This year marks the 40th 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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.