It was January something or other

By Guest Blogger Michael Byrne

 

It was January something or other, 1964. I had just turned 9-years-old the previous September and was in the fourth grade. My family lived in a small town near Philadelphia called Morrisville, Pennsylvania.

 

The Phillies weren’t turning out very good teams, so like a lot of boys my age, my heroes were the Yankees’ Mickey Mantle and Roger Marris and astronaut, John Glenn, who had recently become the first American to orbit the earth.

 

My brother and sister are 8 and 9 years older than I, so I heard a lot of their music around the house. Their favorites included early Motown; rockers like Elvis, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, and Little Richard; the Beach Boys and others. So, as you can see, I was exposed to some really great music as a little kid.

 

My parents were very musical, too. My Mom was a wonderful singer and my Dad was a self-taught organist. There was lots of music in my life!

 

I had asked for and received a transistor radio that Christmas, and after returning from school in the afternoon, was eager most days to walk  beneath “the blue suburban skies” with it held up to my ear, listening to WFIL, WABC and WIBG…hoping to hear my favorite songs.

 

At that time, “Louie, Louie” by The Kingsmen was the Number One song just about everywhere in the USA, and I loved it! I could listen to that song over and over again. I really didn’t want to hear much else. So, each week, I’d wait to hear the countdown to the #1 song. I was sure it would be that song with the great beat and the lyrics no one could understand.

 

This particular January week however, would be different…WABC’s afternoon DJ, Dan Ingram, informed listeners that there was a new Number One song on the charts. It had shot up to Number One out of almost nowhere, and the phone lines were on fire with requests to hear it! This annoyed me as I really liked “Louie, Louie” and couldn’t believe anything could be better than that song, but I stayed tuned in just to see what all the fuss was about.

 

“It’s now Number One…on 77 WABC!” I still remember that little intro jingle…

 

Well, the first three notes of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” smacked me right in the face. I literally stopped dead in my tracks and listened to something I had never heard before. It was such an exciting sound! The vocals, the drums, the build-up at the end of the “middle eight”: “I can’t hide, I can’t hide, I CAN’T HIDE……..!!! Wow! Incredible!

 

When it was over, Dan Ingram talked about this new band called The Beatles and how they were from England and how they were going to be on The Ed Sullivan Show in just a few weeks and how they were so different and…I swear to God, I turned around and ran home, bursting in the front door yelling, “Mom, Mom I just heard the greatest song I have ever heard on the radio and the band is… and they’re gonna be on…and can we please watch it?”

 

She was so cool and said, “Of course, we can.” (We watched Ed Sullivan every week anyway.) Settle down now.”

 

As the weeks leading up to February 7, 1964 passed, I heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” many times, and its power never faded (and still hasn’t, for me). So, when the nightly news showed pictures of the airport press conference and the wild scenes outside The Beatles’ hotel, the whole thing became even more compelling! They looked incredibly cool, and they were so funny.

 

Q: “Are you going to get a haircut while you’re here?”

 

George: “I had one yesterday”.

 

(Hahaha.)

 

Q: “There’s some doubt that you can actually play; can you play for us?”

 

John: “No, we need money first.”

 

(Too cool!)

 

The radio stations also began playing other Beatles songs: “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Twist and Shout,” “All My Loving,” and “Please, Please Me”.

 

My Mom bought me Meet the Beatles. She was the coolest! I played it every day after school, and she didn’t complain at all. In fact, she liked it! She thought they were great. Of course, that hair was “ridiculous,” wasn’t it?

 

The 9 February Ed Sullivan performance was, of course, incredible, and it’s all anyone in school talked about for weeks! My life changed that day that I first heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the radio. I will never forget it. Eventually, I became a musician myself, and I continue to play and write music to this day.

 

The Beatles and their music, style, and talent became a major influence on my life.

 

Their message was clear… “Love is all you need.”

 

Wouldn’t it be great if the whole world got it?

Share

In My Life — What are your earliest memories of The Beatles?

What are your earliest memories of The Beatles? How did your journey with the Fab Four begin? Jude Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, shares her sentimental journey and encourages you to share yours! Our panel of judges will award 3 prizes for the best very brief stories in our Comments section below. The winners will get to expand their stories and be highlighted as our Featured Fest Bloggers in June!

 

Here’s Jude’s true tale:

 

I’ve told the story at least a hundred times: how 9-year-old Pattie Holly Singer — clasping an early Beatles 45-rpm photo jacket — waylaid me en route to class at Horseshoe Drive Elementary in Alexandria, Louisiana.

 

These are The Beatles!” she exhaled, her eyes dancing nervously. “Everyone’s in love with them!!! You’ve gotta pick one to fall in love with…by recess!” That was the beginning of it all, really — the sojourn into the frenetic and frantic land of Beatlemania.

 

All the rest of my memories that year center on The Beatles. I can’t recall anything else “in my life.”

 

My father, Dr. Tom Paul Southerland, the Rapides Parish Assistant Superintendent of Schools, was not impressed. Each month, he’d call me into his office and sit me down to begin the standard lecture: “You’re in love with that John Lennon, and it has to stop! He’s a hoodlum, I tell you. A hoodlum!” But the more my dad divulged that “fact,” the more I was attracted to the almond-eyed guitar player with his razored wit and deep, gritty voice…the more “The Leader Beatle” invoked devotion.

 

Despite my father’s despair over Lennon-mania, though, he saw sense. When “A Hard Day’s Night” came to Alexandria’s Don Theater, late that summer, he offered to take me to the film. He even did some research on it and commented on the cautious drive downtown, “I hear these Beatles are a lot like the Marx Brothers. Some people say they’re the Marx Brothers and the Keystone Cops, all rolled into one. In fact, down at the office, they tell me this movie really shows that side of their comedy.”

 

I don’t remember my response; I’m sure it was polite and agreeable. But in that fat, baby-blue-and-white, four-door Buick, I do remember thinking that I’d seen “You Bet Your Life” on TV and that John Lennon was nothing whatsoever like gruff, bespectacled, OLD Groucho Marx. I saw no correlation between Marx and Lennon, and frankly, I couldn’t imagine anyone who could! I bit my lip and sighed and thought my father and I, worlds apart.

 

At the end of film that afternoon, as the credits rolled across the screen (names I would come to know intimately in my adult life…some, like Victor Spinetti, whom I would meet and interview at our own Fest for Beatles Fans), I sat in the darkness and wept. I cried because I’d loved every minute of John’s film. (As Susan Ryan said to me years later, “What??! The other Beatles were in that movie????”) I sobbed because it had ended all too quickly. And I wept because there was no one there to understand my heart.

 

“Would you like to stay and see it again?” my father leaned over, asking me quietly. I was floored. Stunned! The man who had railed against The Beatles for months got it!!!! Somehow, he understood. And he was offering to devote two more hours of his life to a film he really didn’t want to see. It was a moment…one of the best of my childhood. My father had unwittingly conspired with The Beatles to create a forever memory.

 

Today, I live about two hours from Alexandria — or “Beatle Town,” as I call it. Every time I have an occasion to drive through the city or visit friends there, I fly back to 1964. I remember it all. I remember asking for my first Beatles album on my November birthday and getting, instead, a black-and-white LP by The Liverpool Beats singing, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There,” right alongside “Joshua” and “Maybe I Will.” I vividly recall fighting back hot tears over the sound of “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…” and trying to act thrilled over the errant record looming next to my chocolate cake. I also remember climbing into bed that night and writing a very early letter Santa, who surely, in just a few short weeks, would right the wrong and deliver the treasure I so craved.

 

On a very chilly and early 25 December 1964, as I tore into the thick, crimson foil encasing Capitol’s “Meet the Beatles,” my introduction to “the lads” was finally complete. In twelve short months I had found my passion for a lifetime and stepped into my future career. I had selected not only “a Beatle to love,” but had chosen the direction for my college course of study and the path of my professional life. From that day on, it would be all John Lennon, all the time.

 

And yes Virginia, it still is.

 

*********

Now…it’s your turn. Share your first and earliest Beatles’ story with us in the Comments below…let the memories Shine On.


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

 

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

Share

45 Years Ago Today — Fri., 4/26/1974 — The Start of the Most Important Weekend In ‘Beatlefest’ History!

BY FEST FOUNDER MARK LAPIDOS

 

This is my story (short version)
Little did I know on Friday morning, April 26, 1974 that I would hear an announcement that would forever alter my life’s direction. It started out pretty ordinary. I took the bus from NJ to NYC and headed over to Sam Goody, the flagship store of the biggest record chain in the area. By total coincidence, we were having a special on all Beatles albums that week, and I had all my staff wearing special 10th Anniversary Beatles shirts provided only to my store by Capitol Records.

 

It was when I returned home that evening when I turned on the radio to WABC and heard THAT announcement: John Lennon and Harry Nilsson would be appearing with Cousin Bruce in Central Park on Sunday (4/28/74) to support the 1st ever March of Dimes event. That is when I realized I was going to meet John to tell him my idea of a 10th Anniversary celebration of The Beatles Arrival in America! I had already thought of the idea at the end of November, 1973 and booked the Commodore Hotel for the weekend of September 7-8, 1974. The only thing missing was getting permission to honor The Beatles (I was an idealistic 26 year old). Of course, everybody thought I was nuts, but, apparently, that didn’t stop me!

 

I won’t go into the details here of how I found out (I have told this story before), but I did find out where John and Harry were staying. After their 15-20 minute talk with Cousin Brucie in Central Park in front of 100,000 people, I went to their hotel and knocked on the door. Harry graciously let me in, I told John about my idea. He said, “I’m all for it. I’m a Beatles Fan, too!”

 

So, within about 40 hours of hearing that announcement — 45 years ago today — I was sitting with John in his suite actually telling him all about my convention idea in detail! After that weekend, I was taken a lot more seriously and just over four months later, it happened. All of The Beatles donated musical instruments for our Charity Raffle, but John wanted to personally come down on the Sunday evening to pick the winner of his signed guitar. Yes, folks, it really did almost happen! Alas, he changed his mind and went up to his farm for the rest of the weekend. To this day, it was the biggest secret I EVER had to keep!

 

Have a great weekend!!

Peace and Love,

Mark Lapidos

Share

Shine On! These second generation Beatles fans are among our torch-bearers

At the dramatic close of the 1960’s Broadway hit, “Camelot,” a beleaguered King Arthur — preparing to face the final battle against his arch-enemy, Mordred — calls a young boy to his side. He instructs the youth to scarper from the battle as quickly as he can and to protect himself so that he will never

 

“…let it be forgot

that once there was a spot,

for one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot!”

 

That boy, King Arthur realizes, is the key to tomorrow. He is the one who will tell generations to come about the Knights of the Round Table — about their valiant deeds and their unique code of chivalry. To “this boy” belongs the future and the ongoing life of all that King Arthur so passionately created. The boy is, in our Beatles lingo, a “Second Gen Fan.”

 

Truly, our Second Generation Beatles Fans are our torch bearers. They (and their children, the Third Genners) are the ones who’ve taken up the light of Beatlemania. These fans — who never saw a live concert, who never watched The Beatles on Ed Sullivan (unless they did so via DVD), and who never stood screaming on an airport tarmac — are just as passionate, just as devoted, and just as committed to The Beatles as are the Baby Boomers. In fact, they are busy spreading the Beatles legend in extremely creative and original ways.


SCOTT ERICKSON
, a Second Gen fan from Danville, PA is a beloved and respected member of our Fest Family! A gifted musician who plays acoustic guitar, bass guitar, ukulele, keyboard, harmonica, and (as he says) “the occasional kazoo,” Scott is a devoted student of Beatles music. He performs at least one live session at each Fest for Beatles Fans, and we are blessed to have him! Scott has opened for Blue Oyster Cult, The Bacon Brothers (Actor Kevin Bacon and his brother Michael), comedian Gilbert Gottfried, and many others…and over the course of his career he’s performed and jammed with Keith Urban, members of The Smithereens, (former sidemen for Sir Paul!) Hamish Stuart, Robbie McIntosh and Wings drummer Steve Holley! Scott offers up widely varied music from country to pop, but always, The Beatles serve as his inspiration. At each Fest for Beatles Fans, he teams up with Dr. Kit O’Toole to share a “Deep Beatles” spotlight of some the lads’ lesser-known tunes. Coming up in Chicago, for example, the powerhouse duo will highlight a not-to-be missed session on The Esher Demos.

 

For more information on Scott Erickson and his upcoming gigs, go to: https://www.scottericksonmusic.com/

 

Or follow him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/officialscotterickson

LANEA STAGG, another animated, multi-talented Second Genner, hails from the Kansas City area and currently resides in Evansville, Indiana. Lanea is the creator and author of four music-inspired books in The Recipe Records Cookbook Series. Based on hit songs, Recipe Records offers menus (and song facts, trivia, and stories) that get us “out in the kitchen [to] rattle those pots and pans.” Each easy-to-prepare recipe is coupled with a “Song List” (instead of a “Wine List”) to play as one cooks, using Alexa – or a comparable device – to supply the sounds! In her Recipe Records: A Culinary Tribute to The Beatles, Stagg provides us with fun and delicious recipes such as Stuffed Sgt. Peppers, George Martinis, I Am the Eggs, Man!   In her Recipe Records: The 60s Edition book, she gives us Give Peas a Chance, and You Say Goodbye, I Say Jello. With guest Beatles-based chefs sharing their favorite recipes (Liverpool’s own David Bedford teaches us how to prepare “Scouse” and Jude Southerland Kessler supplies “Strawberry Pie Forever”), Stagg demonstrates her passion for The Fab Four in a very unique, hands-on, and joyous way. In her “spare” time (LOL!!!), Stagg co-hosts the “She Said She Said” Beatles podcast and was a speaker at the 2018 White Album Conference. She is also co-chairing the 2019 Beatles at the Ridge Symposium coming up in September! (We won’t even mention her Little Dog Series of children’s books! Second Gen energy for sure!) Lanea Stagg is multi-talented.

 

For more information on Lanea Stagg or to purchase her books, go to https://www.laneastagg.com

 

Or follow her on Facebook at:  https://www.facebook.com/LaneaStagg/

ERIKA WHITE (above) AND ALLISON BORON (below), podcast hosts of “BC The Beatles” hail from opposite coasts but they are united in their love of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Erika resides in New York’s bustling atmosphere, and Allison works in Los Angeles, but they “come together” to interview big names in The Beatles world such as Candy Leonard, Dr. Ken Womack, and Rob Sheffield.  They also tackle topics such as “What If The Beatles Had Passed the Decca Audition?” and “John Lennon: Sinner or Saint?”

Boron and White have both served on the Fest’s “Historian’s Panel” for years and have moderated numerous panels, individually. They were invited to speak at the 2018 White Album Conference in Monmouth University and are Featured Speakers for this year’s 2019 Beatles at the Ridge Beatles Symposium. Wildly popular, these two enthusiastic Second Gen Fans know their Beatles, and their podcasts certainly reflect that!

 

To listen to “B.C. The Beatles,” go to: https://bcthebeatles.podbean.com/

 

Or, follow them on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/bcthebeatles/

 

Happily for all of us, the recent New York Metro Fest for Beatles Fans this year was replete with Second (and Third) Gen musicians, fans, and speakers…and Chicago will be as well! We appreciate authors such as Robert Rodriguez and Dr. Kit O’Toole, podcast hosts such as Dave Thurmaier (“I’ve Got A Beatles Podcast”), Robert Rodriguez (“Something About The Beatles”) and Steven Krage (“The Objectivist”) and exuberant Public Relations agent, Nicole Michael of 910 Public Relations, who represents over 20 outstanding Beatles authors/speakers. Our Second Gen fans give us new perspectives, new insights, and new hope. They carry The Beatles into the coming years and inspire their children and grandchildren to keep the records playing.

 

As a Baby Boomer of the first order, I send love and support to them. Dragging them aside from life’s fray, I beg them to keep the true story accurate and alive. “Be well,” I say. “Be brave. But most of all, dear friends, shine on.”


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

 

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

Share

An Open Letter to Sir Paul McCartney: Come to the Fest!

Dear Sir Paul, (although many of us still fondly think of you as Paul, the lad from Allerton)

 

It was your idea, remember? In 1969, you tried to convince John that The Beatles ought to surprise random audiences and give impromptu concerts at smaller venues. He called the concept “daft.” We think it, genius.

 

Please…surprise us!!!

 

Last year, we watched longingly as you played the Philharmonic Pub to that lucky crowd gathered around you (and James Corden). We smiled to see you enjoying “Get (ting) Back” to your roots — to the haunts around The Institute that you know so well. We grinned along with the thrilled, enthusiastic crowd who will most certainly tell their grandchildren about the day they were fortunate to see Paul McCartney in Hope Street.

 

Please…thrill us!!!

 

Every one of us shared the priceless photo on social media (and in The Sun) of you riding blissfully along on a U.K. train, checking your texts and reading the newspaper…sitting there casually “in the trenches,” one of us again. To a man, (and a woman), we pretended that we were the providential passenger sitting across the aisle, giving you complete privacy while longing to lean over and whisper, “Just so you know, you changed my life forever.”

 

Give us that chance.

 

Please…trust us!!!

 

The Fest for Beatles Fans is in its 45th year, and for 45 years, we have gathered twice annually (in some years, three and four times) to play your songs, discuss the events of your life in depth, celebrate your new releases, and share our treasured photographs from your concerts. Some of us can boast never missing a Fest for Beatles Fans since its inception. Others are proud to have attended for 15 or 20 consecutive years, and yes, even that “modest” number is an investment of time, money, and devotion. We are fans in the truest sense of the word. No group of people anywhere would be more appreciative or more overcome with joy to welcome you in person.

 

We think you’d enjoy meeting us as well. A good many of us remember that first Ed Sullivan show. We were there, too…watching…agog. And for us, that night was just the beginning of live concerts, purchased LPs, trips to Liverpool, and a life of devotion.

 

Others of us are Second Gen fans…schoolteachers and dentists and accountants in our forties. But don’t let our age fool you! We’re no less devoted than the Baby Boomers. In fact, because we were introduced to The Beatles and Wings and “Macca” by our parents, teachers, or slightly older friends, we’ve compensated by becoming intensely passionate fans.

 

Finally, a huge portion of our Fest Family is comprised of Third Genners…excited and proud to be Beatles and McCartney fans in our teens and twenties. We know the stories just as well as the others do. And fifty years from now, we’ll be the ones telling them to those who will follow.

 

We are diverse. But demographics aside, Paul, we find that at heart, our Fest Family is very much alike. We subscribe to Beatlefan magazine and Octopus’ Garden fanzine. We listen to podcasts such as “Something About The Beatles” and “Breakfast with The Beatles” and “Beatles Brunch.” We have McCartney and Beatles libraries in our homes. We’ve collected every concert t-shirt you’ve ever printed. In short, we are your people — the ones who would really cherish that incredible moment when you’d suddenly appear on The Fest for Beatles Fans stage and rave across the boards, with a little help from your friends.

 

This year, the New Jersey Fest for Beatles Fans is set for Friday, 29 March; Saturday, 30 March, and Sunday, 31 March, and you are most cordially invited, Sir Paul. It would, indeed, be the honor of a lifetime to have you there!

 

We hope to see you in Jersey City at the Hyatt Regency where, thanks to the hard work of Mark and Carol Lapidos, their daughters Michelle Joni and Jessica, and the Fest staff and family, a “splendid time is guaranteed for all.” Having you with us, even for a moment or so, would certainly make it so. It was a great idea in 1969…but it’s an even better one now!

 

Cryin’, wishin’, hopin’, (your Cavern song!)

Your Fest Fans

 

P.S. We love you.


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

 

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

Share

Esher You Love It, Or You Don’t

The Esher Demos, those delightful “unplugged” precursors to The Beatles’ self-titled LP (commonly known as the White Album), were proof positive that Lennon and McCartney had completely different ideas about the way that rock’n’roll should be fashioned. 

 

From Day One, John firmly believed that music should be created extemporaneously — that reworking a piece over and over was “doin’ a thing to death.” John believed that a song’s beauty lay in its imperfection. Paul, on the other hand, thought that a musical composition should be slowly honed and developed…that a recording should be tweaked and re-recorded until the final product was exactly the way the songwriter wanted it. Two concepts. Both viable. 180 out.

 

Paul, therefore, arrived at George Harrison’s home, Kinfauns, in Esher, England on that day in late May 1968, with a pre-recorded tape of polished offerings for the next album. The songs that Paul played for his friends that chilly afternoon were very similar to the final product he offered listeners via the White Album tracks. Paul changed little in studio because he had worked diligently, (by himself and ahead of time) before he presented his Esher demos to The Beatles.

 

Not so with John Lennon. John arrived in Kinfauns with the beginnings of several excellent songs. He brought with him ideas and concepts that were to be “fleshed out by the band.” John proposed tangible ideas for his songs, but he had always believed that it took the consummate talents of the entire group to bring a song to life.

 

However, in the case of two tracks that John created for the White Album, there was a bit of theoretical acquiescence and compromise. In developing these songs, John did use the talents and efforts of his entire group, but he also employed the McCartney recipe for success. The two songs we’re about to look at evolved slowly, and they changed dramatically from May of 1968 to their eventual, delayed release. They are:

 

Child of Nature

 

Whist in Rishikesh, both John and Paul were inspired to write songs based on a talk that the Maharishi had given about the relationship between man and nature. Paul wrote “Mother Nature’s Son,” and John penned “Child of Nature.”

 

On some level, John must have known that the lyrics he’d scribbled onto paper were rather ludicrous. John was no child of nature.  In fact, I can only think of ONE instance in which he was profoundly touched by the majesty of his surroundings. In May of 1964, when John and Cynthia visited the Irish Cliffs of Mohr, John had perched alone, for some time, on a rocky, wind-swept Irish ledge. With Cynthia watching him protectively from a distance, John had taken it all in. And that afternoon as the sun set, he discovered a deep kinship with Ireland…a spiritual connection that spurred him to tell Cynthia that Ireland was where he wanted to retire, to spend the end of his life.

 

But otherwise, John spent as little time in nature as possible. Even when fervently trying to raise funds for a new guitar by mowing Mimi’s lawn, he never quite finished the job. Mimi told Ray Coleman: “He’d do half the job and give me a squeaker kiss for the rest.” John Lennon was no Euell Gibbons.

 

So here, in “Child of Nature” — as John tries to create a song about a theme that is foreign to him — he can’t quite take the job seriously. Indeed, as he sings his demo at Kinfauns, he warbles in a rather mocking way, filling the performance with exaggerated vibrato. It almost seems as if he is making fun of himself. In his heart of hearts, John knew that his lyrics lacked sincerity.

 

However, John didn’t give up on the offering…that afternoon, he diligently worked with his group. He double-tracked his voice on George’s Ampex recorder; he asked Ringo to use a shaker to accompany him. But despite a sincere effort, the song failed to soar.

 

Always shrewd and self-evaluating, John didn’t permit “Child of Nature” to be included on the White Album. For months after the LP’s release, he held it in abeyance.

 

Then, on the first day of the Let It Be sessions, John toyed with the offering again, recording it without that famous opening line, “On the road to Rishikesh.” By that juncture in history, John wanted nothing to remind him of the Maharishi. But try as he might, “Child of Nature” still didn’t work.

 

Finally, in 1971, John got down to brass tacks. He completely retooled the song into the very honest, open, and frank “Jealous Guy.” Now singing bespoke lyrics that suited his life and personality, John hit the mark.

 

I was dreaming of the past

And my heart was beating fast

I began to lose control, I began to lose control…

I didn’t mean to hurt you

I’m sorry that I made you cry…

 

Now this was about the real John…the little boy who had been so abandoned in his past that he could never trust future relationships…the child who had been so unloved that he could never relax into loving without the trembling query, “If I fell in love with you, would you promise to be true??” The lyrics of “Jealous Guy” were fitting for the man who often hurt people before they could hurt him. It was a genuine song.

 

In transforming “Child of Nature,” John had adopted Paul’s caution against work created too spontaneously. Though much later, John’s bent towards immediate release would succeed with “Instant Karma,” here a brilliant work was unearthed through years of change and reconsideration. “Child of Nature” was the germ of what would later become one of John’s most outstanding works.

 

Sexy Sadie

 

Like the British Romantic poets (Keats, Shelly, Wordsworth, Poe, Coleridge), John was most productive during periods of trial. His gift (and his key to survival) was transforming pain into music. And since the spring of 1968 was replete with pain and anguish for him, John was writing superb music.  Therefore, John came to Kinfauns bearing splendid songs to offer his mates. Some, like “Sexy Sadie,” however, still needed work.

 

Most Beatles fans know that John had penned “Sexy Sadie” in Rishikesh, during the aftermath of a rumour that the Maharishi had committed a grave impropriety with one of the young females on the Rishikesh excursion (a Mia Farrow look-alike named Pat, a nurse from Southern California).

 

John, who’d fervently hoped that the Maharishi would be “The Answer” to his marital problems and his discontent, reacted violently to the “griff” that the supposed holy man was more man than holy. John deducted, very sadly, that the Maharishi, therefore, probably didn’t hold the peace he was seeking, and disgusted, John had begun packing to leave India.

 

The version of “Sexy Sadie” that John sang to his friends in Esher wasn’t, of course, the original Rishikesh version. Only George Harrison had heard the initial lyrics, and he’d wisely convinced John not to use them. George had also encouraged John to scrap the very pointed title, “Maharishi,” pointing out not only the legal ramifications, but also, the bad karma one might incur from such a rash move. And John had listened.

 

With wisdom prevailing, John didn’t perform the original song at Kinfauns, either. Already, he’d begun the process of transforming “Maharishi” into the more acceptable “Sexy Sadie.” John had already implemented changes that would permit this song to be played on radio.

 

On July 19 and 21, in EMI Studios, John continued to cultivate his song. But this time, he moved more rapidly than he did with “Child of Nature.” Following his long-held philosophy of developing a song in studio with his band, John worked with “the group” to shape the track. The Beatles did 21 takes of “Sexy Sadie” on July 19, and then, completed another 23 takes on 24 July.  And that work certainly paid off.

 

“Sexy Sadie” emerged as the version that we now know. Although it is a rather “watered down” shadow of John’s original manuscript, the enhanced track appealed to a much wider group of listeners. Who hadn’t, at least once, been duped by a charming and duplicitous man or woman? Who hadn’t been deceived? John Lennon had sagely turned a personal affront into a universal theme…and in doing so, had created one of the strongest offerings on the White.

 

To learn more about the Esher Demos, attend Dr. Kit O’Toole’s presentation at the 2019 New York Metro Fest for Beatles Fans where you’ll be able to hear gifted musician, Scott Erickson, perform many of these unique songs for you.

 

To order your own copy of the newly remastered Esher Demos, HEAD HERE


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

 

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

Share

‘Tis the Esher Season!

Part 1

 

Prior to their 1968 summer and early autumn recording sessions at EMI, Paul McCartney stated that The Beatles’ original plan was to have several rehearsals prior to the recording of their new LP.[i] But “life,” as we all know, “is what happens while you’re making other plans.” [ii] And so, the boys got one day and one day only to present their ideas and concept songs for The Beatles LP to one another. But what a magical day it turned out to be…and what remarkable tracks have recently been revealed to us via the long-awaited mid-November 2018 release of the Esher Demos.

 

For McCartney fans, there are not as many diamonds to unearth on Esher as there are for Lennon or Harrison aficionados. In keeping with Paul’s lifelong belief that rock’n’roll should be well-manufactured rather than grown, extemporaneously organic, Paul came to George Harrison’s house at Kinfauns with his demo songs almost completely fleshed out. Prior to his arrival in Esher, Paul had performed and recorded the songs with full backing tracks. He’d left very little to the imagination. Indeed, few of McCartney’s Esher offerings deviate significantly from the version we’ve come to know so well on the White Album.

 

And although Ringo contributed significantly to the White Album, there was no original Starr composition proudly presented to the others on that late day in May 1968. Therefore, in Part 1 of our discussion of the Esher Demos, our focus will turn to two of George Harrison’s offerings, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Not Guilty.”  In Part 2, we’ll consider Harrison’s “Sour Milk Sea” and a clever Lennon contribution: “What’s the New Mary Jane?” And in our final blog prior to the New York Metro Fest, we’ll examine John’s “Child of Nature” and “Julia.”

 

؏

 

While My Guitar Gently Weeps — In Rishikesh, India, George was less productive musically than John and Paul because he firmly believed that writing music was contrary to everything The Beatles had journeyed to India to achieve. They were supposed to be (he insisted) retreating from work and the pressures of business; they were supposed to be concentrating on their souls.

 

Paul later commented on the Rishikesh experience: “I remember talking about the next album, and George was quite strict. He’d say, ‘We’re not here to talk music; we’re here to meditate.’”[iii]  But agreeing to George’s face, Paul kept right on clandestinely writing music…while John meditated but worked openly — looking, all the while, for “a shortcut” to the Inner Light.

 

But despite their myriad of distractions from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s teachings, the deep influence of India, nevertheless, filled the White Album. Indeed, George was later quoted as saying, “The experience of India was all embodied in that album.”[iv] And nowhere is it heard or felt more than in the reflective, soul-searching Esher version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

 

Without being preachy (and George could occasionally be preachy, as in “Within You, Without You”), this quiet song enumerates the sins and faults of his “brothers” and almost pleads with them for repentance and a better way forward.

 

In this raw, primitive Esher version — minus the urgency of Clapton’s dazzling lead guitar — you can hear George’s heartbreak. Rock’n’roll author of The Recipe Records Series, Lanea Stagg, commented, “You can almost taste the salt of George’s tears.” Pared down to its essentials, Esher’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is even more poignant and touching than its final iteration.

 

This May 1968 version of the song is the background that we hear playing as Martin Scorsese’s “Living in the Material World, Part II” opens. And it’s an apt beginning to the second half of George’s biography, because with this song, Harrison more or less declares his independence from The Beatle collective and dejectedly, but firmly, sets out on his solo career.

 

Once this song goes into EMI production — once it’s engineered and filled out — the listener will hear Harrison’s words less clearly, less pointedly. But here, with minimal embellishment, one digests the deep disappointment that George has found in John and Paul:

 

“I don’t know why nobody told you how to unfold your love,

I don’t know how someone controlled you,

They bought and sold you.”

 

 

However, although you can’t miss the sorrow in George’s voice (the regret that things have played out as they have), you can also hear his resolve. He has come to terms with the fact that the world is still turning; he realizes that there are other options for him. And if waiting around too long to be respected has been a mistake, well, “with every mistake, we must surely be learning.” And so, George is sadly — very sadly — realizing that he must now move on.

 

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” always tugs at the heartstrings, but never more than when you hear it without any distractions. This is just George from Speke telling his boyhood Merseyside friends how much he has loved them and how much he has suffered…and now, at last, he intends to say goodbye.

 

In this version, it is George Harrison’s — and no one else’s — guitar that gently weeps.

 

Not Guilty –

 

“Not Guilty” is another of George Harrison’s songs (in the same vein as “Piggies,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and “Sour Milk Sea”) in which he reprimands his mates for the way they’ve dealt with him through the years.  However, his other songs are rather veiled — somewhat softened. This track is not milquetoast. This is Harrison standing up for himself, without apology, without regret.

 

In fact, in 1999, George told Billboard Editor-in-Chief, Timothy White, that this song addresses “the grief I was catching from Lennon and McCartney post-India.” He went on to say that he was telling them once and for all that: “I wasn’t guilty of getting in the way of their career. I said I wasn’t guilty of leading them astray in our going to Rishikesh to see the Maharishi. I was sticking up for myself …”[v]

 

According to Harrison biographer Peter Doggett, in You Never Give Me Your Money, another issue that George was addressing was the incredible amount of money that The Beatles had invested on the launch of Apple. George had always been a sharp-eyed steward of the group’s finances, and in the spring of 1968, he felt that Apple’s extravagances were “too lavish” and unnecessary. In “Not Guilty,” Harrison relents and says he “won’t upset the Apple cart.” But, clearly, George isn’t pleased with the status quo.

 

The Esher version of “Not Guilty” is clear evidence that by May of 1968, George Harrison was no longer content to be long-suffering, to bite back his indignation, to “get along.” From the secure environment of his own home, Harrison cleared his throat, lifted his head, and sang his lyrics unabashedly — face-to-face with the friends who’d implied that he’d led them astray by convincing them to go to Rishikesh. He stared into their eyes and told them that he had never stood in the way of their progress…and that he had no apologies whatsoever for his behavior. It was a bold move, albeit an emotional one.

 

In the Esher Demo of “Not Guilty,” you can hear the passion in George’s voice. You can also feel the rigid, awkward silence all around him.

 

Next blog: “Sour Milk Sea” and “What’s the New Mary Jane?”

 

Purchase the re-engineered White Album with the Esher Demos and liner notes HERE.


[i] Howlett, Kevin, “Esher Demos” liner notes for the re-engineered White Album, November 2018.

[ii] Lennon, John, “Beautiful Boy” lyrics, with credit to Allen Saunders, an American cartoonist who created Mary Worth and used this phrase in a piece in Readers’ Digest in Feb. 1957.

[iii] Howlett, Kevin, “On the Road to the White Album,” liner notes for the re-engineered White Album, November 2018.

[iv] Howlett, “Esher Demos” liner notes for the re-engineered White Album, November 2018.

[v] Huntley, Elliot J., Mystical One: George Harrison – After the Break-Up of The Beatles, 165.


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

 

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

Share

A Splendid Time Was Guaranteed (and Delivered) for All!

“And so, this is Christmas,

And what have you done?

Another year over,

A new one just begun…”

 

Usually, at the close of yet another year, when I hear John singing those words, I feel guilty. Maybe it’s my engrained American “work ethic” or perhaps I really never live up to my own expectations, but somehow in December, I look back and feel that I could have done more. But this once, I have to say…2018 was a pretty darned good year, all things considered. If we pause for a moment and look back together as a Fest Family, I think we’ll discover that we had quite a lot of spectacular moments to celebrate.

 

First, of course, there was the New Jersey Fest in which we were extremely fortunate to welcome Peter Asher, Billy J.Kramer, Jeremy Clyde, Neil Innes, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s hard-rockin’ Randy Bachman. Then, Fest favorites, Liverpool, The Weeklings, Mark Rivera, and Scott Erickson gave us a lot to write home about. It was a busy weekend, but now and again we stopped for a moment to take in the breathtaking view across the river: New York’s skyline. We absolutely love our new location!

 

Then…just a few weeks later, our own Michelle Joni Lapidos, released her first CD of songs, Swimming in Rainbows, produced by none other than the charismatic and beloved Mark Hudson. And Fest brother, Laurence Juber, performed with Michelle on several songs, making this LP a real “family affair.” If you missed Michelle Joni’s appearance on “She Said She Said,” radio show, give it a listen here.  She talks about the evolution of the LP and plays several tracks for you. Enjoy!

 

August was here before we knew it…and brought with it a brand-new book, Sound Images, from our esteemed colleague and friend, Dr. Ken Womack. (This is the second half of his incredible biography of Sir George Martin, entitled Maximum Volume.) Just weeks prior to the Chicago Fest, Ken premiered the book in England, and then, he came home to celebrate with us.

 

Similarly, I was thrilled to celebrate the release of Vol. 4 in The John Lennon Series, Should Have Known Better, at the Fest with a Saturday morning launch party. No other celebration that I’ve ever had even begins to compare to that event — being surrounded by my Beatles friends and family was a once-in-a-lifetime! Thank you all!

 

The Chicago Fest was off the charts! Big crowds, big sales, big fun! Jack Douglas was a Guest Speaker for the first time, and yes, he was spectacular! Funny, engrossing, and full of great stories about his time with John Lennon…Jack kept us all engaged. And we were all blessed to hear from Geoff Emerick as well. We had no idea, as we listened to him share his stories of days with George Martin and the boys at EMI, that this would be the last time we’d spend together. Geoff had made plans to return to the Fest for Jersey 2019. Those of us who were privileged to share that time in Chicago with Geoff were so lucky. The Fest always offers rare moments like that…if we will only take time to enjoy them.

 

Ordinarily, at the close of the Chicago Fest, we say “goodbye” to one another for the year, but in 2018, there was more to come…as we applauded the 1968 magic that was “Yellow Submarine.” Many members of our Fest Family, all across America, were asked to speak in major metropolitan theaters, introducing the re-released film that was being served up to audiences in August and September. Dr. Kit O’Toole, Bruce Spizer, and I were just a few of the authors who were asked to give moviegoers the history of this incredible film and to set the stage for the new release.

 

Speaking of new releases, our Liddypool mate, Dave Bedford, graced us all with his third incredible book this fall. A comprehensive look at each and every person who furnished that all-important backbeat for The Beatles, Finding the Fourth Beatle was released in September, and it’s remarkable!

 

Then — anticipating yet another Golden Anniversary for “the lads from Liddypool” — our dear friend, Bruce Spizer, released a gorgeous new book entitled, The Beatles White Album and the Launch of Apple. Filled with rare images, fan remembrances, and a unique look at 1968 supplied by guest writers Al Sussman and Piers Hemmingsen, Spizer’s work is up to his usual high bar. It’s a keeper.

 

Soon after, Ken Mansfield treated us to his insider’s look at what happened on The Roof. Subtitled The Beatles’ Final Concert, Mansfield’s moment-by-moment remembrance lets us live out what transpired on that cold and windy London day when John, Paul, George, Ringo, and yes, Ken, too (“the man in the white coat”) took to the roof to sing their final goodbyes. Sigh.

 

Well, as if these family accomplishments weren’t enough, 2018 gave us yet a bit more! Most of our cast and crew were still looking forward to yet another incredible event: The White Album Conference at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey.  This distinguished symposium, hosted by Dr. Ken Womack in honor of The White’s 50th birthday, was (quite happily) our third “fest” of the year — an off-site gathering of our group with Jim Berkenstadt, Lanea Stagg, Al Sussman, Susan and Jim Ryan, Scott Erickson, Tom Frangione, Bruce Spizer,  Vivek Tiwary, Gary Astridge, Dr. Kit O’Toole, Jerry Hammack, Wally Podrazik, Nicole and Jacob Michael, Aaron Krerowicz, Janet Davis, Eric Taros, Karen Duchaj, Robert Rodriguez, Anthony Robustelli, Dave Thurmaier, Allison Boron, Erika White, Walter Everett, Mark Brickley, and of course,  our fearless leaders Mark and Carol Lapidos all taking part! At the stroke of midnight on 8 November (12:01 a.m., Nov. 9), Mark and Carol made it possible for us to purchase the very first re-engineered CDs of the White — at an opening event listening party where Bruce Spizer and Scott Freiman shared insights into these wonderfully old, but vitally new and refreshed, tracks.

 

For four days, our group was enthralled by presentations from some of the best and finest in The Beatles’ World, including Sound Engineer, Chris Thomas; American Head of Apple, Ken Mansfield; co-traveler with The Beatles to Rishikesh, Paul Saltzman; and of course, Beatles’ Guru, Mark Lewisohn! We heard from Allan Kozinn, Ken Michaels, Walter Everett, Jeff Slate, The Fab 4 Free for All (Rob Leonard, Mitch Axelrod, and Tony Traguardo) and so many more! What an event it was! Hats off to Ken Womack for a stellar event!

 

And so, dear John, for once at the close of December, we’re smiling. We’ve given it our all in 2018! We’ve
“represented.” We’ve shown up. We’ve written. We’ve painted. We’ve researched. We’ve sung. We’ve celebrated. We’ve remembered. But most of all, we’ve continued to shine on. And that — I know you would say — is good enough.

 

However, there will be more!! To be continued in 2019…


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

 

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

Share

Happiness is a Warm Cell Phone: Drake vs. The Beatles

Hi everyone! We hope to see you all at Monmouth University this week for the White Album conference featuring Mark Lapidos, Mark Lewisohn, Walter Everett, Ken Womack, Bruce Spizer, Al Sussman, Tom Frangione, Lanea Stagg (our featured blogger this week), Kit O’Toole, Susan and James Ryan, and me (Jude Southerland Kessler)…and SO many more.

 

To give you an idea of the kind of interesting topics that will be covered, here is Lanea Stagg’s comparison of The Beatles chart-blasting record to Drake, who claims to have surpassed The Beatles’ 1964 accomplishment of 5 songs in the Top Ten at once. Is it a valid claim? Has Drake stolen the crown from our Fabs? Read on…

 

This summer, news media outlets began reporting that pop star rapper, Drake, had surpassed The Beatles’ accomplishments on the Billboard “Hot 100” chart. Even last week it was reported that he surpassed another chart record belonging to The Fabs. I have been inclined to blame it solely on “Fake News.”

 

But, in an effort to be fair, I have opened my mind to Drake. According to pop music lovers today, 31-year-old Drake creates music which is a softer alternative to rap, bypassing hardcore gangster rap and infusing catchy love lines to hook the girls. I spoke with one 20-something male who explained to me that he didn’t like Drake’s music at first, but “girls like Drake … so eventually, the boys have to like Drake, because then they’re going to win the affection of the girls.” Does that sound familiar?

 

Today’s Top 100 Billboard charts have become a completely new environment for music artists. Music streaming and downloading have become an important component in the statistics collected to determine pop song success. It is fair to surmise that today’s metrics for determining chart success is not what we grew up with. On April 4, 1964, The Beatles held the top 5 slots on Billboard’s “Hot 100” chart. The charts at that time were driven by record sales and radio play. Today’s charts, however, are driven by downloading and streaming with a little bit of radio and physical sales sprinkled in.

 

Donald S. Passman, wrote in his book All You Need to Know About the Music Business, “When the Beatles were around, there were horrible (accounting) records of who sold what. Nobody knew how many records were sold in retail, only how many were shipped to the store.” So even if the records went back to the company, the statistics were likely inflated. But at the same time, it was a lot more difficult for an artist to sell records and to get on the radio simply because there were physically fewer retail stores, radio stations and listening opportunities – there were no cell phones or social media. Today’s false inflation of sales data creates an inaccurate perception of chart success.

 

I found it quite interesting to look at how the charts are measured today and driven by consumer listening habits. I questioned how people are listening to music, interviewing and surveying 200+ college students in Columbia, Missouri. Here is what I found, and the data directly affects chart ratings:

 

99% of the group listen to music via cell phone.

46% of the 200 students use a free subscription like Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, YouTube, etc.

42% use other paid subscriptions such as Apple Music, XM Radio, Amazon Prime, or Pandora;

20% actually purchase music via CD’s, iTunes, vinyl, etc. (which is shocking and exciting);

40% use the most popular paid subscription: Spotify.

 

Nearly all of the 128 students who purchase Spotify receive a discounted student rate: only $5 per month for unlimited music. This means they are allowed to stream and download millions of songs – 35 million to be exact. One student told me that Spotify has replaced listening to the radio. The music subscription creates its own playlists, and they tailor playlists based upon your past listening history. Spotify also sends listeners e-mails, i.e.: “Drake has a new album out.” And you can follow your friends and see what they are listening to as well.

 

Meanwhile back in 1964, Beatles fans were listening to The Fabs in conventional locations – in front of the only family television or on the radio in the family wagon, and who remembers that joyful scene in “That Thing You Do!” when the band heard their record for the first time on a transistor? A nostalgic, exciting moment – however, this mode of listening has all but disappeared.

 

So, what does this have to do with our topic? Drake vs. The Beatles?

 

Well, we all know that The Beatles climbed the charts – one physical record sale at a time. But for Drake, the climb to the top happened rapidly, via the aforementioned instant downloads.

 

Let’s take a look at this past summer, for example. On July 14, 2018, Drake “dominated” the Billboard “Hot 100” chart – seven spots in the Top 10 belonged to Drake. Multiple media outlets, and Drake himself, reported that he had “surpassed The Beatles’ record of five hit songs in the Top 10 at once.

 

However, a careful look at the facts will show us a bit of a difference. While The Beatles held spots 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, Drake did not. Drake held spots 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9. One week later, Drake only held three tracks in the Top 10, at spots 1, 4, and 6.

 

It should be noted that on June 29, 2018, Drake released his 25-track disc titled “Scorpion,” and all 25 songs were on the Billboard “Top 100” chart immediately. So, when his entire disc of 25 songs was released, definitely the Spotify kids had it on their phones instantly – and so it gets tallied and accounted instantaneously.

 

Even the controversial media outlet BuzzFeed wrote on September 13, 2018, that “Spoofing Spotify by fans – (is) eroding the metrics of Billboard charts.” Remember that half of the students in my collegiate test group purchased Spotify for only $5/month. That allows them to download and stream all the music they can listen to (35 million songs!!) for only $5. Washington Post reporter, Travis Andrews, astutely observed, “The charts have struggled to come up with a streaming equivalent to an album purchase – or a song download. [But one must bear in mind that] it was harder to purchase The White Album than to put a stream of “Lemonade” on repeat, after all.”

 

The Senior Vice President of Charts and Data Development at Billboard magazine said this summer, “What we do is react to the marketplace around us. I think we are fairly nimble on downloading and even more so on streaming, to make sure we’re reflecting where the music consumer is going. Where that will end up, though…I don’t know.”

 

Why do charts matter, anyway? Charts matter mostly to record companies in terms of market share or clout. The music consumer isn’t as driven by the charts.

 

One example of record sale success overshadowing chart success happened in ’67 when “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” were released as a double A-side 45-rpm. Early predictions were that this single would perpetuate The Beatles’ unprecedented achievement of 12 straight Number 1 singles in the UK. However, the 45 was not released as one single, but two. This divided the sales data between the two songs, and hence, Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Release Me” took the Number 1 spot on the “Hot 100” over our Fabs, breaking their four-year “roll” as George Martin called it. However, Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane 45rpm sold 2.5 million copies, outselling Humperdinck two-to-one. Indeed, chart success in this case and many others does not guarantee either the superior sales success or music superiority of the record.

 

If you give Drake an honest, fair chance, it is apparent that he has achieved success. He is chart-topping. He is Grammy award-winning and platinum-selling, not to mention charming and charismatic. And oh yeahhis dad was the drummer for Jerry Lee Lewis. So, we can’t ignore that something is happening with this powerhouse. Many thought that The Beatles were a fad, so I try to consider that when I analyze today’s music trends. But in my opinion, Drake is primarily a brilliant marketer. Let’s give credit for Drake’s popularity where that credit is due: to downloading and streaming. Should we mark our calendars and plan for HIS “White Album” celebration in 50 years? Tomorrow never knows.

 

About our Guest Blogger:

Lanea Stagg is the author of the Recipe Records Cookbook Series: Recipe Records, Recipe Records-The 60s Edition, Recipe Records-A Culinary Tribute to The Beatles, and The Rolling Scones: Let’s Spend the Bite Together. The series combines music trivia, quips, quotes, and playlists with clever recipe titles that pay tribute to great music of many genres and decades.  In addition to the series, she has authored children’s books, a blog, and contributed to entertainment publications, along with co-hosting BlogTalkRadio program: “She Said She Said,” with Jude Southerland Kessler, the author of The John Lennon Series. Lanea will be giving a presentation on this topic at The White Album Conference next week at Monmouth University.

Share

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: www.johnlennonseries.com

 

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

Share