Thirty years after his death, John Lennon remains a icon. In his lifetime, the former Beatle’s music and activism intimated a U. S. president and inspired millions. Despite his success, he struggled with fame and left the music scene in the mid-seventies to raise his son, Sean. On December 8, 1980, John Lennon had just celebrated his 40th birthday and released his first album in five years when he was gunned down outside his New York City apartment. More than a generation later, John Lennon’s popularity has not diminished. Today in a corner of Central Park named “Strawberry Fields,” thousands will gather to remember his political and musical legacy. Diane and her guests discuss the life and music of John Lennon.

Guests

  • Philip Norman author of the Beatles biography "Shout!" and "John Lennon: A Life."
  • Jon Wiener history professor, University of California at Irvine and author of "Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files."
  • Richard Harrington former music critic for "The Washington Post"

Related Video

In September 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono appeared on The Dick Cavett Show to discuss their art, their relationship, and, of course, The Beatles:

Transcript

  • 11:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Today people around the world will pause or gather to remember John Lennon on the 30th anniversary of his death. He was shot by a deranged fan outside his apartment in New York City on this date in 1980. Joining me to talk about John Lennon's musical and political legacy from the BBC in London, author Philip Norman, he has written "John Lennon: The Life." His biography of The Beatles is titled "Shout." From NPR West in Los Angeles, historian Jonathan Wiener and he is at the University of California at Irvine. He's also the author of "Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files."

  • 11:08:03

    MS. DIANE REHMHere with me in the studio, Richard Harrington, he's former Washington Post music critic. And before we begin our conversation, let's listen to the most revered of Lennon's song, "Imagine."

  • 11:10:00

    MS. DIANE REHMJon Wiener, if I could start with you this morning, that song is still so powerful 30 years after Lennon's death. Tell me why you believe it to be so.

  • 11:10:18

    MR. JON WIENERWell, "Imagine" expresses the -- I guess you would call the utopian hopes of the 60's and it remains controversial today. You know, every -- probably every radio station in the western world is playing it this hour or in the coming hours, but just last year when the Anglican Cathedral of Liverpool, which of course is Lennon's hometown, proposed playing "Imagine" on its bells, there was appall by the newspaper Church Times that found that 64 percent of its readers were opposed to playing "Imagine" on the church bells because of that opening line "imagine there's no heaven."

  • 11:11:01

    MR. JON WIENERChristians have been protesting this song for the last 40 years and they consider it blasphemy. So the song has power both as an expression of the utopian dream of the 60's and it also mobilizes people who object to the line, imagine there's no heaven.

  • 11:11:31

    REHMAnd turning to you now, Philip Norman. It would seem as though the popularity of Beatles' music has actually increased in the past decade. Why do you think that's so?

  • 11:11:44

    MR. PHILIP NORMANIt's certainly the power of the music. If you play Beatles music to a little child, really, any little child, they love it. And that was what the awful burden that the Beatles carried, was the burden of love. In the end, they couldn't stand it. Everybody in the world adored them to an unbearable degree. I mean, it's also true of "Imagine," that although perhaps various sort of specific Christian denominations may protest about it, it is the world's favorite secular hymn.

  • 11:12:15

    MR. PHILIP NORMANIt crosses every boundary of nationality, culture and religion. Let's not forget John's solo music as well. His solo albums tend to be sort of slightly downgraded against the Beatles output, which was phenomenal, but this music has enormous charm. But the personality of Lennon is beyond even that. This extraordinary character who was so funny, in a way so vulnerable, so very different from other pop singers of the time and still today. People who were not even born when John died somehow feel that they know him and they share his emotions and this is part of the reason why this character is still in the world, as well as this music.

  • 11:12:58

    REHMPhilip, what do you think most people do not know about John Lennon?

  • 11:13:07

    NORMANWhat they don't know is that he absolutely hated himself. He was never, ever the cocky and sarcastic character that he seemed to be. In reality, he was a mass of the most terrible insecurities and vulnerability. He was never really satisfied with anything that he did, even the things that were acclaimed as masterpieces in his lifetime. And when he was a very young man, he was not satisfied. There was something else that he was aiming at.

  • 11:13:34

    NORMANHe didn't feel they'd worked. He didn't like his own voice. He didn't like himself. And it was only, really, at the very end, after he'd spent these years bringing up his -- or starting to bring up his son, Sean, that he really did seem to achieve a measure of sort of acceptance of himself and of peace, which of course, makes this awful, senseless, stupid tragedy all the worse to think about because it seemed like John was finally starting to be happy as John.

  • 11:14:04

    REHMPhilip Norman, he's the author of "John Lennon: The Life." He joins us from the BBC in London. Jon Wiener is a historian at the University of California at Irvine, he joins us from NPR West. Here in the studio, Richard Harrington, former music critic for The Washington Post. Richard, what about John's importance to popular music, his impact on popular music?

  • 11:14:38

    MR. RICHARD HARRINGTONWell, I have shelves of books at home that explore exactly that subject and I think that, uh, you obviously have to start with the work he did with the Beatles and, you know, how that continues to be a growing legacy, how each generation successively seems to embrace their work and if they dig a little deeper, that they can also embrace John's solo work.

  • 11:15:00

    MR. RICHARD HARRINGTONAnd, you know, it's true that some people don't hold it up to be on the same level, but his best songs as a solo artist are the equal of his best songs within the Beatles or his contributions to those songs. And I think in terms of self-revelation, his songs as a solo artist are much, much deeper, they're much more personal, they're much more open. He was always curious about everything, but he was most curious about himself and I think you discover that in his solo work much more than you do, obviously, in his work with the Beatles.

  • 11:15:35

    REHMTell me about the song "Instant Karma."

  • 11:15:40

    HARRINGTONWell, it depends on -- you know, as with any of those songs, it depends on your interpretation of it. I don't -- I've never thought that it was one of his best songs, to tell you the truth. I don't know if other people would disagree. I think that it's one of those songs that contextually we -- you know, we take what we need from it and that's true of much of his work.

  • 11:16:01

    REHMPhilip, tell me about the song "Instant Karma."

  • 11:16:06

    NORMANWell, it's -- for John, it was sort of the perfect consummation of his idea that music had to be sort of got out on the street instantly, not take months to come out. It was like a newspaper for John. It sort of -- he recorded it and then bang, it was out on the street. It's funny, I don't think it's his greatest, either.

  • 11:16:58

    REHMWhat's he saying here, Richard?

  • 11:17:03

    HARRINGTONYou know, if you sit and analyze and imagine what you think he's saying, then you're not listening to his lyrics. I mean, I think that's the truth of that particular song is whatever level of recognition you find in the song, whatever level of inspiration, whatever level of reaction, that's exactly what John intended and that's going to be different for every listener.

  • 11:17:27

    REHMJon Wiener, what do you glean from this?

  • 11:17:31

    WIENEROh, I love "Instant Karma." I love his voice, I love the beat and I love that line, you better recognize your brother in everyone you meet. This -- I don't know what you would call it, Democratic commitment combined with this rock and roll energy, I think, is irresistible.

  • 11:17:51

    REHMAnd certainly representative of his honesty, would you say?

  • 11:17:59

    WIENERYeah.

  • 11:18:00

    NORMANAnd also his -- also his humor -- his humor.

  • 11:18:02

    REHMHis humor.

  • 11:18:03

    NORMANHe's talking about karma as if it's like a sort of monster under the stairs that's gonna come out and bite your leg, which is very John.

  • 11:18:41

    REHMShort break and we'll be right back.

  • 11:20:03

    REHMAnd on this anniversary of the day John Lennon was shot in New York City by a deranged fan, his widow, Yoko Ono, has posted a memory of a night when she woke up -- the two of them woke up in the middle of the night and were sitting in their kitchen with their three cats, Sasha, Micha and Charo, and they make tea and they have a discussion about tea making that is linked to our own website. You can go to drshow.org and see that lovely remembrance posted by Yoko Ono.

  • 11:21:03

    REHMAnd here with me in the studio is Richard Harrington, former music critic for The Washington Post, on the line with us from NPR West, John Wiener, historian at the University of California at Irvine, author of "Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files." And from the BBC in London, Philip Norman, he's the author of "John Lennon: The Life." Do join us, 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to drshow@wamu.org. Philip, in reading about John Lennon, I learned, as you have known and I'm sure many of his fans have known, his childhood was not an easy one. Tell us about that.

  • 11:22:06

    NORMANHe was given to his aunt by his mother at an early age and brought up by this very good woman, Mimi -- Aunt Mimi, who -- but who was rather masculine and not very demonstrative in affection, but a wonderful guardian for John. So in some ways, he had a very good childhood. He had everything he needed, he lived in a nice house that was not at all as some people think in a sort of working class district of Liverpool. It was in a very nice leafy suburb outside of Liverpool.

  • 11:22:36

    NORMANBut John was obsessed by the thought firstly that his mother had given him away, although his mother was living in the neighborhood, but also that his father had walked out on the family years before. So John, to the end of his life, was obsessed by the twin, really, sort of desolation of having been abandoned by his father first and then by his mother. And he never got over this and this was in his music, songs about his mother. Finally, and this was almost sort of screened therapy song, "Mother," itself. Right up to the last months before his death, he was still obsessing about the memory of his mother, who was not really a mother figure. She was more like a flirtatious older cousin. And there was a certain sexual (sounds like) frisont in John's memory connected with his mother, Julia.

  • 11:23:27

    NORMANAnd many people have bad childhoods. They tend to get over them by a certain age. John never got over his childhood, although in many ways, it wasn't -- it was some ways quite an enviable childhood, but he didn't really sort of remember the good bits, he just remembered the trauma.

  • 11:23:45

    REHMAnd...

  • 11:23:45

    NORMANBut this is what stars need. You know, great stars all have some kind of trauma in their background that makes them seek the love of the public.

  • 11:23:53

    REHMAnd in fact, Julia was killed on the way to a bus stop. A car ran over her.

  • 11:24:01

    NORMANOutside his aunt's house. Yes. Outside his aunt's house. John just started an art college. He always said that Julia had only just come back into his life. This was because he didn't want to take away the credit from his aunt for bringing him up, but actually, his mother was in his life really all the time. His mother bought him his first guitar, his mother taught him to play a few chords on the -- his mother could play the banjo. She was a bit of an entertainer. But he did -- he wanted to sort of make Mimi the absolute sort of provider of his childhood, so he always said that his mother had just come back into his life when she was killed in that horrible accident.

  • 11:24:38

    NORMANBut that wasn't true, but again, he didn't think his mother was really like his mother because she was living with another man and had two children by the other man. So again, she didn't feel like she was really his. So he was divided between a memory of quite a nice childhood where lots of aunts and lots of relations doted on him, but also a feeling of loss and having been abandoned.

  • 11:26:13

    REHMRichard Harrington, talk about his songwriting with Paul McCartney.

  • 11:26:20

    HARRINGTONOh, if the world could only tap into that, I'm sure that everybody would sell body parts to just have a 10th of the connection that those two had. And people will argue and make arguments about which songs belonged to who and usually you can tell by the vocals, but not always. And they just had a -- that rare sense of connection, collaboration, adventurousness in their writing. There was a populace poetry to what they did. Obviously, that's why people still connect to those songs in the way that they do.

  • 11:27:00

    REHMWas there a certain competition...

  • 11:27:03

    HARRINGTONOh, obviously, right from the start.

  • 11:27:04

    REHM...between the two of them?

  • 11:27:05

    HARRINGTONOh, yes, absolutely. And at the same time, it's kind of that line from the movie, you complete me. They each brought out the best of each other both, in terms of being able to finish songs together, but also to drive each other to greater heights in their song writing.

  • 11:27:22

    REHMJohn Wiener, was John seen and recognized as the leader of the Beatles?

  • 11:27:33

    MR. JOHN WIENERWell, of course, everybody had their favorite Beatle. You were a John person, you were a Paul person, a George person, even a Ringo person. I think a lot of us thought of John as the leader of the Beatles. Of course, this became a great bone of contention among them when the Beatles broke up. Whose band was it to break up? Clearly, this was -- Lennon and McCartney signed all the -- all the Beatle songs were authored by Lennon/McCartney.

  • 11:28:00

    WIENERThat was the deal they made and whatever rivalry they had, they always stuck with that, even to the point where you see the song "Give Peace a Chance." If you look at the credits on that, it's credited to Lennon/McCartney because they were still Beatles and everything they did was credited to both, even though McCartney never had anything to do with it. So for me, Lennon was always the number one Beatle, but ask other people, they'll tell you something else.

  • 11:28:26

    REHM"Give Peace a Chance."

  • 11:30:01

    REHMBut Philip, after this kind of collaboration, John Lennon began to move in a very, very different direction. How much of that was because of Yoko Ono and his relationship with her and her relationship with the band?

  • 11:30:28

    NORMANWell, that song "Give Peace a Chance" is a very good example of this sort of post-Beatles John Lennon where his great sort of talent turned out to be writing sort of sloganeering chants, really. "Give Peace a Chance," you mentioned "Instant Karma" earlier. With McCartney, it was an extraordinary symbiotic relationship because very unusually for a songwriting team, they both wrote the words and the music. And they each had the ability to slip into the other's character to finish a song that the other couldn't finish. John could even play Paul's left-handed guitar and Paul could play John's right-handed one. That ambidextrousness, to me, sums up really the extraordinary closeness and absolute wonderful efficiency of their partnership.

  • 11:31:16

    NORMANBut when John met Yoko, she took him in all sorts of directions that he couldn't go in as a Beatle. He always had to be careful of his image as a cuddly mop top Beatle. And the great attraction for him from Yoko was that she really did not give a damn for anybody and anything at all. And she said to him, if you want to do these other things, if you want to be an artist, if you want to think about peace and talk about peace, then just do it. And so that's what he started to do with Yoko.

  • 11:31:46

    NORMANBut I still have to say that even some of the music he made with Yoko, which was generally derided at the time and perhaps still isn't very much appreciated, was superb. They made a sort of Al Capp prop album "Sometime in New York City." There are two or three tracks on that with Yoko that are absolutely wonderful.

  • 11:32:03

    REHMJohn's relationship with Yoko, Richard Harrington, really, he said, everybody wants to blame Yoko for the breakup of the Beatles, but in fact, it was what was going on inside him.

  • 11:32:23

    HARRINGTONAbsolutely. I mean, I think that we'll look back and once we get past some of the emotional baggage that we bring to our view of that relationship, we'll understand that it's one of the absolute great love stories. She didn't break up the Beatles. What she did is she awoke John Lennon and that's quite the difference. In waking up, he discovered that he had other interests and other talents and other paths to explore and he did.

  • 11:32:49

    REHMRichard Harrington, former music critic for The Washington Post. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." There is "The Ballad of John and Yoko" written in 1969. Tell me about that, Richard.

  • 11:33:10

    HARRINGTONSome people did not appreciate the fact that the comparison was made to John and Yoko's honeymoon travails being on a level with the sufferings of Jesus Christ and given the relationship that John had with just even the phrase "Jesus Christ," it's understandable. Al Capp famously lambasting them at the bed and in Toronto, it's one of the greatest weird encounters of all time, but in fact, it was an interesting take on the troubles that they had. And of course, it's Paul playing with him, the two of them basically doing that song together.

  • 11:34:51

    REHMAnd John Wiener, New York became such a powerful symbol to both John and Yoko. Tell me why.

  • 11:35:01

    WIENERWell, I think it goes back to that song "Ballad of John and Yoko." That really opened the door for John. The idea was you could write a song about what was happening to you that day, a rock and roll song, that would have all the energy, all the fun, all the excitement of rock and roll and it would be kind of a news report on your life that day. Peter Brown called to say, you can make it okay, you can get married at Gibraltar in Spain. They moved to New York -- John and Yoko moved to New York, Yoko's hometown. John had said a wonderful line, we've been Beatles as best we can be. He wanted to do something else. Life as a Beatle was stifling and they couldn't perform live anymore, they didn't want to perform live anymore.

  • 11:35:49

    WIENERIn New York, he jumped into Yoko's world, the downtown world of artists and now of the antiwar politicos and they met Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman and Bobby Seale. And they hooked up with the antiwar movement and they made more of these, what Lennon called front page songs. Philip referred to them a minute ago, this album, "New York City," tried to do over again what they'd done on "Ballad of John and Yoko." Most of those songs are pretty bad, I have to say. So you couldn't write a fabulous rock and roll front page song about everything on your mind, but some of them work, a lot of them didn't.

  • 11:36:28

    WIENERAnd then, of course, when he hooked up with the antiwar movement, set out to help register young people to vote and ran up against the Nixon Administration, which set out to deport him in the spring of 1972.

  • 11:36:41

    REHMActually, set out to deport him.

  • 11:36:46

    WIENERYeah, Lennon had -- was talking about doing a national concert tour that would coincide with the primary election season. He wanted to use his power as a celebrity to help end the war, which he thought meant defeating Nixon's re-election campaign in '72. Remember, the war in Vietnam was still going strong in 1972.

  • 11:37:08

    REHMYes.

  • 11:37:10

    WIENERAnd this was going to be the first time that 18-year-olds had the right to vote. All politicos know that young people are the least likely to vote of all groups, so the question was, how could you get people into the system? Not exactly a revolutionary or anarchist goal. Lennon thought he could do this concert tour where they would play music and urge young people to register to vote and to vote against Nixon.

  • 11:37:39

    REHMJohn Wiener, he's historian at the University of California at Irvine.

  • 11:40:03

    REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about John Lennon on the anniversary of his death shot by a fan outside his apartment building in New York City on this day in 1980. Here's an e-mail from John in Dallas, Texas who says, "I was born in '78 and unaware of the role of music in our world until I was a teenager. I don't understand the role of Yoko Ono. From what I do understand, she a was divisive figure in many ways, may have been villainized by many Lennon fans. Could your guests elaborate on her role and why so many people feel she played such a negative role in the life of John Lennon, why so many people have such disdain for John?" Richard Harrington.

  • 11:41:10

    HARRINGTONWell, I think there's a number of factors at play here. She happened to be the one who allowed John to become John Lennon instead of Beatle John and he addresses that in song "God." He says, I was the walrus, but now I'm John. And a lot of people resented that because Beatle John represented such an important part of their growing up, their becoming adults, so much a part of their musical fandom, so to speak. I think there's also elements of ethnic and gender prejudice that existed against her. She was the vehicle that allowed him to do what he always wanted to do, which was, I think, ultimately to leave the Beatles to discover who he was.

  • 11:41:51

    HARRINGTONSo I think all those things, you know, are held against her, when in fact, she was the most empowering person who ever came into his life. And it shows in the songs that he wrote about her, it shows in the life that he was able to lead because of her and so I think she's gotten a bum rap right from the start and she'll probably never totally overcome it. But if you look at what she's done in the 30 years since his death, she's done nothing but celebrate his legacy and reintroduce his concepts of world peace and brotherhood and all those other positive things that he stood for, so she's really a marvelous, marvelous person. And anybody who has negative feelings towards her really should be ashamed (laugh).

  • 11:42:37

    REHMAll right. Let's go to John in Indianapolis. Good morning, you're on the air.

  • 11:42:43

    JOHNGood morning. I just want to make a comment about my own experience with the Beatles and John Lennon. When I was seven years old, I was introduced to the Beatles by my dear cousin and we spent the next approximately five years playing along with Beatle albums every chance we got. When I was 10, I very distinctly remember my parent waking me up early in the morning to tell me about John Lennon's death and that being one of the very first truly traumatic experiences I had. I remember crying in my oatmeal long before when it was time to get ready to go to school.

  • 11:43:13

    JOHNBut that aside, one of the great things about the Beatles' legacy and about John's legacy is that he had a very deep commitment to his own passions and exploration. I think that's evident throughout his music and his catalog. And I think those are very strong lessons that I was able to take with me, not to just be an aping fan, but to be someone who got out and explored and had a conscientious in the process, so that's all I wanted to say and appreciate your show today, Diane.

  • 11:43:40

    REHMThank you. Richard.

  • 11:43:41

    HARRINGTONI just wanted to add, I almost forgot that as already been discussed, the lack of parenting in John's own life, Yoko allowed him to become and explore the joys of parenthood in a way that he had never been able to enjoy otherwise.

  • 11:43:57

    REHMHe became a stay at home dad.

  • 11:43:59

    HARRINGTONAbsolutely. And, you know, for that to be the experience of his last five years is incredibly powerful thing.

  • 11:44:07

    REHMPhilip, I want to go back to John's political activism because he later on in an interview with Newsweek in 1980 said that, radicalism was phony really because it was out of guilt. I'd always felt guilty that I made money, so I had to give it away or lose it. I don't mean I was a hypocrite. When I believe, I believe right down to the roots. But being a chameleon, I became whoever I was with. What does that mean to you, Philip?

  • 11:44:54

    NORMANThat means that John Lennon -- well, there was nothing you could say about John to his detriment that he wouldn't say about himself gladly. I wanted to say about Yoko as well that it's a strange thing with people who are regarded as a genius in their particular field. They're never happy with their genius. They want to be something else, like F. Scott Fitzgerald really wanted to be a star football and not F. Scott Fitzgerald. John wanted to be a real artist, as he thought, someone who gave little exhibitions in garrets and so Yoko was irresistibly appealing because she was -- certainly was and still is a real artist.

  • 11:45:30

    NORMANBut John was inconsistent. He knew he was inconsistent. He wrote a song called "Imagine" which had the line, imagine no possessions. And he had lots of television sets. And as he said to Neil Aspinall, who was probably the closest to being the real fifth Beatle, who was the road manager in the Beatle years and then he ran the Apple company. He said, oh, well, it's only a song, you know. He was taken by the idea of the moment and very often, the idea of the moment made a wonderful song and he would think of something else five minutes later and write a song that seemed quite contradictory.

  • 11:46:06

    REHMJon Wiener, what did you find out about Lennon from the FBI files? You mentioned the efforts to deport him, but it went farther than that.

  • 11:46:20

    WIENERYou know, Lennon took greater risks than any other pop star and I think he paid a higher price than any other pop star for his convictions. He wanted to use his power as a celebrity to help end the war in Vietnam. This brought him into conflict with Nixon. The Nixon administration tried to deport him. And really, this ruined his life for a couple of years after '72 into '73, '74, he was on a 60-day order to leave the country for that entire period. This is when his marriage with Yoko broke up. He came out to LA on what he called his lost weekend, you know, some of the worst days of his life.

  • 11:47:04

    WIENERI think it was because it never occurred to him that the United States government had the power to do this to him. It's hard to think of any other pop star who paid a price like this. And of course, eventually, Nixon left the White House and Lennon stayed in the USA, got his marriage back together, had a son, moved into The Dakota, became a house husband, restored himself, as both Philip and Richard have explained beautifully, more than he'd ever been himself in his life, he felt. And it was then that he got shot and that's part of what makes his murder so terrible. After paying this price, after suffering the, you know, oppression of the American government, after surviving all that, then he was killed. That was the terrible part.

  • 11:49:20

    REHMThis album, Richard Harrington, came out just three weeks before his death. Tell me how you received it and reviewed it.

  • 11:49:33

    HARRINGTONOh, my headline in the review in The Post was, pab from John and Yoko. I said, it's an album of commercial easy listening Pablum. At 40, John Lennon sounds just like Paul McCartney. Said, so what if Lennon has been a nonperforming house husband for five years, a woman's album based on five years in the kitchen would be dismissed. But 8.98 for a flaccid look at family's scrapbook is too much to ask. And of course, you know, later, I feel terrible for the meanness of it all, but my review was certainly not out of line with most of the reviews given to the record. It was very poorly received and never made top 10 in the US until after his death. I think it went to number 12 or something in the UK.

  • 11:50:16

    HARRINGTONAnd then after his death, of course, you know, what seemed to be an indulgence became analogy. And the album went to number one here for many, many weeks, same in England. It was voted album of the year in the Grammy's that year. None of which would've happened probably in the natural course of events. And there are some beautiful songs on that record. I was at least smart enough to point out that "Woman" and "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" are both very, very fine songs, but the record was not well received, as many of John's solo records were not well received. So I think in retrospect, you know, we look back at that record and it means something entirely differently with his death than it would've had he lived.

  • 11:50:58

    REHMAnd of course, this is truly one of my favorites "Beautiful Boy."

  • 11:52:27

    REHMHe's singing right to Sean.

  • 11:52:29

    HARRINGTONAbsolutely. And there's so much joy and there's so much love in "Woman." There's so much joy in starting over and, you know, the "Grow Old With Me," which was sort of inspired by John and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who were also sort of star crossed lovers, there's such an inferable sadness, it's not on the record, it was the last song that he was sorta working on right before his death. And you can just feel the happiness, the security, the centeredness of his life in that record and in the consequences of those five years, so, you know, if he had to leave this world, he left it happy.

  • 11:53:09

    REHMRichard Harrington, he's former music critic for The Washington Post. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Philip, I want to turn to you on that last point that Richard Harrington has just made. The tragedy of a life cut so short, just as John Lennon is truly finding himself.

  • 11:53:40

    NORMANYes. He did seem to be finding a measure of peace and repose, which may be not, you know, the best content for a rock album and that was what the critics didn't particular respond to at the time. I did have a very long talk with his son, Sean, two or three years ago and John looked after, parented Sean for five years up until John's death. And although Sean was only five when his father was killed, he had the most vivid and detailed memories of John. You know, the feeling of the stubble on his father's chin and the sight of the little scar on his chin he got in the car crash in Scotland, the way he used to turn the light off when he said good night to Sean in The Dakota building. And these memories were extraordinarily warm and wonderful to hear.

  • 11:54:29

    NORMANAnd in a way, they've encouraged Sean. They encouraged Sean to become a musician because that was the way he felt he could communicate with John, with the spirit of John. And the result is that Sean is a remarkable musician. He's nothing like John Lennon to listen to, but is remarkable. You just -- his music is quite -- something quite different. And that all comes from, really, these wonderful memories of his father when he was very small.

  • 11:54:53

    REHMAnd of course, we should not neglect to mention Julian, his first son that he had with a young woman much, much earlier in his life. Richard.

  • 11:55:06

    HARRINGTONThat's right.

  • 11:55:07

    NORMANNo, absolutely not. I mean, his -- I'm afraid his treatment of his first son, Julian, was inexcusable. He -- Julian was born just when the Beatles were starting to be famous and John was young and didn't really pay attention to his newborn son and in a way repeated the behavior that he thought his own father had shown to him, which makes it even worse, so...

  • 11:55:30

    HARRINGTONAnd which he refused to participate in by, you know, by repeating the history and his relationship with Sean was absolutely the opposite. It was over commitment, if anything.

  • 11:55:42

    NORMANAbsolutely the opposite. And to some extent, he was restoring a relationship with Julian as well. And so Julian lost his father twice, in a way that John thought he'd lost mother twice. He'd lost her when she gave him to his Aunt Mimi and lost her again when she was killed, so history did have an awful way of repeating itself and John felt very resentful. He felt that people were betraying him by dying.

  • 11:56:11

    REHMAnd all over the world today, we're going to be hearing this last song "Strawberry Fields Forever."

  • 11:56:58

    REHMAnd with me today to celebrate the life of John Lennon, Richard Harrington of The Washington Post, Jon Wiener, historian at the University of California, Irvine, Philip Norman, author of "John Lennon: The Life." Thank you all so much. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

Sharing The Road: Adapting To A New Culture Of Cycling

Thursday, Oct 30 2014A new study says bike traffic deaths have spiked after years of decline. As cities adapt to growing numbers of cyclists, some say traffic laws should be more strictly enforced. A look at the debate over sharing the road with bikes.