Lennon, John Winston

(later Ono)
(1940–1980)
   Eccentric, rock and roll legend, artist, poet, and social activist, John Lennon, together with Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, forged the most successful and beloved pop music group of the 20th century, The Beatles. Born on October 9, 1940, in Liverpool, England—inconveniently so during a bombing raid by the Luftwaffe-he was given the British prime minister’s name in a fit of patriotism and then summarily was shoved under the bed as a precaution after a bomb exploded outside the Oxford Street maternity ward in Liverpool, England. His father, Freddie Lennon, a ship’s waiter, skipped off to sea, leaving a young wife Julia penniless. Julia’s sister Mimi took the responsibility of raising John, giving him a proper Dr. Timothy Leary, Human Be-In, San Francisco, 1967. home in the posh suburb called Woolton. (Those fables of Lennon coming from a tough workingclass Liverpool background are just that, fables.) A rather stern surrogate mother, Mimi kept a close eye on her nephew’s whereabouts and activities, and she even parceled out sweets meagerly to keep from spoiling the boy. Lennon rebelled at an early age, first at Dovedale Primary School and later at Quarry Bank High School, where he was frequently placed on detention and suffered regular canings by the headmasters. But even while intractable as a student, Lennon developed a love of literature, whiling away hours in Mimi’s home reading Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. He took to lampooning his teachers in a handwritten publication that he dubbed “The Daily Howl,” which was frequently confiscated and passed around by bemused faculty members—they were slightly proud of their student’s burgeoning talent, though his talent presented itself in the most defiant of ways. These early drawings and stories were the seeds for his later parodies that eventually grew into his first published book, in His own write.
   That would wait, however, until long after the fateful day of July 6, 1957, when Ivan Vaughan led his unsuspecting friend Paul McCartney to the Woolton fete to hear a local skiffle group, The Quarry Men. Onstage, in a red checkered shirt, Lennon played guitar and sang “Be-Bop-A-Lula” while a transfixed McCartney looked on. When later that day they were introduced, the first incarnation of The Beatles was born. McCartney remembers, in his original introduction to In His Own Write, “At Woolton Village fete I met him. I was a schoolboy and as he leaned an arm on my shoulder I realised he was drunk. We were twelve then [sic] but in spite of his sideboards we went on to become teenage pals.”
   In the year that followed, Lennon entered the Liverpool College of Art and came under the influence of the pop-cultural icons of his time: Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Marlon Brando, and James Dean. Increasingly angry and made more so by the needless death of his mother Julia, with whom he had been sharing a newfound and treasured relationship, he moved into a Victorian flat with fellow art students Stu Sutcliffe and Bill Harry. Harry would lecture his two roommates about such Beat writers as jack kerouac, lawrence ferlinghetti, and gregory corso and was determined that they all should write something significant to put Liverpool on the literary map. Lennon’s contributions were his word-play nonsense and sketches. According to biographer Ray Coleman, “John’s work was to presage the rise of Liverpool beat poets and can now be seen as an indicator of the assertiveness of Liverpool people in various arts, away from the American influence of the time.” Edgy, iconoclastic, Lennon with his razorsharp wit lashed out at those who disapproved of his teddy-boy appearance, winning over disciples and droves of smitten girls as well, such as Cynthia Powell, who later became his first wife. His drive and personal magnetism certainly helped propel The Beatles to ever-greater musical accomplishments, though it would be a mistake to discount the innate talent of each group member, which was considerable. Add to that the extravagantly fortuitous associations with people the likes of impresario Brian Epstein, record producer George Martin, and music publisher Dick James, and fame and fortune for the pop group, especially for Lennon (long considered the “leader”), was secured—at an unprecedented level.
   The year Lennon became a multimillionaire rock and roll idol and Al Aronowitz introduced Lennon to bob dylan and marijuana, 1964 also witnessed his assent into the upper crust of Great Britain’s literary world. In His Own Write sold 100,000 hardcover copies in its first printing, garnered rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic, and won the Foyles Literary Prize. Followed the next year by a second volume, A Spaniard in the Works, and in 1966 by his solo acting debut in Richard Lester’s surrealistic How I Won the War, Lennon established himself as a bona-fide artist and came to be regarded internationally as something of a neorenaissance man.
   When the bottom fell out (as bottoms so often do), it did so with the BBC Television release of Magical Mystery Tour, the day after Christmas 1967. Though chiefly McCartney’s inspiration, the film, especially when shown in black and white, was an unwatchable, dismal entanglement of undeveloped sketch ideas and inside jokes. Ironically, in an art-imitates-life-imitating-art sort of way, the idea of going for a “magical trip” on a bus was influenced by ken kesey’s Merry Pranksters, true Beats themselves who, as popular rumor has it, dropped acid one night in the parking lot outside The Beatles’ final performance in San Francisco in 1966. In the late 1960s Kesey would be given a record contract by Apple, The Beatles’ new production company, for their spoken-word series.
   Lennon’s association with the avant-garde predated even his life association with Yoko Ono; in fact it led directly to his first meeting with Yoko. Late nights out with the fast Chelsea crowd in 1966 brought him in contact with John Dunbar, brother of ed dorn’s wife Jennifer, ex-husband of Marianne Faithfull and owner of the Indica Art Gallery in Mason’s Yard. Lennon began to frequent Dunbar’s gallery, as did poet allen ginsberg, who lived around the corner. Dunbar managed to get an acidbesotted Lennon (he had been tripping for days) to come to Ono’s show, “Unfinished Paintings and Objects.” And so the second great partnership in the life of Lennon had begun, humbly enough. After the inevitable break up of The Beatles, John and Yoko took their bed-peace campaign overseas, first landing in Toronto and then moving to Montreal where they met with Ginsberg and timothy leary at bedside in their hotel suite. Ginsberg and Lennon, cultural leaders of the respective Beat and hippie movements, risked the wrath of the current Nixon administration by holding public demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, even though they were a country away. (This would lead to an attempt on behalf of J. Edgar Hoover and Nixon alike to deport Lennon because of the perceived danger of his political ideology and his influence on youth.) But it was in fall 1971, during a meeting with abbie hoffman and Jerry Rubin, when Ginsberg and Lennon, the two artists of the pack, formally parted with the radical politicos when it was suggested that they go to San Diego to disrupt the Republican National Convention. They did not want to expose young people to the kind of violence that had erupted at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Lennon’s so-called “lost weekend” began in late 1973 when he was ordered out of the apartment that he shared with his wife, Yoko Ono. The circumstances surrounding the break-up of the celebrity couple are beclouded, though it is agreed by many who knew Lennon that he was in trouble emotionally and not ready to continue a serious husband–wife relationship. He moved to Los Angeles along with Ono-assistant May Pang and for the next 11 months humiliated himself in public drunken scenes with Harry Nillson and others, at times alienating even close friends. Lennon had rocketed to stardom, fallen from public grace, and now appeared a lost and broken man, though only 33 years old.
   Encouraged by the success of his album Walls and Bridges and the number-one song collaboration with Elton John, “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” Lennon made good on a bet by appearing live at Madison Square Garden to perform with Elton. Unbeknownst to him, Yoko was backstage, waiting. Thus the Lennons’ reconciliation was ensured, and John began his new life as a house husband and a full-time father to their son Sean, who was born on John’s birthday in 1975. After coming out of retirement with the new album Double Fantasy, John Lennon was shot to death on December 8, 1980, in front of the Dakota Building in Manhattan, by a disturbed man.
 Bibliography
The Beatles Anthology, edited by Brian Roylance et al. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2000.
■ Brown, Peter, and Steven Gaines. The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of The Beatles. New York: Signet, 1983.
■ Coleman, Ray. Lennon. New York: McGraw Hill, 1986. Norman, Philip. Shout!: The Beatles in Their Generation. New York: MJF, 1981.
   Greg Herriges

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lennon, John (Winston) — born Oct. 9, 1940, Liverpool, Merseyside, Eng. died Dec. 8, 1980, New York, N.Y., U.S. British singer and songwriter. He wanted to be a sailor like his father but became a musician after hearing Elvis Presley s recordings. In 1957 he formed the… …   Universalium

  • Lennon, John (Winston) — (9 oct. 1940, Liverpool, Merseyside, Inglaterra–8 dic. 1980, Nueva York, N.Y., EE.UU.). Cantautor británico. Quiso ser marino como su padre, pero se convirtió en músico después de escuchar las grabaciones de Elvis Presley. En 1957 formó la banda… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • John Winston Lennon — John Lennon Pour les articles homonymes, voir Lennon. John Lennon …   Wikipédia en Français

  • John Winston Ono Lennon — John Lennon Pour les articles homonymes, voir Lennon. John Lennon …   Wikipédia en Français

  • John Winston — may refer to:*John A. Winston (1812–1871), Governor of Alabama *John Winston (actor) (born 1933), English film and television actor *John Winston Lennon (1940–1980), singer and guitarist for The Beatles …   Wikipedia

  • John Winston Lennon — Proben zu Give Peace a Chance (1969) John Winston Lennon (später John Winston Ono Lennon), MBE (* 9. Oktober 1940 in Liverpool, England; † 8. Dezember 1980 in New York …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Lennon, John — ▪ British musician in full  John Winston Ono Lennon  born Oct. 9, 1940, Liverpool, Eng. died Dec. 8, 1980, New York, N.Y., U.S.  leader or coleader of British rock group the Beatles (Beatles, the), author and graphic artist, solo recording artist …   Universalium

  • John Lennon — Lennon redirects here. For other uses, see Lennon (disambiguation). For other people named John Lennon, see John Lennon (disambiguation). John Lennon …   Wikipedia

  • john — /jon/, n. Slang. 1. a toilet or bathroom. 2. (sometimes cap.) a fellow; guy. 3. (sometimes cap.) a prostitute s customer. [generic use of the proper name] * * * I known as John Lackland born Dec. 24, 1167, Oxford, Eng. died Oct. 18/19, 1216,… …   Universalium

  • John — /jon/, n. 1. the apostle John, believed to be the author of the fourth Gospel, three Epistles, and the book of Revelation. 2. See John the Baptist. 3. (John Lackland) 1167? 1216, king of England 1199 1216; signer of the Magna Carta 1215 (son of… …   Universalium

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