I’ve never worshipped John Lennon, and generally regarded The Beatles as overrated. I find Imagine dull and mawkish with horrible lyrics. I’ll give The Beatles their due as composers of a dozen or so truly great songs, though – and that’s taking into account my belief that their finest moments were “all in the production”. Certainly I Am The Walrus (about the Lewis Carroll poem, apparently) and Strawberry Fields Forever are triumphs of arrangement over mediocre songwriting. I’d generally rank them somewhere above the Everly Brothers and below The Kinks.
That said, I was sceptical when I saw Listverse’s fascinating article, Top 10 Unpleasant Facts About John Lennon, because I do think it would be easy to hop on a bandwagon of iconoclasm in the week when so many “national treasures” are being stripped of their crowns. Sir Jimmy Savile was a child molester who, according to his nephew, used to “borrow” kids from the local orphanage. I read that in a tabloid newspaper, so it’s easy to dismiss that as lurid nonsense, except that now police are investigating 120 allegations against the icon. Julie Burchill accused John Peel of exploiting under-aged girls, which would be too easy to ignore as the ramblings of an attention-seeking hack who lost her way a decade ago, but now news of his misconduct is everywhere. It’s not the same thing – the encounters were consensual – but it’s misconduct nonetheless. Whether or not we over-idolise them and hold them to impossible standards, it’s always upsetting when our heroes disappoint us, especially if they do so spectacularly. Perhaps that’s why we’re so eager to delve – to uncover those nightmarish secrets – before we become too attached to the people we admire.
As I said, I wasn’t much of a Lennon fan to start with, but I was appalled and intrigued by Listverse’s article, and before passing it on, I wanted to know one simple thing: was it true?
It wasn’t hard to substantiate the “wife-beater” accusation with a couple of quick searches. Cynthia Lennon’s biography John alleges that he hit her in a fit of jealousy when they first started dating. She told Radio Times that John was “violent and aggressive at times”. The John book also contains a quote by Julian Lennon that he ‘found it very hard to show any peace and love to his first family — my mother and me”.’ From the info on Wikipedia, it looks as though John had a strained relationship with Julian until John’s temporary split from Yoko in 1973. John’s girlfriend May Pang encouraged him to see the boy, and their relationship improved.
It would be harder to tell if the “pathological liar” accusation was true, but that doesn’t really bother me anyway. A lot of the more amusing people I know are compulsive liars and I just view it as part of their larger-than-life personalities. Did John Lennon’s rampant heroin addiction break up the band? He was certainly addicted to the drug (as the songs Cold Turkey and Happiness Is A Warm Gun attest). He was said to have been annoyed at the idea of Paul being blamed for breaking up The Beatles: “I started the band. I disbanded it. It’s as simple as that.”
Politically clueless? He was a hippy, so that’s that covered. I think “talentless” is overstating it – you could write off any fog-of-drugs lyrics as being “silly”, but it’s easy to persuade me that McCartney was the better songwriter. A bandwagon-hopping conformist with a hunger for fame? That covers just about every pop star of note. A hypocrite? Ditto. You’d have to be fairly naive to think that he was some kind of saint.
But people are naive, I guess.
Ultimately, the only thing on the list that really bothers me is that he beat his wife. It would make me a hypocrite to forgive him that while being sickened and disgusted by Chris Brown. The article intrigued me, but it’s lessened my already fairly low opinion of a long-dead overhyped rock star. Make of that what you will.
As for the rest of it, the money-grubbing-hypocrite stuff, that doesn’t really make him any worse than Bono, does it? But then, I never liked Bono much, either.