John Lennon: Why We Still Care

Over three and a half decades after his passing…and still we pause on 9 October, celebrating the life of John Lennon, looking back not with misty-eyed nostalgia but with clear-headed vision that embraces both his many strengths and his many weaknesses.


John Lennon was no saint…that’s for sure. He never – not even as a teen – suffered fools lightly, and when the press (in 1963-66) asked him ridiculous questions such as “What do you do with all that hair while you sleep?” he, often as not, presented a jaw-clinched, disgusted visage and a sharp retort. He admitted that he had “a chip on [his] shoulder bigger than [his] feet,” and so his anger often flared, whereas Paul was always able to discover some politically-correct and charming response. And yes, John was often jealous and sharp-tongued. And yes, he was infrequently physical with Cynthia.


But despite the faults that his latter-day detractors have hurled at him, he is still one of the most exceptional individuals I’ve ever known. John Lennon endured a string of life tragedies that none of us could weather, and ultimately, he used them for good. He used them to create beautiful, haunting, lasting lyrics and compositions…he gave us the soundtrack of our lives.


Look, John had every reason to be bitter. At age five, his parents (for very complicated reasons) surrendered him to his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George to rear – and although George Toogood Smith was truly “too good” (exceptionally kind and loving), Mimi was not. She was the soul of decorum and discipline. And when six-year-old John – begging for love – would ask her, “Mimi, why are you here every day when I come home from school?” she would only respond, “Because it’s my duty to do so.” Mimi taught John many important things: to study, go to church, mind his manners, to behave…but she never taught to him to love.


As John grew into his preteen years, John “found out” that his mother, Julia, lived only about a mile from Mimi’s house. And he began to visit her frequently, getting to know his two half-sisters, Julia and Jacqui. It was a bond John cherished, but the knowledge that his mother didn’t “despise children,” after all – that she wanted her two girls and not him – was a heavy cross to bear. Alone in his bed at Mendips, it hurt. He wondered what he’d done to make her push him aside.


But that doubt must have been dispelled somewhat when, after the loss of John’s beloved Uncle George (when John was almost 15…a time when he needed a “father” most), Julia came back into his life as his best friend. For two years, his mother and he bonded. Julia encouraged John to skip school and hang out with her. She taught him to play the banjo, told him he “had music in his bones,” played her rock’n’roll records for him, and helped him form a skiffle band, The Quarrymen. She invited the fledgling band to practice in her acoustically excellent bathroom, and many times she banged on pots and pans, their drummer. Julia was beloved by them all, part of their group. However, on 15 July 1958, she was hit by a drunk driver and instantly killed. And once again, John had lost her. This time forever, to death.


If this had been John’s last tragedy, he would have been completely justified in being angry at the world. Even at this juncture, had every reason to give up and quit – to become a delinquent, a criminal, a bitter hermit, withdrawn from society. And many (including Dave Bennion, the “Head Boy” at Quarry Bank Grammar) thought Lennon would do just that.


But instead of surrendering to a life of sorrow, John began to write songs born of the pain. And over the next five years, he wailed at the microphones of Merseyside and then Hamburg and then the United Kingdom and finally, the world, for Julia. He told us all, “If she’s gone, I can’t go on, feelin’ two foot small.” And, “I’m a loser, and I’m not what I appear to be,” and “I’ve got every reason on earth to be mad, ’cause I just lost the only girl I had. If I could get my way, I’d give myself right up today, but I can’t, so I cry instead.” And using his loss to weave beauty, John Lennon created The Beatles and relentlessly pushed them (when on many occasions, they gave up) to achieve, to conquer, to succeed.


In his life, John did many great things. He was a talented writer, penning two award-winning books of wry, satirical poetry and prose. He was a gifted single-line artist whose gallery still tours the world to critical acclaim. He was a global advocate for peace. He was a fighter for Irish independence, writing two songs for the cause and leading the New York City march on BOAC on behalf of the Irish people. John had myriad talents.


But today, we remember him most because he left us the example of a life well-lived. He left us an example of a man who never surrendered to the lashing that the world can dole out. John never let the unending tragedies that tried to crush him snuff out his soul.


After the loss of his mother, John went on to endure the death of his soul mate, Stu Sutcliffe. John also suffered at the hands of an unfeeling press when a remark he’d made to a close journalist friend, Maureen Cleave, was lifted by Datebook magazine, taken out of context, and used to generate a hate campaign against John and The Beatles…and for months, John was vilified by the world. In later life, he suffered a messy divorce from a girl he had once loved deeply. And in his last decade, he and his second wife lost several children to late-term miscarriages. Even his career was rocky:  John’s music was banned by the BBC for his support of Ireland. Life for John Lennon was never ever easy.


But he never surrendered. And when on certain days, I feel down or depressed or hurt or angry, and I threaten to throw up my hands and walk away…I think of John. I think of his resolve and his “toppermost of the poppermost” attitude and his unflinching determination. And on those occasions, I repeat about John Winston Lennon the very best compliment that I could ever give  anyone: he never gave up.


And that…that is why we still care.

Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series:


Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.


Not What I Appear To Be

John Lennon couldn’t get a word right. From childhood, he inadvertently mastered the art of being misunderstood. As early as Mosspits Kindergarten, John was expelled for belligerence, and by the time he made his way to Quarrybank Grammar (his high school), John was – as he flippantly phrased it – “sus-pen-dooed.”


Sure, there were plenty of times, I’m certain, when John was impudent, in his own right. He could dish out satirical taunts with the best of them. However, I firmly believe that quite often his reputation preceded him and that the bad press John received wasn’t always really deserved.


Take, for example, the famous quote attributed to our Mr. Lennon:


“Ringo isn’t the best drummer in Liverpool. He isn’t even the best drummer in The Beatles.”


I’ve heard this insult attributed to John on radio shows, in speeches, and during panel discussions filled with scholars. But the truth of the matter is, John never said this! And Beatles Guru Mark Lewisohn agrees. A few years ago, in fact, Lewisohn set out to prove that this awful quote was never uttered by John, and he carefully traced the comment to comedian Jasper Carrot in 1983.[i] As Lewisohn astutely pointed out, this was never the sort of thing John Lennon would have said.


What, then, did the real John Lennon have to say about Ringo’s drumming? Well, in The Anthology,[ii] he states quite clearly, “Ringo’s a damn good drummer. He was always a good drummer. He’s not technically good, but I think Ringo’s drumming is underrated the same way Paul’s bass playing is underrated…I think Ringo and Paul stand up anywhere with any of the rock musicians!”


Sadly, so few people repeat that quote.


I’m sure John wasn’t surprised that he was given, erm, “credit” for petulant phrases. On the 1964 tour, this sort of thing happened rather regularly. Take this interview that occurred in Cincinnati where (according to many biographers!) John sniped at a reporter who suggested that The Beatles should be able to handle the fans without police support. Time and again, you’ll read that John sneered at the man and spat, “Well, maybe you could. You’re fatter than us!” But here is what really occurred, transcribed from the Cincinnati press conference.


Reporter 4: You four ought to be able to handle the crowds without all the police presence. Why don’t you just walk right through?

George: (Incensed) Well, y’ can’t go leapin’ into a crowd of 30,000, can you?

Paul: (Smoking and trying to over-talk George, who is clearly agitated) You can’t go up the middle, y’know.

George: They’d pull you apart y’ see! So, for everybody’s sake…

Reporter 4: You ought to be able to handle it…

George: (Browned off) Well, maybe you could because you’re fatter ’n us!

John says not a word and looks away.[iii]


Similarly, just a few minutes later – according to the “experts” – John fired another angry retort at the press. But here is the actual exchange…and it’s not John who’s annoyed by a reporter’s inane question.


Reporter 5: What excuse do you have for your collar-length hair?

John: (Shrugging) It just grows out of our heads…

Paul: (Still irritated by the last question) We don’t need an excuse. You need an excuse![iv]


The room, of course, broke into waves of laughter, but John sighed, knowing that by morning, the interview’s sharp retorts would be credited to him. Any sarcastic comment immediately became his territory. When he rang Mimi back in Liverpool, and she fussed about his “overt rudeness” to the press, John would try to tell her it had been George’s observation this time or Paul’s remark. But no one would believe him, not even his own aunt.


So, it’s no surprise that by the summer of 1966, the American press and DJs across the country over-reacted to a very complicated and in-depth observation that John made to Maureen Cleave in a lengthy interview.[v] That comment – condensed by Datebook magazine into an arrogant sound-bite – became “the last straw for Lennon.” A victim of erroneous and out-of-context citing, John was attacked ferociously and forced to apologize over and over and over and over for something he didn’t actually say as it was reported. Pieces of his conversation had been left out of his comment. The full truth had been omitted.


The problem is that once a public figure develops a reputation for being “a bad boy” (or girl), the image is difficult to shrug off. And once the press turns on you, they rarely reverse the trend.


Let me hasten to say that the journalists who traveled with The Beatles during “the long and winding” 1964 North American Tour, to a man (or woman), loved John. Larry Kane said that John was The Beatle with whom he developed the closest relationship. And, so did Ivor Davis.[vi] And. most assuredly, Art Schreiber. Helen Shapiro will gladly tell you that on her 1963 tour, John did more to help her and bolster her spirits than any of the other Beatles. He was her friend.


Which only goes to show that getting to know someone rather than accusing them from a distance is the best policy. An old Native American adage says this: “Never judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.” Translated, we find: “Never judge anyone until you have lived in his or her world for at least two months.” That’s a sound rule of thumb.


If only we could learn something important from the way John was treated by those who had no idea that he “was not what he appeared[ed] to be,” if only we could glean a truth from it…wouldn’t the world be a better place?


[i] “Who’s Sleeping in Groucho Marx’s Bed?” The London Times, 8 March 2013:

[ii] The Anthology, p. 81. Direct quote from John Lennon.

[iii] You can see this question being posed and answered here. Several sources including Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 162 and Badman, 119 blame John for this irritated line of patter. You can clearly see that John does not deliver the line. He says nothing. George is the one speaking.

[iv] Bracey, David. “What’s Future for Beatles?” Cincinnait Enquirer, 28 August 1964, found at: A brief transcript of this interview can be found in Badman’s The Beatles: Off the Record, 119. However, Badman credits John with the retort, “Well, it grows out of my head and John with “We don’t need an excuse. You need an excuse.”

[v] Cleave, Maureen, “How Does a Beatle Live?”

[vi] Davis, Ivor, The Beatles and Me on Tour, p. 83. Davis states, “I got to know and appreciate John the best.”

Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series:


Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.


Instant Karmal Knowledge

“And so this is Christmas,

And what have you done,

Another year over…

A new one just begun.”


Already it’s here. The final blog of 2016. The year is winding to a close faster than any of us ever wanted it to or imagined it could. But try as we might, we can’t slow its pace or turn back time. Life is rapidly moving on.


Two springs ago, the night my mother passed, she pointedly looked at me and said, “But…I didn’t get to do all the things I wanted to do!!!” It’s a haunting quote – one I’ve never forgotten. I wonder if John felt the same. I wonder how many people do.


I have a little snow globe on my desk that says, “Time is a gift.” Every day, I shake it, only to watch the snow flakes quickly settle to the bottom and fall silent. And as the magic swiftly vanishes, I think to myself how precious each moment is…how precious – and how fleeting.


Plainly said, each of us has but a moment – a brief time to reach out and offer love, to be kind, to be open, to give peace (and people) a chance, to appreciate life and those around us, to set things right. If The Beatles taught me anything, they taught me that we are here to give of ourselves to others. In Biblical terms, to “be not weary in well-doing.” The boys said it over and over:


  1. Love is giving, giving love.
  2. Ah! Look at all the lonely people!
  3. With our love, we can change the world…
  4. I get by, with a little help from my friends.
  5. Love, love, love…love is all you need.


And just in case you missed the message – couched as it is in this poetic form – John (in his unvarnished, lay-it-on-the-line manner) spelled it out for us all very clearly. You can’t miss the memo here:


Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head!
You better get yourself together…
Pretty soon you’re gonna be dead!
What in the world you thinking of
Laughing in the face of love?
What on earth you tryin’ to do?
It’s up to you! Yeah, you!!

Instant Karma’s gonna get you…
Gonna look you right in the face!
Better get yourself together, darlin’,
Join the human race!
How in the world you gonna see
Laughin’ at fools like me?
Who in the hell d’you think you are?
A super star?
Well, right you are!

Well, we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun…
Well, we all shine on!
Ev’ryone, come on!



I don’t know what “getting yourself together, darlin’” involves for you, but I know what it involves for me, and I think I’d best be doing it.


Because as the wild ride known as 2016 begins to tick away into memory, I think we can all agree that it has been challenging for us all. Some things were said that should never have been said. Some things were done that should never have been done. And while we’d like to believe that karma is not instant and life will give us abundant opportunity to make things right, the unrelenting march of time does not, my friend, slow for regret.


Instead, there is a finite amount of days before the ball drops in Times Square, a precious moment before the snowflakes settle. There isn’t “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” as Shakespeare once suggested.  Instead, there is, “a bit of hurry up involved” to quote another Englishman, just as wise.


And so this is Christmas…and what have we done? Well, not as well as we’d hoped, actually. But perhaps in the next 30 days, we can undo some of that. We can try to Come Together and be friends again…repair and reunite, heal the hurts, and walk into 2017 closer than ever.


And that, I believe, is the message not only of our Beatles but of the season. May that light Shine On.


In honor of our beloved Sir George Martin and dedicated to the lasting memory of John Winston Lennon. John, you said that you never die until the last person who speaks your name is gone. “I call your name” daily. You will always be remembered.

Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series:


Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.


If Not For You

It was an icy Liverpool winter, 1957, and seventeen-year-old John Lennon sat on his narrow bed just above the Mendips glassed-in porch, strumming his guitar and singing quietly to himself, lest Aunt Mimi hear. He was dreaming…dreaming of Someday…dreaming of becoming “bigger ’n Elvis.” That lazy afternoon, he was dreaming of achieving what he always referred to as “the toppermost of the poppermost.”


But NEVER…never in his wildest dreams did he ever imagine that 60 years later there would be Beatles authors, artists, reporters, bloggers, publicists, DJ’s with weekly Beatles radio shows, Las Vegas musicals, Broadway shows, websites, television specials, and a Fest for Beatles Fans. He never dreamed he was about to create a Beatles World.


Now, don’t get me wrong, John didn’t do it alone. He didn’t do it without the extraordinary genius of Paul McCartney, the talent and wry humor of George Harrison, and the grounded backbeat (both musically and spiritually) of Ringo Starr. And they didn’t do it without the ideas and concepts taught to him by Allan Williams (“Mach Shau, lads!”), Stu Sutcliffe (“Be an artiste, John, not just a rocker!”), Brian Epstein (“Dress appropriately; finish each song; don’t swear at the audience; stick to the playlist; bow after each number”.) and George Martin, whose creative magnificence helped to mold the music.


They didn’t do it without the input of so-called “Minor Players” (who were also giants in their own way): Neil Aspinall, Tony Barrow, Mal Evans, Beryl Adams, Pete Shotton, Bob Wooler, Tony Bramwell, Alistair Taylor…and oh yes, a slender lovely Irish girl who gave her time and talent to run the Beatles Fan Club, Freda Kelly. He didn’t do it without ghost writers, photographers, and reporters who told the story to you and me: Bill Harry, Ray Coleman, Hunter Davies, Maureen Cleave, Michael Braun, Larry Kane, Derek Taylor, Dezo Hoffman, Robert Freeman, or Ivor Davis.


Together an entire host of smart, determined, cutting-edge men and women worked shoulder-to-shoulder to create a phenomenon:


There were the EMI engineers and second engineers: Norman Smith, Geoff Emerick, Richard Langham…


The supporting actors in each film: Victor Spinetti (always there), Norm Rossington, Eleanor Bron, Leo McKern, Wilfred Brambell…


The style setters: Dougie Millings, Astrid Kirchherr, Horne Brothers…


The tour facilitators: Sid Bernstein, Norman Weiss, Tony Barrow, Bob Bonis…


The NEMS staff: Clive Epstein, Freda Kelly, Beryl Adams, Anne Collingham, Wendy Hanson, Tony Barrow, Alistair Taylor…


And those singularly important women: Julia Stanley Lennon, Louise Harrison, Mimi Smith, Elsie Greaves, Cynthia Powell Lennon, Maureen Starkey, Pattie Boyd Harrison, Jane Asher, Linda McCartney, Yoko Ono, Olivia Harrison, and May Pang.


It took an entourage – a retinue – to make this dream come true.


Right now, you’re shouting out a name I didn’t mention – someone whose role in the chain of events you especially relate to. Maybe it’s Ken Townsend or Pete Best or Chris O’Dell or Billy Preston or Eric Clapton or…well, you know who it is. And the truth is, they’re all important. They all contributed a sliver to the stained glass mosaic that was beautifully necessary for the whole. Removing one scarlet slice or one cerulean circle would have changed the entire picture. Altered it forever.


 “But of all these friends and lovers

There is no one

Compares with you.”


That’s right…dead in the center of the complex pattern of triangles, crescents, swirls, and ovals rests the most necessary piece of all: YOU.


Without you, the records go un-purchased. Without you, the fanzines fail to sell. Without you, the Beatles T-shirts and sweatshirts and wigs and games and bubblegum cards and clocks sit dusty on their overstocked shelves. No tickets sell. No posters dot walls. Without you, Shea Stadium stands empty. Without you, the theaters never fill. Without you, the books remain closed; the films, unviewed; the artwork, ignored. In all the Beatles’ story, the single most necessary and important ingredient has always been you: the fans. You are the ones who propelled The Beatles to heights they could never have anticipated.


In case you haven’t noticed, we don’t host a “Fest for The Beatles.” Ours is a “Fest for Beatles FANS.” Because all along, we’ve realized it: this dream-come-true is all about you. On April 15-17 in Westchester, we will celebrate your crucial role in The Beatles’ success. We’ll smile and raise a glass to your unswerving belief in the lads, your lifelong support. We will fête you with songs, laughter, entertainment, dances – a bit of well-deserved frolic! Because 60 years ago, John Lennon sat in his bedroom and dreamed, and thanks to you, his quiet, whispered vision blossomed into an awesome reality.


April 15-17 is your time! It is a weekend set apart to celebrate you, the beloved Beatles Fans. A party is being given in your honor, and “a splendid time is guaranteed for all.” Come to the Fest! You are our special guest.

Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series:


Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.


Remembering Our John…John Lennon

Inspired by Mark Lapidos’ brilliant blog on “timelessness” as it relates to life and death…I began to mull over a similar concept…


Volume 2 in The John Lennon Series, Shivering Inside, is sold out in physical form. Unless you buy a slightly used copy on the secondary market and pay an insane amount of money, the “real book” is unavailable.


But here’s the thing: it’s still alive-and-well on Kindle. You can read it and hear all that it has to say. You can laugh at John’s wit, feel his frustration at the growing press of Beatlemania, and tragically, experience his utter devastation when Stu Sutcliffe passes. You can see the pictures of Liverpool and The Beatles in 1961-63, explore the Scouse (Liverpudlian) glossary, read the essays in the appendix, and learn from the biographies at the back of the book. The only thing you can’t do is touch the book –- hold it in your hand.


And today, that is of great comfort.


Y’know, John famously said that death is like “getting out of one car and gettin’ into another.” And, perhaps if he’d lived to see the flowering of the internet, he might have said, “It’s like movin’ from hard copy to docx. It’s like bein’ scanned into cyberspace.”

Today, John is “on Kindle,” as it were. He’s still very much alive…and happier, I believe.


You see, all day I’ve been listening to Lennon tunes, and around noon, he wailed out:


“You know life can be long
And you got to be so strong
And the world is so tough…
Sometimes I feel I’ve had enough…”


When I heard those words, I remembered: life was harsh for John. He faced unimaginable battles that no one else could have weathered: losing his mother and father (for complicated reasons) at age 5; living with the rigid Mimi Smith and his beloved Uncle Ge’rge only to lose Ge’rge himself when John was just 15; reuniting with his mother, Julia, and becoming her best friend, only to lose her to death a mere handful of years later; loving and then losing his soul mate, Stu…and on and on and miserably on. For John, life was one “long string o’ misery,” as they say in Liverpool. He suffered.


But because he was who he was, John determinedly turned those never-ceasing hurts and hits into victories. Like the fairy-tale character Rumplestiltskin, who could weave straw into gold, John transformed his pain into the magical, often mystical, music of our lives. But always chasing the “Next Big Thing” that could possibly mend his heart and make him happy, John depleted a lifetime in sorrow. In fact, he spelled it out for us:


“How can I go forward when I don’t know which way I’m facing?
How can I go forward when I don’t know which way to turn?
How can I go forward into something I’m not sure of?
Oh no, oh no!


How can I have feeling when I don’t know if it’s a feeling?
How can I feel something if I just don’t know how to feel?
How can I have feelings when my feelings have always been denied?
Oh no, oh no!”


Here on earth, John struggled.


For years after John passed, I prayed for him daily, prayed that God would give me some kind of a sign that John was happy…some kind of message or “white feather” or hint that John was happier there than he was here. I prayed.


Finally, in 1995 (only four days prior to the anniversary of John’s death), a new Lennon-composed Beatles song was released that answered my questions and quieted my fears. It told me flat-out and in no uncertain terms that John – though no longer “available in physical form” — was indeed shining on. He was, in fact, “home and dry.”


And today, though quite selfishly I miss him here, I would want him nowhere else. He is “on Kindle,” riding in that second bigger ‘n better car, scanned into cyberspace, free as a bird. And for the first time ever, Our John is happy.


CLICK HERE to listen to his original “Free as a Bird.” It is an abundance of white feathers…


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series:


Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.


December 8th — 35 years on

From Fest Founder and Director Mark Lapidos:


Time is a concept. It really doesn’t exist. You can’t touch it, feel it, breathe it. It is basically a demarcation line of events in a lifetime.


Well, this event was a life-changer for so many of us. None of us who were around will ever forget the moment we heard. It was the worst moment in my life. Perhaps John figured out how to stop time, because that moment wasn’t 35 years ago. It just can’t be. Maybe it was last year or two years ago.


Time doesn’t work so well when dealing with events like this one. “Life is very short and there’s no time.” There, he said it in song — there is no time! 


And yet here we are, still wondering how the world would be different had John lived. His voice was singular. I know in my heart he would have made a big difference (plus given us a lost wealth of music).


We are left with only those ideas in our brains of what would be different. We know we can not alter the past, but the past is a function of time, which is a concept. John lives in all of our hearts and that will never change. I miss him.


All you need is love…


You say it’s his birthday?

All around me in these last few days leading up to John Lennon’s 75th Birthday, there’s rush, rush, rush! I’ve ordered the largest sheet cake that the local bakery makes…and I’m writing my toast for our 36th Annual John Lennon Bash here in Monroe, LA at Enoch’s Irish Pub. I’ve purchased banners, balloons, tablecloths, and decorations…and the gig is ON!


The celebration, you see, is a major tradition around these parts. In fact, ours is the longest-running Lennon party in America, twice recognized by Yoko. It’s quite the fête! We’ll have Jameson toasts, live music, Facetimed well-wishes, and the singing of the birthday song, world-wide, at 9 p.m.


Enoch Doyle Jeter, long time owner of the pub where John’s bash is always held (though these days the bar is owned by his son, John…named for Our John Himself), has only one rule about the Lennon party: No crying in your beer! The first person who even hints at something maudlin is ejected, bodily. Doyle demands many happy returns of the day. Nothing less.


So Doyle would shudder over people who like to speculate on the 9th of October, “What would John’ve been like, if he were alive today? What would he be doing, thinking, saying, writing?” And honestly, to quote The Beach Boys, “God only knows.”


John was John…as variable as Liverpool’s climate: a bright copper vane spinning in the capricious Mersey winds. He was hot and cold, rain then shine…a tornado when least expected. And to answer a hypothetical question about his imagined future is to delve into the realm of fan fiction, anyway. Time is better spent – I think – remembering. (Don’t worry, Doyle…I’ll remember happily!)
To me, the correct question is, “What was John really like when he was here?”




John was an artist. His adroit single-line sketches were observant, wry…funny. At times, they were biting. Had he not been one of the most talented musicians of the Twentieth Century, he would have been one of its greatest artists.


John was a satirist. Like “The Wicked Wasp of Twickenham,” Alexander Pope, John could turn a phrase. In His Own Write and Spaniard in the Works were not only best sellers, they won literary awards and the applause of critics. John was a gifted writer. That could have been his medium.


John was a peace activist. Few people would give up their honeymoon to make a political statement or shave their heads or sit in a bag or “become a clown for peace” (as John put it). John Lennon dared to speak out boldly. He dared to sacrifice his sex appeal for the peace appeal made by that gaunt young man in the round glasses. In the ’70s, John was New York’s Gandhi.


John was kind. Yes, it’s true. Ask young Helen Shapiro whom he befriended and protected on her tour bus. The same story is told by his Liverpool College of Art classmates, Phyllis McKenzie and Helen Anderson. And when Paul and George were itching to ditch Pete for Ringo, John lobbied to protect his friend. Inside his very tough exterior, there was another John. A kinder, gentler John…as it were.


John was interesting. I’ve interviewed hundreds of people who knew John. And the phrase that I hear most often is this, “I really liked Ringo and George and got on well with Paul, but the one person I was closest to was John.” It’s repeated almost word-for-word by the likes of Tony Barrow (after a rocky start), Larry Kane, Ray Coleman, and Ivor Davis. John respected interesting, smart people. He got on well with them. He could converse on many topics and be quite affable. John was fun to be around…well, most of the time.


John was an avid reader. Newspapers, he devoured. Books, he poured over constantly. He was always happy if he had a book or pen and paper. John loved words and wordplay. He loved literature.


John loved dressing outlandishly. Liverpool College of Art life model, June Furlong, once ridiculed him for wearing a purple mohair sweater. And, we all know that he brought elaborate cowboy boots home from Hamburg. John was always outside the box, long before he donned the pocketless suits that Brian Epstein adapted from Astrid’s design. John was fashion-forward.


John was an actor. At Liverpool College of Art, he starred as an ugly stepsister in his own production of “Cinderella.” And Beatles pantomimes were his cup of tea. Most of all, John acted happy as he endured the rigors and terrors of Beatlemania. By the time John assumed those roles in “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Help,” and “How I Won the War,” he was a seasoned professional. Richard Lester said that of all the Beatles, John was the only one with real acting talent. Indeed, he permitted John to improvise lines at will. John had that knack.


Poet, gifted rock’n’roll singer, composer, guitarist, pianist, lyricist, innovator…John Lennon was unique. Despite the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that left him motherless, (and to some extent fatherless), John fought on. He never crumpled under the barrage of tragedy that assaulted him. Instead, his response to his life’s losses was “hold your head up; put one foot in front of another; move on.”


More than anything else, John was a fighter. And what I’ll remember about him this week as I light those birthday candles at Enoch’s is his courage and determination. John had “every reason on earth to be mad,” to give up and do nothing with his life. Instead, he turned his pain into the soundtrack of our lives.


That’s what I’ll remember. How about you?


Happy 75th Birthday, John.


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series:


Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.


Now and Then

I’ve just been listening to “Now and Then,” the haunting John Lennon song which was enhanced by the other Beatles and ultimately scrapped during the Anthology sessions. And as I listen to the lonely, dark lyrics and solemn sound, I keep whispering to John, “Be present, be present.”


John was so rarely present. In his Spector-ized Rock’n’Roll LP and in the fan-produced version of “Now and Then,” (LISTEN HERE) he’s so far away, removed, absent from the moment. It was his way. He constantly distanced himself from his true sound, his true self, his true feelings.


After the loss of his mother, Julia, the second time — when death took her in July of 1959 — John “hid his love away” and withdrew. For days, he was physically cloistered in his Mendips room, refusing even to eat. And when at last he emerged, John was no longer the incorrigible little boy who had pulled faces at Mimi and Ge’rge and pretended to be “The Famous Eccles.” He was a bitter and cynical teen with “a chip on his shoulder…bigger than his feet.” The new John was a stranger, even to himself.


In the years that followed, he rarely let “the former John” shine through. He protected himself in a thick, snarking, leather-jacketed armor that shielded his feelings, protected his wounds, and separated him from anyone or anything that could “get at him.” Cynical, angry, tough, and guarded, John employed every screen that would defend. He adopted a persona that kept people at arm’s distance. John Winston Lennon was not present.


Double-tracking his voice to the point of sounding as if he’s in another room, stepping farther and farther away from the microphone and vanishing into a sound box far across the hall, John slipped into a seclusion that eventually led to “house husband,” to towered genius, to recluse. He was present only to the few that he trusted. And even then…he watched his back.


That’s the legacy he leaves us in the haunting “Now and Then.” He sings, “But if you have to go, away, if you have to go…Now and then, I miss you.” And instantly we’re there,  standing shoulder-to-shoulder with that wounded, broken teen whose mother was capriciously in and out of his life, whose mother was here and there and gone again, whose mother was finally violently taken — when he needed her most.


That hurt never turned into acceptance. That wound never healed.


John was quick to tell Astrid after Stu’s death that she had a choice to make. She could die with Stu or go on living. It was her choice, John said. But strangely enough, John had already made the choice to bury himself with Julia and to become a different soul: a soul bound in invisible armor.


Are you that soul? Am I? Are we so far removed that our voice comes drifting in from another room? Are we so shielded from the many who’ve wounded us that we no longer let anyone love us, really? Are we so scared that we anticipate being abandoned and stave off the pain before it can even begin? Do we wound others before they can wound us? Do we fear being present?


Now and then…I do.


Now and then, you might, too.


I wonder what John would do if he had the chance to do it all over again. I wonder: Would he love more, embrace more, relish more, enjoy more, open up more, feel more, surrender more? Or would he say that being absent was just the ticket?


I lean closer to the computer speakers. I strain. I listen to his haunting, distant sound. And then, I reflect, now and then. I wonder.


You can listen to John’s demo of “Now and Then” HERE.


 Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series:


Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.


Say The Word…Love!

For a great majority of Beatles Fans (the Boomer variety), these quotes from John and Paul are oh-so true. The golden thread of memories we share with loved ones is, in many cases, longer than the days that unspool before us. We’ve been blessed with a joyful past – rich and full. And you know that can’t be bad! But there’s a flip side to that bounty of yesterdays.


In the last couple of months, my Fest Blog has included a final, loving tribute to Cynthia Lennon and one for John’s sound engineer, Dennis Ferrante. And in the year ahead, we’re sure to say goodbye to more of that original group who made up The Beatles Family. It’s that “time of the season,” and we all know it.


I was mulling over this situation last week – thinking how very sad it is that, in most cases, we only express how much people have meant to us when we’ve lost them. Then we scramble to write eulogies and memoires. We publish favorite photos on Facebook and place stuffed animals beside lighted candles. We pause to pay homage. But unfortunately, these tender tributes never reach the ears of the departed.


Too little, too late.


So…for the next two weeks, I’m encouraging you to “Say the Word…Love!” to someone you cherish. You might speak to:


1) A teacher or mentor from long ago who challenged you to become your best, who molded you (intentionally or unintentionally by a quote, deed, or direction) into the person you are today
2) A faithful friend who’s always there for you…the person who’s your “thick and thin, Stu Sutcliffe” kind of soul mate
3) A parent, grandparent, aunt, or cousin…some family member who (expecting nothing in return) has blessed you with unconditional love
4) An inspirer…a favorite performer, writer (for me, it was Maeve Binchy…why didn’t I tell her???), artist, achiever, or public figure who has stirred you to be greater and better
5) A faith guide who has lifted you to a higher plane
6) Or a…well, you get the picture!


There is someone out there who deserves your thanks, someone to whom the words have never been said. Say them. Email, text, scribble by hand, telephone, Instagram, or “say the word,” face-to-face! But no matter what you do…say it! Don’t wait until it’s too late to speak the emotions that are in your grateful heart.


In 1965, John Lennon gave us this advice. It was good then. It’s great now. Listen:


Everywhere I go I hear it said
In the good and the bad books that I have read:
Say the word, and you’ll be free!
Say the word and be like me…
Say the word I’m thinking of
Have you heard the word is “love”?
It’s so fine…it’s sunshine!
It’s the word: LOVE!


Love: you have 14 days to express it. Don’t delay!
Ready? Steady? Say, say, say!


For a bit of inspiration, CLICK HERE to listen to The Beatles singing “The Word”


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series:


Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.


Cynthia Lennon: Shine On

At the New York Metro Fest for Beatles Fans two weeks ago, I delivered a talk called  “Cynthia Lennon: the Real Fifth Beatle.” And with all my heart, I believe she was just that.


She was there in the basement of The Jacaranda, holding John’s microphone for him (well, a mic duct taped to a broom) in 1959…long before Stu or Brian or Pete or George Martin ever appeared on the scene. She lovingly told John that he was “too big for Liverpool” as she watched him rehearse with Paul and George in Room 21 at Liverpool College of Art during those lunchtime sessions of 1959 and 1960. And unswervingly, she believed in his destiny to achieve “the toppermost of the poppermost” long before the Beatlettes (or even the Wooden Tops) existed. Cynthia was the first to understand and cherish John’s dream.


When Cynthia found out the she was pregnant, John immediately (immediately!) offered to marry her. And had she pressed him to leave the band and become a “proper husband and father,” I believe he would have been just as dutiful in doing “the right thing.” But Cynthia never asked that of John.


Instead, Cyn spent her honeymoon night alone – moving in to Brian’s Falkner Street flat and making a home for John, even though he had offered to take her along with him that evening to his gig. Cynthia refused. She chose to remain in the background and to shun the limelight and to give John a home to which he could always come when he was tired, frustrated, and in need of love.


During the year (August 1962-August 1963) that Brian forbade her to appear with John in public, Cynthia acted accordingly and vanished from sight to help her husband’s career. She ran from reporters. She shielded her husband and her son. She pushed her needs aside and endured aching loneliness so that The Beatles could grow and emerge as the stars she knew they were to be.


When girlfriends joined the troupe of Beatles – as did Maureen Cox – Cynthia befriended them and made them feel welcome. She worked side-by-side with Freda Kelly to answer John’s fan mail, and she endured the torrent of fans in Emperor’s Gate for much longer than was humanly possible. Cynthia did whatever John needed her to do to help him achieve the life for which he longed.


Did John love Cynthia? Devotedly.


In January of 1964, The Beatles were appearing for three weeks in Paris. During that time, they got one day (one day!) off. The other three Beatles spent that day sight-seeing and sleeping and having a grand ole time. John flew back to London for that 24 hours to spend the time with Cyn. It was worth it to him. She recharged him and inspired him and made him whole.


And on that one day in which they were together, John invited Cyn to come along with him on his first American visit in February of 1964, even though Brian had forbidden him to ask his wife along. John wanted Cynthia to share in the excitement and the joy of his success – a success that her devotion had made possible. And she accepted. At Ed Sullivan, Carnegie Hall, Miami, and Washington, D.C. Cynthia was there.


In America, reporters tried to get her to talk. She would not. She stayed in the shadows and let her husband take the bows. She made her life about John and about John’s son, her beloved Julian. And even when she wrote her first book, A Twist of Lennon, she minimized John’s faults and played up his strengths. She was his best friend.


In Lennon Revealed, Larry Kane writes, “The romance between Cynthia Powell and John Lennon, somewhat forgotten in the modern era of Lennon remembrances – and often ignored when it was in full bloom – is a significant one for the young artist. Although the marriage was prematurely instigated by the pregnancy that brought Julian to life, there is no question that Cynthia was John’s first real and intense romantic love and that her role in his early days of creativity with The Beatles cannot be discounted.”


And Tony Bramwell, Kane notes, adds, “Cynthia was beautiful, physically and on the inside. Although she knew he was apt to find love on the road, she was totally dedicated to his success, and I might add, influential. He was insecure and Cynthia was always there to pump him up, to buttress…his weak side. She was a wonderful mother who loved John deeply.”


John’s indiscretions were ignored by Cynthia. His anger was forgiven. His focus on his career rather than his marriage was never even considered a problem to his adoring wife. Cynthia wanted the best for John, always. And that kind of unconditional love sparked “When I Get Home,” and “Do You Want to Know a Secret” and “I Call Your Name” and “It Won’t Be Long” and so many more. Even when Beatlemania began to take its toll on their marriage, John penned the haunting “It’s Only Love” for his Cyn.


Today the world has lost the Fifth Beatle. But more importantly, it has lost a true lady who made “night time bright, very bright.” Cynthia Lennon will always shine on.