John Lennon was born in Liverpool, England on October 9, 1940. He was murdered in the streets of New York on December 7, 1980 by a delusional fan. He was married twice, to Cynthia Lennon (1962) and to Yoko Ono (1969). He had one son by Cynthia, Julian, born April 8, 1963, and a son, Sean, born October 9, 1975.
Lennon was a co-founder of the Beatles with Paul McCartney and George Harrison. He was 15 at the time. He and Paul McCartney became the 20th century's most popular, well-known and influential team of song writers and composers. After Paul McCartney, John Lennon wrote more number one hit singles than any other artist, with 27, according to Billboard. He authored three books: In His Own Write, published in 1964; A Spaniard in the Works, published in 1965, and the posthumous compilation, Skywriting by Word of Mouth (published in 1986). Yoko Ono also put together a book of Lennon's drawings and literary fragments, Ai: Japan Through John Lennon's Eyes: A Personal Sketchbook, in 1992.
Some say that Lennon personified the rebellious spirit of the 1960's. Lennon himself always said that he (and the other Beatles) did not "make" the movement, but rather gave voice to it. He became an activist against the war in Vietnam. He worked for peace, love and understanding – concepts that put him at odds with the conservative politicians in command in Britain and the United States at the time.
More than anything else, Lennon had a quick mind, a sharp and biting wit, and a brooding conscience that led him away from the mainstream of popular culture in the mid-1960's to embrace avant-garde creativity, under the influence of Yoko Ono, his second wife. It was also during his transition from "mop-top" to counterculture symbol that he began a struggle with heroin addiction. Biographers agree that Lennon's steady drift away from the Beatles started when he began using heroin and when Yoko Ono became more of a creative inspiration to him than his three Liverpool colleagues in the band.
After the Beatles disbanded, John Lennon and Yoko Ono pursued a career in avant-garde art and music. He became a successful solo performer, selling over 14 million albums in the US. Give Peace a Chance and Imagine became his trademark songs from this era.
Suddenly, in 1977, Lennon "retired" to raise his son, Sean. In 1980, he came out of retirement to release Double Fantasy. He was killed by an assassin's bullet a month later on the streets of New York City. The 1981 Grammy for Album of the Year was posthumously awarded to him for Double Fantasy. He has since been recognized by polls, magazines and critics as one of the most influential songwriters of his time, and he has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters' Hall of Fame.
Lennon's early family life was troubled. His father, who served in the merchant marine during World War II, disappeared for over a year, and when he returned, John's mother, Julia, did not accept him back. John was raised mainly by his Aunt Mimi, together with three other aunts. His mother came back to be an influence in his teenage years, until she was stuck and killed by an auto when he was 17. She gave John his first guitar in the year she died.
Though he was bright, Lennon was not interested in school, and did not do well. He attended the Liverpool College of Art briefly, where he met Cynthia Powell, whom he would get pregnant, and then marry. He dropped out in his last year to pursue a career in popular music.
On March 16, 1957, John Lennon formed "The Quarrymen," a rock and roll band that would transform into the "Beatles" with a short stint as "The Beat Brothers" in Hamburg in 1960-61. The first name of the band was to honor their high school, "Quarry Bank." Less than 3 months later, on July 6, 1957, Lennon met McCartney at the second concert performed by the Quarrymen. McCartney joined the group over his father's objection that an association with Lennon would be nothing but trouble. Little did he know. At Paul's home (20 Forthlin Road), the group rehearsed, and the song-writing collaboration of these two historic artists began. At age 18, Lennon wrote his first song, Hello Little Girl.
Soon after, George Harrison came on board as the lead guitarist. Lennon's friend from college, Stu Sutcliffe, became the bass player. Lennon's age, talent and wit made him the natural leader of the group. Pete Best joined as drummer when the Beatles were signed for a gig of 48 nights in Hamburg. Their success in Germany led to four more residential stints through December of 1962.
1962 was also the year in which the group acquired Brian Epstein as their manager. He provided perspective and maturity that the group otherwise lacked. He imposed a certain discipline and style (including the dress code) that was to make the group stand out among the many other so-called "Merseybeat" bands of the era.
Sutcliffe left the group to pursue his art studies in Germany and to stay by his German girlfriend. Paul moved to bass. On January 1, 1962, Epstein arranged for an audition for the record deal with Decca, which, though unsuccessful, led to the EMI contract in June of that year, and the entrance of George Martin into the Beatles' creative mix. Ringo Starr came in to the group in August in the place of Pete Best Then came the first hit singles, and the rest is well-known history.
The band's success was hard on Lennon. In 1965, he wrote Help!, perhaps his first unabashedly autobiographical song. John gained weight and began a long series of experimentation with drugs, starting with pot and LSD, but eventually winding up with a heroin habit. Later on he referred to it as his "Fat Elvis period," though it lasted for a long time. The mid-sixties were a period of great turbulence and trouble for him. After the "more popular than Jesus" controversy, the Beatles stopped touring, and John settled in to a period of great productivity.
During the Beatles' "middle period" he wrote the majority of the songs that would become his most well-known and successful. Nevertheless, he grew increasingly distant from his wife, Cynthia and their son, Julian. He also became less engaged with the Beatles, and his friendships with other band members suffered. Paul McCartney gradually became the leader and driving force behind the group. The death of Brian Epstein left the Beatles without the disciplinary touch that had help propel them to stardom, and the years 1966-67 proved difficult for every one of them. They produced their first unequivocal artistic failure, but also reached new artistic achievements as well with Sgt. Pepper, Revolver and The White Album.
By 1968, when the Beatles sought refuge in a spiritual retreat with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rakesh, India, John Lennon had begun his profound love affair with Yoko Ono, and had essentially lost his relationship with Cynthia. He married Yoko Ono on March 20, 1969.
When the Beatles set up their own label ("Apple Records") in February of 1968, Lennon was too distracted by his love for Yoko Ono and by his growing dependency on hard drugs to be much help with the business side of the music business. He had embraced the concept of "artistic freedom," which led him away from commercially-sensible projects towards the experimental and avant-garde. To compensate for the Beatles' lack of preparedness to be media executives, Allen Klein, formerly manager of the Rolling Stones, was hired to run Apple, and the divergence of viewpoints between the artist in Lennon and the businessman in Klein led to further alienation and conflict.
The last three studio albums of the Beatles took a heavy emotional toll on the group as a whole. They were especially trying for John. The personal rifts caused by the recording sessions for The White Album were supposed to be repaired by the "Get Back" sessions in early 1969, with Lennon being distant, and McCartney being the cheerleader. The two long-time friends and associates became increasingly unwilling to work together. They both knew in January of 1969 that the Beatles phenomenon had run its course. The Abbey Road project was started in April of 1969, but by September, John had departed for good.
It was not until May of 1970 that the announcement of John's departure was made public, around the time that Let It Be (the Beatles' last studio album) was released, and when McCartney's first solo album came out. Lennon deeply resented the way Paul had handled the break-up of the group, and remained embittered for the rest of his short life. Though he still maintained some good will for his other two band mates, George and Ringo, John always resented their attitude towards Yoko Ono, which he perceived (often correctly) as hostile, or at least uncomprehending. He later was quoted thus:
[George, Ringo and I] got fed up with being sidemen for Paul . . . After Brian Epstein died we collapsed. Paul took over and supposedly led us. But what is leading us when we went round in circles?
Lennon produced a highly emotional solo record later in 1970: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band in which he addressed issues from his youth in songs like Mother and Working Class Hero. The following year he came out with Imagine, a distinctly anti-war release that also included the song, How Do You Sleep? – an ad hominem attack on McCartney, though relations between the two began to improve to a degree later in the decade due to efforts by Paul for rapprochement and the passing of time.
He moved to New York the same year and in 1972 released Some Time in New York City, an album filled with political views about race, women's rights, the British presence in Northern Ireland, and his problems with US immigration. (The Nixon administration had tried to deport him, mainly because of his political views.)
Throughout the decade of the 1970's Lennon wrote and produced several albums, mainly in support of causes, but increasingly with less anger and more musical finesse. He wrote and performed in support of Ringo's solo career, he performed with Elton John, and wrote David Bowie's first number one hit in the US. In 1977 he suspended his work for three years to pay more attention to his wife and son. When he re-emerged into the public eye in November of 1980, it was to release Double Fantasy. A month later, on December 8, Mark David Chapman shot him in the back four times as Lennon and Yoko Ono arrived at their apartment building, the Dakota.
The cost of creative genius is almost always a troubled and turbulent personality. John Lennon was no exception. In spite of his protestations in favor of peace and love, rejecting war and violence, Lennon was himself prone to violence. During his years of marriage to Cynthia, he was physically abusive of her, often possessed by uncontrollable jealousies, and frequently cruel to her. He would also become enraged by comments from friends and acquaintances and attack them physically. He later said that it was Yoko's influence that helped him overcome his "male chauvinism," but it never was totally conquered.
Lennon also was a known womanizer. His wife, Cynthia, put up with his infidelity for years, as John would have one affair or another. Yoko Ono's pregnancy in 1968 (which did not go to term) was the last straw for her, and it was then that Cynthia filed for divorce. Yoko Ono also had to bear that same cross later on, when John took off with their assistant, May Pang, to California for an 18-month long tryst, which John later referred to as "The Lost Weekend." In 1975 he and Yoko Ono reconciled, and she bore him his second son, Sean. Lennon's increasing recourse to hard drugs was another symptom of his troubled spirits in the later part of the 1960's. Cynthia cited this, together with infidelity, as grounds for her divorce.