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John Winston Lennon
1940 - 1980
 



The English musician, poet, and songwriter John Winston Lennon was a founder of The Beatles, the single most important and influential group in the history of rock 'n' roll music. He was murdered in 1980.
 

 

Childhood with Aunt Mimi

John Winston Lennon was born on October 9, 1940, during a German air-raid over Liverpool. His father, Alf Lennon, was a seaman, who deserted his wife Julia and their infant child. Over twenty years later when Alf Lennon tried to reenter his famous son's life, Lennon did not welcome him. Unable to raise Lennon alone, Julia asked her sister and brother-in-law, Mimi and George Smith, to care for her son. Tragically, an off-duty police officer knocked down and killed Lennon's mother in 1958.


Formative Years

Lennon attended Dovedale Primary in Woolton, and then Quarry Bank High School. He continued his education at Liverpool's College of Art, where he met his future wife Cynthia Powell. Lennon told Rolling Stone reporter Jann Wenner that his school teachers did not recognize his precocious artistic talent: "People like me are aware of their so-called genius at ten, eight, nine … I always wondered, "Why has nobody discovered me?" … I got … lost in being at high school."


Inspired by Rock 'n' Roll Greats

Inspired by the rock 'n' roll of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry in the mid 1950s, Lennon started learning the guitar. His mother had introduced the banjo to him, and he initially played the guitar like a banjo with the sixth string slack. Lennon never considered himself a technically gifted guitarist, but told Wenner that he could make it "howl and move." His early passion for rock 'n' roll never left him and he would continue to prefer it above all other forms of music.

Lennon formed his first group, the Quarrymen, in 1956. That year he met Paul McCartney, with whom he eventually collaborated in writing more than 150 songs. In its range and quality, this production far surpassed the achievement of other writers in the rock idiom. Lennon explained his complimentary song writing experience to a Playboy interviewer, "[McCartney] provided a lightness, an optimism, while I would always go for the sadness, the discords, the bluesy notes." Although many of their famous hits were written individually, they always credited them jointly. Lennon and McCartney made some early appearances as The Nurk Twins.


Genesis of The Beatles

By 1959 George Harrison had joined the new group, which by then had been renamed Johnny and the Moondogs. The group unsuccessfully auditioned for Carrol Levis at the Manchester Hippodrome. Still waiting for their first beak, they became the Silver Beatles in 1960. For the next two years they played local engagements in Liverpool, most frequently at the Cavern Club, where numerous English groups gained their initial success. The Beatles first appeared in Germany in 1960 and made their debut professional recording with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes in Hamburg. While playing at the Cavern, they came to the attention of Brian Epstein who heard them and asked if they needed a manager. In 1962 Ringo Starr joined the group. They signed with Parlophone Records and released their first record, "Love Me Do." Lennon married Cynthia Powell in August of 1962, and they had a son, John Charles Julian, the following year.


Number One

During 1963 the Beatles' popularity spread throughout England, and they reached #1 in the Melody Maker chart with "Please Please Me." In 1964 their records, including "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and "Do You Want to Know a Secret," were released in the United States. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" reached #1 in the United States. Their revolutionary artistic and commercial leadership in the world of rock music thereafter was unchallenged.


The Poet

James Rorondi and Jas Obrecht in Guitar Player asserted that "John was unquestionably the band's preeminent word-smith." He extended his writing skill beyond The Beatles. In 1964 he published a book of poems and fictitious anecdotes, In His Own Write; a second volume, called A Spaniard in the Works, followed a year later. Both works are remarkable in terms of their wit, inventive use of language, and prankish, sometimes diabolical sense of humor. The same verbal sensitivity also informs the Lennon-McCartney songs, which as a group marked new levels of sophistication, maturity, and intelligence in the development of rock lyrics. In 1967 Lennon appeared in How I Won the War, a film by Richard Lester, who had directed the Beatles' first two films, A Hard Day's Night and Help!


The Beatles' Continued Success

The success of The Beatles was unsurpassed. However, in March of 1966, Lennon infamously declared that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ, resulting in their temporary ban on American airwaves. The Beatles released "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" in May of 1967, which Lennon believed to be their most creative album. Although he had been taking LSD and other narcotics, Lennon claimed that "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was not inspired by drugs, but by a painting by his son, Julian. The girl with "kaleidoscope eyes" was the woman of his dreams, whom he found to be Yoko Ono.


Disillusionment and the End of The Beatles

Lennon, like the other Beatles, was interested in the teachings of the Maharishi, and he attended a two month instructor's course in transcendental meditation in early 1968. The band wholeheartedly embraced the Maharishi's teachings, but soon became disillusioned with him and transcendental meditation. However, this experience did not dull Lennon's interest in the counterculture. In October of 1968, Lennon was arrested with Ono, for the possession of hashish, and Lennon pled guilty and received a fine. Divorced from his first wife in November of 1968 on the grounds of adultery with Ono, Lennon married Ono, a Japanese environmental artist with whom he collaborated in both music and the visual arts. Ono and Lennon released "Unfinished Music Number One: Two Virgins" in November of 1968, featuring the couple naked on the cover. The couple spent their honeymoon protesting against the war in Vietnam. In the same year, and as a form of protest, Lennon returned to the British government the Member of the Order of the British Empire Medal, which Queen Elizabeth had awarded the Beatles in 1965. Meanwhile, the Beatles recorded their final album, "Abbey Road" in 1969 as the group began to disintegrate. Many fans blamed Ono for breakup, only strengthening Lennon's commitment to her. The Beatles made their last live public performance, an impromptu show on the rooftop of Apple Studios in January of 1969. In 1970 the group officially disbanded.


Lennon and Ono

Lennon and Ono moved to the United States in September of 1971. However, Lennon continued to be a high profile figure after the immigration service declared him ineligible for residency and served him with a deportation notice because of his 1968 drug conviction. The New York Supreme Court eventually reversed the order in 1975. In New York, Lennon recorded "Imagine." Lennon and Ono split for a year and a half, during which time Lennon moved to Los Angeles and lived with another woman. The couple reconciled in January of 1975 and Sean Ono Taro Lennon was born later that year on father John's birthday. In 1976 Lennon announced that he was going to be a househusband, and he did not record anything until 1980. After the hiatus, Lennon worked with Ono to produce "Double Fantasy," which many critics considered among Lennon's best work. Other songs recorded during the sessions for "Double Fantasy" were posthumously collected into an album called "Milk and Honey."


Lennon's Death

On December 8, 1980, Mark David Chapman, a deranged fan, murdered Lennon outside the Dakota in Manhattan. Lennon's death returned his music to worldwide prominence and propelled the song "Starting Over" to #1 in the United States and other countries. For a man who had lived an extraordinary life, his hopes for the future were modest. He told Wenner, "I hope we're a nice old couple living off the coast of Ireland or something like that - looking at our scrapbook of madness."
 


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John Lennon was the Beatles' most committed rock & roller, their social conscience, and their slyest verbal wit. After the group's breakup, he and his second wife, Yoko Ono, carried on intertwined solo careers. Ono's early albums presaged the elastic, screechy vocal style of late-'70s new wavers like the B-52's and Lene Lovich. L7 and Babes in Toyland have also been influenced by and benefited from Ono's attitudinal, emotionally trailblazing work. Lennon strove to break taboos and to be ruthlessly, publicly honest. When he was murdered on December 8, 1980, he and Ono seemed on the verge of a new, more optimistic phase. In the years since Lennon's death, many critics and music historians have revised their view of Ono to recognize her contributions as a pioneering woman rock musician and avant-garde artist.

Like the other three Beatles, Lennon was born to a working-class family in Liverpool. His parents, Julia and Fred, separated before he was two (Lennon saw his father only twice in the next 20 years), and Lennon went to live with his mother's sister Mimi Smith; when Lennon was 17 his mother was killed by a bus. He attended Liverpool's Dovedale Primary School and later the Quarry Bank High School, which supplied the name for his first band, a skiffle group called the Quarrymen, which he started in 1955. In the summer of 1956 he met Paul McCartney, and they began writing songs together and forming groups, the last of which was the Beatles. In 1994 a tape of John and the Quarrymen performing two songs, made July 6, 1957, the day he met McCartney, came to light. Recorded by Bob Molyneux, then a member of the church's youth club, it was auctioned at Sotheby's in September 1994, fetching $122,900 from EMI. On the tape, Lennon sings "Puttin' on the Style," then a Number One hit for skiffle king Lonnie Donegan, and "Baby Let's Play House," the Arthur "Hard Rock" Gunter song that had been recorded by Elvis Presley and a line of which ("I'd rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man") Lennon later used in the Beatles' "Run for Your Life."

Just before the Beatles' official breakup in 1970 (Lennon had wanted to quit the band earlier), Lennon began his solo career, more than half of which consisted of collaborations with Ono.

Ono was raised in Tokyo in a wealthy Japanese banking family. She was an excellent student (in 1952 she became the first woman admitted to study philosophy at Japan's Gakushuin University) and moved to the U.S. in 1953 to study at Sarah Lawrence College. After dropping out, she became involved in the Fluxus movement, led by New York conceptual artists including George Maciunas, La Monte Young, Diane Wakoski, and Walter De Maria. During the early '60s Ono's works (many of which were conceptual pieces, some involving audience participation) were exhibited and/or performed at the Village Gate, Carnegie Recital Hall, and numerous New York galleries. In the mid-'60s she lectured at Wesleyan College and had exhibitions in Japan and London, where she met Lennon in 1966 at the Indica Gallery.

The two began corresponding, and in September 1967 Lennon sponsored Ono's "Half Wind Show" at London's Lisson Gallery. In May 1968 Ono visited Lennon at his home in Weybridge, and that night they recorded the tapes that would later be released as Two Virgins. (The nude cover shots, taken by Lennon with an automatic camera, were photographed then as well.) Lennon soon separated from his wife, Cynthia (with whom he had one child, Julian, in 1964); they were divorced that November. Lennon and Ono became constant companions.

Frustrated by his role with the Beatles, Lennon, with Ono, explored avant-garde art, music, and film. While he regarded his relationship with Ono as the most important thing in his life, the couple's inseparability and Ono's influence over Lennon would be a source of great tension among the Beatles, then in their last days.

Three days after Lennon's divorce, he and Ono released Two Virgins, which, because of the full-frontal nude photos of the couple on the jacket, was the subject of much controversy; the LP was shipped in a plain brown wrapper. On March 20, 1969, Lennon and Ono were married in Gibraltar; for their honeymoon, they held their first "Bed-in for Peace," in the presidential suite of the Amsterdam Hilton. The peace movement was the first of several political causes the couple would take up over the years, but it was the one that generated the most publicity. On April 22, Lennon changed his middle name from Winston to Ono. In May they attempted to continue their bed-in in the United States, but when U.S. authorities forbade them to enter the country because of their arrest on drug charges in October 1968, the bed-in resumed in Montreal. That May, in their suite at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, they recorded "Give Peace a Chance"; background chanters included Timothy Leary, Tommy Smothers, and numerous Hare Krishnas. Soon afterward, "The Ballad of John and Yoko" (Number Eight, 1969) was released under the Beatles' name, though only Lennon and McCartney appear on the record.

In September 1969, Lennon, Ono, Eric Clapton, Alan White, and Klaus Voormann performed live as the Plastic Ono Band in Toronto at a Rock 'n' Roll Revival show. The appearance, released as Live Peace in Toronto, 1969, was Lennon's first performance before a live concert audience in three years. Less than a month later he announced to the Beatles that he was quitting the group, but it was agreed among them that no public announcement would be made until after the pending lawsuits involving Apple and manager Allen Klein were resolved. In October the Plastic Ono Band released "Cold Turkey" (Number 30, 1969), which the Beatles had declined to record, and the next month Lennon returned his M.B.E. medal to the Queen. In a letter to the Queen, Lennon cited Britain's involvement in Biafra and support of the U.S. in Vietnam and--jokingly--the poor chart showing of "Cold Turkey" as reasons for the return.

The Lennons continued their peace campaign with speeches to the press; "War Is Over! If You Want It" billboards erected on December 15 in 12 cities around the world, including Hollywood, New York, London, and Toronto; and plans for a peace festival in Toronto. When the festival plans deteriorated, Lennon turned his attention to recording "Instant Karma!" which was produced by Phil Spector, then also editing hours of tapes into the album that would be the Beatles' last official release, Let It Be. In late February 1970 Lennon disavowed any connection with the peace festival, and the event was abandoned. In April, McCartney--in a move that Lennon saw as an act of betrayal--announced his departure from the Beatles and released a solo LP. From that point on (if not earlier), Ono replaced McCartney as Lennon's main collaborator. The Beatles were no more.

At the time, much attention was focused on Ono's alleged role in the band's end. An Esquire magazine piece with the racist title "John Rennon's Excrusive Gloupie" was an extreme example of the decidedly antiwoman, anti-Asian backlash against Ono that she and Lennon endured for years to come. As Ono told Lennon biographer Jon Wiener in a late 1983 interview for his book Come Together: John Lennon in His Time, "When John and I were first together he got lots of threatening letters: 'That Oriental will slit your throat while you're sleeping.' The Western hero had been seized by an Eastern demon."

In late 1970 Lennon and Ono released their twin Plastic Ono Band solo LPs. Generally, Ono's '70s LPs were regarded as highly adventurous works and were thus never as popular as Lennon's. Lennon's contained some of his most personal and, some felt, disturbing work--the direct result of his and Ono's primal scream therapy with Dr. Arthur Janov. In March 1971 the non-album "Power to the People" hit Number 11, and that September, Lennon's solo LP Imagine was released; it went to Number One a month later. In late 1971 Lennon and Ono had resumed their political activities, drawn to leftist political figures like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Their involvement was reflected on Some Time in New York City (recorded with New York band Elephant's Memory), which included Lennon's most overtly political releases (his and Ono's "Woman Is the Nigger of the World," Ono's "Sisters, O Sisters"). The album sold poorly, only reaching Number 48.

Over the next two years Lennon released Mind Games (Number Nine) and Walls and Bridges (Number One), which yielded his only solo Number One hit, "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night," recorded with Elton John. On November 28, 1974, Lennon made his last public appearance, at John's Madison Square Garden concert. The two performed three songs, "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night," "I Saw Her Standing There," and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," released on an EP after Lennon's death. Next came Rock 'n' Roll, a collection of Lennon's versions of '50s and early-'60s rock classics like "Be-Bop-a-Lula." The release was preceded by a bootleg copy, produced by Morris Levy, over which Lennon successfully sued Levy. Rock 'n' Roll (Number Six, 1975) would be Lennon's last solo release except for Shaved Fish, a greatest-hits compilation.

Meanwhile, Lennon's energies were increasingly directed toward his legal battle with the U.S. Immigration Department, which sought his deportation on the grounds of his previous drug arrest and involvement with the American radical left. On October 7, 1975, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the deportation order; in 1976 Lennon received permanent resident status. On October 9, 1975, Lennon's 35th birthday, Ono gave birth to Sean Ono Lennon. Beginning in 1975, Lennon devoted his full attention to his new son and his marriage, which had survived an 18-month separation from October 1973 to March 1975. For the next five years, he lived at home in nearly total seclusion, taking care of Sean while Ono ran the couple's financial affairs. Not until the publication of a full-page newspaper ad in May 1979 explaining his and Ono's activities did Lennon even hint at a possible return to recording.

In September 1980 Lennon and Ono signed a contract with the newly formed Geffen Records, and on November 15 they released Double Fantasy (Number One, 1980). A series of revealing interviews were published, "(Just Like) Starting Over" hit Number One, and there was talk of a possible world tour.

But on December 8, 1980, Lennon, returning with Ono to their Dakota apartment on New York City's Upper West Side, was shot seven times by Mark David Chapman, a 25-year-old drifter and Beatles fan to whom Lennon had given an autograph a few hours earlier. Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at Roosevelt Hospital. At Ono's request, on December 14 a 10-minute silent vigil was held at 2 p.m. EST in which millions around the world participated. Lennon's remains were cremated in Hartsdale, New York. At the time of his death, Lennon was holding in his hand a tape of Ono's "Walking on Thin Ice."

Two other singles from Double Fantasy were hits: "Woman" (Number Two, 1981) and "Watching the Wheels" (Number 10, 1981). Double Fantasy won the Grammy for Album of the Year (1981). Three months after Lennon's murder, Ono released Season of Glass, an LP that deals with Lennon's death (his cracked and bloodstained glasses are shown on the front jacket), although many of the songs were written before his shooting. Season of Glass is the best known of Ono's solo LPs; it was the first to receive attention outside avant-garde and critical circles.

In 1982 Ono left Geffen for Polydor, where she released It's Alright, Milk and Honey (featuring six songs apiece by Lennon and Ono), and Starpeace. During the Starpeace Tour, Ono performed behind the Iron Curtain, in Budapest, Hungary, but the tour was not as warmly received elsewhere. None of these albums was particularly successful commercially, but in the wake of renewed appreciation for Ono's work, Rykodisc issued the six-CD box set Onobox in 1992 and five years later reissued on CD the entire Ono catalogue. In 1984 a number of artists, including Rosanne Cash, Harry Nilsson, Elvis Costello, Roberta Flack, and the nine-year-old Sean Lennon participated in Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him, a collection of Ono songs. Following a 1989 retrospective at New York's Whitney Museum, Ono's artwork found a new audience and has since been shown continuously throughout the world. In 1994 she wrote a rock opera entitled New York Rock, which ran off-Broadway for two weeks to largely positive reviews. Clearly autobiographical, the play was a love story featuring songs from every phase of her recording career.

In addition to pursuing her own projects, Ono has maintained careful watch over the Lennon legacy. In the mid-'80s she opened the Lennon archives to Andrew Solt and David Wolper for their 1988 film biography Imagine (Ono and Solt's documentary on the making of Imagine, Gimme Some Truth, was released in 2000). Coming as it did just a few months after the publication of Albert Goldman's scurrilous The Lives of John Lennon, some observers saw Imagine as a piece of spin control. In fact, however, it had been in the works for more than five years by then. Ono's decision not to sue Goldman (she stated that her lawyers warned that legal action would only bring more attention to the discredited tome) was itself controversial. Paul McCartney urged a public boycott of Goldman's book, which was almost universally reviled. Shortly after its publication, Sean asked to study abroad, and Ono accompanied him to Geneva, where they took up residence for a few years. On September 30, 1988, a week before Imagine's release, John Lennon received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It is located near the Capitol Records building.

On March 21, 1994, Ono, Sean Lennon, an Julian Lennon were present as New York City Mayor Ed Koch officially opened Strawberry Fields, a triangular section of Central Park dedicated to John's memory and filled with plants, rocks, and other objects that Ono had solicited from heads of state around the world. In 2000 there were a number of events commemorating Lennon's 60th birthday and the 20th anniversary of his death, including a major exhibition on Lennon and his work at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum. In 2002, Lennon's hometown renamed its airport Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

Ono sporadically released new music in the '90s and '00s, most notably 1995's Rising, a critically successful rock album on which Ono was backed by Ima, a trio led by Sean Lennon. 2001's Blueprint for a Sunrise was less acclaimed. In the early '00s, Ono's earlier work received a number of dance-oriented remixes by club DJs like Felix da Housecat, Basement Jaxx, Peter Rauhofer, Pet Shop Boys, and Danny Tenaglia, among others; these were collected on 2007's Open Your Box. The same year, Ono issued Yes, I'm a Witch, another, less dance-oriented remix/covers disc featuring reworkings by Peaches, Le Tigre, Cat Power, the Apples in Stereo, and Spiritualized's Jason Pierce, to name a few.
 


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If John Lennon had only been one of the four members of the Beatles, his artistic immortality would already have been assured. The so-called "smart Beatle," he brought a penetrating intelligence and a stinging wit both to the band's music and its self-presentation. But in such songs as "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," "Rain" and "In My Life," he also marshaled gorgeous melodies to evoke a sophisticated, dreamlike world-weariness well beyond his years. Such work suggested not merely a profound musical and literary sensibility - a genius, in short -- but a vision of life that was simultaneously reflective, utopian and poignantly realistic.

While in the Beatles, Lennon displayed an outspokenness that immersed the band in controversy and helped redefine the rules of acceptable behavior for rock stars. He famously remarked in 1965 that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus" - a statement that was more an observation than a boast, but that resulted in the band's records being burned and removed from radio station playlists in the U.S. He criticized America's involvement in Vietnam, and, as the Sixties progressed, he became an increasingly important symbol of the burgeoning counterculture.

But it was only after the breakup of the Beatles in 1970 that the figure the world now recognizes as "John Lennon" truly came into being. Whether he was engaging in social activism; giving long, passionate interviews that, once again, broadened the nature of public discourse for artists; defining a new life as a self-described "househusband;" or writing and recording songs, Lennon came to view his life as a work of art in which every act shimmered with potential meaning for the world at large. It was a Messianic attitude, to be sure, but one that was tempered by an innate inclusiveness and generosity. If he saw himself as larger than life, he also yearned for a world in which his ego managed at once to absorb everyone else and dissolve all differences among people, leaving a Zen-like tranquility and calm. "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one," he sang in "Imagine," which has become his best-known song and an international anthem of peace. "I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will live as one."

Such imagery, coupled with the tragedy of his murder in 1980, has often led to Lennon's being sentimentalized as a gentle prince of peace gazing off into the distance at an Eden only he could see. In fact, he was a far more complex and difficult person, which, in part, accounts for the world's endless fascination with him. Plastic Ono Band (1970), the first solo album he made after leaving the Beatles, alternates songs that are so emotionally raw that to this day they are difficult to listen to with songs of extraordinary beauty and simplicity. Gripped by his immersion in primal-scream therapy, which encouraged its practitioners to re-experience their most profound psychic injuries, Lennon sought in such songs as "Mother" and "God" to confront and strip away the traumas that had afflicted his life since childhood.

And those traumas were considerable. Lennon's mother, Julia, drifted in and out of his life during his childhood in Liverpool - he was raised by Julia's sister Mimi and Mimi's husband, George - and then died in a car accident when Lennon was seventeen. His father was similarly absent, essentially walking out on the family when John was an infant. He disappeared for good when Lennon was five, only to return after his son had become famous as a member of the Beatles. Consequently, Lennon struggled with fears of abandonment his entire life. When he repeatedly cries, "Mama, don't go/Daddy come home," in "Mother," it's less a performance than a scarifying brand of therapeutic performance art. And in that regard, as well as many others, it revealed the influence of Yoko Ono, whom Lennon had married in 1969, leaving his first wife, Cynthia, and their son Julian in order to do so.

The minimalist sound of Plastic Ono Band was significant too. Lennon had come to associate the elaborate musical arrangements of much of the Beatles' later work with Paul McCartney and George Martin, and he consciously set out to purge those elements from his own work. Co-producing with Ono and the legendary Phil Spector, he built a sonic environment that could not have been more basic - guitar, bass, drums, the occasional piano -- whatever was essential and absolutely nothing more. Lyrically, he turned away from the psychedelic flights and Joycean wordplay of such songs as "I Am the Walrus" and "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" - as well as his books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works -- and toward a style in which unadorned, elemental speech gathered poetic force through its very directness.

On his next album, Imagine (1971), Lennon felt confident enough to reintroduce some melodic elements reminiscent of the Beatles into his songs. Working again with Ono and Spector, he retains the eloquent plainspokenness of Plastic Ono Band, but allows textural elements such as strings, to create more of a sense of beauty. The album's title track alone ensured its historical importance; it is a call to idealism that has provided solace and inspiration at every moment of social and humanitarian crisis since it was written.

From there Lennon turned to a style that was a sort of journalistic agit-prop. Sometime In New York City (1972) is as outward-looking and blunt as Imagine was, for the most part, soft-focused and otherworldly. As its title suggests, the album reflects Lennon's immersion in the drama and noise of the city to which he had moved with Yoko Ono. And as its cover art suggests, the album is something like a newspaper - a report from the radical frontlines on the political upheavals of the day. His activism would create enormous problems for Lennon, however. The Nixon administration, paranoid about the possibility that a former Beatle might become a potent leader and recruiting tool of the anti-war movement, attempted to have Lennon deported. Years of legal battles ensued before Lennon finally was awarded his green card in 1976.

Lennon's political struggles unfortunately found their match in his personal life. He and Ono split up in the fall of 1973, shortly before the release of his album, Mind Games. He moved to Los Angeles and later described the eighteen months he spent separated from Ono as his "lost weekend," a period of wild indulgence and artistic drift. Like Mind Games, the albums he made during this period, Walls and Bridges (1974) and Rock N Roll (1975), are the expressions of a major artist seeking, with mixed results, to recover his voice. None of them lack charm, and their high points include the lovely title track of Mind Games; Walls and Bridges' "Whatever Gets You Through the Night," a rollicking duet with Elton John that gave Lennon his first number-one single as a solo artist; and the sweet nostalgia of Rock N Roll, a covers album that was Lennon's tribute to the musical pioneers of his youth. But none of those albums rank among his greatest work.

In 1975, Lennon reunited with Ono, and their son Sean was born later that year. For the next five years, Lennon withdrew from public life, and his family became his focus. Then, in 1980, he and Ono returned to the studio to work on Double Fantasy, a hymn to their life together with Sean. The couple was plotting a full-fledged comeback - doing major interviews to support the album's release, recording new songs for a follow-up, planning a tour. Then, shockingly, Lennon was shot to death outside the apartment building where he and Ono lived on the night of December 8, 1980.

Lennon's death broke hearts around the world. In the U.S., it recalled nothing so much as the assassination of John Kennedy in 1963, an event for which, ironically, the arrival of the Beatles a few months later had provided a welcome tonic. In the twenty-five years since, Lennon's influence and symbolic importance have only grown. His music, of course, will live forever. But he has survived primarily as a restless voice of change and independent thought. He is an enemy of the status quo, a bundle of contradictions who insisted on a world in which all the various elements of his personality could find free, untrammeled expression. Innumerable times since his death Lennon has been sorely missed. And just as many times and more he has been present - evoked by all of us who find ourselves and each other in the music he made and the vision that he articulated and tried to make real.
 

 

 

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