John Lennon, The Life Philip Norman, 2008
I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph
He blew his mind out in a car
He didn’t notice that the lights had changed
A crowd of people stood and stared
They’d seen his face before
People differ in their need for stimulation. There is the nerdy kid who can’t tolerate a rolling coaster ride or a scary movie, and there is the test-the-limits thrill seeker like John Lennon.
John Lennon relentlessly sought sensation, and defiant self expression. He got himself into trouble, all the time, and pulled others into trouble with him. Paul McCartney’s father called him “that Lennon”. He was precocious – with drinking, with drugs, with sex. He was also intelligent, and artistic. He liked imaginative writing, had a talent for music, and a sense for authentic, emotional expression. He took the time to learn the craft of playing guitar, writing songs, and singing, and he became very good. Rock and roll was it, he went crazy for Elvis Presley. Listen to Elvis in ‘Trying to get to you’, you will hear the Lennon inspiration.
“I was a rhythm guitarist. . . I can make a band drive” . . He rejected any aesthetic of thinking – “that excellentness which I never believed in“. He disliked Paul’s literary songs. “I go for feeling“.
He could also be mean. He truly was “a jealous guy“, ever fearful of being up-staged. He was quick with the verbal put down, and created bully loyalty. He could be violent with alcohol. But he was also an engine for success. He was bold and could drive a crowd. He could be endearing and needy and funny. Women were drawn to want to care for him.
He suffered boredom like some ghastly memory, and seemed haunted by loss. As he achieved phenomenal success, he found himself maddingly unsatisfied. There is a pained disappointment in his best songs. He was just not able to find peace of mind. He descended into out-of-control pill taking, drinking, marijuana, LSD, and heroin. When Yoko first met him, she found he would wake up and take “handfuls of pills”.
His recklessness cost Lennon/McCarthy ownership of many of their songs. He betrayed friends and mentors – Brian Epstein, George Martin, and sadly, Paul. His interviews have blame, special pleading, and self pity. He would both decry fame and stoke it. Being lionized while feeling empty made him cynical.
Who was John Lennon? Creative, engaging, and appealing, but also disturbed, difficult and ultimately tragic. He could not achieve inner reward. For someone fantastically famous and wealthy, one of the luckiest people on the planet, he was unfulfilled.
He’s a real Nowhere Man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody
Doesn’t have a point of view
Knows not where he’s going to
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?