The last blog referred to the passing of time possibly changing the perception of Tony Blair. This blog is about one of the most famous 20th century icons, John Winston Lennon. Lennon was a member of the Beatles and the foremost song writing team in history. This month marks what would have been his 70th birthday and 2010 is the 30th anniversary of his brutal murder by a crazed lone gunman.
Lennon not only changed the dynamics of the music industry by storming the USA before becoming one of the most famous people in the world. Lennon and the Beatles were at the vanguard of a cultural revolution in the 1960’s which ushered in women’s rights, the permissive society, the erosion of class distinction, youth political protest and recreational drug use. The fab four “ordinary working class boys” were (with the exception of Ringo) grammar school boys, college educated and Lennon lived in an affluent part of Liverpool. But hey! Let’s not let facts get in the way of a good story!
Songs such as "Baby you can drive my car", "Norwegian Wood", "Day Tripper" and "Girl" where songs that described empowered women who had the upper hand. They were responsible for a musical phenomenon that effectively put his idol, "The King of Rock and Roll", Elvis Presley out to pasture and relegated him to Vegas. The Beatles 1966 record “Rain” sung by Lennon was pivotal in the “unique” sound of Beatles fan Liam Gallagher of Oasis (they initially named the band "The Rain") and was the precursor of the Psychedelic revolution.
Lennon’s post Beatles years were characterised by his life with Yoko Ono, Peace protests, fatherhood and his struggle with gaining his US green card. Some doubters claimed that Lennon was a spent force after the Beatles. Yet he has three post Beatles compositions in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Instant Karma, Imagine and Give Peace a Chance. Most serious artists would kill to get one of their songs in this chart! Lennon is viewed by many people as the smiling joker in the pack of the Beatles who changed when he met Yoko.
However a revealing and much maligned book in 1988 by the late Professor Albert Goldman was published which involved over 1000 interviews with friends and acquaintances of Lennon. The book was viewed as heresy on the Lennon icon and Goldman was demonised and his work was considered a character assassination. However with the passage of time more recent films about Lennon and the Beatles have been faithful to the Goldman book. Films such as: The Hours and Times, Backbeat, Nowhere Boy and Lennon Naked reveal the flawed genius that was John Lennon.
Lennon was a gifted musician and media manipulator with a dark sense of humour and an irascible manner. Listen to the humorous youtube anecdote by Tom Jones when he first met him when Lennon tried to provoke him into a fight before becoming good friends.
Jones continues to recount his last public appearance with John Lennon where Lennon felt he was “blanked” by a member of the Royal Family. The show was honouring the late Lord Grade (Michael Grade’s uncle) who at the time owned the rights to Lennon and McCartney’s back catalogue having acquired them in 1969. Lennon being Lennon performed a little known rock and roll number called “Slippin’ and a Slidin’” and his backing band members were made up with two faces. I will let you draw your own conclusions on Lennon’s “Salute to Sir Lew”.
In addition as his US immigration status and possible deportation was still hanging in the balance he had to insert “and no immigration too” into his iconic “Imagine” ballard. Perhaps it’s not a surprise that the late Lord Mountbatten blanked him at the backstage glad handing. Still the exasperated John Lennon felt he was done an injustice.
For those thinking this was barren time for Lennon he had just bagged a US number 1 with Elton John and helped David Bowie compose his first US number 1 “Fame”. He even sung backing vocals and played guitar on that track too!
Despite his flaws he was and remains an icon that transcended culture and politics.
Lennon was no doubt “edgy” and “cool” to anti establishment groups but there can only be one “King of Cool” and the next blog will shine a light on another icon who also died 30 years ago. Can you guess who it is yet?