“You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one” has to be one of the best defence lines against hardened cynics ever written. And ironic that it comes from an individual who had his own razor sharp brand of cynicism at the same time as brandishing a flare for the utopian ideals.
John Lennon would have been 80 today and as we all celebrate, remember and immerse ourselves in the legacy he left behind, I’ve finally bitten the Lennon bullet and decided to write what I always think about writing every time his birthday comes around each year. How I used Lennon’s life as a template to build my own.
The Lennon Connection
We all have our own connection to Lennon, and it’s always deeply meaningful to each of us. But I’m not sure how I would have navigated my early years without John Lennon. Being born in 1975, I’m not from a generation that got 7 years of Beatles and 13 of their albums under my belt before having to compare Lennon’s solo career to his first band and deciding whether it would ‘make the grade’ or not. In fact my discovery was almost the other way round. Sgt Pepper’s was filed, stored and self medicated at age 12 not too long after mainlining Dark Side of The Moon and Tubular Bells into my system. It was around that time, whilst living in the middle of nowhere in the Andalusian mountains in Spain with my mother, that I first heard the words ‘Aunt Mimi’. I grew up hearing stories about this woman every time I drew a picture, wrote a poem or recorded a song. My mother had been intent on not doing with me what Aunt Mimi had done with John Lennon. Yes, there is a vault at my mother’s home in Spain of everything I ever made from age 5 to age 16.
At age 12, I was given a new pair of glasses (or frames). Gold rimmed 1940s NHS spectacles that were much lighter on my nose than the heavy black frames I started off with. It wasn’t long before all of my mum’s friends would start uttering the words ‘John Lennon’ when they saw me. Because I was already writing poetry and music, it just became a ‘thing’ in my pre-teen life. John Lennon. And it caught on. Back in England, my mother’s ex-girlfriend sent me a book called ‘The Lyrics of John Lennon’ which resulted in me reading every song he’d ever written before I’d heard them. As my mother noticed the posters of John and Yoko gradually going up on my bedroom wall, she realised that whilst she, as a lesbian, couldn’t provide any kind of picture of heterosexual life for her growing son to learn from, she’s said since that John and Yoko were as good as any couple to grow up with. As a consequence, the relationships in my life have been journeys through creativity as much as they have been through love.
Polly Perkins – a portal into the counterculture
My mother (Polly Perkins) casually mentioned to me at that time that she’d worked with The Beatles in the ’60s (Ready Steady Go!), danced with the Beatles and even had a run in with John Lennon at The Ad Lib club in the early Sixties. Apparently he walked up to her and in a tough Scouse drawl asked her ‘Is your right tit bigger than your left tit?”. My mother being the first pop star to come out as gay (against Dusty’s advice), and pumped with equality gusto turned to Lennon and said “Is your right ball bigger than your left ball?” and promptly waltzed off with her girlfriend.
It’s a funny to me now but I remember being really disappointed when she told me. I couldn’t understand how he could be so…macho. I was seduced by Lennon’s love lullabies and romantic Yoko inspired utopianism. But that’s where the wonder of Lennon lies for me. He kept changing, growing and evolving. But whatever he was exploring, he explored it fully and committed entirely. From many accounts I’ve read, before Yoko, he was an archetypal chauvinist. When he did Dylan on You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, he out-Dylaned Dylan. And when he emulated Gandhi on world peace, he pioneered the concept of advertising being able to become a force for good in the world. In music, art, style, ideas and sheer tenacity, I, and perhaps other fatherless sons, made John Lennon into a father figure to fill in the missing 50% parental gap.
In 1993, age 17 I got my first Rickenbacker 335 and the same year I had my prescription lenses made in blue. With a dream of making 13 albums like The Beatles, I embarked on a career with my band and managed to pull off a Frankenstein version of that which turned out to be 1 album with the band and 20 albums as a solo artist.
As a youngster I wanted to be John Lennon, and through wanting to be him, I managed to find the best way possible into becoming myself. For any fatherless sons and daughters, I highly recommend Lennon as a virtual surrogate father. What we know about him shows a character built with the perfection of imperfect humanity and high ideals for a better world, despite our inevitable individual flaws. In the words of Gore Vidal, “Lennon came to represent life”.
In time, I am sure it will become hard to believe that such a life ever happened at all. I for one will forever treasure that it did. Happy Birthday John. You sang ‘Gimme Some Truth’. Well, we’re trying, and while the sons of Tricky Dicky are trickier than ever, more of us are awakening than ever before. The dream isn’t over.