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John Lennon - Tasks

Comprehension and Discussion

  1. Many legendary stars and artists have died at the peak of their career - Buddy Holly, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison – and John Lennon. Why do you think that death increases the status of an artist?
  2. In what way did John Lennon’s childhood influence his adult career as an artist?
  3. How did John Lennon’s music and lyrics change after he left The Beatles?
  4. John Lennon is buried “somewhere in England” – why do you think his grave is kept a secret?
  5. Why will the authorities often be sceptical to pop stars with a political message?
  6. Can you come up with examples of other activist stars, from film or music, who have addressed the authorities on political issues? Is their celebrity status an asset or can it be an obstacle to getting their message across?

Lennon Lyrics

Look at the excerpts from Lennon songs from the Beatles era. Do you get anything out of the imagery? How do these lyrics compare to poetry from the modernist tradition?

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together
See how they run like pigs from a gun see how the fly,
I’m crying.
Sitting on a cornflake – waiting for the van to come
Corporation tee-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday man you been a naughty Boy, You let your face grow long
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen – I am the walrus

(Adapted from “I am the Walrus”, on The Magical Mystery Tour album, 1967)


Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
with tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with Kaleidoscope eyes,
Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
towering over your head.
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes,
And she’s gone.
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

(Adapted from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, on Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album 1967)


She’s not a girl that misses much,
do do do do … oh yeah
She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand
Like a lizard on a window pane.
The man in the crowd with the multi-coloured mirrors
On his hobnail boots
Lying with his eyes while his hands are busy
Working overtime
A soap impression of his wife which he ate
And donated to the National Trust.
I need a fix ‘cause I’m going down
Down to the bits that I left uptown
I need a fix ‘cause I’m going down
Mother superior jump the gun

(Adapted from “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, on the White Album, 1968.)

Research

  1. Search for Lennon’s murderer (Mark Chapman) on the Internet. He was clearly suffering from a mental condition, but there are certain interesting points in his statement and his background – find out.
  2. Go to YouTube and find “The Plastic Ono Band”. Why do you think Lennon’s musical expression is so totally different from The Beatles?
  3. Though all the Beatles’ songs were credited Lennon / McCartney (except those which are by George Harrison) they mostly wrote separately, and in most cases it is not hard to see who wrote what, particularly later in their careers. (Paul did “Hello Good-Bye”, while John wrote “All You Need Is Love”.) Go through more of the Beatles catalogue and see if you can spot some distinctively Lennon songs.
  4. Check out some of John Lennon's political songs, for example "Woman is the Nigger of the World", "The Luck of the Irish" (both on the album Sometime in New York, 1972) or "Power to the People" (single, 1971). What points is he trying to make? Does he get his message across?
  5. Lennon’s two former band mates Paul McCartney and George Harrison both wrote their tribute song to John. See if you can find the songs, read the lyrics and listen to how they individually pay their respect to John Lennon.
    • George Harrison: “All those Years Ago” on the album Somewhere in England, 1981. (See above for explanation of the album title.)
    • Paul McCartney: “Here Today” on the album Tug of War, 1983

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