Sunday, August 27, 2006

Young John

From "16" magazine, August 1966

Young John

Dear Father Xmas, will you please bring me a water pistol with love from John and do not forget a money box with a key and a pair of gloves, and have you any books and would you try to get some dinkies please, also a pair of skates.

So went one of the very first literary efforts of five year-old John Winston Lennon, present-day author, musician, singer, songwriter and humorist. John is probably the most difficult Beatle to talk about. He’s such a very direct, but at the same time complex person. But let’s see what the people who knew him best, as a child and at school, have to say about young John.

Mimi Smith – John’s Aunt Mimi – raised him from the age of five after his parents separated. She describes the schoolboy John as “a lovable rebel. He hated any kind of conformity,” she says, “and those who made him want to conform, especially his school masters. When he was at art school, he had a lot of homework to do, and I had to lean over him all the time to make sure that he did it. If George or Paul came round to see him it would become quite hopeless.
“He loved animals, especially our cat, Sam, who died last year. John was really heartbroken when I told him the sad news.

“John was a very handsome little boy with silver-gold hair and big brown eyes. I don’t think he minds people looking at him now because they used to do it when he was a child, on buses and places like that. He got so used to it that if they didn’t look at him, he would go up to them and say, “I’m John Lennon, I am.”

“He was always the leader of his little gang and insisted on being the Indian and never the cowboy. But I remember that his word was law. If he said, “you’re dead,” then his friend had better accept the fact that he was dead. John wouldn’t argue about it. To be an Indian, he had to have all the equipment. I used to go the fish-shop to buy a bundle of feathers to make him a head-dress. This still wasn’t enough, though; he insisted that he wanted to look even more like an Indian. So, in the end, he persuaded me to paint him all over with gravy browning. You should have seen him; he looked a real sight.

“He also had this little house built in a tree in our back garden. From the spring onwards, it was impossible to see through the leaves, and he used to hide in there for hours. He called it his ‘den’ and used to sit there drawing and making up rhymes, just like those in his books. I used to get annoyed because he kept stealing all my clothes-lines to make alterations to his tree-house.

“At first, when he was naughty I used to send him to his room but he was always so quiet when I did this that one day I decided to see what he did up there. I crept up to the door and looked in. There he was, sitting comfortably in an easy chair and reading a book. He was perfectly happy, and all the time I thought I’d been punishing him. I never saw him look at a comic or a novel. To this day, I don’t think he has ever read a novel. His favorite books were about painting and painters, like Jake Ruskin’s Book of Beauty.”

John’s tutor during a course at art school gives a different picture of John in his teens. He says:

“Compared with other students, John was very quiet and reticent. His work wasn’t very good, but then neither was that of the other students. His classmates were very sympathetic towards him and helped to cover up his mistakes. I don’t remember him as a leader. His friend Stuart Sutcliffe, on the other hand, was a real trend-setter in my opinion.

“I remember that John played the guitar in those days. I think he rehearsed mainly at school because his aunt wouldn’t allow him to play it at home. He was always being told to ‘pack up that guitar and get down to work’.

“The reason I liked John was because I go for people who are different. At first, I didn’t think that he had any particular talent, but that was before I found his sketchbook. All the students had a sketchbook for normal schoolwork, but this one was John’s private book and I’d never seen it before. Inside were loads of drawings and satirical comments about the faculty and students that obviously formed the basis for his first book.

“To say that they were brilliant would be an understatement. They showed a brand-new Lennon. Everybody loved that book, regardless of whether they were mentioned in it or not. After this point, his general work improved. He felt that he now had something to offer and could experiment with new ideas instead of just sticking to the usual curriculum.

“Cynthia also helped a great deal at this stage. She was his guiding light and even though she was the top girl in her class, she always managed to spare time for John. Even in those days, they were made for each other.

“Once I’d seen his sketchbook, I felt convinced that John could become a brilliant graphic artist, so I recommended him for the Graphic School of Art. Unfortunately, at this time John was getting a reputation as a rebel and because of this the Graphic School refused to have him. I was certain that he would succeed, so I kept trying and finally they did accept him - but in the Painting not the Graphic School! This was totally wrong, but there was nothing I could do. His graphics talents just faded out and after six months he left. I was very annoyed, because I was certain that he would have been brilliant.

“The last time I saw John was at the last Liverpool Rag Day in 1960. I was driving through the crowd which had got completely out of control, when the car was pelted with fruit and tomatoes. I peered out and there was John with some of his friends, grinning all over their faces. He came over and apologized and we parted the best of friends.”

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