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7 Little Known Facts About John Lennon

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • October 09, 2020

John Lennon would have turned eighty years old today! His tragic death when he was only forty left the music world reeling. While he was largely known for being a founding member of the Beatles, he was also a gifted solo artist, as well as an author. Here we get to know the late, great music man with seven little known facts about him.

1. He Was Raised by His Aunt

There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be...

When John Lennon was five years old, his parents split up and his mother relinquished custody of him to her older sister Mimi, who was able to offer a more stable home life at the time. Lennon had positive things to say about his upbringing with Mimi and her husband George. His aunt urged him to focus on his studies, providing structure and support. While his uncle encouraged his creative side, teaching him to play the harmonica, his first instrument.

As Lennon became more and more invested in music as a career, Mimi often told him, "The guitar's all very well, John, but you'll never make a living out of it." For a more nuanced portrait of the artist's early life, check out The Making of John Lennon by Francis Kenny.

2. His Mother Taught Him to Play Several Instruments and Bought Him His First Guitar

As usual, there is a great woman behind every idiot.

Despite the fact that he didn't live with her growing up, Lennon developed a close relationship with his mother. Julia lived a short bus ride away from Mimi's house and, during his teen years, Lennon visited her often. This connection may have been strengthened by their shared love of music. Julia taught her son to play several instruments, including piano, ukulele, accordion, and banjo. She bought him his first guitar, with the stipulation that he should keep it at her place as Mimi wouldn't approve.

When Lennon was eighteen, Julia was struck by a speeding car and killed. He was devastated by the loss, but his mother's memory served as a creative inspiration for him. He wrote the Beatles' 1968 hit "Julia" for her. A comprehensive biography of his early life and future career can be found in John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman.

3. He Was a Fan of Surrealist Frontrunner Lewis Carroll

Picture yourself in a boat on a river. With tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly. A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

Lennon enjoyed reading and often referred to literature in his work. One of his favorite books was Alice in Wonderland. Though many fans believed that the song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was based on experiences with LSD, Lennon insisted it was drawn from the classic story. In an interview shortly before his death, Lennon confirmed this, saying, "It was Alice in the boat. She is buying an egg and it turns into Humpty Dumpty. The woman serving in the shop turns into a sheep and the next minute they are rowing in a rowing boat somewhere and I was visualizing that."

Some of the other authors who Lennon favored included Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Dylan Thomas, James Thurber, and the English artist Ronald Searle.

4. He Wanted to Write Stories for Children

Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.

From an early age, John Lennon enjoyed drawing and writing creatively. With his uncle's encouragement, he began recording his stories, poetry, and cartoons in an exercise book that he called the "Daily Howl." His published collections, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works, may have derived from this practice.

At the time of his death, perhaps inspired by caring for his young son, Sean, he had plans to publish a collection of children's stories. Sadly, this never came about, but since then, a few of his songs have been adapted as children's books including the aspirational Imagine.

5. His First Wife Wrote Her Book on a Typewriter Given to Her by His Subsequent Wife

It matters not who you love, where you love, why you love, when you love or how you love, it matters only that you love.

Lennon married twice. He met his first wife, Cynthia Lennon, in art school when the two were still teenagers. Cynthia wrote two books about her life with Lennon, including A Twist of Lennon and John: A Biography. It has been reported that she wrote on a typewriter given to her by Lennon's second wife Yoko Ono, whom he met and got involved with while still married to Cynthia. Ono, also an author, penned several books, like Grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings, which includes an introduction by Lennon.

6. On the Day of His Death, He Signed an Autograph for His Killer

I'm not afraid of death because I don't believe in it. It's just getting out of one car, and into another.

Mark David Chapman had been plotting to kill John Lennon for some time. Once an ardent Beatles fan, he had become disillusioned with Lennon and had admitted to his wife and others that he wanted to kill the artist. This threat, along with other signs of Chapman's obvious mental illness, sadly, went unchecked.

Waiting outside Lennon's apartment on the evening of December 8, 1980, Chapman asked for an autograph as Lennon and Ono left to go to a studio appointment. He had the gun in his pocket and had intended to kill him at that point, but was unable to get up the nerve. After they left, Chapman waited over five hours until they returned. As he waited, he read The Catcher in the Rye, his favorite book. When Lennon returned, Chapman shot him four times, fatally wounding him. Let Me Take You Down by crime journalist Jack Jones explores the incident and Chapman's dangerous obsession with Lennon.

7. Lennon's Favorite Beatles Lyric Was "All You Need Is Love"

Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end.

Lennon famously hated the sound of his own voice and was often publicly critical of the beloved music he created with The Beatles. But he was known for saying that the best thing they did was the song All You Need is Love cowritten by Lennon and Paul McCartney. (This is another song that has been adapted as a children's book.)

At the time of his death, Lennon had begun recording new music for the first time in years and was said to be in peak form. The Last Days of John Lennon is a new book by James Patterson due out this December. With new interviews from Lennon's friends and associates, including McCartney, this book provides a glimpse into the life of this profound rock-and-roll genius.

Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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