John Lennon was one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, bot as solo artist and as a member of the Beatles his impact on both music and popular culture is immeasurably huge. Though he was tragically murdered 34 years ago his legacy still lives on and he is held by many as not only a musical icon, but a truly great man who preached love and understanding. However at the same time there are those who view him in a very negative light. Those who view him as a hypocrite who preached about a lack of materialism yet lived in a mansion, preached peace, but was bitter and even violent towards those closest to him. Over the years Lennon has been both defied and demonized by the media like no one else. However what was he really like? Was he a saint or a wife beater, a visionary or a phony? In this article I am going to take a look at the truth behind the myth of Lennon and get to the bottom of who he really was. I am going to look at both the good an the bad things he did and try and deconstruct the myths of Lennon as both a Christ like figure and as a monster at the same time.
Okay this is the most obvious, but still this is the main reason Lennon is so celebrated and beloved even after all of this time. As both a Beatle and a solo artist Lennon left behind an incredible body of work. His main talents lay with both his singing and song writing. I don’t think he was anything special as a musician. Don”t get me wrong I am not saying that he as untalented as a musician, but when compared with the other members of the Beatles Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr I don’t think he was quite as accomplished a musician. However I feel that he was the best lyricist of all of them, though the other Beatles were no slouch’s in that department either. Lennons’s lyrics I feel are the most interesting. Lennon was capable of writing songs that were very poignant and moving like “Hide your love away” which is one of the Beatles most sombre songs or “Beautiful boy (Darling Sean)” a truly gorgeous song about Lennons second son which is one I feel that many people could relate too, particularly the line “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”. At the same time however Lennon was capable of writing songs that could pack quite a punch and touch on very serious and even controversial issues. He was certainly the most daring of the Beatles and often gave them their edge. Songs like “You say you want a revolution” pushed the boundaries as did Lennon’s most famous solo effort “Imagine”. Some people often see “Imagine” as a somewhat preachy, soft song, but it is actually quite bold when you think about it as it tells us that religion has no place in the perfect world that Lennon imagines. Religion in Lennons opinion simply divides people and is a negative force in the world that should be abolished. Lennon is telling us that the sooner we get rid of religion and accept our own mortality the better off we will all be. Such a song even nowadays would cause extreme offence never mind back in the 1970’s. Lennons magnus opus (in my opinion) “Working Class Hero” was banned for its use of the F word on many stations. No song demonstrates Lennons talent better than “Working Class Hero” for me. This song I feel really holds nothing back and unlike “Imagine” it is a more angry song. Whilst “Imagine” shows us what a perfect world could be like, “Working Class Hero” shows us what is wrong with the one we live in now. The lyric “keep you doped with religion and sex and tv and you think you’re so clever and classless and free, but you’re still fucking peasants as far as a I can see” rings eerily true nowadays in the United Kingdom when we have highest gap between the rich and the poor since the 13th century. “Gimme Some Truth” similarly has a real angry tone with Lennon spitting out “so sick and tired of hearing things from uptight condescending mama’s little chauvinists”. Many of Lennon’s songs could be quite bitter and angry ironically despite the fact that some of his most famous songs included the likes of “Give peace chance” and “All you need is love” his songs could also have quite a scathing attitude to them as well such as “How do you sleep” which was directed at Paul McCartney and dragged him over coals metaphorically speaking of course. At the same time Lennon’s songs could be quite introspective and thoughtful like “Jealous Guy” where Lennon bare his own failings for the audience to hear. Finally Lennon could also write songs that were complete nonsense yet still be great. “The Benefit of Mr Kite” is one such example. Its lyrics mean nothing, they are literally taken from a poster, but the way Lennon uses them make them sound like something whimsical and deep when they are literally just nothing. Lennon seemed to have a knack for creating songs out of the simplest things like a poster for Mr Kite or his sons drawing for “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. Arguably the best example of this type of song however is “I am the Walrus”. Lennon intentionally made the lyrics nonsensical as he was tired of people constantly analysing his songs and thought it would be funny to write one that means nothing. When you look at the lyrics to “I am the Walrus” they are just gibberish complete and total gibberish, but Lennon is able to make them hold together in such a way that not only does he get away with it but it becomes arguably one of the best Beatles songs. There was really no type of song that Lennon could not write. He alongside Paul McCartney is part of one of the most successful songwriting partnerships in the history of music if not the most successful one.
He was honest
Many have accused Lennon of being a hypocrite who tried to paint a picture of himself as a perfect prophet sent to save the world from its problems. However in truth whilst Lennon did not always live by the beliefs he claimed to have its true he was always very honest at least about his shortcomings. He never at any point claimed to be perfect and indeed we only know of many of his faults because he himself admitted to them. He admitted to being violent at times and angry stating that was why he preached peace ” It is the most violent people who go for love and peace. Everythings the opposite.” Lennon never claimed that everyone should look up to him and he would have been horrified at the thought of himself being looked on as a martyr after his death. He simply preached what he believed in, but was never afraid to admit the awful things he had done in the past and we can’t really ask more of him as a person rather than an icon than that.
He was generous to his fans
Lennon was very open and caring to his fans. Indeed sadly that was to prove to be his undoing as his killer Mark Chapman had originally intended to kill Elizabeth Taylor but decided to kill Lennon as Lennon was more appraochable and thus an easier target. There is the famous footage of Lennon taking in a young troubled fan on “Imagine” and having breakfast. He was always very conscious not to disappoint his fans as he did not want to dissapoint them, but at the same time he did not want them to ever think to much of him and was always the first to point out to those that would call him a legend that he was not just an ordinary guy who got lucky.
He Supported Many Good Causes
Though he did make some mistakes such as supporting the supposed innocence of James Hanratty he nevertheless gave his time and money to many noteworthy causes too. He supported the anti war movement, his efforts in doing so where so great that Richard Nixon would later attempt to deport him fearing his influence. He also supported John Sinclair who had been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for possession of Marijuana and the Clydeside UCS workers work in of 1971. He also supported both the civil rights movement and donated money to the Black Panthers and also supported LGBT rights too. Lennon also gave money to the International Marxist Group too. “Give Peace a Chance” was sung by 500, 000 demonstrators in Washngton DC.
He had integrity and stuck by his beliefs
John Lennon was often ridiculed for many of his peaceful demonstrations. Nevertheless he always stuck by his beliefs and defended his actions against some of his harshest critics. One of the most famous examples of this was when Al Capp interviewed Lennon during the Bed in Peace and ridiculed Lennon and his wife Yoko. Lennon despite some harsh criticism from Capp keeps his cool throughout. As Paul McCartney himself said Capp was a “bitter old git” and he insulted Yoko Lennons wife “and that’s the one thing you don’t do” but Lennon holds his own and keeps his cool with him.
He made those awful experimental albums with Yoko
Lennons solo career actually began before he left the Beatles. However no one knows that because they were so awful. They don’t even count as music just a lot of pretentious pseudo art and screeching. It says a lot that they barely sold anything even when released at the height of Beatlemania.
His feud with Paul McCartney
There were faults on both sides here, but Lennon ultimately came off looking worse here as did George Harrison. McCartney at least had the class not to insult his former bandmates in public, sadly the same cannot be said of Lennon.
He was homophobic and racist?
Sadly during his youth Lennon held many prejudices. He once attacked a man who called him gay as a joke violently and he also used to tease Brian Epstein for being both Jewish and Gay. However it must be remembered that Lennon lived in less enlightened times. Homosexuality was still illegal after all and racist attitudes wee still prevelant. Its not so unreasonable to assume that someone born and raised in this type of environment would hold those beliefs too. In his later years Lennon certainly no longer held those beliefs and was ashamed to have held them in his youth thus I don’t feel it is fair to call him a racist by todays standards. He held them when he was younger as many people did, but as times changed and became more progressive so did he. If he had still held those beliefs in the 70’s then fair enough he would have been a racist, but I don’t think its fair to call him one. However still this is one thing you will often see written about him nonetheless.
He was a wife beater?
Again this is something that is written about him regularly but its not entirely true. Lennon did slap his first wife Cynthia across the face once when they were teenagers. He spent many months apologizing until she took him back and it never happened again. He never hit Yoko his second wife either or any of his other many girlfriends, though there was apparently one occasion where while intoxicated by drugs he attack May Pang by grabbing her throat. However other than these two incidents there are no records from any of his girlfriends of him being violent and both of wives hate the idea of him being called a wife beater. The myth of Lennon repeteadly beating his wives comes from the book written many years after Lennons death written by Albert Goldman. It was pure fabrication and all who knew Lennon renounced it including Cynthia Lennon, Yoko and Paul McCartney. The book among other things claimed that Lennon had beaten Yoko so badly he had given her a miscarriage. It is complete fabrication. Cynthia has said she finds it offensive not just for Lennons sake but for her own when people say Lennon beat his wife as she would never have stayed with him if he had beaten her. After the one time he slapped her she left him for months until he convinced her he had changed and then it never happened again.
Don’t believe me here are interviews with both of Lennons wives where they deny him being a wife beater.
the bottom video also debunks another myth that Lennon never looked after Sean Lennon in the last five years of his life.
However whilst Lennon was not a wife beater it would be wrong to say that he was not at times cruel to his wives. He cheated on both of them and left Cynthia Lennon a very small amount of money to look after their son whom he never saw again for a number of years. However again whilst Lennons actions are inexcusable it should be noted that just about every rock star man or woman has affairs. All of the Beatles themselves did too. Paul McCartney never cheated on Linda but he cheated on his other long time girlfriends. George Harrison also ha an affair with Ringo’s wife too. Thus in this respect Lennon was not any different to your typical 60’s or 70’s or 80’s or 90’s or 00’s rock star. Lennon did have a very sweet and loving side and many of his long time girlfriends describe him as caring and romantic, however there is no denying that his infidelities were notorious and his marriage to Cynthia ended on less than pleasant terms.
He neglected his first born son
This is true and is definitely the worst thing Lennon ever did. Lennon even before he left Cynthia was never there for Julian. He was constantly away on tour and only saw him a few times before he left after which he didn’t see him for many years. Julian says the few times he did see his dad he was often cold and at times emotionally abusive to him.
Here is an interview with Julian Lennon
As you can see Julian was affected very deeply by his father and still has some very deep rooted personal problems from his childhood. Julian would later call his dad a “hypocrite” and said that he felt that Paul McCartney was more of a dad to him than his actual dad. He was also upset when Lennon apparently described Julian as “coming out of a whisky bottle”. However in all fairness to Lennon in the full quote he does not actually say anything bad about Julian he simply says that he never intended to have kids when he had Julian and that he wasn’t able to handle it as he was too young and immature and at the height of his fame whilst when he had Sean he was older and now wanted to have kids. Lennon also insisted that he loved Julian every bit as much as Sean and that he and Julian would have a relationship in the future. Sadly a few hours after saying this he was shot dead and thus we will never know if he would have reconciled with his son. It should also be said that John and Julian did reconcile in their later years to some extent. In the mid 70’s the two reconnected when Lennon was involved with May Pang and John even encouraged his sons interest in music. Julian says of their time together during this period “Dad and I got on a lot better then. We had a lot of fun, laughed a lot and had a great time in general when he was with May Pang.” Julian has also finally found it in himself to forgive his father too. The way I see it if Julian can forgive his father then its not our place to still judge him for it.
John Lennon was ultimately human like the rest of us. He had many good and bad qualities and whilst it is true that people maybe do look up to him too much at the same time its not fair to completely judge him as a horrible, horrible person. Many of the wild stories of him being a wife beater and a misogynistic monster are complete lies. With Lennon we have to take the good with the bad and realize that nobody is perfect.