Peace, love & rock ‘n roll: John Lennon changed the world (1960s-70s)

John Lennon and Yoko Ono

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John Lennon, an iconic figure whose name reverberates through the annals of music history, began life as a working-class boy in Liverpool. His story is one of inspiration, passion, creativity, and at times, controversy.

John Lennon’s childhood

Born on October 9, 1940, Lennon’s early life was marked by hardship and upheaval. His father was absent, and his mother died when he was just a teenager, leaving him in the care of his Aunt Mimi. These early struggles shaped the emotional core of the young musician, fueling a deep well of creativity.

John Lennon & the Beatles

In 1957, Lennon formed a band that would later become known as the Beatles. Together with Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, the Beatles took the world by storm.

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Their unprecedented success and innovative style changed the face of popular music, moving it from simple rock ‘n’ roll to a complex, experimental art form. Songs like “Yesterday,” “Hey Jude,” and “Let It Be” are timeless anthems that continue to resonate with fans of all ages.

John Lennon’s solo career

Following the breakup of the Beatles in 1970, going solo allowed Lennon to further explore his artistic and political passions. It marked a period of both personal reflection and public activism.

His first solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, released in 1970, was a stark departure from the Beatles’ sound. It contained raw and personal reflections on his childhood, fame, and feelings of loss. This album, featuring tracks like “Mother” and “Working Class Hero,” revealed a more vulnerable and honest side of Lennon.

Perhaps the most famous of his solo works, the 1971 album Imagine, contained the hit title track, which has since become an anthem for peace. The song’s simple melody and poignant lyrics encapsulate Lennon’s dream of a world without divisions and conflicts. The album also explored political themes, with songs like “Gimme Some Truth” that criticized political dishonesty.

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During this period, Lennon also became more vocal about his political beliefs. He actively protested against the Vietnam War and advocated for peace and human rights. His activism led him to be monitored by the FBI, and there were even attempts to deport him from the U.S.

In the mid-70s, Lennon took a hiatus from music to focus on his family, particularly after the birth of his son Sean in 1975. He embraced the role of a stay-at-home father, a stark contrast to his earlier, more tumultuous years.

Lennon’s return to music came with the 1980 album Double Fantasy, a collaboration with Yoko Ono. The album explored themes of love, relationships, and daily life. Tragically, its release was shortly followed by Lennon’s assassination, making it the final statement of his solo career.

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John Lennon’s solo career was marked by a willingness to take risks, both musically and personally. He used his platform to speak out on issues he cared about, all while exploring new musical directions. Though cut tragically short, his solo work continues to resonate with audiences around the world, reflecting the timeless nature of his art and ideals. His contributions as a solo artist complemented his work with the Beatles, further cementing his place as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.

John Lennon: “Give peace a chance”

Beyond music, Lennon was an outspoken advocate for peace. His activism was often seen as controversial, and his political views landed him in trouble with various authorities. From staging Bed-Ins for Peace with his second wife, Yoko Ono, to speaking out against the Vietnam War, Lennon’s voice was as distinctive in politics as it was in music.

John Lennon’s family

John Lennon’s personal life was as multifaceted and complex as his public persona. Family played a significant, albeit complicated, role in his life.

Lennon’s childhood was marked by a lack of stability. His father, Alfred Lennon, was a merchant seaman who was largely absent during John’s early years. His mother, Julia, was unable to care for him, leading young John to be raised by his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George. The loss of his mother in a car accident when he was just 17 left a profound impact on him.

In his early adulthood, Lennon married Cynthia Powell in 1962. The couple had a son, Julian, the following year. However, the pressures of fame and Lennon’s increasing involvement in avant-garde art and political activism led to tensions in the marriage. Cynthia and John divorced in 1968.

John Lennon’s first marriage led to the birth of his son, Julian, in 1963. Named after his paternal grandmother, Julian’s relationship with his father was complex and often strained. During the Beatles’ rise to fame, Lennon’s absence from home led to feelings of neglect in Julian. The relationship became more distant after Lennon’s divorce from Cynthia and his marriage to Yoko Ono.

Though there were attempts at connection and some moments of bonding, the relationship between father and son remained complicated. Julian went on to become a musician himself, working to establish his own identity in the shadow of his famous father. The story of John and Julian Lennon underscores the challenges and contradictions of Lennon’s personal life, reflecting both love and difficulty.

John Lennon & Yoko Ono

Later in 1968, John Lennon married Yoko Ono, an avant-garde artist he had met at one of her art exhibitions. Their relationship was intensely close, and they collaborated on numerous artistic and political projects. From their famous Bed-Ins for Peace to experimental albums, John and Yoko’s relationship was central to both their creative lives.

However, this second marriage was not without its struggles. A brief separation in 1973, often referred to as Lennon’s “Lost Weekend,” was a turbulent period, but the couple eventually reconciled.

The birth of their son, Sean, in 1975, marked a turning point in Lennon’s life. He took on the role of a stay-at-home dad, stepping back from the public eye to focus on family. This period of domesticity was a stark contrast to the earlier parts of his life, and many believe it provided him with contentment and joy.

In both his relationships and his role as a father, Lennon’s personal life was filled with complexities, contradictions, and growth. Whether as a husband or a father, he often challenged traditional roles and expectations, reflecting the same spirit of experimentation and non-conformity that characterized his music and activism.

Through all the twists and turns of his personal life, one thing remained consistent: Lennon’s profound belief in love. From his songs to his public declarations, love was a theme that he returned to time and time again, a guiding principle that shaped his relationships and his view of the world. His personal life was not always smooth or simple, but it was marked by a deep and enduring search for connection, understanding and empathy.

John Lennon’s death

Tragically, John Lennon’s life was cut short on December 8, 1980, when he was murdered outside his New York apartment. His death was a profound loss not only to music but to a generation that saw him as a symbol of change and hope.

Lennon’s influence continues to be felt in various spheres of art and activism. His legacy is not just one of music but of a man who dared to dream of a better world and used his platform to try to make it a reality.

In reflecting on John Lennon, one sees a complicated, multifaceted individual. A talented musician, a visionary, a rebel, and a peace advocate, his life and work continue to inspire and challenge — an example of the power of art to shape and reflect the human experience.

The shocking murder of The Beatles’ John Lennon (1980)

New York — John Lennon, the former Beatle whose music set the beat for a revolutionary youth generation in the 1960s, was shot to death outside his Manhattan home by a man who earlier obtained his autograph on the rock star’s new record album, police said today.

The assailant was identified as Mark David Chapman, 25, who was only 7 when The Beatles first burst upon the world stage in 1963 with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

Time Magazine cover - John Lennon's death (1980)

Police said Chapman killed Lennon Monday night with a snub-nosed .38-caliber Charter Arms revolver he bought in Honolulu just six weeks ago. He was charged with second-degree murder, and scheduled for arraignment later today.

The bespectacled Lennon, who, at 40, had launched a comeback with the album “Double Fantasy,” fell to the floor of the vestibule of the exclusive Dakota Apartments, the cooperative turn-of-the-century building that is home to hundreds of celebrities in the city.

Police say Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, looked on in horror as Chapman assumed a combat stance and pumped five bullets into the rock star’s chest and arms.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono on Rolling Stone cover
The photo on the cover of the January 22, 1981 issue of Rolling Stone was taken by Annie Leibovitz on the day of Lennon’s death

Former Beatle John Lennon shot to death outside New York home

“I’m shot,” Lennon cried and slumped to the floor.

The slaying stunned the world. Radio stations were jammed with calls from fans who pleaded “Tell me it’s not true… It can’t be true.”

Hundreds gathered outside the Dakota to pay homage to Lennon, one of the most prolific songwriters of modern time, whose music helped define the turbulent ’60s. They sang, “All we are saying is, give peace a chance.” A police officer placed a bouquet of white flowers at the entrance to the building’s courtyard.

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Lennon was pronounced dead at Roosevelt Hospital, where doctors worked feverishly to save him.

“Tell me it isn’t true,” Ms Ono cried in the police car as the couple was raced to the hospital.

Chapman, a former security guard who lived in Honolulu and was described by police as “a wacko,” who had been loitering around the Dakota for several days in an area of the courtyard set aside for autograph seekers.

“Do you know what you just did?” the doorman of the Dakota, whose facade was splattered with blood, reportedly asked Chapman.

“I just shot John Lennon,” Chapman reportedly replied.

People magazine cover - 1980 - John Lennon tribute
People magazine cover featuring a tribute to John Lennon, from December 22, 1980.

Lennon killed by Mark David Chapman

Police said Chapman bought the pistol, similar to a model used by detectives, six weeks ago at a gun shop about a block from the Honolulu police station.

Police said Lennon drove into the Dakota’s courtyard shortly before 11 pm with his wife. The singer had been at a recording session.

In the afternoon, when Lennon left for the studio, Chapman reportedly got him to autograph a copy of his latest album, which features a cover picture of Lennon and Ms Ono in front of the Dakota.

When Lennon returned, police said, Chapman was waiting in the courtyard.

As Lennon left his car and walked toward the vestibule, police said, Chapman approached him, calling out, “Mr Lennon?” They said he then drew the gun from his coat, crouched down and fired five times.

Lennon staggered about six steps to a small guard’s office at the entrance of the building and fell face-down.

While the doormen summoned police and doctors, witnesses said, Chapman waited calmly. They said he dropped his gun, which a guard kicked aside and waited for police.

One witness, Sean Strub, said the gunman had “almost a smirk on his face.”

John Lennon and Mark David Chapman

Police carried the dying Lennon into a squad car and, with his wife at his side, raced to Roosevelt Hospital.

“Tell me he’s all right,” Ms Ono screamed as the police car sped to the hospital, a police officer said. “Tell me he’s all right.”

James Moran, the police officer who took Lennon to the hospital, said the singer was bleeding badly from the chest.

“Are you John Lennon?” the officer asked over and over. But Lennon only mumbled and moaned.

A hospital spokesman said Lennon suffered seven wounds to the chest, head and arm.

“John loved and prayed for the human race. Please do the same for him,” his widow said in a statement issued by David Geffen, a record producer and friend of the couple.

Beatles - LIFE Aug 28, 1964

Ringo Starr, the Beatles’ drummer, was informed of Lennon’s death while on vacation “somewhere in Europe,” and left immediately for the United States. A spokesman said, “He is extremely shocked. He doesn’t want to say more.”

MORE: Dad takes dare and attends a Beatles concert – plus a teen fan describes the chaos in the ’60s

A spokesman for Paul McCartney, with whom Lennon collaborated on most of the Beatles’ songs, said Lennon “was much respected and, although certainly reclusive in recent years, was much loved by all those who knew him. It is a deep, deep shock.”

The whereabouts of the fourth Beatle, George Harrison, were not immediately known.

John Lennon killed - New York City newspaper front page - December 9, 1980

John Lennon mourners sing outside the Dakota

New York — Young women wept and embraced. Some of them were in grade school when the Beatles cut their last album.

They were gathered today outside the Dakota, the apartment building where rock ‘n’ roll legend John Lennon was shot and killed Monday night.

The scent of incense wafted through the air and the Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields” blared from a speaker on the roof of one of the cabs double-parked along the busy roadway outside the building.

A young man collapsed as police fought to keep the crowd from the gateway leading to the ultra-exclusive Dakota, where Lennon had lived.

The crowd of some 500 arrived by foot, cab, subway and car and milled mournfully outside the Dakota.

Clusters of fans huddled around transistor radios listening to reports of the shootings, and later, to Beatles’ music.

In the early morning hours, as shock gave way to sorrow, people began singing, swaying rhythmically, and holding lighted matches above their heads.


John Lennon: “Imagine” video

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The Los Angeles Times: Beatle John Lennon Slain

John Lennon killed - Los Angeles newspaper front page - December 9, 1980

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. I was in high school when John Lennon was shot. Half the kids were freaking out and openly crying in the halls. The other half were asking, “Who’s this John Lennon everyone’s talking about?” The weekend after he was shot, our church youth group took a bus trip to NYC. A group of us walked up to the Dakota to see what was going on; it was almost a circus atmosphere, with vendors hawking t-shirts and even balloons to the mourners and curiosity seekers. The crowd was so big that we couldn’t get anywhere near the building.

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