John Lennon - Part 2

What ever the spiritual questions that pursued John Lennon, He was the most celebrated Rock ‘n’ Roll singer, lyricist and composer in the world. He and his Beatles band had transformed the face of the popular music in the world. Beatles as a band had functioned together just about ten years, but even today their music is highly popular world over.

It was Beatles that transformed pop music from being an object of personal taste and appreciation to an exalted medium of social change. They started as a handsome group of teenagers singing love songs. But gradually they were able to remould their music as music of change bubbling with political and social commitment. The wave of adulation that they had set off all over the world came to be called Beatlemania. Beatles was a total reflection and representation of the ideological confusion and fear that had gripped the world in the sixties. John Lennon had started the troupe when he was all of sixteen.

John Lennon was born in Liverpool, England, on October of 1940 to Albert, a steward in a merchant ship, and his wife Julia. Albert was rarely home but used to send home money. He stopped sending the money when he lost his job. When he returned two years later, Julia, who was pregnant with another man’s child, refused to accept him. This was in spite of Julia and her son John Lennon being friendless and without money.

Alfred kidnapped him with the intention of secretly settling with his son in New Zealand. On learning about this, Julia caught him and after a bitter bout of argument, Alfred left it to the 6 year old boy to choose between father and mother. John chose his father decisively, but seeing his mother leave in tears he ran after her. Alfred had to leave his son.

Julia was unable to manage her wild son. Right from his early school days he proved to be a bully who got expelled from schools for picking on other students. Finally he was left to live with Mimi, the child-less elder sister of Julia. Julia has become merely an occasional visitor to her but she was musically inclined and had taught John right from his tender age to play the banjo. She used to bring the albums of American singers like Elvis Presley and made John listen to them.

Julia presented him with a guitar when he convinced her about his interest after repeated requests. Holding the guitar in his hand, John Lennon announced that he was going to become very famous one day. His mother took it to be an empty rhetoric of the young boy. She used to tell him: “Guitar is a good thing John. But you will never be able to make a living out of it”

One day when she was returning after seeing John, she was run over by a car and died. John had later said, “I lost my mother twice. When I was five, I was orphaned even when my mother was there. Later at sixteen, as I slowly getting closer to her, she died on me”.

Skiffle was a popular form of music in Britain of those days. Skiffle troupes used to tone up household items and use them as music instruments. Pans, pots, ladles, spoons, etc. became music instruments. Guitar and banjo were added on to them. John, attracted by this different but creative form of music, took part in this. He was just 16 then.

It was around this time that John Lennon met the 15 year old Paul McCartney. Paul was a crazy lover of music. He was quite adept at playing a large number of musical instruments. He had lost his mother to cancer. They exchanged their admiration and appreciation of their common interests like Rock n Roll and American Blues. This led to the evolution of a deep bond among them. But McCartney’s father just hated John Lennon. He warned his son: “You will get into trouble if you join him.”

Lennon had once revealed his self-appraisal: “I was shy and assailed by self-doubts. There was something wrong with me. I was seeing things others did not. I had a mind at once complex, conscientious and poetic. I understood everything through the haze of hallucinations. It is frightening to be such a child since there will be no one to share your mind with. My communion was with the likes of Oscar Wilde, Dylan Thomas or Vincent Van Gogh. They were all hallucinated personalities. They were all ostracized by the society as they revealed their true self. This made me feel the loneliness all the more.”

“I wanted to be loved and accepted. But I was not willing to be what I was not for that. This attitude of mine made everyone in the homes of my friends to warn them ‘stay off him’. Their parents were aware that I could affect their sons. It was true, too. I just could not help doing whatever I could to trouble everyone in my friends’ families. I might have done this out of jealousy of not having such a family. Paul McCartney’s parents were simply horrified to see me as I was indisciplined, not being under the iron control of parents. In a way, not having parents was an opportunity for me. I had wept a lot over not having parents. But it gave me awareness at a very early age.”

McCartney brought his friend George Harrison to the troupe. He was not even 14 then. Harrison, who played the guitar, was just as crazy about music. They played at clubs and night dances. They had played the background music even for strip tease dances. In no time at all, they secured the chance of playing at the most popular Clubs in Liverpool.

Soon enough, they left on a music tour of Hamburg in Germany. Their troupe became famous in the city. Invitations to perform came in droves. They accepted all the invitations to perform in the exuberance of youth. This enraged their original sponsor.

They were staying in a cinema theatre. One day when John Lennon was not there, in a fit of teenage sexual frustration, Paul McCartney nailed a condom to the wall and set it on fire. Fire had spread a little in the theatre. The sponsor filed a complaint with the police that they had attempted to set fire to the theatre. As George Harrison was not yet quite 14, a complaint was also made out about subjecting a child to labour. They were deported from Germany right away.

They continued to conduct their music shows in England. It was around this time they crafted around their band the many promising features of Beatles. Three Part Harmony, Humorous Stage entries, the many shades of American Rock & Roll were all integrated to showcase the Beatles. It was also the time when Beatles became a four member troupe that later became famous as the Fabulous Four. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and the last entry, drummer Ringo Starr completed the great quartet.

Lennon married Cynthia Powell in 1963. She was Lennon’s schoolmate and Lennon had got her pregnant. The wedding took place without the consent of Lennon’s family and without their presence. He named his child Julian in memory of his mother. When Bryan Epstein, owner of a local Music shop, took over as their Business Manager, his first condition was that Lennon should not reveal his marriage till Beatles became famous. He thought it will stop young women from becoming his fans. But when Lennon’s married status was revealed after Beatles became famous it made no difference.

Many rejections later, Beatles finally entered into a music recording agreement with EMI Records Company. In the beginning of 1963 Beatles released their first album ‘Love Me Do’. It was a big hit. This was followed by ‘Please Please Me’. To this day these songs remain popular all over the world. The hit music albums of their early days like ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, ‘She Loves You’ and ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ had huge re-runs. With all these hits Beatles became England’s most famous music troupe. Most of their songs were written and composed by John Lennon in less than an hour of sitting down to it.

The four handsome young men, not quite 20 yet, created waves among British teenagers, girls in particular. In 1964, they went on their first American tour. Over five thousand shouting, waving young fans saw them off at the Heathrow Airport, an unheard of event till then. ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ had sold over two million copies in America. But Lennon was anxious about the kind of reception they were likely to receive in America.

He need not have feared. Over three thousand noisy, boisterously cheerful fans were on hand at John F Kennedy Airport in New York to welcome them. With this a grand British invasion on the world of American music was launched. Till then no British troupe had achieved success in such scale or grandeur. Many like the Rolling Stones, Elton John, The Animals, Petula Clarke and others followed the highway that Lennon had paved to America to achieve fame and success.

The Ed Sullivan’s Show was the most popular music show on American television at that time. When Beatles sang on the show, it is said, an unprecedented half the America watched it. There were some petulant music critics who wrote: “Beatles have not brought a single new tune across the Atlantic.” But Beatlemania had truly gripped America. Beatles numbers occupied the top five positions on the Billboard of sales of music records. Such a thing had never happened in American history of music sales. From then on Beatles albums have been selling on a massive scale till date.

Beatles made two films in the sixties. Both ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (1964) and ‘Help’ (1965) were huge hits commercially as well as artistically. Both lyrics and musical score of ‘Help’ showed great maturity. Songs had become more philosophical and the music score had strains of country music in the background score.

Their next album ‘Rubber Soul’ (1965) is widely regarded as a rare high in creativity. It had imaginatively used instruments like Indian sitar, never used before in western music, to great effect. George Harrison had learnt sitar from the Indian sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar and put it to good use in this album.

John Lennon and Beatles were greatly affected by wealth, fame, women and drugs. They were becoming disenchanted with their life and their music. John Lennon complained that nobody heard their music on shows and the hooting and howling of the crowds drowned out the music. This was the time when he wrote songs like ‘Help me if you can, I am feeling down’. He was subconsciously crying out for change and help.

During this period in an interview given to the daily ‘Evening Standard’ Lennon said: “Christianity will die. It will shrink and disappear. I do not know what will go first, the Rock and Roll or Christianity, because we are now more famous than Christ.” Southern states of America, generally categorized as Bible Land, strongly opposed Lennon’s views. There were widespread demonstrations and burning of Beatles music albums. A ban was imposed on Radio stations broadcasting Beatles songs. Music shows were cancelled. Catholic Church passed strictures on Lennon’s comments. Lennon was forced to apologise, even though he did it in a very general and off-hand fashion.

Last year Catholic Church had issued a statement which said thus:
“That opinion of John Lennon, which created bitterness among the faithful, today sounds to be empty, meaningless and egoistic speech of a working class youth who had a big and unexpected success in a historical event named Rock ‘n’ Roll. But even today the truth stands that Lennon’s songs remain, after generations, artistic creations that time and custom cannot stale but instead prompt an inner search that goes on and on.” In September of 2009 more people searched Google for John Lennon’s Beatles than Jesus Christ!

The music event organised in San Francisco in 1966 became the last public event conducted by Beatles. The huge tide of fans growing with the boundless fame of the Beatles created unmanageable security issues that made their tours torturous. Therefore, John Lennon decided that no more tours and that put a stop to the Beatles stage shows.

Beatles, restricted to recording studios, continued to present better and better songs. ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Strawberry Fields’ were among the important songs of the period. The album called ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ was an unique achievement in terms of poetic lyrics and musical experience. Many Indian musical instruments were so lovingly played in songs of this album like ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘A Day in the Life’.

In the days when dispirited by the heady fame and mental stress, he had become the disciple of Mahesh Yogi. But he got nothing from the Yogi brand of Indian spiritualism. This only frustrated him even more. Lennon, who wrote lines like ‘Jai Gurudeva Om’ in his songs, began to call him ‘Sexy Swami’ (later, ‘Sexy Saddie’).

Even after being cheated by Indian Godmen, Lennon remained an Indo-phile with deep respect for the Indian tradition of philosophy and Indian music. In Beatles’ song like ‘The Inner Light’ one can hear the strains of sitar, Sarangi, dholak, etc. This song was recorded with Indian musicians in Mumbai. John Lennon had also written songs with his reflection on Indian philosophy like ‘Instant Karma’.

Within the Beatles deep differences were fermenting till finally the troupe broke up. ‘Abbey Road’ was the last Beatles album to come out – in 1969. But amidst all the differences, they still came out with good songs like ‘Revolution’ and ‘Hey Jude’, the optimism-inducing number like ‘Here comes the Sun’ and sad number like “The Long and Winding Road’.

Lennon separated from Beatles in September of 1969. But he refused to be the first to announce it. So McCartney announced the breaking up of Beatles in 1970. Lennon said later: “I created Beatles and I closed it down.”

John Lennon met Yoko Ono, the Japanese singer and painter, in 60s. Ono asked him to marry her, knowing well that he was already married and father of a child. When his first wife Cynthia returned from a tour of India, she saw Lennon living with Yoko Ono. Cynthia got her divorce after considerable heart-break. Lennon went on to start a music troupe ‘The Plastic Ono’ with Ono.

Lennon released an anti-war album called ‘Give Peace a Chance’. Songs like ‘Imagine’ and ‘Working Class Hero’ followed. Later on ‘Imagine’ became the anthem of Anti-war movements all over the world.

Lennon hated war. He refuted the war monging of U.K. and U.S.A. He became a dominant face in the Anti-Vietnam-War protest movements. With his wife, he conducted his ‘Bed In’ protest against the war. They staged their ‘Bed In’ protest before cameras for all the world to see in the semi-nude condition with the slogan ‘Make not War, Make Love’ held aloft. In 1971, he released the album ‘The War is Over’. On the occasion, he took out hoardings at great personal expense announcing ‘If You Like, The War is Over’ in seven important languages in nine different metropolitan cities of the world.

Lennon’s album ‘Some Time in New York City’ had songs on women’s rights and racial relations. It spoke of Britain and the struggle in Northern Ireland. It spoke of Lennon’s trouble in obtaining American Green Card. It was said that Lennon was close to Leftist Movements and that he made huge donations to Workers’ Revolutionary Party. He is supposed to have helped finance the Irish Republican Army too.

The American President of the time, Richard Nixon, tried to have Lennon expelled from U.S.A. He believed that his anti-war movements were a damper for his electoral success. He got initiated a move to expel Lennon from America accusing him of having been arrested in London for possessing Ganja. Lennon had to spend four years in courts. Lennon complained about the inhuman efforts to expel him from America in his television appearances and at protest meetings. In 1973, the U.S. Administration ordered Lennon to leave within 60 days.

Lennon reacted to this at Press Meet by announcing the creation of an Imaginary State called ‘Nutopia’. It will have no boundaries, no passports. When Nixon resigned following Watergate scandal, the expulsion order on Lennon was rescinded. Lennon secured his Green Card. When Jimmy Carter assumed office as President, Lennon was a Special Invitee to the Inaugural Dinner!

After a long period of estrangement from his eldest son Julian, he got close to him. He announced that he was going to retire from the music world and spend quality time with his new-born son Sean. But he could not keep away. He quickly came out with his new album ‘Double Fantasy’. He announced that he was setting out on a music journey that will go on for many years to come. Lennon was, then, on 40.

A few days after the release of this album, on 8th of December 1980, he gave an autographed copy of it to an ardent fan of his, named David Chapman. At 11 p.m. that night this same fan shot John Lennon on his back firing five rounds to kill him in front of his own house. The question why Lennon was killed remains a mystery to this day like the questions that haunted John Lennon in his life time.

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join me
And the world will be as one