- F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Lennon - July 1, 2020
- The Artist as a Dissipated Man: Fred Seaman’s “The Last Days of John Lennon” - February 15, 2020
- John Lennon, Alma Cogan, and the Delicate Mechanism of Efficient Beatles Operations - December 21, 2019
Belatedly for someone as into the Beatles as I, I’ve been reading Fred Seaman’s The Last Days of John Lennon. It’s a very quick read, but not a particularly pleasant one. Seaman, John’s personal assistant for the last two or so years, depicts a rock star in his late thirties who may as well be in his late eighties for the way in which his happiness seems to be confined to rare moments when he reminisces about something he did in his early twenties. If there’s a spectrum of Dakota-era John Lennons stretching from Goldman’s smack-addled burnout on the far left to the drug-free, happy, bread-baking househusband on the right, Seaman’s is somewhere believably to the right of Goldman’s: functional enough to put on some clothes, walk down the block, and turn on the Lennon charm when he’s in the mood to do so, but stifled and depressed enough to retreat to his room for hours or days on end, where he does drugs, looks at Playboys or the TV, doesn’t write music, listens to Muzak versions of his own songs, and reads about psychology or the occult.
That the Dakota years were less rosy than the Ballad claims is not really up for debate anymore amongst anyone even semi-serious about the Beatles as people, not legends, but it’s still stunning to see what that looks like up close.
Weird beliefs. John appears to believe earnestly in what seem to be some pretty odd things. He is certain that Sean will inherit his soul when he, John, dies, because they were born on the same day. He believes that because Yoko was able to accomplish this feat, she has magical powers of some sort. He also believes that he is living on borrowed time and that he is headed for a violent end because he was a violent man. He is very interested in what it’s like to be shot and thinks a fair amount about assassination, which he believes is modern crucifixion. Most of us on this site don’t think about these things, but understanding the isolated, paranoid Lennon of the late Seventies probably depends on putting ourselves in the shoes of someone who did.
Exhaustion. One of the central impressions I get from Seaman’s book is exhaustion. I see someone who had given all he could give by 1966, and who knows it. Lennon’s encagement in the Dakota is enforced by “Mother” to degrees great and small, but until maybe the last six months of 1980, there’s a pervasive sense that John is choosing this. He’s exercising agency by not exercising agency. I think there are many reasons for this, some of which Seaman didn’t see (i.e., John’s about to buy a place with May Pang, swings by the Dakota for a stop-smoking cure, emerges three days later unsure of what day it is, complains of having thrown up endlessly, and ends the relationship), but that volitional laziness is present as early as January 1966, when Paul uses his break from recording/touring/filming to study piano and music theory; George, to learn the sitar, and John, to hang out at Weybridge and do LSD.
Unlike Paul, who came into his own during the Sixties, John hit the world stage shot out of a cannon. It took enormous energy to build up the charge to be shot out of that cannon, and that energy was almost entirely self-generated. Something like that cannot be sustained. Do you think that when it was gone, John knew it? I can’t imagine he didn’t. Do you think he sought protection because its absence left him feeling vulnerable? I could see that. Do you think without the animus to be bigger than Elvis, he needed something else to motivate him? Like being a guru? After the Beatles reached the “top of the mountain,” John doesn’t seem interested in pursuing his other artistic interests. He seems to be trying to figure out what’s above the mountain, and from there leads LSD immersion, compulsive meditation, the diminished ability to tell friend from foe Michael Gerber has discussed here, and various efforts to be bigger than John Lennon, Beatle.
Yoko. It bums me out to detail what the Lennons’ relationship really seems to have been like, not because I want to believe in the Ballad of John And Yoko (I don’t, codependency with a superiority complex weirds me out), but because their marriage looks so toxic for everyone involved. Yoko appears to control most aspects of John’s life, sending him to different locales, requiring him to take vows of silence, and so on, while she conducts affairs and spends an odd amount of time on the phone making business deals of some sort. (Exactly what she is doing, or why it takes 20 hours a day to do it, is beyond Seaman’s purview.) When sessions for Double Fantasy start, John retaliates in some minor ways by being a tough critic, telling her when her performances need work, insulting her in front of the studio musicians and staff, and generally behaving like someone who’s finally got fire in the belly and an axe to grind. Seaman does not really see Yoko exact any measure of retribution for this, but given everything we do see of the couple’s arguments, distance, and compulsions, it’s impossible to think she did not do so at some point.
Loneliness. John seems to need the 22-year-old Seaman as a friend and as an assistant/employee, an uncomfortable blurring of boundaries that’s both doomed not to provide him with the companionship he really needs, and an encapsulation of what’s so sad about his life in the late Seventies. If even a quarter of Seaman’s recollections are accurate, John is simply alone. Unwilling or unable to accept calls from peers who might be able to relate to him, find a supportive romantic companion, or commit consistently to the type of other-directedness that would allow him to be a real parent, two of John Lennon’s closest and most healthy relationships in the Seventies appear to be with servants whom his wife paid to be his friends—May Pang and Fred Seaman. This is put into relief by the ways in which the lawyers, widow, and David Geffen attend to business necessities after Lennon’s death, Geffen apparently not too grief-stricken to exult openly about how much money he stands to make.
When I look back at all this, I think the inflection point occurs before India, before Two Virgins, before Allen Klein. I personally think the problem begins when John gets back from filming How I Won the War and Brian Epstein is too fucked up with his own addiction and depression issues for this content and to co-lead and manage the Beatles anymore. John Lennon had enormous potential at the end of 1966, but he needed someone who, like Epstein or George Martin, wanted to help him. McCartney tried to fill that role, but they were also friends, brothers, partners, competitors. And unlike 1961—the last time they were managerless—John didn’t have a cannonball charge in him. Unwilling to defer to Paul’s leadership, but too tired to lead, John was prey for those who would manipulate his need to be bigger than [Elvis/the Beatles/Jesus Christ] while using his directionlessness for their ends.
The book leaves me wondering what it was like to be John Lennon in 1967, a gauzy year when Lennon determination was being replaced with Lennon lassitude, but access to his subconscious, and his genius, appears to have been at an all-time peak. With worse luck—no Marharishi and too many hangers-on—the story ends in someone like Brian Jones’ flat in 1968, or something. With better luck, who knows—no one would have predicted 1961 John would become 1964 John, either. With the circumstances we got, and absent some affirmative effort from him, it feels like it inexorably leads to somewhere very like the Dakota circa 1979, looking out at Central Park, and writing funny shopping lists for your personal assistant.
I started this book a month or so ago but haven’t finished. It’s interesting to read your thoughts regarding John’s slow downward spiral into nonfunctionality; I was struck in the book by how petty things became so inflated on a daily level, simply because there was nothing else going on. All the niggling anxieties might have been overcome if he’d had something concrete to do. Also, based on the cover copy of my hardcover, which promised “John’s thoughts about his rivalry with Paul McCartney” or something similar, Seaman wrote with the intent to, or the book was edited with the intent to, promote John’s negative thoughts regarding his old friends. There are a couple of more tender moments, though, which the writer doesn’t point at and call out in particular, and I wonder if those made it past the editors, like when they’re outside looking at the night sky and John says “Venus and Mars.”
(I always wonder what role either pre-or post-manuscript editorializing takes in all these books I’ve read, as a matter of fact.)
Michael, I think your analysis is spot-on. That point about Lennon’s self-generated cannon charge is so important. He burned up a lot of fuel very early getting the Beatles off the ground, and when it dissipated he must have felt truly exhausted.
The John/Yoko relationship has always seemed to me like almost a folie a deux. It was a complicated emotional dance they were doing, and they had both been greatly damaged as children. I think they were mostly trying to do their best by each other but lacked the tools to get better at that — and the drugs didn’t help.
If Lennon hadn’t been killed in 1980, I can well believe he’d have emerged from this funk and gone on to better energy. This looks like a phase he was perhaps pulling out of.
Enjoyed this Michael, even though it’s depressing to read about John in this state.
I’m curious what you think about this interview with Jack Douglas, (producer of Double Fantasy)?
He was one of the last people to see John, and seems to think he was feeling positive, and looking forward to promoting Double Fantasy.
He also says John was looking forward to getting together with Paul.
I’m just wondering if John was starting to pull himself out of his depression. I certainly hope so.
Something really does seem to have changed for John in Bermuda. It seems like he realizes he takes more pleasure in doing something—making albums—than in protecting himself from everything. He also seems to gain strength as he goes. Both times this happens to him-1974 and 1980-collaborating with Paul immediately appears on the horizon. As do indications that he and Yoko might split permanently.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that John intended 1981 or 1982 to include collaborations with Paul and a split from Yoko. I think a lot of the spiel in those last interviews was an attempt to set Yoko up in the public and critical eye so that she’d have a rock career—what she apparently always wanted—of her own, so that John could ease out of the relationship. That’s just my read.
@Nancy, re: “I think they were mostly trying to do their best by each other but lacked the tools to get better at that — and the drugs didn’t help.”
I hope—for their sakes—that this is accurate. From Seaman’s book, I certainly get the impression it was true of John. For most of book, John relates to Yoko almost pathetically, desperate for her attention like a needy child seeking a distracted parent’s approval. But of course, we’ve also heard that he could be pretty awful to Yoko, verbally as well as physically, so it’s likely that this is only one side of the story, based on (a) what Fred saw and (b) John being particularly weak in the late Seventies.
Going outside the four corners of the Seaman book, it is harder for me to feel confident that the same is true of Yoko. After she meets John, if we’re going by actions and not words, John gets less healthy, more angry, and more disconnected from things that make him happy.
John’s new partner apparently encourages him to start taking heroin. She encourages him to sign with Allen Klein. She encourages him to end his partnership, and then his friendship, with Paul McCartney. She requires him to quit primal scream therapy, something that appears to be helping her husband calm down and work on his core traumas. She requires him to forego contact with his son. She requires him to move to New York. She requires him to move to Los Angeles with an employee she has selected while she conducts affairs in New York. When he begins to reconnect with old friends, his son, and his muse as a result of this arrangement, she requires him to return to her apartment. Three days later, he emerges, unsure of what day or year it is. He complains of having spent three days “puking his guts out.” He immediately breaks off his relationship with the employee, who was encouraging him to collaborate with Paul McCartney and returns to her apartment. In short order, he announces that he is retiring from the music business. According to multiple accounts, he begins to use heroin again, something that he may or may not continue to do for the next four or five years. After giving birth to a son—who may himself have been born addicted to heroin—she withdraws to a separate apartment. Her husband spends his time largely alone in his bedroom, a knife above his bed—a present from his wife, who has encouraged him to cut all ties with his past. She instructs his personal assistants—the only people with whom her husband is permitted regular contact—not to allow calls from his friends, family, and former collaborators to be put through. Her husband begins to show signs of serious depression and, possibly, addiction. She requires that he sign power of attorney over to her. Her husband is not permitted to travel to England, even after he obtains his green card, but the family do spend several extended stays in Japan visiting hers. Finally, after several years of this, her husband decides he would like to begin recording music again, something that makes him happy. He collaborates on several demos with his personal assistant, a 23 year old who plays percussion on his recordings, instead of with friends like Paul McCartney, Elton John, David Bowie, or Mick Jagger. She requires that she have equal space on this new album, which is to be about the couple’s marriage. However, she refuses to spend time with him that summer, encouraging or requiring him to spend time elsewhere while she carries on an affair in New York with a younger man. She asks attorneys about whether she might obtain more than half of her husband’s wealth in a divorce and is told that this will not be possible. Her husband begins working again, showing the first signs of happiness, focus, and enthusiasm in years. Shortly after the record is released, her husband is shot dead in front of her apartment. In the next few days—some say as soon as the next day—the man with whom she has been having an affair moves into her apartment and begins wearing her late husband’s clothes. She does not move out of the apartment, choosing instead to remain for the ensuing 39 years at the scene of her husband’s brutal—a site she must pass to enter or exit her home. She reluctantly permits her late husband’s first son to travel to New York after his murder, but does not allow his ex-wife to join the boy. Later, the boy must work with Paul McCartney to buy back items belonging to his late father that were apparently intended for him to receive in the event of his father’s death.
I think Yoko’s feelings for John were complex and also not complex, if that makes any sense: I think at root, Yoko is driven by a fear of being poor and of not being in control of a situation.
It’s a disturbing pattern, definitely. I think much hinges on how much agency Lennon was able to exercise at different points and how much awareness Ono had at various points. It seems clear they were both suffering from under diagnosed and undertreated trauma from their childhoods, so what either was able to do, or understand, is in question during their relationship, at least to me.
So I give them each some benefit of the doubt and hope that it’s accurate.
@Nancy, I think that’s a very healthy view.
As for the question of agency, I agree. At some level, John chose all of this. Even at his worst, he was John Beatle. If he wanted to leave, he could have left, right? I think there are some depressing rabbit holes if one thinks about things like the stop smoking incident and wonders whether it wasn’t that simple. But I don’t think there’s much to be gained from going there.
The possibility of mental illness is what really complicates things, I think. It seems likely to me that in the 70s Lennon was wrestling with depression and anxiety, at least intermittently. And if he was, his healthy agency was compromised.
With Ono I genuinely don’t know. She seems more opaque to me. But to survive her childhood she seems to have developed a persona focused on power and control. And that was attractive to Lennon at least in part due to the exhaustion you mention.
It’s all complicated and we’re at such a remove that it’s very hard to say anything definitive. I do hope they genuinely meant to do well by each other.
@Nancy, I agree that at a minimum, John was suffering from those two. I think understanding him in the seventies also means considering borderline personality disorder as well as various byproducts of all that LSD, amphetamine, cocaine and heroin use. Due to the stigma around these things, biographies skate around these issues as though John’s story can be explained without considering them, but that’s really not possible. And any one of those would help explain things that are so mysterious otherwise. For example, Google borderline personality disorder and abandonment (I’m on my phone or I’d share a link), and compare it to John between 1968 and 1970.
Yep, bipolar is a strong possibility. And LSD wasn’t good for Lennon, long term. All in all it makes it hard to determine how much understanding and/or wherewithal he had at any given time.
And people serious gave Mccartney shit for holding a grudge? Yoko was toxic to the core!
Couldn’t agree more with all of your comments.
I am new to this blog, but am finding it extraordinarily compelling with this post in particular, as well as your reply to Nancy, proving remarkably trenchant–perhaps the most trenchant I have run across in the flow of Beatles commentary.
Your point about Yoko’s feelings being complex while also not be being complex does indeed make sense. Most striking however, is your determination that John allowed this to happen. Even though I realized years ago that neither I, nor anyone else, could ever divine the exact dynamic of their relationship, it never really dawned on me that he was the one who had to have opened the door and then held it open for far too long. Even then , who knows if it could have been closed again?
I had, for many years, questioned why he simply didn’t walk away from what was obviously a fraught existence–ah, but such was the naive thinking of my youth!
I get the feeling he probably did not know how to…and that is assuming he could have even held to that decision had he made it. Am I correct in reading your post that way or am I drawing the wrong conclusion.
The other point that I noticed in reading the comments to this post, is that I might be in a small group of individuals who, other than for a set/formal interview, would frankly preferred not to have met John or Yoko to “hang out” with them. To me too much of that desire strikes me as those who, for example, wish they could be transported back to see the Battle of Gettysburg play out. Errrr…they would be shocked at how quickly that wish would change if they were there for 60 seconds. I guess what I am saying is I just would not quite sure know what to do and this goes far beyond that shopworn and trite saying that it is better not to meet one’s heroes. I just wouldn’t, even today, know what or who they were.
From reading your post I had the nagging feeling that not only was John’s demise tragic, but a good part of his life seemed to be so as well–a view I know many strongly disagree with. If the time machine could take us back, I would gladly give up my seat so that someone else could meet them.
Thank you, Neal, and welcome!
Sadly, I agree with you on all counts. I think John in 1975-80 was stuck: he knew his current situation wasn’t making him happy, but he had given over much of his agency to Yoko, who was only happy to take it. Bereft of the ability to decide (and sometimes even think) for himself, he shriveled, as just about anyone would under such circumstances. I think he had the potential to change course somewhere in there — this was the guy who imagined what the Beatles could be — but I don’t know if, by the late Seventies, he had the strength. It would have taken as much strength as it took to make the Beatles happen in the first place, but he wasn’t twenty any more and had had his freedom and self-assurance nuked to bits by his arrangement with Yoko in a way that Julia/Freddy/Mimi/Alf/Stu’s absences/issues/deaths hadn’t done.
I also sadly agree that much of John’s life was tragic, too. Most people disagree with it because (a) it’s not the story that’s told over and over by official or quasi-official biographies or the Estate and (b) it’s really uncomfortable and sad, if you like the guy and his music, to realize that the arc of his life is fundamentally tragic after 1966 or so. But to me, a summary is something like: “gifted, disturbed boy with tremendous amount of drive to outrun a bad childhood discovers love for music and creative soulmate(s) and gives everything he has to become the most famous musician in the world, hoping it will make him happy. He does, but it doesn’t, and people who don’t have his best interests separate him from his friends, his creation and creative spark, and ultimately himself. He’s too screwed up by addiction, mental illness, and unaddressed traumas to change things, so he retreats further into addiction and mental illness, wishing he could somehow regain his lost spark. He makes a few halfway steps toward doing so, but they’re not enough, and ultimately he is killed in front of his apartment building where, 24 hours later, his wife installs the man she had been sleeping with behind his back.”
@Michael B – Yes, and I would also add that it took both John and Paul (as well as others, but mainly them) to make the Beatles happen. They ‘drew power from each other’.
By 1975, John had been completely isolated. Not only from Paul (who had been set up to send him back to Yoko), but from all his family and everyone else who loved him and could help him.
It would impossible for anyone to find that sort of strength without human support.
You know, MB, every time I read this I’m struck anew at the fact that John did not go back to England/was likely “advised” not to go to England because of Mercury retrograde/etc. and I’ve rarely seen it commented on. Oh, he wanted to, everyone says! But he was so busy! So busy he could go to Hong Kong, Bermuda, Egypt, and Japan, but couldn’t go to England to see Mimi or Julian or his sisters or anyone who loved him, really.
@Kristy It’s very sad, and completely illogical. One of those things people are simply asked to accept — John Lennon was “too busy” traveling to all the other countries you mentioned, or sitting around the Dakota overseeing a retinue of househould staff, to see his relatives, or any friends. Phillip Norman’s book tells us that John enjoyed the company of Yoko’s PR man, Elliot Mintz, but Jack Douglas – who by all indications actually did become a close friend – says that Lennon hated Mintz. Either way, it strikes me as odd that John Lennon was apparently happy to have no friends who were involved in the arts for five years.
There’s also an interesting anecdote in the Peter Doggett book about Pete Shotton coming to visit in the late Seventies. The first night, John was really funny and his old self. The next day, Pete called, and could hear Yoko yelling in the background, then John said, “look, he’s coming over and that’s that.” That night, John was incredibly subdued, Yoko was present, and they mainly talked about macrobiotic food.
Wow, what a great article.
I’m very taken with the concept of Lennon’s creativity being a cannon that launched itself and was then left exhausted.
It makes so much sense. He was always searching for a way to re-charge the cannon- LSD drugs, Maharishi spirituality, Politics being relevant and cool, and Yoko filled that space for him. Seemed to fill a negative though.
Not Yoko bashing here, but a relationship is a jigsaw, and some people fill the bad spaces in the jigsaw and some people fill the positive. Unfortunately John was lead into the negative jigsaw I think and he so needed the positive and couldn’t discern the difference.
Or maybe he could, and preferred it that way.
I have definite thoughts about all this, @Michael, as I’ve shared with you privately. I will keep those thoughts private, mainly because they are just too depressing to share widely.
Simply from his behavior and statements, the Lennon of 1965 and the Lennon of 1968 were very different. Young Lennon is witty, quick, often witheringly critical of society but perceptive of it and desiring to conquer it. He’s really on fire to create work and prove himself — to “show ’em” — and thus runs into a double-whammy in late ’66. One, he HAD showed ’em; and two, he didn’t know what he wanted to do next.
What do revolutionaries do after they win? Mao made more revolution, much to everyone’s pain, and John did his own version of that until the Beatles broke up. He knew he didn’t want to be Fat Elvis, but that’s not a career. Avoiding irrelevancy and self-parody isn’t a life.
Actually, there’s something more here that’s worth mentioning: the new rules of Sixties stardom, which The Beatles were primary authors of, insisted that celebrities remain relevant to the times. Because the times are changing faster and faster, this requires either a rejection of relevance in favor of authenticity (like Paul or George), or a chameleon-like, neurotic reinvention of oneself (like Bowie or Lou Reed or Madonna or, to a lesser degree, Prince).
Both Paul and George had, by 1975, solidified into the people they’d first grown into around 1968, and neither was overbothered if a fan didn’t like who they were or what they were into. Ravi’s playing an hour of ragas for the first set, and fuck you if you don’t like it. Linda’s singing on my records and we’re bringing the kids on tour, sorry if that’s not hip enough for you.
John never really got to that stage, and I think it’s not wrong if it feels like…immaturity? on his part. Twelve-Step culture says your emotional development stops the age your addiction begins and, particularly as I’ve gotten older myself, John Lennon has increasingly felt like he missed some developmental stages. Maybe or maybe not, but first John tried the reinvention game — as a guru politician, then as a confessional everyman — but found his limits rather quickly. John got bored; he didn’t like to play dress-up; he wasn’t even much of an extrovert (that’s why your cannon metaphor is so apt, Michael). Lennon’s gift wasn’t as a performer, it was a certain immediacy and sincerity. And I think his anger at fans during the Seventies was at their ability to consume an artist and — if not attracted by a new persona — move on. I think by 1975 Lennon was feeling a kind of rejection from fans that he hadn’t felt before, and he didn’t like it. Ironically, the DF-era Lennon is an attempt to mix reinvention (“I was a rocker, now I’m a rockin’ dad!”) with the kind of personality that recognizes finitude as the price of authenticity.
But it didn’t really work, did it? That’s why I’ve always felt that if Lennon had lived, The Beatles would’ve anchored Live Aid. Of the two of them, it’s Yoko who can show you endless glimpses without showing you the real her; this is why Yoko has always moved so easily in the post-Warholian art world. She is artificial in the time-honored way of the aristocrat. John wasn’t like that, couldn’t do that. Even when he bought his manor, it was in an apartment building around the corner from a drugstore.
@Michael, great points. Your points about Lennon not growing into an adult self reminds me of Hunter Davies book, where he notes that Cynthia tells John, “you seem to need the other more than they need you.” The closest we get to John’s best self seems to be who he is in 1965. In fact, he’d been preparing for that since 1956. Problem was, like the other three Beatles, he discovered he needed some space from his Beatle self. But unlike Paul and George, who had saved something of themselves for themselves, John had poured everything into becoming a Beatle–so the remainder of his life is him trying to figure out what else he could be that (a) would be fulfilling and (b) not rejected by others.
I think much was happening in 1980, but I get the distinct impression that John decided he wanted to a little more wholesome, charming, and Beatle-y again, because he realized he was happier when he had a clean, no-warts public self that was easy for fans to like, even if (or perhaps because) it was a big con and not Authentic. He even wore a moptop haircut again.
I agree about Lennon’s development stopping somewhere in his teen years, as far as available evidence goes. Even Lennon in 1980 reminds me of me at 16 or 17: smart enough to have figured out intellectually what sounds right, but developmentally too young to actually feel those things to be true, and act accordingly. I do get the sense he was trying, but unless/until his surroundings changed, I think the deck was stacked against him. And I don’t get the impression he was sure he wanted to change if it was going to be hard, because I get the impression–confirmed in Seaman’s book–that John felt he’d done all the hard things he could. There’s something familiarly adolescent about how John compulsively tries on identities, hairstyles, fashions, political beliefs from 1968 onward. Yet Young John doesn’t do this; he’s basically consistent from 1962 through early 1966. That looks like regression to me.
One other thing, had Lennon lived and been determined to survive: I don’t think the chameleon-like personality revamps every 18 months would have changed. I think they would have gotten weirder and more extreme. John’s talk about touring, and the route his contemporaries took, makes it easy to imagine him as another elder statesman of rock, touring his back catalogue with a band of season pros (and some stupid tour names–McCartney’s tour is called “Freshen Up,” the Stones have had a “Zip Code” tour and a “No Filter” tour), showing up on Fallon to promote his new solo album etc. I don’t think he would have condescended to do that. I think he would have seen that as being a performing flea. I see him ending up much more like George–an eccentric torn between his need to protect himself with his money from people who scared, disturbed, and sought to use him, and someone who bemoaned the distance his money created. That’s the difference between New Celebrity, which John and the Beatles invented, and Old Celebrity. I think–pardon the expression–John would have rather died, so to speak than become part of Old Celebrity.
Michael B., good point about John’s aversion to “Old Celebrity.” I thought about Lennon’s reaction to fame when I read this passage in the new novel Opiod, Indiana by Brian Allen Carr (which I recommend):
“I feel like there are two types of misery in this word. There’s not getting what you want and being angry. And there’s getting what you want and being sad.
If you’re either one of those–if you’re miserable–you don’t know what will fix it. You go back and forth forever. Wanting a thing. Pursuing a thing. Getting a thing. Not wanting it. And you start all over again.”
To me, that gets at something important in Lennon’s experience. He got to the toppermost of the poppermost, got the money and the critical adulation, got all the women and drugs and cars and houses, and was still sad.
I wonder if part of the deep root of Lennon’s animosity toward McCartney is that McCartney wasn’t sad in this way. He went through some bad emotional times, especially around the breakup, but fame and getting to perform made (and makes) him essentially happy. He just doesn’t take on board as much of the angst as Lennon did.
Totally agree with you about the dopey tour names. “Freshen Up,” really? Can no one near McCartney tell him straight up that that sounds like a personal hygiene product? I have great affection for him but he definitely causes me to facepalm sometimes.
@Nancy, that’s a great quote and one that I think applies very much to Lennon. In fact, if I were to write a short summary of his life, it would be “gifted boy abandoned by his parents seeks to become the most famous person in the world to make up for it. He does and finds he is still not happy. He tries to find something that will make him happy.”
And I think the reason 62-66 Lennon is so compelling is that that he hasn’t yet realized that all this won’t make him happy. He’s focused and intent on achieving a goal, and that’s a sight to behold.
@Michael, to me early Lennon isn’t compelling because, as you wrote, “he hasn’t yet realized that all this won’t make him happy.” He’s compelling to me because, in this regard, he’s still living a life that is similar to most people’s, in kind if not degree. You get born, realize the flaws of this existence, and then attempt to create meaning anyway, usually through work. Wealth and acclaim either come or don’t, but as the years pass you realize that they have nothing to do with why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Lennon is compelling when he is a functioning artist making things that he (and others) love. The moment he stops doing that — either for politics, or for his marriage, or because of depression — he becomes mostly boring, and more a cautionary tale than a story of success.
I think this is correct. Old Celebrity is what John meant by “playing Vegas.”
I strongly agree that the Lennon we met from 1962-66 is consistent, and that’s in part why he’s so appealing. Lennon after 1967 is, to be honest, an extremely interesting high school student. He shows no real adult competencies, seems obsessed with external beliefs and fashions to give himself coherency and meaning, and is primarily defined in relation to others—-positively or negatively.
To be frank, I find post-Yoko Lennon incredibly boring, without the context of the Beatles. And I think that’s because he himself was bored and depressed; some part of that was what Nancy quoted —- getting everything you ever wanted and finding that your problems still remain —- and some was clearly neurological changes brought on or exacerbated by drugs, as well as some sort of untreated illness.
Wealth and fame is like a radiation. Long term exposure seems to be very bad for people, and occasionally the damage is so vast that we on the outside can see it.
Oh please, Michael, let me hear them!
As for you, Michael-who-wrote-the-article, my instinct says, like Donald Sutherland’s Mr. X in Oliver Stone’s JFK, “You’re close, you’re closer than you think…”
@notorious, I think if you’re interested in this stuff (and as Michael Gerber has warned, it’s not exactly pleasant), it’s where Goldman’s book is useful. Not for what it says but for what it comes close to saying, but does not say. And I think this, as much as protecting the Lennon brand against the various revelations that turned out to be basically true, is why the Estate and Rolling Stone worked so quickly to discredit it. Goldman got details wrong but he seems to have had a nose for sniffing out themes or arcs that were true: John hit, he was bicurious, drugs took something out of him, etc. As I mentioned in the post, I find Seaman to be a less tabloidy, more believable source, but they and other unofficial sources all point in the same directions.
@g_i_b, I really don’t think it’s ethical for me to share those surmises, first because they are just surmises —- by now they could not be confirmed. Second, because I really don’t want them confirmed —- they have already muted my pleasure in this topic, and that is not something I wish any other beatlefan to suffer. And third, they wouldn’t change anything. It’s all history now, and better to have the story we have, as sad as parts of it are. Plus —- and this is not nothing —- my surmises would likely sadden and infuriate many fellow fans, and as a somewhat public person I would like to be able to work in media, go to conventions, etc, without being That Jerk Who Thinks XYZ. Because I’m not really sure I think xyz, anyway.
But I thank you for asking. I’m not being coy as much as kind. If a person comes to similar conclusions, as @Michael seems to have, I will share the sources I collated, so they can decide for themselves…if they seem to have a very firm and functional mental state, as @Michael seems to. But even then, I feel great qualms about it. It’s probably best that I simply remain silent on this topic, though the blog forces me to dance around it constantly.
Have a good day; thanks for reading!
Great discussion. I just wanted to say that I appreciate this from Michael G:
“@g_i_b, I really don’t think it’s ethical for me to share those surmises, first because they are just surmises —- by now they could not be confirmed. Second, because I really don’t want them confirmed —- they have already muted my pleasure in this topic, and that is not something I wish any other beatlefan to suffer.”
I read Goldman’s book many years ago, and it disturbed me. I don’t want to be naive about the reality of who John really was, but I also don’t want to know the ugliness. I think we all get that John probably had mental illness, as well as addiction issues. But the disturbing details, I don’t need to know.
I like remembering John in the period before Yoko. He looked great, was productive, and was still friends with his fellow band mates. He was funny and happy and wrote fantastic music. That’s the way I want to remember him.
@Tasmin, thank you. But I am talking about things much more disturbing (to me at least) than a depressed rock star.
That having been said, I think it’s really important to keep one’s passions as nourishing things, and not another species of dashed hopes and expectations unfulfilled. So your comment resonates with me, too.
I appreciate your analysis. Thank you.
One question. Why do you think, Paul McCartney, assisted yoko in reuniting with John, after may Pang, knowing the negative effect yoko had on John. One would think, Paul, would of encouraged John to stay away from ono? Why , would you think, Paul encouraged John to reunite with John?
[…] The Artist as a Dissipated Man: Fred Seaman’s “The Last Days of John Lennon” February 15, 2020 […]
In reading this again, I’m struck by this:
“He also believes that he is living on borrowed time and that he is headed for a violent end because he was a violent man. He is very interested in what it’s like to be shot and thinks a fair amount about assassination, which he believes is modern crucifixion.”
This is very spooky. There are schools of thought that say you bring about things in your life by thinking about them. Like the power of positive thinking.
I’m not saying I believe that, but it is strange John was obsessed with dying a violent death, and about assassination, and that’s how he dies.
Was he thinking this because of the assassinations of the Kennedys, and Martin Luther King? Or was he having a premonition?
Also, why if he was concerned about this, why was he walking around so openly in New York?
Sorry, I guess I don’t remember coming across this before in my reading about the Beatles, and/or John.
It really is creepy.
@Tasmin, John was a product of his time, and that generation was absolutely fascinated with the assassinations of the Sixties, not just as murder mysteries, but as a kind of mass emotional phenomenon; imagine the death of Princess Diana times a hundred, three times in the span of less than five years. In John’s day, if you were an important liberal political leader, you were assassinated. When he started espousing political beliefs, he naturally would’ve thought a lot about the possibility of violence. I do not think he was strange in this regard; compare someone like Harvey Milk.
Michael, the death of Princess Diana is a good analogy. I remember watching the news for hours after she was in the car accident. It was so tragic.
I figured the assassinations of the 60’s were a factor in Johns thinking.
@Tasmin, it’s really creepy. It’s something I’ve read in a couple other books (not many), so I’m inclined to give it at least some credence, albeit with the necessary grains of salt when talking about people’s recollections of a murdered rock star who loved make myths, and whose post-death earning potential depends on all sorts of myths. Anyway.
I think Lennon’s thinking about Stu Sutcliffe and Bob Wooler; Cynthia and other women (he implied there were more in the Playboy interview, I think); possibly that sailor in Hamburg he may have mugged; maybe others in Liverpool. John Lennon pre-1964 or so is both very driven and has the capacity to be very dangerous. Paul Sutcliffe, Stu Sutcliffe’s sister, is on the record saying that John kicked Stu in the head with cowboy boots and that’s what led to Stu’s death. Whether or not that’s actually the cause of death, if Pauline is telling the truth–and going on the record in the early 80s saying John Lennon basically murdered his best friend was not something you’d do lightly–it’s more than possible John blamed himself for what happened to Stu. That alone would haunt him. Then you have the Wooler incident. Etc., etc.
I strongly suspect Lennon confronted/revisited a lot of this stuff during his LSD phase. I imagine it profoundly disturbed him–how could it not? And he seems to have genuinely but superficially believed in the ideas of karma and reincarnation. Not like George, but in the way that a lot of people from his generation were exposed to and vaguely incorporated those ideas into their lives. I can see John feeling deeply guilty about being alive to enjoy the success of the Beatles while Stu was dead. I can see John dealing with this by deciding that if he too met a violent, premature end himself, it would balance out–so that next time around, he was reborn better. And Lennon’s attitude toward death, after living with the very real possibility of assassination since 1966 AND probably some pretty scary hallucinations on LSD with Stu/Julia/George/Brian popping up from his subconscious, was probably very different from the average person’s. Didn’t he say he wasn’t afraid because it was just like getting out of one car and into another? I’m not sure I believe he wasn’t afraid, but I can sure believe he felt differently about it than the average person.
Last, I think John saw what happened to JFK/RFK after their assassinations: they became secular saints. He couldn’t miss the parallels between how the culture deified JFK, and Jesus Christ given his obsession with messianic figures. And as someone who had basically been trying to become a guru or Avant Garde Jesus since 1968, I can see him being somewhat sanguine about what would happen to his legacy afterward. He probably compared that to how Elvis passed away, too. With all of that burbling around in his mind in the Dakota years, no longer asserting relevance by making music, wasting away on drugs and weird diets, I can see how he would end up spouting something like that off to a personal assistant after a few joints in Bermuda.
Thank you Michael B for your great reply.
It’s clear there were many different factors which led to this thinking by John. It makes more sense to me now.
I still find it strange that’s how he died.
It’s definitely weird and unusual. He seems to have been thinking about it since the peace campaign in 1969, when he almost gloats, “they’re gonna crucify me!” in the Ballad of J&Y. If there was a way to achieve martyrdom without having to actually become a martyr, John would’ve been all over it.
He seems to have been thinking about it from very early on, actually, which just makes it even more creepy and disturbing. I would also venture to say, without elaborating too much, that this exceeds a merely neurotic man grown paranoid through witnessing contemporary tragedies, especially as the import seems to reverberate beyond the man himself. I do apologise if anybody finds this upsetting. But here a few examples of portents as I can think of them offhand:
In 1963, he told Sonny Freeman (then wife of Robert Freeman) that he expected to be shot one day.
In 1965, he apparently quipped to a reporter that he would die by being “popped off by some loony.” (I can’t find the original source on this one, but I’m sure I’ve seen it substantiated.)
In 1964, he had a joint tarot reading with Jayne Mansfield, and the card reader reacted in horror, saying they were both going to meet tragic ends. In 1967, after Mansfield was killed, he told Chris Hutchins (of the NME): “Jayne was born on April 19 and died on June 29.
April is the forth month and June the sixth. If you put them together you have one ten. I was born on October 9, the ninth day of the tenth month. Jayne Mansfield died two months after her birthday, that means that I’m going to die on one day with a nine, in the month of December.”
When Lennon’s character is shot in ‘How I Won the War,’ he looks into the camera and says: “You knew this would happen, didn’t you?” (Not withstanding the context of occurring within a film, this is very unsettling.)
Back to the peace campaign, there is also that moment (filmed) when he opens a letter by someone claiming they determined through a seance that Lennon would be assassinated. He tries to laugh it off, but he looks like he’s just shit his britches.
In 1970, when he invited his dad to Tittenhurst on Oct 9, he went berserk screaming -among other things- that he was going to die an early death.
In 1974, when Yoko went to see the psychic Frank Andrews, he told her that her husband “sleeps in blood.”
I think it’s in John Green’s ‘Dakota Days,’ that Lennon explains, emphasizing a sense of borrowed time, that he returned to Yoko and the Dakota because it was “too late in the game to change the players.”
Lennon’s reportedly last recorded demo ‘Dear John’ has a very depressed sounding Lennon repeating “Dear John….don’t be hard on yourself/the race is over….” before lapsing into fragments of ‘September Song’ i.e. “the days dwindle down/to a precious few…November…December…” ‘Help me to Help Myself’ and ‘Borrowed Time’ both have comparable themes.
Whatever Lennon told Jack Douglas in the control room on Dec 8 was disturbing enough for Douglas to erase the tapes overnight and refuse to talk about it for the next 41 years. (Goldman claims Lennon ranted about his own death. While this seems probable, Douglas seems to have upheld his silence, so Goldman may be speculating.)
Finally, Yoko’s own recollections of Lennon’s last days are also rather dark. (Why me? Why you? Broken mirror. White terror.) She says they could feel death around them like a fog. And Lennon sat in his own listening to ‘Walking on Thin Ice’ obsessively over and over.
I wonder if she knew about it?
I remember the last time I saw “How I Won the War” in the theater (three or four years ago), that was a sad moment.
@Matt – The Jayne Mansfield connection is so weird because she was recruited into The Church of Satan in 1966, according to this article:
Was she being used to get to the Beatles because of the tarot card reading with John? Maybe that gave them the germ of an idea.
I think the letter from the fortune teller read out at the bed in was staged. It’s just too convenient for that letter to arrive at the very moment John and Yoko were giving a press conference to the world.
Great. Any time I come across the scene in The Omen where the photographer gets decapitated, I’m going to think of Jayne Mansfied now.
But you left out the part in “Dear John” where, after he sings “the race is over”, he adds, “You won.” Which is why he shouldn’t be hard on himself.
Folks here may know more about Lennon than I do. My impression is that from late in the Beatles period on, Lennon was running out of creativity. There were moments when politics or New Age spirituality or his life experiences gave him a little material, but basically, as he said, he dug rock and roll, he didn’t dig much else. And what was there left to do with rock? I could easily see Lennon going on to participate in some overproduced super-group one-offs, perhaps alternating with bouts of sparse-production recordings of oldies and the like, but none of this really very good. So much of what he’d done had been means to the end of getting rich and famous and he’d done that, so why keep on? I just don’t have the sese that he really enjoyed making music the way McCartney seems always to have. He had used people a lot and naturally he felt he couldn’t trust them, except perhaps for Yoko in a strange dependent way.
Lennon created almost all of his best music with the support of an exceptional team: McCartney, Harrison, Starr and Martin. Having deprived himself of them and the lacking the discipline of the Beatles’ recording schedule, he struggled musically and personally.
Lennon tried to replace his creative team with Yoko, Phil Spector, Allen Klein, Harry Nilsson and others. But they tended to be enablers–and often simply malevolent. Still, blinded by his mental illness, Lennon himself chose them.
His mental illness and behavior–which had given him and those around him severe problems since his adolescence–grew worse. Lennon’s unbounded wealth and privilege prevented him from hitting bottom in his drug dependence , so he never sought competent care even as his depression and personality disorder became disabling.
Despite his fear of turning into Elvis, Lennon wound up much the same. Living in a goldfish bowl, addled, out of shape, clinging to odd beliefs, a vestige of his younger self.
This is very good.
Further, you could see his rejection of his earlier support team as a marker of worsening illness. He had to choose between his addictions and everything else, and he chose addiction. And then he surrounded himself with enablers and fellow addicts of the most egregious sort, simultaneously building a whole myth around it, claiming that it was precisely the reverse of what it was.
This is typical for someone with his disease.
Have to say in some pictures (particularly those that accompany this terrific post) John doesn’t just look skinny, or a bit older than his years/worn out…let’s not mince words here there are a lot of shots from the last weeks/months of his life where he looks absolutely ghastly. That picture of him at the Double Fantasy sessions with Yoko standing over him he looks almost translucent. If nobody knew who John Lennon was or looked like and I showed you that picture and stated it was my friend, about 50 years old at the time in stage 4 of some horrible illness with a month to left not a single person would question it. And that could be said with more than few pictures of John in 1980. Something was going on with him health wise and it was nothing good.
@Henry, that has long been the rumor. Most notably AIDS. But that could’ve been simply anorexia, as well.
In any event, it is truly sad to see.
John didn’t do the interview rounds for Double Fantasy, but I well remember him doing Dick Cavette interview for STINYC and he and yoko doing “woman is the n….” song on that show, so I don’t think that had he lived, it could be argued he wouldn’t have done the “performing flea” routine for a new album or song. In seventies, concert tours were beginning to be named, but I’m sure had John lived and toured, his would have named who knows what, probably with wilder names than recent tours from older acts. To use the contemporary terms, had he lived , John would have caused as much face palming and cringing as he did in early seventies. I it saw at time, but had long forgotten about his Cavette appearance and performance until I stumbled upon it online.
Re: John’s appearance, nothing would surprise me. We know he smoked 40 cigarettes a day; he may have used needles for his heroin; he certainly had unprotected sex, God knows who with. What’s stunning about the late 1980 photos is that by then, he’s not just staying in bed all day. Plenty of British rock stars were nocturnal drug addicts, not all of them looked like 50 year old cancer sufferers in 1980. Whatever was going on, it was taking a serious toll on his body.
Michael B., I recall reading about the macrobiotic diet that Lennon was evidently following at some points, and thinking that it could deplete anyone who hewed strictly to it. Some combination of restriction (of food, of exercise, of meaningful work) and overindulgence (in cigarettes, weed, heroin, whatever) really did a number on him. It’s sad to see.
Regarding the macrobiotic diet, please see the Thanksgiving 1979 photo included with this article. You’ll notice the carved turkey prominently displayed.
John may have dabbled in macrobiotics but I believe the diet served mainly as a psychological balance for the ways in which John and Y were harming themselves, namely heroin. It isn’t uncommon for addicts to use such a balancing tool to justify addiction. It reminds me of heroin addicts I’ve known who always appear publicly with starched and creased clothing.
When I read about John’s demise, I always remember how shocked the attending physician was at the physical condition of Lennon’s body. And he wasn’t talking about the bullet wounds.
For decades, I’ve given Y much more than the benefit of the doubt. And I’ve avoided reading material that might influence my capacity to do so. I’ve since concluded that much of the karma set in motion by her — and to which John contributed — makes her chiefly responsible for his murder. And she knows it. She built her stature and artistic success on his back and once John was murdered, she chipped away at his legacy to increase her own.
What did the “attending physician “ note was the physical condition of John’s body? I would be most interested. Thank you
Michal B. I noticed in your post you said: “I personally think the problem begins when John gets back from filming How I Won the War and Brian Epstein is too fucked up with his own addiction and depression issues to co-lead and manage the Beatles anymore.”
I am a little confused by this. In what world did Brian Co-Lead the Beatles? Do you mean Brian co-led with Paul? The thought that Brian ever led the Beatles, even for one minute, is odd, no? Managed, yes, led no. Even the idea that John led the Beatles is absurd to me. I don’t think there was one minute after Paul joined the Quarrymen that there wasn’t a fluid, joint leadership between John and Paul. I don’t know why this idea of “leader-John” continues to this day when we have so much support to suggest this was never the case.
The co-leaders of the Beatles were always John and Paul. In fact, in the late 60s, Yoko comments that John had lost power to Paul during this period due to his “More Popular Than Jesus” comment — and that by bringing her into the studio (as backup) he had regained some power (doubtful. Attention? Yes. Power? No) meaning that Paul was the more powerful one in 1966. I really hope that someday we can move past this and accept that John and Paul were always the leaders of the Beatles.
And Brian? John mentioned that he didn’t have much to do with Brian for the last two years of Brian’s life because of his own “personal problems” which he felt guilty about after Brian died. And Brian, well, he did what managers are supposed to do which is to suggest projects and make them come to fruition. But did he write the music or play the music or make any of the artistic decisions? Nope. Apparently, near the end, Paul was discussing MMT with Brian, and he was going to help bring that to life, but again, that’s his job as manager. Was he leading? No. And later, was Klein the co-leader of the Beatles? Um, no. Co-destroying perhaps 🙂
@Lily, it’s canon that John Lennon was the leader of the group, deferred to by the others. And it’s canon because it’s really well documented in the texts. Paul himself agrees with this reading of the group’s dynamics, and it takes all of five seconds to find this, from Paul’s own mouth: “We all looked up to John. He was older and he was very much the leader – he was the quickest wit and the smartest and all that kind of thing.”
And five more seconds: “Nobody cared as much as [John] did about being the leader. Actually I have always quite enjoyed being second. I realised why it was when I was out riding: whoever is first opens all the gates. If you’re second you just get to walk through. They’ve knocked down all the walls, they’ve taken all the stinging nettles, they take all the sh** and whoever’s second, which is damn near to first, waltzes through and has an easy life.” [from Many Years From Now]
Now, obviously, John’s leadership wasn’t absolute — Paul was more interested in the studio, even in the early days; George Martin saw that, and he and Paul handled that more and more as the music grew more complex. And as they all aged, John’s two years meant less. But once again, it’s a change from the initial state, which was John in charge (whatever that meant, and J/P/G/R were the only ones who really knew what it meant).
In fact, the whole issue between John and Paul, according to John, was that Paul attempted to change the relative power within the band, after Brian’s death. If you don’t believe that — if you believe that John and Paul were always co-leaders — then you’re disagreeing with both what Paul has said, generally, and what John said broke up the band. That’s kind of a big thing to disagree with.
In every creative partnership there has to be a rough agreement, often unspoken, on how the power is divided. “You handle this, I’ll handle that, and in case of a disagreement, we’ll do x.” In the case of me and my writing partner, I made the final decision on edits before we sent pieces to The New Yorker or Saturday Night Live. Could my partner have done that? Sure. Did he feel I was better at it? Clearly. If I’d been knocked senseless before we sent something out, would anybody have been able to tell that he, and not I, had made the final calls on a piece? Probably not. But that was the arrangement that we settled upon. It didn’t make him lesser; in fact, sometimes it gave him more leeway for creative control on a piece, because I was busy thinking about “real world” stuff. And it should be said that especially after you work together for a long time, a sort of “third mind” is created. And also, if the piece was “his” — meaning that he had come up with the idea and written the majority of it, I would defer to him if he asked. But for reasons of both personality (I’m more aggressive) and efficiency, I was the boss, in that limited way.
I’ve always gotten the strong indication that, certainly before Pepper, Lennon was the boss inside the Beatles, in a similar limited way, and everything I’ve ever read from either guy suggests that was the case. And it was Paul’s understandably outgrowing that arrangement that caused friction. That’s a logical reading, backed up by a lot of data…and, as I’ve said, my own experience. So I’m cool with it.
What I find fascinating is the fans who — and I think this is a recent phenomenon — who AREN’T cool with it. Who insist that “The co-leaders of the Beatles were always John and Paul” when *John and Paul themselves said* that wasn’t how it worked. The “co-leadership” idea is clearly standing in for something; it’s important to these fans that the narrative be changed in this precise way, and I’d like to hear why it matters to them. The historical record is as clear on this point as it can be…but that’s unsatisfying to them. They need the story to be different. Why is worth asking.
Brian is a bit of a different situation. Some sources suggest that Lennon and Epstein were the braintrust — the guys who really wanted to conquer the world, saw eye-to-eye completely, and saw that it could be done — in the first period of the group. I think by 1964 it’s clear that Paul (and George and Ringo, too) all had strong opinions and veto power. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Brian was “co-leading” the Beatles from 1961 to Pepper. He was making the deals and dates — ie, he was determining when they performed, where, and for whom; he was picking collaborators; he was fixing problems. Remember, they were all young, and Brian was significantly older than even John and Ringo. Of course they would defer to him.
It makes sense to me that Epstein was leading the group in a business sense; Lennon was setting the tone within the group; and Paul was collaborating with George Martin during the recording process, especially after ’65. That’s how I took @Michael’s comment — that Epstein’s addiction left the Beatles rudderless as a business entity, which I think it did. I don’t think John or Paul were doing any business stuff then; John had no taste or aptitude for it, and after the world was conquered, absented himself entirely. Paul turned out to be quite astute, he wasn’t doing it in November ’66 (at the ripe old age of 24).
Good points, Michael. The one thing I question is how much it was McCartney’s “understandably outgrowing” Lennon’s being the boss that caused the shift in roles. Some of that was in play, for sure, but I think that if Lennon had been as strongly invested in the band as before, McCartney could have been content to go on being the de facto second in command. My take is that when Lennon got less interested in pushing and giving all his energy to the Beatles, McCartney freaked out and tried to “fix” things by supplying the lack. And Lennon resented (and might have feared/been jealous of) all that energy, and then . . . . we’ve followed that sequence out repeatedly in the threads on the breakup.
I believe McCartney when he says he “enjoyed being second” in the band. As pushy as he could be, I think he was hurt, grieved, and frightened when Lennon seemed to check out of his leadership role.
I was a major John fan most of sixties and part of the seventies and began amassing a major mag, newspaper, etc. collection on them in 69. All earlier information noted there was no question that John was Chief Beatle pre 67 and I have seen video interviews of all of them being asked who was leader and they all said John. It was, however, John and George’s decisions to quit touring in 66 and Paul was much more comfortable in the studio which gave Paul the advantage. Also, John did his movie role, but Paul’s 66 movie contribution was simply a soundtrack and a song aided by George Martin. Likewise, George chose to go to India a few months when part of pepper recorded and study sitar. Paul stepped in to keep them going and current as they became a studio band because the late sixties were evolving rapidly. Later it appeared that John and George wanted to step back and pursue their own interests and obligations but increasingly resented Paul for his ideas and quickly blamed him when the failed, as with the movie MMT though album/ep was a big success and let it be. John and George seemed to want their cake and eat it to.
Likewise, all Beatles took off from recording and followed George to India though it turned into a fruitful song writing time. Yes, it was indeed by all my old mag articles after touring ended that John’s role as Chief Beatle ended and the decision to become a studio band along with drug excesses of the group changed group dynamics forever.
Paul’s biggest mistake was dragging an increasingly resentful dysfunctional bunch along although who knows why he did it but it appears he felt they could achieve more creative greatness. They had completed their record contract in late 66 and he should have let them fold and all go solo or join other bands. John said he and George wanted to quit,….but didn’t have the guts, Paul should have quit in 66 when others pulling apart, before they started resenting him. Then the other Beatles and many Beatles fans even today would not blame paul for the later group going south. Paul could have done a lesser version of sgt pepper on his own and played what instruments could as did on McCartney 1 and McCartney 2 and John and George could have followed Clapton and Dylan in their bands while ringo played drums with other acts. I preferred the later Beatles albums for years but we’re not worth the extreme unhappiness of all of them, as John and George did nothing but whine about their unhappiness then. Now, the Beatles legacy if ended in 66 would have forever been that of a pop rock n roll group playing to screaming girls rather than the greatest progressive rock group of the late sixties.
No question John was Chief beatle in 66 and earlier and it was when he abdicated his role that trouble began. All wanted John to continue to be Chief Beatle but for one thing he couldn’t see past rock n roll and folk rock and a little psychedelica influenced music. It was in 67 when John musically and lyrically began to fracture as had to be pushed by Paul to even produce enough for pepper.
I want to add that I completely agree with Nancy about later Paul and John role and John’s abdication of leadership and interest in Beatles……Paul lyrics….you left me standing there, a long, long time ago and when you told me, you didn’t need me any more, well all I did was…..go down and cry….die. Paul literally gave his all to try to save the later Beatles and was deeply hurt at John and has been since by all fan and critic dissers and blamers but, though he saved their later music and legacy, it cost him his own credibility and legacy a long time which he slowly and painfully had to build back….wading through all the bossy, conceited Paul, second fiddle to genius John, jealous Paul and repressor to George stereotypes.
Paul reminds me of the oldest child having to step into parent role due to parent abdication and younger siblings and hated and resentful of substitute parent, as wanted the deficient abdicated real parent. It was an extremely toxic, dysfunctional situation he as a young man wanted to keep going as he saw the musical potential of Beatles and the group was all he knew as a teen forward so he didn’t have wisdom to let them go in 1966 when he should have. I’ve often thought of a no later Beatles probability, especially as read so much then and since about the later increasingly toxic Beatles and it would have served other Beatles and resentful fans then and now right to have just younger Beatles as the legacy, the mop tops playing pop rock n roll to screaming teeny boppers, quitting at revolver that hinted of later great possibilities. I worked as a backup to a boss like passive aggressive, abdicating his role late beatle John and well understood the bashing and blame of the secondary receiver of all the scapegoating and I gave little patience for it from my own experiences.
Great points, Nancy! I agree that Paul didn’t mind being labeled a second-in-command; I think John was more a gang leader than a band leader, and I think Paul was just enough of a control freak to want his creative vision borne out and want everyone to see that his way was the correct way and to be super-annoying about it, not that he wanted to lead the Beatles per se, because I don’t think he could ever have led them as a gang. And I think he had to know he could never have led them as a gang — only witness everyone falling in line behind John over Klein. Which was not a good leadership decision on John’s part at all, though it was a power decision. But following a mentally/chemically compromised “leader” wasn’t a good idea any longer.
MG, you say “it’s a change from the initial state, which was John in charge (whatever that meant, and J/P/G/R were the only ones who really knew what it meant).” I think that’s at the crux of the matter; people are trying to decide what that meant. As you noted, John and Paul each had different roles within the group. What John and Paul said changed depending on who was saying and and when they said it. I.e., they have the quotes you mentioned, and they also told journalists that there was no boss of the Beatles and that whoever shouted the loudest usually got their way, and John shouted the loudest; and John complains about being forced by Paul and Brian into suits and forced to be clean and presentable; John crawls under tables and hides at press conferences. Stuff like that makes it seem the question of his undisputed leadership might possibly merit a reexamination.
I also think a lot of the reexamination that’s been going on recently is a negative reaction to the argument some have brought out to explain why John destroyed everything they’d all built and why he was utterly justified — i.e., “well, John was the leader and he started the Beatles and that sneaky Paul was sneakily trying to undermine him and take control of the band.” It absolves John of any ultimate assholery because he was the leader and could tear down his own sandbox, and it gives everyone a good reason to think his treatment of Paul was right and just based on Paul being sneaky and bad.
I was reminded recently of John Green’s quote from John Lennon that he’d never forgive Paul for taking away the job of finally ending of the Beatles from him, even though it was a distasteful job, because it was Lennon’s job as the person who’d started the band. This seems very in line with other bits of Beatle history I’ve read regarding John and the undesirable Beatle duties. But then Green had also convinced John that the tarot cards showed that Paul and Linda were on the verge of divorce and that Paul only showed up to visit so he could gloat over how horrible John’s life was, so his reliability is called into question for me.
(Be gentle with me, please, these are just possibilities and my perspective. Maybe I don’t really care enough about Beatle leadership, so. A male Beatle-fan my age told me “it’s a guy thing, you wouldn’t understand” but I’ve seen women get really heated over the issue also. It transcends gender.)
Really interesting, Kristy. I think there was also a real shift in what “leadership” in the band meant over the years. Lennon was the inspirational force behind the band at the outset; he had the “cannon charge” that Michael B. has written about here, and which McCartney described as kicking down fences so the others could follow. I think the problems for him came once the Beatles were on top, because where can you go from there? His visionary force doesn’t seem to have had enough to push against, so to speak.
McCartney is a self-described “keeny” who likes to work hard, and is more a realist than a visionary. So in some ways he was better suited to life on top than Lennon was, because he wasn’t worried about the next big thing, or feeling unsatisfied with the big thing — he was happy to work on the big thing, if you see what I mean.
@Nancy, I think that Lennon really didn’t have any idea what to do after the Beatles stopped being a touring band. It didn’t fit with what a rock band was, or was for, in his mind. McCartney, on the other hand, had the skills and interests to lead a studio-only group. I suspect that if Lennon had said in 1967, “We’re doing THIS, and fall in line” the others probably would’ve. But we must remember that there’d never been a band like The Beatles, and they’d never just kept existing without live performance. Then Paul came in with his ideas, and they all fell into line. That must’ve been a great relief for John initially.
@Kristy, of course I’ll be “gentle” — sorry you have to ask me. I haven’t been as gentle with our commenters in the last six months, partly because I’m working so hard and partly because we keep talking about the same topics — but ungentle is not how I wish to be, and I’m trying to figure out how to move forward with my involvement here. It may be time for me to lurk.
Gendered or not, I do think there is something fundamental about “leadership,” and either you understand it or you don’t. It’s not telling people what to do, or thinking the sun shines out of your behind — kinda the opposite of both of those things. It’s more a personality type, probably an overvalued one — you can’t have a good leader without a good #2, or good gang members; it takes a village, and everybody has their part to play. The Beatles would’ve been infinitely less without McCartney. Or Harrison or Starr. But I don’t think they would’ve happened at all without Lennon, and to some degree Epstein.
I’ve been leading creative endeavors since I was 16 or so and to reach a certain level of quality, you need a boss. You just do. It’s like saying you need sunlight for a tree to grow; it’s simply how things work, it’s not personal. Even something as loosey-goosey as HD needed a boss to get going; we talked for a month, with me waiting to see if someone else would take the lead, and then I was like, “Fuck it, I’m doing it.” Then, you see if people will follow — do they like your vision? Do they like you personally? Are you fair? Are you kind? Do you share? HD needed someone who would decide what it looked like, and who determined, through lots of posting, what it would be and not be. The idea that creative stuff just “happens” is the hallmark of the dilettante. Being a expert, professional creative person is nothing BUT decisions, and much of the time democracy is simply too unwieldy and time-consuming to be practical.
So every creative endeavor has to have a manner of functioning that allows decisions to get made quickly and well, while at the same time not being so repressive that talented people won’t join or stay. When John said that we should all give him credit for letting Paul into the band, that’s real. Most people as talented as John was, at age 17, would not have accepted a rival. Because that’s what Paul was at that point: a rival. Only later did he become a collaborator or friend.
So, yay John Lennon, Leader of the Beatles. But people who say that John was utterly justified to end the group are idiots; that’s not wise leadership. Leadership is something you earn, and re-earn constantly. The moment that Lennon returned from India, it was clear that he was out for himself, and not the group, and the other three’s rights and responsibilities grew as his were given up. They could’ve been called John Lennon and His Fabulous Beatles, and by 1970 it wasn’t his group. By 1970, they were a band of equals, or two and a half equals; they were the most equal any band has ever been, and they’d been mostly democratic up until Klein. To arbitrarily end the group wasn’t John’s call, and the idea animating that is YOKO’s idea — that he was the only genius, he was the only artist, they were talents of a lesser order or his minions — and that’s absurd. Anyone talking like that in 2020 is not a serious person. I’d go so far as to revoke their Beatles fandom; they’re Lennon fans. Yoko is the opposite of a leader; “she looks at men as assistants” — that’s the opposite of leadership in a creative endeavor. Her talent expresses itself as a solo act; different beast entirely.
One quick point: Paul’s sneakiness, his “two-facedness”, his being “the world’s greatest P.R. man” — all of this is Paul’s “hero” persona. His perfectionist people-pleasing. He wants to avoid conflict and be liked, and also (because he’s very smart and determined) get his own way. John’s style — the rebel who’s constantly testing people’s love — isn’t more honest. It’s simply another style of trying to control everything and get what you want. But I have seen many families splinter along that axis.
Appreciate the comment above in this discussion as provides different angles, but I don’t think Paul was intentionally trying to be super annoying or forcing his ideas upon the others. I just think he was doing what had done before, perfecting recordings, studio work but as John and George stepped back at the same time, Paul realized correctly the group would fall apart without album ideas, songs and projects. He was naturally a hyperactive, possibly a hyper manic prolific workaholic and perfectionist and the other three, including ringo all pulled back when he stepped forward around time of pepper. When the others were interested enough during early Beatles and under heavy record contract to produce singles and albums, and toured, all were more involved. When all of the others were interested and involved, the group and it’s product functioned smoothly. When the other three stepped back and pursued their own interest, the group started unwinding.
I have for decades continue to see the various blame Paul stuff in later Beatles assessments but we can all thank him for all for the later Beatles music we like and the late Beatles becoming the leading progressive rock group of the late sixties because from all of my reading, John wasn’t the only one who checked out after 66. George had long absence learning sitar rather than improving his guitar skills and Paul had to play George’s parts on Beatles songs, George came to pepper sessions late with only one new song, Beatles stopped and followed George to India later though George had a few other incomplete songs in reserve and ringo played chess with mal during pepper sessions.
Paul appears to be naturally OCD and anxious, not to play arm chair shrink and unless kept others in task, they would have folded. Pepper has since been downgraded by some but was then the culturally shifting first concept rock album. John had to hurry and write enough songs for it. I again maintain, Paul loved the Beatles too much and was himself afraid to go solo I’m sure, but he should have left before they signed a new record contract and done his version and vision of pepper on his own or another solo thing. British rock blues virtuosos guitarists were rising by 67 and John and George were competent but no match for Clapton in creem, Hendrix, Townsend, Peter green, etc. Ringo would have happily drummed along on gigs with others. As other Beatles and fans eventually blamed Paul for saving Beatles long as he could, he should have cut out early and avoided the later financial debacle and of Apple and Klein as he was going to be blamed anyway. The step up to the plate hero type is always blamed for everything that goes wrong I find in dysfunctional groups of folks.
This is a very interesting discussion and I enjoy thinking of these probables in historical situations and my own life. I’ve spent decades analyzing the Beatles and using all of my large collection of articles and books as references. The narratives have changed throughout the years and interpretations have been revised along the way. As I minored in history in college and took a historiography class, it is interesting to employ it with the later Beatles story.
PidPoo, I also appreciate your perspective on things – I really like hearing from fans in the day! 😀
But let me be clear, when I was saying Paul was being annoying, I wasn’t really slamming him, because I love John and Paul both lots but Paul is my guy. I absolutely think he did the right thing. I’m really glad we have Pepper and post-Pepper Beatles albums and I’m glad they all hung together for that and I’m appreciative of his creative vision! I was speaking from the perspective of the rest of the band members, who have all gone on and on about how annoying they found him, even as they’ve praised his efforts. As you say, though, it’s the guy who gets stuff done who sometimes takes the fall and that’s what’s happened to some extent with Paul — especially since his POV has been limited in some respects. But he’s kept on going and had a great solo career.
I’ll have to throw a spanner in the works, and well, I have to agree with @Lily: that fans as far back as 1963 saw joint leadership in John and Paul. Absolutely. They were Lennon and McCartney and the song that broke out Beatlemania in the UK – She Loves You – personified it exactly. After that, who wrote what or who had more songs or not in the early days mattered not one iota. Too bad that Lennon and McCartney thought differently. Their image was their image – even the whole four of them famously said in one interview that they didn’t know what their image was; it was up to us, the media, the public, whatever. So if the perception that John and Paul were co-leaders then that was the perception. Sorry John and Paul.
This dispute in leadership AFTER the event is a circular one and historically it’s based on a good deal of ill-feeling from the pair of them, and George. There is just so much retrospection. It becomes retrospection upon retrospection. And that retrospection is built upon further retrospection. It’s unquestionable that Paul and the others, and by their own admission, looked up to John in the early days. But I believe even they equated or blurred leadership of the Quarrymen with leadership of the Beatles. It’s indisputable that John was a strong, witty and highly idiosyncratic personality. One would have to be blind not to see it. John’s leadership was one of personality not necessarily of creative direction of the band.
I perceived Paul’s “enjoying being second” comment as relating more to John’s cultural status and the impact of his personality upon others; the fact that he had written books, and that it was very much in John’s style to be controversial, rather than any real deference to leadership. Paul knew he could never seriously challenge John in this respect; he just accepted it. It was John’s party so let him deal with it, so to speak. I wouldn’t be surprised if factors of reverse psychology were at play either. It was always important for John to be number one; Paul, as part of the conflict resolution imbedded in his character, took the path of least resistance and just let him think it.
Paul had as much vision for the band as John did. It was Paul, pre-Hamburg, who wrote his little letters to managers of club and halls all over the north of England and Scotland to secure dates for them. He wasn’t going to sit back and hope some big entertainment mogul would stumble upon them – he was going to get them noticed and in doing so he did much to propel the band forward. People may deride Paul’s PR skills but I think to some extent the others hid behind them for their own gain.
I don’t think Paul was ever content to live in the big moment. If anything it was he who worried most about how long they were going to last. He was that curious mixture of surface confidence and deep insecurity. A good deal of his nervous breakdown in 1970 and his feelings of uselessness perhaps stemmed from this.
The trouble with Paul is that he sometimes believes the hype directed at him, good or bad, falling victim to self-fulfilling prophecy: it’s common now for everyone to believe that by 1965/66 Paul’s songs had ‘caught up’ to John’s and Paul himself ended up believing this. When did he start to think like this??? Nobody thought that at the time. His abilities as a songwriter weren’t compared to John’s then – they didn’t need to be. Instead, it became another part of the Beatles mythology courtesy of Jann Wenner and his crew. It became true because they said so.
In light of all this, the oft quoted theory that Paul’s leadership gained ascendency post 1967 because John “let” him through boredom and lack of interest (and its implication that Paul’s genius could only flourish because of it) is dubious to me. As others have also said, I think Paul simply just stepped up to keep the band going after John and George found other interests and not a challenge to leadership to per se.
@Lara, I seem to recall that John said *he* felt that Paul’s songs had caught up by ’66. Which would have of course made sense: the developmental difference between 24 and 22 is more than the difference between 26 and 24. There is a biological maturing process that goes on within the group, most obviously with George, but also with Paul. George isn’t the same person in 1969 that he was in ’63; nor is Paul; none of them are. Part of why I bridle at the John/Paul as equal co-leaders model is that it ignores the age gap, and at 20 or 22 or even 24, that matters a lot (I know I a lot of people at those ages). At 25 or so, people are mostly who they are, and can do what they can do. Lennon’s songwriting leaps between ’59 and ’62, and then’62 and ’65, but not so much after ’65. Paul undergoes that same leap, about 18 months behind, to my ear at least.
Perception of the group by fans is as varied as, well, the individual fan. Surely *some* fans saw The Beatles as a band led by “John and Paul,” but so too some saw the band led by “Ringo.” (I’m not kidding. In the US, Ringo was a big deal.) Allen Ginsberg famously saw it led by John, but he was sitting in the Cow Palace, he didn’t have any special insight. The important thing about The Beatles isn’t whether John or Paul led the group, but the degree to which ALL of them were part of the decision-making process. They were a departure from the “X and the Ys” formula, and that’s huge. Mick famously called them “a four-headed monster” — does that mean they were perfectly equal, internally? No, of course not. But it expresses a kind of “all for one” quality that to me, is the essential difference.
I think when we’re trying to figure out the working process and the interpersonal relationships — stuff only they could know — the statements of the four of them have to be given the most weight…even factoring in ulterior motives, especially John’s, but also Paul’s, for saying what he did when he said it. If we have a statement, that should come first, and inferring has to come second. At least that’s how I do it; otherwise, we’re really just making up whatever story we prefer (which we all do, somewhat).
Michael, I agree with you completely here. My very large paper mag, newspaper and book collection of info from the Beatles time supports your points. It was after the breakup that Wenner and later Beatles books post John death and reactions to all of that pushed alternative scenarios, aided by yoko’s added narratives after John death. It was the American press who sometimes called John Chief Beatle but then he didn’t emphasize it then. All sang songs on albums, even ringo. No one then seened to see Paul rising to equal John in revolver and it was only after John death that pepper began to be seen as a Paul project. All talked freely during videotaped early press conferences and interviews and answered questions. All of my massive dinosaur paper collection supports is later fan revisionism that questions their complex group relationship dynamics and musical albums and song selections even, which in sixties was regarded as cannon except for the American “ dexterized “ albums which by seventies we could buy expensive but British original releases, I have seen where this has been an increasingly contemporary tendency and where younger fans would even cut the old Beatles concert staple, dizzy miss Lizzy, from the album with the great John rhythm guitar and his excellent Shea and Hollywood performance live performances. I agree with you, Michael, as the evidence speaks for itself.
I want to add that I don’t believe Paul any more than the rest of them believed their hype after the break up, though did have their opinions and angles. They all noted the mania period and their schedules were so intense to them that it was a blur to them. After the break up and long as John and George lived, they and the living Beatles Paul and Ringo simply discuss and emphasize what they remember more. John and George seemed to emphasize the later Beatles period and George seemed to dwell on songs he was writing and trying to get the Beatles to record. Paul seems to dwell on the pepper period when from all accounts when things were better, before Brian died. You could argue that interviewers like wenner and revisionist interviewers thinking with Paul had greater role in later Beatles cause them to believe their own hype and that of others. John first rolling stone 70 interview was his greatest believing his own hype time but he admitted later was on heroin then and fortunately age and maturity allowed him to put it in perspective. Ringo, as an admitted alcoholic was honest and wise to avoid all of this. It is human nature to give your memories and accounts of past events. I credit all of the Beatles as individuals who have the right to state from their angles, their memories and impressions. I don’t know how any of us are mind readers to these folks though we are interested in them and have read a lot on them. None of us are them or were there then.
@Michael, there are just too many opinions on what people consider the peak period of each member or as a collective to be truly meaningful. The late 50s/early 60s saw both John and Paul still developing their individual styles, drawing upon many influences, which they made quite clear to George Martin at the time. While John may have been dominant in the early albums (of which many were covers), Paul was writing songs at a phenomenal rate but he was giving many of them away. The main turning point for Paul came with Yesterday, written in late 1963, but not released until 1965. I honestly never saw an eighteen month old lag between them and wonder if the possible perception between British and American fans was of because of Capitol releasing different versions of the albums to that of Parlophone in the UK.
I agree that the working process and interpersonal relations were something only they knew. But even taking this into account, John telling Paul that he thought his songs were better than his own in 1966 was really no more true than his belief that Paul had caught up with him in the same year.
I’m not entirely convinced of the weight that biological differences play in chronological age by the twenties. There are some to be sure, but a good deal of it is social maturation. The greatest divergence between physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development is seen in children from eleven to fifteen. While there may have been a greater age difference between John and Paul, the developmental lag between them was less than, say, between Paul and George who was only eight months younger than Paul. I thought Hunter Davies explained this quite well in the biography. There were also educational and cultural factors amongst them to factor in and it’s possible that this is where John perceived Paul to have caught up with him – that Paul went from school boy in Hamburg to intellectually curious and knowledgeable young man about town within two or three years.
What of fan perceptions of them at the time anyway? What if a single word had never been written about the Beatles? What is the crucial and fundamental essence of all four of them that we go by?
Nobody ever took Ringo as Leader, Ringo for President seriously!
Maybe you’re right, who knows?
Thanks to all above for the various excellent points. Leaving out the unknown personal relationships of group dynamics thar evolved and changed throughout the group from the beginning, the Paul giving away several songs from very early on and the what is called American “dexterization” to shorten American albums by capitol and to get as many as possible affects perception of strength in song writers. An American album version of a middle album, can’t remember the one looks weak on Lennon, but tge brit version does not.
The butchering of American albums caused by favorite middle period Beatles album, yesterday and today, with very strong guitar and many fans now regard help as as very weak mid beatle album due to inclusion of bond type movie music which I enjoyed. Likewise, many fans don’t care for yel sub album as regard it as weak. The greatest victim album now is mystery tour as all songs released as Brit ep or singles, but in America as an album. Mystery tour is my favorite American psychedelic album. I’ve seen huge arguments on record forums on whether mystery tour is a complication or an album.
Also, in Beatles era or even solo Beatles era, singles were not released on albums but b side of a number 1 big seller generated good money for b sided composer, thus George was given b sides to generate more for him, and air play as Dee jays then played b sides of especially Beatles singles a lot. The fan perception, I speak for myself, was how many songs by singer were on an album and who had single radio play. Thus, the hey Jude/get back American album argument is it beatle cannon resulted. These are very good issues. I remember getting a different notion of Beatles intended songs on albums once started getting brit lips in the seventies when they became available. A Liverpool pen pal sent me an original please, please me album in 71 and I am since astounded that younger fans n record forums regard with the Beatles as a weaker album because it was the big American Beatles album and most didn’t yet have the ver jay albums.
Because I am American and got those albums and singles first but read about brit albums and eps, I didn’t realize the more contemporary fan perceptions. I eventually got, after much expose, as a few very rare then, the American pic sleeve singles collection completed and was very proud to get the blue box brit ep collection. I realized I somewhat underestimated song presentation as I later acquired these foreign issues.
Very good discussions here…especially also about given away songs which must be included to be fair. It enables me to keep thinking about this interesting issue.
What an interesting topic. There are so many things that don’t add up about John’s final years – so many strange coincidences and unanswered questions.
What I would like to know is who exactly was Sam Green and why was he named as Sean’s guardian in John’s will in the event that anything happened to John and Yoko?
Interestingly, I came across this:
which was written by Sam Green himself. So it seems he was named in another will in a similar situation involving a rich woman, with whom he was having an affair, and a vulnerable man.
@Pidpoo: “An American album version of a middle album, can’t remember the one looks weak on Lennon, but tge brit version does not.”
I’m pretty sure Revolver is the one you’re thinking of. Also, I seem to remember that the American version of that album had one side that was heavily Paul, and the other side mostly John. I hated that. I much prefer the alternating styles as intended. The only American version of a Beatles album that I actually think is superior is Rubber Soul. As much as I love “Nowhere Man”, the US version was basically an all-acoustic album which made it one of the best folk-rock albums I’ve ever heard. “I’ve Just Seen a Face” is a terrific opener and belongs on Rubber Soul with “Norwegian Wood,” “I’m Looking Through You”, “Girl”, “In My Life” etc. But otherwise, the American versions of their albums did them a great disservice.
@Lara: “[Paul] was that curious mixture of surface confidence and deep insecurity”
“There were also educational and cultural factors amongst them to factor in and it’s possible that this is where John perceived Paul to have caught up with him – that Paul went from school boy in Hamburg to intellectually curious and knowledgeable young man about town within two or three years.”
“John telling Paul that he thought his songs were better than his own in 1966 was really no more true than his belief that Paul had caught up with him in the same year.”
Yeah, I don’t believe that story of John telling Paul, “I like your songs better than mine.” I can’t fathom John ever saying this. He had way too much pride. Telling Paul that he really liked a song of his? Absolutely. Paul is the only source for that and there are holes in his story. It’s just wrong to put those words in John’s mouth with the only person who can contest it being dead. Paul said this happened during the filming of Help! when they came back to their shared hotel room for the evening after spending the day skiing. He said they sat down and listened to a tape of their album and John said that to him after “Here, There and Everywhere” played. They filmed Help! in late 1964, I believe. HTAE was written in 1966 by John’s pool according to Paul. In fact, the last time Paul was on the Howard Stern show, Howard brought that up, that John told him, “Your songs are better than mine.” Paul recounted the story of the two of them listening to HTAE and then started to say, “He didn’t say your songs are…” but as usual was interrupted by Stern on another point.
A leader is someone that others will follow off a cliff if asked. I believe if John had wanted a Beatles reunion in the ’70s, it would have happened. If Paul, George or Ringo suggested it they would be met with laughter and the rolling of eyes. John was the only one who could have made that happen. Of course, Paul didn’t follow John off the Allen Klein cliff and that was the end of the Beatles.
@Michelle, as I said, leadership in a creative group has to be given, then re-earned; it’s not static, especially in a group where the individual members are accumulating accomplishments and building capacities, as Paul and George especially did in the middle period of the band. My sense is that the moment that the others lost confidence in Lennon’s motives — when he came back from India and began demonstrating over and over that The Beatles were no longer the most important thing in his life (that title being held by Yoko and/or heroin) — the old arrangement where they deferred to John was over. It wasn’t like it had been in 1962 for years by then — they were all adult men and deep into the Beatle-adulatory experience.
Even so, it seems that in some ways that hierarchy never really ended — as ever, to me it feels like a family pattern. Your older brother is always your older brother. George’s leaving John out of “I, Me, Mine” strikes me as very pointed rejection over…what? Not playing Bangladesh? Really? And it’s telling that Paul was coming to the Dakota in 1976, rather than John showing up at Paul’s house in Beverly Hills or Phoenix or wherever. I’ve never read a statement from Paul that, to me, definitively overturns the idea that John was the leader of the Beatles, and I’ve read lots of them that suggests he’s at least OK with that reading of events. But this seems to be a contentious issue, so let the discussion roll on.
Oh one more thing: this was joggled by your mentioning of Klein. Paul, it’s clear, felt that he had to sue to protect the legacy (and wealth) of the band. In other words, he had to act as Chief Beatle, because John wasn’t doing it, and misusing the authority that they, but most of all Paul, had granted him. This was bound to be incredibly painful, in a familial kind of way, and would not become less so after Paul had been proved right.
Michael, this emphasis on the familial quality of the Beatles seems exactly right to me. In so many respects the Beatles act like siblings—both in positive and negative ways. And I think the sibling-type hierarchy you describe (“your older brother is always your older brother”) explains a lot about the dynamics of the later period and the breakup.
@Elizabeth, it’s certainly bizarre that one largely unknown gofer of the art world was named in two wills drawn up by paranoid, wealthy people who were murdered. It would be interesting to know more about why Green is in the will and whether that was John’s first choice or not. Taken in context with some of the other things we know about the Dakota years, it begs the question: what do we not know?
@Michael, from what I understand, Sam Green was also having an affair with Yoko. Why would he be named in the will though, and why specifically as Sean’s guardian? If Yoko and John had both been killed, would he have been able to access the Lennon millions?
And in other pictures from 1980 he looks great.
Something does not add up with that will, and I find it highly suspect. Would he really leave nothing for Julian? After his divorce from Cyn, he put money in a trust fund for Julian. I don’t care how much of an absentee father he was, he wouldn’t deprive him of an inheritance. He was actually getting closer to Julian in the late ’70s.
I don’t know, but when Yoko’s boyfriend Sam Havadtoy starts wearing John’s clothes after his murder it’s creepy as hell. I don’t remember what interview it was, but Paul said something about Yoko “co-Havadtoying” in the Dakota. I think it was an article regarding his plea to have the Yesterday credits switched. That’s hilarious.
@Michelle, you really think that John looks great in that photo?
I think he looks like the living dead – like someone who has completely given up on life. When I look at photographs of John from 1976 onwards, all I see is a shell of a man who is slowly wasting away. The photo at the top of this page is just shocking. This was not a happy man.
Yes, when a man smiles broadly my first thought is: He’s given up on life. Are we looking at the same photo?
There’s an idea for the next HD article: Did John commit suicide?
It’s tempting because then he wouldn’t be a martyr, as if he ever was anyway. But at least it would stop people from complaining about his martyrdom.
All very good points on various issues above. I don’t automatically doubt Paul’s stories as so many do now, though this is a tendency of only of last few recent years to always doubt Paul, sadly as he possibly has memory trouble I personally think and sadly because he desperately holds on the few compliment crumbs John gave him. Who knows, but I can well imagine John telling him that about a particular album’s songs he liked better because I guess I have so much written stuff from that time frame. The John vs Paul stuff was not heated then and they were very close and honest about songs that needed, the ones they liked, etc., the ones to be improved and how to improve them and their assessments of songs and albums is part of what made their music so great.
That does not mean John was not able to go on and write a masterpiece like strawberry fields Or the excellent Lucy in the sky because he thought Paul’s songs on a certain album were better. Before John declined with too much LSD and yoko ballad narrative, I always credited him with honesty and know he was very close to Paul. They were collaborators long before they were enemies at the end, sadly. That having been said, it is very possible that the remarks were made between them, but Paul is confused about where they were. I am much more understanding as am a seizure person and will reveal a personal issue that I underwent several rounds of shock treatments myself for a medical condition so I myself do this often. I get a statement or an event correct but confuse when or where occurred. This happens with brain damage unfortunately and Paul is older. My husband corrects me on the misremembered details.
On another subject, I began to acquire lots of stuff after John died and I found so much of it very troubling. I mentioned some things here but Michael, correctly, wanted to discourage this kind of thing lest it become a conspiracy type subject or dark manipulative folks around John on his final down hill slide. Michael is correct not to pursue this kind of stuff too deeply and much of it is somewhat circumstantial Though troubling. However, from all available literature, there were dark issues of several types around John’s final decline.
John’s final decline? He was making a nice comeback and showed a mature outlook on life when he was killed. Why the fascination with presenting John as a basket case?
The entire discussion in this thread is about John’s apparent physical and psychological decline By his worsening appearance, possibly and probably from multiple continued drug use, extreme dieting, insolation from old friends at various times and his self imposed extreme and apparently worsening anorexia, which is a very serious personality disorder and very difficult to treat. I knew two anorexics. It killed a very talented Karen carpenter singer I saw live in the early seventies, who like, John internalized a critic calling her fat. The surgeon working on John said possibly he could have saved him but his body was in such an extremely bad state. John’s late seventies musical resurgence was due to his musical genius and talent as a songwriter and is a separate Issue from his personal addictions and the physical decline of his body and probably his mental health. We have the various writings, not just the Goldman stuff, well researched but sensational sleaze, of those around John then, Rosen, seaman and others who were there or who have written about this time, folks there with John in his later days. It’s not a fascination with his decline in important areas but a discussion of various and notable changes in him as we and others saw it. John’s life is a tragedy, at times a great inspiration, not a thing for spectator sport. We as fans are simply discussing issues.
They did an autopsy on John and found no drugs in his system. The surgeon actually stated that if John had been shot in the midde of the ER with a team of doctors ready to work on him – with the same caliber weapon, from the same distance and in the same spots – he wouldn’t have made it. Nobody would have. John’s life was not a tragedy. His early death was.
I wrote: The only American version of a Beatles album that I actually think is superior is Rubber Soul. As much as I love “Nowhere Man”, the US version was basically an all-acoustic album which made it one of the best folk-rock albums I’ve ever heard. “I’ve Just Seen a Face” is a terrific opener and belongs on Rubber Soul with “Norwegian Wood,” “I’m Looking Through You”, “Girl”, “In My Life” etc. But otherwise, the American versions of their albums did them a great disservice.
Just wanted to add that “It’s Only Love” also sounds perfect on Rubber Soul on the American folk-rock version of the album. Heard that one on the Beatles channel this morning. How could I forget. Great song but John didn’t like it. 🙁
@Michael Gerber, re: “Paul, it’s clear, felt that he had to sue to protect the legacy (and wealth) of the band. In other words, he had to act as Chief Beatle, because John wasn’t doing it, and misusing the authority that they, but most of all Paul, had granted him. This was bound to be incredibly painful, in a familial kind of way, and would not become less so after Paul had been proved right.”
Sometimes it’s harder to forgive someone for being right than for being wrong. I wonder, if Paul HAD just followed John’s lead with Klein, and gone into that quicksand with the other three, if the band might have actually stayed together — or at least had a much more amicable dissolution. Sure, it would’ve been bad and painful and they would’ve lost a lot and ended up suing Klein anyway, but at least they’d have all been in it TOGETHER.
Which poses an even more interesting question: suppose it would have kept them together/amicable but at the cost of some of their rights and money, and you gave 1969 Paul that choice. Would he have done it? Part of me thinks he was loyal and pragmatic and deep enough in love with the Beatles that he just might’ve. Which is somehow a little scary, actually.
I read this book years ago. John was co-dependent and Yoko was manipulative. She always wanted money. Before they became a couple she always wrote asking for money. She secluded and controlled him. Very sad
All of this is so right on. I knew it all along.
It’s very hard to make of Seamen’s work for what you will (given the inconsistencies in the narratives and personal testimonies of John’s close friends regarding John’s last years) but I do largely agree with your blog. One phenomenon which I think goes a lot to prove the blog and Seamen’s claims is John’s lack of performing from 1967-1980, in which he performed only like a dozen concerts before his death in 1980 compared to the hundreds to a few thousand concerts he did in 1957-1966. Therefore, I do see shades of Peter Cook in John Lennon between 1967 and 1980 (as a sidenote, I find it awfully disappointing that John didn’t do more acting aside from the three or four films he did, all but one with the Beatles), yet despite this, the fact that his work output as a musician remained high and he was able to produce six solo albums between 1970 and 1980, five of those consecutively from 1970 through 1975 (admittedly one a covers album), does put him on a much higher pedestal than someone like Peter Cook or Syd Barrett, and also having a somewhat unimpressive conceptual art career with Yoko and being a music patron for weird people in the 70s like David Peel.
I must add that he was forced to produce his solo albums on an annual basis (don’t quote me on this), which is impressive nonetheless, although it did make him determined to get a lot of leeway with getting a contract with Geffen in 1980.
Also, the theme of Double Fantasy alongside Fred Seaman’s book presents a contradiction, one of a lazy, detached marriage, the other of a happy reminiscing. I think you therefore have to rely on the first-hand account rather than second hand, though just by a smidge.
Just wanted to let readers know that Seaman’s book is available for borrowing here on the Internet Archive.
And another tidbit! Did anyone else catch this in the foreword to the book?
Well he’s not wrong about Goldman being courageous and uncompromsing, I guess.
[…] seems to been an idiosyncratic and relatively scattered, yet detailed, manner. In his 1991 memoir The Last Days of John Lennon, Frederic Seaman (more about him shortly) gives this description of his 1980 […]