50 Years Ago: Did John Lennon Sabotage His Estranged Father’s Music Career?
On Dec. 31, 1965, John Lennon's father, Alfred "Freddie" Lennon, released his first record, "That's My Life (My Love and My Home)." John and Beatles' manager Brian Epstein were reportedly furious at what they believed was Freddie's attempt to cash in on his son's success. Epstein would be accused of having "That's My Life" pulled from the charts – perhaps at John's request.
Freddie had been at sea for much of his life in the British Merchant Navy. He separated from John's mother Julia in 1944 and had little contact with his son for two decades. "I never knew my father," John said in a 1966 interview featured in Anthology. "I saw him twice in my life till I was 22, when he turned up after I'd had a few hit records. I saw him and spoke to him, and decided I still didn't want to know him."
In 1965 at the height of Beatlemania, talent manager Tony Cartwright learned that Freddie worked as a dishwasher at a British pub. Cartwright befriended Freddie and in a 2012 Daily Mail column, recalled his attempt to make the elder Lennon a recording star.
"Freddie was a born entertainer, and had a rich, emotional singing voice with which he regaled the whole pub. He didn’t want to hitch a ride on the Beatles bandwagon, but I sensed that he could be a star in his own right," Cartwight said. "News gets around, and the next day, I had the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein on the phone. 'Tell me it’s not true, Tony,' he pleaded. 'Is John’s dad really a kitchen porter? What are the papers going to make of that!'"
Cartwright booked a 30-piece orchestra for the recording session that included drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding, both of whom would later gain fame as members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
"At Christmas 1965, we heard that Alf had made a record, under the trendier name of Fred Lennon," wrote John's wife Cynthia Lennon in John. "'That's My Life (My Love and My Home)' was awful, and hugely embarrassing to John, who was furious at his father's blatant jump onto the bandwagon of his own success. He asked Brian to do anything he could to stop it. Whether Brian did or not I don't know, but the record never made it into the charts and soon disappeared."
Freddie seemed certain, however, of how things had unfolded. In Charlie Lennon: Uncle to a Beatle Freddie's brother Charlie wrote, "Alfred went up to visit John in Weybridge and to see why Brian Epstein had taken Alfred's record, 'That's My Life (My Love And My Home),' off the charts. [...] He slammed the door in his dad's face."
That apparently left the elder Lennon with few options. "Freddie was heartbroken, and immediately gave up the music business," Cartwright wrote. "‘It’s brought me nothing but unhappiness,’ he said. ‘I’d rather go back to washing pots.’ And so he did."
Father and son would meet one last time. In October 1970, John invited Freddie, his new wife Pauline and their 18-month old son to his home. Freddie told Cartwright that John's drug use and recent primal scream therapy led to a violent confrontation.
"John seized Freddie by the lapels and shook him, screaming and howling at him. The baby was crying too," Cartwright said. "John told his father if he went to the press with his life story, he would lock him in a crate and throw him out of a plane into the ocean to be drowned. Freddie believed his son was unbalanced enough to do just that. Freddie never saw John again."
Freddie died in 1975 at age 63. In a 1976 interview reprinted in Anthology, John said, "I came out of the therapy and told him to get the hell out, and he did get the hell out, and I wish I hadn't really because everyone has their problems — including wayward fathers. I'm a bit older now and I understand the pressure of having children or divorces and reasons why people can't cope with their responsibility."
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