LIFE John Lennon

LIFE John Lennon

LIFE John Lennon

United States
Meredith Corporation


the opening act

Rock ’n’ roll was born kickin’ and screamin’ in America in the 1950s, as revolutionary sounds from Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, the Everlys, Bo Diddley, Eddie Cochran, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Elvis Presley and others commandeered the airwaves and blared defiantly from jukeboxes. Young people thrilled to a beat all their own, and kids in other parts of the world dug the music too—and sometimes even tried to play it. But the only tunes that mattered—that were the real deal—came from the States. The new music found an eager audience in Britain, as a dreary postwar climate left disenfranchised teenagers wanting something—anything—that was different. A lot of them keyed in to the American scene, and a few were ready and willing to pattern themselves after the American acts. But if…

a liverpool lad

October 9, 1940. Bombs are falling on Britain as Germany is trying to blast the little nation into submission. Liverpool, an important port city in the northwest part of the country, is taking a particularly hard pounding. On this day, during a brief lull in the bombardment, a child is born at the Oxford Street Maternity Hospital. His name is John Winston Lennon. John’s father, Alfred, is away at sea, and will never have much of a part in his son’s life. The mother, Julia, is temperamental, ill-prepared for raising a son on her own, and frankly not that interested in the job. However, Julia’s sister Mary Smith, better known as Mimi, is a different matter. She adores the boy; it is she who choses his name. With Julia out and…

astrid kirchherr remembers

Everyone wanted to take pictures of the Beatles and, later, John and Yoko. But a few photographers were there at critical moments, and gained an intimacy that allows their portfolios to stand, all these years later, as the definitive telling of those chapters. They also are key to how we remember John Lennon. Five seminal chroniclers of Lennon’s life—the late Astrid Kirchherr and Robert Whitaker; Bob Gruen; Allan Tannenbaum; and Harry Benson—talked, in 2005, upon the 65th anniversary of Lennon’s birth and the 25th commemoration of his passing, with LIFE’s Robert Sullivan. Their reminiscences remain insightful, poignant, sometimes sentimental—and often fun. In 1960, Kirchherr (who died in 2020) was an up-and-coming photographer based in Hamburg when she was introduced by her boyfriend, Klaus Voorman, to this British quintet, the Beatles (from left,…

the fab four

July 6, 1957. The Quarry Men are signed to play a garden fete. It’s a big deal for them, and bassist Ivan Vaughan invites a friend named Paul McCartney to the show. During a break John and Paul meet. They are quite different chaps, but they have a few things in common, one being a shared passion for music. Paul impresses John with his singing. What’s more, Paul can tune a guitar, something that has thus far eluded John. Two weeks later, Paul becomes a Quarry Man. The band continues to hone its skills, occasionally even in public. Before long another boy begins hanging around. He is a bit younger, and thinks the Quarry Men are the greatest. Eventually they let him play with them, not least because he knows a…

robert whitaker remembers

“In doing portraits, I usually put some objects in the photograph as a point of reference as to who or what the subject is. With him, I put peacock feathers around his head. He loved the idea, then went to see an exhibition I had up at the time. He asked me if I wanted to return to London and work for him.” That was the late Bob Whitaker, who died in 2011, describing a day in Melbourne when he was a young English photographer working abroad. It was 1964 and the subject of the session was not John Lennon or any of the other Beatles, who were on a tour Down Under. It was their manager, peacocky Brian Epstein. At first, Whitaker demurred. “Then Brian said, ‘Well, come see the…

bob gruen remembers

“I didn’t know the Beatles,” says Bob Gruen simply. “I knew John.” Gruen (above, at left) got to know Lennon, along with Yoko, starting in the spring of ’72, when he shot the couple’s backup band, Elephant’s Memory. “We got along really well, and I started spending more time with them. At the time, they were living in Greenwich Village on Bank Street, right near me. “I found John to be very much as expected—open, witty, perceptive. He would tell these funny one-liners, and I always had a good time with him—a lot of fun. Yoko, too. John would never marry a humorless person, and there was a lot of laughter around them. People ask me what kind of woman Yoko is, and I answer, ‘The kind John Lennon would marry.’” At…