W]e 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?"
At the end of 1968, Lennon performed as part of the group Dirty Mac, in The Rolling Stones' film Rock and Roll Circus. The supergroup, made up of Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Mitch Mitchell, also backed Ono's performance. Lennon and Ono were married on 20 March 1969, and he soon released a series of 14 lithographs called "Bag One" depicting scenes from their honeymoon, eight of which were deemed indecent and most were banned and confiscated.
Lennon and Ono recorded three albums of experimental music together: Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins, an album known more for its cover than the musical content, 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 a 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 John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, a raw emotional album that dealt with Lennon's pain in losing his mother and split with The Beatles. It included "Working Class Hero", which was banned by BBC Radio for its inclusion of the word "fucking".
His album Imagine followed in 1971, and the title song would later become an anthem for anti-war movements. It also included the track "How Do You Sleep?" -- a musical attack on McCartney. Although Lennon softened his stance in the mid-70s and claimed he wrote the song about himself, he revealed in 1980, "I used my resentment against Paul... to create a song... not a terrible vicious horrible vendetta... I used my resentment and withdrawing from Paul and The Beatles, and the relationship with Paul, to write 'How Do You Sleep'. I don't really go 'round with those thoughts in my head all the time".
On 31 August 1971, Lennon left England for New York, and released the "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" single in December 1971. To advertise the single, Lennon and Ono paid for billboards in 9 major cities (and 7 different languages) which declared: "WAR IS OVER!... if you want it". Some Time in New York City was then 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". Many radio stations refused to broadcast the song, although Lennon was allowed to perform 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 Willowbrook State School mental facility on Staten Island. 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 Starr's album Ringo (his own demo version of the song appears on the John Lennon Anthology), produced Harry Nilsson's album Pussy Cats and also 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 #1 duet with Elton John). A second single from the album, "#9 Dream", was released in December. He wrote "Goodnight Vienna" for Starr, and played piano on the recording. 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 John 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".
In January 1975, Lennon co-wrote and recorded "Fame" with David Bowie and Carlos Alomar which became Bowie's first US #1 hit. Lennon released Rock 'n' Roll, an album of cover songs, in February 1975 – with Phil Spector as co-producer.
Lennon made his last stage appearance 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 (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 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.
In June 1976, Lennon wrote and recorded "Cookin' (In The Kitchen of Love)" with Ringo Starr, his last recording session until his 1980 comeback. Lennon also offered to design the cover for an upcoming Beatles compilation album from Capitol/EMI, Rock 'n' Roll Music, but EMI declined his offer.
In 1977, Lennon announced in Tokyo that "we have basically decided, without any great decision, to be with our baby as much as we can until we feel we can take time off to indulge ourselves in creating things outside of the family." During this period he also drafted a manuscript that would be posthumously published as a book called Skywriting by Word of Mouth as well as several series of drawings which would also be published posthumously.
He emerged from retirement in November 1980, releasing Double Fantasy, which also featured Ono. That previous June, Lennon traveled to Bermuda on a 43-foot sloop, where he wrote songs for the album. The name of the album refers to a species of freesia flower that Lennon had seen in the Bermuda Botanical Gardens and saw it as a perfect description of his marriage to Ono. Lennon had written and recorded enough material for another album and was already planning his follow-up, Milk and Honey, which was released posthumously in 1984.
On the night of 8 December 1980, at around 10:50 pm, Mark David Chapman shot Lennon in the back four times in the entrance of the Dakota apartment building. Earlier that evening, Lennon had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for Chapman who had been stalking Lennon since October.
Lennon was taken to the emergency room of nearby Roosevelt Hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:07 pm. On the following day, Ono issued a statement, saying "There is no funeral for John." Ono ended her statement with the words, "John loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him. Love, Yoko and Sean."
Chapman pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life; he remains in prison, having been repeatedly denied parole. Lennon's body was cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. According to some accounts, Ono scattered Lennon's ashes on Strawberry Fields; according to others, she kept them.
Two days before his murder, Lennon told Andy Peebles of the BBC that he felt he could go out anywhere in New York City and feel safe. On another occasion while still a Beatle, Lennon was asked how he might die. Lennon replied, "I'll probably be popped off by some loony." During an interview with Dave Sholin at The Dakota hours before his murder, Lennon stated, "I've always considered my work one piece whether it be with Beatles, David Bowie, Elton John, or Yoko Ono. And I consider that my work won't be finished until I'm dead and buried and I hope that's a long, long time."