The woman once regarded as the most disliked figure in pop has revealed her vulnerable side. Yoko Ono, widely held culpable for the break-up of the greatest pop group of all time, has written in a new book of her continuing desolation at the loss of her husband John Lennon.
Produced to mark the 25th anniversary of his murder in New York, Memories of John Lennon is a collection of stories of, and tributes to, the man widely regarded as the defining spirit of rock and protest. It includes contributions from contemporaries Sir Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend and Ray Charles, political activists such as Tariq Ali, the actor Dennis Hopper and later stars, among them Sir Elton John.
In an emotional foreword, Ono writes that she still feels grief when she thinks of the husband that Mark Chapman's bullets took from her: "When John passed away so suddenly that night, I felt as though half of me flew away with him. My body, especially my knees, shook so badly I had to hold on to a friend to walk out of the hospital ...
"Twenty-five years have passed since then. I am all right when I am with people, my son, and my daughter. I smile, I laugh. I look up at the sky and let my heart dance. I hug my children - even though it's more accurate to say that they hug me, since they are much larger than me now. But when I'm alone, when the evening light starts to drench the world in pink, in the dark of the night and at dawn, my heart shakes and will not stop."
Others less close to Lennon have more upbeat recollections. Desmond Morris recalls how the London literati came to the launch of Lennon's first book ready to sneer, but went away charmed as the Beatle worked the room like a seasoned politician. And Mick Jagger reveals why he thinks of Lennon every time he goes to the US.
Like Lennon, he had problems obtaining a visa to enter the United States because of a previous conviction in Britain for marijuana possession. Jagger said that Lennon's successful court battle ensured objections to his own visa were overturned. "I have in my passport a notation stating that the ineligibility of my visa is withdrawn 'because of the Lennon precedent'," he said. "So I have him in my memory every time I enter this country [United States]."
Sir Elton John recalls how he was "terrified" of meeting Lennon because of his "biting wit and musical genius". He needn't have worried. "There was no attitude, no swagger - just humility and warmth," he writes.
Cilla Black reveals how she got her big break after Lennon insisted that the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, go to see her perform. Epstein, who had seen Black before and had not been impressed, changed his mind when he saw her sing again and asked if he could manage her.
"He [Lennon] liked to put on this angry young man front, you know, a man's man, aloof, but behind that was a warm-hearted guy, and really quite shy, and with an acid sense of humour," Black recalled.
And, over more than 20 pages, his close friend, Elliot Mintz, describes the Lennon he knew "beyond the veil of 'entertainer'". He writes: "I always viewed him as a softy ... John was close to six feet but appeared smaller. He was delicate in his ways. He prepared tea carefully. He was fastidious and neat. He didn't like crumbs on the kitchen table or papers strewn about on a couch. There was a certain kind of civility in his interactions."
While many of the entries recall how Lennon influenced music, some of the most fascinating insights into his life concern his politics. The anti-war activist Tom Hayden recounts the efforts made by both the American and British security services to prevent Lennon from performing in the US during the 1972 presidential election. FBI files uncovered by Hayden laid out plans to "neutralise any disruptive activities".
In Tariq Ali's entry, entitled "Lennonism", the left-wing writer and activist reveals that Epstein barred Lennon from going on the major anti-Vietnam war marches in London in 1967 and 1968. "The biggest and best influence in his life was now Yoko Ono," Ali writes. "I was in no doubt that Yoko had radicalised him further on the artistic and the political front." Lennon, Ali argues, became "ultra-subversive and political".
But for Ono, as for many Lennon fans, not every event marking the anniversary of his death will be so welcome. Channel 4 is screening a documentary in which Mark Chapman reveals his thoughts as he waited outside the Dakota building in Manhattan for Lennon to arrive back home on the night of 8 December 1980. In his pocket was the gun that would silence for ever that rasping, soaring voice of song and protest.
A BEATLE'S LEGACY
"I was terrified of meeting him because of his biting wit. But it was like meeting an old friend... there was no attitude, no swagger - just humility and warmth."
Sir Elton John
"He wasn't always the caustic person he sometimes could be. He was the one I really got on with the most. But in a way we were in competition in those days."
Sir Mick Jagger
"I sang a song wearing a very short miniskirt, and afterward John whispered in my ear, 'I could see tomorrow's washing.' "
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