1. He was incapable of driving a car.
John, the last of the four Beatles to learn to drive, got his driver’s license in 1965 at the age of 24. Almost immediately, various car dealerships in London parked an array of luxury vehicles outside his home, hoping to make a sale. He chose one and the race, so to speak, was on. After numerous near misses, he totaled his Aston-Martin in 1969 on a trip to Scotland with his wife, Yoko Ono; his son, Julian; and Kyoko, Ono’s daughter. Lennon needed 17 stitches after the accident.
He and Yoko mounted the wrecked car on a pillar at their home in England. After that, he kept a chauffeur on call 24 hours a day.
2. He thought he was Jesus.
Early in the Beatles’ career, Lennon made a few off-hand remarks about Jesus and the future of Christianity — remember, he was just a rhythm guitar player in a band — that nearly wrecked the group’s popularity. It happened like this, as I describe it in Imagine: The Story of a Song:
He told a reporter for the London Evening Standard, ‘Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink … We’re more popular than Jesus now — I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.’
Five months later, when the remark was reprinted in the United States, Beatle-worship turned to Beatle hatred among religious conservatives. Churches held bonfires of their records. The Ku Klux Klan, weirdly taking the moral high ground, nailed a Beatles’ album to a wooden cross.
The protest spread to other countries including Mexico, South Africa and Spain. Some radio stations banned their records. The controversy was so serious, erupting as it did on the eve of a Beatles’ tour in the United States that the band’s manager Brian Epstein considered cancelling it. Lennon apologized.
Yet, Jesus was a figure of endless fascination and power to him. So much so that one night a few years later, after a few joints and a bit of LSD, Lennon informed a friend, “I think I’m Jesus Christ.”
His mate replied, “You what?”
The next morning, Lennon called for an emergency board meeting of Apple, the Beatles recording company. The other three band members attended, including Neil Aspinall, Apple’s managing director, and Derek Taylor, their press officer.
“Right,” said John, “I’ve something very important to tell you all. I am…Jesus Christ. I have come back again. This is my thing.”
No one could think of what to reply to that. Someone suggested they adjourn for lunch instead.
In the restaurant over lunch a gentleman came up to John and said: “Really nice to meet you, how are you?”
“Actually,” said John, “I’m Jesus Christ.”
“Oh, really?” said the man. “Well, I liked your last record.”
Lennon pushed for adding Jesus Christ and Adolf Hitler to the album cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but was outvoted. However on the iconic Abbey Road cover, that’s Lennon in the lead crossing the street, doing his impression of Jesus Christ in a white suit.
3. Getting attention was the most important thing to Lennon. His nonconformity was a bid for it.
Lennon struck a pose throughout his short life as a nonconformist. But actually, he went with every major cultural fad that come along. In the late 1950s when he first started playing in bands, it was the Teddy Boy look — leather jacket, jeans, pompadour — sort of a cross between Brando and James Dean — that was the rage in England, so he went with it.
Next came a suit and tie — the look that Brian Epstein insisted for all the groups he was managing, including the Beatles. After the Summer of Love in 1967, Lennon appeared in granny glasses and an off-the-rack look from Sonny and Cher’s closet.
When the anti-Vietnam war movement reached a peak, he appeared onstage and on television in an Army shirt that he thought was used in Vietnam (actually, it was part of the uniform wore by US soldiers in Korea). His relentless media-grabbing events with Yoko Ono in the early ‘70s now seem to be such an obvious plea for attention that even at the time it was hard to miss the message, “Look at me.”
Nor was he unaware of how badly he wanted to be noticed, either.
I always was a rebel… but on the other hand, I wanted to be loved and accepted by all facets of society and not be this loud-mouthed lunatic, poet, musician. But I cannot be what I’m not.
4. He liked the idea of being a working class hero, but didn’t exactly have the street cred.
Although Liverpool where Lennon grew up was largely working class and down-at-the-heels after World War II, John lived with his aunt in an enviably middle-class home. While Ringo went to his first job slicing bread in a factory and hoped to be a hair-dresser someday, John was in art school.
As the Beatles grew to become some of the wealthiest young men in Britain, John bought houses left and right, even a couple he claimed never to have visited. While lying on his king-sized bed in a mansion, he thought of the lyrics, “He’s a real nowhere man/Sitting in his nowhere land” about a character lacking understanding about what mattered in life. In 1967, he bought a tiny uninhabited island, Dornish, off the coast of Ireland.
When an old Liverpool friend saw the wealth he’d accumulated in New York and teased him with the lyrics to Imagine, “remember ‘no possessions’, John, ‘it’s easy if you try’”, the former Beatle’s reply was characteristically, jokingly self-mocking: “It was only a bloody song.”
At his death, Lennon’s estimated net worth was $800 million.
5. Not everyone thought his antics were funny.
One night, Lennon went to the Troubadour in New York City to hear Ann Peebles perform one of his favorite songs, “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” which was heading up the charts in 1973. Lennon got up at one point and went into the men’s room. There he found an unused Kotex on a shelf. He had been drinking and slapped it on his head, perhaps thinking it was a feminist statement of some kind.
There were about 11 people in his party, but he didn’t leave the waitress a tip when it was time to leave.
She scowled at him.
“Do you know who I am?” he said, self-importantly.
“Yes,” she said. “You’re some asshole with a Kotex on your head.”