Like many a 50s baby, I grew up with The Beatles. Back then I preferred baby-faced Paul McCartney but later came to realise Lennon was the musician who gave the band its edge. Harrison and Starr were both brilliant musicians, and McCartney is a strong singer, player and songwriter, but without Lennon in the mix, there wouldn’t have been enough alchemy to make that fresh, cheeky, tender and original sound. Lennon was a troubled boy with a difficult background, a rebel, someone whose creativity was multi-faceted. He seemed to be finally settling down with Yoko and his second son, when he was unexpectedly shot down in New York by a random, unstable fan. The shock waves went through all of us who’d followed his career, shock and sorrow as profound as when Kennedy died, when Diana was killed.
A few years ago I visited the homes of McCartney and Lennon in Liverpool. The contrast was startling. McCartney’s was homely and comforting, full of family photos and so much love, although his mother had died when he was only 12. Lennon’s was middle class, aspirational, and slightly intimidating. His friends had to knock on the back door and wipe their feet. His Aunt Mimi did a great job of bringing him up though, but wanted him to conform. This poem came out of my interest in him and my research about him. It was in my collection Paper Patterns (Lapwing 2012)
For John Lennon
Trapped, not in back entries behind terraces
but in posh Mendips with eyefuls of stained glass,
respectability in every spike of creamy porridge pebble-dash.
Everything neat and scrubbed, dishcloth draped over taps.
Trapped, by an upright aunt, whose expectations
weighed heavy as iron slabs of kitchen scales.
High grades for the bright boy, good job with pension,
work hard now for success later on. Homework to be done.
Trapped by fans, wa wa wa and love me do. Where were
the good years, writing songs with Paul? The years fooling
at school, flunking O levels on purpose, trying Mimi’s temper?
Fighting for the right to grow up, wear white suits, love Yoko.
Trapped in the end by a fan’s insanity, proffering an exit
marked by a gun, red blooms on a white life, imagine.
How far he was from home, lost Liverpool boy!
Trapped by our love, locked in legend, sealed on discs.