10 Things You Didn’t Know About John Lennon
John Lennon, one of the world's most beloved songwriters, would have turned 77 years old today (Oct. 9). Through his work with the Beatles, his collaborations with other artists and his own individual solo output, Lennon left a musical mark that continues to inspire each new generation as the years pass. As thousands of Beatles fans are expected to gather around the "Imagine" mosaic at Strawberry Fields in New York's Central Park to remember him on his birthday, Ultimate Classic Rock looks back with our list of 10 Things You Didn't Know About John Lennon.
But the context of Lennon's comments may be different than what you think he's implying. Talking to Rolling Stone magazine in a 1971 interview, John said that the success of the group had a price -- the overwhelming demands of fame sapped their creative juices and the band never reached its full potential. “That's why we never improved as musicians; we killed ourselves to make it,” he said.
A bus driver gifted Lennon with one of his early musical instruments, giving him a harmonica that Lennon went on to play extensively during early performances and initial recordings with the Beatles. His mother also taught him how to play the banjo and bought him his first guitar. From there, he played a variety of instruments, including the Mellotron keyboard.
Reflecting on the Beatles' 1970 documentary Let It Be, Lennon said that the film was set up “by Paul [McCartney], for Paul.” He called Let It Be “one of the main reasons the Beatles ended" and said that he and the other members “got fed up of being sidemen for Paul.”
As we're all very aware, Lennon had a diverse, restless and endlessly creative personality. While filming How I Won the War, John reflected on how his celebrity afforded him the ability to try his hand at many other creative outlets, including painting, writing and acting. He stated that his goal was simply to find “which one really turns me on.”
In a 1980 conversation with Playboy, Lennon shared the reason for his retreat from the music business, saying that “rock 'n' roll was not fun anymore. I chose not to take the standard options in my business -- going to Vegas and singing your great hits, if you're lucky, or going to hell, which is where Elvis [Presley] went.”
"Look out, buddy!" That was the basic theme running through Lennon's 1980 comments to Rolling Stone on Bruce Springsteen, who was quite the hot commodity at the time. “God help Bruce Springsteen when they decide he's no longer God ... They'll turn on him, and I hope he survives it.” Thankfully, the Boss has done alright for himself.
Leave it to Lennon to buy a gorilla suit for himself, surely one of the more interesting celebrity purchases of all time. He thought that all the Beatles would get suits, but in the end, he was the only one. And although John had only used it a couple of times, he had visions of driving his Ferrari while wearing the suit. That's one sure-fire way to ditch the paparazzi, right?
Like so many artists, Lennon had a hard time listening to himself sing. George Martin told biographer Ray Coleman that Lennon “had an intense dislike of his own voice” that the famed Beatles producer could not understand. Martin said that Lennon was always urging him to put more effects on his vocals to make them sound “different.”
Mia Farrow's sister Prudence was feeling down in the dumps and had met the Beatles while attending a spiritual outing with their shared guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Hoping to cheer her up, Lennon wrote "Dear Prudence" for her. "Prudence" proved to be exactly the musical medicine that she needed.
Lennon helped to co-write "Fame," which would become one of David Bowie's best-known songs, after sharing stories about the parts of life that they had lost as a result of their celebrity status. "Fame" itself grew out of a jam session -- Bowie had invited John to come to the studio and he ended up playing rhythm guitar on the track and also can be heard prominently on background vocals.