I recently finished reading John by Cynthia Lennon and learned a lot I didn’t know about my favourite Beatle; most of which was perturbing to say the least. As a child, I was in love with the Beatles and my parents had every record they ever produced and I would play them over and over again after school singing along at the top of my lungs. My favourite Beatle was John Lennon. I think I related so much to him because he reminded me of my father; also a creative musician and artist from England who escaped the ‘oppressiveness’ of Britain.
My dad also loved Lennon and told me how the Beatles had started as a skiffle group just like him! While I believe my dad was in a skiffle band around the same time as Lennon, he definitely didn’t end up making a career of music. Also, my dad and Lennon both attended art college in England at the same time and wore ‘teddy boy’ clothes and were badass rebels. While Lennon became a worldwide phenomenon in the music world, my dad settled for being a graphic designer who played guitar and piano in the evenings after work.
I’ll never forget the day John Lennon was shot and killed. I was ten years old in the car with my dad on the way home from school and we heard the news on the radio. Dad had to stop the car because he was in shock and so was I. We couldn’t believe that someone had murdered the icon for peace and love when he was just forty years old- one year older than my dad at the time. Our gloominess lasted for days and the world around us seemed to be on the same page. Looking back now, it reminds me of how the world reacted to Princess Diana’s death. Public mourning was out in the open and people poured out their grief in vigils everywhere.
I can remember thinking about his poor wife Yoko- the love of his life- and the five-year-old son Sean he left behind. And I’m guessing that most others at the time who loved John Lennon and what he stood for had similar thoughts and feelings. But it wasn’t until I read his first wife’s book, John, that I understood the bigger picture. Cynthia Lennon was John’s girlfriend when the Beatles were created and began to become a worldwide sensation. They ended up marrying when Cynthia found herself pregnant in her early twenties and they had a son named Julian (the song “Hey Jude” was written for him, originally called, “Hey Jules”).
Without ruining the book for you, I will simply say that John Lennon was a pretty terrible husband to his first wife and an absent and neglectful father to his first son. The stories contained within shattered my image of this feminist, peace-loving, wise man for good. It is the sad tale of misogynous attitudes, deadbeat fatherhood, and ultimately- complete abandonment. While John Lennon was a brilliant musician and creative genius, he also had a whole lot of personal demons as a result of multiple losses as a child. This emotional unfinished business destroyed his first marriage and alienated his first son and has had everlasting negative consequences for those he left behind.
Also impressive to me was the fact that Cynthia told the honest truth, while also balancing it with positive memories of her life with John and a deep and sympathetic understanding of why he did what he did. I applaud her for taking the high road and acting with dignity and grace for all of those years while she suffered in silence and near-poverty. She reminds me of the countless women I see in my office who have been treated terribly by their exes, many of whom don’t receive child support or alimony and face constant harassment and degradation by their exes. So many of these women report feeling angry and bitter at times, and yet they always come back to being a bigger person and choose to walk the high road by not slandering their children’s fathers, and by being as fair as possible in all areas pertaining to on-going arrangements with their exes. I greatly admire the strength and resolve these women have which helps them to let go of tragedy and trauma and be a wonderful role model of a good and fair person to their children and the world around them. The world is definitely a better place as a result.