John Lennon died thirty two years ago, assassinated on 8th December, 1980, outside the Dakota building in New York. He had found late happiness there, raising his second son Sean and recording new material with his wife Yoko Ono. He was only forty, but his legacy was assured forever.
Lennon was a cynical, tough, gobby Scouser; but was also an uncertain man, insecure and troubled. As compassionate and kind as he could be, he was also a person who could be deliberately cruel and hurtful.
He was raised by his aunt whilst his mother, Julia, lived nearby with her new husband; it is easy now to imagine the psychological break and damage that did to the young John. Her death when he was seventeen was an appalling tragedy and to the end of his life he continued to be haunted by the lack of a real and rooted relationship with his mother.
Like so many, he began playing music after hearing Elvis for the first time and played in The Quarry Men with Paul McCartney. He harboured dreams of becoming an artist and attended the Liverpool College of Art. Throughout his life, he was deeply influenced by the bohemian and counter cultural aspect of artists he met and knew, including Sir Peter Blake, Klaus Voorman and, of course, his wife Yoko.
John had a complex and extraordinary gift, switching effortlessly from the surrealist word play of ‘I Am the Walrus’ (see below) to the ethereal tenderness of ‘Julia’ (see above), written for his mother, to the rocking blues of ‘Yer Blues’ (see below), the malicious humour of ‘Sexy Sadie’ and the acid-focused memories of “Strawberry Fields Forever’. Masterpieces all. The symbiotic relationship he enjoyed with McCartney was one of the miracles of twentieth century music: the journey of two callow boys who started at ‘She Loves You’ and ended at Abbey Road, older, wiser and distilling the experience of what it meant to be him, them, a Beatle, in that extraordinary decade.
The death of John Lennon robbed the world of an astonishing talent; much missed even now.
See also Mark Richardson's tribute to jazz giant, Dave Brubeck.