John, by Cynthia Lennon

From Beatlemania to bedsitland
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The Independent Culture

John, Paul, George and Ringo: millions of words have been written about them since. And here's some more. On one hand John Lennon has been described as a vicious, cowardly, womanising wife-beater who left his best friend Stuart Sutcliffe to take the beating that subsequently killed him; a junkie and a foul-mouthed yob who urinated on nuns in Hamburg. But on the other as a kind and generous friend, one of the finest songwriters of his or any other generation, and one of the most important men of his time whose attempts to bring peace to the world left him at the mercy of the FBI and the CIA. But who was he really?

Just consider this. If you take a boy from a provincial city, whose idea of sophistication is egg and chips with sliced white bread and butter and a cup of tea for supper, and within a year or so turn into one of the best known faces on the planet, who wouldn't turn into a bit of a bastard? Lots of us did in those days, and we didn't even have the excuse of being in The Beatles. So what's the truth?

Cynthia Lennon knew and loved John Lennon from his late teenage years at art college through the fledgling years of the band up to and beyond Beatlemania. She married him, had his child, and followed him around the world until he dumped her for another woman.

John tells their story. It's not a hard book to read, and most of the stories have been told over and over again in the hundreds of books on The Beatles that have been published over the past 40 years or so. But this one has the ring of truth that most do not. Mostly Cynthia is as kind to the characters on the page as they often were not to her in life.

But for a few people, the boot goes in. John's aunt Mimi is one such. Often written up as the kind old soul who took the young John into a safe home away from his feckless mother and absentee father, here she comes over as a cold, arrogant bitch who made Cynthia's life hell after Julian Lennon was born and she lodged at her house. And of course there's Yoko. But more of her later.

Cynthia Lennon was an innocent victim of fame and success. It's amazing to consider the way she was treated as The Beatles hit the toppermost of the poppermost. Abandoned in a suburb of Liverpool and forbidden to tell anyone that she was married to Lennon, she survived in a fiver-a-week bedsit with both her mum and the child, meekly imagining that her husband was faithful. Meanwhile Lennon hung out in five-star hotels in the mobile Sodom and Gomorrah that was the band's entourage. Such were the times. Hard to imagine now.

The last part of the book is more or less an open letter to Yoko as Cynthia tells of the harshness of her existence after Lennon's death. How she just took a relatively small settlement, which was frittered away, then ran a restaurant in Wales to make ends meet while Yoko lived in the Dakota Building with one apartment just for fur coats. What it boils down to is that John is the story of a one-man woman whose man got away in one of the most public demonstrations of adultery ever. But I've got to tell you, given a choice between going out with Cynthia or Yoko, with all that we've seen and heard over the years, I'd choose Cynthia every time.