On John Lennon’s 75th birthday, the Imagine: John Lennon 75th Birthday Concert was held by Blackbird Presents and AMC to honour the late star’s legacy. “#JohnLennon” was trending. To this day, the John Lennon hashtag is filled with fans quoting him and praising him as an icon of “#love” and “#peace.”
Lennon, who helped lead one of the most influential bands in the history of popular music, is still just as widely revered as an image of kindness and world peace as he’s always been — and this is why we absolutely need to talk about him. Lennon was a “jealous” — more like, abusive — man, and he was very transparent about this.
In 1980, he admitted to Playboy that the lyrics “I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved” in “Getting Better” came from personal experience. He confessed, “I was a hitter. I couldn’t express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women.”
Examples start with Cynthia Lennon, his first wife. When Cynthia and Lennon first began dating, he saw Cynthia dancing with their mutual friend Stuart. After mulling this over, Lennon got Cynthia alone and smacked her across the face, hard enough to knock her head into the pipes behind her.
Later, the two had their unplanned son, Julian. Lennon would smack Julian if he believed he was misbehaving, and his definition of “misbehaviour” was broad, severe, and decided mainly by his wild temper. On one occasion, as told in Cynthia’s book John, Lennon yelled at Julian for giggling and screamed, “I can’t stand the way you fucking laugh! Never let me hear your fucking horrible laugh again.” It was, in Cynthia’s words, “monstrously cruel.”
Doesn’t this seem out of character for the man whose identity (read: public persona) is supposedly built around the idea of “giving peace a chance”?
Moving forward in time, if not in character, Lennon caused the end of their marriage by cheating on Cynthia with Yoko Ono. This was hardly the end of Lennon’s abuses, and the neglect of his former family worsened. In John, Julian Lennon stated that he felt “rejected and unimportant in his [father’s] life.”
Lennon moved on, created another life and family for himself, changed everything around him, and ultimately failed to change himself. When Lennon and Ono were together, he insisted that she follow him everywhere — including the bathroom — because, as Yoko stated, “He thought that if he left me alone with the other Beatles even for a minute, I might go off with one of them.”
Lennon was suspicious, possessive, and controlling of Yoko, expecting her to devote herself to him fully. Yet he cheated on her one night at a house party that she was attending with him, as noted in John Lennon: The Life.
Despite this, Ono was committed to him, and became pregnant with their son, Sean. At this time, Lennon allegedly kicked Ono in her pregnant stomach. Their son was not harmed at that time — but some time after his birth, he did something cheeky at dinner, and in turn, John screamed in his ear so loudly that Sean was taken to the hospital for noise-induced ear damage.
His track record of violence doesn’t end with domestic abuse. At the time of Paul McCartney’s 21st birthday, rumours about Lennon’s sexuality were in the air due to his closeness to the band’s gay manager, Brian Epstein. The two had gone to Spain together, and those around Lennon were suspicious of their actions.
Bob Wooler, a friend of the Beatles and a DJ at the club where McCartney was celebrating his birthday, made a small comment to Lennon inquiring about what happened between him and Brian. In return, Lennon nearly beat Wooler to death as he begged him to stop.
Lennon never personally apologized to Wooler for the incident, allegedly justifying his actions because he was called a “queer.” While Wooler was lucky enough to not be killed by Lennon’s anger, the sister of Stuart Sutcliffe, the Beatle before the Beatles were big, claims that her brother was killed by a kick from John Lennon in the head.
A postmortem had shown a dent in Stuart’s skull, and Pauline Sutcliffe says that Lennon had kicked her brother in the head in a jealous rage. She believes the two had a “homosexual affair,” and claims that “John said himself at one point that this happened.” And while these allegations are disputed, it is important to acknowledge their existence — and the fact that these allegations are well in line with actions for which Lennon was known.
While there is still so much more to discuss — his problematically racist lyrics, his mocking of the disabled — this is more than enough negativity for one sitting. I certainly don’t mean to discourage anyone from being a fan of his musical stylings. It is absolutely necessary that we separate people from their creative content if we expect to enjoy anything at all, because we cannot expect artistic talent to come hand in hand with morality.
What we can do, however, is criticize artists for these kinds of monstrous abuses without attempting to rationalize them. Time after time, fans have excused these horrendous behaviours because Lennon was “complex” or because “artistic genius has a price” and accepted and worshipped him for who he was, regardless of the evil he perpetrated throughout his life.
We cannot continue to worship this man as a peace-loving hippie or love-filled prophet, and must move forward with the truth we know. We need to stop celebrating him, quoting him, and hanging images of his face on our walls. Abandon your fake idols, or accept that your praise of a violent and abusive man reflects poorly on YOU.