Despite the nearly universal fame of the Beatles, many people only know the fairytale version of the iconic group’s rise to fame. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of Liverpool, Francis Kenny reveals the real John Lennon who preceded the legend, showing how his childhood shaped his personality, creative process, and path to success, and how it also destroyed his mental health, leading to the downfall of one of the most confident and brilliant musicians of the past century.
The Making of John Lennon is a must-read for any Beatles fan. It explains how Lennon’s turbulent family background affected his relationships, why the true inspiration for “Strawberry Fields” could not be revealed, how Pete Best's college connection led to his removal from the group, and why class backgrounds were the real reason for the breakup of the legendary band. Offering a complex portrait of Lennon’s early life, The Making of John Lennon tells the true story behind the rise of the legendary icon.
|Publisher:||Red Lightning Books|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Francis Kenny was born in Liverpool and has lived there his entire life, giving him a comprehensive understanding of the city where John Lennon grew up. Kenny first met his wife in The Cavern (they have five children) and has been immersed in Liverpool and Beatles culture all his life. He is author of the novel Waiting for the Beatles.
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1800s: CITY OF OUTSIDERS
John Lennon was born in 1940 in wartime Liverpool. His music, his persona and his beliefs were formed through the varying influences of his home city and its port, people and culture. The city represents the single most powerful influence on John's life. Indeed, after the breakup of The Beatles, having moved to New York's Dakota Buildings, John still kept a sea trunk inscribed with "Liverpool" which was full of mementos from his city of birth. His feelings for Liverpool were often ambiguous and, at certain periods of his career, the city's deep-seated blue-collar ethos became an obstacle and a source of friction to his later musical success. Nevertheless, Liverpool was passionately championed by its favourite son.
It is only by coming to understand the impact of his home city on John, the place in which his (paternal) Lennon and (maternal) Stanley families were born and nurtured, that it becomes possible to gain a valuable appreciation of one of the twentieth century's greatest musical talents. The thread of passion for Liverpool's culture, music and people would run throughout John's life. He came to love the edginess of a seaport with a workforce more comfortable in Barranquilla, Boston and Buenos Aires than Bolton, Bury or Blackburn. In some ways, though, the influence of the city could be a double-edged sword. Much of his personality and strength came from his affinity with Liverpool's Irish culture. The most obvious characteristics of this culture that John embodied were humour and accent, but also the Irish tendency towards defiance and argumentativeness, together with a healthy irreverence for authority and cant. His own view of his hometown was candid and revealed the depth of feeling for what would be the prime mover in shaping his life and music:
It was going poor, a very poor city, and tough. But people have a sense of humour because they are in so much pain, so they are always cracking jokes. They are very witty, and it's an Irish place. It is where the Irish came when they ran out of potatoes, and it's where black people were left or worked as slaves or whatever. It is cosmopolitan, and it's where the sailors would come home with the blues records from America on the ships.
John was fully aware of the unique nature of his hometown. Liverpool's influence on John and the rest of The Beatles is self-evident, not just in their accent but in their outlook, spirit and stoic determination to survive. The sense of being an outsider, of mutual support and the ability to laugh at one another was drawn from the city; it was this that kept them together in the whirlwind of Beatlemania and beyond. Liverpool was "a transitional place looking out over the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean while turning its back on the rest of the country."
It was in 1699 that the Liverpool Merchant became the port's first slave ship to sail for Africa, docking in Barbados with 220 Africans before making its return trip to Liverpool. In 1799, ships sailing out of Liverpool transported 45,000 Africans into bondage. The commercial success story of Liverpool and its relationship with the slave trade saw a rapid growth in port-related activities. This matched the growth of the British Industrial Revolution, in which the demand for imports and exports seemed insatiable on the back of that slave trade. At this time of mercantile expansion, Liverpool sailors were soon gaining a particular reputation and character. Indeed, novelist and sailor Joseph Conrad would comment: "That crew of Liverpool hard cases had in them the right stuff. It's my experience they always have."
This growing development of trade routes to and from the port meant that large numbers of sailors were drawn to the city from all corners of the globe. This encouraged the opening of numerous pubs and gin houses, lodging houses and brothels. Seafarers began to be seen as an important mainstay of the port's industry. Liverpool had become the first capitalist commercial boom town, as novelist Herman Melville observed in his novel Redburn:
Of all the sea-ports in the world, Liverpool, perhaps, most abounds in all the varieties of land-sharks, land-rats and other vermin, which make the hapless mariners their prey. In the shape of landlords, bar-keepers, clothiers, crimps and boarding-house loungers, the land-sharks devour him, limb by limb; whilst the land-rats and mice constantly nibble at his purse.
The importance of the port and port-based activities would constitute the main driving force behind Liverpool's economic development for two and a half centuries. The city's function as a port turned it into a commercial rather than an industrial centre, the capital invested there making it the major distribution centre and importer of raw material. Liverpool's confidence in itself and sense for innovation was such that it pioneered the world's first electrically powered overhead railway system, stretching seven miles along the dockland zones, which both New York and Chicago later emulated.
Trade with the Americas proved to be a huge attraction, for those not just in Britain, but all over Europe. The city and port were booming. But while Liverpool was generating itself into a boomtown, across the Irish Sea a disaster of biblical proportions was taking place:
As far as the Famine goes, we are dealing with the most important episode of Modern Irish history and the greatest social disaster of the nineteenth century in Europe ...
When the 1847–49 potato famine hit in Ireland, the exodus of Irish emigrants towards the city, in terms of its social fabric, was enormous. In 1847 alone, 300,000 people crossed the Irish Sea, fleeing the famine to live in England, with many starting a new life around the port. By 1851, 25 per cent of Liverpool's population was Irish-born. An alternative set of values, beliefs and religion was developing, and the Catholic enclaves along the north-end and south-end dock-land zones were becoming a city within a city.
The steady expansion of the city and its Irish contingent meant that by the 1890s, Liverpool had become the largest Roman Catholic diocese in England with over 400,000 Catholic citizens, one-fifth of the total Catholic population of Britain. Between 1851 and 1911, the city also witnessed the arrival of 20,000 people in each decade from Wales. The "Celtic nations" were never so well represented in one city. These Irish and mercantile influences on Liverpool have played a major role in defining its literature arts, music, culture and social fabric. Indeed, in the case of The Beatles, John, Paul and George shared Irish ancestry. The Beatles' background were also inherently tied to the port, with John and George's fathers being seafarers and Paul's father working in the cotton industry, which relied on the port for shipping.
Liverpool had become a terminal for people, not just goods, and had established itself as the port par excellence for the mass movement for those seeking a better life — particularly for emigrants to Northern and Western Europe and the Americas. Between 1830 and 1930, some nine million emigrants sailed from the Mersey into the Atlantic. In 1886, London Illustrated News described Liverpool as "the New York of Europe, a world city rather than merely a British provincial."
At beginning of the 20th century, Liverpool was at the peak of its commercial power and was considered the world's first global city. In response to this, it celebrated and declared its position as second city of the world's largest empire. The mercantile elite decided to create what would later be known as the "Three Graces" — the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building — set on the Pier Head looking out to the Mersey Bar and Irish Sea. Tipping their hat towards the port in their film Yellow Submarine, we see The Beatles sailing off for their series of adventures in the Sea of Dreams, departing from their home city's Pier Head.
The vibrancy and cut and thrust of a large seaport like Liverpool was to have a profound effect on John, as would his family life, which had its own Celtic roots to add to the influence of the city's own home-grown Irish culture. The influence on his music, however, has to a large extent been overlooked. John's rebellious nature has been attributed to the early absence of his parents and the death of his mother, Julia. But if one looks at the history of rebellion in the city, we find that this particular character is rooted in the port and the mix of blue-collar workers, large numbers of Afro-Caribbean people (the largest community in the UK) and a Chinese community the oldest in Europe. The influx of Irish immigrants, Welsh and Scots seeking work in the port, as well as African and Chinese seamen, lead to an eclectic cultural community. The word Scouse, for example, comes from the word lobscouse, a Scandinavian stew. John's Aunt Mimi was to take particular exception to John's adoption of a Scouse accent upon forming The Beatles. To many, the garrulous, sharp-natured "Scouser" can on the surface be seen as caustic or delivering a certain truculence, but this is not the full story. It is no coincidence that Liverpool, Naples, New York and Kingston have always had much more in common with each other than their own particular country. They are populated by outsiders fully aware of their sense of otherness.
The cultural makeup of the city encouraged a particular tendency to puncture pretension and defy authority, while its internationalism and multiplicity created an accent tailored to support the case: dese for these, dat for that, giz for give us, youse as a plural for you, all of this interchangeable with the accent of Brooklyn or New York. The transatlantic shipping lines between Liverpool and New York conveyed not just people, but cultural and social discourse.
The nature of both dock work and seafaring demanded team work and good communication skills. In factory jobs, the noise of the shop floor or the gaze of the foreman limited socialising via the spoken word. With seafaring, however, signing on for a trip meant bringing to the job the ability to compromise, and an understanding of the needs of others. This was especially true on a deep sea trip, where there was a more intensive need to communicate, to give and take, gain acceptance and generally get on. This centred on dialogue concerning common values and interests. In order to gain acceptance, maintain a shipmate's welfare and aim for a "good trip," there needed to be a sense of comradeship. It was this ability to "rub along" that formed a seafarer's profile. And these traits were transferred over to land jobs, when gangs were formed on the docks. From this casual type of work and the Celtic fondness for the craic emanated the image of the Scouser.
As a suburban teenager, John's first ventures into inner-city Liverpool would have been one of intrigue and awe at the unfamiliarity of the terms and the machine gun delivery of dialogue. To John, this was a different country. This provoked clashes with his Aunt Mimi over, amongst others things, his previous Received Pronunciation sliding into Scouse. But when The Beatles achieved world fame, John declared:
The first thing we did was to proclaim our "Liverpoolness" to the world, and say, "It's all right to come from Liverpool and talk like this." Before, anybody from Liverpool who made it ... had to lose their accent to get on the BBC ... After The Beatles came on the scene, everyone started putting on a Liverpudlian accent.
John's father Freddie recalls ringing up from dockside Southampton when John was five years old: "He spoke lovely English," Freddie enthused. "When I heard his Scouse accent years later, I was sure it must be a gimmick." It wasn't a gimmick — to John it was much more important than that. It was a matter of survival.
Having nailed the accent, John was quick to pick up on the "Scouse attitude," seen at times as a split personality of argumentativeness and extreme bonhomie. The Liverpool accent, it must be remembered, was in many ways the product of influxes to a port city, much like its far-flung sister port, New York. Turn-of-the-century Liverpool and New York essentially grew up together, their working-class culture resembling each other more than they would of the English Home Counties or the oil fields of Texas. Playwright Eugene O'Neil's work dramatically reveals the closeness of his Brooklyn characters with that of the Scouse accent most notably in his 1911 play The Iceman Cometh. His character Rocky's delivery, spoken in a waterfront Brooklyn dive, could easily be found in any bar in Liverpool's own Scotland Road or Park Lane:
"De old anarchist wise guy dat knows all de answers! Dat's you, huh?" "Why ain't he out dere stickin" by her?"
This is Scouse set in a Brooklyn Bar: an Irish accent and demeanour that ran through both cities histories like a thread.
John's view of his hometown was that "it was less hick than somewhere in the English Midlands, like the American Midwest or whatever you call it." In the same interview, John "regrets profoundly" that he wasn't born in New York. It gave further resonance to the similarities, attractiveness and pulling power to John of both cities to his idea of himself. Due to its seafaring internationalism, Liverpool was open to exotic, non-English ideas, to the extent that the Mersey was paradoxically viewed as an inland extension of the Irish Sea. As a port of world status, it had the confidence to "choose" its own nation state. It wasn't only England. Although young John was not a Scouse in the true sense of the word, he readily threw himself into a world of poverty, sheebeens and communities of sharp-tongued, hard-faced, generous, quick-witted and quick-tempered people. A world that was sensitive to injustice, a rowdy, rock 'n' roll world, the world of dockland Liverpool. This was the life he wanted. It was not what his aunt wanted for him, which couldn't have been further from rock 'n' roll: listening to the sound of the establishment in the shape of the BBC Light Programme, being in bed by 12 o'clock, with a bookcase full of Just William and Mimi's Encyclopaedia Britannica beside him for company.
It was time to move on, and he had the perfect place on his doorstep. John was confronted with fast-speaking young men his own age "talking with their hands" and fashioning new language patterns around themselves, pounding the ears of the listener with a language of street slang and ruthless Mickey-taking, and this was the world for him. The verbal, street-corner duels must have amazed him, encouraging him to listen and learn, to add to his own armoury and develop speech as a weapon to beat an opponent. If he was going to lead this group called The Beatles and provide a platform for his musical goals, he needed to have the audacity to step up to another level of wit and guile. This was demanded in inner-city Liverpool: fight not only with fists, but with verbal putdowns, with cunning and, above all, the ability to get one over while out-flanking your opponent.
Throughout his life, John used Liverpool as an anchor to give stability to the maelstrom of Beatlemania, the persistent mental health and drug problems and the final breakup of the group. What mattered to him was his identification with music and this first came with his own burst of independence, as a teenager on the streets of Liverpool. His creative, artistic flourish was nurtured against the backdrop of the edginess of a bustling multi-cultural seaport.
The whole notion of being an outcast in a city full of outcasts — located in a last refuge seaport, no less — nurtured a sense of otherness that appealed to John. In the year of his Aunt Mimi's birth in 1906, the City Council Health Committee revealed that:
there was not a city in this country, nay in Europe, which could produce anything like the squalor that ... officials found in some of Liverpool's back-treets.
Like the "Famine Irish," another group of peoples that faced impossible suffering at that period were Afro-Americans. Like the Irish, Afro-Americans were also inclined to develop an aspect of their culture that was derived from prejudice and derision and reflect this defensively in their language. Afro-American writer Stanley Crouch argues that:
Negro Americans are not predisposed to follow people. They aren't. That's why there's always a certain element of chaos in the Negro world, because ... from slavery onward, we didn't like to listen. No.
If we draw a comparison between Crouch's understanding of black resistance and that of the history of the Irish, who suffered and died of hunger by the millions and who were subject to extreme social prejudice in England and America, one gets an insight into the outlook of the "belligerent," non-compliant Liverpool-Irish identity from which John derived his character.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Making of John Lennon"
Copyright © 2018 Francis Kenny.
Excerpted by permission of Red Lightning Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Milestones in The Making of John Lennon
1. 1800s: City of Outsiders
2. 1900s: Toxteth Park
3. 1940-45: Salvation Army Hospital
4. 1946-50: Wandsworth Jail
5. 1950-55: Gladstone Hall
6. 1955-57: Town and Country
7. 1957-60: Hope Street
8. 1960-61: The Wyvern Club
9. 1961-62: Great Charlotte Street
10. 1961-62: The Grapes
11. 1963-64: Liverpool Town Hall
12. 1964: Hansel and Gretel House
13. 1965: Perugia Way
14. 1965-66: Candlestick Park
15. 1966-67: Cavendish Avenue
16. 1967-68: Foothills of the Himalayas
17. 1968: Abbey Road
18. 1969: Savile Row
19. 1969 (Part 2): Tittenhurst
20. 1970-71: Dakota Building