In this world, people fall into one of four categories: Paul fans, George fans, Ringo fans, and John fans. Me? I fall into the latter, albeit with a good dose of George thrown in there too.
Is it a cliche to say I’m a John fan? Or, if it is, is it then also a cliche to, in 2017, divide up the population depending on which Beatle is their favorite? Maybe it is, or maybe the cliche argument is null and void given the fact that nobody is immune to the classification. And of course there are those who will further cliche themselves by raising their hand and declaring themselves a Pete Best or Stu Sutcliffe fan.
Whatever though, I love a good cliche.
My obsession with John started, as they often do, when I was a teenager. To me, he was soft yet rebellious, intellectual yet spontaneous, and above all, he symbolized what it meant to be a true peace-freak. I devoured all I could get my hands on about him; I read books, watched documentaries, started getting in between high-school fistfights shouting ‘peace and love’ and I even got a John-inspired ‘Imagine’ tattoo when I was 17.
Now, because whenever I offer my opinion of John, someone in the crowd, who believe I cannot form a well-rounded view by myself, will inevitably spout, “But John was a fraud, he was volatile and abusive who basically abandoned his first child.”
So, guys, look. John wasn’t as clean-cut in his personal life as he was appeared when The Beatles first graced TV (minus the daring mop-top), that fact is well known and documented. In his early days, he could often be violent, getting into fights and running his mouth off at people. Lord knows he had a rough Liverpudlian upbringing and an even more rough relationship with his mother.
He wasn’t perfect. He evolved. He knew about his shortcomings; some of which he chose to work on and others he apparently did not. That’s on him, and that’s on us to recognize.
But that’s not to say he wasn’t fascinating. I’m not breaking any ground by saying this, but John Lennon was one of the most talented songwriters who ever lived. Despite his success, his songwriting was relatable to millions, and the evolution of his songwriting in alignment with his evolution of character was nothing less of a more mature and fabulous coming of age tale.
So, to celebrate the late, great Mr. Lennon, I have put together a bit of a city-based ode to him and his work, based on my experiences:
Strawberry Field Liverpool, June 2015
John Winston Lennon was born October 9, 1940 in Liverpool, England to Julia and Alfred Lennon. Throughout most of his childhood he lived with his Aunt Mimi and her husband George Toogood Smith, while his mother visited him often. It was Julia who taught John to play both the banjo and the piano, and even bought John his first guitar. John’s father was mostly absent from his childhood.
In 1956, at age 15, John established a skiffle group, The Quarry Men, named after Liverpool’s Quarry Bank High School. It was at The Quarry Men’s second performance that John Lennon would meet Paul McCartney. In time, the band added some additional legendary members and changed their name to The Beatles.
I have fully documented my very Beatles experience in Liverpool here, but I just want to reiterate how much of a mark John and The Beatles made on the city. First of all, the Liverpool airport is named after John, as well as there being many Beatles-inspired tours and up kept landmarks. Strawberry Field, Penny Lane, The Cavern Pub, The Cavern Club, and the list goes on…
Strawberry Field Liverpool, June 2015
My big Beatles moment in London happened, of course, at the ultra-touristy Abbey Road Studios (EMI Studios).
From 1962 – 1970, The Beatles recorded almost all of their albums at this location, even naming one after the street address. And while their name is most associated with Abbey Road, there have been many famous artists who recorded some of their top-notch work here; from Pink Floyd and The Hollies to The Black Keys and Florence and the Machine.
One of my favorite John Lennon stories from his time at Abbey Road is from their time recording Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967 when he didn’t realize he had taken a hit of acid. As John recounted to Rolling Stone Magazine in 1970:
“I never took [LSD] in the studio. Once I did, actually. I thought I was taking some uppers and I was not in the state of handling it. I took it and I suddenly got so scared on the mike. I said, ‘What is it? I feel ill.’ I thought I felt ill and I thought I was going cracked. I said I must go and get some air. They all took me upstairs on the roof, and George Martin was looking at me funny, and then it dawned on me that I must have taken some acid. I said, ‘Well, I can’t go on. You’ll have to do it and I’ll just stay and watch.’ I got very nervous just watching them all , and I kept saying, ‘Is this all right?’ They had all been very kind and they said, ‘Yes, it’s all right.’ I said, ‘Are you sure it’s all right?’ They carried on making the record.”
Today, Abbey Road Studios and its adjacent cross-walk are a pilgrimage for both Beatles fans and the ‘do it for the ‘gram” folk alike.
Abbey Road Studios London, July 2015
The Beatles first graced Hamburg, Germany in 1960, and, it has been said, it was in the districts of St. Pauli and the Reeperbahn that The Beatles perfected their craft.
The Reeperbahn has been a seedy and exhilarating place from before the Beatles graced it in 1960 straight up to today. And without this strip of city being what it is, and the gruelling, drug-aided performance schedule imposed on them by club owner Bruno Koschmider, it is hard to say where history would have led the Beatles.
One of the most infamous stories of Lennon in Hamburg is the one regarding yet another upset Star Club owner Horst Fascher, and a toilet seat.
One night, as the Beatles were gearing up to play a gig, they realized that Lennon was missing. Fascher went looking for him and quickly found him shagging with an enthusiastic fan in the backstage bathroom. To break up the couple and get Lennon back onstage, Fascher turned on the shower. When Lennon berated Fascher for leaving him dripping wet, Fascher said, “I don’t give a shit, you’re going onstage and I don’t care if you do it naked.”
Something you shouldn’t just offhandedly say to John Lennon.
A few minutes later, to a titillated audience, Lennon appeared onstage wearing nothing but his tighty-whities and a toilet seat draped around his neck.
“I might have been born in Liverpool – but I grew up in Hamburg.” – John Lennon
The Kaiserkeller Hamburg, May 2017
New York, USA
There are lengthy tomes written about John Lennon’s dalliances with America. From the moment the Beatles’ invaded in 1964, to John’s immigration battle, to to his untimely murder in 1980, John was an important figure in American culture.
I visited John’s Strawberry Fields Memorial in Central Park the first day I was ever in New York City, in 2011, and then again on my second trip in 2014. From my experiences there, the site is usually peppered with adoring fans either playing Lennon-penned songs on the guitar, taking photos, or leaving behind mementos.
Strawberry Fields Memorial Central Park, New York City, October 2011
However, just a few minutes walk from Central Park on the Upper West Side, you’ll find the Dakota apartment building; the site of John Lennon’s untimely death.
Although I haven’t been inside the Dakota (that would take a level of craftery on my part that I’m not sure I have in me), I have stood in front, greeted the guard, and noticed the taxi’s that pull up to the curb every so often. And although I have nothing to base this theory on, I have to say that the scene continues to feel oddly reminiscent of his time spent residing there.
For a Lennon fan, the Dakota is an ethereal building, but one that is worthy of standing in front of for a moment of gratitude.
Strawberry Fields Memorial Central Park, New York City, February 2014
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