Sunday, July 27, 2008

A John Lennon Biography

JOHN LENNON - The Man and His Times by Kathy Unruh

John Lennon wasn't always my favorite Beatle; at first it was Paul. But gradually, over a period of time, it was John Lennon who won my heart. I think the transition began sometime during the latter part of the 1960s. Back then, it seemed to my young mind, that the world was falling apart. Revolution and anarchy were on the doorstep. John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had each been assassinated, riots were springing up all over the south, Watts was burning and the war in Viet Nam was escalating. Out of the turmoil a growing hunger was born among many of my generation, including myself, for truth and peace.

During this period I had one brother who was fighting in the jungles of Viet Nam and another who had recently returned from overseas. I can remember taking part in some of the protests at my school, which consisted of "sit-ins", walking out of class, and wearing black arm bands in recognition of the soldiers who had died. The Peace Movement became very important to me and my hero in this effort was John Lennon. John and Yoko were staging several protests in hopes of raising public awareness and support for peace in Viet Nam, as well as other human rights issues they cared about. I followed their activities with great interest and gave what I could to their cause. So you can imagine how strange it seemed after all those years, to find myself standing in the boyhood home of John Lennon, quietly paging through a book which he had written.

It was the summer of 2003 and my husband and I were on an extended honeymoon in Britain. Two years earlier he had met a woman whose husband had gone to school with John Lennon. When she learned that we were planning a trip to England, she offered to give us a private tour of the Beatles' stomping grounds. Through a mysterious set of circumstances we were able to visit the home where John Lennon lived as a boy, as well as each of the other Beatles' homes in Liverpool. We also went to The Cavern, where the Beatles often played prior to being "discovered" by Brian Epstein, and Abbey Road Studios in London, where they produced their last album.

John Lennon was born "John Winston Lennon" October 9, 1940 in Liverpool, England. His parents, Fred and Julia Lennon, divorced when he was about four or five years old, leaving him to be raised by his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George. John never saw his father again (except for one very brief episode in 1964), but Julia continued to make sporadic visits from time to time. As a little boy, John would sometimes hide when his mother Julia came to see him, because the emotional pain was too much for him to bear. Though his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George did their best to provide a good home, John always felt abandoned and unloved. He became angry and rebellious as a result and gained a reputation as a bully or "Teddy-Boy". Then one day he heard a new kind of music on the radio, called Rock and Roll, and his life was changed forever. From that point forward all he wanted to do was learn how to play the guitar.

Well, as they say, the rest is history. The Beatles soon emerged and later took the world by storm in 1964 when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. Their first American single "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was released and distributed through a small record label in December of the previous year, and by January it had leaped to number one. The song had sold 1.5 million copies within five days and was expected to reach two million in another month. This was an unprecedented phenomenon in the recording industry at the time when a hit song usually reached it's peak in sales at 200,000. Now all the other "big" record companies that had originally scoffed at them, were kicking themselves in the you know what for being so blind to the Beatles unique sound and charisma. Since then, the Beatles and their music have exceeded more than three decades of fame and popularity.

John Lennon was, himself, a very gifted writer, songwriter and poet. To this day, the "Songwriting Techniques of John Lennon; The Beatle Years" is one of the most popular classes offered at California's Berklee School of Music. His lyrics could be abstract and difficult to understand, or extremely simple and straightforward, often providing a rich spectrum of color and creativity through the use of metaphor and simile. John had a keen mind, quick wit and sharp tongue. It seemed as if he was always searching for something just beyond his reach, something to fill the emptiness and give meaning to his life. Happiness had somehow eluded him until he met Yoko Ono, after which he became completely disenchanted with the Beatles, and announced that he was leaving the group for good. "I want a divorce" he told Paul, and the Beatles were formally dissolved by January of 1971, each going their separate ways.

On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was shot dead on the streets of Manhatten, New York, just outside his home, by a lone gunman named Mark Chapman. Chapman later signed a statement for the police saying "I never wanted to hurt anybody. My friends will tell you that. I have two parts in me. The big part is very kind; the children I worked with will tell you that. I have a small part in me that cannot understand the world and what goes on in it. I did not want to kill anybody and I really don't know why I did it..."

I don't know why it still seems so ironic and hard to believe that John Lennon was murdered. Maybe it's because he had come to represent a message of hope and peace for my generation. John had developed a social conciousness that was not unlike others who had gone before him; men like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. None of these men were perfect, but they were all influential in making us aware of the larger picture. They pointed out the need for change and the importance of developing new ideas. They knew how to draw us in close and inspire us to dream, to imagine, and to pursue doing whatever we can to help establish a better world.

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Kathy Unruh is a singer/songwriter and webmaster of ABC Learn Guitar. She has been writing songs and providing guitar lessons to students of all ages for over 20 years. For free guitar lessons, plus tips and resources on songwriting, recording and creating a music career, please visit:

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