The Last Day in the Life

  • Share
  • Read Later

(8 of 10)

go away because their music endured; it became part of a common heritage, a shared gift. No matter how many times they were played in elevators or gas stations, Beatles songs were too vibrant ever to qualify as "standards." That these were Beatles songs, not the single expression of an individual, needs to be remembered amid all the Lennon eulogies, which call him the strong creative force of the group.

In the process of riding out all the massive changes of the 60s and bringing about a few on their own, the Beatles also trashed an elementary law of geometry: this was one whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. Lennon was unfairly used as a means to put McCartney in his place, although Lennon had taken pains lately to redefine details of his collaboration with Paul, and to make sure credit was distributed accurately. The melodic range of the music ran from marching band to rhythm and blues, from tonal stunt flying to atonal acrobatics, once in a while all in the same song. The Beatles sang ballads that could almost be Elizabethan, rockers that still sound as if they come from the distant future, and it was hard to peg all that invention to any single source. Lennon joked about walking into a restaurant and being saluted by the band with a rendition of Yesterday, a pure McCartney effort. Many radio and video memorials to Lennon included Let It Be, another Beatles tune that was all McCartney.

If it was hard to keep the credits straight with all the Beatles, it was harder still for them to keep their friendly equilibrium. McCartney, married to Linda Eastman and staying close to the hearthside, released a series of albums that were roundly drubbed as corny, until he broke through splendidly in 1973 with Band on the Run. Lennon, married to Ono and living in New York, released a great solo record, Plastic Ono Band, then threw himself headlong into uncertainty. He and Ono lived in a series of elaborate post-hippie crash pads, became obsessed not only with artistic experimentation but with radical political flamboyance. Lennon's subsequent albums remained achingly personal, but turned increasingly random, unfocused. They were indignant and assaultive, adrift.

When he and Ono separated for a time in the early '70s, Lennon went on an 18-month bender of drink, drugs and general looniness. "We were all drinking too much and tearing up houses," recalls one of his cronies at the time, Drummer Jim Keltner. "No one drank like he did. He had broken up with Ono and was with another woman at the time. Suddenly, he just started screaming out Ono's name. That separation from her almost killed him." Being treated as some sort of witchy parasite was no treat for the estranged Mrs. Lennon either, and when they both finally reconciled, they changed their lives in unexpected ways.

Lennon released one more record—a collection of rock oldies—then settled back with Ono in the Dakota to raise their son Sean, who was born on Oct. 9, 1975, the day of his father's birthday. Said Lennon: "We're like twins." Occasionally, John and Ono would go public, often to fight the ultimately unsuccessful attempts of the Nixon Justice Department to deport Lennon on an old marijuana conviction in England. Mostly, however, they stayed at home, rearing Sean, redecorating the 25 rooms in their four Dakota apartments (art deco and

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10