John LENNON -- who died last Monday at the age of 40 -- was seldom at a loss for words. Sometimes people laughed; sometimes they were infuriated. But they listened.
Over a 20-year career that left a lasting mark on popular music, Lennon's witty and often controversial remarks appeared in scores of books, magazines and newspaper articles. What follows is a history of his life illustrated with selected quotations.
Oct. 9, 1940: John Winston Lennon is born at Liverpool's Oxford Maternity Hospital, the only son of Alfred and Julia Lennon. Alfred, a merchant seaman, is at sea. Shortly after he is born, Lennon's mother leaves him in the care of her married sister, Mimi Smith. As a schoolboy, Lennon is known for his intellect, mischief and disrespect of authority. He excells in art and literature, expanding his musical interests during the early - '50s rock and folk craze in England.
"People like me are aware of their so-called genius at 10, 8. 9. I always wondered, why nobody discovered me?In school, didn't they see I was cleverer than anybody else?. . . . If there is such a thing as genius, I am one, and if there isn't, I don't care."
1953: Lennon has already mastered the harmonica, and now he learns guitar. He fell headlong into rock 'n' roll, leaving all his other interest behind.
"There is nothing conceptually better than rock and roll. No group, be it the Beatles, Dylan or the Stones, have ever improved on "Whole Lot of Shakin" for my money. Or maybe I'm like our parents: That's my period and I'll dig it and never leave it."
"Rock 'n' roll was the basic revolution to people of my age and situation. We needed something loud and clear to break through all the unfeeling and repression that had been coming down on us kids."
1955: Lennon forms his first group, the Quarrymen, and meets two other would-be musicians, George Harrison and Paul McCartney.
"Once upon a time there were three little boys called John, George and Paul, by name christened. They decided to get together because they were the getting together type. When they were together, they wondered what for after all, what for? So all of a sudden they grew guitars and formed a noise. Funny enough, no one was interested."
1957: Lennon's mother -- with whom he was beginning a reconciliation -- is killed in a car crash. He throws himself totally into his music. By 1959, the Quarrymen have evolved into the Silver Beatles. A year later, they've dropped the Silver and start working in Liverpool teen clubs for $16.80 a night. In 1961, they meet record-store owner Brian Epstein, who becomes their manager. The Beatles tour England, most often at the bottom of the bill, and start making regular trips to Hamburg, Germany, where their following is much greater than in England.
"What we generated was fantastic, when we played straight rock, and there was nobody to touch us in Britain . . . . It was a really good time, famewise."
"Whatever wind was blowing at the time moved the Beatles, too. I'm not saying we weren't flags on top of the ship, but the whole beat was moving."
1962: The Beatles pass an autition for EMI Records after being turned down elsewhere (one rejection says "groups of guitars are on the way out"); the group wins the Mersey Beat poll, releases "Love Me Do" and makes its first television appearance on "People and Places." Lennon marries Cynthia Powell (they will have one son). Richard Starkey replaces Pete Best as drummer and becomes Ringo Starr.
"Oh, sure, I dug the fame, the power the money, and playing to big crowds. Conquering America was the best thing. You see we wanted to be bigger than Elvis -- that was the main thing. . . . We reckoned we could make it because there were four of us.None of us would've made it alone, because Paul wasn't quite strong enough. I didn't have enough girl-appeal, George was too quiet, and Ringo was the drummer. But we thought that everyone would be able to dig at least one of us, and that's how it turned out."
1963: "Please, Please Me" hits No. 1 and in May, the Beatles headline their first British concert with support from Roy Orbison and Gerry and the Pacemakers. Lennon also shakes up the Royal Command Performance for the House of Windsor:
"On the next number, would those in the cheap seats clap their hands? The rest of you just rattle your jewelry."
"I consider myself a primitive musician because I never studies music. In the early days, they were always asking us 'Would you and Paul consider learning music?' and we always said 'No, no it would wreck our style.'"
1964: The Beatles land to mass hysteria at Kennedy Airport in New York, and agitate things further with an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. By the end of March, the Beatles hold the American charts hostage with nos. 1 through 5 and eight more of the top 100. Lennon publishes his first book, "In His Own Write"; in July, the film "A Hard Day's Night" opens. Beatlemania is in full force. As in England, American youth starts to dress, look and act like the Beatles.
"When we got here, you were all walking around in Bermuda shorts, with Boston crew cuts and stuff on your teeth. There was no conception of dress or any of that jazz. We just thought 'What an ugly race,' it looked disgusting. We thought how hip we were, but of course, we weren't. The Stones were the hip ones -- the rest of England were just the same as they ever were."
"We knew we would wipe you out if we could just get a grip on you. We were new."
1965: The Beatles are awarded MBEs for "service to export." British military figures flood Buckingham Palace with returned medals and ribbons. Lennon publishes "A Spaniard in the Works." The movie "Help" opens. In August, close to 60,000 fans see the Beatles at Shea Stadium in New York.
"Lots of people who complained about us receiving the MBE received theirs for heroism in the war -- for killing people. We received ours for entertaining other people. I'd say we deserve ours more, wouldn't you?"
1966: The Beatles make their last live appearances, though they are not aware of it at the time. The first drug reference appears on the "Revolver" album. And Lennon says:
"We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first -- rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."
"I'm not anti-God, anti-Christ or anti-religion. I was not saying we are greater or better. I believe in God . . . that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It's just that the translations have gone wrong. I could have said TV or cinema or anything popular and I would have gotten away with it."
1967: Brian Epstein dies, the Beatles study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India, "Sgt. Pepper" comes out, and the Beatles quit performing live.
"After Brian died, we collapsed. Paul took over and supposedly led us . . . .We broke up then, that was the disintergration."
"'Sgt. Pepper' is the one. It was a peak. Paul and I were definitely working together, especially on 'A Day in the Life.' I always perferred the double album because my music is better on the double album; I don't care about the whole concept of Pepper, it might be better, but the music was better for me on the double album because I'm being myself on it."
1968: The double "Beatles White Album" comes out, as does the film "Yellow Submarine." Lennon meets avant-garde artist Yoko Ono and leaves his first wife for her. Lenno and Ono put out an album called "Two Virgins," with pictures of both of them in the buff.
"I would've been producing Yoko had we not fallen in love anyway. And now we're together. Yes, it turned out much better, and it's getting better all the time."
"I don't write for the Beatles, I write for meself, so I'm influences by whatever's going on at the time. . . . I'm in love with Yoko, so every time I pick up a guitar I sing about Yoko."
1969: Lennon marries Ono, McCartney marries Linda Eastman. The film and record versions of "Let It Be" document the Beatles' disintegration because of personality clashes. "Abbey Road" comes out later in the year. Lennon releases "The Wedding Album" and his new, rockier Plastic Ono Band album, including a song called "Give Peace a Chance."
"It was hell making the film 'Let It Be'. . . even the biggest Beatle fan couldn't have sat through those six weeks of misery."
"We all have Hitler in us, but we also have love and peace. So why not give peace a chance? I was pleased when the movembent in American took up "Give Peace a Chance' because I had written it with that in mind really."
1970: Apple Records dissolves; the breakup is official -- after sales of 350 million albums. Lennon and Ono announce from a bed in Toronto that "the war is over -- if you want it to be."
"Henry Ford knew how to sell cars by advertising. I'm selling peace, and Yoko and I are just one big advertising campaign. It may make people laugh, but it may make them think, too. Really, we're Mr. and Mrs. Peace."
"We're not going to fizzle out in half a day. But afterwards I'm not going to change into a tap-dancing musical. I'll just develop what I'm doing at the moment. This isn't show business. This is different from anything that anybody imagines. You don't go on from this. You do this and then you finish."
1971-1975: Lennon puts out a series of six albums which meet with mixed reviews. He spends much time fighting immigration authorities and trying to get custody of Kyoko, Ono's daughter from an earlier marriage.
"Suddenly, you're 30 and there's still so much more to do."
"Funnily enough, I tend to remember the times before the Beatles happened before Hamburg. . . .In those days we weren't just doing an entertainment thing or whatever the hell it was we were supposed to be. That's when we played music."
"People are going to want music to be more realistic, more honest, and more of a gift from the heart rather than a gift from the lungs. . . . Life is entertainment and the gesture of entertainment is something which should be realistic and natural. An unnatural forced relationship of any kind, or any kind of nonproductive relationship, onw which hasn't got a purpose, becomes non-entertaining to me."
1975: Ono gives birth to a son, Sean.Lennon makes a tremendous committment: For five years, he becomes a househusband, assuming the traditional mother role while Yoko runs the business end of their huge financial holdings.
1980: "Everything was crazy. I realized I wasn't making records for me anymore, but because record companies and people expected me to. Finally Yoko said, 'You don't have to do it anymore.' I was shocked. I had never thought of that. Could the world get along without another John Lennon record? Could I get along without it? I finally realized the answer to both questions was yes."
"In some ways the last five years were almost like a penance, a way to say 'I understand completely and I'm willing to put my life on the line for this belief.' I didn't just intellectualize about it or go to a group meeting or write a song. I shut up and learned how to cook and be with the baby and allow the feminine side of myself to exist rather than crush it out in fear or insecurity that I wasn't manly enough. I cut through all that macho realism that we all go through."
"Bread and babies, as every housewife knows, is a full-time job. After I made the loaves. I felt like I had conquered something. But as I watched the bread being eaten, I thought, well, Jesus, don't I get a gold record or knighted or nothing?"
"I don't intend to be a performing flea forever. I was the dreamweaver, but although I'll be around I don't intend to be running at 20,000 miles an hour trying to prove myself. I don't want to die at 40."
November 1980: John Lennon and Yoko Ono end a five-year silence by releasing "Double Fantasy."
"You breath in and you breath out. We feel like doing it, and we have something to say."
"Everyone always talks about a good thing coming to an end, as if life was over. The game isn't over yet. Everyone talks about the last record, or the last Beatles concert -- but, God willing, there are another 40 years of productivity to go."
"I always thought that love would save us all."
Dec. 9, 1980: John Lennon is shot and killed in New York City.