by Jude Southerland Kessler
Jay Kelly is a UK-based artist. His media include: acrylics on canvas, hand-drawn illustrations, caricature, portraiture, graphic design and paintings on guitars.
Half of what I say is meaningless
But I say it just to reach you, Julia…
So began John Lennon’s eternal Mother’s Day missive to his mother, Julia Stanley Lennon, the girl with “seashell eyes” whose bold and untamed heart was both his doing and his undoing. Extremely long story short (indeed, the true tale is the bulk of my first book, Shoulda Been There) — Julia married John’s father, Fred, on a bet, on a whim. And when World War II broke out, separating them — compounded by the fact that Julia discovered she was pregnant — the erstwhile marriage began to collapse.
Once her baby was born (on 9 October 1940) and christened John Winston Lennon, Julia wrote to Fred, asking for a divorce. Unfortunately, though Julia had married Fred on a lark, Fred had married Julia for life, and divorce was not, in his mind, a possibility.
Never one to be thwarted by the will of others, Julia began dating, and after some time, she fell in love with John Dykins, a swashbuckling waiter from Liverpool’s distinguished Adelphi Hotel … a man with a thin mustache and a trilby dipped suavely over one eye. After some months of serious courtship, the two — over Julia’s family’s vehement protest —moved in together.
Only one thing marred their blissful, new relationship: Julia’s precocious, problematic toddler, John. And little John, too, felt a sense of “not belonging” in his new home. So, over the next year or so, the child began slipping away, more and more frequently, to spend time with his aunt and uncle, Mimi and George Smith.
At the end of World War II, Fred Lennon returned to Liverpool only to find his son living not with Julia, but with (as he called them) “her distant relations.” So, asking permission of no one, Fred spirited the boy away to Blackpool, intending to transport his son to New Zealand, where they would live as “father and son” forever. However, on the eve of their departure, Julia discovered them, and a serious confrontation occurred. Julia battled to keep her son in England; Fred, to keep the boy with him. Historical accounts of what happened next differ here, but the bottom line is this: John returned with his mother to Liverpool that day, thinking he was coming home to reside with her. Yet, to his great surprise, John was instead handed over into the permanent care of his Auntie Mimi and Uncle George. And henceforth, Julia would live her own life while her son lived his.
That decision was the origin of a lifelong yearning that spawned the quote you read above: John’s lyrics from his White Album ballad, “Julia” are a broken-hearted pledge of undying love, a whimper from a little boy left alone in a strange bedroom, singing himself to sleep.
For the rest of John Lennon’s life, he would feel that most of what he said and did was meaningless. Nevertheless, he offered it all up to Julia. When, as a teenager, they became close friends once again, John spent every possible moment with his mother, learning to play guitar as she played the banjo; forming the band that she suggested he create; dancing to her rock’n’roll records, and making her smile. When Julia murmured to John that she knew that he had “music in his bones,” John believed it utterly. And so, he dedicated his future to making her whispered prediction a larger-than-life reality.
Tragically, in July of 1958, John lost Julia a second time — to death. But he never stopped living for his mother’s approval. As a Beatle, he ached to be popular enough, smart enough, rich enough and powerful enough to make her “see,” somehow, that she should never have relinquished him. For Julia, John Lennon spent a lifetime chasing fame, riches, and power. For Julia, John sang his heart at the microphones of the world.
Go back and listen to his songs (“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “Nowhere Man,” “I’m A Loser,” “I’ll Cry Instead,” “Help,” “I’ll Be Back,” “I’ll Get You,” and all the rest) and you’ll hear the wounded “child inside the man.” You’ll also hear his cry in cover songs such as “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Baby, It’s You,” and “Anna.” John’s deep fear of rejection in “If I Fell” is palpable. His wail of, “Mother, you had me … I never had you!” in “Mother” is truly heartbreaking.
Throughout his life, John strove to make Julia Stanley Lennon proud of him: through sold-out concerts, North American and World Tours, television specials, hit films, award-winning books of poetry and prose, lauded works of single-line art, political “happenings,” and platinum records. And his never-diminished fascination with fierce, artistic, and independent Julia grew into attractions to other remarkable women such as Joan Baez, Gloria Steinem, Maureen Cleave, Astrid Kirchherr (whom John adored and whom we lost this month), and Yoko Ono. John’s unrequited love also sent him into the understanding arms of tender, nurturing spirits such as the loving Cynthia Powell and the inspiring May Pang. At every turn in his road, Julia was there.
On Mother’s Day, recently past, I pondered that shattering moment in the summer of 1945 when Julia left her young son in Mimi’s care. And I thought that (although The Beatles’ songs we all love would instantly be unwritten and unsung) I would gladly reverse the events of that painful day. I would give John his mother.
Then, instantaneously, it hit me … maybe “The Grand Plan” was never about John at all. Maybe he was always meant to bear a hole in his heart. Maybe he was chosen to shoulder a longing that would conjure up an unparalleled band, influence an age, and give the world an unequaled catalogue of music. Maybe The Plan was never about the one, but about the many. Perhaps that was the way it was meant to be.
On that emotional early evening, just past Mother’s Day, I wasn’t (thankfully) the One in Charge. And so tonight, the John Winston Lennon that the world knows quite well still shines on.
For more information on the relationship of John and Julia, read Vol. 1 in The John Lennon Series, Shoulda Been There at: https://www.johnlennonseries.com
Also read the excellent book by John’s half-sister, Julia Baird, Imagine This …