John Lennon . . . as much a part of our world today as he ever was
He touched many lives in his brief forty years, and continues to move and inspire millions more to this day. Now, invited by Yoko Ono, friends, family, and fans from all walks of life—including some of the great artists of our day—reminisce about Lennon as a visionary and friend, musician and performer, husband and father, activist and jokester.
In their own words and drawings, poems and photos, Lennon's life from his childhood through the Beatles years to the happiness and tragedy of his final days become stunningly vivid.
Intimate glimpses gathered from musicians who knew John, such as Pete Townshend, Sir Elton John, Billy Preston, and Joan Baez; friends and relatives such as producer David Geffen, publicist Elliot Mintz, and cousin Mike Cadwallader; and artists who followed him such as Bono, Alicia Keys, Steve Earle, Jello Biafra, and Carlos Santana.
And, for the first time, renowned photographer Annie Liebovitz presents every frame of the historic last session with John and Yoko.
Memories of John Lennon is a rich and deeply felt appreciation of a truly great man.
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Memories of John Lennon
By Yoko Ono
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Yoko Ono
All right reserved.
When I first heard "Imagine," and the soft, gentle voice of John singing, I was quite overwhelmed. The song seemed to encapsulate all we in the 1960s dreamed of: a world with no violence, no racism, no war, no assassinations -- a world possible through envisioning it to be so. I still believe it, and every time I hear the song, it enforces my belief. We can have peace, harmony, beauty and love if we make that our constant vision for the future, if we imagine it and live it ourselves every day. That was John's gift to us, all through his remarkable song.
Our first direct contact in 1969 was formal. I was editing the Black Dwarf, a radical politico-cultural magazine. We had published "An Open Letter to John Lennon" -- a savage review of the Beatles' album Revolution by John Hoyland, our music/popular culture critic. John Lennon had been busted by the cops. The Black Dwarf used the occasion to discuss the lyrics of the Revolution album seriously. Hoyland wrote:
Above all: perhaps now you'll see what it is you're (we're) up against. Not nasty people, not even neurosis or spiritual undernourishment. What we're confronted with is a repressive, vicious, authoritarian system. A system which is inhuman and immoral, because it deprives 99 percent of humanity of the right to live their lives their own way. A system which will screw you if you step out of line and behave just a tiny bit differently from the way those in power want.
Such a system -- such a society -- is so racked by contradiction and tension and unhappiness that all relationships within it are poisoned. You know this. You know, from your own experience, how little control over their lives working-class people are permitted to have. . . . How can love and kindness between human-beings grow in such a society? It can't. Don't you see that now? The system has got to be changed before people can live the full, loving lives that you have said you want.
Now do you see what was wrong with your record Revolution? That record was no more revolutionary than Mrs. Dale's Diary. In order to change the world we've got to understand what's wrong with the world. And then, destroy it. Ruthlessly. . . . There is no such thing as a polite revolution.
The tone of the letter was undoubtedly patronizing, and we thought he would ignore it. But a week later he sent a reply to John Hoyland with a covering note hoping I would publish it. We did:
Who do you think you are? What do you think you know? I'm not only up against the establishment but you, too, it seems. I know what I'm up against -- narrow minds -- rich/poor. All your relationships may be poisoned -- it depends how you look at it. What kind of system do you propose and who would run it?
I don't remember saying Revolution was revolutionary -- fuck Mrs. Dale. Listen to all three versions (Revolution 1, 2 and 9) then try again, dear John. . . .
You're obviously on a destruction kick. I'll tell you what's wrong with the world -- people, so do you want to destroy them? Ruthlessly? Until we change your/our heads -- there's no chance. Tell me of one successful revolution. Who fucked up Communism . . . ? Sick Heads and nothing else. Do you think all the enemy wear capitalist badges so that you can shoot them? It's a bit naive, John. You seem to think it's just a class war. . . . Look man, I was/am not against you. Instead of splitting hairs about the Beatles and the Stones -- think a little bigger -- look at the world we're living in and ask yourself: why? And then -- come and join us.
PS -- You smash it -- I'll build around it.
As these extracts suggest, it was a spirited exchange.
After that there was a long silence. And, as was also common in those days, there was soon a split in the Black Dwarf. How strange it seems now and how stupid and destructive, but that's the way we were. The Leninists left to set up Red Mole and moved from swinging Soho to proletarian Pentonville Road, a seedy zone near Kings Cross station in London.
One day John rang and we talked. He suggested a meeting and a week later he and Yoko showed up at my bed-sit in North London with a delicious Japanese take-away as supper. We discussed the state of the world, including the state of the student movement in Japan. John's views had sharpened considerably since the letters in the Black Dwarf. He told me that, like Mick Jagger, he had wanted to march on the big anti-Vietnam war demos but the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, had forbidden any such outing. Epstein was fearful that the group might be denied visas to the States, which would be a commercial disaster. John always regretted having obeyed his manager, but that was in the past. The biggest and best influence in his life was now Yoko Ono. I was in no doubt that Yoko had radicalized him further on the artistic and the political front. She had also been accused of breaking up the Beatles and we laughed a great deal at the suggestion. He was angered by the racist gibes against Yoko in the tabloid press. I suggested they should be taken as compliments. It would be awful if the creeps who attacked her decided to turn their coats. Before they left, I suggested an interview with both of them and he agreed, wondering aloud whether it would be appropriate since "Red Mole was very serious and interviewing me might lower the tone." He wasn't joking, but I assured him that an interview would be enormously helpful for our little newspaper. I asked if I could bring my colleague Robin Blackburn -- more attuned to popular culture than myself -- to which he readily agreed.
Excerpted from Memories of John Lennon by Yoko Ono Copyright © 2005 by Yoko Ono. Excerpted by permission.
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