We can love Lennon’s music, as long as we don’t defend his abuse

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It feels as though every day, more abuse allegations are coming to light, accusing powerful men in Hollywood of doing horrible things to women. This has made me question my love of one such man: John Lennon.

I have loved Lennon since before I can remember — the Beatles and his solo album, Imagine, were always being played around the house and on my tiny iPod when I was a kid. Back then, I had no idea of anything out of the ordinary about him. I knew only that I loved him, that he spoke to the young hippie inside of me with his preaching of peace and love.

This is the stance on Lennon that popular media takes, it seems. On his birthday a month or so ago, Twitter and Facebook were full of people wishing him a posthumous happy birthday, asking their followers to not forget his words of hope. Radio stations will start to blast “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” once the holiday season comes again, and many of us (myself included) always leave his music on, welcoming the familiar chords when they arrive on the radio or Spotify.

We love this man and we ignore his faults, but should we?

In a Playboy interview in 1980, preceding the release of his last album, when discussing the song “Getting Better,” Lennon admitted to abusing his ex-wife Cynthia Lennon, seemingly without much thought.

“(The song) is a diary form of writing. All that ‘I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved’ was me. I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically… any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn’t express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women… But I sincerely believe in love and peace. I am a violent man who has learned not to be violent and regrets his violence. I will have to be a lot older before I can face in public how I treated women as a youngster.”

People have questioned whether the abuse extended to his son with Cynthia, Julian Lennon. John Lennon left his then-wife and son while Julian was very young, and he was never as close with his first son as he was with his second son Sean and second wife Yoko Ono.

In an interview, Julian did not confirm or deny abuse claims, but he called his father a “hypocrite,” stating, “Dad could talk about peace and love out loud to the world but he could never show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him: his wife and son. How can you talk about peace and love and have a family in bits and pieces — no communication, adultery, divorce? You can’t do it, not if you’re being true and honest with yourself.”

These facts make it clear that John Lennon was not the bastion of love and peace he is traditionally viewed as, and it raises a moral issue: How can we love a man who caused so much harm?

The truth is, I do love John Lennon. I don’t know who I would be — what my taste in music and art would be like — if not for the Beatles and Lennon himself. I can’t figure out how to extricate myself from that love, if it’s even possible to stop from singing along to “Watching the Wheels,” “Imagine,” or frankly every song off Abbey Road or the “White Album.”

I am always very skeptical of people for enjoying and advocating for the work of abusers — I’m quick to jump at people who defend Woody Allen or who say we must separate artists’ private lives from professional. When the only way to support artists is to consume and pay for their work, the only way to show we as a society will not tolerate abuse from those in power is by not supporting them in any way — financially or simply in conversation with coworkers.

Now this is all well and good when you have trained yourself to be on the lookout for abusers. It is a different story when you have grown up loving one.

So if I can’t turn off my love (and believe me, I’ve tried), how can I morally justify my feelings?

Is it different because he’s dead? He’s not receiving any of the money from me buying Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on vinyl. And he can’t feel our collective anger if we stop consuming his work because he wouldn’t profit from our love either.

Is it different because, after the Beatles, he became a staunch opposer of the Vietnam War, with him and Ono protesting for love and peace up until his death? While it seems he changed his behavior as he grew older, doing good things cannot excuse the harm he caused in his early life.

Is it different because he changed music? The Beatles, by all accounts, changed the way modern music is made and consumed. The band is globally revered and inspired countless bands to follow in its rock, pop, experimental footsteps. And should we condemn the whole band for their association with John Lennon when the rest of them seem innocent?

People defend John Lennon by trivializing his actions. But once we start making exceptions on which abuse is forgivable, where do we stop? The argument that it was a different time also falls short, as there has never been a point in time where it was justifiable for a man to hit his wife.

There is no good answer for how to stop yourself from loving an artist, nor a good moral justification for loving their music despite their painful history.

The only thing I can think to do is go on loving him, but also to never justify his actions. I love John Lennon, and I know his actions were inexcusable. While I can’t really help who I love, I have full control over who I can defend, and all we can do in the future is refuse to support a system that lets powerful men commit abuse without consequences.

Contact Sydney Rodosevich at [email protected].

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  • In this interview, Julian Lennon talks about his father being abusive verbally – yelling and stopping his son from being happy or laughing – something that Julian never got over. Apparently that’s even stopped him from feeling comfortable enough to have his own family. Here is the interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBswheec-Ws&t=8s I’d like to add that I myself hate Beatles music, I don’t think it was avante garde at all, and if it was, it was about as avante garde as Lennon’s friend Allen Ginsberg – rather glorified rubbish. He pissed on God and the idea of heaven and thought his mentally ill Japanese wife was some sort of Buddha to be worshiped. The guy was one sick puppy who was a Communist, as well as a physical and verbal abuser of his wife and son. Better forgotten by history. Every person recognized by President Trump at his first State of the Union Speech is more deserving of historical recognition and admiration.

  • Topazthecat

    And it wasn’t Paul,George and Ringo who became pro-feminist outspoken men writing songs and giving interviews supporting feminism in the 1970’s and 1980,when the feminist movement was new and even more misunderstood than it is now,it was John Lennon doing these important feminist things.

    • And meanwhile was still being a deadbeat dad. Give it a break.

  • Topazthecat

    John Lennon said in his very last radio interview (just hours before he was so cruelly, insanely shot and killed by a crazy,horrible piece of sh*t who used to be a big Beatles fan since he was a teenager, and John was his favorite Beatle) that like most young men he was more involved with his career than with his children,and he said he regretted not spending enough time with Julian. He also said that he and Julian would have a relationship in the future but sadly they both were deprived of this.

    And John didn’t do the same horrible thing to Julian that his father did to him. John’s father literally totally abandoned him and literally didn’t see, or talk to John from the time he was 5,until he was a successful famous 24 year old.John did see Julian sometimes, and spoke with him on the phone and sent him post cards,birthday and Christmas cards and presents and he bought Julian a guitar when he was 11 as a Christmas present. John’s father never did any of these things and John said it was like his father was dead.

    • You need to go back and listen to / watch interviews with Cynthia and Julian Lennon. They’re all over YouTube. You wrote a book without a shred of knowledge.

  • Topazthecat

    In this 2002 great interview with May Pang who was John Lennon’s girl friend during his separation from Yoko she was asked as the last question,what would she most like the world to know about John,and she said the fact that he was a kind sensitive man who was insecure in his personal life.The interviewer also says how John’s guitar playing has always been underrated and May talks about this too.


    An Interview with May Pang – John Lennon


    An Interview with May Pang about the making of Mind Games…and a whole lot more.

  • Topazthecat

    Mike Douglas also said to John and Yoko, You’re both so different, you had such different childhoods. John said, it’s incredible isn’t it? Yoko said, Yes! Mike asked, What do you think has attracted you to each other? Yoko said, We’re very similar. John then said, She came from a Japanese upper-middle class family. Her parents were bankers and all that jazz,very straight. He said they were trying to get her off with an ambassador when she was 18.You know, now is the time you marry the ambassador and we get all settled. I come from a an upper-working class family in Liverpool, the other end of the world. John then said, we met but our minds are so similar,our ideas are so similar. It was incredible that we could be so alike from different environments, and I don’t know what it is, but we’re very similar in our heads. And we look alike too!

    Mike also asked John about his painful childhood,and how his father left him when he was 5,and John said how he only came back into his life when he was successful and famous(20 years later!),and John said he knew that I was living all those years in the same house with my auntie,but he never visited him.He said when he came back into his life all those years later,he looked after his father for the same amount of time he looked after him,about 4 years. He also talked about how his beloved mother Julia,who encouraged his music by teaching him to play the banjo,got hit and killed by a car driven by an off duty drunk cop when John was only 17 and just getting to have a relationship with her after she had given him away to be raised by her older sister Mimi when he was 5. And John also said,And in spite of all that,I still don’t have a hate-the-pigs attitude or hate-cops attitude.He then said, I think everybody’s human you know,but it was very hard for me at that time,and I really had a chip on my shoulder,and it still comes out now and then,because it’s a strange life to lead .He then said,But in general ah,I’ve got my own family now …I got Yoko and she made up for all that pain.

    John’s psychologist Dr. Arthur Janov told Mojo Magazine in 2000( parts of this interview is on a great UK John Lennon fan site,You Are The Plastic Ono Band) that John had as much pain as he had ever seen in his life,and he was a psychologist for at least 18 years when John and Yoko saw him in 1970! He said John was a very dedicated patient. He also said that John left therapy too early though and that they opened him up,but didn’t get a chance to put him back together again and Dr. Janov told John he need to finish the therapy,he said because of the immigration services and he thought Nixon was after him,he said we have to get out of the country.John asked if he could send a therapist to Mexico with him,and Dr. Janov told him we can’t do that because they had too many patients to take care of,and he said they cut the therapy off just as it started really,and we were just getting going.


    Also this great article by long time anti-sexist,anti-men’s violence,anti-pornography former all star high school football player and author of the great,important 2006 book,The Macho Paradox:How Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help, Jackson Katz.John Lennon on Fatherhood,Feminism,and Phony Tough Guy Posturing


    Also Cynthia Lennon is quoted in the great John Lennon biography Lennon,by award winning music journalist and former editor of The Melody Maker Magazine and good friend of John’s for 18 years,Ray Coleman as saying somethings like she knew as soon as she saw John and Yoko together she knew that she lost him,and that it was a meeting of the minds and that she knew that they were right for each other.

    She also said that she told John before he started his relationship with Yoko that she sees and incredible similarity between him and Yoko and said to him that there is something about her that is just like you.She told him that he may say that she’s this crazy avant garde artist and that he’s not interested in her,but that she can see more into John’s future with Yoko then he can.Cynthia also said she was never on John’s mental wavelength,but of course she didn’t say and admit any of this in her biased book.

  • Topazthecat

    You are talking about what John was like when he was a psychologically messed up 21 year old guy, not the pro-feminist,nurturing house husband and father he remarkably became,and most men who are much more abusive than John ever was,never change into pro-feminist men.

    Also Cynthia Lennon said that John only hit her twice *before* they were married and she always said that she would always be in love with John and she married three times after him.

    • JusticeB

      John Lennon’s ex-girlfriend (during a breakup from Yoko) said he throttled her.

  • Topazthecat

    Barbara Graystark of Newsweek interviewed John September 1980 and part of what she said to John is,You’ve come a long way from the man who wrote at 23,”Women should be obscene rather than heard.” And she asks John how did this happen? And John said that he was a working-class macho guy who was used to being served and Yoko didn’t buy that. John then said that from the day he met Yoko,she demanded equal time,equal space,equal rights. He said that he said to Yoko then,don’t expect him to change in any way and don’t impinge on his space. John said that Yoko said to him then she can’t be here because there’s no space where you are everything revolves around him and that she can’t breath in that atmosphere. John then says in this interview that he’s thankful to her for the ( meaning feminist education.)


  • Diane’s Sea

    Love the sinner, not the sin. Simple, sound advice. We love Lennon for the light shining through his humanness–music written through, and sometimes about, his struggles–exemplifying the journey for all who can relate. Idolizing or casting out another person isn’t necessary. As we mature we learn to assess both a person’s strengths and weaknesses, to accept them for who they are and hopefully to forgive. None of us are without fault. We are all worthy of love and forgiveness. Lennon was just a person, just a man. And how wonderful is that!

  • Slowtime

    Young going through troubles, Lennon was my Prozac before it was on the market. Songs like Help, I’m A Loser, Hide Your Love Away, I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party etc might have saved lives

  • Holly Harwood

    No one defends Lennon’s behavior in his first marriage. John Lennon gave up violence again women at an early age, before age 30. He admitted to it. He never became a predator. Cynthia Lennon’s autobiography didn’t mention abuse. They got married because she was pregnant. There is zero evidence he ever abused children. Julian Lennon loves his father despite his flaws. He is collecting his father’s memorabilia as it becomes available. Men like Woody Allen and Roman Polanski have no excuse. They never even tried to change. Their wealth shields them from prison for child sexual abuse.

    • JusticeB

      I guess no one knows about the ex-girlfriend (during the Yoko years) who said he throttled her. I thought this was common knowledge but I guess not. I don’t doubt that Lennon was sincerely sorry about things he did in the past but he apparently regressed. So we need to be consistent. If we can separate the man from the music, or admit that even abusers can have good qualities, we have to apply that same idea to everyone, not just our favorite white, British, anti-war heroes.

  • William M Popper

    …Nice journalistic …touched some responses…”A” grade for u.

  • Dan McGuire

    Lennon didn’t hide his wrong doings. He wore pain he felt and caused out in plain sight. You can love the man and his music. Hypocrite is such a misunderstood word, it truly means a person in complete denial of their accountability. The fact Lennon had failures endears him to more people continually, he will never attain posthumous God like devotion precisely because we all can relate to his struggles.

    • Milady

      So your argument is that it’s fine to beat your wife and kids, so long as you do it in public.

  • Bart

    Abuse? How come Julian never mentioned this? Along with this STUPID STORY I had to watch the Reelze channel make Lennon look a monster. You are the hypocrite writing these nonsense! I bet you still listen to his music.

  • Celestial4caster

    This way of thinking does not consider the concept of redemption. If someone changes, should they wear the scarlet letter forever?

  • Bobby Harris

    I came from a very violent home, my father beat my mother and my first serious relationship I got into was with a woman that came from the same environment and we ended up fighting a lot and then I saw my father in the mirror and I said never again, I’m not going to be like him. I grew up and so did John Lennon, sure Julian is going to take that stance because he was at the other of that period in John’s life before he realized this is not a way to live or ‘be’ but peace and love is and he began to share that revelation he had with everyone, it was too late for him and his family, the damage had been done…but he was remorseful once he came to realize how messed up it was. Me and my lady thought that’s what love was when we started, because that’s what we were taught, if we weren’t jealous, we didn’t love each other…if there wasn’t chaos it would get boring and then where would be…that whole sick mentality, but we grew out of it…we saw it as a two people thing and grew together, we broke up eventually for other reasons, but the violence ended and today I am a man of peace and big part of that is people John Lennon in my life…..he was a man of peace…grown from a boy of violence…he grew and changed and he wanted to see the world do the same….thank you John…wherever you are

  • Luciano Mezzetta

    Perhaps you might take into consideration that forgiveness is a virtue and that a holier than thou attitude is the sign of a fraud and a hypocrite.

    • JusticeB

      Right but we’re going through the age of Me Too where men’s careers are ending over unproven allegations. Also, there are black artists like Chris Brown (who has bipolar disorder and was raised in an abusive household) who people say should never be forgiven for what he did to Rihanna.

  • magwa999

    Lennon’s behavior pales in comparison with the ahole dump45 and people kristians especially like the ahole, who knew we would ever elect such a jerk. This is called whataboutism which we get from dump45…

  • flashsteve

    Lennon’s behavior pales in comparison with Michael Jackson, who is now treated like a great icon whenever he is mentioned.

    • lspanker

      James Brown,his idol and mentor, was no angel either.