In his life: Remembering John Lennon

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December 8th marked the 38th anniversary of the passing of John Lennon. I wanted to pull together some pictures from my travels to some of the places we both have visited and to tell a small portion of his life’s story. 

I guess the first thing we should do is address what many people may see as the elephant or gorilla if you will,  in the post. So full disclosure:  John Lennon was a brilliant, thoughtful musician who had his share of demons (as we all do). Voltaire once famously said, “We owe the dead nothing but the truth.” But the truth is only appreciated by seeing the person as a whole, not just the qualities we like and admire.

Lennon had issues with anger-management, drug abuse, and was a pretty terrible father to his son Julian. There are unsubstantiated stories that he was physically abusive to both of his wives. He also wrote brilliant solo songs such as'”Imagine,” “Working class hero,'” “Grow old along with me” and many of the Beatles most timeless and beloved songs. Beethoven was also a godawful person, and I still get chills listening to the “9th Symphony” I can still appreciate the art, honor the artist and attempt to have a fully realized perspective of the honorable and not-so-honorable.

I guess since we are in disclosure mode, I think it is relevant to say that I am not a Beatles or John Lennon historian, I have read a lot of books on the Beatles and also on John Lennon, but if I say anything that doesn’t jibe with your understanding. I am open to correction especially if you can cite a source.

 

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As with any famous (or infamous) person. Myth and legend can fester into “facts”  John Winston Lennon was born on October 9th, 1940 at what was at the time a maternity hospital. John was named after his paternal grandfather and of course, Winston Churchill. Lennon told people that the city was being bombed by the Luftwaffe at the exact moment he was born. This was in fact not true, but John’s Aunt Mimi did tell people it was so. Liverpool though,  being a port city was an active target during WWII.

 

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Alfred Lennon, John Lennon’s biological father. I say, “Biological father” because I consider the word “sperm donor’ to be a tad disrespectable. Actually, that is not nice for me to say that But Mr. Lennon the elder was a bit of a cad. He was a merchant marine who was absent for most of Lennon’s childhood. Alfred and John’s mother had a very turbulent marriage, and Alfred moved to New Zealand.  According to legend, Alfred told John he had to choose between him and his mother.  ((Other sources, claim that John’s parents decided that it was best if Julia raised their child)  But if John had gone with his father, musical history would have been significantly different. Alfred would resurface after the Beatles became famous to ask John for some money. John bears a powerful resemblance to his father (IMO)

Alfred Lennon was also known for being witty and from what I have read a reasonably good singer. In his defense, he did send his checks back, and while he was away from his wife Julia, she had a child by another man, a soldier she met at the dance hall. She wanted the man to move in with her, but he refused unless she divorced Alfred and put John up for adoption, which she refused. Alfred offered to raise the child and John, but Julia also declined. The baby,  a girl named Victoria, was put up for adoption and sent to Norway. (Years later John would try in vain to locate his sister, but she was never found in his lifetime) She would later resurface. Her name is Ingrid Pedersen and the secret was kept from her for most of her life. When she did find out, she kept the information from being made public until 1998 after her adoptive mother passed away.

This was a large part of his inspiration to leave Liverpool. The Stanley family (John’s mother Julia’s maiden name) didn’t like him and felt he was unstable and wouldn’t be a good provider, so he had several strikes against him from the start.

In 1965, when Alfred resurfaced in John Lennon’s life asking for money, the younger Lennon wrote him a check but was not happy to see him. Alfred recorded a couple novelty records under the name “Freddy Lennon” in an attempt to capitalize on Beatlemania, but the records failed to chart. Alfred Lennon developed cancer in 1976, and according to reports, John Lennon called him before his father died and they had some degree of closure between them.

 

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John and Julia Stanley Lennon. While her marriage to Alfred Lennon was a font of consternation of her family, they did have a lot of common ground. Both were known for being fun-loving and impulsive with quick wits and equally quick tempers.  After his father left for New Zealand, Julia moved in with her boyfriend, John Dykins.  While she never married Dykins, she did have two children (daughters Julia and Jackie) with him.

The reasons Julia surrendered John to her sister Mimi are not really clear. It is a known fact that the Stanley’s resented Julia “living in Sin” with Dykins and that Mimi had called family services on her own sister on at least two occasions. Whatever the reason, young John would spend the rest of his childhood living with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George on “mendips” (the name of the house on Menlove Avenue in Liverpool.

 

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John Lennon’s boyhood home and the residence of His Aunt Mimi and Uncle George.

While he resided with his Aunt and Uncle, his mother lived close by. John would often come by for a visit. When he would stay the night his half-sister, Julia would give up her bed for him. John’s mother taught him the guitar and banjo, and they would often play records and sing along to them. (Mimi didn’t own a phonograph and wasn’t a big fan of popular music.) When John Lennon started his first group, The Quarrymen Julia would make a point of coming and dancing and clapping along with the music. John said that while Mimi was the disciplinarian, Julia was more of a big sister.

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John Lennon as a child. John was a fairly poor student. While teachers would comment on him being “a bright child’ they also commented on him being “disruptive” and liked to talk back”.

Despite having remarkably different temperaments, Mimi and Julia were on warm terms.   Julia would often stop at her sister’s house for tea and cakes. On the evening of July 15th, 1958, Julia was heading back home and was struck and killed by an off-duty constable. (There are reports he was intoxicated, but this is disputed) . The driver insisted he was driving the speed limit (30mph), but Julia’s body flew over a hundred feet away from where she was hit which would seem to indicate a relatively high rate of speed. She was not killed instantly but died shortly later at the hospital. The driver Eric Clague would be acquitted on any negligence.  Sadly, Julia’s common-law husband John Dykins would also die in a car accident only a few years later.

John was so distraught he refused to look at her body at the funeral service. His Aunt Mimi reported “he cried for days”.

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Julia Stanley Lennon’s grave in Liverpool.  For years she didn’t have a headstone at all.  The simple headstone says only “Mummy” and the names of her four children. At the time of the headstone, Ingrid’s identity and location still were not known so they used her birth name of “Victoria”.
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Here is a photo of Strawberry fields as it looked at the time of Lennon’s childhood. When I was in Liverpool, the building must have been torn down, the gates were locked and the signposts that say “Strawberry Fields” were covered in graffiti.  The building was an orphanage and Lennon commented that he often felt like an orphan given his disruptive childhood.
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An early picture of John’s first band “The Quarrymen”
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St Peter’s Church in Woolton, Liverpool. It is in the yard here on July 6, 1957, that John Lennon meets Paul McCartney for the first time. Paul had recently lost his mother, Mary to cancer. John’s mother would be gone in a little over a year. It has been said that the loss helped the two teenagers grew close. Paul would also introduce John to George Harrison. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and drummers Pete Best and bassist Stu Sutcliffe would become the original line up to the Beatles.
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The Reeperbahn in Hamburg, Germany where the band first got there start. The area is still seedy and a bit scary (although much more commercialized than it was when the Beatles played here.) The experience playing here forced the band to tighten up their sound and was a boot camp of sorts for them.
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The cavern club Liverpool the place where the Beatlemania was born.

I am going to gloss over the “Beatle years” they have been over publicized to death and we all know about them already so we will fast forward to the 1970s.

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One of John’s cars from the Beatle days,
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Despite the strong objections from Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover, Lennon wins his permanent residence the U.S. Lennon loved NYC he said it reminded him of Liverpool.
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Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono in front of their home the Dakota Apartments near Central Park.
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On the evening of December 8th, 1980 John Lennon was standing in this spot when he was shot to death. He was planning on going out to eat after a day at the recording studio but came back to say goodnight to his young son Sean before heading back out for a late dinner.  Lennon’s murderer (let’s pass on giving the cretin any name recognition)  had originally asked for Lennon’s autograph earlier that day. Lennon and Ono exited from the 72nd  street curb instead of exiting from the secure inner courtyard.  The killer made eye contact with Lennon as he passed then unloaded five shots at John Lennon’s back. Four hit him. They were hollow point bullets which meant even if Lennon had been shot in the middle of an ER he was a goner.  The killer then calmly walked over to the curb and began reading “The catcher in the rye”.  Those who arrived on the scene said the killer was ‘cold and remorseless’ According to the police, they realized Mr. Lennon’s wounds were so profound that he wouldn’t survive waiting for an ambulance. According to the officer’s Lennon was laid out in the backseat of a squad car and an officer asked him if he was John Lennon. He answered “yes’ and turned his head slightly and lost consciousness. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the  Roosevelt Hospital at 11:15 local time.  According to the coroner’s report, Lennon has lost over 80% of his blood. It is said every one of the bullets would have been fatal by themselves. Ono had asked the police not to announce the death until she had a chance to go home and talk to their son. Ono said she was afraid he might see the news on the television. sadly the news leaked anyway, but I couldn’t determine if Sean had heard the news this way.  No funeral was given and Lennon’s cremated remains were allegedly scattered somewhere in England.
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Lennon’s star in Hollywood’s walk of fame. Every December 8th fans hold a candlelight tribute here.
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The section of Central Park located by John’s former home is called Strawberry fields and has a beautiful mosaic called “imagine.”
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NYC’s Strawberry Fields memorial
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The Liverpool Airport is now called The John Lennon Airport. Their motto is “Above us only Skies”. The airport features a nice statue of one of their favorite sons,

I know he lived an imperfect life. But I still feel a great deal of compassion for him. We can or at least should see beyond someone’s flaws (without condoning them) and appreciate their humanity and the wondrous gifts they leave us when they exit our world.  So thank you, John Lennon, from a fellow dreamer.

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