Interesting Facts About John Lennon You Probably Didn't Know
As a member of one of the most influential and successful rock bands of all time, John Lennon is widely regarded as a musical genius. The Beatles were constantly in the public eye, but Lennon himself was a bit of an enigma. Capable of enormous acts of kindness, he was equally petty and cruel at times.
His life and career ended far too soon, but he left the world with a host of written and recorded musical masterpieces. Let’s take a look at a few things you might not know about this famous Beatle.
A Career Launched in a Weird Music Genre
As a teenager in Liverpool, Lennon was a singer and guitarist in a skiffle band called the Quarrymen. Skiffle was a musical craze that had British teenagers dancing in the 1950s. Derived from jazz and swing, the genre is largely forgotten today, but it was huge in England at one time, thanks to skiffle star Lonnie Donegan.
Some Very Different Music While Still a Beatle
Even before the Beatles officially called it quits, Lennon and Yoko Ono were quite prolific musically. The duo recorded more than a dozen records in a four-year period that started in 1968. Lennon's early solo records produced several international top 10 hits, including "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," "Give Peace a Chance," "Instant Karma!" and "Imagine."
So Much More Than a Rhythm Guitarist
Lennon was mostly known as a rhythm guitarist, but his mother, Julia, also taught him to play the banjo when he was a teenager. He learned to play the harmonica from a bus driver while he was traveling to visit a cousin in Scotland, and the harmonica was featured heavily on early Beatles’ recordings.
Taking a Shot at a Former Bandmate in Song
Lennon wrote a song that appeared on his 1971 solo album Imagine that took a direct jab at his former friend, collaborator and bandmate, Paul McCartney. The song "How Do You Sleep" features the line, "The only thing you done was yesterday. And since you're gone, you're just another day."
Tossed from a Nightclub for Bad Behavior
In 1973, while Lennon was recording his Mind Games album, he and Yoko agreed to a separation that ended up lasting 18 months. Lennon lived in Los Angeles but also spent time in New York City. He drank heavily and spent a lot of time with a woman named May Pang, who had worked as a personal assistant to John and Yoko.
Collaborations with Some of the Biggest Names in Music
Throughout his post-Beatles career, Lennon collaborated with some pretty big names in pop music. In addition to playing with two other Beatles — Harrison and Starr — on recordings, he worked with stars like Elton John, who provided backing vocals and played piano on "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night."
Abusive to More Than Just Women
Rumors of Lennon’s abusive tendencies toward women followed him throughout his life. In his song "Jealous Guy," he seemed to acknowledge his past behavior, blaming it on his insecurities. However, Lennon didn’t actually discriminate when it came to bad treatment. His biting wit and sarcasm left many victims bleeding throughout his career, including Paul McCartney.
A Threat on Both Sides of the Atlantic
Like many musicians and actors in the late '60s and early '70s, Lennon was a vocal critic of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. This resulted in President Richard Nixon’s repeated attempts to have him deported back to England. Additionally, the FBI had almost 300 pages of files on Lennon.
Imagine a Lennon Not Raised in England
John’s father, Alfred Lennon, was a merchant seaman who was away for much of John's life. He supported the family for a while by sending checks to John’s mother, Julia. Alfred went AWOL when John was just 4 years old.
Exploration of Other Creative Outlets
Lennon showed his creativity at an early age. His uncle encouraged him to write and draw, and he collected poems, stories and drawings in a notebook he titled the Daily Howl. His classmates have said that Lennon created the book to amuse his friends.
A Band Reunion 40 Years Later
The year 2009 saw a revival of Plastic Ono Band, formed by John and Yoko more than 40 years prior to that date. John and Yoko's son, Sean, was a member of the new version. The band released an album that year titled Don’t Stop Me!, followed by a full-length LP called Between My Head and the Sky.
The Son Who Inspired Three Huge Hits
Julian Lennon — John’s more famous son with his first wife, Cynthia — is a songwriter and musician. When he was still a child, he was actually the inspiration for three Beatles’ songs.
One Spiked Cup of Coffee Changed Everything
It’s no secret that Lennon and the rest of the Beatles experimented with drugs. They were introduced to marijuana by folk singer Bob Dylan, but John's first experience with the psychedelic drug LSD was not his choice.
A License to Drive a Little Bit Late
Lennon refused to wear glasses for much of his adult life, which probably contributed to his reputation as a bad driver. He actually didn’t learn to drive until much later than his Beatle counterparts. He was 24 years old when he got his license.
Remember "Fan" Is Just Short for "Fanatic"
Mark David Chapman wasn’t just John Lennon’s assassin — he was reportedly a fan who started as a huge Beatles fan. Thanks to a religious conversion and obvious mental illness, Chapman felt compelled to kill his idol. He planned the murder for months in advance and carried it out on December 8, 1980.
No Simple Sit-in for John and Yoko
John and Yoko were ardent peace activists and two of the most visible protesters against the war in Vietnam. In 1969, the couple staged a bed-in for peace that lasted two weeks. The protests took place in hotels in Amsterdam in the Netherlands and in Montreal, Canada.
One Drug Too Many
The breakup of the Beatles may have had more to do with drugs than anything else. Throughout the late 1960s, the Beatles experimented with drugs, and they aren’t shy about talking about the influence marijuana and LSD had on their music. However, John and Yoko’s use of heroin did some real damage to their mental health and creative output.
An Astrological Prediction of the Shooting
John Lennon and Yoko Ono once hired a psychic to advise them on various matters, including financial and business decisions. While they certainly could afford to pay for almost anything, whether they received sound advice that was worth the money is a matter of much debate.
The Less Traveled Path to Better Protein
The Beatles often seemed strangely connected, and they followed each other down various spiritual paths. This was true for individual spiritualism as well as for experimentation with mind-altering drugs like LSD. One path John didn’t take, however, was that of vegetarianism.
Moodiness That Could Turn to Violence in a Flash
John was prone to mood swings — some of them violent. Early in the Beatles career, he severely beat a disc jockey and friend of the band, Bob Wooler, because Wooler insinuated at a party that John was gay. Their manager, Brian Epstein, was gay and reportedly had a crush on Lennon. Lennon allegedly took advantage of Epstein’s feelings, but despite the rumors, there was never a relationship.
A Singer with Self-Esteem Issues
Although he was one of the greatest singers and songwriters of all time, John hated the sound of his own voice. He was insecure in many ways, and that insecurity extended to his voice talent. He allegedly once asked legendary producer George Martin (regarding his vocals), "Can’t you smother it with tomato ketchup or something?"
Not a Fan of Any of the Beatles' Albums
John Lennon's dislike of his own singing voice didn’t stop at live performances. He reportedly disliked all the Beatles’ albums — all of them. He supposedly confided to producer George Martin that he wished he could re-record all the Beatles’ records. It’s not clear whether it was due to his well-documented insecurity, his perfectionist nature or simple humility (unlikely).
Going Out with a Whimper, Not a Bang
The last time the legendary songwriting duo of Lennon and McCartney exchanged words was in 1976. Paul showed up at John’s apartment building in New York City, guitar in hand. He gave no advance warning of his arrival, and John reportedly turned his ex-bandmate away.
The Lennon Band You've Never Heard Of
John was once a member of the short-lived supergroup called The Dirty Mac. The name was a play on Fleetwood Mac, a hugely popular group in the U.K. in the 1960s (and future superstars in the U.S. in the 1970s). He assembled the band in 1968 to play "The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus" TV special.
Iconic Imagery That Always Comes to Mind
In terms of physical appearance, John Lennon is probably best remembered for his wireframe "granny" glasses. He was nearsighted but reluctant to wear glasses for most of his life. He was cast in the role of Musketeer Gripweed in the 1967 British movie How I Won the War, and his character wore the signature glasses.
A Mundane Beginning to an Extraordinary Relationship
According to his own accounting, John first met Yoko Ono on November 9, 1966, at an art show held at the Indica Gallery in London. He said he was embarrassed to attend because of his fame as a Beatle, but that obviously didn’t stop him.
Playing Children's Games on the Road
In addition to Mind Games, John also reportedly enjoyed playing board games, Monopoly in particular. When the Beatles were together, he packed the popular real estate game for them to play on the road.
A Rock ‘n’ Roll Bad Boy with a Religious Start
John Lennon had a well-earned reputation as a rock ‘n’ roll bad boy. He worked hard, played hard and was never really like the clean-cut image the early version of the Beatles tried to project. Ironically, the rebel did get his start in music as a choir boy.
A Near Miss on the Longed for Stage Reunion
During the first season of Saturday Night Live, creator Lorne Michaels made a plea on live television for the Beatles to get back together on the show. He offered the relatively small amount of $3,000 for the Beatles to play three songs on the show.
Posing for a Legend for a Final Farewell
John Lennon appeared on the cover of the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine in 1968. He continued to be featured on the cover and inside the pages on a regular basis over the next 13 years until his death.