Wednesday December 10, 1980, two days after John Lennon’s death, the Irish Times front page driven with the news that Mark David Chapman had been charged with his murder.
It was one of six Irish Times stories that day about the former Beatle, who was shot, at the age of 40, outside his home in the Dakota Building in New York. Maev-Ann Wren wrote a front page article on Lennon, titled “Irish and Proud Of It”, which described his Irish origins – Jack Lennon, the singer and songwriter’s grandfather, was born in Dublin.
Inside the journal, the entire nine page was given to John Lennon. The articles included reviews of Deaglán de Bréadún – titled “The sixties die with Lennon in New York” – and by Joe Breen, which we reproduce below.
The front page of that day also included several articles on topics that still make the headlines: talks with Britain over Northern Ireland; electricity supply; agricultural subsidies; and public transport prices.
Less expected is a teaser title “How to survive?”, on a campaign for nuclear disarmament meet that request What you do it “if you find out that you are sharing your fallout shelter with a dead body and it is still unsafe to go out.” Fionnuala O Connor’s full report from Belfast was on page six.
Some of the front page ads are also for household names: one for Apple, another for Louis Copeland & Sons.
Here, on the 41st anniversary of Lennon’s death, is the Joe Breen tribute. You can see the original in the archives of the Irish Times.
John Lennon: the best son of rock music
It’s a bitter irony that John Lennon’s life ends with a shower of bullets fired by a stupid gunman, as one of the dominant features of his life was his continued calls for world peace.
Restless, sardonic and yet very human, he has always been the most controversial member of the Beatles, arguably the greatest rock band ever to produce. With Paul McCartney, he formed a songwriting partnership that produced classics such as A Day in the Life, Here, There and Everywhere, Nowhere Man and many more. When the four members went their separate ways ten years ago, Lennon was still able to produce songs like Imagine, although he never sought or received the same commercial success as McCartney’s.
In recent months, he had emerged from self-imposed exile and released his first album in more than five years. Double Fantasy is a mixed set recorded with his second wife, Yoko Ono, and a small group, which underlines his recent happiness.
The origin of the Beatles’ name was simple: They were all fans of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and John came up with the British equivalent of beetles, changing the spelling to emphasize the beat angle.
John Winston Lennon was born in Liverpool on October 9, 1940, during an intensive air raid. His parents, Fred and Julia, whose father was Irish, separated early in his life, and his mother’s sister, Mimi, raised the young boy. Although his home environment was stable, young John was a bit wild on the streets. He got involved in theft and struggled to accept school discipline.
Of that period he said, “I was aggressive because I wanted to be popular. I wanted to be the leader. It sounded more appealing than just being one of the toffees. I wanted everyone to do what I told them to do, laugh at my jokes and let me be the boss.
By the end of his fourth year at Quarry Bank High School, he had moved up from first class to last place in the lower class. “Certainly on the way to failure,” wrote one of his teachers. Lennon duly failed his O levels, but due to his aptitude for art he was able to enter an art school.
During this time, music hadn’t occupied much of his time, but inspired by the growing craze for rock ‘n roll, he formed a small group, the Quarrymen, who were all dressed in teddy bear clothes. . They played occasionally and only for fun. On one of those dates, a friend of John’s brought in another young boy from Liverpool. Lennon doesn’t remember too much, he was drunk although he was years younger. “It was the day I met Paul that things started to move.”
A few days later, Paul McCartney joined the Quarrymen, followed later by George Harrison. Time has passed and nothing has happened for the group. They were offered a short tour of Scotland, but their first glimpse of the big events ended in a disjointed fashion. Then they were offered a spot on a TV show, but it was still too early for the limelight.
By this time, they had changed their name to the Silver Beatles. The origin of the name was simple; they were all fans of Buddy Holly and the Crickets and John came up with the British equivalent of beetles, changing the spelling to emphasize the flapping angle.
With their music, The Beatles had unleashed a vibrant new feeling among young people; they had triggered the independent assurance that would make this generation claim the decade for themselves
The group still did not have a regular drummer although they did include on bass Stu Sutcliffe, a friend from Lennon’s art school. Paul McCartney was still playing guitar at this time.
They played concerts wherever they could find them. One of those places in Liverpool has perfectly captured the growing rock ‘n roll scene. Called the Casbah and run by the mother of future Beatles drummer Pete Best, it drew large crowds whenever Lennon and his friends performed. They also played occasionally at the Cavern, although it was still primarily a jazz club.
Then they were offered a stay in Hamburg. They jumped at the chance and asked Pete Best if he’d like to join them. He agreed and the five young hopefuls traveled to the German city for a short period that ended in poverty and failure. They returned to Liverpool no richer and with doubts about whether to continue.
They did and their local popularity exploded. They returned to Hamburg several times, each time more successfully than the last.
Stu Sutcliffe then left the group to study art in Hamburg, and in April 1962 he died of a brain hemorrhage there.
Meanwhile, Brian Epstein had entered the scene. Although it went against the grain, John Lennon was forced to wear costumes and dress in general while Epstein did the same with their business. He got them an audition with Decca, which they failed. Many other record companies later refused to sign The Beatles as well. Pete Best left and was replaced by Richard Starkey, who would later become Ringo Starr.
Then came their big break. George Martin, resident producer at Parlophone, was looking for a band to take advantage of the beat boom that Cliff Richard and the Shadows were conducting at the time. He met Epstein and arranged a test recording for the band on June 6, 1962. He was impressed, but it wasn’t until September that they recorded their first UK hit, “Love Me Do”, which eventually reached 17th place in the charts. It was a start.
“Please Please Me”, their sequel, didn’t drag around the edges, it went straight to # 1, the first of their many singles that would do the same. “From Me To You” released in April and “She Loves You” released in August both did the same. The Beatles were now on the right track. The struggles were over.
It’s hard now to understand the madness that followed The Beatles wherever they went from 1963 to 1966 when they stopped touring. With their music, they had sparked a vibrant new feeling among young people; they had triggered the independent assurance that would allow this generation to claim the decade for themselves.
As hits rushed up the charts it became clear that The Beatles were more than just a popular phenomenon; to Lennon and McCartney, the group included two of the most brilliant songwriters to honor popular music of this century.
For Lennon, the success, while mild, was tempered by his own outspoken beliefs. As Brian Epstein tried to dress the band and maintain their image of nice boys playing great music, Lennon always thought about the sharpest angle. He didn’t like the sharp picture. For example, in 1965 the group received the MBE, which Lennon duly returned four years later due to the Vietnam War and British policy in the North. “We must have done a lot of sales then. Taking the MBE has been a sale for me.
Lennon has always been caustic about success, and he tended to say something sensational, like the time he said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. Or there was the time when he and Yoko stayed in bed for a week for peace
Unlike the other three in the group, Lennon has always been caustic about success. Perhaps it was this cynical backbone of his personality that made him the most popular Beatle among rock critics. He was always inclined to say something sensational like the time he said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. Or there was the time when he and Yoko stayed in bed for a week for peace.
He could also be honest, refreshingly honest. When asked what was the reason for the success of his music, he replied, “Well, at the time, it was thought that the workers had broken through, but I realize in hindsight that this is the same bogus deal they give black people, it was just like they allow black people to be runners or boxers or performers. That’s the choice they give you – now the outlet is a pop star, that’s really what I’m saying in Working Class Hero. As I said Rolling stone, the same ones have the power, the class system has not changed at all. Of course, there are a lot of people now walking around with long hair and fashionable middle class kids in cute clothes. But nothing has changed except that we all dressed a little, letting the same bastards run everything.
If Lennon did not mark his genius of the last decade with the consistency of his early works, he did enough to make him one of the greatest figures in popular music and one of the best sons (if not the best) of rock. Rock won’t be the same without it.