The John Lennon Letters, edited and with an introduction by Hunter Davies
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London (first published 2012 by Little, Brown and Company), 400p
The reaction of John Lennon to most things, whether joy or anger, fear or loathing, fun or fury, was to write it down. He responded with words, not just music. It was entirely natural for him to put pen to paper whenever he had an idea, a thought, or a desire to communicate.
Hunter David says in the first paragraph of his Introduction to the book.
This collection, which consists not only of letters but also includes postcards, notes, shopping lists, doodles and scraps, telegrams reflect John Lennon’s portrait, his inner world but his era as well. Hunter David spent years of contacting people all over the world to provide him copies or original versions of the letters and then arranging and explaining them. I loved the style and the subtle humour.
There is brief information on his early years, on the relation Lennon had with his relatives, the love-letters he sent to his first wife, Cynthia Powell. Most of his correspondence covers the beginning of the Beatles, the Beatlemania and all the years that followed until his death.
In his twenties, when writing regularly to Stu Sutcliffe, a friend, Lennon shows signs of angst and suffering:
I can’t remember anything without a sadness so deep that it hardly becomes known to me. so deep that its tears leave me a spectator of my own STUPIDITY And so I go rambling with a hey nonny nonny no.
John Lennon’s spelling was scandalous but beyond this there is humour, self-mockery and a wide range of emotions. Sometimes he is sarcastic, dominant, even furious, while other letters depict him as confident, kind and funny.
In the late 60’s the Beatles became interested in Maharishi and Transcendental Meditation so they traveled to India and their stay in Rishikesh, a village in the foothills of the Himalayas, proved highly productive.
Transcendental meditation is not opposed to any religion – it is based on the basic truths of all religions – the common denominator. Jesus said ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” – not is some far distant time – or after death – but now. Meditation takes the mind down to that level of consciousness which is Absolute Bliss (Heaven) and through constant contact with the state – ‘the peace that surpasseth all understanding’ – gradually becomes established in that state even when one is not meditating… I hope what I have said makes sense to you – I’m sure it will to a true Christian – which I try to be with all sincerity – it does not prevent me from acknowledging Budda – Mohammed – and all the great men of God.
John Lennon says in a letter dated 25 March 1968 and addressed to someone called Beth.
John and Yoko got together in 1968 and then a period of intense couple life and artistic creation started. They sent acorns to world leaders asking them to plant the acorns for peace. The next year, after they got married, they decided to have a public honeymoon and invited the world in their bedroom at the Amsterdam Hilton. They wanted to make people reflect on nature, reality and art. The song Give Peace a Chance was recorded and soon became an anthem of the world’s peace movement.
After the Beatles’ split Lennon focused on his artistic projects with Yoko and concentrated on his political involvement for the world’s peace. This collection also contains the letter Lennon sent to Queen Elizabeth II regarding the war in Vietnam.
Writing songs is like writing books – you store little melodies/ words/ ideas in your mind library and fish them out when you need them.
In 1979 John and Yoko’s fans were worried about their public absence and questioned their state of mind, so the two wrote a long letter in The New York Times explaining their eccentric life:
We live in a beautiful universe. We are thankful every day for the plentifulness of our life. This is not a euphemism. We understand that we, the city, the country, the earth are facing very hard times, and there is panic in the air. Still the sun is shining and we are here together, and there is love between us, our city, the country, the earth. If two people like us can do what we are doing with our lives, any miracle is possible!
Hunter Davies, who is also author of the only authorised biography of The Beatles, did good, as Yoko Ono says in her Foreword; these almost 300 letters are significant proof that Lennon was both an artist and a human being; sometimes wonderful, sometimes bored, silly or fighting with his own fears.