Today (October 9th) marks what would have been John Lennon's 72nd birthday. By nightfall tonight, hundreds of fans will have made the pilgrimage to Central Park's Strawberry Fields in New York City for a day of remembrance, sing-alongs, and celebrations dedicated to the memory of Lennon. Strawberry Fields, a triangular patch of land dedicated to Lennon by the city of New York and named after the Beatles' 1967 hit, sits directly across the street from the Dakota, Lennon's Manhattan apartment building, where he was gunned down on December 8th, 1980 at the age 40. Today is also Lennon and Yoko Ono's son Sean Lennon's 37th birthday.
FRIENDS & FAMILY REMEMBER JOHN LENNON
Although Yoko Ono has made it her mission to keep John Lennon's artwork and unreleased music available to fans, she has held off on releasing a box set of Lennon's acoustic home demos and work tapes made over the years. Despite that, she told us that as Lennon's home demos prove, he was just as powerful a performer on his own as he was fronting a full band backing him: "John didn't need anybody -- he could just do it. Because when he goes to the studio, before he goes to the studio, he's doing that at home and I think it's great, right? And then we go to the studio and we make the track and all that, and the track buries his voice, y'know? And he didn't need all of that."
Although Paul McCartney was devastated by the Beatles' split, he explained that Lennon found it to be the outlet needed to fully liberate his creativity: "It was very difficult for me. Yeah, it was my whole life, I think the others in their minds. . . I think John was lucky 'cause he got this new direction now with Yoko. I think John, all his life had wanted to cut loose. He'd been an art student, he sort of buckled down for the Beatles -- 'cause it was democratic, (and) I think he wanted to cut loose, he wanted to do all these things he'd read about artists in books doing and I think Yoko gave him that opportunity. And a lot of what they did together was very fine stuff, but I think when it came to the Beatles, it meant that he kinda had to leave the group. He couldn't do it within the group."
At the time of Lennon's death, on December 8th, 1980, he and Yoko had just released Double Fantasy, his first new music in over five years. Elvis Costello recalled that some fans were put off by Lennon emerging from his "Househusband years" both happy and mellower: "It wasn't exactly a secret that Lennon could write very emotional songs about love. He'd written very naked songs about childhood and about his love for his wife -- even before the Beatles broke up. And he wrote more on Imagine, and then after a period away, wrote these very dedicated songs that you hear on that, to his son and everything. And I suppose some people felt ill at ease with the . . Some people wanting him to be somehow not singing music that had a sense of contentment, by why wouldn't he? Y'know, why wouldn't he want those kind of qualities?"
In 2005, Lennon's first wife, Cynthia Lennon, released her second book on him, titled John, in which she portrayed him as a tormented soul who never got over his childhood abandonment by his parents, when he was left at the age of four to be raised by an aunt. She says that Lennon never overcame the circumstances of his childhood: "He was crippled inside. When you think about what he did as an art student -- all his drawings and cartoons, he would do cartoons of cripples, he would imitate disabled people because he was disabled inside himself."
Cynthia was asked how he was able to express his feelings of loss and self-doubt: "Well, usually with the music, with the lyrics. His expressions to the world. I mean he was saying to the world, 'Help! I need somebody.'"
Although Lennon was missing for most of son Julian Lennon's life, he was able to provide him with some of the basic skills he would build upon during his own musical career: "He taught me how to play guitar a little bit. Yeah, Dad taught me some of the early, more basic chords of rock n' roll. One thing I would have to say is that I absolutely love and respect him. Not necessarily as a father, but for the work he did and his humanitarian work."
George Harrison's first wife Pattie Boyd, who spent much time with Lennon in the '60s, said how she remembers him: "Very funny. Very funny. Cruel as well. If anybody got on the wrong side of him, or (if) they were complete idiots, then he wouldn't fail to let them know."
Pete Best, the Beatles' original drummer, says that, although he never spoke to Lennon after the group fired him in 1962, he cherishes his times in Liverpool and Hamburg with Lennon during their all-night drinking sessions: "(My) best friend in the band was always John. (I was) friends with all of them but I was closest to John. We had an affinity which started back at the opening of the Casbah Club in 1959, it grew when we went out to Germany, you know we were the last two propping up the bars together (laughs). And of course I got to know another side of John, which was a very tender and a very loving side -- which the world realized many, many years afterwards."
During his last TV interview in April 1975, Lennon told Tomorrow Show host Tom Snyder that the entire "Beatlemania" era was as confusing and disconcerting to the group as one would imagine: "It was like being in the eye of a hurricane, and you thought -- 'What's going on?' That was about as deep as it got: 'What is happening?' You'd suddenly wake up in the middle of one -- a concert or a happening -- and (think) 'How did I get here? Last thing I remember was playing music in a club and the next minute this."
Lennon's personal assistant, Fred Seaman, who worked for Lennon during the last two years of his life, recalls how the former Beatle's 1980 comeback came to happen: "The idea of recording evolved slowly over time. Initially John was told by Yoko that 1980 would be a good year to reemerge, for whatever. . . astrological reasons. John had a lot of accumulated material. Y'know, he wasn't necessarily dying to record again, but he had this material, he was restless -- he wanted to work. That was his reason for being."
May Pang, who was Lennon's girlfriend during his mid-'70s separation from Yoko, says that although Lennon was generally fun loving, he always meant business in the studio: "Most people don't realize that John's very particular about his way of working when he's a producer at his sessions. He liked to call for a certain time, and he wants to get ready -- he doesn't want hours of getting ready. And he would say, 'I don't want anybody to do anything until we get through this. It's hard enough to remember the lyrics and the songs and the music. So let's just do it and when we're done, you can do whatever you want.'"
Lennon's recording engineer Dennis Ferrante, who worked with Lennon throughout the 1970's on such albums as Imagine, Some Time In New York City, Mind Games, Walls And Bridges, and Rock 'N' Roll remembers Lennon for his talent and humor: "He knew what he wanted, he knew what sounded good, he wrote what he felt. One of the nicest guys I've ever worked with in the studio -- the more experimenting in the studio, the better he was. He was the most creative person I ever worked with. And he had a hell of a sense of humor, (laughs) he really had a dry wit. He really was very funny."
Lennon admitted that writing was a pretty excruciating process for him for many years: "Looking back at it, whenever I comment about writing, I always (laughs) seem to be suffering, whether it was writing 'A Day In The Life.' or whatever. When I comment on every little thing it's like I'm suffering. I always seem to have an intense time writing, thinking 'this is the end' and 'nothing's coming' and 'this is dumb' and how can. . . and y'know, 'this is no good' and all that business."
Paul McCartney recalled writing "A Day In The Life" with John Lennon: "For instance, 'A Day In The Life," John and I sat down and he had the opening verse. I think he had the opening idea, or we then took the idea from like The Daily Mirror or something. The Black-burn Lanc-ashire, the holes, Albert Hall all got mixed, a little poetic jumble that sounded nice. It was obviously a gorgeous song when he brought it. And I say, I was a big fan of John's, you gotta remember that. It wouldn't be, 'Yes professional person, we'll write this.' It would be, 'Can't wait to get my hands on this!'"
Jack Douglas, who produced Lennon's final sessions, explained that Lennon saw the 1980's as a positive and kinder era for society at large: "He saw the beginning of the '70s, as we all did as a time for 'me,' a time for us all to say 'now I'm going to do something for me. I've spent the '60s fighting for the cause' -- whatever 'cause it was. And he was looking at the '80s as a time to say 'I'm going to do something for me, but I'm not going to step on anyone else to do it. I'm not going to exclude anyone else.' And that's what he was looking for in the '80s."