BACKBITES

THESE ARE THE DAYS When she's 55; Cynthia Lennon comes into her own.
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The Independent Culture
John Lennon may have divorced her, but Cynthia Lennon can never be divorced from the Fab Four's myth. She was the first Beatles spouse, and the only one who had to cope with the marathon fan vigils of early Beatlemania, the stifled giggles of those who had managed to winkle out the Lennons' ex-directory telephone number, and even with an attempted kidnap of her son, Julian. And she was the only Beatle wife to have had her own fan club.

"They wrote about what I wore to film premieres, and what I said,'' she remembers. ``That was really sweet. I was only a housewife, but a very special housewife to them."

While it may not reactivate the Cynthia Lennon Fan Club, last week's release of her debut single, a revival of "Those Were The Days", which reached number one for Mary Hopkin in 1968, should precipitate a reassessment of the softly spoken outcast, lost in John's shadow. This is not one of those records that people buy for the wrong reasons - unlike, say, the unmelodious "That's My Life" by Freddie Lennon, John's long-lost father, in 1985. The 55-year-old Cynthia turns in a surprisingly appealing vocal - though we should not be too surprised: after all, Cynthia was in the Hoylake Parish Girls' Choir between the ages of ten and 14, ending up as a soloist.

"As an adult,'' she adds, ``I had no aspirations to be a singer. I didn't even sing around the house or in the bath, but a fax came through from a German record company who wanted to get in touch with Julian. So Jim, my partner, phoned back and said sarcastically, `Julian's not here, but you can have his mother' - and they answered in all seriousness, `We can't do anything unless we know whether she can sing'. My voice had dropped about two octaves - probably because of all the cigarettes I smoke, but I'm game for anything nowadays, so I taped a selection of songs a capella.''

Chris Norman, once of the pop group Smokie and now Cynthia's neighbour on the Isle of Man, asked to hear the tape out of curiosity, and offered to produce a cut on his own label, Blue Music.

"Chris thought `Those Were The Days' would be a good song for a person of my age, and very pertinent, looking back - though I resisted a temptation to sing `Once upon a time, there was a Cavern'. If somebody had told me six months earlier that a record of mine was going to be on the radio, I'd have fallen about on the floor in hysterics, but - what's John's expression on Double Fantasy? - `Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans'.''

Back in the mid-Sixites, Cynthia was always thought of as the shrinking violet of the Beatles clique, but she was not overwhelmed by the speed of events after they took off in 1962 with "Love Me Do". The problems began after the Beatles downed tools as a touring band, and the emotional bonds with that most in of Sixties in-crowds slackened so quickly that the legendary trip to Rishikesh in India to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968 was seized upon by Cynthia as a last chance to save her deteriorating marriage.

It didn't work. On returning to England, John moved in with Yoko Ono, who was to Art what Screaming Lord Sutch is to politics. Soon, the world and his wife were confronted with a Lennon they'd never known before, and any cosy illusions that Fab Four traditionalists had left were shattered by John and the second Mrs Lennon's headline-hogging Bed- Ins, "Bagism" and other "Art statements".

There was no immediate "Art reply" from a perplexed Cynthia, who, like John, had attended Liverpool Regional College of Art. "The change in him was like Jekyll and Hyde,'' she says.``John would have laughed at himself years before if he could have seen the future. Before he met Yoko, there was an item in the Times about her film Bottoms [which consisted of naked human buttocks in close-up], and John said, `Look at this mad Japanese artist. What will they print next?' His attitude then was that she was a nutcase - and I agreed. I'm no conceptual artist. When I look at things, I like to understand what I'm looking at.''

Yoko broke up Cynthia's marriage, and the Beatles. A few years after John's assassination, Yoko and Cynthia were spotted together in a restaurant, sharing the proverbial joke. "It was after Julian's first appearance in New York, and he and I, Yoko and Sean were there - so for the photographers it was a classic coup. But although we both wed the same man and both had a child by him, we were, and still are, worlds apart."

A more companionable meal was eaten with the late Maureen Starr, Ringo's ex-wife, at Lennon's, Cynthia's ill-fated Covent Garden restaurant (a venue that bored journalists made out to be in fierce competition with Bill Wyman's Kensington eaterie, Sticky Fingers). The two well-dressed, "liberated" divorcees might hardly have recognised their younger selves, back in Liverpool when the earth was young. "We'd remained best friends through thick, thin, births, deaths and marriages. Maureen was also my last link with the Beatles. I'm out of their social orbit completely now."

It's feasible that Cynthia may take her show on the road, perhaps testing the water at one of the Beatle Conventions that have become regular fixtures in cities throughout the globe. As has happened with other Beatle-associated entertainers at such celebrations, it is likely that a palpable wave of goodwill will wash over her the second she takes the stage. And if it does, she made add to her memoir, A Twist of Lennon, which did brisk business when first published in 1978.

Cynthia thinks there's room for a revised account, ``because so much has happened since then. It would be very easy to get in a ghost writer, but because the first one was all my own work, it would have to be in the same vein, in the way that I saw it, not the way other people saw it.''

And the way that other people have seen it rankles with Cynthia. ``In the film Backbeat,'' she complains, ``I was portrayed as a simple girl who wore tweed coats and head scarves, and that all I ever wanted in life was marriage, babies and a house - which was totally untrue. I was training to be an art teacher for four years, and it was only when I became pregnant that marriage followed, and the Beatles followed after that.

"At nearly every interview I've done,'' adds Cynthia, ``I've got one of the same two questions: `Don't you think you're jumping on the bandwagon?' `Won't people think you're cashing in?' I've tried for intelligent answers that don't sound aggressive, but no one other than me will ever understand.

``People think of the Beatles in terms of millions of dollars. I don't see those dollars - what dollars I see are from my own damned hard work since I was out on my own after the divorce. From being so protected by millions that I never saw, and having a secure family, I was desperate, really.

```Cashing in' is earning a living as far as I'm concerned. Why should you feel guilty for working?"

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