One of those formerly young people, who goes by the pen name "Ace Backwords" delivers a withering critique, part of a book he wrote debunking other counterculture frauds.
I am the Walrus
(among many other things)
Then I became obsessed with the question: Who was John Lennon?
I had patterned my life after the guy. But the guy who I thought he was turned out to be completely different from who he really was. Whoever that was. Who was that fucker? John Lennon.
And it occurred to me that all my acid heroes had merely been different sides of the multi-faceted John Lennon persona. Ram Dass was his spiritual-seeker side. Alan Watts was his spiritual-know-it-all side. Hunter S. Thompson was his drug-swilling madman side. R. Crumb was his artistic genius side. Jerry Garcia was his hippie Rock Star shaman side. And Timothy Leary was his media bullshit-artist side.
But who was John Lennon? Amidst all that.
In the mid-60s John Lennon made a remarkable transformation from “teen idol” to “counterculture hero.” Lennon went on to champion a series of counterculture causes, changing his image from: LSD mystic. to follower of Indian gurus ... to anti-war peace activist ... and to revolutionary radical political leader. In the process John Lennon transformed himself into the living embodiment of the ‘60s, the greatest symbol of the ’60s. John Lennon.
It was precisely this that gave John Lennon a deeper dimension than mere Pop Star. It made him the subject of great analysis as well as great controversy. For, as Lennon’s reputation went, so went the 60s.
In a way, these media icons, these historical figures like “John Lennon,” function as sort of a cultural shorthand. These icons come to symbolize (and simplify) the great sweeps of history involving millions of people. For example, merely by invoking the names of “Stalin” or “Hitler” or “Nixon” we’re able to invoke huge sweeps of complicated and convoluted history with just one word. So it makes it easy to talk about this shit. And for precisely that reason, the reputation of these symbols are hotly contested and debated. Which surely was one of the prime underlying motives for the endless digging and debating over precisely who the real “John Lennon” was. As well as for the endless series of John Lennon books that still continue to be cranked out of every bookstore in America, 25 years after his death.
Finding the “real” John Lennon amidst all this media mirage was an elusive task. For Lennon was a slippery fucker. Lennon projected onto the media screen an endless series of different John Lennon images, each one often contradicting the previous John Lennon image. Newspaper editors loved to lay out photo-strips of the ever-changing Lennon face. Truly, John Lennon was a contradiction, within an enigma, wrapped in a big bag of nuts.
A compulsive talker all of his life, Lennon left behind a series of fascinating interviews. But quickly it becomes clear from reading these interviews that much of what came of out of John Lennon’s mouth was lies, bullshit, and double-talk. Or, if you wish to be more charitable, delusional. Lennon himself -- as the great spinner of the Beatles myth -- got lost within the myth himself, entangled in the web of his own media bullshit. Periodically Lennon would attempt to pull himself out of this hall of mirrors, such as his famous “The Dream is Over” period. But every attempt by Lennon to debunk the Beatles myth only led to (no, not the truth but) an endless series of further myths. Followed naturally by further debunking from our boy John. Followed by -- you guessed it -- more myths. He was truly the “Dream-weaver,” our boy John, in more ways than one. Lost in his own “mad dream,” as Lennon put it.
The “innocent Fab Four” myth . . . was followed by “the LSD Mystic” myth. . . was followed by “the Maharishi as perfect master” myth . . . was followed by the “John Lennon as peace guru” myth. . . was followed by “the Dream is Over and now I’m really getting down to reality” myth . . was followed by the “Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin-type radical political leader” myth . . . was followed by “the John-and-Yoko as the greatest love story since Romeo and Juliet” myth. And so on.
Each new myth was originally presented by Lennon as Finally The Truth. Only to be debunked by Lennon next year as bullshit. It was the debunking side of Lennon that gave his words the aura of truth-teller, for that was the one side of Lennon that was really and truly real. He truly was full of bullshit, and there was no debunkin’ that.
But who was John Lennon, the man behind the media myth?
Probably the most insightful looks inside the Lennon character were books written by three people who lived intimately alongside Lennon behind the media screen:
1.) Pete Shotton, his childhood pal and lifelong friend
2.) May Pang, his mistress during the Lost Weekend Period.
3.) and Fred Seaman, his personal assistant and gofer during his last years.
All three people deeply loved John Lennon -- for Lennon was a man who, for whatever reasons, inspired great love and passion in millions of people. And the three books were not written as mud-slinging exposes designed to knock an idol off his pedestal and drag his face in the dirt. They were written by three people who deeply loved John Lennon and fervently wished to understand the peculiarities and the madness of a man they loved but couldn’t begin to understand. Which only makes their portraits of Lennon’s character all the more devastating. (And, to his credit, Lennon urged all three to write their memoirs).
Pete Shotton described Lennon as “someone who was amusing and entertaining virtually all the time. You never knew what he would be up to next. That was the magic of the man.”
May Pang described Lennon as “basically a very frightened man.”
And Fred Seaman described Lennon as “an isolated, lonely, and tortured man.”
The term Lennon most often used to describe himself was “cracked” or “crackers.” Lennon primarily saw himself as a “mad genius.” Though it was never clear which part of his act was the genius or the madness.
Lennon’s eternal position was: He always realized in retrospect that he had been Utterly and Completely Wrong About Everything. But in the present moment he always felt he was Utterly and Brilliantly Correct About Everything.
He had been wrong about the notion that riches and fame as Fab Beatle John would bring him happiness, but then he found the real thing: LSD mysticism. He had been wrong about LSD mysticism, but then he found the real thing: the Maharishi. He had been wrong about the Maharishi, but then he found the real thing: Rubin/Hoffman-style radical politics. He had been wrong about Rubin/Hoffman-style radical politics, but then he found the real thing: domestic homelife with Yoko Ono. . On and on. . .
A big part of Fred Seaman’s job as Lennon’s personal gofer was to function as “a captive audience for John’s opinionated monologues” (which Seaman invariably found fascinating, and I believe him). Seaman pointed out the root-cause of Lennon’s incredible stupidity:
“Arguing with John, I had learned in my first few weeks with him, was an exercise in futility. Even when he was in a good mood, John Lennon was not someone to disagree with. He rarely tolerated a dissenting opinion and always insisted on having the last word.”
In other words: John Lennon talked, but he never listened.
Nothing thrilled Lennon more than to declare with absolute assurance: “This is IT!” The famous John Lennon cockiness. It was precisely this sense of assurance that roped in the rubes. It attracted the lost, the confused, those lacking in self-assurance, and, most of all, the kids. For kids by their very nature were looking for an older man who had been there, and who could show them how to get there, too. And millions of kids just like me admired and idolized John Lennon as that Man.
Lennon was eager to claim this hero role. While at the same time (enigma that he was) endlessly claiming that he never intended to be “put” in this role. But the endless series of Hero roles that Lennon adopted suggested otherwise. Typically, John Lennon wanted it have it both ways: to be the hero, but not be expected to do anything heroic.
It was the kids from my generation, one step behind The Beatles, who were most poised to step right into the trap that Lennon had (inadvertently?) set. For, as a role model for youth, John Lennon was a very, very dangerous role model.
When Albert Goldman published his scurrilous expose of John Lennon’s character, it set off an EXPLOSION of anger and rage at the blaspheming of The Great Man. Why, it tarnished the great hero, John Lennon. And while Goldman no doubt added a few unnecessary cheap shots and groin kicks, his basic characterization of Lennon’s character has largely been confirmed by subsequent Lennon biographies. Though Goldman blew it, of course. When he was under intense attack from all the Beatlemaniacs, he should have called a press conference and tearfully apologized for claiming to be “greater than John Lennon Christ! I didn’t mean it as a lousy anti-Beatles thing.” ‘ sob’ ‘choke’
All the little Beatles’ fans got wildly outraged at Goldman’s mud-slinging bio. But nobody seemed to ask the question of what John Lennon himself -- a man who spent half of his life debunking himself -- would have thought of Goldman’s book. I can guarantee you Lennon would have read it from cover-to-cover, and then he probably would’ve complained that it “didn’t go far enough.”
In the immediate wake of his assassination, Lennon was elevated to the level of secular saint. Yoko Ono would spend the next 25 years releasing an endless series of Lennon Product designed to promote the air-brushed myth of Lennon as Great Man. But there were simply too many obvious and sickening aspects to the Lennon character for the Lennon-as-Great-Man act to be taken seriously by anyone but the most slavish of Beatles fans. Paul McCartney himself, who knew Lennon all too well, admitted in his famous quote: “Since his death he’s become Martin Luther Lennon. He wasn’t some sort of holy saint. He could be a maneuvering swine.”
So John Lennon’s public image was gradually down-graded from that of Martyred Saint to that of Hero With Feet of Clay.
Lennon spent the last four years of his life in virtual isolation, a recluse, “haunted by his past and frightened by his future,” mindlessly smoking his marijuana (tai-stick, nothing but the best for our boy John) and endlessly turning the channels of his big-screen color TV which he kept on 24 hours a day, often jammed between the channels emitting a zoned-out static. What happened to John Lennon? How did the man who seemed to have it all end up with so little? What precisely was wrong with John Lennon?
Let Me Take You Down . . .
Right from the beginning there were problems with boy John. Lennon was expelled from the kindergarten for attacking his classmates (a pattern he would continue all of his life). His Mother and Father split up when he was 5, and Lennon was forced to choose between Father and Mother, a choice that was so agonizing it left him with a life-long hatred of having to make decisions (“To this day I hate having to make decisions. I get a headache when confronted with a choice,” said John). This trait would be the root cause of much of Lennon’s blundering, reckless stupidity over the years. For Lennon would quickly and rashly decide on a course of action, without ever -- EVER -- weighing the consequences (it gave him a headache). Ironically, this was a trait much admired by his fans. For it gave Lennon’s impulsive actions the aura of fearlessness and courage. Intimates of Lennon would often remark at the strange contradiction between the “cocky and self-assured” public John Lennon and the “frightened and insecure” private John Lennon.
All of his life, Lennon had this side of him -- how to describe it? -- he was a nasty, vicious prick. Though his great charm and charisma often counter-balanced this equally nasty side of his personality (are you noticing an enigmatic pattern?). “He was a terrible person but I liked him,” summed up a former classmate of Lennon’s.
Lennon as a teenager was famous for going up to cripples and people with physical deformities -- he had a powerful phobia about cripples -- and reducing them to tears with his sharp tongue; mocking and degrading and humiliating them for sport. Lennon was the classic Cool Kid in High School who mocked all the Uncool Kids in the class. Lennon was greatly feared by all in his orbit (even his own wife Cynthia admitted she was “scared of John half the time.”). For he could, and did, hurt you, both verbally and physically. And few who knew him survived his wrath for very long. Or, as Lennon put it: “One thing you can’t hide, is when you’re crippled inside.”
In Hamburg, Germany one night in 1961, Lennon went berserk after a week-long binge on alcohol and speed (prellys, his favorite) and kicked the living shit out of his good pal, little Stu Sutcliffe, knocking him unconscious. This, too would be a life-long pattern with our boy John; violently physically attacking someone much smaller than himself (though its possible that future Lennon scholars will un-earth an account of Lennon picking on someone his own size, or larger).
At Paul McCartney’s 21rst birthday party, Lennon went berserk again, and attacked little Bob Wooler with a shovel, cracking his ribs and sending him to the hospital. Lennon very well might have killed the prone and defenseless Wooler as he pummeled him with the shovel, if not for being dragged off the body by some of the other party-goers. People in Liverpool were horrified. It’s one thing to get in a fistfight. It’s quite another to bash a defenseless figure practically to death with a shovel. Lennon was an explosive person in more ways than three. The Beatles story might very well have ended right there that night if Wooler had died, and perhaps history would have turned out much differently. But Wooler recovered from his injuries, and the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, hushed it all up with a big cash payoff to him. And The Beatles bandwagon marched on.
Lennon, later in his life, would often speculate that if not for the success of The Beatles, he very well might have ended up “a drunken derelict like my dad,” or maybe even a “serial killer.” For there was an all-or-nothing quality about John Lennon. And Lennon himself was all too aware of the extremely nasty, destructive and murderous side that had taken root in his soul.
John Lennon -- the father-less, mother-less son (he was mostly raised by his nut-cutting aunt) -- would spend his whole life looking for a father-figure, a “guru.” (He felt he had found his mother-figure in Yoko Ono, a woman he literally referred to by the name “Mother.” And yet Yoko Ono was a woman who admitted she completely “lacked the maternal instinct,” and didn’t even bother to raise her own children. Which shows you the kind of judgment Lennon had in the mother-figure department.)
Lennon’s first father-figure, his first guru, was Elvis Presley. And Lennon patterned himself after Elvis’s image: black leather jacket, slicked back DA, and surly teen-rebel pose. The stated goal of The Beatles, of course, was to be “bigger than Elvis.” And be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. And Lennon got it.
For it was here that John Lennon made one of the biggest mistakes of his tragic life.
In order to achieve riches and fame, the nasty and vicious prick that was the real John Lennon, adopted the pose of the smiling, friendly, happy-go-lucky Beatle John. Fab John. The lad. In other words, the exact opposite of who he really was. Apparently Lennon assumed that he could adopt the Fab John pose, make millions off the teenyboppper market, and then return to his real self. Only there was an unexpected consequence to the bargain (as there so often is). Millions of screaming Beatles’ fans now assumed that the smiling Fab Beatle John was real. And every time Lennon tried to pull the smiling mask off his face, millions of screaming fans would push it right back on his ever-lovin’ head and DEMAND the smiling John Beatles act.
So poor John was fucked. Or as he put it: “Though I laugh and I act like a clown, beneath this mask I am wearing a frown. I’m a loser and I’m not what I appear to be.” Lennon sang his “loser” song at the height of Beatlemania “success.” For our boy John had blown it and blown it badly. He had literally “sold his soul for success.” It’s the oldest story in the book. “For a man can gain the entire world and yet lose his soul.” And John Lennon would spend the rest of his life trying to get his soul back. But one’s soul is easier given away than re-captured once its gone. Lennon would spend the rest of his life adopting one mask, one image, one pose, after another. Perhaps in an unconscious attempt to reclaim his real self (whatever that was) which he had lost a long time ago. This series of false masks, of false images -- always presented by Lennon as the New Improved Real John Lennon (only to be debunked next week as bullshit) -- would be the source of endless confusion between Lennon and his fans, who struggled in vain to find the real John amidst the endless mirrors. And digging beneath the cracks of Lennon’s facade would become a great party sport amongst Beatlemaniacs.
And this too: It was Lennon’s great need for a father-figure himself which gave him such an uncanny sense of the psychology of his fans -- many of whom were exactly like him and also looking for father-figures. And looking to JOHN LENNON as that father-figure. Lennon was able to pattern many of his media images as exact replicas of the Great Leader that the Beatles fans were looking for. Only to be debunked later by Lennon when his fans actually asked him to lead them somewhere.
So John Lennon as ‘60s leader was actually a man desperate to be led (can you say “enigma”?). So we truly had a case of the-blind-leading-the-blind. Or in other words, a big fucking mess, most of all for all the hapless Beatle fans stupid enough to take Lennon’s big Leader act seriously (hi). Just as we -- the Lennon followers -- looked to John Lennon to tell us what to do, so too Lennon himself (the man who hated to make decisions) looked to Yoko Ono to tell him what to do. By all accounts John Lennon was truly the most pussy-whipped of rock stars. Behind his rebel, nonconformist, anti-authoritarian act was a Mama’s Boy who craved to submit and conform to stern Mother’s authority. By all accounts, Yoko Ono dominated virtually every facet of Lennon’s private life. So we had the-blind-leading-the-blind-being-led-by-Yoko-Ono. Which was even worse.
So by around 1966 the mind of John Lennon was already a convoluted mess of madness, contradictions, and unhappiness. He had sought fame and fortune as a possible answer to his misery. But fame had turned out to be nothing more than a bad, ironic joke. Fame changed nothing. Beatlemania -- millions of screaming, adoring fans -- had added nothing in terms of inner peace and contentment (which Lennon craved all of his life). Fame only added endless waves of mind-fuck. The spectacular level of The Beatles “success” was mind-boggling and incomprehensible and merely added another level of madness to his already convoluted soul. And so, as a way out of this spiritual mess, John Lennon suddenly discovered -- you guessed it -- the Answer. The Next Big Thing (later to be debunked, of course):
Oh yeah. During his acid trips, Lennon experienced that strangely psuedo-spiritual dimension of LSD. “I was suddenly struck by great visions when I first took acid,” said Lennon. On LSD, Lennon believed he had experienced God Himself. Actual Mystical Visions. The Cosmos. The Whole Big Thing. The doors of perception had swung wide open and Lennon began having inklings, for the first time, of a spiritual life. An inner life. Before acid he’d been totally outer-orientated, success-orientated. But now, in a nutshell, Lennon felt he had discovered The Meaning of Life and the answer to all of life’s problems: Take LSD.
Ahh yes, the “universal cure-all.”
So Lennon, as was his nature, immediately became one of the greatest proselytizers and popularizers of psychedelic drugs. He began popping the stuff like candy, going on “thousands of acid trips.” And urging all of his friends, family, and associates to take the trip, too, and join him in this great new Chemical Utopia. Let me take you down . . . with John “The Walrus” Lennon as your guide. Watch your step. Lennon’s messianic delusions would always be a part of him, perhaps in compensation for the grim reality of his real life. He was now the LSD Messiah, spreading visions in handy pill form
“Lennon spent weeks trying to persuade me to go on an acid trip,” said Alistair Taylor, who worked for the Beatles manager. “John would spend hours trying to persuade me.”
Truly John Lennon was the pied-piper of LSD, trying to lure everyone in his orbit into his LSD Universe.
Lennon would sometimes lace the teapot that he kept in the backseat of his psychedelic-painted Rolls Royce with pure LSD. He’d mix up a nice STRONG cup of tea for you. “Hey, try some of this!” O-kay . . . . Then he’d kick back and enjoy the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Marmalade skies and all that stuff.
He urged all his fellow Beatles to join him in his LSD reverie. George and Ringo eagerly followed the leader. (“I felt everyone should be doing it,” said Ringo. “I felt they should all be smoking grass and taking acid. It was the drug of love -- love towards your fellow man or woman.” An opinion Ringo maintained right up to the day that Charles Manson and his acid zombies ripped open Sharon Tate’s womb and stuck a fork in it.) But the ever-cautious Paul held out against acid for a year, before finally submitting to peer pressure.
“John was a great jumper-off of cliffs,” said Paul. “When acid came around, we heard that you were never the same after you took it -- it alters your life, and you can never think in the same way again. I think John was rather excited by this prospect, but I was rather frightened by it.”
Which begs the question: Why was John Lennon, the man who had everything, so eager to permanently alter his mind and become somebody else, anybody else? And why was he so eager to alter the minds of all the people around him?
Lennon constantly urged his wife Cynthia to take acid with him, too. Finally, in a desperate attempt to save her doomed marriage, Cynthia went on an acid trip with John. But she had a terrible, nightmarish acid trip.
“It was at this point that I realized that unless I joined the club, we weren’t going to survive,” said Cynthia. “So I succumbed to one of John’s never-ending requests to take LSD with him. I hated every moment. It was hell on earth. The hallucinations sent me into a panic. Through my tears and fears I would look at John in the hope that he would in some way help me out of the prison my mind had become, only to see the man I loved turn into a giant mule with razor-sharp teeth leering and laughing at me.”
Bummer. Goodbye, Cynthia. Hello, Yoko.
And Lennon urged his millions of fans to join him on his glorious LSD trip, too. And he did this both consciously and unconsciously. “I’d love to tu-u-u-rn . . yo-o-ou . . . o-o-n...” And when Lennon wrote the lyrics “picture yourself on a boat on a river,” the exact intent of his message was nothing less than “imagine yourself on an LSD trip.”
Of course, after the Psychedelic Revolution went south, after Manson, after the Acid Messiah role was out of style, Lennon would endlessly deny that he had ever --- EVER -- promoted LSD or drugs to his fans. “Where did you get that idea?” Great double (and triple)-talker that he was, Lennon would endlessly re-tell the famous “Lucy in the Skies with Diamonds” story. Which had NOTHING to do with LSD, he told us again and again. NOTHING at all. The title was taken from an innocent little drawing, by his innocent little 7-year-old son Julian, that he used in his innocent little Beatles song. And anybody who read “LSD or “drugs” or “mysticism” into his psychedelic drug album Sgt Pepper must have been some kind of a Charles Manson-type “nutter Beatles fan” whacko.
This is John Lennon. The guy who wrote “Tomorrow Never Knows” -- the famous how-to-take-an-acid-trip musical guide. The lyrics ripped off directly from the pages of “The Psychedelic Experience” by one Timothy Leary, the single greatest promoter and proselytizer of LSD in the known Universe. And yet, misguided Beatles fans continued to project their crazy interpretations on poor, beleaguered John Lennon’s innocent li’l songs. So what was a boy to do?
“I saw Mel Torme saying how ‘Lucy in Sky with Diamonds’ was about LSD,” shouted John Lennon, with righteous indignation. “It never was, and nobody believes me. I swear to God.”
“I had mixed feelings about taking acid, certainly,” said Paul McCartney, admitting the obvious. “But we took it and in songs like ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ when we were talking about ‘cellophane flowers’ and ‘kaleidoscope eyes’ and ‘grow so incredibly high!’, we were talking about drug experiences, no doubt about it.”
“We were always sticking in veiled references to drugs and to trips,” said Paul. “Magical Mystery Tour was the equivalent of a drug trip and we made the film based on that.”
But it was here that John Lennon made possibly the biggest single mistake of his ill-fated life. In the song “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Lennon envisioned himself as the great Guru sitting on top of the Himalayan mountains bestowing his profound spiritual wisdom to the masses, singing his LSD hymn while thousands of monks chanted along with him, as Lennon sings his bastardized version of the great, sacred, Eastern spiritual text, “The Tibetan Book of the Dead.” (And, believe it or not, some of his whacko fans read “mysticism” into that song, too.)
In every sense of the word, John Lennon adopted the pose of the Great Spiritual Master, the Enlightened Guru, bestowing his wisdom to the multitudes. And directly into the minds of his millions and millions of eagerly receptive young fans.
This is fine, except for one niggling detail. To adopt the pose, to don the robes, of the great Spiritual Guru, when in fact you are not qualified for that role -- when in fact you are sorely un-qualified for that role -- is akin to adopting the role of Brain Surgeon when in fact you never bothered to study medicine or get a degree. And then you went off and practiced brain surgery on millions of people’s minds.
In short: A big, fucking mess will certainly ensue.
And in fact many messed-up minds did ensue.
John Lennon most definitely wanted to have a pronounced effect on his audience, of that you can be certain. He admitted as much many times. Part of it was just the old Show Biz axiom: “Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry.” But Lennon put a little something extra into the soup this time. A whole ‘nother dimension. With this drug, LSD, that permanently changes people’s brains and “you’re never the same again.” And Lennon got more than he bargained for. For Lennon did, in fact, effect many, many people with his little amateur brain-surgery act. But he wanted no part of the after-effect. Oh boy. Because he fucked up a good many people, just as surely as Timothy Leary did, with the exact same horseshit.
Lennon, of course, always wanted it both ways. Preening in the spotlight and glorying in the “positive” effect he was supposedly having on the world (I think he created world peace). But he wanted no part of the other side of the bargain. And any interviewer that dared to ask Lennon if he felt any “responsibility” for the effect he had on his fans was met with a curt: No. Next question.”
In one of his last interviews with NEWSWEEK magazine, the reporter referred to The Beatles as “custodians of our childhood.” Lennon wanted no part of that line of questioning and got very curt with the reporter. Perhaps because Lennon knew he wasn’t the kind of human being that you’d want to entrust with your child.
Of course an artist can’t be held responsible for the crazy interpretations that nutty people project onto their work. The famous serial-killer, David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, claimed that the Bible told him to go out and kill women. Does that mean the Bible’s to blame? Hardly. On the other hand, does that mean the artist has NO responsibility? Hardly. In fact, if you get behind the loudest media microphone known to man and scream “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theatre, you most definitely will be held responsible for the results. And if thousands of people get trampled in the ensuing chaos, it hardly cuts it to say:
“Well, I thought there was a fire (but now that I’ve debunked that false notion, let me give you the real story).”
Or even worse:
“I was just kidding. I really wasn’t serious all along, so it was your own mistake for taking me seriously. I just did it for a joke ‘cuz I get a big kick out of seeing people trampling each other.”
Well, make no mistake about this: John Lennon got behind the loudest media microphone known to man and screamed: “DRUGS!” in the loudest possible voice. To millions of young fans. So it was inevitable that, like, certain, ahem, problems would ensue.
In his last famous PLAYBOY interview, Lennon likened The Beatles role in the ’60s to that of navigators up in the crow’s nest of the ship, yelling “Land ho!”
But what if what you thought was “land ho” actually turned out to be “big- cliff-leading-to-a-hundred-foot-waterfall ho” ?
Debunk that, Johnny baby.
“Well, I could’ve SWORN that it was ‘land ho’ but it turned out to be ‘big cliff’ ho. I guess I was mistaken. I guess it was all just a darn hallucination from a psychedelic drug. Imagine that.”
For a guy who talked incessantly about the word “karma,” instant or otherwise, John Lennon seemed to be tragically ill informed as to how the Lords of Karma actually operate.
“That’s what I’m trying to do on my albums and interviews. I’m trying to influence all the people I can influence,” bragged John Lennon in an interview with the radical paper Red Mole. “In a way The Beatles turned out to be a Trojan Horse. The Fab Four moved right to the top and then sang about drugs and sex.”
And in a way, The Beatles were like a Trojan Horse. And we all know how the Trojan Horse story ended. Just like we all know how the ‘60s ended.
But at least to their credit, The Beatles put their money with their mouths-full-of-LSD were. Inspired by their Utopian psychedelic visions, The Beatles formed their own company, Apple Records, as a vehicle to spread peace and love and artistic grooviness in a business setting. But God help the poor fool who tries to take those Utopian LSD brain-bubbles and transfer them to the real world. And it wasn’t long before The Beatles’ hare-brained pipe-dreams had pushed them to the brink of bankruptcy.
Typical of their psychedelic business acumen was a guy name Alex Vardas. “Magic Alex,” as Lennon dubbed him, was a self-proclaimed “electronics genius.” He invented a “light box” with colored lights that blinked of-and-on in different patterns. Lennon would stare at the “light box” for hours while tripping on acid and have all sorts of Profound Realizations. Which convinced Lennon that Magic Alex was a true genius. So The Beatles gave Alex thousands and thousands of dollars to design a state-of-the-art, 72-track recording studio. “It was the biggest disaster of all time, the whole thing had to be ripped out,” said George.
George Harrison actually made it over to Haight Ashbury during the fabled Summer of Love of ‘67. John wanted to go, but he never quite made it. “I was all for going and living in the Haight,” said Lennon of those heady days of the Summer of Love. “In my head I thought, ‘Acid is it, and let’s go, I’ll go there.’”
Anyways, George was expecting a “village of hippie artisans and craftsmen.” So he was surprised (uh, duh) to find out the Haight circa 1967 was actually “a skid row full of spotty kids on drugs.” He was also shocked and disturbed to find out that the hippie kids all treated him like he was a guru (where did they ever get THAT idea?). George, who was tripping on acid at the time, had a terrible bummer, and fled the Haight in terror. The Beatles would do a lot of fleeing from that point on, fleeing from the Hippie Monster that they had helped to create.
After Charles Manson it was all over for John Lennon and The Beatles and they knew it. “It all went wrong at that point. What can you do?” said Paul, sadly.
“It stopped everybody in their tracks,” noted Ringo.
The writing was on the wall. Literally. And I suppose if somebody had taken my poetry and splattered it in blood all over somebody’s wall, I guess that would give me pause, too. The combination of “Beatles” and “LSD mysticism” -- which, for that one shining moment in 1967 had seemed so promising, had seemed to open a door of possibilities into a whole new universe -- had turned tragically and irrevocably awry. Bye-bye to the great LSD Dream.
John Lennon -- the great counterculture hippie leader -- would spend the rest of his life in absolute fear and terror of “hippie types.” And of “nutter Beatle fans.” And especially “nutter Beatle fans who looked like hippie-types.”
“One of these nutter fans is gonna get me someday,” he moaned to his girlfriend May Pang in 1973.
Charles Manson was just the most spectacular of the many “nutter Beatle fans.” There were many, many more. These were the people that John Lennon had profoundly and gleefully effected with his little amateur brain surgery operation. And many of these fans would come back later looking for John, anxious to return the favor. And finally, it would be one of those nutter fans, Mark Chapman, who came back to finish him off.
Lennon repeatedly told Fred Seaman of his premonition that he would die a violent death. “John had told me that deep down he was an extremely violent man,” wrote Seaman. “John said that he assumed that because he had led a life filled with violence, both in thought and in deed, he was destined to die a violent death.”
John Lennon knew all too well who he was. Even if most of his fans would never guess.
As he admitted in his last interview in PLAYBOY magazine: “It’s always the violent ones who are always going on about peace. Everything is the opposite of what it seems.”
And that was certainly the case with John Lennon. But, as usual, Lennon’s “refreshing candor” was a little too little, and a little too late.
Mark Chapman had been born around the same time as me in 1957. And Chapman had been profoundly effected by the album Magical Mystery Tour and LSD at age 14, when he started taking a lot of acid and grooving to The Beatles mystery trip. Later, after Mark Chapman started going nuts from the LSD, among other things, he became obsessed with the book, “Catcher in the Rye.” The “catcher” in the book, was this shepherd in a field of rye who protected the little children from running off the cliff. Chapman felt Lennon was a false catcher. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Lennon had taken the role of shepherd, and then led the little children off the cliff and into drugs like LSD. Chapman’s stated motive for Lennon’s murder was that he wanted to “kill that phony John Lennon” before he could fuck up another generation of children.
“All that Manson stuff was built around George’s song about pigs and Paul’s song about an English fairground,” said John Lennon, for once being very generous with spreading the credit around to his mates. “It had nothing to do with me.”
I guess Lennon forgot that it was his whacko song, “Revolution #9” (along with the Book of Revelations) that was one of the main foundations of Manson’s crackpot Apocalyptic Revolutionary philosophy. So Lennon was being uncharacteristically modest here.
But Christ, the whole Manson thing was your WORST acid bummer come to life. You couldn’t have even IMAGINED anything like that in your worst LSD hallucination. And yet, here it was. For real. It made many people stop and Rethink Their Position about the whole Hippie Thing. Which had been the style. The trend. The hippest thing going, up to that point. The Swinging ‘60s. The Love Generation. Flower Power, with Psychedelia at the heart of the whole thing. And then, after Charles Manson, the whole thing came to a crashing, sudden halt. After Manson, “hippie LSD parties” were no longer the “in” thing with the hip Hollywood set.
After Charles Manson there would be sporadic attempts by our boy John to keep the Hippie Dream alive, and rekindle and recapture the magic that had been the Summer of Love. That magic year when all of the Universe had seemed like so much putty for John to reshape in his cosmic hands.
But by 1969, John Lennon was fucked. He now had millions of fans literally “worshiping” him, looking up to him to be the big leader, the Psychedelic Messiah, that he had advertised himself as in “Tomorrow Never Knows.” And Lennon wanted to play that role. Because who wouldn’t get a kick out of playing The Great Man if we could get away with it? (‘fess up)
So John held his breath and took a whack at pulling off this very difficult role of Peace and Love Guru - slash - World Spiritual Teacher and Healer of Mankind.
It was a VERY difficult role. But John and Yoko gave it a shot.
The famous “Bed-In for Peace” was the beginning of John Lennon’s famous “Peace Guru” phase. John and Yoko felt that if they stayed in bed for a week in a luxury hotel, talking about peace to jaded reporters, then perhaps the earth would be healed. It was worth a try. So John stole Maharishi’s white-robe-and-flowers act, just as earlier he had stolen Elvis’s black-leather-jacket-and-greased-hair act.
With characteristic messianic delusions, John-and-Yoko called a press conference to announce that the year 1970 would thereafter be known as ”Year One, A.P.” as in “After Peace.” When asked by skeptical reporters how their peace plan would deal with violent, fascist dictators like Adolph Hitler, Lennon sagely replied: “If Hitler spent one week in bed with Yoko Ono, that would cure him of his violent impulses.”
(Call me cynical, but somehow, I suspect that spending a week with Yoko Ono would have done very little to improve Hitler’s disposition.)
Of course, it probably never occurred to somebody like John Lennon that “peace” can only come from people who are peaceful. Uh, duh. Intimates of John Lennon have described him in many ways: “paranoid,” “frightened,” “nervous,” “insecure,” ‘high-strung,” “volatile,” “crazy,” “violent,” etc. But few people who knew the man described him as “peaceful.”
And yet Lennon, in his infinite vanity, felt that “peace” was one more product, one more stage prop, that he could advertise, promote, and sell. One more disposable image, one more fashion-statement, one more trend. Hey, “peace” was “in” that year. 1969.
John. John. JOHN!!
You can’t be a world peace guru AND a violent, crazed, murderous lunatic. It’s like saying; “I’m a vegetarian, EXCEPT for when I eat meat.” It’s like saying: “I’m an excellent driver EXCEPT for when I drive my car off the road at 100-miles-an-hour in a drunken rage and plow into hapless pedestrians on the sidewalk.”
John, you can’t have it both ways.
But, apparently, John felt he could.
In the wake of the great Woodstock peace ’n’ acid festival, John Lennon took one last stab at the great Peace Guru role. His latest scheme in 1970 was to produce the great John Lennon Toronto Peace Festival. Feel the vibes. Which would be “bigger than Woodstock,” naturally.
Lennon hooked up with his latest guru -- this big, fat nut named Dr. Hambrick. Hambrick claimed to be “in contact with supernatural beings from another planet who would arrive on earth to save us from our own self-destruction.” Hambrick’s goal was to “capture The Beatles because The Beatles would be the earth force by which the supernatural powers could act in concert to bring peace to our chaotic planet.”
So Dr. Hambrick had a sensible plan for bringing about world peace.
And Hambrick had indeed captured John Lennon with all this talk. Lennon was enthralled by all this stuff, about getting to meet supernatural alien creatures from outer space (Hambrick would personally introduce Lennon to the critters), and especially his exciting new role as Savior of Humanity.
So John ’n’ Yoko and the whole crew went off to Denmark for a big “retreat” to plot out the big John Lennon Toronto Peace Festival. The whole crew decided to trip on some REALLY STRONG ACID to help align their vibes to the big task ahead of Saving Humanity. So they passed this little dish around with “some black sticky stuff that smelled like medicine,” and they all ate it and they all got high.
“Like really high, like a completely nonphysical feeling,” said John Brower, the Peace Festival promoter who was along for the ride. At the peak of the acid trip, according to Brower, Lennon suddenly had a Major Revelation. He pounded his fist on the table and exclaimed to his manager Allen Klein: “HITLER WAS RIGHT. YOU’VE GOT TO CONTROL THE PEOPLE!”
Only now, instead of like Hitler controlling the people for war and all that bad stuff, John Lennon, the Great Man, would control the people for peace. Cool.
Then Dr. Hambrick laid his next brain-storm on the tripped-out multitudes. Hambrick had invented this amazing “two-passenger car that looks like a plane that goes on the ground or flies in the air, and it never needs fuel, its powered by psychic energy.”
Well, this is just the coolest. So the big plan now was for John ’n’ Yoko to fly one of those psychic-energy planes right over the crowd at the freakin’ John Lennon Toronto Peace Festival, and right up onto the stage. How’s that for a grand entrance (let’s see Paul McCartney top that one!). And even better, they’re gonna’ mass-market these psychic-energy cars, and you had better believe that those babies will sell like hotcakes, because you don’t even need fuel to fly them And, best of all, all the profits from the psychic-energy cars will go directly to the John Lennon Peace Foundation!
So this is just the coolest of all. Awesome.
What a guy. John and Yoko would hit the stage (to thunderous applause) and bring peace and love to earth. Restoring the cosmic balance of the cosmos, saving the world, and bringing harmony to humanity. All in a day’s work.
Now keep in mind: They actually believed this stuff. And, considering that John Lennon’s real life had already been so spectacularly unbelievable, I guess anything could seem possible to him at this point. And when you factor in LSD, with its peculiar messianic, hallucinatory, and exaggerating properties (as if Lennon’s life wasn’t already exaggerated enough) it’s little wonder that Lennon ended up having no IDEA which end was up. Myth or reality? Christ, just gimme’ some truth, he cried. Whatever that was.
Alas, the great John Lennon Toronto Peace Festival collapsed in a sea of bad vibes and organizational chaos (Lennon changing his mind with every new drug trip didn’t help matters). In a desperate attempt to save the sinking festival, Lennon wrote an impassioned plea to ROLLING STONE magazine -- that crucial organ for all your latest Lennon updates -- entitled: “HAVE WE ALL FORGOTTEN WHAT VIBES ARE?”
In the article, he wrote:
“Can you imagine what we could do together, one million souls (plus TV link-ups) in one spot, praying for peace. We could change the balance of energy power. On earth and therefore, in the universe.”
So it all made perfect sense.
But alas and alack, the people had indeed forgotten what vibes are. Darn. And, like so many of the hippie pipe dreams of the ‘60s, the great John Lennon Toronto Peace Festival went up in smoke.
“Imagine No Possessions, Its Easy if You Have $100 Million of ‘em . . .”
John Lennon was a helluva’ interesting character, a great artist, and an important historical figure who I believe warrants this kind of scrutiny. But as a self-styled “peace guru,” John Lennon was pretty much full of shit. It’s been my understanding that, as a general rule, when bullshitters put themselves in the middle of a conflict, they generally tend to prolong the bullshit, not resolve it. So there’s the story of the ‘60s.
I’d rather not get pegged in an either/or position regarding the great ‘60s historical debate of “the Hippies versus the Straights.” I’ve pretty much staked out my position: both sides were full of assholes. And yet, if I had to choose between John Wayne marching off to war, and John Lennon marching off to drugs, I guess I’d have to choose Lennon, if only by default (even as I, personally, have seen more lives ruined by drugs than by guns).
It doesn’t bother me so much that John Lennon was a violent, drug-addled lunatic. I mean, none of us are perfect. And who amongst us hasn’t gone berserk in an alcohol and drug fueled rage. What annoys me is that Lennon would take it one step farther and step in front of the cameras and present himself as some kind of peace guru with an up-lifting message for humanity.
Of course, the problem with delusions of grandeur is: The higher you go, the farther you can fall. And Lennon would fall a very long way.
“Lennon had a rage in him that was with him every day of his life,” said peace promoter John Brower, who saw enough of the behind-the-scenes John Lennon to know.
Shortly after the non-peace Festival, Lennon cracked up for good and never recovered. Lennon enrolled in Primal Scream therapy and screamed and screamed and screamed (he had much to scream about).
“John had about as much pain as I’d ever seen in my life,” said Dr. Arthur Janov, the founder of Primal Scream therapy. “LSD is the most devastating thing for mental health that ever existed. To this day, we see people who’ve been on LSD, and they have a different brain-wave pattern, as if their defenses are totally broken down. It stays. I think Timothy Leary destroyed so many people by touting LSD. It’s a very dangerous drug.”
In 1971 John Lennon took one last pathetic stab at the Great Youth Leader role he so craved. But this time he cleverly lowered his standards from that of World Spiritual Teacher to mere nuts-and-bolts Revolutionary Radical Political Leader. “The Working Class Hero” himself, John Lennon.
So now we had the grotesque tableau of the millionaire Rock Star making his impassioned speeches “in support of the exploited workers of the world.” And then, in the very next breath, screaming and cursing out his personal gofer for not supplying his latest luxury items in a timely fashion. Sheesh.
To further the Revolution, Lennon hooked up with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, the two great political acid heroes of the ‘60s. And these were the kind of men that Lennon (that great follower at heart) felt would lead America to its glorious, revolutionary future in the post-60s world.
Now Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin are absolutely typical of the strange dichotomy between the public and private lives of so many of these ’60s figures. They don’t know how to wipe their own asses, and yet they’re eager to teach other people how to clean up the World’s shit.
In his later years, Abbie Hoffman was working on his next book, something along the lines of “How to Successfully Deal with Manic-Depression.” I’m sure it would’ve been another great book from ole’ Ab, filled with his priceless wisdom and solid advice for mankind. Except Abbie Hoffman committed suicide halfway through writing it.
Jerry Rubin was another one. After stirring up endless shit in the ‘60s, Rubin concluded in the ‘70s -- after having attained profound realizations through EST therapy -- that his whole Big Man On Campus act had merely been his attempt to “compensate for having a little penis.” And thanks for the insights, Jerry! Later, the great ‘60s Leader would get run over by a car and die while jaywalking in the middle of a busy street in Los Angeles. (And no, I’m not making this shit up, believe me.)
So anyways, the new improved radical hero, John Lennon, started calling press conferences in support of having all the violent criminals in Attica State penitentiary released from prison. Lennon had only been living in America for about 2 months, and yet he was already ready to completely revamp our criminal-justice system. Whatta’ guy.
However, a woman in the audience took offense:
“You are setting up thieves and murderers as heroes!” she yelled. She went on to explain that she, as a native New Yorker, was afraid to walk the streets at nights because of these violent criminals, which is why she wanted them kept in jail.
To which Yoko Ono sagely responded:
“I know this sounds corny, but all they need is more love,” said Yoko. Classic John-and-Yoko. Plugging their product and saving the world, all in one sound-byte.
Yoko went on to say:
“You can keep them in cages as long as you want, but unless you give them love they’ll just become more frustrated and violent.”
(A few years later, a violent criminal was threatening to kidnap the Lennons’ young son, Sean. John and Yoko immediately contacted the FBI and did everything they could to put the would-be-kidnapper in jail for a very long time. As far as I know, no efforts were made to cure the kidnapper of his criminality with John-and-Yoko’s alleged “love.” And speaking of Attica State Prison, that’s where Mark David Chapman has been held since he was convicted of murdering John Lennon. Yoko Ono has urged prison officials not to parole him.)
On the eve of the 1972 presidential election between Nixon and McGovern, radical Working Class Hero John Lennon convened at Jerry Rubin’s hip New York City pad to watch the election returns on TV. When Nixon won by a landslide, Lennon went berserk in a screaming, drunken, coke-fueled rage (are you surprised?). Why, John Lennon wasn’t going to get his Revolution after all. Darn, darn, darn. He bitterly denounced all the radicals as “uptight, middle-class Jews!” Why, he debunked the whole lot of them.
John Lennon. Always the deceived, never the deceiver. Always the betrayed, never the betrayer.
It’s interesting to compare radical political leader John Lennon to that other great youth leader of the ‘60s, Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan (along with Ram Dass, R. Crumb, and maybe one or two others) is one of the few ‘60s icons to have survived the ‘60s with his soul reasonably intact. And if you don’t believe me, just take a look at the long list of casualties.
Unlike Lennon, who jumped at every opportunity to play at being the great Youth Leader, Dylan wanted no part of the role. “I’m just a musician,” he constantly protested. “That Woodstock festival was the sum total of all this bullshit.”
Dylan got so sick of being pestered by The Woodstock Nation that in 1969 he purposely put out the worst album he could, “Self Portrait,” which he, in his own words, “loaded up with crap.” Even made it a double-album to really load up the hooey. Then he spent about 10 minutes slapping together a painting for the cover art. “I wanted to do something they can’t possibly like, they can’t relate to. So these people would just forget about me.”
Compare that attitude to John Lennon. In his famous PLAYBOY interview, Lennon repeatedly stated that he wasn’t a “leader,” and that his fans had no right to expect him to be one (where did they ever get that idea?). And yet, in the very next breath, Yoko Ono states:
“People like (President) Carter represent only their country. John and I represent the world.”
Or in other words, John-and-Yoko are World Leaders far beyond the scope of mere American presidents. God, what hopeless bullshit-artists and double-talkers they were, John-and-Yoko.
Anyways, shortly after Lennon debunked Jerry Rubin and all them “phony” radicals, Lennon moved to Los Angeles for his famous “Lost Weekend “ period, and screamed some more, this time in public. Basically, Lennon went completely berserk, as was his life-long pattern, in an orgy of alcohol and drugs and mindless violence.
He almost strangled to death his girlfriend May Pang, leaving deep red welts around her neck.
He almost killed his guitarist, little Jesse Ed Davis, when he bashed ole Jes’ over the head with a big slab ashtray and knocked him unconscious.
`He broke another musician’s tooth in another berserk, drunken rage.
And he bit a chunk out of another guy’s nose and broke his saxophone. Party on, dude. ROCK ‘N ROLL!
Lennon speculated to May Pang as to the possible cause of his drunken rages, and the crazy nightmare zone he slipped into whenever he got drunk: “I think it might be caused by all the acid I did in the ‘60s.”
Later, of course, Lennon would debunk this notion, claiming he’d never met anyone personally who had been adversely affected by acid. Oh really? Maybe Lennon should’ve started by looking in the mirror. But here’s some typical Lennon double-talk on the subject: “I never met anybody who‘s had a flashback in my life and I took million of trips in the ‘60s, and I never met anybody who had any problems.” . . “All the garbage about what it did to people is garbage.” . . . “The only ones who jumped out of windows because of it were the ones in the army. I never knew anybody who jumped out of a window or killed themselves because of it.”
George, who could never spout the double-talk with the adroitness of Lennon’s tongue, pointed out the obvious when surveying the wreckage of the COUNTLESS acid-casualties from the ‘60s: “There were always reports of people jumping under cars and out of buildings (on LSD). I can understand that, because you do suddenly experience the soul as free and unbound.”
One night during his famous Lost Weekend period, Lennon went completely berserk and demolished every square inch of the house that he and May Pang had been staying at. With the entire house reduced to rubble and nothing left to destroy, Lennon went after the one last reasonably intact object and began pounding on his mattress, pulling out the stuffing and screaming over and over again;
“IT’S ALL ROMAN POLANSKI’S FAULT!!”
May Pang was perplexed by this. They had been out several times, socially, with the film-director Roman Polanski, and John had been friendly with Polanski and expressed no critical feelings towards him.
But it all made PERFECT sense to anyone who’s done hundreds of LSD trips. The acid logic was brutally obvious to any old acid aficionado. For acid transports you to this strange and ancient realm inhabited by gods and angels and demons, and symbolic archetypes; the denizens of the most peculiar occult netherworld. Roman Polanski, of course, was famous for making the film “Rosemary’s Baby” about a young woman who gets impregnated by Satan and delivers Satan’s child. Later, Charles Manson and his LSD-crazed Beatlemaniacs would satanically rip the unborn child out of Polanski’s wife’s womb, ruining The Beatles great ‘60s dream in the process.
The “connections.” It was all crystal-clear to John Lennon. It was Roman Polanski’s fault. He was the one who had opened up the whole door of Satanism and evil in the first place, thinking he could play around with the subject like a dilettante film-director. And NOW look what has happened! You just shouldn’t go messing around behind those dark doors, Roman . . .
And even more “coincidental.” The apartment where Lennon lived in New York, entombed and imprisoned by his fame, was the famous Dakota Apartments, the eerie, Gothic cathedral that Polanski had used as the back-drop for the film “Rosemary’s Baby.” The “connections” . .. It was all clear to John Lennon. The silvery, ethereal connections. And the dark shadow that was wrapping itself tighter and tighter around Lennon’s world.
The next morning when Lennon woke up and surveyed the wreckage he had wrought on the household, he noticed that he had also destroyed one of his own guitars.
“In all these years, this is the first time that I’ve every destroyed any of me own stuff,” said Lennon, sadly, holding his head in remorse. For he was a sensitive artist. John Lennon.
Finally, Yoko Ono grabbed Lennon and cooped him back up in the Dakota Apartment for the next four years. To mellow out. There he remained in seclusion and isolation, as if being quarantined from the rest of humanity, a virtual prisoner of his fame and his own destructive, malignant personality.
To ward off all the evil spirits, John-and-Yoko became obsessed with the occult. “The Lennons’ saw magic as both an instrument of crisis management and the ideal weapon,” said John Green, Yoko’s full-time tarot-card reader.
According to Green, who accompanied Yoko on the trip, Yoko traveled to South America to hook up with a famous Colombian witch named Lena. Yoko paid the witch $60,000 to use her magic powers to protect Yoko from her many enemies, and to increase her wealth and power. Unfortunately, for the magic spells to work, the witch had to cut off the head of a white dove and have Yoko sign her name in the dove’s blood. So how’s that for an image to remember the great “peace guru” Yoko Ono by: slaughtering a white dove in the name of acquiring personal wealth and power.
In 1980 John Lennon embarked on a brief comeback, scoring the last hit song of his lifetime, “Starting Over.” But he was wrong yet again. He wasn’t starting over. He was finishing. So he got that one wrong, too. Just like he had gotten just about everything else wrong before that.
“If John had stayed in England this would not have happened,” said George Harrison, commenting on Lennon’s tragic murder. Shortly after that, a crazed English Beatles fan who thought George was a “witch” who was controlling his mind, broke into George’s English mansion with a butcher knife and stabbed him ten times. George probably would’ve died if his wife hadn’t smashed a big lamp over the intruder’s head. After that, George pretty much went back to being the Quiet One.
Take a Drink from Dr. Lennon’s Special Cup
But there still remained that one last missing piece to the puzzle. What was WRONG with John Lennon?
What had caused the whole spectacular “success,” and the equally spectacular fuck-up that was his life? The grand and cosmic melodrama that was the life of John Winston Ono Lennon. (5,493 John Lennon biographies to date: “Every ex-girlfriend, every chauffeur gets a book,” he said, wryly.)
Maybe it was little Stu Sutcliffe that was the missing piece in the Lennon puzzle. That night in Hamburg, Germany in 1961 when Lennon went berserk after a week long binge of alcohol and amphetamines and kicked the living shit out of his little pal Stu, kicking him in the head repeatedly with his famous, pointy-toed cowboy boots (were they Beatle boots?). Leaving Stu lying there on the sidewalk in a bleeding, unconscious heap.
“John was taken over by one of this uncontrollable rages,” wrote Pauline Sutcliffe, Stu’s sister, repeating what Stu had told her shortly after the attack. “He kicked at Stu again and again and kicked him in the head. There was blood streaming down from Stuart’s head when John finally came to his senses. John looked down at Stuart and fled, disgusted and terrified. Paul McCartney was with them when the fight began but could do nothing to stop the instant insane burst of violence. Paul helped Stuart, who was bleeding from face and ear, and took him to their room . . I’m convinced that kick was what eventually led to Stuart’s death. I know John always held himself responsible for Stuart dying. Yoko Ono told a friend, Marnie Hair, what I had said about his guilt at losing control with Stuart and punching and kicking him. John told Yoko that he was wearing his gold and silver cowboy boots with pointed toes.”
Shortly after the attack, Stu Sutcliffe started suffering from terrible, violent headaches, and died of a brain hemorrhage at age 21.
“A postmortem revealed Stuart had a dent in his skull, as though from a blow or kick,” wrote Pauline Sutcliffe.
“The devastating news (of Stu’s death) hit The Beatles like a bomb,” wrote Geoffrey Giuliano, The Beatles biographer. “John Lennon burst into hysterical laughter, unable to stop.”
Whether John Lennon actually killed Stuart Sutcliffe or not, Lennon himself felt he had killed him. Lennon felt personally responsible for Stu’s death until his dying day. And was plagued with guilt all his life, confessing as much to several intimates including his guitarist Jesse Ed Davis.
Beatles fans, of course, were shocked and outraged to hear this blasphemy about Saint John Lennon. And Pauline Sutcliffe has subsequently toned down her original statements, probably in the face of all the pressure and heat from all the outraged little Beatlemaniacs.
By why the shock ? Why the outrage, Beatle fans? Why the surprise? Considering John Lennon’s lifelong, and well-documented, pattern of regularly going berserk in drunken, drugged-out rages and coming within inches of killing people?
So spare us the shock and outrage, Beatles fans.
Lennon in his later years suffered from persistent nightmares, which he dutifully recorded in his journals. In one nightmare he’s in a dark backyard, surrounded by head-less bodies who are menacing him. Lennon is carrying their heads in his arms and looking for some place to hide the severed heads where nobody will find them.
He suffered from major guilt, that boy John. All his life. And it’s what ruined the whole grand parade that his life could have been. Every step of the way. The guilt that plagued him was what drove him to his great success, and what destroyed him. It made John Lennon, the man who had everything, desperately want to be somebody else. Anybody else. If only he could trade in his mind for a new mind. Or as Lennon put it: “The only reason I’m a star is because of my repression. Nothing else would have driven me through all that if I was ‘normal.’”
And there’s one other factor to consider: John Lennon’s motives in all of this.
There’s no question that John Lennon was a nasty piece of work. So one begins to question the Hero-With-Feet-of-Clay image. For it could well have been something much, much worse.
“I was the one that all the other kid’s parents would say, ‘Keep away from him,’” said Lennon, proudly. “Because they knew what I was. The parents instinctively recognized I was a trouble-maker, meaning, I did not conform and I would influence their children, which I did. I did my best to disrupt every friend’s home. Partly out of envy that I didn’t have this so-called home.”
And you wonder if this family-wrecking side of John Lennon magically disappeared with the success of The Beatles. Or if in fact Lennon relished his role as ‘60 Youth Leader, as Psychedelic Pied Piper, driving as big of a wedge as he could into the fabled ‘60s Generation Gap. Which turned son against father, and daughter against mother.
And dig this. There was another famous drug song on the (aptly named) Revolver album (for it was a loaded gun, wasn’t it?).
Along with “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Lennon’s paean to chemical mysticism, there was another drug song on Revolver. Another ode to chemically-altered consciousness. The song was called “Doctor Robert.” And it’s about a famous doctor in New York, much revered among the Andy Warhol set, who was famous for injecting his patients with a special vitamin-enriched cocktail that was laced with PURE methamphetamine. Speed, baby. His patients left Dr Robert’s office feeling no pain. On top of the world. In the pink of good health and full of energy!
What a song it is, “Doctor Robert.” The Beatles sing some of their sweetest harmonies on that song. “Well, well, well, you’re fe-e-e-eeling fine . .” they sing, like a barbershop quartette. Or perhaps like hearty Christmas carolers singing hymns of good cheer. Only The Beatles are singing about that warm and glorious feeling that comes from the rush of methamphetamine, when its injected with a needle directly into your blood, and then pumped immediately to your heart, and then rushed immediately to your head-bone!
Well, well, well . . . you’re REALLY feeling fine now.
“Take a drink from Dr. Roberts special cup,” sings John Lennon, oh so sweetly.
Lennon’s pal Pete Shotton described how thrilled John Lennon was at slipping this drug reference, this methamphetamine reference, this little “joke,” into one of his innocent li’l Beatle songs:
“When John first played me the acetate of ‘Dr Robert,’ he seemed beside himself with glee over the prospect of millions of record buyers innocently singing along,” wrote Shotton.
Ahh, what a great gag for a natural born home-wrecker, huh?
Years later, I would meet homeless, 17-year-old runaway chicks, with their faces covered with sores and abscesses from slamming bad speed. Their little heads looked like lop-sided, deflated basketballs from the punctured sores and swollen abscesses. I didn’t find this nearly as funny. But then, perhaps I lacked John Lennon’s madcap sense of humor.
So there you have it. The great ‘60s Youth Leader, John Lennon. The Pied Piper of his generation. The great Dream-Weaver. The Walrus, himself. In one song, John Lennon is urging his listeners to take one drug, LSD, in order to alter their minds on the deepest level of their spiritual consciousness. And then, in the very next song, John Lennon is slipping a mickey into the drink.