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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Lennon, John (1940 - 1980)
"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first -- rock and roll or Christianity."

-- John Lennon


John Winston Ono Lennon was best known as a singer, songwriter, poet and guitarist for the English music group The Beatles. His creative career also included the roles of solo musician, peace activist, artist, actor and author. As half of the legendary Lennon-McCartney songwriting team, he heavily influenced the development of rock music, leading it towards more advanced multi-layered arrangements, mature lyrical sentiments, and musical eclecticism.

He is recognised as one of the greatest music icons of the 20th century and many of his songs, such as "Imagine" and "Strawberry Fields Forever", are often ranked among the best songs in popular music history. In 2002, the BBC conducted a vote to discover the 100 Greatest Britons of all time, and the British public voted Lennon into 8th place.

Youth
Lennon was born John Winston Lennon in Liverpool, on 9 October 1940. Both of his parents had musical backgrounds and experience, though neither pursued music seriously. Lennon lived with his parents in Liverpool until his father Alfred (nicknamed Alf, and later "Freddy"), a merchant seaman, walked out on the family when John was five years old (John later met with his father during his musical career). His mother Julia (under pressure from the local authorities) decided that she was unable to care for her son, and so gave him to her sister Mimi. Throughout the rest of his childhood and adolescence, Lennon lived with his aunt Mimi and her husband George at Mendips, 251 Menlove Avenue, Liverpool.

Like much of the population of Liverpool, Lennon had some Irish heritage. His grandfather, James Lennon, was born in Dublin in 1858; and his grandmother, Mary (née Maguire), was Irish-born as well. John Lennon's mother, Julia (née Stanley), was of Welsh descent. Although she never knew in her lifetime, Julia was in fact lineally descended from Thomas, Lord Stanley (1435-1504), who dominated the Liverpool/Chester region and who commanded a wing of the army which overthrew Richard III at Bosworth Field in August 1485. While Lennon had little exposure to his Irish heritage growing up, he came to identify with it later in life. He lived in the working class section of Liverpool, from which the Beatles emerged.

Lennon developed severe myopia as he grew up and was obliged to wear glasses in order to see clearly. During his early Beatles career, Lennon wore contacts or prescription sunglasses (or simply "toughed it out" without them).

In 1966, on the set of How I Won The War, Lennon was issued a pair of National Health spectacles. He continued to wear these round, wire-rimmed glasses which became part of his iconic public image.

Although John lived apart from his mother, he still kept in contact with her through regular visits. During Lennon's younger years, Julia cultivated his lifelong interest in music by teaching him how to play the banjo. She had actually learned the instrument from John's father when they were dating, and when John began to play guitar, he started out playing the same four-string chords, leaving the bass strings untuned. It wasn't until Paul McCartney entered John's life that John began to learn proper guitar chords.

On 15 July 1958, when John was 17, Julia was killed after being struck by a car driven by a drunk off-duty police officer. Julia's death was one of the factors that cemented his friendship with McCartney, who had lost his own mother to breast cancer in 1956, when he was 14.

The time of his mother's death was a very emotionally depressing time. Years later, Lennon wrote the songs "Julia", "Mother" and "My Mummy's Dead" regarding his mother, as well as naming his firstborn son, Julian, after her.

From 1951 to 1955, John attended his middle school, Kent Middle School, by which he explained as the start of his misery. He started making cartoons mocking the teachers in an act of rebellion.

Though failing in grammar school, Lennon was accepted into the Liverpool College of Art with help from his school's headmaster and his Aunt Mimi. It was there that he met his future wife, Cynthia Powell. Lennon would steadily grow to hate the conformity of art school, which proved to be little different from his earlier school experience, and ultimately dropped out.

He instead devoted himself to music, inspired by American Rock 'n' Roll and singers like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Little Richard. He had started a skiffle band in grammar school called The Quarry Men (after his alma mater, Quarry Bank School). With the addition of Paul McCartney and George Harrison, the band changed to playing rock 'n' roll, taking the name "Johnny and The Moondogs", followed by "The Silver Beetles" (a tribute to Buddy Holly's Crickets), which was later shortened to The Beatles. He married Powell in 1962, after she became pregnant with Julian.

Role in The Beatles
Lennon had a profound influence on rock and roll and in expanding the genre's boundaries during the 1960s. He is widely considered, along with songwriting partner Paul McCartney, as one of the most influential singer-songwriter-musicians of the 20th century. Many of the songs written exclusively or primarily by Lennon, however, are more introspective — often in the first person — and more personal than McCartney's.

His most surreal pieces of songwriting, "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "I Am the Walrus", are fine examples of his unique style. Lennon's partnership in songwriting with McCartney many times involved him in complementing and counterbalancing McCartney's upbeat positive outlook with the other side of the coin, as one of their songs, "Getting Better" demonstrates:

McCartney: I've got to admit it's getting better, it's getting better all the time.
Lennon: Can't get no worse!

"More popular than Jesus" controversy
Lennon often spoke his mind freely and the press was used to querying him on a wide range of subjects. On 4 March 1966 in an interview for the London Evening Standard with Maureen Cleave, who was a friend of his, Lennon made an off the cuff remark regarding religion. "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. … I don't know what will go first—Rock and Roll or Christianity. We're more popular than Jesus now. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me." The article was printed and nothing came of it, until five months later when a teen magazine called Datebook reprinted part of the quote on the front cover.

A firestorm of protest swelled from the southern U.S. Bible Belt area, as conservative groups publicly burned Beatles records and memorabilia. Radio stations banned Beatles music and concert venues cancelled performances. Even the Vatican got involved with a public denunciation of Lennon's comments. On 11 August 1966, the Beatles held a press conference in Chicago, Illinois, in order to address the growing furor.

Lennon: "I suppose if I had said television was more popular than Jesus, I would have gotten away with it, but I just happened to be talking to a friend and I used the words "Beatles" as a remote thing, not as what I think - as Beatles, as those other Beatles like other people see us. I just said "they" are having more influence on kids and things than anything else, including Jesus. But I said it in that way which is the wrong way."
Reporter: "Some teenagers have repeated your statements - "I like The Beatles more than Jesus Christ." What do you think about that?"
Lennon: "Well, originally I pointed out that fact in reference to England. That we meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion at that time. I wasn't knocking it or putting it down. I was just saying it as a fact and it's true more for England than here. I'm not saying that we're better or greater, or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is. I just said what I said and it was wrong. Or it was taken wrong. And now it's all this."
Reporter: "But are you prepared to apologise?"
Lennon: "I wasn't saying whatever they're saying I was saying. I'm sorry I said it really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. I apologise if that will make you happy. I still don't know quite what I've done. I've tried to tell you what I did do but if you want me to apologise, if that will make you happy, then OK, I'm sorry."

The governing members of the Vatican accepted his apology and the furor eventually died down, but constant Beatlemania, mobs, crazed teenagers, and now a press ready to tear them to pieces over any quote was too much to handle. The Beatles soon decided to stop touring, and indeed, never performed a scheduled concert again. From this point onward The Beatles were a studio band (perhaps the first ever). Freed from the problem of having to compose music they could recreate live on stage, they could explore the technological limits of music and create unique and original sounds.

Lennon and his family controversy
It is generally acknowledged that Lennon slapped his first wife, Cynthia, at least once in the early years of their relationship, as confirmed in her book, "John". The rise of Beatlemania and rigours of touring, of course, only furthered the strain on the relationship. He was also very distant to his son, Julian, who felt closer to Paul McCartney than to his father. As the younger Lennon later said, "I've never really wanted to know the truth about how dad was with me. There was some very negative stuff talked about me — like when he said I'd come out of a whiskey bottle on a Saturday night. Stuff like that. You think, where's the love in that? Paul and I used to hang about quite a bit — more than dad and I did. We had a great friendship going and there seems to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing together at that age than there are pictures of me and my dad."

Lennon and Ono
On 9 November 1966, after their final tour ended and right after he had wrapped up filming a minor role in the film How I Won the War, Lennon visited an art exhibit of Yoko Ono's at the Indica art gallery in London. Lennon began his love affair with Ono in 1968 after returning from India and leaving his estranged wife Cynthia, who filed for divorce later that year. Lennon and Ono became inseparable in public and private, as well as during Beatles recording sessions.

The press was extremely unkind to Ono, posting a series of unflattering articles about her, one even going so far as to call her "ugly." This infuriated Lennon, who rallied around his new partner and said publicly that there was no John and Yoko, but that they were one person, JohnAndYoko. These developments led to friction with the other members of the group, and heightened the tension during the 1968 White Album sessions.

At the end of 1968, Lennon and Ono performed as Dirty Mac on The Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus.

During his last two years as a member of The Beatles, Lennon spent much of his time with Ono on public displays protesting the Vietnam War. He sent back the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) he received from Queen Elizabeth II during the height of Beatlemania "in protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing and support of America in Vietnam," adding as a joke, "as well as 'Cold Turkey' slipping down the charts."

On 20 March 1969, Lennon and Ono were married in Gibraltar, and spent their honeymoon in Amsterdam in a "Bed-In" for peace. Behind their bed were posters displaying the words "Hair Peace. Bed Peace." They followed up their honeymoon with another "Bed-In" for peace, this time held in Montreal at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. During the second "Bed-In" the couple recorded "Give Peace a Chance", which would go on to become an international anthem for the peace movement. They were mainly patronised as a couple of eccentrics by the media, yet they did a great deal for the peace movement, as well as for other pet causes, such as feminism and racial harmony.

As with the "Bed-In" campaign, Lennon and Ono usually advocated their causes with whimsical demonstrations, such as Bagism, first introduced during a Vienna press conference. Shortly after, Lennon changed his middle name from Winston to Ono to show his "oneness" with his new wife. Lennon wrote "The Ballad of John and Yoko" about his marriage and the subsequent press it generated.

The Break-up of The Beatles
The failed Get Back/Let It Be recording/filming sessions did nothing to improve relations within the band. After both Lennon and Ono were injured in the summer of 1969 in a car accident in Scotland, Lennon arranged for Ono to be constantly with him in the studio (including having a full-sized bed rolled in) as he worked on The Beatles' last album, Abbey Road. While the group managed to hang together to produce one last superior musical work, soon thereafter business issues related to Apple Corps came between them.

Lennon decided to quit The Beatles but was talked out of saying anything publicly. Phil Spector's involvement in trying to revive the Let It Be material then drove a further wedge between Lennon (who supported Spector) and McCartney (who opposed him). Though the split would only become legal some time later, Lennon and McCartney's partnership had come to a bitter end. McCartney soon made a press announcement, declaring he had quit The Beatles, and promoting his new solo record.

In 1970 Jann Wenner recorded an interview with Lennon that was played on BBC in 2005. The interview reveals his bitterness towards Paul McCartney and the hostility he felt that the other members held towards Yoko Ono. Lennon said: "One of the main reasons the Beatles ended is because . . . I pretty well know, we 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? Paul had the impression we should be thankful for what he did, for keeping The Beatles going. But he kept it going for his own sake."

Solo career
Of the four former Beatles, Lennon had perhaps the most varied recording career. While he was still a Beatle, Lennon and Ono recorded three albums of experimental and difficult music, Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins, Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions, and Wedding Album.

His first 'solo' album of popular music was Live Peace in Toronto 1969, recorded in 1969 (prior to the breakup of The Beatles) at the Rock 'n' Roll Festival in Toronto with The Plastic Ono Band, which included Eric Clapton and Klaus Voormann. He also recorded three singles in his initial solo phase, the anti-war anthem "Give Peace a Chance", "Cold Turkey" (about his struggles with heroin addiction) and "Instant Karma!"

Following The Beatles' split in 1970, he released the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album, a raw, brutally personal record, heavily influenced by Arthur Janov's Primal therapy, which Lennon had undergone previously. The influence of the therapy, which consists literally of screaming out one's emotional pain, is most obvious on the songs "Mother" ("Mama don't go!/Daddy come home!") and "Well Well Well".

The centrepiece is "God," in which he lists all the things he does not believe in, ending with "Beatles". His growing political radicalisation is especially evident on the song "Working Class Hero," whose use of the word "fucking" got it banned from the airwaves. Many consider "Plastic Ono Band" to be a major influence on later hard rock and punk music. Lennon continued this effort to demythologise his old band with a long, confrontational interview published in Rolling Stone magazine.

This was followed in 1971 by Imagine, his most successful solo album, which alternates in tone between dreaminess and anger. The title track has become an anthem for anti-war movements, and was matched in image by Lennon's "white period" (white clothes, white piano, white room, etc).

Perhaps in reaction, his next album, Some Time in New York City, was loud, raucous, and explicitly political, with songs about prison riots, racial and sexual relations, the British role in the sectarian troubles in Northern Ireland, and his own problems in obtaining a United States Green Card. Lennon had been interested in left-wing politics since the late 1960s, and was said to have given donations to the Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party.

It was during the period of the recording of this album that his links to this group were perhaps at their strongest. On 30 August 1972 Lennon and his backing band Elephant's Memory staged two benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York; it was to be his last full-length concert appearance. Lennon and Ono also did a week-long guest co-host stint on the Mike Douglas Show, in an appearance that showed Lennon's wit and humour still intact.

In 1972, Lennon released an anti-sexism song, "Woman Is the Nigger of the World", implying that as black people were discriminated against in some countries, so were women globally. Radio refused to broadcast the song, and it was banned nearly everywhere, although he managed to play it to television viewers during his second appearance on The Dick Cavett Show.

Lennon rebounded in 1973 with Mind Games, which featured a strong title tune and some vague mumblings about a "conceptual country" called "Nutopia", which satirised his ongoing immigration case. His most striking song of that year was the wry "I'm the Greatest," which he wrote for Ringo Starr's very successful Ringo album.

In 1973, Lennon's personal life fell into disrepair when Yoko kicked John out of the house. Yoko approached May Pang, their personal assistant at the time, with a unique proposal. Yoko, who thought May Pang to be an "ideal companion" for John, asked her to "be with John and to help him out and see to it that he gets whatever he wanted."

John and May soon moved to Los Angeles which had been dubbed the "lost weekend" though it lasted until the beginning of 1975. During their time together, May encouraged John to spend time with his son, Julian Lennon, and became friends with Cynthia Lennon. Though John's public drunkenness had been the subject of gossip during 1974, Pang wrote that John was usually sober in his private life and created a large body of work.

Despite alleged episodes of drunkenness, Lennon put together the well-received album, Walls and Bridges, which featured a collaboration with Elton John on the up-tempo number one hit "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night". Another top ten hit from the album was the Beatlesque reverie "#9 Dream". Also, on the album, he made his last reference to primal therapy in his song "Nobody Loves You (When You're Down and Out)", referring to Janov as "the one-eyed witch doctor leading the blind."

Lennon capped the year by making a surprise guest appearance at an Elton John concert in Madison Square Garden where they performed "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" and "I Saw Her Standing There" together. It was to be his last-ever concert appearance.

In 1975, Lennon released the Rock 'n' Roll album of cover versions of old rock and roll songs of his youth. This project was complicated by Phil Spector's involvement as producer and by several legal battles; the result received generally negative reviews, though it yielded a powerful, lauded cover of "Stand by Me".

At this point Yoko was pregnant with what would be their first child, and Lennon — saddened by the fact that due to Beatlemania he had never gotten to experience fatherhood with his first son Julian — retired from music and dedicated himself to family life. This was made easier in 1976 when his US immigration status was finally resolved favourably, after a years-long battle with the Nixon administration that included an FBI investigation involving surveillance, wiretaps, and agents literally following Lennon around as he travelled. Lennon claimed the investigation was politically motivated.

Also in 1975, David Bowie achieved his first US number one hit with "Fame", co-written by Bowie, Lennon (who also contributed backing vocals) and Carlos Alomar.

Lennon's retirement, which he began following the birth of his second son, Sean in 1975, lasted until 1980, when Lennon wrote an impressive amount of material during a lengthy Bermuda vacation and began thinking about a new album. For this comeback, he and Ono produced Double Fantasy, a concept album dealing with their relationship. The name came from a flower Lennon saw at the Bermuda Botanical Gardens; he liked the name, and thought it was a perfect description of his marriage to Yoko. The plant still exists.

The Lennons once again began a series of interviews and video footage to promote the album. Although Lennon would say in interviews for the album that he had not touched a guitar for five years, several of the tunes, such as "I'm Losing You," and "Watching the Wheels," had been worked on at home in the Dakota in various stages with different lyrics from 1977 onward.

The lyrics and Yoko's songs, though, for the most part, were created as they stated. (Just Like) Starting Over" began climbing the singles charts, and Lennon started thinking about a brand new world tour. Lennon also commenced work on Milk and Honey which he would leave unfinished. It was some time before Ono could bring herself to complete it.

Towards the end of his life, Lennon expressed his displeasure with the scant credit he was given as an influence on George Harrison in the latter's autobiography I Me Mine. According to Yoko, he was also unhappy that Paul McCartney's Beatles songs, such as "Yesterday", "Hey Jude" and "Let It Be" were more covered than his own contributions. In a Playboy interview Lennon claimed that his Beatles songs were sabotaged, and that the group put more work and attention into McCartney's songs.


Murder
At 10:50 p.m. on 8 December 1980, Mark David Chapman shot and fatally wounded John Lennon in front of Lennon's residence, the Dakota when Lennon and Ono returned from recording Ono's single "Walking on Thin Ice" for their next album.

That same day, at around 5 p.m., John and Yoko left their apartment in the historic Dakota on Central Park West in New York City to go to their recording studio to supervise the transfer of some of the Double Fantasy album numbers to singles. David Geffen, their record producer and friend, said that more than 700,000 copies of the album had already been sold up to that time.

As they were leaving the Dakota, they were approached by several people who were seeking autographs. Among them was a man who would be later identified as Mark David Chapman. John Lennon scribbled an autograph on the cover of Double Fantasy for Chapman.

The Lennons spent several hours at the studio on West 44th Street, returning to the Dakota at about 10:50 p.m. They exited their limousine on the 72nd Street curb even though a car could have driven through the entrance and into the courtyard.

Three witnesses--a doorman at the entrance, an elevator operator and a cab driver who had just dropped off a passenger--saw Mark David Chapman standing in the shadows just inside the arch.

As the Lennons walked by, Chapman called, "Mr. Lennon." Then he dropped into "a combat stance" and fired four pistol shots. According to the autopsy, two shots struck John Lennon in the left side of his back and two in his left shoulder. All four caused serious internal damage and bleeding.

According to police, Lennon staggered up six steps to the room at the end of the entrance used by the concierge, said, "I'm shot," then fell down.

The first policemen at the scene were Officers Steve Spire and Peter Cullen, who were in the patrol car at 72nd Street and Broadway when they heard a report of shots fired at the Dakota. The officers found Chapman standing "very calmly" where he had been.

The police said he had dropped the revolver after firing it, and said Chapman had a paperback book, J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," and a cassette recorder with 14 hours of Beatles tapes.

The second police team at the Dakota, Officers Bill Gamble and James Moran, took Lennon to Roosevelt Hospital. Officer Moran said they stretched Lennon out on the back seat and that the singer was "moaning." He said he asked, "Are you John Lennon?" and that Lennon had moaned, "Yeah."

Dr. Stephen Lyman of Roosevelt Hospital said Lennon was dead when the policemen arrived with him. He was pronounced dead at 11:15 p.m. Dr. Elliott M. Gross, the Chief Medical Examiner, said after the autopsy that Lennon had died of shock and loss of blood and that no one could have lived more than a few minutes with such injuries.

Yoko Ono, crying "Tell me it's not true," was taken to Roosevelt Hospital and led away in shock after she learned her husband was dead. David Geffen later issued a statement in her behalf: "John loved and prayed for the human race. Please do the same for him."

Within minutes of the first broadcasts of the news of the shooting, people began to gather at Roosevelt Hospital and in front of the Dakota, reciting prayers, singing Lennon's songs and burning candles.

On 14 December, all around the world, people paused to stand alone or come together in silence, heeding a plea from Yoko Ono that they take 10 minutes to remember the former Beatle.

Lennon died around 11:15 p.m of shock after losing more than 80% of his blood volume.

The first national transmission of the tragic news across the USA was on the fledgling Cable News Network, on which anchorwoman Kathleen Sullivan reported that Lennon had been shot and was en route to a New York hospital (his death had not yet been confirmed). But most Americans learned of the murder via an unusual source.

When Lennon was shot, ABC Television was in the midst of airing an NFL game between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots on Monday Night Football. After having the news fed directly to his headset by ABC News chief Roone Arledge, legendary football announcer Howard Cosell (who had interviewed Lennon on MNF years earlier) went ahead and announced the news of the murder:

"This, we have to say it, remember this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy, confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City. John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps of all of The Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival."

The news was broken on competing network NBC in a more traditional manner: a comedy piece on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" was interrupted by an anonymous announcer voicing the news bulletin over a text slide visual, then returning, in what had to seem surreal to viewers, to the Carson sketch that had been interrupted.

When asked once in the 1960s how he expected to die, Lennon's offhand answer was "I'll probably be popped off by some loony." Several Beatles concerts in the United States and Canada in fact did see strengthened security forces because of threats against the individual lives of the group members, and Ringo Starr himself claims to have performed at a Montreal concert with his cymbals positioned so as to block his view from the audience. In retrospect, although Lennon might have meant it as a joke and did not expect it to happen, the comment turned out to be chillingly accurate.

Another chillingly accurate comment was made in his last interview, where he mentioned that he often felt that somebody was stalking him: first it was federal agents in the 1970s trying to deport him and later the obsessed fan in 1980.

An eerie bit of trivia is that the Dakota was the setting for much of the horror film Rosemary's Baby, directed by Roman Polanski. Polanski's wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson Family as part of a plot based on their twisted views of Beatles songs.

Lennon was cremated, his ashes kept by Yoko Ono.

Memorials and tributes
Lennon has been the subject of numerous memorials and tributes, principally the Strawberry Fields Memorial, constructed in Central Park across the street from the Dakota building. In 2002, Liverpool also renamed its airport the Liverpool John Lennon Airport, and adopted the motto "Above us only sky".

Every 8 December, the anniversary of his death, there is a memorial in front of Capitol Records on Vine Street in Hollywood, California. It includes speakers discussing Lennon, musical tributes, and group singing.

Pseudonyms
Throughout his solo career, Lennon appeared on his own albums (as well as those of other artists like Elton John) under such pseudonyms as Dr Winston O'Boogie, Mel Torment (a play on singer Mel Tormé), and The Reverend Fred Gherkin (a gherkin is a small sweet pickle). He and Yoko (as Ada Gherkin — "ate a gherkin", and other sobriquets) also travelled under such names, thus avoiding unwanted public attention.

 
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