The Beatles and Class open thread

Michael Gerber
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Beatles in bowlers, SatEvePost 1964

Saturday Evening Post, August 15, 1964. Beatles as City gents; two British stereotypes for the price of one!

Over the past several months there’s been a topic in the wind here on Dullblog — no, not just Beatle-boinking — but the impact of class on the Beatles story. We’ve talked about it might’ve shaped their relationships with each other (particularly John being, or considering himself, just a little bit posher than the other three). And we’ve noted how it is almost never mentioned, particularly by American authors. But given their time and place, class was as much a part of the Beatles’ story as…well, all those amazing “middle eights” for example.

Now this morning comes @Hologram Sam’s comment about Billy Bragg, talking about this week’s celebrity cadavers, David Bowie and Alan Rickman:

“It’s not only the timing of his death and the fact that he too was 69 that links him to David Bowie. Both were working class kids from council estates who went to art school where they gained enough confidence in their own creativity that they were able to go on to find fame and fortune. Is it still possible for working class kids to realize their potential in such a way? The art schools are almost gone; those that survive now charge a fortune. The social mobility that Rickman and Bowie experienced is increasingly stifled.”

So what roles do you think class played in the Beatles’ story? Discuss in the comments — and let’s get a good one going here, folks. And if UK commenters can help us Yanks decode, please do.

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  1. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    When I was a Young American and unfamiliar with the UK class system, I used to wish Lennon had stayed with May Pang. But now I believe this was simply impossible. Class-conscious Lennon and Ono saw May as the help: someone who went to community college and worked as a receptionist. She was staff, an assistant. A child of Chinese immigrants; surely Yoko saw her as an inferior. And to John, wasn’t she little more than an Apple Scruff? Not to be mean about it, but I’m not sure this was the love affair of the century.
    John, the working class hero, didn’t want to meet May’s family. According to her book, May was so excited for her mother to meet John, and John had no interest. (To be fair to John, I don’t think he was so thrilled to hang with Yoko’s family, either.)

  2. Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

    I think one of the reasons Beatles biographers tend to overlook/ignore the class differential amongst the Beatles is because John tended to downplay them, presumably out of embarrassment. Actually, the only Beatles who really talks openly about it (that I’ve noticed) is Paul. My impression is that the John-Paul gulf was probably the most pertinent one anyway; theirs seems to be the difference between “good enough” and “not good enough.” Class-wise, Paul and George were equivalent and Ringo was so far on the bottom no one cared. (in other words, all three of them were “not good enough”) Paul is the one who really “married up” in the Beatles, in terms of creative accomplishment.

    Having said that, I am thoroughly American and pretty much have NO IDEA what I’m talking about, so Brits: please feel free to give me the smack down as necessary. In general, I think Americans are pretty clueless about the British Class System.

  3. Avatar Dan wrote:

    Two thing off the top of my head –

    Class explains a hell of a lot about the band’s personal dynamics. In his book, Lewisohn makes a lot of ‘the chain’ – John brought in Paul, who brought in George, who brought in Ringo. The same is true of their families’ class positions – the dairy farm and property owners, then the salesman and nurse, then the bus driver, then the single-parent barmaid and cleaner. Looking from the outside today, you might wonder why Paul, better looking, more personable, more popular and a more melodic songwriter than John, always seemed to defer to him. The British class system of the 1940s/50s partly explains it. Paul was the upwardly striving working class kid, John was the middle class kid slumming it, and they met in the middle.

  4. Avatar Dan wrote:

    Sorry, I didn’t write the second thing, which was that black American music has always resonated strongly with the English working class, far more than any in any other country including America. Part of the reason is that there’s (or there was) a sense of connection with a group that felt shut out of all power and influence.

  5. Avatar Dan wrote:

    Oh, and one thing more – a lot of Americans don’t realise how much European youth WORSHIPPED America in the postwar years. It was everything we wanted – freedom, hot girls, opportunity, wide open spaces, and plentiful food. Think of poor Ringo, brought up on rations, writing to the Texas Chamber of Commerce for a job, any job. Or Bernie Taupin, growing up on an English farm and writing poems about being a Confederate veteran. Or Elton John/Mick Jagger, singing like they were brought up in Mobile, Alabama. A lot of the reason for this was the lack of class restrictions in American life.

  6. Avatar Ruth wrote:

    As a younger generation American, I’m not going to claim any special or first hand knowledge of the intricacies of the British class system. But I’ve noted the inclusion of the class issue in some works on the band, particularly during the breakup era, and throughout Shout!

    The class issue impacted how the band’s story was told, particularly during the Lennon/McCartney wars of the breakup era. It’s in 1970/1971 that you have the class issue front-and-center, with John, ironically, adopting the working-class-hero persona and labeling Paul as the middle-class straight. We have multiple sources emphasizing this, and using it as one of the primary reasons why each side chose their respective horses: Eastman or Klein — First its John in “Lennon Remembers,” lauding Klein as an authentic working-class guy while labeling the Eastman’s as “Fucking Stupid Middle Class Pigs.” In Anthology, George identified Klein’s status as a working class guy as one of the reasons for why he chose him. Peter McCabe emphasizes Paul’s middle-class, bourgeoisie aspirations throughout “Apple to the Core,” and identifies it as one of the key reasons behind the Lennon/McCartney rift. “Rolling Stone” uses “contempt for the bourgeoisie” as one of John’s key motivations behind “How Do You Sleep.” This theory — that Paul’s selfish, aspirational middle class social climbing is the real reason that he preferred the Eastman’s, and rejected the brash “working class” Klein — lost a lot of steam after 1973, when John, George and Ringo sued Klein.

    Norman also uses the Aspirational Middle-class, “social climbing” issue as a stick to beat Paul with, especially during the original edition of Shout! Paul’s efforts to rise out of the working class are contemptuously derided by Norman as “pretentious social climbing” and used as evidence of Paul’s superficiality and conformity. I don’t know where Norman would fall on England’s class ladder, but I do find it interesting that the only Beatle he had any time for was the solidly middle-class Lennon, and he displayed a profound lack of interest in the two Beatles who were on the class structure’s lowest rungs, George and Ringo. Yoko, the aristocrat, is lauded. Ignoring the class issue with in the structure of the Beatles is foolish; ignoring the class issue of the people who wrote Beatles history is foolish as well.

    • Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

      Ruth, thanks for that very informative run-down of Shout. I’ve never actually read that piece of trash, but I know of its uhh, “significance.”
      John’s privilege really shows its ugly ass in that fight. The fact that he wrote “Working Class Hero” and tried to label Paul a Tool of the Bourgeoise and yet isn’t considered the World’s Biggest Poseur is still a bit mind-boggling.

      • I’ll defend Shout! in the same way I defend Goldman — I like the writing in it. It’s not such a big deal that Shout! is a flawed book, it was a product of its time, and a stepping stone to better books and more knowledge, but I do dislike Norman’s ego about it (and its anti-Paul bias).

        • Avatar Ruth wrote:

          Michael, I think your statement here: “It’s not such a big deal that Shout! is a flawed book, it was a product of its time, and a stepping stone to better books and more knowledge” ignores a lot of issues. I believe Norman’s work cemented a lot of the biases and inaccuracies of the “Lennon Remembers” narrative for at least another fifteen years.
          Shout!’s reputation was critically unassailable for at least ten years. Last year, The Guardian’s John Harris was still saying that fans should just “forgive Norman his anti-McCartney bias” and recommended as one of the best books ever written on rock and music. It influenced not only every fan who read it, and believed it, but countless journalists who used it as a source for any of their articles about the Beatles, and numerous other Beatles authorities. If you look at the bibliographies of almost any major Beatles work written during the 1980s/mid 90’s, Shout! is one of their most frequently utilized sources. Norman’s view of the Beatles — John as the artistic hero, Paul as his inferior foil, and devoting little time to George and Ringo — is a trend that doesn’t change until Lewisohn publishes TCBRS.

          That Shout! was a product of its time is no excuse. Norman could have approached the Beatles without having already pre-determined his thesis, but he didn’t. He could have restrained from offering speculative, personal opinion in the guise of fact, but he didn’t. He could have changed many of the major errors with the original edition in his later, revised editions, but he didn’t, even when he acknowledged that his original interpretations, particularly on Paul, were “wrong, to a certain extent.” Shout! wasn’t a stepping stone to better scholarship, with the exception of introducing Lewisohn into the mix; it impeded it, by setting low standards in terms of documentation, interpretation, and virtually making it okay to ignore George and Ringo until Anthology.

          • @Ruth, I can’t argue with any of your points, and I’m not going to spend a lot of time defending what I think is a deeply flswed book. But (typically) I do think there are a few points worth keeping in mind.

            First, Norman isn’t an historian, by training or temperament; he was a journalist writing barely ten years after the group ended, and a year after Lennon had been shot. It isn’t quite fair, IMHO, to judge Shout! against Tune In or Spitz. It’s more fair to put it up next to Davies.

            I think it was meant to be a readable general history of the group and its times, and I think it succeeds as this. If it hadn’t, and hadn’t sold, would Anthology have happened? Or Spitz or Lewisohn? A more balanced, yet less lucid and flavorful Shout! that died in the marketplace would have discouraged much of what came after.

            Shout! did distort the story in the ways you suggest–but no book released in 1981 would’ve dared to do any different. And in ’81 there really weren’t any histories to build from except “Lennon Remembers.” we can’t blame Norman for writing the book he could write back then; “Tune In” wasn’t possible then, and if Norman had delivered that book, he would’ve gotten his contact cancelled.

            Norman is a newspaperman and novelist, a man who lived through Swinging London and the Apple debacle, and a good writer. Shout! is a reflection of all those things. He’s not an historian, writing with decades more thought and criticism of the Fabs.

          • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

            Michael, I think some of what you say in defense of “Shout!” is fair enough, but I agree with Ruth on this: “He [Norman] could have changed many of the major errors with the original edition in his later, revised editions, but he didn’t, even when he acknowledged that his original interpretations, particularly on Paul, were “wrong, to a certain extent.”
            Not until fairly recently — and under pressure from later writers pointing out his errors and distortions — did he even cop to the “wrong, to a certain extent.” It’s what I perceive to be Norman’s arrogance that bothers me most. And he (or his publisher) certainly present “Shout!” as history: it was marketed as “the definitive account.”
            I try not to blame Norman for “writing the book he could write back then” (although couldn’t he have done a bit more due diligence on the facts, and on acknowledging places where the evidence was open to multiple interpretations?). But I have a really hard time not blaming him for leaving the errors and distortions — even the ones he acknowledges! — substantially the same in the “revised” editions. If you’re going to write somebody’s biography or history, I believe you owe him/her/them the respect of doing your best to get the facts straight and being clear about how much opinion you’re laying over those facts. And if you’re writing a biography or history about a “them,” that means trying to be fair to ALL of them.
            Harrumph. I’m not doing too well with the not blaming Norman thing, clearly. Thinking about “Shout!” does at least increase my appreciation of Mark Lewisohn. I think he’s as diligent about getting the facts straight and presenting them in an unbiased way as we can reasonably expect any human to be.

          • Your comment is pretty much where I come down on Shout!, Nancy. I don’t mind the book for what it was in 1981, I do mind Norman’s arrogance and seeming doubling-down on his mistakes.

            But I will say — and this is me speaking as a writer — Norman did convey the thrilling aspects of the story. He did convey how unique and special the Beatles were–that they weren’t just a pop group, or a 60s phenomenon that had nothing to say to people in future generations (remember the subtitle “The Beatles In Their Generation”).

            So, for all its flaws, and it has many, Norman’s book was the gateway into the Beatles for a generation’s worth of fans.

            Lewisohn, for all his virtues, does not and could not write that type of book. He is perfect for what is needed now, and he should be commended at every opportunity for his many virtues. But Normsn–like the hated Goldman–has HIS virtues as well, and we should mark them, however lightly or intermittently.

            No book is going to be perfect, and if we want to know about a topic, that’s our responsibility. Shout! was not — could not be — an endpoint. it was, as this thread demonstrates, a challenge, and it was a challenge that has been met; that most fans take Norman’s word for it is a shame, and their lack of curiosity is puzzling to me.

          • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

            That’s fair. Norman is a good writer, and he did get more people interested in the Beatles’ story. I just wish he’d had more sense of responsibility to all the people he was writing about. The book is so “John Lennon, Genius, and His 3 Sidemen” that I can’t reread it.

  7. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    what roles do you think class played in the Beatles’ story?
    They didn’t receive formal music training. I think Paul said his father taught him about harmony, but that’s about it. They couldn’t read music, they never studied theory or music history.
    But did this actually help them? A thought experiment: What if a mysterious upper-class benefactor had provided John, Paul, George (and what the hell, even Ringo) a full musical education? The complete young Mozart & Beethoven treatment… intensive training in composition, arranging etc.
    Remember how excited they were when they came up with the ending harmony of She Loves You? “It’s never been done before!” And then the educated George Martin cleared his throat and informed them Glen Miller (or someone like that; I’m too lazy to look up the anecdote) had actually done it. And of course, it’d been done a million times before throughout musical history.
    If the Beatles weren’t “primitives” would they have been listless, taking turns discouraging every new idea with “It’s been done before”?

  8. Avatar Rose Decatur wrote:

    Ruth, sometimes I feel like your spiritual sister on these forums because our opinions are so aligned, and now is one of those times!

    One of the dark spots on John’s character, for me, is the appalling way he treated Lee Eastman. Yes, I understand that John was resentful, and I understand how it seemed for Paul to want his father-in-law involved. But there is so simply no excuse for the disgusting things, largely antisemitic, that John said about Lee, and he’s always given a free pass on it by Beatle authors. It’s ironic, too, in that Lee probably knew more of life’s struggle in his early years than John. Why not admire the way Lee, the son of poor Russian immigrants, used education (entering college at 16) to get out of the Bronx slums? And what would John know about the very real dangers of being a American Jew in the 30’s, when Lee changed his last name, something that John used as a punchline?

    Interesting historical note: Lee was not the only notable Epstein – he not only used public education as a springboard to greater things, but he was also the primary champion of his younger sister Rose’s education (according to her). He prodded her to go on to college, which she did, graduating from Smith in 1939. Rose Epstein (later Frisch) then went on to get her master’s degree and her PhD in genetics by 1940. During World War II, she worked on the Manhattan Project as a human computer for Dr. Richard Feynman. Her husband, grounbreaking nuclear physicist David Frisch, also worked on the Project, and they were appalled at the dropping of the bomb on Japan, which spurred them into lifelong liberal activism. They returned to the East Coast, where her husband joined MIT and Rose became a professor of population studies at Harvard and a Guggenheim Fellow. She was a groundbreaking geneticist and the scientist who discovered the link between body fat and female fertility, as well as doing notable work in breast cancer studies.

    • @Rose, that is fascinating. Thank you. And I’ve had the same thought about Lee Eastman being just as hard scrabble as Allen Klein was — he just wasn’t an uncouth ass.

      • Avatar Rose Decatur wrote:

        Dr. Rose Frisch just passed last year, there were several lovely tributes to her in the scientific community. (Her son, Linda’s cousin, is apparently a physicist at the University of Chicago.) She was perhaps the only 96 year old whose obituary asked for donations to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU in lieu of flowers!

        Lee and Rose’s upbringing must’ve been very interesting indeed, to produce such two notables in their respective fields.

    • Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

      Rose, thank you so much for that enlightening info! Posts like yours are why I read this blog. 🙂

      This topic is so deep and wide, it just gets more fascinating. It seems John’s posturing about his (non-existent) “working class” status is a distinctly middle-class affectation… akin to a punk or hip-hop attempt to “keep it real.” Awkward middle-class kids seem to be the only ones who do this, and I think it’s probably a reaction to realizing that even when you get rich you’re still (and always will be) a step below the wealthy. If you’re in the mushy middle and you can’t rise up, it makes sense to want to step down and claim some sense of belonging there.

      America is unique of course because our divisions generally have more to do with race than with class. But again, it’s as complicated as Britain’s class system and sometimes difficult for outsiders to understand. I remember reading a 1965 or ’66 interview in which Paul (and probably the other Beatles, but Paul stands out) was sharply critical of race relations in America and even though he was clearly on the right side of things, I kinda felt like “….WTF are you talking about?” Which I imagine is how it sounds to a Brit when Americans criticize their class system. 😉

    • Avatar Ruth wrote:

      “But there is so simply no excuse for the disgusting things, largely antisemitic, that John said about Lee, and he’s always given a free pass on it by Beatle authors.”

      I think John gets a massive free pass on his treatment of Linda as well.

  9. Avatar J.R. Clark wrote:

    Paul was always upwardly striving. I believe he was as much, if not more, in love with the Asher family as he was with Jane. In the midst of Beatlemania, and long after the others had bought homes in the stockbroker belt, Paul was content to live with the Ashers.

    • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

      J.R., I agree about Paul’s upward striving– but how different was he in that respect, really, from the other Beatles (especially John and George?) Paul may have been more obvious about revealing his ambitions, but John ended up living in a super-exclusive building on Central Park and George bought a mansion and expensive race cars.
      I think that’s a good point about Paul being as much in love with the Ashers as he was with Jane. And no doubt part of that was class aspiration. Part was probably also about getting to live in the heart of Swinging London rather than the Stockbroker Belt. But I think it was also about feeling part of an intact family, especially one with a mother figure. Paul never wrote a song as nakedly about loss as John’s “Mother,” but songs like “Yesterday” seem to me to be driven by that grief.

    • Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

      “Paul was always upwardly striving.”

      But again… in what universe is this an insult? You mean, Paul wanted to rise up out of poverty and being treated like garbage? Wow, what a douche.
      (btw, that’s not directed at you personally, J.R.!)
      The idea that wanting, striving and EARNING something better for yourself and your kids somehow makes you an asshole is an attitude just loaded with privilege.

  10. It is a testament to John Lennon’s charisma, and ability to judge the tenor of his times, that he was able to pull off “Working Class Hero” for even one second.

    It’s not surprising that American audiences swallowed that — they weren’t/aren’t aware of all the nuances in the British class structure (to us, either you’re Downton Abbey or you’re just like us or, if you’re in a Dickens story, an urchin). And Americans had been sold the idea of The Beatles as musical Horatio Algers. So John was just playing to that — in his case, a fiction, but in the case of George and Ringo, kinda not. It’s another example of Epstein’s genius: the Beatles as “poor boys done good” plays to America’s most cherished myth about itself, and means that liking them is supporting a very American view of the world. It’s a way we understand the Beatles, a way to Americanize them, and that’s one reason that American writers never really address the effect of class on the Fabs. It makes them alien.

    The other reason is that the Beatles were part of a whole movement happening on both sides of the Atlantic (and throughout Europe) where the “classless society” was fervently hoped-for (by some) and actively worked towards from about 1945 to 1980. The Beatles were simultaneously proof that this goal was worthwhile — sending John Lennon to art school rather than the army netted Britain huge financial benefits — and pointed to as an example of what a classless society would look like. There is no upper-class version of The Beatles — what would that even sound like? As popular artists, The Beatles succeeded via merit, and because they did, the Kingdom of Heaven was declared…a little early. Much to the pleasure of the upperclasses. This is how you get American-style psychologies, where the institutional restrictions on people are denied, even by themselves. Great news for 1%’s everywhere.

    But the Beatles themselves knew the score. The moment they had some money, they began building for their own children’s lives within not a classless meritocracy, but a society of haves and have-nots. Sean didn’t go to New York public schools.

  11. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    Didn’t Dhani Harrison go to Brown? No Ford Festivas in that parking lot.

  12. Avatar Rose Decatur wrote:

    One of the reasons why I feel John’s working class hero persona was allowed to flourish in the 70’s was because Paul didn’t seem to talk very much about his own background or class. It was only after John’s death that Paul started to deliberately speak out against John’s revisionism of his background, and he faced a quick backlash from fans who charged him with just rewriting history out of jealousy.

    I feel like it’s only been the past ten years or so that Paul has started more forcefully about his own working class upbringing and the effect it had on him. He’s recently started talking about his parents a bit more, but also people like his uncle Harry, who went to a Bluecoat School. Possibly it’s just due to age, but maybe also because of the flare-ups regarding class in modern Britain recently.

  13. Avatar J.R. Clark wrote:

    I seem to recall an incident in the 1980s when Paul raged at a group of teachers on strike at James’ state-run primary school. One of the teachers who reported the incident to the media supposedly riposted, “Lennon would be here on the picket lines with us!”

    • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

      I think it’s significant that Paul sent his children to a state-run school in the first place. I don’t believe that Sean Lennon attended a public school in NYC.

    • Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

      I seem to recall an incident in the 1980s when Paul raged at a group of teachers on strike at James’ state-run primary school. One of the teachers who reported the incident to the media supposedly riposted, “Lennon would be here on the picket lines with us!”
      OK, I agree that would be a dick-ish thing for Paul to do IF it actually happened. And I’m not absolutely saying it didn’t; I certainly can’t disprove it. (And I’ve never understood Paul’s politics, they’ve always seemed nuanced to me, which is perfectly fine from where I’m standing)
      But… was this a teacher recounting an “incident” or an actual video-taped event? It seems out of character for Paul McCartney to randomly approach a picket line and start berating TEACHERS in public. It is, however, EXTREMELY EASY to imagine a random nutjob teacher (or several) who is already pissed-off and (it being the 80’s) sad that John Lennon is dead (and just read Phillip Norma’s SHOUT, hahaha), trying to provoke him. Maybe they started yelling at him, as he was taking his kid to school and he was all, “Hey, I’m just taking my kid to school” and they started berating him for a being a sell-out piece of crap and reminding him that JOHN LENNON WOULD BE HERE WITH US. I dunno, if I was Paul and someone said that to me I might flip my shit too.

      Again, I wasn’t there but all I’m saying is that I take a story like that with a grain of salt.

      • Avatar Rose Decatur wrote:

        I take it with a grain of salt as well. Paul was anti-Thatcher in the 80’s and he was a public supporter of the nurses’ strike (probably privately others as well, there were a lot of strikes going on at the time). He even sent Thatcher a nastygram (“the nurses will do to you what the coalminers did to Ted Heath”). Nor can I find any mention of such an incident in Keith Badman’s Beatles Diary (always my first go-to for long forgotten news stories about the Fabs).

        It sounds to me like Paul didn’t “berate” anybody but that perhaps teachers thought he should be out on the picket line with them (perhaps like he was with the nurses) thus the comment that “John Lennon would’ve.”

    • Avatar Rose Decatur wrote:

      John may have joined the picket line, but he would’ve retreated back to his estate afterwards. Sean went to private schools in NYC (Dalton and the Fieldston School) then later the mega-private, luxurious Swiss boarding school Institut Le Rosey. Of course, Sean’s schooling was largely Yoko’s decision due to John’s death, but in Sean’s early years John certainly showed no indication of disagreement with the life of luxury for him, with one or two nannies all the time attending to Sean’s needs and spoiling him with a lot of material things (toys, etc.)

      Paul helped the local nurses in his home town of Rye, East Sussex when they went on strike in the 80’s, and later contributed a million pounds to the building of a new health center after Thatcher’s government shut down the hospital due to the strike.

      Paul has expressed quite astute feelings regarding money and charity. He noted that people thought he should just throw money in to save the old hospital, but he felt that it was better to contribute to a new, collaborative health center, otherwise what would happen to the towns who didn’t have a celebrity to swoop in and solve everything? If he paid for everything, the NHS would’ve just used it as excuse for further cuts to the area He compared it to being asked to buy new computers for his kids’ school – he instead told the school to have an initial fundraiser, and he would match whatever they raised. He wanted other parents to contribute, both so it wouldn’t be seen as, “Oh look, the McCartneys just took charge,” and also so he wasn’t treated as a bottomless resource.

      I remember Elvis Costello commenting on how annoying he found the suggestion that Paul should’ve just funded LIPA entirely himself when it started. Apparently Paul made the maximum donation he could himself, then did strenuous fundraising, but there was a cap on how much a school could take from private donations without endangering their government funding.

  14. Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

    The gap between Lennon’s reputation as a working class hero and the reality of his day-to-day life is striking to me. To take one example, he talked about being a “househusband” 1975-1980 and focusing on raising Sean, but the Lennon/Ono household evidently employed a staff that included a full-time nanny.

    Sometimes I think that Lennon believed so strongly in his aspirations / intentions that he possessed the ability to convince not only himself, but also others, that they had been realized.

    • Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

      Sometimes I think that Lennon believed so strongly in his aspirations / intentions that he possessed the ability to convince not only himself, but also others, that they had been realized.
      Oh, I ABSOLUTELY believe this! That is John (with occasional moments of clarity thrown in).

  15. Avatar J.R. Clark wrote:

    It’s poor form for any billionaire to belittle school teachers who are lawfully and peacefully picketing for wage increases, regardless of who the billionaire is.

    • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

      I absolutely agree with you about that. It’s the “Lennon would be out here with us” I don’t buy. I do think the McCartney’s decision to send their children to state schools is significant.

  16. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    There is the famous train scene in Hard Day’s Night, when the upper-class Gentleman snatches the transistor radio out of Ringo’s hand. The Beatles mock the man, taunt him (actually running outside next to the tracks in a charming bit of surrealism) and refuse to take him seriously. But if you watch closely, there is a very brief interaction with Paul’s clean old Grandfather (who spends the entire film talking tough about the upper classes and the police and bookish intellectuals) and the Gentleman. The Grandfather turns completely obsequious when confronted with him. It’s happens very quickly as they pass on the train; blink and you’ll miss it. I wonder what point the screenwriter/director was trying to make here?
    Interesting, also: Paul married Linda (from a prosperous family) after dating Jane Asher (from a prosperous family) and John married Cynthia, who despite some family struggles after her father’s death, came from a upper-middle neighborhood and was considered “posh” in school. Compare and contrast: Ringo marries Maureen, who left school at 14 to train as a hairdresser.

  17. Avatar Dan wrote:

    All the Beatles ‘married up’, even Ringo. He was so low on the social ladder, even Maureen’s family were a step up. It’s also interesting that of the nine Beatle wives, five of them are American (if you include Japanese-American and Mexican-American). Also, three are Jewish.

  18. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    All the Beatles ‘married up’, even Ringo. He was so low on the social ladder, even Maureen’s family were a step up.
    Very true, Dan. I sometimes forget how tough Ringo had it. I recently saw a two-part interview with Ringo on Tavis Smiley, and his childhood truly sounds like something out of Dickens.
    And speaking of Beatle wives, I admit I’m so clueless about class (no matter what country) that I didn’t understand until recently that Yoko considered herself an aristocrat. I’d always bought into the whole starving artist schtick.
    For most of my life I was clueless about the subject of class. It’s so subtle in America, and yet it permeates everything. My background is working class, but as a child I wasn’t aware of the financial pressures on my parents. I didn’t learn until I was an adult that they’d almost lost our house twice because they couldn’t keep up with the mortgage payments.

  19. Avatar Ruth wrote:

    (Not sure if this went through earlier; if its a double post, ignore).

    Michael, I wonder if there’s a generational element here: for those who read the original edition of Shout! in 1981, following so quickly on the heels of John’s death, it must have been a very emotional experience. I didn’t live through that, and so can’t relate.

    I think you make a lot of good points, but I’d argue that you are being too generous to Norman when you argue “but no book released in 1981 would’ve dared to do any different. And in ’81 there really weren’t any histories to build from except “Lennon Remembers.” Norman didn’t write Shout! in response to Lennon’s death; he states in the 1981 edition’s intro that he had written the vast majority of the book before John was killed, in the late 70’s, and the publishing schedule reinforces that: the book was published in March 1981. It wasn’t about Norman not daring to go against the wave of adulation following John’s death: It was about Norman blindly accepting every negative thing John said in the breakup era, coupled with his personal distaste for Paul’s late-1970s music and persona, that prompted such an unbalanced account. What the critical and public reaction to Shout! would have been without the tragedy of December 1980 — especially following the middling reviews and popular reaction to “Double Fantasy” and the unrest in the Lennon/Ono marriage — that would have been interesting to see. Especially since I think Paul would have denounced Shout! far more publicly had John been alive.

    Second, while the “Lennon Remembers” version of events that Norman borrowed so heavily from was the most readily available information at the time, contradictory evidence *did* exist, and was available to him. I don’t blame Norman for not having, say, info from TCBRS in the original edition of Shout!, because no one did. But Norman made sweeping generalizations and character and artistic judgments, particularly regarding Paul, when there was credible evidence proving otherwise that was available. He either did not look for that evidence, or ignored it when he found it.

    For example; Norman continuously emphasizes throughout the first edition of Shout! how far more commercial Paul was than John, and how less willing he was to experiment musically. Paul was conventional, paint-by-the-numbers, whereas John was a radical artistic thinker and the only avant-garde Beatle. The “Lennon Remembers” version may have obscured the truth by painting Paul as the “square,” but the evidence proving otherwise *was* available, if Norman had bothered to look for it. You have Paul, in a 1966 interview with NME, talking about the tape loops he added to “Tomorrow Never Knows.” You have safe, “don’t rock the boat PR guy” Paul, bashing America’s history of racial segregation in the same Maureen Cleeve interviews that contain John’s “bigger than Jesus” quote. You have numerous editions of the International Times, interviews with John Dunbar and Barry Miles from the 60’s, all attesting to Pau’s avant-garde explorations, and reinforcing his artistry. Norman found *none* of these. Or if he did, he failed to include them.Norman interviewed George Martin for Shout!, praised him as a peerless producer, and then promptly ignored Martin’s assessment of John and Paul as musical equals, equal geniuses, and close friends, which Martin had already provided in numerous interviews and in his 1979 memoirs. Yes, with the exception of Martin’s testimony, these sources would have been more difficult to find, but they *were* out there. And they undermine a large part of Norman’s assessment of Paul, both as an artist and individual. Norman chose the easy route of regurgitating many of the inaccuracies and accepted wisdoms of John’s “Lennon Remembers” era rants, rather than conducting actual, legitimate, unbiased research. And I think his reaction to criticism — such as his claim in the back of the 2008 John bio that he’s not “anti-Paul” and his evident to Lewisohn’s statements regarding the errors within Shout — demonstrate that Norman chafes at the decline in his book’s reputation, even as he fails to acknowledge how damaging it was to an accurate view of the Beatles. I’m glad Shout! got a lot of people’s blood pumping, and may have reinvigorated their interest in the Beatles, but it could have done those things while providing a far more accurate version of the band; it didn’t, and those errors have still never been corrected.

    • @Ruth, you are an historian through and through and I love your insights. I think you’re right — I don’t think any of the Beatles would’ve let Shout! stand they way they did, had Lennon been alive. Even John would’ve criticized it. He was famously protective of his band, and even Paul, saying that he could talk shit about them, but you better not.

      I can attest, aged 11 and with my since-infancy Beatle fandom emerging with a teenaged fierceness, that Shout! rode the wave of an incredibly emotionally charged time. People deeply grieved John Lennon; I was in England the week Princess Di died, and Lennon’s death was that times ten. Strange as it seems now, Shout!’s nasty pro-John bias fed that grief, and was nourished by it. Declaring John The Genius made things even more poignant, and what he/they had accomplished only 15 years earlier, almost unbearably precious. Shout! came out in the first few months that the Beatles were irredeemably history, and that timing has given it much more space on the Beatle bookshelf than it would’ve gotten otherwise. Just as “The Compleat Beatles” was almost holy writ until the Anthology came along. It took the Anthology to really unseat Shout!.

      I’m not sure Shout! would’ve been the same page-turner had it provided a more nuanced and accurate vision of the band. The “bossy Paul vs. genius John” meme is a great narrative device, apparently — I mean, how else to explain its persistence in the face of truckloads of information to the contrary? This is actually an interesting issue to me. Paul is so obviously a genius, so obviously John’s equal in the magic of the band, the idea of Lennon as the lone genius clearly speaks to a certain type of person — but who, and what does it say to them? Maybe I’ll break that out into a post.

      Shout! without a villain McCartney might’ve been doable; I agree Norman should’ve tried in 1980-81, and certainly corrected his material in light of new evidence. That he hasn’t speaks to an awesome level of hubris. It’s unseemly. Unlike other commenters I don’t worry overmuch about Paul’s reputation or legacy — h8ers gonna h8, and the work is there. If you listen to what Paul has produced, and yet still think of him as a super-slick PR man simply because Philip Norman has some Swinging London-era axe to grind, I can’t help you. Go listen to another, less complicated band.

      • Avatar Ruth wrote:


        First, thank you for the insight in your response. Your description of the public reaction to John’s death is clarifying and moving and, yes, helps people who did not live through it — such as myself — understand just how eagerly Shout! could be accepted and revered.

        “The “bossy Paul vs. genius John” meme is a great narrative device, apparently — I mean, how else to explain its persistence in the face of truckloads of information to the contrary? This is actually an interesting issue to me. Paul is so obviously a genius, so obviously John’s equal in the magic of the band, the idea of Lennon as the lone genius clearly speaks to a certain type of person — but who, and what does it say to them?”

        Please do surface this in a post, Michael, because I think it goes to the crux of a lot of the tiresome Lennon vs. McCartney debates that Beatles fandom, and journalists, still wage. For a short answer now, I’d argue that a number of factors — including Paul’s more ‘feminine’ associated strengths, his utter failure to control the breakup-era narrative, the cataclysm of John’s death, the emotional connection certain journalists and fans seem to have made with their idea of who/what John Lennon was, as well as confirmation bias, all play roles. A lot of it would also be that people believed it because that’s what they were told: by John, by Yoko, by Klein, by Christgau, by Coleman, by Norman, by Rolling Stone, even Gilmore, with his “that John was the only real genius is inarguable” blather. What Paul has been shopping for the past twenty years or so is revisionism — that doesn’t make it wrong, or incorrect, but its always harder to unseat an established narrative, particularly when some gatekeepers have an emotional connection to their preferred version of events.

  20. Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

    What’s always bothered me about this entire issue is that most biographers don’t distinguish between ‘Class’ (one’s socio-economic standing) and ‘class’ (one’s personal power and social status). Because the former influences the latter, biographers often conflate the two.
    I think The Beatles were certainly affected by their socio-economic standing because they were from Liverpool. Much was made of their funny accents and Liverpudlian sensibilities, especially in the early days. Within the group, though, personal power and social status played a larger role. (Paul, for example, initially looked down on Ringo because he didn’t have his A levels. While education is strongly correlated with socio-economic status, it was Ringo’s lack of education rather than his socio-economic background that young Paul reacted to.) Paul’s attraction to the Ashers, mentioned earlier in the thread, is as another example of this distinction. Paul had the wealth–he certainly had more money than the Ashers. What he longed for was the social access that had always been denied him because of his socio-economic upbringing.
    There’s an old saying that no matter how much money a person makes, they can’t wipe the shit off their shoes. That’s the kind of bigotry I think The Beatles were always up against.

    • Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

      Good point, Karen. I remember john complaining in the 70’s (Tom Snyder maybe?) that the Beatles were looked down upon in England because of their accents. That makes sense, since the same is true about Southern accents here in the U.S. (Or for instance, a friend of mine who is now an attorney at a prominent NY law firm but grew up in Brooklyn with a thick accent. People used to assume he was stupid because of that accent!) Just another example of how Americans really don’t get the British class issue…..

    • “no matter how much money a person makes, they can’t wipe the shit off their shoes”

      …and this is why John Lennon moved to the USA in 1971.
      …and this is why he stayed with Yoko Ono, rather than switching to May Pang.
      …and this is why he didn’t give anything away for free.
      Like Mick Jagger, Paul has played the Establishment game and won. John’s pride was so wounded that he could’ve never done that, so he did the next best thing: he moved to a country where money determines all, and anybody from England is considered to be posh. And he chose a wife with impeccable upper-class credentials in one of the few countries even more hierarchical than Britain. When it comes to aristocracy, Yoko is more Catholic than the Pope.

      I think all the Beatles carried/carry a lot of resentment, given their treatment at the hands of the David Ormsby-Gores of the world. It’s why all four of them spent/spend so much time in America. America isn’t hierarchy-free, it’s just that after 1960, your position in the hierarchy is determined by how much money you have. On the one hand, that’s a lot fairer than the old way, but on the other it can be wearing…

      • Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

        “…and this is why John Lennon moved to the USA in 1971.
        …and this is why he stayed with Yoko Ono, rather than switching to May Pang.
        …and this is why he didn’t give anything away for free.”
        Interesting, although I’m not sure I entirely agree with you. 🙂

        I think John moved to the States because of all the vitriol he and Yoko received in England over their relationship and “art.” I recall John himself explaining this to reporters in the airport just before they left Britain for good. I also think he stayed with Yoko rather than with May simply because May wasn’t strong enough and he needed a Yoko/Mimi/Paul figure to run his life. And John was well known to be notoriously generous with his money, with friends and causes (although he never lost his 50’s Britain austerity orientation and worried about going broke.)

        I wonder if John felt a little schizophrenic on the class issue. On one hand, he was his mother’s son, but on the other, he was Mimi’s nephew. He flitted back and forth between these two worlds and probably never felt he firmly belonged in either of them.

        • Well, all good points, @Karen. But moving to the USA — a place where he knew he’d be treated like royalty, an artist-aristocrat — in a more powerful, more important country is a great fuck-you to the UK in precisely the ways we’re talking about here, right? The US isn’t classless, it’s just class-fluid, with everything once reserved for class-distinctions now being reserved for money. I can tell you from personal experience: in 1950, something like Skull and Bones was reserved for people of a certain class, whether they had money or not. By the 80s, the Eastern Establishment (the closest thing America ever had to an aristocracy) was so weak and disregarded that election to Skull and Bones was essentially a marker of social standing regardless of class or background. This is, in some sense, a good thing — but it’s also what makes America so money-obsessed.

          And Yoko, a Japanese aristocrat — a woman with a lineage — is more attractive for these same shallow reasons.

          And if money gets you everything — if it’s the sole determinant of your place in society — you wouldn’t do free concerts, would you? Certainly by the Dakota years, I don’t think John had the reputation of being “notoriously generous” with his money… though I’d love to be proved wrong in this regard. I want him to be generous, I think he could be, and was at times, but the Lennon of 1975 on was very clear about not handing out cash. And tithing 10% — assuming that they did actually do that, believe it at your own risk — isn’t as big a deal if you’re pulling in a lot of money. Giving away 10% if you make $100,000 — that will impact your lifestyle. Giving away 10% if you’re making $5 million/year and are worth $100 million, that’s a lot less impressive to me.

          • Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

            10% off the top wasn’t going to hurt him, that’s for sure. :).
            John always resented the assumption that because he had money, he owed society something. I don’t think it had to do with class, but a resentment that he worked his butt off and suffered greatly for what he had, and if someone out there wanted to save the world, they can get off their butts and do it–not expect him to carry the load.

          • Everybody works their butt off, in my experience; but for sure John Lennon did not “suffer greatly” for what he had. He did not “suffer greatly” to write songs and record them. Giving interviews was not a chore for him. Being famous could be a drag sometimes, but that could’ve been remedied if he was interested in doing so. And during his seclusion, people generally left him alone.

            He “suffered greatly” because he refused to get his mental and emotional house in order. And one of the main hallmarks of his illness was a childish rejection of responsibility — whether it was his responsibilities to Julian, or to the other Beatles, or to society — all of which were forms of self-robbery that fed his self-loathing.

  21. Avatar Doug wrote:

    One of my favorite John Lennon bullshit quotes: He was criticizing Paul for being impressed with the Eastmans because they had Picassos on their walls; this former art student then added, “I mean, I don’t even know who Picasso is.” You’re overselling it John.

  22. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    Certainly by the Dakota years, I don’t think John had the reputation of being “notoriously generous” with his money… though I’d love to be proved wrong in this regard. I want him to be generous, I think he could be, and was at times, but the Lennon of 1975 on was very clear about not handing out cash…
    I was living in New York in 1980, and first learned about Lennon’s death when I walked into the office and a co-worker (who wasn’t a Beatle or John fan) waved a copy of the Daily News in my face. “Looks like there won’t be a reunion now,” he said with a chuckle. I was stunned, to say the least.
    But all the New York papers made sure to mention that Lennon had donated lots of money to the NYPD to pay for bulletproof vests. I think there were other charities John&Yoko were quietly supporting as well. Nowadays the cynic in me believes a financial advisor probably told Yoko about tax shelters, but I remember back in ’80 the recipients of Lennon’s charity coming forward to talk to reporters impressed me deeply.

    • @Sam, I also heard about the Lennons’ charitable donations. And who am I to say? But giving $1,000 to the NYPD for bulletproof vests is — while admirable — akin to you or I giving $25 to buy a ticket to the Policemen’s Ball. Not a bad thing, but notable mostly in that Lennon — famous 60s radical — was now supporting the police.

      Contrast that with Bangladesh which, for all Klein’s shenanigans, has raised $17 million for Unicef. But no, by 1980 John Lennon was insisting that such charity concerts were bullshit:

      PLAYBOY: “Just to finish your favorite subject, what about the suggestion that the four of you put aside your personal feelings and regroup to give a mammoth concert for charity, some sort of giant benefit?”

      LENNON: “I don’t want to have anything to do with benefits. I have been benefited to death.”

      PLAYBOY: “Why?”

      LENNON: “Because they’re always rip-offs. I haven’t performed for personal gain since 1966, when the Beatles last performed. Every concert since then, Yoko and I did for specific charities, except for a Toronto thing that was a rock ‘n roll revival. Every one of them was a mess or a rip-off. So now we give money to who we want. You’ve heard of tithing?”

      PLAYBOY: “That’s when you give away a fixed percentage of your income.”

      LENNON: “Right. I am just going to do it privately. I am not going to get locked into that business of saving the world on stage. The show is always a mess and the artist always comes off badly.”

      PLAYBOY: “What about the Bangladesh concert, in which George and other people such as Dylan performed?”
      LENNON: “Bangladesh was ca-ca.”

      PLAYBOY: “You mean because of all the questions that were raised about where the money went?”

      LENNON: “Yeah, right. I can’t even talk about it, because it’s still a problem. You’ll have to check with Mother (Yoko) because she knows the ins and outs of it, I don’t. But it’s all a rip-off. So forget about it. All of you who are reading this, don’t bother sending me all that garbage about, ‘Just come and save the Indians, come and save the blacks, come and save the war veterans,’ Anybody I want to save will be helped through our tithing, which is ten percent of whatever we earn.”

      PLAYBOY: “But that doesn’t compare with what one promoter, Sid Bernstein, said you could raise by giving a world-wide televised concert… playing separately, as individuals, or together, as the Beatles. He estimated you could raise over $200,000,000 in one day.”

      LENNON: “That was a commercial for Sid Bernstein written with Jewish schmaltz and showbiz and tears, dropping on one knee. It was Al Jolson. OK. So I don’t buy that. OK?”

      PLAYBOY: “But the fact is, $200,000,000 to a poverty-stricken country in South America…”

      LENNON: “Where do people get off saying the Beatles should give $200,000,000 to South America? You know, America has poured billions into places like that. It doesn’t mean a damn thing. After they’ve eaten that meal, then what? It lasts for only a day. After the $200,000,000 is gone, then what? It goes round and round in circles. You can pour money in forever. After Peru, then Harlem, then Britain. There is no one concert. We would have to dedicate the rest of our lives to one world concert tour, and I’m not ready for it. Not in this lifetime, anyway.”

      To me, that’s ugly. And it remains ugly. If any of you ever read this blog and think, “Jeez, Mike’s pretty damn hard on John Lennon,” you’re right, I am — and it’s because of stuff like this. A guy worth $150 million in 1980 — who’d spent the last 13 years publicly criticizing other people over their sexism/racism/classism/general grossness, and exhorting us all towards a better world — should be devoting the rest of his fucking life to charity. ‘Cause guess what? You’re going to die anyway. If John were alive today, the next time I was in New York, I would try to finagle a meeting that started, “You know how to really burn Paul? Give it all away.

      In 1980, you could dump your money into 30-Year Treasury Bonds and get 10%, and the US government was not going to let Weimar II happen. There was no possible way, short of nuclear war, that John and Yoko would’ve lost their fortune. (And this is where Yoko’s supposed financial acumen bears a little examination. It is not some kind of preternatural financial genius to invest in hard assets — cows, farmland — in times of high inflation. That was basic competence on part of her financial advisors. But in the press it was all like, “Weird witchy Sixties lady throws I Ching and it comes up cows.”)

      Of course, he hadn’t always felt that way about benefits. In 1972, Lennon and Ono headlined a charity concert for Willowbrook, a Staten Island school for children with disabilities which raised $1.85 million for that school. What changed?

      • Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

        I read this quote very differently. I think John was making the point that pouring money into third world countries without shoring up its infrastructure is charity destined to fail. It’s part of the “give a man a fish..” mantra. .
        He grew tired of people sitting on their backsides doing nothing, and expecting him/The Beatles/celebs in general to save the world for them. I

        • Here’s what I’d say if he were sitting here: “people” aren’t sitting on their backsides. “People” are, generally speaking, busting their asses to make a living, keep the kids in shoes, make the car payment, et cetera. The world-saving falls to celebrities and other rich people because in this society, only celebrities and rich people have the spare time and mind to think about such things. If you’re talented and lucky enough to amass wealth and fame, you have some obligation to society. How else is it going to get done? Fairies? The alternative is some Dickensian social-Darwinist bullcrap, and if John Lennon believed that — after his amazing, luck-filled life — well, shame on him. If Britain had still had compulsory national service, John Lennon’s life would’ve been quite different. An illustrator with a drinking problem wouldn’t have $150 million. (Trust me, I know ’em.)

          But once again, I don’t have a problem if Ringo were to say this. I might disagree with him philosophically, and hope that I’d act differently were I to amass a vast fortune through, let’s be honest, a hell of a lot of luck (as well as talent and hard work). But John Lennon can’t on the one hand spend most of his adult life 1) setting himself up as some sort of model of celebrity virtue, and 2) castigating everybody from Richard Nixon to Paul McCartney for not living/acting right, and then when it comes time to give some money, bitch about it. Essentially he’s saying, “Why should I have to do more?” To which the obvious answer is, “Because you have $150 million, dummy.” If he’d made $150 million trading pork belly futures we’d call Lennon’s opinion disgusting, capitalism at its worst. But because he’s a musician, we should give him a pass? Because we like him? If we like him, we should want him to act in a way that is good for him, not be a selfish ninny. “Oh, I can’t live without my stuff.”

          • Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

            I think we’ll have to fundamentally disagree with the interpretation of John’s comments, while agreeing with the sentiment that we’re all in this together, and giving in a way commensurate with what you can afford–whether financially or spiritually–it a good way to go.

          • @Karen, I don’t mean to beat this to death or be quarrelsome, but to me it’s not a question of interpretation; it’s not one of misunderstanding what John was saying. It’s of a guy worth $150 million — who generated much of that fortune by portraying himself as a celebrity with an uncommonly deep and sincere interest in helping people — refusing to do what any celebrity with even a passing interest in social causes, does as a matter of course.

            Danny Thomas founded St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
            Jerry Lewis ran the MD Telethon.
            George Harrison did Bangladesh.
            John Lennon did the One-to-One Concert… and eight years later, for some reason known only to him, went out of his way to dismiss even the idea of celebrities using their celebrity to raise money for worthy causes. That’s weird, and worth noting. Also, the reason John gave strikes me as utterly bogus. The World Bank isn’t saying, “Well, we don’t have to help X country because Bono’s got that covered.” Celebrity action is additional — which of course John knew. And “normal Joes/Janes” aren’t going to open up their wallets because they look around and think, “Hmmm. No celebrities. We better do our part.” In fact, celebrity action spurs normal people to act — and John knew that too, because that was the whole point of the Year of Peace.

            Of course celebrities can’t solve the world’s problems. George’s concert didn’t solve Bangladesh’s problem, which is typhoons and flooding IIRC. Jerry Lewis has not yet cured Muscular Dystrophy. And John Lennon, either solo, or as part of his Beatles, would not have solved whatever problem he was raising money for — and we all know that. So what’s the real reason he said that? My guess is that he was profoundly uncomfortable that “little brother” George showed him up with Bangladesh. George walked the walk, when John just talked the talk. Bangladesh was a sore spot in John and Yoko’s marriage, for obvious reasons.

            I believe you’re right; were John here, I’m sure he’d say you got his point. And I also believe that point is bullshit. Nobody was forcing John to do anything… but if he didn’t do charitable work, like celebs have always done, he had to be prepared for the blowback. He wanted both the perception of virtue and the money in his bank account, and that’s totally in character, don’t you think?

  23. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    What Eastman didn’t know then is that Neil had been in New York and found out that Lee Eastman’s real name was Lee Epstein! That’s the kind of people they are. But Paul fell for that bullshit, because Eastman’s got Picassos on the wall and because he’s got some sort of East Coast suit; form and not substance. Now, that’s McCartney. We were all still not sure and they brought in this fella, and he had a fuckin’ fit.
    I would have dropped Allen if Eastman had been something; but he was an animal, a fuckin’ stupid middle-class pig, and thought he could con me with fuckin’ talking about Kafka, and shit, and Picasso and DeKooning, for Christ’s sake, and I shit on the fuckin’ lot of them.

    I don’t even know who the fuck they are; I just know that it’s something that somebody has got hung up on the wall that he thinks is an investment.

    Read more:

    • Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

      Oh My GOD. So much ANGER. So many ISSUES. Go back to therapy John, you’re not yet fit for public consumption.
      Did anyone other than Brian and Paul ever protect John from himself? I know he was an adult when he made those statements, but… I really think 1971 John was not mentally healthy enough to be making a full interview. It really bothers me how the vultures just egged him on and PUBLISHED all that bile.

      • It was the cocaine, @Chelsea. I think he was just riffing. One of the things that “Lennon Remembers” had taught him was that you could give an interview and say any fool thing, and then after you sold the LP or got the ink you wanted, you could just apologize. Of course, he’d been doing this his entire life. Here’s Paul:

        “One of my great memories of John is from when we were having some argument. I was disagreeing and we were calling each other names. We let it settle for a second and then he lowered his glasses and he said: “It’s only me.” And then he put his glasses back on again. To me, that was John.”

        Not taking every statement Lennon made as Holy Writ is the first step in really getting who he was.

      • Avatar Rose Decatur wrote:

        I’m with you, Chelsea, that quote just burns me! It’s hard to reconcile the John who could be so funny, smart and generous (and the John who was adored by many people who I also admired) and to read that spew.

        To John, changing one’s name must be equal to being a phony. But Lee Eastman came of age during one of the most antisemitic periods in American history (the interwar period) and even worse, was the son of Russian Jews, the so-called “worst Jews” because they were blamed for Bolshevism. He went from public schools in the Bronx to Harvard by sheer intelligence and hard work at a time when Harvard, like so many Ivy League universities, still had a “Jew quota” to make sure the “desirable” white male Protestant student population was protected. Lee had more in common with Allen Klein (raised in a Jewish orphanage in NYC) than John Lennon certainly ever did!

        As for art, it’s ironic that Lee apparently pissed John off by talking to him as an equal and about artistic things. He no doubt knew John’s fondness for literature and that John had gone to art college with a sometimes intention of being an illustrator. And Lee’s art collection was hardly just an investment – he was a canny collector and one of Willem de Kooning’s closest friends.

        How funny it would have been to have seen John’s reaction when his old friend David Bowie ended up hiring John Eastman as his longtime attorney.

  24. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    Lennon: “You know, America has poured billions into places like that. It doesn’t mean a damn thing. After they’ve eaten that meal, then what? It lasts for only a day. After the $200,000,000 is gone, then what?”
    I’m guessing John had seen (or heard about) the outrageous amount of “skimming” that concert promoters took from charity performances. But I think his basic point was this: If you don’t change the underlying system that causes the poverty, throwing charity at it won’t, in the long run, change a thing. Nowadays there is Heifer International buying goats, chickens and livestock for the poor overseas, so they can sell milk, eggs, etc, and micro-loans helping impoverished women set themselves up with their own small businesses. Personal empowerment to break the cycle. But in 1980, the common practice was to donate one lump sum (which filtered through corrupt governments) and hope it maybe made it to the intended recipients.
    What do they say? “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll disappear for the weekend. Give a man a loaf of bread, he’ll make a fish sandwich.” Or something to that effect. I’m confused today…

    • …which is a reasonable point if John Lennon had been writing his third NYT Op-Ed on the destructive policies of the World Bank. But he didn’t have any interest in that topic. He was popping off because some interviewer had the temerity to question his bonafides as a humanitarian, in light of his bandmate George doing more, and doing publicly. And Lennon responded by making it about Sid Bernstein, in a pretty overtly anti-Semitic way. You don’t think Bernstein would’ve waived his fee for a Beatles reunion? Of course he would’ve, and John knew that. Sid Bernstein dined out on Shea Stadium for 50 years; if he’d been the man who brought the Beatles back together for a $200 million charity concert, he wouldn’t have paid for dinner for the rest of his life. And John knew that’s how the world works.

      Nobody was criticizing Herman’s Hermits or Jimi Hendrix for not doing enough to change the world. But after John Lennon did his Year of Peace, and literally years of criticizing others, it was a fair question, and his defensive, self-justifying response tells a lot. These were the rules HE set for rockstars. I mean, look: the guy had been sitting in his bedroom for five years. If he wanted to make the world a better place, but felt that the top-down method was inefficient or ineffectual, he could’ve reached out to a zillion different people and/or NGOs and offered his help. If only as a spokesman — he didn’t even have to give a dime to make a huge impact. But he couldn’t be bothered, because he was interested in other things. That’s not a hanging crime; most people are. But most people aren’t John Lennon, and hadn’t said and did what Lennon said and did.

      I think he would’ve grown up on this issue. I really do. Forty’s young in a lot of regards, and John Lennon was smart and had a big heart. But it was a wounded heart, and in 1980, he still liked being rich more than he liked being good. But a change was coming, just like the change from Beatle John to World Statesman. The only way to become the person he wanted to be, inside and out, was to give it all away.

      • Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

        So… I think maybe both things can be true. John Lennon could be a lazy poseur but still very generous on a personal level.
        I think John went through a 3-4 year activist phase (’68-72?) and then just coasted on that cred for the rest of his life. Which, you know… doesn’t really bother me. I just wish he would’ve been more adult and open about it in later years. But again, he was only 40 when killed, and very well could’ve (probably would’ve).

      • Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

        Why does John or any other rich person with celebrity status have a greater burden to save the world? That’s the horn of the dilemma, IMO. John resented the implication that he “owed” the world since he made it.

        • Not save the world, @Karen — to give in proportion to which he was given. And “owing” is totally missing the point — the concept of owing is based on a misperception of separateness. Money is constantly in flow. To look at the life John Lennon had — one literally FULL of love and admiration and financial success — and be resentful about it…well, that’s a psychological issue. It’s an absorption of Yoko’s scarcity thinking and resentments. Lennon lived a life of truly Olympian abundance.

          I love the Beatles, and I love Beatles music, but it’s a huge historical accident that John Lennon ended up making $150 million during his lifetime. A hundred years before, and he’d have been eking out a living playing music hall. Today, he’d be getting 0.006 (or whatever it is) per play from Spotify.

          This isn’t some external mommy figure saying, “Share!” but a fundamental axiom of happiness. You don’t become happy by filling spare apartments full of briefcases or furs or shoes or guitars. Whereas generosity of time, money and emotional availability has been shown to confer a panoply of physical and psychological benefits.

          • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

            “Lennon lived a life of truly Olympian abundance” — but how much was he able to enjoy it? I think you raise some interesting questions, Michael.
            I wonder to what extent Lennon felt having as much money as he did was a burden, not a blessing. Judging by comments he made in the 70s (the Beatles were “finished” once they put on suits, his favorite picture of himself was the one of him in black leather in the Hamburg doorway, etc.) he had a strong self image of himself as a working class guy at odds with the system/the Establishment.
            Seems to me that image of himself was kind of sustainable as long as Brian Epstein was around as a parental figure. When Epstein died, one of the things each of the Beatles had to figure out was how to be a different kind of adult — the kind who assume responsibility for their own finances, among other things. Apple seems in part a response to that. When that feel apart, it makes sense that Lennon was drawn to Allen Klein, who could go after money in a way that felt like working class guys going after the “suits” (Eastman et. al.). And that seems like why he goes off on Eastman as he does in that rant about Picassos, etc.: he’s saying, in effect, “I can’t be a guy who can talk about art with that kind of suit-wearer.” As long as Klein could pitch financial efficiency and gain as an us (lower class) against them (upper class) battle, that pursuit of money didn’t threaten John’s self image.
            And when Klein’s out of the picture, Yoko assumes the role of financial manager. That line about “You’ll have to ask Mother” is really telling. Lennon doesn’t want to be responsible for money, he wants to assume a childlike role in regard to it. [Goes with what you said about Lennon’s overall rejection of responsibility, Michael.] That line about asking “Mother” sounds like Lennon doesn’t WANT to know how much money he/they have, or exactly what’s going on with it. That’s one way to deal with the cognitive dissonance between his self image and his financial life.
            I think one reason John was drawn back to Yoko in the mid-70s is that he knew she’d take that role — that she’d manage the money well and keep him from having to deal with it, or even think about it much.
            Also: I think “imagine no possessions” points to someone feeling how what you own can drag you down.

          • I agree with this, Nancy — but if John wanted to be that scrappy fighter guy, he couldn’t do that AND be uber-wealthy John Lennon. That’s the fundamental conflict during the Dakota years. The obvious answer is, give it away. That’s the same kind of who-gives-a-fuck-what-you-think courage he showed by starting and staying with The Beatles; I think that a stable second act in the 80s would’ve inexorably moved him in this direction.

            “You’ll have to ask Mother” jumped out at me, too, but I generally don’t squawk about Yoko, for reasons I’ve stated.

            I believe that was exactly it; I think it was Lennon’s very sensitivity that made him abrogate all responsibility for his fortune. I was in New York in the late 70s, and it was like freakin’ Calcutta. The decay, visible suffering, etc was intense. I think John had a sort of tourist’s glee over that — but wanted to return to his utterly secure castle.

            John’s defensiveness is so intense. I think the suffering of the world overwhelmed him. But he should’ve — and would’ve, I believe — grown up, and stepped up.

          • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

            If the Lennon/Ono money management situation played out the way it seems to have, what a lot of work for Yoko! Maybe John was more interested and involved in that management than he appears to have been based on interviews, but it he wasn’t, that’s a huge amount of pressure for one person to be under.

          • Not really. Rich people have teams of tax advisors, lawyers, accountants, estate planners and so forth. There are entire industries which cater to the financial needs of the rich person.

            A lot of what I see as “Yoko is a financial wizard” is simply them not being idiots about it, as they were in the Eastman/Klein era. By 1975, Sixties people were entering their mid- to late-thirties and realizing that, no, they weren’t going to be taken up by spaceships or whatever — that tomorrow was real, the revolution wasn’t coming, and they needed to plan for themselves and their kids. By 1975, Sixties fortunes were becoming old and large enough for people to realize, “Holy shit. I can’t just give money to Michael X. I need a lawyer who will proactively manage this wealth.” Those who did that, thrived; those who did not, squandered.

            Here’s a little context. I went to a website and calculated the total return of the S&P500, with dividends reinvested, starting in December 1977 and ending in December 2015. It was 7.65% annually. Using the Rule of 72, that means the amount invested would double about every 9.41 years. 38 years, divided by 9.41, is almost exactly 4.

            So if Yoko had put their $150 million in the S&P500 index in December 1977, she would now have $600 million. Let’s assume that the Lennon estate has made $5 million every year since then (it made $12 million in 2011, so I’m underestimating). That’s another $190 million, which brings us up to $790 million without doing anything fancy, and I’m not assuming (as one should) that some of that annual money was also being invested.

            This is all a long way of saying that Yoko Ono has done an very admirable job running the estate, but just as her reputation as a weirdo is overblown by some, her repute as a financial wheeler-dealer is probably overblown as well. She’s very smart, likes being rich, wants to stay rich, and does due diligence in these regards. And thank goodness.

          • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

            Good point about the practical money management. I was thinking more of the emotional/psychological weight carried by someone if the other half of the couple adopts a childlike role in regards to money.

          • Now THAT is for sure, @Nancy. But I think Yoko needed that control. She sensed (correctly) that John Lennon left alone with a bank account was trouble. 🙂

  25. Avatar Hanna wrote:

    I have been an obsessive level Beatles fan for a relatively short time and I have to say that the more I read Lennon’s interviews given after he’s met Yoko, the less I understand anything about him. He sure was a fascinating person and I love him for all his faults, but I have to wonder how he became The Truth for certain fans if he gave statements like those mentioned above. How some people just blindly believed that he and Yoko were perfect love and peace ambassadors and everyone else (especially Paul) were villains?

    About the class issue I don’t know anything but I’d like to ask Brits here (or anyone who knows) that what class for example Stella McCartney or Dhani Harrison are considered to be? Is class status something you just inherit or can you change it by becoming a billionaire?

    • “Is class status something you just inherit or can you change it by becoming a billionaire?”

      @Hanna, that’s a fascinating question and one I’d like to know the answer to, as well.

  26. Avatar Paul Saxton wrote:

    An excellent piece on how the privileged are ruining – I mean, *making more of a contribution to* – the arts.

    There’s a mention of John and Paul’s backgrounds here and Maconie’s absolutely right about John – all that “John was middle class” stuff has always annoyed me. So he went to a grammar school and then to art college? And? As did my parents and as did whole generations of genuine working-class kids. It’s the same as Paul mentioning a few times that John had books in the house and so was therefore not properly working class. Patronising, insulting nonsense, of course.

    All four of The Beatles were working-class, John was upper-working-class (lower-middle-class at best), Paul and George were working-class, Ringo was lower-working-class.

    Oh, and I’ve always thought the John being middle-class thing was perpetuated by middle-class types who didn’t like the idea that The Beatles’ art could have come from such an ordinary, common background. By making John middle-class (and constantly mentioning art school – despite the fact that John had no desire to attend and only went as a last resort to keep his aunt and headmaster happy) they had the explanation they needed as to why The Beatles were so great – “Ah, so they’re not just working-class chappies, after all. That make sense.”

    • Avatar linda a. wrote:

      Oh, and I’ve always thought the John being middle-class thing was perpetuated by middle-class types who didn’t like the idea that The Beatles’ art could have come from such an ordinary, common background. By making John middle-class (and constantly mentioning art school – despite the fact that John had no desire to attend and only went as a last resort to keep his aunt and headmaster happy) they had the explanation they needed as to why The Beatles were so great – “Ah, so they’re not just working-class chappies, after all. That make sense.”

      Awesome comment Paul. I’ve always thought EXACTLY the same thing, especially while I was reading Norman’s John Lennon A Life, or whatever that book was called. Norman mentions several times too many, that John was “middle class” and Norman seemed to fall all over himself trying to convince the reader (and himself?) of this. Norman; “After all his house had SERVANTS BELLS that had been installed by the previous owners so Of COURSE he was middle class”…I remember thinking that I had no idea what class John came from and didn’t care but I new Norman cared…A LOT. He seemed to need for John to be middle class because it provided validation for Norman. And I’ve always known that’s why John was the only Beatle Norman liked, partly because he had convinced himself that John was the only Beatle that was middle class, therefore he HAD to be the only relevant Beatle and the only Beatle who was capable of producing “art” or “poetry” or anything musically convincing. How could “working class”, Paul, George and Ringo be responsible for anything worthwhile? And all that crap about art college always struck me as grasping to fit some sort of agenda as well.

    • Avatar Rose Decatur wrote:

      Interesting article, Paul, thanks!

      I would argue, however, that John was decidedly middle class. As you note, the article’s author is wrong in judging John’s upbringing by his biological parents (Freddie, who never raised him, and Julia, who raised him fitfully for only a few years). I didn’t even think of his schooling – though Mimi paying his tuition is something that the other Beatles probably never dreamed of. But Mimi and George Smith, who were John’s adopted parents, were decidedly middle class.

      They owned their own home (Mendips) in a nice middle class area at the time, Woolton. John himself said that their neighbors were lawyers and doctors. While small compared to American homes, it was a nice home of its time – three bedrooms (for one couple and a child), a sizable garden, semi-detached, across from a golf course. (If you ever get a chance to tour it, check out the kitchen! I’d love to have the Mendips kitchen TODAY – it’s got wonderful windows and is full of light.) John himself said, “I was a nice clean-cut suburban boy, and in the class system I was about a half an inch in a higher class than Paul, George and Ringo, who lived in subsidised government houses. We owned our own house, had our own garden. They didn’t have anything like that.”

      Anyway, Mimi didn’t work after marriage and George owned his own dairy company, then later his own bookkeeping business. In addition to Mendips, George and Mimi also owned the home in Allerton where Julia lived with infant John. When he died, George left Mimi a sizable savings in addition to their home: £2000, at a time when £100 was the average annual salary in Britain. Mimi later rented out the spare room to students for some extra money, but she still never had any problems supporting both herself and John for years, even without working.

      In addition to schooling, clothes, etc. John never lacked for pocket money, according to friends, for things like records and beer, which is not insignificant. When he did live apart from Mimi in college, he never lacked for rent or even footing the bill for jaunts with friends. That’s part of the cultural component to class differences – look at how Paul McCartney was amazed at the amount of cash John would get from relatives for his birthday. Or how when they returned from Hamburg, Paul was told by his dad that he had to get a job as he was 18, whereas John (who was older) could admittedly laze around at Mimi’s until he was ready to decide what to do with his life, and needled Paul about working.

  27. Avatar Paul Saxton wrote:

    By the way, when I say Maconie’s right about John’s background I don’t mean the bit where he says Mimi brought John up after Julia died. He’s wrong about that, of course. Although I find it hard to believe that Maconie isn’t well aware of what happened – he really does know his stuff. Sub-editing error maybe?

    Related to Maconie’s piece, there was a funny though disconcerting quote from Suede’s bass player very recently, along the lines of: “When Suede started out I was constantly attacked in the music press and by fans for being the ‘posh’ one because my mother was a teacher.”

  28. Avatar Paul Saxton wrote:

    @Hanna: I’d say Dhani and Stella are middle-class children of working-class parents. As my children are (much, much, much lower) middle-class children of working-class parents.

    Tricky, isn’t it?

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