By Jude Southerland Kessler
The Beatles, not being American (of course), didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, per se. But somehow, as we near the close of the year, all of us tend to reflect on things for which we are grateful. And although John is so often caricatured as “John Lemon,” a tart and sardonic figure, he was, in reality, very appreciative of special people, moments, and belongings. After all, isn’t that what his song, “In My Life” is all about? Here are just a few precious elements of John’s journey here on earth things that he loved. Perhaps this will inspire you to make a similar list of your own.
And I think we can all begin by listing The Fest for Beatles Fans which draws us together twice a year as family…and for Mark, Carol, Tilly, and Michelle Joni, who very lovingly gave us this “Home Away From Home” in our lives.
- His Uncle Ge’rge – John was, for all intents and purposes, reared by his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George. And although Mimi taught him valuable lessons about determination and duty and instilled in him a love of reading, it was Uncle Ge’rge (as John called him) who taught the little boy about love. Each night, when John was kindergarten age, Uncle George taught the boy to read from that evening’s Liverpool Echo. Despite Mimi’s fury, he took the child to the Disney picturedromes (films) that came to Liverpool. And George wired speakers up in the child’s bedroom so that John could listen to radio programs such as “Dick Barton, Special Agent” and later, “The Goon Show.” George Smith was an artist, like John, and he understood the child’s heart. John simply adored him.
- His sisters, Julia and Jacqui – John’s mother, Julia Stanley Lennon, (after relinquishing John to Mimi and George) went on to have her own family with John “Bobby” Dykins at 1 Blomfield Road, Allerton…about a mile from the place where John lived with his aunt and uncle. Julia and Bobby had two precious little girls named Julia and Jacqui. And when, as an older child, John found this out, he didn’t resent the fact that his sisters got to live with his mother while he did not. He loved his sisters, and they adored him. After Uncle George’s death in 1955, John started spending a good bit of time with his mother and his sisters, and they threw impromptu parties with ginger beer and cakes, and of course, rock’n’roll. The girls enjoyed the earliest band rehearsals of the Quarry Men in the Blomfield bathroom. John’s sisters were always there and always supportive of him. In fact, when The Beatles were fêted by Liverpool during the Northern Premiere of “A Hard Day’s Night,” John specifically asked for his sisters from the stage. They meant the world to him.
- His friends – John was never a loner. He always wanted to captain a group. And one of the earliest members of “his gang” was Pete Shotton. Pete lived near John in Woolton, and the two went to Quarrybank Grammar (high school) together. They were so close that people laughingly called them “Shennon and Lotton”…and they were a deadly duo full of mischief. Later, at Liverpool College of Art, John met his soul mate — a friend closer than any brother — Stuart Sutcliffe. Stu told John over and over that John would “never be just a rock’n’roller”…that John’s music would always be his form of art. So, Stu encouraged John to dress differently, write unique songs, and use his album covers as a form of artistic expression. The dramatic impact of Stuart Sutcliffe on The Beatles is absolutely immeasurable.
Of course, all of The Beatles were John’s mates. During John’s tenure at Liverpool College of Art, George was John’s “younger brother,” shadowing John everywhere he went! And once Ringo and Maureen had married and moved out to Weybridge, Surrey (where John and Cynthia lived in Kenwood), Ringo and John became close companions as well. Each of The Beatles mattered throughout John’s life, long after The Beatles had dissolved.
- Cynthia Powell Lennon – Cynthia was John’s girlfriend at Liverpool College of Art, his first wife, and the mother of his son, Julian Charles Lennon. In the early days — long before The Beatles were popular — Cynthia would hold John’s microphone, taped to a broomstick, as he practiced away in the dank Jacaranda Club basement. Cynthia was also one of the earliest Beatlettes in the Cavern Club. And even though John invited her to his gigs after they were married, Cyn (as John fondly called her) wanted her husband to shine alone in the limelight. She declined. Encouraging her love to chase his dreams of “the toppermost of the poppermost,” Cynthia waited at home, keeping John’s life on an even keel. Indeed, The Beatles’ friend, Tony Barrow, called Cynthia “John’s centre, his peace.”
- Books – Throughout his life, John was a voracious reader. He read two to three newspapers a day, as did his Aunt Mimi before him. In addition, John read at least one book a week. Beatles’ tours in 1964-1966 gave him plenty of “down time” to read — backstage, on airplanes, and in hotel rooms. And when he wasn’t writing song lyrics or doing interviews, John had his nose in “a bloomin’ booke.” As a child, he loved Richmal Crompton’s Just William stories and Lewis Carroll’s magical books, full of wordplay. As an adult, one of John’s favorite works was Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. But when asked, in interviews, what his favorite literary work was, John would often flash a devilish grin and say either In His Own Write or A Spaniard in the Works…his own award-winning literary creations.
- His many cats – In Eddie Deezen’s article, “John Lennon Was a Crazy Cat Lady,” Deezen lists and describes each of the 16 cats that John owned during his lifetime. His earliest (in Mendips with Mimi and George) were Tich and Sam. Later, Cynthia and John had a cat sarcastically dubbed Mimi. In the 1970s, the lovely May Pang and John had two cats called Major and Minor. And those were but a few of Mr. L’s furry friends! Although John clearly adored felines, however, he also cherished his childhood mutt, Sally, who always nuzzled “his boy” when John was sad or lonely.
- Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Bird’s Custard – John had simple breakfast tastes. He loved toast and tea. He loved Corn Flakes. And for dessert, the unbelievably delicious Bird’s Custard was always a hit. On tour, John ate so many backstage servings of steak and chips (fries) that he actually started to hate them after a time. But no matter how much of it he had, John always craved more Earl Grey Tea.
- American rock’n’roll of the 1950s – John turned 13 in 1953, so the music of the Fifties was his music! He loved all of the songs that eventually ended up on his 1970’s “Rock’n’Roll” album, including “You Can’t Catch Me” by Chuck Berry, Larry Williams’s “Bony Maronie,” and Little Richard’s hit, “Ready Teddy.” John’s cover of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” is considered one of his most poignant songs, and John (like all of The Beatles) loved the hits of American girl groups, such as the Shirelles. John’s mother, Julia, taught him to love the classic, “Angel Baby” and Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock.” No doubt about it, John Lennon was, musically, a true child of the Fifties.
- Television – Television didn’t become a household item until John’s teen years, but once he found it, he was hooked! He had the television on “as background noise” almost all of the time while living in New York. But he watched many programs as well, especially newscasts. John was quite savvy about current events, trends, and rock groups; he kept up with the latest crazes on “the telly.” In the 1970s, John mentioned the television in several of his solo songs, (“I’m Steppin’ Out” and “Dear Yoko”), and he often wrote his lyrics in bed while the telly droned on, in the background…lyrics, perhaps, like these:
“There are places I’ll remember,
All my life, though some have changed,
Some forever…not for better…
Some have gone, and some remain.
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall.
Some are dead, and some are living…
In my life, I’ve loved them all.”
Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com