By John, 1963
John's parents, Julia Stanley and Alfred Lennon were married in Liverpool on December 3, 1938.
Their only child together - John Winston Lennon - was born on October 9, 1940 in Oxford Street Maternity Hospital during a lull in the WWII bombing of Liverpool, England. John's father, Alfred, was away at sea and was not there for the birth. Alfred would play an almost non-existent part in John's life. It seemed that no one could have been happier about the arrival of this new baby than Julia's sister, Mary Smith and it was Mary who chose John's name.
John's mother was a free spirit who obviously felt the burden of raising a son was too much for her. She suggested that her sister, Mary and her husband, George, raise John instead. The Smiths had no children of their own, and happily accepted the challenge of raising John.
John moved in with his aunt at Mendips at 251 Menlove Avenue before he was five, so despite the fact that he made regular visits to his mother's house, John's major, grounding influence in his life was Mary Smith..lovingly referred to through the years as Aunt Mimi. One biographer noted that even though John could engage in outrageous behavior and be rude, when the occasion called for it, John, moreso than Paul, George or Ringo, knew how to behave with grace in social situations. These skills he learned from Aunt Mary and Uncle George, who were slightly up the scale economically and socially from the other Beatles' families.
John On Living At Mendips Among Doctors and Lawyers:
"I was a nice, cleancut suburban boy, and in the class system I was about a half an inch in a higher class than Paul, George and Ringo, who lived in subsidized government houses. We owned our own house, had our own garden. They didn't have anything like that. So, I was a bit of a fruit compared to them in a way."
Quote from Imagine John Lennon Written and Edited by Andrew Solt and Sam Egan
Julia and Mary's other three sisters, Harriet, Anne and Elizabeth, also took part in raising John. John told an interviewer years later that Yoko's strength was not off-putting to him because he'd been influenced and loved by strong women from an early age.
By 1955, George Smith had died and Julia was spending more time with her son - although their relationship would be described more as friends than as mother-son. She taught John to play banjo and probably seemed like a lot of fun to John compared to the more stern and responsible Aunt Mimi. It was during these teen years that John formed his first "skiffle" group, the Quarry Men, with school friend, Pete Shotton. Aunt Mimi, who would later say, "The guitar's all right John, but you'll never make a living with it" - bought John his first guitar.
The newly-formed Quarry Men played the Woolton Parish Church Garden Fete on July 6, 1957. It was on this date that John was introduced to Paul McCartney..and the rest, as they say, is history. Okay..it's not history until John also meets George Harrison a year later and asks him to join the group. Then later still when Richard Starkey - better known as Ringo Starr - joined.
In the summer of '58, John's mother, Julia, was hit by a car driven by an off-duty police officer. John's feelings about his mother's death would haunt him for years. Both "Mother," written as the result of John and Yoko's primal scream therapy, and "Julia," which was included in the White Album, were songs about Julia Lennon.
John's school days were pretty much a disaster. The obviously intelligent young Lennon had little time for the regimentation of classes and ultimately did a very poor job. He failed all of his '0' level exams at Quarry Bank High School. John was more interested in art and music than doing well in school.
Despite his unimpressive academic record, John was accepted at the Liverpool College of Art, assigned to a class in "Lettering." He met his first wife, Cynthia Powell, there and they began dating in 1958. They were eventually married on August 23, 1962. John later said he married Cynthia because she was pregnant with his child (Julian) and he felt it was the right thing to do. According to John, Aunt Mimi was not too thrilled when he came home with the news that Cynthia was pregnant and a marriage was planned.
In the meantime, the Quarry Men were evolving into The Silver Beetles, then into The Beatles, and making changes in their lineup, which now included Pete Best as their drummer. John's art school friend, Stu Sutcliffe was appointed to play bass..which he did - sort of - with his back to the audience. Stu was more skilled with a paintbrush and canvas than with a guitar, and felt out of place with the band.
With the roster of George, Paul, Stu, Pete and John, the group was booked into sleazy nightclubs in Hamburg, Germany by Allan Williams. This was a turning point for the Beatles, who grew up fast in this atmosphere, learning to play music, long, loud and hard. This was also the period when the Beatles' fashion sense and hairstyle began to transform..thanks to a sexy German photographer named Astrid Kirchherr who had fallen in love with Stu.
Ms. Kirchherr influenced the Beatles in those early days by convincing them to change their greased back hairstyle to the brushed forward style that became synonymous with Beatles; she also introduced them to the collarless jacket and leather outfits.
Stu was John's best friend and it was John who wanted Sutcliffe in the band. Stu's relationship with Paul was not very good, and it soon deteriorated from bad to worse. McCartney wasn't happy with Sutcliffe's musical contributions - and besides, Paul wanted to play bass. According to Bill Harry's "The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia," at one point, after making a rude comment about Astrid to Stu, the two began to fight, with the bigger Paul beating Stu up.
When the Beatles returned to Liverpool in July, 1961, Sutcliffe stayed behind in Germany to attend Hamburg State Art College and to marry Astrid. Tragically, Stu fell down the steps leading from their attic studio, hitting his head severely. He suffered from headaches and blackouts afterwards, with the pain eventually becoming so debilitating that he stayed in the apartment, cared for by Astrid and her mother. One terrible day, Astrid received a frantic phone call from her Mother telling her Stu had gotten much worse. On April 10, 1961, one of the original members of the Beatles, Stu Sutcliffe, died in the arms of Astrid Kirchherr on the way to the hospital.
John On Stuart Sutcliffe:
"I looked up to Stu, I depended on him to tell me the truth...Stu would tell me if something was good, and I'd believe him." - John Lennon.
Stuart on Astrid:
Both quotes from Stuart - The Life and Art of Stuart Sutcliffe By Pauline Sutcliffe and Kay Williams with an Introduction by Astrid Kirchherr and Afterword by Cynthia Lennon.