Thusday, Friday & Saturday, November 8-10
7:30 Thursday: $20 General Admission
8:00 Friday & Saturday: $25 general admission, $35 premium reserved seating
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Out of all the Beatles, John Lennon had the most interesting — and frustrating — solo career. Lennon was capable of inspired, brutally honest confessional songwriting and melodic songcraft; he also had an undying love of straight-ahead rock & roll. But the extremes, both in his music and his life, were what made him fascinating. Where Paul McCartney was content to be a rock star, Lennon dabbled in everything from revolutionary politics to the television talk-show circuit during the early ’70s. After releasing a pair of acclaimed albums, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, in the early ’70s, Lennon sunk into an infamous “lost weekend” where his musical output was decidedly uneven and his public behavior was often embarrassing. Halfway through the decade, he sobered up and retired from performing to become a house-husband and father. In 1980, he launched a comeback with his wife Yoko Ono, releasing the duet album Double Fantasy that fall. Just as his career was on an upswing, Lennon was tragically assassinated outside of his New York apartment building in December of 1980. He left behind an enormous legacy, not only as a musician, but as a writer, actor and activist.
Considering the magnitude of his achievements with the Beatles, Lennon’s solo career is relatively overlooked. Even during the height of Beatlemania, Lennon began exploring outside of the group. In 1964, he published a collection of his writings called In His Own Write, which was followed in 1965 by A Spaniard in the Works, and in 1966, he appeared in Dick Lester’s comedy How I Won the War. He didn’t pursue a musical career outside of the group until 1968, when he recorded the experimental noise collage Unfinished Music, No. 1: Two Virgins with his new lover, avant-garde artist Yoko Ono. Two Virgins caused considerable controversy, both because of its content and its cover art, which featured a nude photograph of Lennon and Ono. The couple married in Gibraltar in March 20, 1969. For their honeymoon, the pair staged the first of many political demonstrations with their “Bed-In for Peace” at the Amsterdam Hilton. Several months later, the avant-garde records Unfinished Music, No. 2: Life with the Lions and The Wedding Album were released, as was the single “Give Peace a Chance,” which was recorded during the Bed-In. During September of 1969, Lennon returned to live performances with a concert at a Toronto rock & roll festival. He was supported by the Plastic Ono Band, which featured Ono, guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Klaus Voormann and drummer Alan White. The following month, Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band released “Cold Turkey,” which was about his battle with heroin addiction. When the single failed to make the Top Ten in Britain and America, Lennon sent his MBE back to the Queen, protesting Britain’s involvement in Biafra, America’s involvement in Vietnam and the poor chart performance of “Cold Turkey.”
Before the release of “Cold Turkey,” Lennon had told the Beatles that he planned to leave the group, but he agreed not to publicly announce his intentions until after Allen Klein’s negotiations with EMI on behalf of the Beatles were resolved. Lennon and Ono continued with their campaign for peace, spreading billboards with the slogan “War Is Over! (If You Want It)” in 12 separate cities. In February of 1970, he wrote, recorded and released the single “Instant Karma” within the span of the week. The single became a major hit, reaching the Top Ten in both the U.K. and the U.S.. Two months after “Instant Karma,” Paul McCartney announced that the Beatles were splitting up, provoking the anger of Lennon. Much of this anger was vented on his first full-fledged solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, a scathingly honest confessional work inspired by his and Ono’s primal scream therapy. Lennon supported the album with an extensive interview with Rolling Stone, where he debunked many of the myths surrounding the Beatles. Early in 1971, he released another protest single, “Power to the People,” before moving to New York. That fall, he released Imagine, which featured the Top Ten title track. By the time Imagine became a hit album, Lennon and Ono had returned to political activism, publicly supporting American radicals like Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and John Sinclair. Their increased political involvement resulted in the double-album Sometime in New York City, which was released in the summer of 1972. Recorded with the New York hippie band Elephant’s Memory, Sometime in New York City consisted entirely of political songs, many of which were criticized for their simplicity. Consequently, the album sold poorly and tarnished Lennon’s reputation.
Sometime in New York City was the beginning of a three-year downward spiral for Lennon. Shortly before the album’s release, he began his long, involved battle with U.S. Immigration, who refused to give him a green card due to a conviction for marijuana possession in 1968. In 1973, he was ordered to leave America by Immigration, and he launched a full-scale battle against the department, frequently attacking them in public. Mind Games was released in late 1973 to mixed reviews; its title track became a moderate hit. The following year, he and Ono separated, and he moved out to Los Angeles, beginning his year-and-a-half long “lost weekend.” During 1974 and 1975, Lennon lived a life of debauchery in Los Angeles, partying hard with such celebrities as Elton John, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, David Bowie and Ringo Starr. Walls and Bridges appeared in November of 1974, and it became a hit due to the inclusion of “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” a song he performed with Elton John. At the end of the year, John helped reunite Lennon and Ono, convincing the ex-Beatle to appear during one of his concerts; it would be Lennon’s last performance.
Rock ‘n’ RollRock ‘n’ Roll, a collection of rock oldies recorded during the lost weekend, was released in the spring of 1975. A few months before its official release, a bootleg of the album called Roots was released by Morris Levy, who Lennon later sued successfully. Lennon’s immigration battle neared its completion on October 7, 1975, when the U.S. court of appeals overturned his deportation order; in the summer of 1976, he was finally granted his green card. After he appeared on David Bowie’s Young Americans, co-writing the hit song “Fame,” Lennon quietly retired from music, choosing to become a house-husband following the October birth of his son, Sean Lennon.
Milk and Honey During the summer of 1980, Lennon returned to recording, signing a new contract with Geffen Records. Comprised equally of material by Lennon and Ono, Double Fantasy was released in November to positive reviews. As the album and its accompanying single, “(Just Like) Starting Over,” were climbing the charts, Lennon was assassinated on December 8 by Mark David Chapman. Lennon’s death inspired deep grief from the entire world; on December 14, millions of fans around the world participated in a ten-minute silent vigil for Lennon at 2 p.m. EST. Double Fantasy and “(Just Like) Starting Over” both became number one hits in the wake of his death. In the years after his death, several albums of unreleased recordings appeared, the first of which was 1984’s Milk and Honey; perhaps the most substantial was the 1998 four-disc box set Anthology, issued in conjunction with a single-disc sampler titled Wonsaponatime.
John Lennon Biography
Singer, Songwriter (1940–1980)
Famed singer-songwriter John Lennon founded the Beatles, a band that impacted the popular music scene like no other before, or since.
Who Was John Lennon?
John Lennon was born on October 9, 1940, in Liverpool, England. He met Paul McCartney in 1957 and invited McCartney to join his music group. They eventually formed the most successful songwriting partnership in musical history. Lennon left the Beatles in 1969 and later released albums with his wife, Yoko Ono, among others. On December 8, 1980, he was killed by a crazed fan named Mark David Chapman.
Famed singer-songwriter John Winston Lennon was born on October 9, 1940, in Liverpool, Merseyside, England, during a German air raid in World War II.
When he was four years old, Lennon’s parents separated and he ended up living with his Aunt Mimi. Lennon’s father was a merchant seaman. He was not present at his son’s birth and did not see a lot of his son when he was young.
Lennon’s mother, Julia, remarried, but visited him and Mimi regularly. She taught Lennon how to play the banjo and the piano and purchased his first guitar. Lennon was devastated when Julia was fatally struck by a car driven by an off-duty police officer in July 1958. Her death was one of the most traumatic events in his life.
As a child, Lennon was a prankster and he enjoyed getting into trouble. As a boy and young adult, he enjoyed drawing grotesque figures and cripples. Lennon’s school master thought that he could go to an art school for college, since he did not get good grades in school but had artistic talent.
Forming the Beatles
Elvis Presley’s explosion onto the rock music scene inspired a 16-year-old Lennon to create the skiffle band called the Quarry Men, named after his school. Lennon met Paul McCartney at a church fete on July 6, 1957. He soon invited McCartney to join the group, and the two eventually formed one of the most successful songwriting partnerships in musical history.
McCartney introduced George Harrison to Lennon the following year, and Harrison and art college buddy Stuart Sutcliffe also joined Lennon’s band. Always in need of a drummer, the group finally settled on Pete Best in 1960.
The first recording they made was Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” in 1958. In fact, it was Holly’s group, the Crickets, that inspired the band to change its name. Lennon would later joke that he had a vision when he was 12 years old — a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them, “From this day on, you are Beatles with an ‘A.'”
The Beatles were discovered by Brian Epstein in 1961 at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, where they were performing on a regular basis. As their new manager, Epstein secured a record contract with EMI. With a new drummer, Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey), and George Martin as producer, the group released their first single, “Love Me Do,” in October 1962. It peaked on the British charts at No. 17.
Lennon wrote the group’s follow-up single, “Please Please Me,” inspired primarily by Roy Orbison, but also fed by Lennon’s infatuation with the pun in Bing Crosby’s famous lyrics, “Oh, please, lend your little ears to my pleas,” from the song “Please.” The Beatles’ “Please Please Me” topped the charts in Britain. The Beatles went on to become the most popular band in Britain with the release of such mega-hits as “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”
Lennon married Cynthia Powell in August 1962. The couple had one son together, Julian, who was named after Lennon’s mother. Cynthia was forced to keep a very low profile during Beatlemania. She and Lennon divorced in 1968. He remarried the following year, on March 20, 1969, to Japanese avant-garde artist Yoko Ono, whom he had met at the Indica Gallery in November 1966.
In 1964, the Beatles became the first British band to break out big in the United States, beginning with their appearance on television’s The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. Beatlemania launched a “British Invasion” of rock bands in the United States that also included the Rolling Stones and the Kinks. Following their appearance on Sullivan, the Beatles returned to Britain to film their first film, A Hard Day’s Night (1964), and prepare for their first world tour.
The Beatles’ second film, Help!, was released in 1965. That June, Queen Elizabeth II of England announced that the Beatles would be named a Member of the Order of the British Empire. In August 1965, the foursome performed to 55,600 fans at New York’s Shea Stadium, setting a new record for largest concert audience in musical history. When the Beatles returned to England, they recorded the breakthrough album Rubber Soul (1965), noted for extending beyond the love songs and pop formulas for which the band was previously well-known.
The magic of Beatlemania had begun to lose its appeal by 1966. The band members’ lives were put in danger when they were accused of snubbing the presidential family in the Philippines. Then, Lennon’s remark that the band was “more popular than Jesus now” incited denunciations and Beatles record bonfires in the U.S. Bible belt. The Beatles gave up touring after an August 29, 1966, concert at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.
After an extended break, the band returned to the studio to expand their experimental sound with drug-influenced exotic instrumentation/lyrics and tape abstractions. The first sample was the single “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever,” followed by the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), considered by many to be the greatest rock project in musical history.
The Beatles Break Up
The Beatles then suffered a huge blow when Epstein died of an accidental overdose of sleeping pills on August 27, 1967. Shaken by Epstein’s death, the Beatles retrenched under McCartney’s leadership in the fall and filmed Magical Mystery Tour. While the film was panned by critics, the soundtrack album contained Lennon’s “I Am The Walrus,” the group’s most cryptic work yet.
Magical Mystery Tour failed to achieve much commercial success, and the Beatles retreated into Transcendental Meditation and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which took them to India for two months in early 1968. Their next effort, Apple Corps Ltd., was plagued by mismanagement. That July, the group faced its last notably hysterical crowd at the premiere of their film Yellow Submarine. In November 1968, the Beatles’ double-album The Beatles (also known as The White Album) displayed their divergent directions.
By this time, Lennon’s artist partnership with second wife Yoko Ono had begun to cause serious tensions within the group. Lennon and Ono invented a form of peace protest by staying in bed while being filmed and interviewed, and their single “Give Peace a Chance” (1969), recorded under the name “the Plastic Ono Band,” became a national anthem of sorts for pacifists.
Lennon left the Beatles in September 1969, just after the group completed recording Abbey Road. The news of the break-up was kept secret until McCartney announced his departure in April 1970, a month before the band released Let It Be, recorded just before Abbey Road.
Solo Career: ‘Imagine’ Album
Not long after the Beatles broke up, in 1970, Lennon released his debut solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, featuring a raw, minimalist sound that followed “primal-scream” therapy. He followed that project with 1971’s Imagine, the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed of all Lennon’s post-Beatles efforts. The title track was later named No. 3 on Rolling Stone magazine’s “All-Time Best Songs” list.
Peace and love, however, was not always on Lennon’s agenda. Imagine also included the track “How Do You Sleep?,” a vehement response to veiled messages at Lennon in some of McCartney’s solo recordings. The friends and former songwriting duo later buried the hatchet, but never formally worked together again.
Lennon and Ono moved to the United States in September 1971, but were constantly threatened with deportation by the Nixon Administration. Lennon was told that he was being kicked out of the country due to his 1968 marijuana conviction in Britain, but the singer believed that he was being removed because of his activism against the unpopular Vietnam War. Documents later proved him correct. (Two years after Nixon resigned, in 1976, Lennon was granted permanent U.S. residency.)
In 1972, while battling to stay in America, Lennon performed at Madison Square Garden in New York City to benefit mentally handicapped children and continued to promote peace. His immigration battle took a toll on Lennon’s marriage, and in the fall of 1973, he and Ono separated. Lennon went to Los Angeles, California, where he partied and took a mistress, May Pang. He still managed to release hit albums, including Mind Games (1973), Walls and Bridges (1974) and Rock ‘n’ Roll (1975). During this time, Lennon famously collaborated with David Bowie and Elton John.
Lennon and Ono reconciled in 1974, and she gave birth to their only child, a son named Sean, on Lennon’s 35th birthday (October 9, 1975). Shortly thereafter, Lennon decided to leave the music business to focus on being a father and husband.
In 1980, John Lennon returned to the music world with the album Double Fantasy, featuring the hit single “(Just Like) Starting Over.” Tragically, just a few weeks after the album’s release, Mark David Chapman, a deranged fan, shot Lennon several times in front of his apartment complex in New York City. Lennon died at New York City’s Roosevelt Hospital on December 8, 1980, at the age of 40.
John Lennon’s assassination had, and continues to have, a profound impact on pop culture. Following the tragic event, millions of fans worldwide mourned as record sales soared. And Lennon’s untimely death still evokes deep sadness around the globe today, as he continues to be admired by new generations of fans. Lennon was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.