|Birth name||John Winston Lennon|
|Born||9 October 1940
Liverpool, England, UK
|Died||8 December 1980 (aged 40)
New York, New York, US
|Genres||Rock, pop rock, psychedelic rock, experimental rock, rock and roll|
|Occupations||Musician, singer-songwriter, artist, peace activist, writer, record producer|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, piano, bass, harmonica|
|Years active||1957–1975, 1980|
|Labels||Parlophone, Capitol, Apple, EMI, Geffen, Polydor|
|Associated acts||The Quarrymen, The Beatles, Plastic Ono Band, The Dirty Mac, Yoko Ono|
Gibson Les Paul Junior
John Winston Ono Lennon, MBE (9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980) was an English rock musician, singer-songwriter, author, and peace activist who gained worldwide fame as one of the founding members of The Beatles. With Paul McCartney, Lennon formed one of the most influential and successful songwriting partnerships of the 20th century and "wrote some of the most popular music in rock and roll history". The second most successful songwriter in Billboard singles chart history after McCartney, Lennon was responsible for 27 number one singles on the U.S. Hot 100 chart as a performer or songwriter.
Lennon revealed a rebellious nature and an acerbic wit in his music, his writing, on film and at press conferences and interviews. He was controversial through his work as a peace activist and visual artist, along with his wife Yoko Ono. After The Beatles broke up in 1970, Lennon enjoyed a commercially successful and critically acclaimed solo career, selling 14 million RIAA certified albums in the US alone, with albums such as John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine and iconic songs such as "Give Peace a Chance" and "Imagine".
After a self-imposed "retirement" in 1975 to raise his son Sean, Lennon reemerged in 1980 with a comeback album, Double Fantasy, but was murdered less than one month after its release. The album won the 1981 Grammy Award for Album of the Year and is Lennon's best-selling studio album at three million shipments in the US.
In 2002, respondents to a BBC poll on the 100 Greatest Britons voted Lennon eighth. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Lennon #38 on its list of "The Immortals: The Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time" (The Beatles were ranked number one). He was also ranked fifth greatest singer of all time by Rolling Stone in 2008. He was posthumously inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
John Winston Lennon was born on 9 October 1940, in Liverpool Maternity Hospital, Oxford Street, Liverpool, to Julia and Alfred Lennon during the course of a German air raid in World War II. Julia's sister, Mary "Mimi" Smith, ran through the blacked-out back roads to reach the hospital. During the two-mile trek, she used the explosions to see where she was going. Smith said later, "I knew the moment I saw John in that hospital that I was the one to be his mother, not Julia. Does that sound awful? It isn't, really, because Julia accepted it as something perfectly natural. She used to say, 'You're his real mother. All I did was give birth.'" Lennon was named after his paternal grandfather, John 'Jack' Lennon, and Winston Churchill.
Lennon's father, a merchant seaman during World War II, was often away from home and sent regular pay cheques to 9 Newcastle Road, Liverpool, where Lennon lived with his mother. The cheques stopped when Alfred Lennon went absent without leave in 1943. When he eventually came home in 1944, he offered to look after the family, but his wife (who was pregnant with another man's child) rejected the idea. Under considerable pressure, she handed the care of Lennon over to her sister after the latter registered a complaint with Liverpool's Social Services. In July 1946, Lennon's father visited Smith and took his son to Blackpool, secretly intending to emigrate to New Zealand with him. Lennon's mother followed them, and, after a heated argument, his father forced the five-year-old to choose between his parents. Lennon chose his father—twice. As his mother walked away, Lennon began to cry and followed her. Lennon then lost contact with his father for twenty years.
Throughout the rest of his childhood and adolescence, Lennon lived with his aunt and uncle, Mimi and George Smith, at Mendips, 251 Menlove Avenue, Woolton. In September 1980, Lennon would have this to say about his childhood, his family and his rebellious nature:
Part of me would like to be accepted by all facets of society and not be this loudmouthed lunatic musician. But I cannot be what I am not. Because of my attitude, all the other boys' parents ... instinctively recognised what I was, which was a troublemaker, meaning I did not conform and I would influence their kids, which I did. ... I did my best to disrupt every friend's home ... Partly, maybe, it was out of envy that I didn't have this so-called home. But I really did ... There were five women who were my family. Five strong, intelligent women. Five sisters. 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. Now, those women were fantastic. ... That was my first feminist education ... that knowledge and the fact that I wasn't with my parents made me see that parents are not gods.
The couple had no children of their own. His aunt bought him volumes of short stories, and his uncle, who was a dairyman at his family's farm, bought him a harmonica and engaged him in solving crossword puzzles. Lennon's mother visited Mendips almost every day, and when he was 11 he often visited her at 1 Blomfield Road, Liverpool. She played him Elvis Presley records, and taught him to play the banjo. The first song he learned to play was Fats Domino's "Ain't That A Shame".
Lennon regularly visited his cousin Stanley Parkes in Fleetwood. Seven years Lennon's senior, Parkes frequently took him on trips, and the pair enjoyed films together at the local cinema. During the school holidays, Parkes often visited Lennon with Leila, another cousin, and they would all go to Blackpool on the tram two or three times a week to watch shows. They would visit the Blackpool Tower Circus and see artists such as Dickie Valentine, Arthur Askey, Max Bygraves and Joe Loss. Parkes recalls that Lennon particularly liked George Formby. They regularly passed Formby's house on the bus journey from Preston to Fleetwood, often spotting the singer and his wife sitting in deck chairs in their front garden and exchanging waves with them. Parkes and Lennon were keen fans of Fleetwood Flyers Speedway Club and Fleetwood Town FC. After Parkes's family moved to Scotland, the three cousins often spent their school holidays together there. Parkes recalled, "John, cousin Leila and I were very close. From Edinburgh we would bundle into the car and head up to the family croft at Durness. That went on from about the time John was nine years old until he was about 16".
Lennon was raised as an Anglican and attended Dovedale Primary School. From September 1952 to 1957, after passing his Eleven-Plus exam, he attended Quarry Bank High School in Liverpool, where he was known as a "happy-go-lucky" pupil, drawing comical cartoons and mimicking his teachers. He was 14 years old when his uncle died in June 1955.
Lennon's mother bought him his first guitar in 1957, a cheap Gallotone Champion acoustic "guaranteed not to split". She arranged for it to be delivered to her own house, knowing that her sister, sceptical of Lennon's claim that he would be famous one day, hoped he would grow bored with music, 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, his mother, out walking near the Smiths' house, was struck by a car and killed.
Lennon failed all his GCE O-level examinations, and was only accepted into the Liverpool College of Art after his aunt and headmaster intervened. At the college, he met his future wife, Cynthia Powell. Lennon was a Teddy Boy, and was often disruptive in class. He ridiculed his teachers, resulting in their refusing to have him as a student. He failed an annual Art College exam despite help from Powell, and dropped out of college before his final year.
Lennon formed The Beatles with members of his first band, The Quarrymen, which he established at the age of 16 in March 1957. The earlier band name was inspired by that of the Liverpool school he and other members attended, Quarry Bank High School. Lennon first met Paul McCartney on 6 July at The Quarrymen's second concert, held in Woolton at the St. Peter's Church garden fête. McCartney joined The Quarrymen. His father told him that Lennon would get him "into a lot of trouble", but later allowed the band to rehearse in the front room at 20 Forthlin Road, where Lennon and McCartney began writing songs together. Lennon was 18 years old when he wrote his first, "Hello Little Girl"; it would be a UK top 10 hit for the Fourmost nearly five years later. George Harrison joined the band as lead guitarist, and Stuart Sutcliffe, Lennon's friend from art school, joined as bassist. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Sutcliffe became The Beatles after the other members left the band. 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".
In August 1960, engaged for a 48-night residency in Hamburg, Germany, The Beatles added drummer Pete Best to their number. Lennon's aunt was horrified when he told her about the trip, and pleaded with him to continue his studies. After the first Hamburg stint, the band accepted another in April 1961, and a third in April 1962.
Brian Epstein, The Beatles' manager from 1962, had no prior experience of artist management, but nevertheless had a strong influence on their early dress code and attitude on stage. Lennon initially resisted Epstein's attempts to encourage the band to present a professional appearance, but eventually complied, saying, "I'll wear a bloody balloon if somebody's going to pay me". McCartney took over on bass after Sutcliffe's death the same year, and drummer Ringo Starr replaced Best, completing the four-piece line-up that went on to international stardom. The Beatles released their first double-sided original single, "Love Me Do" b/w "P.S. I Love You" on 5 October; it reached number 17 on the British charts. They recorded their first album, Please Please Me, in under 10 hours on 11 February 1963—a day when Lennon was suffering the effects of a cold. Originally the songs Lennon and McCartney wrote for the album, as well as the single "From Me to You" and its B-side "Thank You Girl", were credited to "McCartney-Lennon", but on later pressings the songwriting credit was changed to "Lennon-McCartney". The pair often completed songs in one or two hours, working at their homes, Jane Asher's home, and in hotel rooms after concerts.
The Beatles achieved UK mainstream success around the start of 1963. After a year of Beatlemania in the UK, the group's historic February 1964 US debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show marked their breakthrough to international stardom. A two-year period of constant touring, moviemaking and songwriting followed, during which Lennon wrote two books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works. The Beatles received recognition from the British Establishment when they were appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire in the 1965 Queen's Birthday Honours.
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Lennon grew concerned that fans attending concerts were unable to hear the music for all the screaming, and that the band's musicianship was beginning to suffer as a result. At the time when he wrote his 1965 song "Help!", Lennon had put on weight (he would later refer to this as his "Fat Elvis" period) and felt he was subconsciously crying out for help and seeking change.
The catalyst for this change occurred on 4 March 1966. During an interview with Evening Standard reporter Maureen Cleave, Lennon remarked, "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. The uproar that followed—burning of Beatles records, Ku Klux Klan activity and threats against Lennon—contributed to the band's decision to stop touring.
Deprived of the routine of live performances, however, after their final commercial concert in 1966, Lennon felt lost and considered leaving the band: "No more touring... life without the Beatles, it's like a black space in the future." The group now 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 (1966), 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 (1967) was released, the sudden death of Brian Epstein changed the dynamic within the group. "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". McCartney orchestrated the group's first post-Epstein project, the film Magical Mystery Tour, which proved to be their first critical flop.
With Epstein gone, the band members were becoming increasingly involved in business activities, and in February 1968 they formed Apple Corps, a multimedia corporation comprising Apple Records and several other subsidiary companies. Lennon described the venture as an attempt to "see if we can get artistic freedom within a business structure". However, Lennon's increased drug experimentation and growing preoccupation with Yoko Ono, and McCartney's marriage plans left Apple in need of professional management. Lennon initially asked Lord Beeching to take on the role, but he refused, advising Lennon to simply "Get back to making records." The process of choosing a new manager became a source of conflict within the band. They were unable to reach full agreement, and, against McCartney's wishes, Allen Klein, who had managed The Rolling Stones, was eventually appointed.
At the end of 1968, Lennon featured in The Rolling Stones' film Rock and Roll Circus in the role of a Dirty Mac band member. The supergroup, comprising Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Mitch Mitchell, also backed a vocal performance by Ono in the film. Lennon and Ono were married on 20 March 1969, and soon released a series of 14 lithographs called "Bag One" depicting scenes from their honeymoon, eight of which were deemed indecent and most of which were banned and confiscated. Lennon's creative focus continued to move beyond The Beatles and between 1968 and 1969 he 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. In 1969 they formed The Plastic Ono Band, releasing Live Peace in Toronto 1969. Between 1969 and 1970 Lennon recorded three solo singles: the anti-war anthem "Give Peace a Chance", "Cold Turkey" and "Instant Karma!".
Lennon left The Beatles in September 1969. He agreed not to inform the media while the band renegotiated their recording contract, and was outraged that McCartney then publicised his own departure on releasing his debut solo album in April 1970. Lennon's reaction when told was, "Jesus Christ! He gets all the credit for it!" He later wrote, "I started the band. I finished it." In late interviews with Rolling Stone, he revealed his bitterness towards McCartney, saying, "I was a fool not to do what Paul did, which was use it to sell a record." He spoke too of the hostility he perceived the other members had towards Ono, and of how he, Harrison and Starr "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?"
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Following The Beatles' breakup in 1970, Lennon and Ono went through primal therapy with Dr. Arthur Janov in Los Angeles, California. The therapy focused on releasing emotional pain from early childhood. The couple ended the sessions before completing a full course of therapy, as Ono constantly argued with Janov. Lennon's emotional debut solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970), included "Mother", in which he confronted his feelings of childhood rejection, and "Working Class Hero", banned by BBC Radio for its inclusion of the word "fucking".
Imagine followed in 1971. Its title track would become an anthem for anti-war movements, while another, "How Do You Sleep?", was a musical attack on McCartney in reponse to lyrics from Ram that Lennon felt, and McCartney later confirmed, were directed at him and Ono. Although Lennon softened his stance in the mid-70s and claimed he wrote "How Do You Sleep?" 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".
Lennon moved to New York in August 1971, and in December released "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)". 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 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. "Woman Is the Nigger of the World", released as a US single from the album the same year, was described by Lennon as "the first women's liberation song that went out", and debuted on 11 May when it was televised on The Dick Cavett Show. Although many radio stations refused to broadcast the song because of the word "nigger", it reached number 57 on the US chart. Lennon gave two benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York on 30 August, in aid of patients at the Willowbrook State School mental facility on Staten Island. Backed once again by Elephant's Memory, these were to be Lennon's last full-length concert appearances.
Mind Games, credited to "the Plastic U.F.Ono Band", was released in November 1973. The same year, Lennon contributed a revamped version of "I'm the Greatest", a song he wrote two years earlier, to Starr's album Ringo. (Lennon's 1971 demo appears on the John Lennon Anthology.) He also produced Harry Nilsson's album Pussy Cats and Mick Jagger's "Too Many Cooks (Spoil The Soup)". Walls and Bridges (1974) yielded the number one single "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night", featuring Elton John on backing vocals and piano. A second single from the album, "#9 Dream", followed before the end of the year. Walls and Bridges was Lennon's only Billboard number one album during his lifetime. Starr's next album, Goodnight Vienna (1974), again saw assistance from Lennon, who wrote the title track and played piano. 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 number one. Lennon performed "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" and "I Saw Her Standing There".
Lennon co-wrote "Fame", David Bowie's first US number one, and provided guitar and backing vocals for the January 1975 recording. The same year, Elton John released a cover of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", featuring Lennon on guitar and back-up vocals, which also topped the charts. Lennon released Rock 'n' Roll, an album of cover songs, in February 1975.
Lennon made his last stage appearance on 18 April 1975, in the ATV special A Salute to Lew Grade. During the show he performed "Imagine", "Stand By Me" and "Slippin' and Slidin'" from his Rock 'n' Roll LP, backed by BOMF (introduced as "Etc."). The band wore two-faced masks, a dig at Grade, with whom Lennon and McCartney had been in conflict because of his control of The Beatles' publishing company. Dick James, The Beatles' publisher, had sold his majority share in Maclen Music (Lennon 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 travelled 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 at 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."
Following his murder, there was an almost frenzied buying of his singles. This resulted in his topping the chart no fewer than three times within an 8-week period "(Just Like) Starting Over" w/e 20th Dec 1980; "Imagine" (a re-entry; not a re-issue) w/e 10th Jan 1981; "Woman" w/e 7th Feb 1981, a chart feat that still holds the record for the fastest hat-trick of non re-issued number ones in the UK.
In one of his last major interviews Lennon said that he had never questioned his chauvinistic attitudes towards women until he met Ono. When asked about his writing contribution to The Beatles song "Getting Better", Lennon responded by confessing: "It is a diary form of writing. All that "I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved" was me. I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically -- any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn't express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women. That is why I am always on about peace". Lennon was always distant with his first son, Julian, but was close to his second son, Sean, calling him "My pride". Near the end of his life, Lennon said that he accepted the role of househusband, after taking on the role of 'housewife' in his relationship with Ono.
Cynthia Powell met Lennon at the Liverpool Art College in 1957. Although Lennon was not her type, she was attracted to him. 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 to a public house with him and some friends. Powell told him she was engaged (to a young man called Barry, in Hoylake) so Lennon stormed off, shouting, "I didn't ask you to fucking marry me, did I!?" Lennon was often jealous, and 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 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 would not see his new-born son for three days. He then went on holiday to Spain with Epstein, which would lead to speculation of an affair between the two (Epstein was widely known to be gay). Shortly afterwards, at McCartney's twenty-first birthday party on 18 June 1963, Lennon physically attacked Cavern Club MC Bob Wooler for saying "How was your honeymoon, John?". The MC, known for his wordplay and affectionate but cutting remarks, was making a joke; however, ten months had passed since Lennon's marriage, and the honeymoon, deferred, was still two months in the future. To Lennon, drunk, the matter was simple: "He called me a queer so I battered his bloody ribs in".
In September 1980, when Playboy magazine asked him about the Epstein rumour, Lennon had this to say: "I went on holiday to Spain with Brian, which started all the rumors that he and I were having a love affair. Well, it was almost a love affair, but not quite. It was never consummated. But we did have a pretty intense relationship. And it was my first experience with someone I knew was a homosexual. He admitted it to me. We had this holiday together because Cyn was pregnant and we left her with the baby and went to Spain. Lots of funny stories, you know. We used to sit in cafes and Brian would look at all the boys and I would ask, "Do you like that one? Do you like this one?" It was just the combination of our closeness and the trip that started the rumors."
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 she has cited his increasing drug use as the main reason for their growing apart. She was also aware of Lennon's friendship with Ono. Eventually, according to Powell, she suggested to Lennon that perhaps Ono was the woman for him. When Lennon and The Beatles went to Bangor to do meditation, Powell and Lennon were separated on the train platform. A policeman, who did not recognise her, kept her from boarding the train. As she watched Lennon's train 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." Lennon later tried to sue Powell for divorce, claiming she had committed adultery and not he. When it was discovered that Ono had become pregnant, Powell petitioned Lennon for divorce. During negotiations Lennon refused to give his wife any more than £75,000, supposedly saying, "What have you done to deserve it? Christ, it's like winning the bloody pools. You're not worth it, Cyn." The case was settled out of court, with Powell receiving £100,000, £2,400 annually, custody of Julian and the Lennons' house (Kenwood).
There are two versions of how Lennon and Ono met: The first version says that on 9 November 1966, Lennon went to the Indica gallery in London, where Ono was preparing her conceptual art exhibit, and they 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 had not opened. Dunbar then said to Ono, "Don't you know who this is? He's a millionaire! He might buy it." 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, told by McCartney, 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 to give her any manuscripts as he kept all his originals, but suggested that Lennon might oblige. When asked, Lennon gave the original handwritten lyrics to "The Word" from Rubber Soul to Ono. They were reproduced in Cage's book, Notations.
Lennon began his sexual relationship with Ono in May 1968, after Lennon returned from India, where he had received numerous postcards from Ono, who was in London. As Cynthia Lennon was in Greece on holiday, Lennon invited Ono to his home, where they spent the night recording what would become the Two Virgins album, and later said they made love at dawn. On Sunday morning Lennon brought in the newspapers, laying them down on the coffee table, but when Ono tried to pick up one of the papers Lennon slapped her hand, saying "I read them first".
When Cynthia returned home she found Lennon and Ono, who was wearing Cynthia's bathrobe, drinking tea together. Lennon simply said, "Oh, Hi". Cynthia filed for divorce later that year, on the grounds of Lennon's adultery, which was proven by Ono's pregnancy. Ono later miscarried John Ono Lennon II on 21 November 1968.
From the beginning, the new relationship was rather bizarre. In a 1981 interview, Ono light-heartedly remarked, "I used to say to [Lennon], ‘I think you’re a closet fag, you know.’ Because after we started to live together, John would say to me, ‘Do you know why I like you? Because you look like a bloke in drag.’" According to The Mirror, 1 October 2000, "Cynthia was not the only one hurt by John and Yoko's bizarre relationship." According to author Albert Harry Goldman, Ono was regarded by Lennon as a “magical being” who could solve all his problems, but that this was a “grand illusion”, and that she openly cheated on Lennon with gigolos. Finally “both he and Yoko were burnt out from years of hard drugs, overwork, emotional breakdowns, quack cures, and bizarre diets, to say nothing of the effects of living constantly in the glare of the mass media.” However, even after their separation, when they “were no longer collaborating as a team, they remained in constant communication. Their relationship had taken another bizarre turn. No longer able to live together, they found that they couldn’t live apart either.”
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 spent their honeymoon in Amsterdam campaigning for an international "Bed-In" for peace. They planned another "Bed-in" in the United States, but were denied entry. The couple then went to neighbouring Montréal, and during a "Bed-in" at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel recorded "Give Peace a Chance". Lennon and Ono often combined advocacy with performance art, as in their "Bagism", which was first 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 added Ono as part of his name, but despite being unable to remove "Winston", he referred to himself as 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, which they did on 31 August 1971. They first lived in the St. Regis Hotel on 5th Avenue, East 55th Street, and then moved to a street-level flat at 105 Bank Street, Greenwich Village, New York City, on 16 October 1971. After a robbery, they relocated to the more secure Dakota at 1 West 72nd Street, in February 1973.
In June 1973, as Lennon was about to record Mind Games, Ono decided that she and Lennon should separate. Ono suggested that he take their personal assistant, May Pang, as a companion. Lennon soon moved to California with Pang, and embarked upon an eighteen-month period he would later call his "Lost Weekend". While Lennon and Pang were living in Los Angeles, Lennon's drunken behaviour was widely reported by the media. Lennon took the opportunity to mend fences with the other Beatles and get reacquainted with his son, Julian, whom he had not seen in four years.
In May 1974, Lennon and Pang returned to New York where Lennon began work on Walls and Bridges. On the evening of 23 August 1974, both Lennon and Pang claimed to have seen a UFO in the sky from their balcony. Lennon mentioned the sighting in the booklet accompanying the Walls and Bridges album. When Lennon lost a bet to Elton John and joined him on stage at Madison Square Garden in November 1974, Ono was in the audience. Although Lennon would later claim he had no idea she was there, it was he who arranged for her seats.
Lennon and Ono reconciled in 1975. Their son, Sean Lennon, was born on Lennon's 35th birthday, 9 October 1975. After Sean's birth, the couple lived in relative seclusion at the Dakota in New York. Lennon retired from music to become a househusband caring for their child. He cited many reasons for his hiatus from music: he had been under contract since he was 22 years old and he was now free from obligation; rock and roll was not as interesting as it once was; and, because of his limited relationship with his first son, he decided to devote all his time to Sean.
Lennon's relationship with his first son was always strained. After Lennon and Ono moved to New York, Julian would not see his father again until 1973. With Pang's encouragement, it was arranged for Julian (and Powell) to visit Lennon in Los Angeles, where they went to Disneyland. Julian started to see his father more regularly, and 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. "Dad and I got on a great deal better then," recalls Julian. "We had a lot of fun, laughed a lot and had a great time in general when he was with May Pang. My memories of that time with Dad and May are very clear - they were the happiest time I can remember with them."
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." 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.
Although his friendship with Ringo Starr would remain consistently warm, Lennon's public feelings towards his other fellow Beatles would often vary. He was close to Harrison after the initial break-up, but the two had drifted apart after Lennon moved to America. In December 1974, Harrison was in New York for his Dark Horse tour, and Lennon agreed to join him on stage. However, an argument ensued over Lennon's refusal to sign the agreement that would legally dissolve The Beatles partnership (meant to be at New York's Plaza Hotel on 19 December) and Lennon never appeared. (Lennon would eventually sign the papers in Walt Disney World in Florida, while on holiday there with Pang and Julian.) In 1980, after Harrison released an autobiography called I Me Mine, Lennon was angered that he was not properly acknowledged and issued some stinging remarks voicing his displeasure.
Lennon's most intense feelings were reserved for McCartney. In addition to "How Do You Sleep?", Lennon would argue with McCartney through the press for three years after the group split. In 1974, the two men would become close again, and even played together for the only time since the Beatles split (see A Toot and a Snore in '74). In later years, the two grew apart again. Lennon said that the last time McCartney had visited they watched the episode of Saturday Night Live in which Lorne Michaels made a $3,000 cash offer to get The Beatles to reunite on the show. They had considered going to the studio to appear as a joke, attempting to claim their share of the money, but were too tired. This event was fictionalised in the 2000 television film, Two of Us.
Lennon always felt a musical competitiveness with McCartney and kept an ear on his music. During his "retirement", Lennon was content to sit back as long as McCartney was producing "garbage". In 1980, McCartney released "Coming Up", and Lennon took notice. "I can't get that song out of my head," he would jokingly complain, and felt compelled to record again.
Perhaps most telling was Lennon's summation of his artistic collaborations: "I only ever asked two people to work with me as a partner...one was Paul McCartney, and the other Yoko Ono. That's not bad, is it?"
In 1980, Lennon was asked whether the group were dreaded enemies or the best of friends. He replied that they were neither, and that he had not seen any of them in a long time. But he also said, "I still love those guys. The Beatles are over, but John, Paul, George and Ringo go on."
Lennon and Ono used their honeymoon at the Amsterdam Hilton, in March 1969, as a "Bed-in for Peace" that attracted worldwide media coverage. At the second "Bed-in" in Montreal, in June 1969, they recorded "Give Peace a Chance" in their hotel room at The Queen Elizabeth. The song was sung by a quarter 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 anti-war activist, co-founder of the White Panther Party and poet who was serving ten years in state prison for selling two joints of marijuana to an undercover policeman after a series of previous convictions for possession of marijuana. Lennon and Ono appeared on stage with David Peel, Phil Ochs, Stevie Wonder and other musicians, plus anti-war radical and Yippie member, 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. According to former MI5 intelligence officer David Shayler, Lennon gave financial aid to the Irish Republican Army, a claim which Sinn Féin have neither substantiated or denied. The "financial aid" was likely in the form of Lennon's paying for the funerals of the Bloody Sunday casualties, as mentioned in A&E Biography's program about him.
In 1972, the Nixon Administration tried to have Lennon deported from the US, as Richard Nixon believed that Lennon's proactive anti-war activities and support for George McGovern could cost him re-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 misdemeanor conviction for cannabis possession in London had made him ineligible for admission to the US. Lennon spent the next four years in deportation hearings. 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 US within 60 days, while Ono was granted permanent residence. In response, Lennon and Ono held a press conference at the New York chapter of the 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 US while waving the white flag of Nutopia; two white handkerchiefs. The entire press conference can be seen in the 2006 documentary, 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. In 1976, Lennon's US immigration status was finally resolved favourably, and he received his green card. Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, showed little interest in continuing the battle. When Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as president on 19 January 1977, Lennon and Ono attended the Inaugural Ball.
After Lennon's death, historian Jon Wiener filed a Freedom of Information Act request for FBI files on Lennon, which document the Bureau's role in the Nixon Administration attempt to deport Lennon in 1972 to stop his anti-war campaign before the Nixon re-election campaign. The FBI admitted it had 281 pages of files on Lennon but refused to release most of them, they contained "national security" information. In 1983, Wiener sued the FBI with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. It took 14 years of litigation to force the FBI to release the withheld pages. The ACLU, representing Wiener, won a favourable decision in their suit against the FBI in the Ninth Circuit in 1991. The Justice Department appealed the decision to the Supreme Court in April, 1992, but the court declined to review the case. The Justice Department settled most of the outstanding issues in the case outside the court in 1997, when most all of the contested documents but 10 were released, respecting President Bill Clinton's new rule that documents should be withheld only if releasing them would involve "foreseeable harm." In January 2000, Wiener published a book titled Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files which contains facsimiles of the documents, including "lengthy reports by confidential informants detailing the daily lives of anti-war activists, memos to the White House, transcripts of TV shows on which Lennon appeared, and a proposal that Lennon be arrested by local police on drug charges". The story is told in the documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon. The final ten documents in Lennon's FBI file, which had been withheld as containing "national security information provided by a foreign government under an explicit promise of confidentiality," and reported on Lennon's ties with London anti-war activists in 1971, were released in December 2006.
Lennon was first given drugs in Hamburg, as The Beatles had to play long sets and were often given 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 marijuana 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 that, during the filming of Help! in 1965, The Beatles "smoked marijuana for breakfast", and that other people had trouble talking to them "because we were just all glazed eyes, giggling all the time".
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. During his first marriage 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". 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 Beatles, and Abbey Road were composed there by Lennon and McCartney. Although later turning against the Maharishi, Lennon still advocated meditation when interviewed. In 1968, Cynthia Lennon went on vacation to Greece, leaving Lennon at Kenwood with Pete Shotton; his school friend and so-called assistant.
Lennon 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, "For our next song, I'd like to ask for your help. For the people in the cheaper seats, clap your hands... and the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewellery."
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":
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. Lennon's humour could also be sarcastic, 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".
In a televised news conference in 1976, immediately following his obtaining his Green Card, Lennon was asked by a reporter if he held any animosity towards the Nixon administration for trying to deport him, to which he grinned and swiftly shot back "Time wounds all heels".
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 (his future wife) 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. Lennon's love of nonsense language was influenced by his appreciation for Stanley Unwin.
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. In the short-lived 1968 supergroup The Dirty Mac, Lennon performed under the name Winston Leg-Thigh. He appeared as John O'Cean and Joel Nohnn on Ono's albums, and 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:
Lennon played various guitars with The Beatles and during his solo career, including the Rickenbacker (four variants thereof), Epiphone Casino, and several Gibson and Fender models. His other instrument of choice was piano, on which he also composed many songs. Lennon's jamming on a piano together with McCartney led to creation of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in 1963. He also played harmonica, various percussion instruments and flute.