THE SEARCH FOR JOHN LENNON.
by Norman Warwick
looking at all things Lennon
including a new biography by Lesley Anne Jones
In the 1980s, Lesley-Anne Jones worked for Chrysalis Records, London, the label of some major acts at the time such as Spandau Ballet, Jethro Tull, Special AKA, Midge Ure & Ultravox and Blondie, where she wrote sleeve notes, prepared press releases and organised interviews for the national press. She moved into television at the inception of Channel 4. The prime-time Saturday night magazine series ‘Ear-Say’, which she co-presented with Capital Radio DJs Nicky Horne and Gary Crowley, led to guest appearances on a variety of TV and radio shows, including Capital’s You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet, a weekly music quiz produced by pop guru Phil Swern, and Radio Clyde’s Bill Padley Show, with Padley and singer/songwriter Jim Diamond. She also wrote a weekly column for The Sun. She then spent 6 years as a show-business feature writer for the Daily Mail, Mail On Sunday and YOU magazine, touring in a journalistic capacity with Paul McCartney, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Queen and other star acts of the day.
As a freelance feature writer, her contributions to publications in the UK, US, Australia and Europe included interviews with Tony Blair, Frank Sinatra, Raquel Welch, Mel Gibson, Charlton Heston, Paul McCartney, Brigitte Bardot and HRH Princess Margaret.
She appeared weekly for several years on BFBS Forces Radio with the late Tommy Vance, and worked on documentaries on Stevie Nicks, Ken Russell and Jermaine Jackson. She also appeared on TV shows Fax!, Music Box and Livewire in the UK, and E! Entertainment and Hard Copy in the US. The Pampers diaper commercial she filmed with her baby daughter for Saatchi & Saatchi was aired across Europe for 18 months, one of the campaign’s most successful ads.
Following a number of years writing columns and features for the Sunday Express and the Mail on Sunday, she revised and updated her 1997 definitive biography of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. Republication by Hodder & Stoughton in October 2011 (paperback 2012) was due to coincide with the release of a Mercury biopic to commemorate the late singer’s 21st anniversary. However, production of the film was delayed, and it was not released until 2018.
In 2010, she was appointed Showbusiness Editor for SKY/Freesat‘s music channel Vintage TV. She wrote and presented their celebrity interview series ‘Me & Mrs Jones’ (produced by Transparent Television and featuring heritage rock and pop artists Rick Wakeman, Frank Allen of The Searchers, Lee John of Imagination, Kim Wilde, Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel, Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet and Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt of Status Quo.)
In December 2015, she wrote and co-produced ‘The Last Lennon Interview’ for ShowBiz TV. It was internationally acclaimed, and was first aired on Lennon’s 35th anniversary. It was also the first time that former BBC Radio 1 DJ Andy Peebles (left) had ever talked about his interview with John and Yoko in New York, only a couple of days before he was murdered.
Pulling back the many hidden layers of John Lennon’s life, Lesley-Ann Jones closely tracks the events and personality traits that led to the rock star living in self-imposed exile in New York—where he was shot dead outside his apartment on that fateful day forty years ago.
Late on December 8th, 1980, the world abruptly stopped turning for millions, as news broke that the world’s most beloved musician had been gunned down in cold blood in New York City. The most iconic Beatle left behind an unrivalled body of music and legions of faithful disciples—yet his profound legacy has brought with it as many questions and contradictions as his music has provided truths and certainties.
In a new biography, The Search For John Lennon she delivers a compelling exploration, and seeks to unravel the enigma that was John Lennon to present a complete portrait of the man, his life, his loves, his music, his untimely death, and, ultimately, his legacy.
Using fresh first-hand research, unseen material and exclusive interviews with the people who knew Lennon best, Jones’s search for answers offers a spellbinding, 360-degree view of one of the world’s most iconic music legends. The Search For John Lennon delves deep into psyche of the world’s most storied musician—the good, the bad and the genius—forty years on from his tragic death. However, whether the book does anything to show Lennon in a positive light (other than for his astounding music) is perhaps debatable.
Nevertheless, on Friday 11th September 2020 The Times carried a two page spread, based on the book and revisiting many Lennon myths.
- The Search For John Lennon runs to more than 350 pages and is published by Pegasus Books ISBN13: 9781643136721.
Lesley Anne Jones (right) is a bestselling biographer, novelist, and broadcaster. She honed her craft on Fleet Street as a newspaper journalist. She is the author of Bohemian Rhapsody: The Definitive Biography of Freddie Mercury and Hero: David Bowie. A childhood friend of David Bowie, Lesley-Ann has interviewed many of the world’s most-loved artists, including Paul McCartney, Madonna, and Prince, often forming lifelong friendships with her subjects. Lesley-Ann lives in England.
The book she was promoting and speaking about at Rochdale a few years ago, to a packed room was Hero: DavidBowie and I have just checked on line to find what the reviews of the time said about that book.
The Evening Standard said that ´Through interviews with friends and colleagues, as well as detailed research, the writer has gained unprecedented knowledge of the true story behind the legend. Reveals fascinating insight into one of the greatest artists of our lifetime.´
Variety called it ´an intriguing book. This is a personal friendship in writing. The knowledge divulged here is an endearing and powerful tale of a man who conquered the entire entertainment industry with his creative force.´
The Daily Express reported that ´(Jones) evocatively portrays Bowie´s fascinating life, often with a tenderness you wouldn’t expect.´
Five years and more after those reviews Lesley-Anne jones has now created another major work on yet another iconic pop and rock star. At this time of what would have been John Lennon´s eightieth birthday her biography The Search For John Lennon is one of the major works to mark that event.
There is also the release of a new audio package a Radio 2 documentary in two parts and a special night on BBC tv dedicated to him and his work. BBC Radio 2 aired a new documentary on 3rd and 4th October dedicated to The Beatles legend. Dubbed simply John Lennon At Eighty, the special tribute included interviews Sean Lennon conducted with his father’s close friends, family, and colleagues, including Paul McCartney.
Discord between the two musicians was well documented, especially after The Beatles broke up in 1970. As The Independent noted, in an interview the following year, John said he could never see himself working with Macca again.
The bad blood continued later in 1971, when McCartney revealed that his song Too Many People featured some lyrical references specifically jabbing at John.
Speaking to Sean in the new BBC documentary, McCartney recalled the significance of making amends with John prior to his passing in 1980. ´
´I always say to people, one of the great things for me was that after all The Beatles rubbish and all the arguing and the business, you know, business differences really… that even after all of that, I’m so happy that I got it back together with your dad.´
´It really, really would have been a heartache to me if we hadn’t have reunited,´ added Macca. ´It was so lovely too that we did, and it really gives me sort of strength to know that.´
Elsewhere in their extensive chat, McCartney reflected on his long- time creative bond with John, and how they would constantly find new ways to influence one another musically throughout their time in The Beatles:
´From little kids, we’d taken the first steps together, we kind of learned to walk together, then we learned to run. And the fact that each of us was influencing the other was very important, you know. And we were learning, not just about songs and stuff about life, you know, we’d come down from Liverpool to London and so we were seeing the London scene together. Even though we weren’t living together, we would talk about it all and the same influences. We’d maybe go to the same clubs and we do this and do that. And so all those influences were always there. And the fact that we’d come along this journey together meant that, hey, we’re just gonna continue, and who knows, we might get better. And so we did, and if I did something that was a little bit ahead of the curve, then John would come up with something that was a bit ahead of my curve. And then so I’d go ‘Well, how about this?’… there was a lot of friendly competition.´
In some ways that friendly competition has continued long after John’s passing. McCartney noted that he still thinks of his Beatles band-mate while writing his own solo music.
´I’m writing something and I go: ‘Oh god, this is bloody awful.’ And I think: ‘What would John say?’ said McCartney. “And you go: ‘Yeah, you’re right. It’s bloody awful. You’ve got to change it.’
´And so I’ll change it,´ he continued, “and I know from reports that he did similar things to that. If I’d have a record out, he’d go: ‘Bloody hell… got to go in the studio. Got to try and do better than Paul.’
All rivalries aside, when the two music icons did get along smoothly, there were no limits to what they could accomplish. ´
´Boy, we complemented each other. It was a bit of ying and yang,´ explained the 78-year-old McCartney. ´They say with marriages opposites attract and I think we weren’t madly opposite but I had some stuff he didn’t have, and he had some stuff I didn’t have.´
McCartney’s full interview was included in the two-part John Lennon At Eighty documentary which premiered on BBC Radio 2 on Saturday, October 3rd and Sunday, October 4th from 9-10 p.m. The special also included in-depth chats with Sean’s godfather Elton John and half-brother Julian Lennon.
It is Tim DeLisle, though, writing in The Daily Mail On Friday 2nd October who reminds us just how relevant Beatles-associated music remains today.
He admits that anniversaries are two a penny in pop these days, but the odd one can still stop you in your tracks. This week, it’s 80 years since John Lennon was born and, come December, it will be 40 years since his murder.
His influence has never faded. From beyond the grave he supplied the Gallagher brothers with their entire career.
Gimme Some Truth comes in two sizes, either 19 tracks (one CD or two LPs, magisterial) or 36 (two CDs, four LPs, more uneven). Both feature gleaming remixes by Paul Hicks and bold packaging by Jonathan Barnbrook, who designed David Bowie’s Blackstar.
The curation feels bold too, with Imagine tucked away behind several grittier tracks. In fact the order is chronological. The boldness was there at the time, in the blazing honesty of Lennon’s sound and vision.
His melodies were often just descending phrases, vehicles for his views. With their chants and handclaps, these tunes would work at a playgroup, yet they tackle hefty themes, from Mind Games to Jealous Guy to Give Peace A Chance.
Any old singer can write a love song, but it took Lennon to write a song called Love. He could work wonders with a single word: God, Woman, Isolation (now rather too resonant).
They were all descended from Help!, the first song to bare his tortured soul.
As The Beatles came asunder, Lennon was lost – taking too many drugs and overshadowed by Paul McCartney, who wrote five of their last seven hits. On his own he found himself again.
If he couldn’t compete with Paul’s melodies, or his musings on matters of the heart, he knew how to find the heart of the matter. He was the lesser talent, but the stronger brand. Forty years on, his music is fully alive.
We will be strongly reminded of that on Friday 9th October when BBC4 tc screens and evening of programmes dedicated to John Lennon from 8.00 pm. This will include a full showing of Hard Day´s Night, The Beatles´ film debut that was the first real revelation of Lennon´s anarchic sense of humour and pointed observations.
Broadcaster Steve Wright has also researched and compiled a Top Of The Pops Special focussed on Lennon´s appearances, and imaginer Alan Yentob will look at Lennon throughout ´the ´New York years.
There will also be a documentary about The Beatles emergence after being Made In Merseyside, and I´m particularly looking forward to Sings The Beatles, a programme that will show old footage of the likes of Cilla Black and Sandie Shaw, Shirley Bassey and Oasis singing Lennon (& McCartney) covers, and Joe Cocker (left) performing his demonic arm-dance with a little help from his friends !