"I like songs and films," John Lennon (1941-1980) once told an interviewer, "because you can turn your life into a sort of myth or dream." Frequently, however, the Beatles singer/songwriter demythologized himself and returned to a life about which we still know too little. That void will be partly filled by this definitive collection of approximately 300 letters written by Lennon. This collection of missives from the years of his early adolescence to the year of his death was edited and annotated by Hunter Davies, the specialist behind the authorized collective biography The Beatles. Now in trade paperback and NOOK Book.
The John Lennon Lettersby John Lennon, Hunter Davies
A lifetime of letters, collected for the first time, from the legendary musician and songwriter.
John Lennon was one of the greatest songwriters the world has ever known, creator of "Help!", "Come Together", "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Imagine", and dozens more. But it was in his correspondences that he let his personality and
- Editorial Reviews
- Product Details
- Related Subjects
- Read an Excerpt
- What People Are Saying
- Meet the author
A lifetime of letters, collected for the first time, from the legendary musician and songwriter.
John Lennon was one of the greatest songwriters the world has ever known, creator of "Help!", "Come Together", "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Imagine", and dozens more. But it was in his correspondences that he let his personality and poetry flow unguarded. Now, gathered for the first time in book form, are his letters to family, friends, strangers, and lovers from every point in his life. Funny, informative, wise, poetic, and sometimes heartbreaking, his letters illuminate a never-before-seen intimate side of the private genius.
This groundbreaking collection of almost 300 letters and postcards has been edited and annotated by Hunter Davies, whose authorized biography The Beatles (1968) was published to great acclaim. With unparalleled knowledge of Lennon and his contemporaries, Davies reads between the lines of the artist's words, contextualizing them in Lennon's life and using them to reveal the man himself.
A massive deposit of freshly excavated notes, screeds, asides and howls, each lavishly reproduced and carefully annotated, 'Letters' is the most intimate book ever published about Lennon. In its revelation of the man's psychology, it far surpasses all previous accounts by wives, lovers, half-siblings, ex-aides and even the best biographers." James Rosen, The Washington Post"
... Lennon's collected letters 285 of them, richly contextualized and handsomely presented... make for fascinating reading." The New York Observer"
... a must-read for Beatles fans." Glamour
An "illuminating volume that shows a different, unguarded side of the man." Fort Worth Star-Telegram"
Fans will lap it up." Bloomberg"
This book makes it clear, more than ever, how lamentable it is that we lost Lennon the man." Maclean's"
The letters offer an opportunity to see Lennon less as icon than as human being." David Ulin, Los Angeles Times' Jacket Copy
- Little, Brown and Company
- Publication date:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 7.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)
Read an Excerpt
The John Lennon Letters
By John Lennon
Little, Brown and CompanyCopyright © 2012 John Lennon
All right reserved.
JOHN MUST HAVE written quite a few letters and postcards when very young, being a well-brought-up suburban child. Thank-you letters would have been expected of him, and also postcards to Mimi when he was on holiday in Edinburgh with his Aunt Elizabeth–the one known as Mater. Loving families do tend to keep childhood scribbles, at least for a short while, but few of John’s seem to have survived.
Very recently I have come across two unpublished letters by his absent father Alfred to Mimi, written in 1950 and 1951, in which Alfred refers to receiving lovely letters from John–which is a surprise in itself–but the whereabouts of these letters remains unknown. For Part One, covering his childhood and teenage years, I have, alas, discovered only three letters.
The earliest is to his Aunt Harriet who lived in Woolton, not far from where John was living with Mimi. She had had a most eventful life, having met and married an Egyptian engineering student, Ali Hafez. They moved to Cairo where her daughter Liela was born in 1937. Ali Hafez then died in a freak accident–contracting septicaemia after a routine tooth extraction. The newly widowed Harrie found herself caught up in the war, but despite visa and passport problems she and Liela eventually managed to return to Liverpool in 1941 on board a troop ship. Having been married to an ‘alien’, Harrie was required to report to a police station every week. Then in 1942 she married Norman Birch, an army officer who was serving in the Royal Army Service Corps. He stayed in the army through the Korean War, till the Suez crisis in 1956. In later years he worked in the motor trade. They had one son, David, born in 1948.
In 1951, when John was aged ten, he wrote his aunt Harriet a thank-you letter for the Christmas presents she had given him. He had been a very lucky boy–Harriet had sent him three presents in all: a book, a towel and a jumper.
He refers to her as Harrie, which was how the family always referred to her. It was most unusual in those days for a nephew to address an aunt by her first name instead of ‘aunty’, but then the Stanley sisters were rather unusual. Mater always insisted on being called Mater, by all her family, even her own son, as she disliked being called Mother.
John’s letter is nicely and neatly written, with proper joined-up handwriting, perfect spelling, good punctuation, on lined paper–the lines being drawn by hand, the better to keep his writing in order. He has written it on a folded notelet with a pheasant on the front, presumably supplied by Mimi. He is obviously proud of having got to the bottom of page 18 in his book and proves he has taken it in by describing some of the contents.
Was Mimi standing over him saying, ‘Now, John, I want a proper thank you, not just a scribble’? Possibly. Was he being satirical when he says the towel was the best towel he had ever seen? Possibly not. I am sure he meant it. He had to think of something nice to say. And having one’s name on a towel was rather special…
Letter 1: Thank-you notelet to Aunt Harriet, Xmas 1951
Thank you for the book that you sent to me for Christmas and for the towel with my name on it, and I think it is the best towel I’ve ever seen.
The book that you sent to me is a very interesting one. I am at the bottom of page 18 at the moment. The story is famous ships, its all about a man called Captain Kidd the pirate. I am on the second chapter, the first chapter is called the Victory and the second is called the Mary Celeste. Thank you for the red jumper that you sent to me. I hope you have a happy new year.
Letter 2: Note to ‘Harry’ (Aunt Harriet), 1955?
I HAVE TAKEN DAVIDS BIKE.
I WILL RETURN IT TOMORROW (SO AS NOT TO BREAK INTO THE £1)
An early teenage note has survived from around 1955 when John was fourteen or fifteen. He often went to visit his aunt Harriet, who lived nearby in a house called The Cottage, to play with his cousins Liela and David. On this occasion he seems to have gone off on David’s bike, presumably to save spending money on a bus fare.
John met Cynthia Powell at the Liverpool Art College in 1958 when he was eighteen and she was nineteen. She was born in Blackpool on 10 September 1939, her mother having moved temporarily out of Merseyside to escape any possible wartime bombing. Her father was a salesman for GEC and they lived in a semi-detached house in Hoylake, ‘across the water’ from Liverpool, which was considered locally to be suburban and a bit posh. At art college she was looked upon as shy and demure, staid and old-fashioned in her twinset.
To begin with they moved in different circles. The pair didn’t meet properly till the autumn term of 1958, when they both found themselves in the lettering class. Cynthia’s first impression of John was that he was ‘horrible’. She considered him loud-mouthed and scruffy with his Teddy boy haircut and tight trousers. He called her Miss Prim.
The first time she became aware of him was in a lecture room one day when she noticed a girl, Helen Anderson, stroking John’s hair. ‘It awoke something in me. I thought it was dislike at first. Then I realized it was jealousy… ’
Their first real conversation together was about both being short-sighted. By Christmas they had started going out, to college dances, to the pub. John had con-vinced himself that he was truly, madly, deeply in love.
John’s first known letter to Cynthia was not a letter, as such, but a home-made Christmas card, covering eight pages in all, with a front and back drawing, plus lots of scribbles inside, mainly saying ‘I Love You Cyn’ over and over again. The words are quite proper, as befitted Cynthia, with no lewd suggestions or bad language, polite and rather sweet: ‘All I want for Christmas is you Cyn so post early.’
There are no flights of fancy, puns or wordplay–apart from Chrimbo, which was John’s word for Christmas. ‘I love you like guitars’ is about the only vaguely unusual image.
The drawing at the front–under the headline ‘Our First Xmas!’–is rather derivative and conventional, showing John with his Teddy boy haircut and tight trousers, but rather neat and kempt, for John. He was not known at art school for being particularly tidy. He even appears to be wearing a tie. Cynthia, looking ever so demure, is holding a ladylike umbrella, poised between them, as if keeping him off. The rear drawing shows them arm in arm, with lots of hearts: ‘I hope it wont be the last’.
Letter 3: to Cynthia, Xmas 1958 (eight pages)
I love you, I love you I love you I love you I love you I love u I lllllove U I love you LIKE MAD I do I do love you YES YES YES I do love you CYN you I love I love you Cynthia Powell John Winston love C.Powell Cynthia Cynthia Cynthia I love you I love you I love you forever and ever isn’t it great? I love you like GUITARS I love you like anything lovely lovely lovely lovely Cyn I love lovely Cynthia Cynthia I love you. You Are Wonderful I Adore You I Want You I Need You. I Need You Don’t Go I Love You Happy Christmas Merry Chrimbo I love you I love you I love you Cynthia Cyn Cyn Cyn Cyn Cyn Cyn Cyn is loved by John John John John John I love you.
Love John xxxxxx
All I Want For Christmas Is You So Post Early I Love You I’m Glad You Love Me Or I’d Go Mad I’m Already Tho! Hee! Hee! I love you I love you xxxxxxxxxxxx I love you from John Merry Chrimbo xx I love you Maximum Cyn
I love you so don’t leave me I love you so don’t leave me leave don’t leave me I love you Cynthia I love you please don’t go away ’cos I love you dear Cyn I love you from John.
THE BEATLES MADE five trips to Hamburg in all, spread over three years, 1960, 1961 and 1962, organized by Allan Williams, their manager at the time, who drove them there for their first visit.
Lots of other things were happening in and around Liverpool when they were back home during those three years–such as appearing at the Cavern Club for the first time in March 1961–but Hamburg was a vital stage in their growing up, both as people and as musicians. It was in many ways when they became the Beatles, not just in name–until their first Hamburg trip they had been calling themselves the Silver Beatles–but in their sound, their character, their ambitions and their line-up.
There were five Beatles who set off for that first trip to Hamburg on 15 August 1960: John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, plus Pete Best (son of Mona Best from the Casbah Club) on drums, and Stuart Sutcliffe, a friend of John’s from art college. They started playing in a small scruffy club called the Indra, later moving to a slightly better one called the Kaiserkeller. They lived in slum conditions in an old cinema, the Bambi, all crammed in together with little privacy, working long shifts, often through the night, keeping themselves awake with pills and drink.
Their first spell in Hamburg ended in late December 1960, by which time George had been deported. The authorities had discovered he was only seventeen, and under German law anyone under eighteen was banned from frequenting, never mind playing in, a nightclub after midnight. A few days later Paul and Pete were also expelled, accused of setting fire to the cinema where they had been living.
The following year, their second visit to Hamburg, playing at the Top Ten Club, a much better venue, lasted from April through to July. During that time they recorded their first record ‘My Bonnie’, but only as a backing group for the singer Tony Sheridan.
Louise Harrison, George’s mother, was always a keen supporter of the Beatles. Unlike John’s aunt Mimi, Louise encouraged her son with his musical interests and went to many of their early performances. They often rehearsed at George’s house when Mimi wouldn’t allow them into her house. She approved of George going to Hamburg, despite his tender years.
John got on well with Mrs Harrison, fooled around when he was in her house, making silly jokes. In Hamburg, he took it upon himself, as the leader of the group, to write and tell her that all was well in Hamburg and that George had got a new shirt. John’s letter to Mrs Harrison, with all the wordplay, deliberate misspellings and pretend German accent, shows how close they were. George’s father was a bus driver. Peter was one of George’s two older brothers…
Letter 4: to Mrs Harrison, 1960?
Dear Mrs Horminsoon,
Are is verig hansume to been in Homburg and having some great day.
I hop you are verin hopping in Englands and are soom tow gow tooe Canidah to Canidah. Hoo are Mr Harmigalds eh? Him bus very good still yet? I hop Peatrr is still selling him mota bikes and things and every one a winner
We’ve moit stag yet another moons in Hitlar and have many moneys and we moit spend him tooo. Are you happy with knows sons in? your houses? Are you? I think you will like Gorges when he coomb howmb tow Ongloond becorspe heem hab anew shirt anew shirt.
Oi woll close now as oi am finishing now sow oi woll ende it all. Happy Krishtmouses!
Love John xxxx
Some time in 1961, John wrote a brief biographical note about his life so far. It is not clear exactly when–though he gives his age as twenty, so it must have been before his twenty-first birthday in October 1961. He mentions a second visit to Hamburg, and that they had returned in 1961 to the Top Ten. So presumably it was written in the summer of 1961. It would appear to have been written while he was in Germany, judging by the contents and the European-style squared note paper. Possibly it was compiled at the request of a local German journalist, or Polydor, the recording company making ‘My Bonnie’. He mentions Scotland and ‘touring with a British singer’–without naming Johnny Gentle, which suggests that he assumed the Germans would not have heard of him.
In this little potted biography, John says he went to a grammer school (so bad marks for grammar), describes Pete (Best) joining at the last moment–and also mentions that he has written a couple of songs with Paul. His ambition in life was simple: To Be Rich.
Letter 5: Potted biography for unknown journalist–Germany, June 1961?
Born 9th Oct 1940 (age 20)
Educated Quarry Bank Grammer sch. Then Liverpool College of Art (thrown out). Went to Scotland touring with a British singer. Went to Hamburg (Aug 1960) for 4 months with the group. Returned again in 1961 to Top Ten Club.
Started the group about 4 years ago (skiffle). Paul joined then George. Had one or two drummers. Pete joined 2 days before our 1st visit to Hamburg with half a drum kit–we only had little amplifiers but bought better ones in Hamburg.
Instruments played guitar
(piano?) guitar bass
Written a couple of songs with Paul.
Ambition: to be rich.
John W. Lennon (leader)
At the end of their second spell in Hamburg, Stu decided to leave the Beatles and stay on, having fallen in love with Astrid Kirchherr, a Hamburg art student.
Born in Edinburgh on 23 June 1940, Stu Sutcliffe was considered the most talented student at Liverpool Art College. He had won an award of £60 in the annual John Moores Exhibition held at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool. John persuaded him to spend the money on a bass guitar, despite the fact that Stu couldn’t play it. But he did learn and joined the Beatles on their mini tour of Scotland in May 1960 and then their first two trips to Hamburg.
Stu had a great influence on the Beatles’ style, their clothes and hair, and on their thinking. John was slightly in awe of Stu, and of his knowledge of books, paintings and philosophy. Stu was more introverted, serious and intense than John, who was the more dominant of the two. It was Stu as much as John who first aroused the interest of the local art student types in Hamburg, among them Klaus Voormann and Jürgen Vollmer, as well as Astrid Kirchherr.
Some time in the summer of 1961, after the four Beatles had returned to Liverpool, John wrote a letter to Stu, who had become engaged to Astrid and remained in Hamburg.
It begins with nineteen lines written as verse, and then wanders off all over the place. It covers four sheets of large lined paper, most of it decorated with little drawings and scribbles. Some of John’s words are now hard to decipher.
John and Stu wrote regularly to each other–and some of Stu’s rambling letters to John covered up to thirty pages. Now and again Stu pretended to be writing as Jesus, so John replied as John the Baptist. In a sense, they were really talking to themselves, usually moaning about the world. John was twenty at the time, and showing signs of some angst and torment, usually well hidden behind his extrovert, loud, aggressive exterior.
It is not clear what happened to all John’s letters to Stu, or where they are today. This letter from John was never actually posted, yet for some reason John kept it. He later gave it to me–and it is now in the British Library manuscript room.
Letter 6: to Stuart Sutcliffe, 1961
I remember a time when everyone I loved hated me because I hated them. So what, so what, so fucking what. I remember a time when belly buttons were knee high When only shitting was dirty and everything else clean and beautiful. I can’t remember anything without a sadness so deep that it hardly becomes known to me. so deep that its tears leave me a spectator of my own STUPIDITY And so I go rambling on with a hey nonny nonny no.
How long can one go on writing and writing like you. I now don’t really know who I’m writing to or why its quiet peculiar. I usually write like this and forget about it, but if I post it it’s like a little part of my almost secret self in the hands of someone miles away who will wonder what the hell is going on or just pass it off as toilet paper. Anyway I don’t care really what happens because when I think about it, its so bloody unimportant–but what is important, who has the right to say that this letter is not important and Jesus is a something anyway–in any way–anyway–Yeah! I wonder what it would be like to be a cretin or something. I bet its great. Er how are you keeping, Stuart old chap. Are you OK–is life as good–bad, shite, great–wonderful as it was or is it just a thousand years of nothing, and coalmen on and on and on.
I think this is it
Goodbye Stu don’t write out of–er, what’s it? Well, not because you think you ought to. Write when you feel like.
So goodbye (from John. You know, the one with glasses)
See you soon.
I don’t know why I said that.
In October 1961, John was given a twenty-first birthday present of £100 from his aunt Mater in Edinburgh. He decided to spend it on a holiday in Paris with Paul. He had heard from Stu in Hamburg that Jürgen Vollmer would be in Paris and they arranged to meet up, hitch-hiking from Liverpool. While in Paris, according to Jürgen–later a professional photographer–he cut John and Paul’s hair in a mop-top style, brushing it forward, as opposed to slicked back like a Teddy boy. Later, the other Beatles copied it.
It appears from this postcard to Christine Carey, a friend of both John and Paul who lived in Bootle, that they were planning to move on to Spain, but they never did.
Letter 7: to Christine Carey, 7 October 1961
As you can see I’ve put the stamp on the wrong side cause I’m daft. Anyway this is just to let you know what’s going on. Been in Paris a week as Paul will have told you, then off to Spain. Paris is great only no ‘Rock’, (well a bit of crappy ‘French Rock’). Don’t know what else to say so cheerio til about 10 days.
In April 1962, just before the Beatles were due to arrive in Hamburg for their third visit, this time at the Star Club, Stuart Sutcliffe collapsed and was taken to hospital. He died in the ambulance on the way there, in the arms of Astrid, having suffered a cerebral haemorrhage. He was twenty-one. He and Astrid had planned to marry in the summer that year.
When the Beatles arrived, they found Astrid distraught, unable to take in what had happened.
John sent a postcard home to their friend Christine in Bootle, using a promotional postcard, dated 5 April, which had been produced for a special performance at the Cavern, sending best wishes from the four remaining Beatles–John, Paul, George and Pete.
In the card–which is worn with age and has lots of creases–John describes how they found Astrid.
Letter8: to Christine Carey, April 1962
Christ thanks for the letter [--?--] when we’re on the case! But you’ll [--?] soon enough I suppose. Yes we’ve all been to see Stuart’s girl. She’s in an awful state–she’s been to Liverpool: did you see her? Yes, there are hundreds of Beatniks here, only no stomp, a mad kind of twist! Yes I do play the mouth organ here! Hurray! All 24 of us sleep in the same room but we’re English.
T. T. F. N love from
PS Give my love to Irene. I lost her letter–I think she wrote one anyway. If she did she’ll kill me for that!
Around the same time, not long after the death of Stu, John wrote one of his many long letters to Cyn in Liverpool, where she was now sharing a flat with Dot, Paul’s girlfriend. Both Cyn and Dot had been out earlier to visit them in Hamburg. John gives the full and exact address of where he was, at the Star Club, which unfortunately he does not always do in his letters and cards.
The reference to the death of Stu making the newspapers indicates that, despite his young age, Stu’s talent had already been recognized, at least on Merseyside.
John was apparently sending money home to Aunt Mimi, or planning to, like a dutiful and grateful son, which shows they were earning a bit more money than he had during their first trip to Germany.
By ‘throbber’, John meant his erection, which was usually described as a ‘massive throbber’ when he wrote to Cynthia. His remark at the end of the letter about ‘leather panties’ related to a previous letter when he had told Cyn he had bought her some leather pants. She had mistakenly assumed he meant trousers; they were in fact black leather knickers, readily available in shops around the Reeperbahn in Hamburg. Some words have been cut out after the first paragraph at some stage–possibly by Cynthia?
Letter 9: to Cynthia, April 1962
39 Grosse Freiheit
I love love love you and I’m missing you like mad. Where are you my little
I wonder why all the newspapers wrote about Stu–especially the People–and how the hell did they find out, who could have told them, as I wrote that I suddenly remembered there’s a fellow at the ‘Jacaranda’ who’s a freelance journalist. Could have been him because Allan Williams has been helping Mrs Sutcliffe or something. I haven’t seen Astrid since the day we arrived. I’ve thought of going to see her but I would be so awkward–and probably the others would come as well and it would be even worse. I won’t write any more about it ’cause it’s not much fun. I love you–I don’t like the idea of Dot moving in permanently with you ’cause we could never be alone really–I mean when I come home–can’t she have the other room or find another flat–imagine having her there all the time when we were in bed–and imagine Paul coming all the time–and especially when I wasn’t there. I’d hate the idea. I love you Cyn.
The club is massive and we only play 3hrs one night and 4 the next–and we play an hour–then an hour break so it doesn’t seem long at all really. The boss of this place is a good skin–we’re off tomorrow ’cause it’s Good Friday and they can’t have music so the boss–(Manfred) is taking us and the other group out for the day in his car and all the rest of them like Horst are coming, so it will be a big mob in our 5 cars. We’re going somewhere healthy like the Ost Sea (Stuart again).
God, I’m knackered it’s 6 o’clock in the morning and I want you. (I’ve just found out that there’s no post tomorrow so I will pack in good night. I love you, boo! hoo! I hate this place).
That was Thursday night now its Sunday afternoon. I’ve just wakened up and there’s no post today or tomorrow (Easter Monday, I think) anyway happy Easter Cyn. I love you. We went out, but all we did was eat and eat and eat (Good Friday) it was all free so it was okay. We drove somewhere about 80 miles away and ate.
My voice has been gone since I got here (it was gone before I came if I remember rightly). I can’t seem to find it–ah well! I love you Cyn Powell and I wish I was on the way to your flat with the Sunday papers and choccies and a throbber! Oh Yes! I forgot to tell you I’ve got a GEAR suede overcoat with a belt so I’ll look just like you now! Paul’s leaping about on my head (he’s in a bunk on top of me and he’s snoring!) I can hardly get in a position to write it’s so cramped below stairs, captain. Shurrup McCartney! Grunt grunt.
I can’t wait to see your new room it will be great seeing it for the first time and having chips and all and a ciggie (don’t let me come home to a regular smoker please Miss Powell). Hmm I can just see YOU and Dot puffing away. I suppose that’s the least of my worries. I love you, Cyn, I miss miss miss you miss powell–I keep remembering all the parts of Hamburg that we went to together. In fact I can’t get away from you–especially on the way, and inside the Seaman’s Mission boo! hoo! I love love love you. x
Did I tell you that we have a good bathroom with a shower, did I? Did I tell you? Well, I’ve had ONE whole shower, aren’t I a clean little raker? Hee! Hee! I love you. I haven’t written to Mimi yet but I know how to send her money so it gets there in 2hrs. xxx
I can’t think what to write now so I will pack in and write some tomorrow seeing as how like I can’t POST IT anyway so good afternoon Cyn, I love you. Yum yum. Will you send me the words to ‘A SHOT OF RHYTHM AND BLUES’ please? There’s not many.
It’s Monday night and we finished playing about 3/4 hours ago (its 2 o’clock). I’m dead beat my sweet, so I hope you won’t mind if I finish now and have lovely sleep (without you but it’ll still be lovely–don’t be hurt–but I’m so, so tired). I love you Cyn–I hope you realize why this letter took so long lovey but there has been no post Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon–and this one will go by the early morning Tuesday post ’cause I will nip downstairs and post it any minute (handy isn’t it?) I love you, I love you please wait for me and don’t be sad and work hard and be a clever little Cyn Powell. I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, write soon ooh it’s a naughty old Hamburg we’re living in!!
All my Love for Ever and ever
PS They’re leather PANTIES not pants (just in case y’know!)
I love you
John must have taken a pile of the Cavern Club 5 April postcards with him to Hamburg for he uses one–what he calls a tidy card–to send to a friend in Birkenhead called Margaret, complaining that he is cold. Not all the words are clear.
Letter 10: to Margaret, 7 May 1962
What a tidy card!
Dear Margaret, Thanks for the letter. Sorry I didn’t reply sooner–or did I? I keep finding letters and not knowing whether I’ve written or not. Even I could discard some of my sweaters?–I have! So there–not one single sweater! I’m freezing but thinner. Give my love to the odd [–?]! I hope you can read this–I was away for writing.
Sorry its only a card
PS It’ll be a letter next time (?)
Back in Liverpool, the Beatles had at the end of 1961 acquired a new manager, Brian Epstein. Having had numerous requests at his record store, North End Music, for the record they had appeared on in Germany (though only as a backing group), Epstein had dropped into the Cavern to hear them play. In January 1962 he secured them an audition with Decca in London–which they failed–but then in June they were successful in impressing George Martin, a producer with Parlophone.
In August 1962, when they decided to dump Pete Best, it was Brian Epstein who had to do the dirty work of sacking him. He was replaced by Ringo Starr, with whom they had been friendly in Hamburg.
In September 1962, they recorded their first record for George Martin–‘Love Me Do’, with ‘P.S. I Love You’ on the B side–but had to wait patiently to discover if and when it was going to be released.
In a letter to a fan called Joan around August 1962, John thinks it will be released in September, but he clearly is not sure. The letter gives his full home address and he also encloses an autographed cigarette packet and a guitar plectrum–a sign of the Beatles’ increasing popularity on Merseyside, with fans already begging for personal scraps and souvenirs. ‘The Tower’ refers to the Tower Ballroom, New Brighton, where they played on Friday, 17 August 1962.
Among the short, polite letters to early fans there was at least one female fan he had become much closer to–a girl called Lindy Ness, who appears to have been Norwegian. It is not clear where and how he met her, possibly in Germany, but there seems to have been a regular correspondence between them. The tone is fairly anguished, rather reminiscent of his letter to Stu, as are the jokes, such as the remark about ‘If You Were the Only Girl in the World’, a First World War song, also sung by troops in the Second World War when John was growing up. It looks as if Lindy had sent him a postcard showing some sort of Norwegian scene. The pun on Sad Ness refers to her surname. The reference to an ‘E’ is not clear–could it have been a pill?
Letter 11: to Joan, around September 1962
Thanks for your letter. I have enclosed as requested a plectrum (it’s broken but…) and a signed empty cigarette packet which I have to break up to get in the envelope.
I hope you enjoyed the Tower performance on Friday–I hope next week’s is better.
I really don’t know when our first record is to be released–I hope sometime in September, anyway I’ll go now,
Letter 12: to Lindy Ness, August 1962
You may have noticed I have taken your E into my life even in Germanstine (Only I forgot to do it but I like it well)
John, you know it, England
I’m knackered at 3 o’clock of the morning and headathrob tooe.
BUT for you sad Lindy, I scrape this metal tipped plastic finger (Pen) because for you. Thank for me being the first person you write to why? I guess it.
I’m sorry I wasn’t in for you–I tried (I mean that day) and I couldn’t phone after I left honey [?] girl because I’m stupid and I didn’t know what to say.
I can’t see any banana [?]–anas on your boat only you–but very nice and hair? (hmm). They don’t look very pretty Norweedens, do they do they?
God I’m tired missus.
I’m sorry you are sad in Normandy all alone–funny girl to go alone but I suppose its you, isn’t it? Did I say you were hard hearted? Oh, did I.
Don’t be sad if this letter isn’t long enough but its Thursday when I got up and I didn’t find your letter till Wednesday evening, ’cause I had not been to my place of residence for two days.
If you were the only girl in the world
And I was a homosexual
Sung to the tune of God Help you merry gents
I’m falling asleep as I write and its most peculiar in fact funny but I don’t feel like larfing I feel sick
I hope this letter catches you before you leave Khruscheviot and Sister thingy
(I’m in my pit with etc)
again good god
PS It’s not a nice letter really. I’m sorry. Goodnight Sad Ness–a pun
This next letter is the earliest example of his own typewriting, banging it out with one finger on his manual Imperial. I have only one page of it–though I know at least one other page exists–and it is not clear to whom it is written. A name has been blanked out–which could be Lindy, the same Lindy as in the previous letter.
This time the letter is more a performance, with very little personal information–though he does thank her for her letter and refers to her as a ‘jung girl in a forrid country’ which could mean she is a foreigner, in England, or an English girl, about to go abroad.
The letter is typical of the sort of stream of consciousness, wordplay, stories, jokes, dialogue and cod Shakespeare he had been writing since his school and Art College days, mainly for his own amusement, though some he sent to girls. He covered pages with similar writings–which later, when he came to do his first book of poems, he drew upon. The material in this letter appears never to have been used–perhaps he never kept a copy.
The puns are not helped by his bad typing, and spelling, but I did work out ‘lettuce’ for letters, debb and duff for deaf and dumb. There is a reference to Acker Bilk (Thackery Bilk), a jazz clarinetist who had a big hit in 1961 with ‘Stranger on the Shore’. ‘The New English bottle’ could have been the New English Bible, which was published in 1961. The Queen was pregnant in 1960 with Prince Andrew. Was John reading the newspapers while he wrote? Later on he did use newspaper stories in song lyrics.
Letter 13: to Lindy? 1961–62?
I have just spilled tons of hot tea and kebbles full of water around and about the fine old kitchen and to no avail are my humble efforts to hide the crime. Ah well, thats the way of the world ---- I was nearly a burned Beatle (The singing Scab)
You might have noticed that I am typing this one fingered lettuce to you. (I wonder if she noticed say he) It takes hours yer know. What kind fellow that Jock Lenro is wert a blind elbow.
If this hab been writ in long hand it would have covered many pages. Such as you would never have dreamed of and spent the rest of your life saye ‘What a lad that was writing all that with his disablement taken into consideration.
Well --- Are you saving yourseef from the evil temptations which confront a jung girl in a forrid country
In fact I am fingerless it has grunt into a stump --- and I couldn’t help with it even if you were debb and duff so to spik. Good gods earth, good gods Hearth, Good dog.
‘Quothie me wat fair negro. Upon this mid night hour’
‘Twas not he Benny Goodman? A Clumbering hump!’ (aloud).
Very good letter thank you Ie, jolly larfe as they shpreak on the condiment. Perchance you take a liberty with her (unwrapping her charlies).
Alf:- ‘Wot Charlies she has me lud’ for Wales was a closely populated densely.
‘I’ve come to relieve you Eric.’
Eric : ‘Nobody man touch metool boy!’ (for he was coloured dear reader)
Anyway that art this big ly surprise for unz when you get through. I like this specially. ‘ When your smiling’ sung to the tune of ‘When you’re smiling Dave’ (enter a double breasted suit) exeunt the roaring waves shall answer. ‘Yahoo’ the roaring waves replied.
‘Thy kingdom come thy Wilbur Dunn,’ to quote
‘The Queen is having a baby’
‘What for ?’ ‘For breakfast mulud.’ Thakery Bilk a friend from you
‘Whaw you scurvy bum what ails ye?’
‘Mines a brown.’
‘Wot half you iz!’ (a coloured voice)
‘Suffer little chilblains to come over me’ (showing off again).
I left my Rod in an English Jardin The New English bottle a controversial contraceptive by all accounts
What’s in a name? a fahhrt (deutsche) by any other (etc)
Pass me a cat I’m hungry
Pass me a dog to quench my thirst
Give me a frog
To purchase a flower
In which to live–till I am born
When I am delivered
I will eat mt maker.
Proof that John was still officially living with Aunt Mimi, and that–despite sojourns in Germany–he considered himself a true Brit, domiciled in the UK, came in a letter to the National Health Service dated 22 October. It is well typed; John had of course acquired his own manual typewriter–but it is more likely, judging from its neatness and grammar, that the letter was produced from Brian Epstein’s office. An unknown hand has added at the end ‘Reinstated 25-10-62’.
The letter surfaced at a Christie’s auction in New York, November 2005. Interesting that it should have been preserved from a time well before Beatlemania. A lucky find for someone.
Letter 14: to National Health Service, 22 October 1962
The National Health Service
Liverpool Executive Council
36 Princes Road
I have received your letter of the 1st instant to say that you have been informed that I left the country in July 1960. In point of fact I left the country only for an engagement (as a musician) in Germany but returned to this country about three months later. I would, therefore be obliged if you would please return my name to the National Health Service List.
Journalists as well as fans were also beginning to desire personal scraps. On the back of a photograph showing John on stage at the Cavern, he has scribbled that he has taken some snaps from Aunt Mimi’s album. Let’s hope she didn’t find out.
Letter 15: Note to unknown journalist? 1962?
These are from the album of my dear old Auntie–she doesn’t know–but I couldn’t find any others.
More excitement in December when the Beatles made their first TV appearance in the London area, as opposed to Manchester and the Northwest, performing on a children’s programme called Tuesday Rendezvous for the ITV station Associated-Rediffusion. It was a live show, but they mimed to ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me’, their second single, due out in a few weeks. It would appear that it was thanks partly to the girls of a local school, Childwall Valley High School, who had requested their appearance on the show. The typed letter of appreciation from the Beatles, signed by John and the others, was no doubt inspired and typed out by Brian’s ever so efficient and grateful office.
Letter 16: to Pat at Childwall Valley High School for Girls, 1 December 1962
What a wonderful effort you have all made at C. V. H. S. We’re really very very grateful and quite delighted. We should be on your screens on TUESDAY RENDEZVOUS on 4th December and on that same day we will also be on the BBC’s TALENT SPOT programme.
By the way our new disc ‘Please, Please Me’ comes out on January 11th and we hope you all like it. Many many thanks again.
The Beatles were now stars of children’s afternoon TV and had their first record creeping up the British charts (eventually getting to number 17), but they were stuck in Germany–in the Shit House, according to John. During their fifth and final engagement in Hamburg, 18–31 December 1962, it’s clear they were desperate to get home and enjoy their first taste of national attention.
And also, in John’s case, a period of quiet marital bliss. While he was at home during the summer, John and Cynthia had got married in a very private ceremony on 23 August 1962 at Mount Pleasant Register Office. No fans were invited, or informed. Brian felt it might reduce the attraction of his young Beatles if it was realized one of them was married. There was also the fact that Cynthia was pregnant–and in the early 1960s this could still be a matter of some shame, for an unmarried woman.
This letter to a girl called Lindy, presumably the Lindy he wrote to earlier, finishes with a drawing of John on a cross, as if being crucified, with the words ‘I wish I was there.’ Bad taste, but a taste of bad taste to come…
Letter 17: to Lindy, December 1962
How are we? Thanks for your lovely letter, you’re a gas man. I can’t think of anything funny for you ’cause I’m so cheesed off I could bloody cry. I hate Hamburg and I wish I was at home. I loved you being at the airport, it was very thoughtful or something and your hair was good god. I think Mary is here some German said something but I haven’t seen her. This letter won’t be a long one cause I’m tired and I don’t feel like writing even to you. I haven’t answered any other letters cause I’m fed up–everyone will think I’m a bastard but I don’t care so there (--?--) We’ll be home next Sunday so I will see you in a week or something if you care if not keep praying,
PS Wish I was there.
THE YEAR GOT OFF to an unfortunate start with the Beatles having to get from Hamburg to the north of Scotland for a modest five-day tour, scheduled to begin in a local hall in Keith, Banffshire, on Wednesday, 2 January. When they eventually got there, they found it had been cancelled because of the bad weather.
From then on, it was a year of mounting excitement and success and hysteria. After six long years as merely one of many struggling provincial groups, which to them seemed to have lasted for ever, the Beatles at last caught the national eye and ear and hit the national headlines. Their second single ‘Please Please Me’ was released on 11 January, by which time the band were back playing at the Cavern in Liverpool. This was followed by a round of TV and radio appearances in Manchester and then in London as well as performances all over the country.
In February they began their first national tour as supporting act to a young singer called Helen Shapiro. But as the tour progressed, all the screams were for the Beatles, especially when, in March, ‘Please Please Me’ got to number 1. It was said that when Bob Wooler, the DJ at the Cavern who had introduced most of their appearances at the club over the years, announced the news there was a moment of silence from some local fans as they realized that the Beatles had gone national, and would probably soon be gone from their doorstep.
As the year progressed, some critics attributed the group’s success to TV and media hype, or the wily ways of their manager Brian Epstein, or the great marketing brains of Parlophone, but the truth is the Beatles had already become the Beatles well before Beatlemania swept the country. All that had happened was that the reactions and excitement they had created for themselves on Merseyside were suddenly being repeated on a national scale.
An organized Beatles’ fan club existed long before they had received any national attention or had even produced a record, which is surprising, but shows the extent of their success and popularity when on paper they had achieved so little. From 1962, they were writing lots of letters on fan club notepaper.
The Beatles’ fan club was first formed some time in 1961, while they were away in Hamburg on their second trip, with Roberta Brown, always known as Bobby, as the secretary. In August 1962 Freda Kelly took over as secretary, working from Brian Epstein’s office. On early fan club letters, she used her own home address–107 Brookdale Road, Liverpool 15–till her father objected that the house was being swamped and his post was going missing. The fan club then switched to a post box address.
By the spring of 1963, all the pop music magazines were giving the Beatles blanket coverage. Neil Aspinall, who had been the Beatles’ van driver and road manager almost from the beginning, was joined by big burly Mal Evans as the work of getting the Beatles round the country increased.
Other records, all reaching number 1, came out in 1963–‘From Me to You’ in April, ‘She Loves You’ in August, and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ in November, while their first LP Please Please Me was released in March.
In October they appeared at the London Palladium, seen as the height of British show business success, and in November they played at the Royal Command Performance where John told those in the cheap seats to clap their hands, while ‘the rest of you just rattle your jewellery’. Not quite a sparkling verbal pearl, but in 1963 it got quoted everywhere as a sign of John’s cheekiness.
Brian worked them very hard during the year, rushing them round the country, with non-stop appearances and events, tours and recording sessions–which they were more than happy to go along with, having waited so long. The press were welcomed, photographers encouraged, poses and smiles proffered, jokes made, access almost always given.
Their success was overwhelming, unparalleled in modern British history, crowds everywhere formed to catch a glimpse of them, audiences, mainly girls, screamed whenever they performed–and yet it had all happened so suddenly that they were in many ways still themselves. They still looked upon Liverpool as their home, did much the same things, trying not to hide themselves away, were nice to ordinary fans, obliging with requests…
One letter around Christmas 1962, written on Beatles’ fan club notepaper, wished a fan called Rose ‘a little joy’. It might well have been dictated by someone in Brian’s office, turning on the PR charm, but the recipient did get a signed photo and the autographs of all four.
Letter 18: to Rose, Christmas 1962
A friend told us about you, and we thought that we might bring a little joy into your life by dropping you a few lines…
All our best wishes for Christmas and our sincere hope that the New Year will bring all the things you wish for.
We have enclosed a signed photo especially for you. We hope you like it.
Must go now–time is precious!
John Lennon x
Whenever there was anything exciting happening, such as the possibility of their record being played on the radio, all the Beatles told their mums and dads or family to be sure to switch on and listen, even though very often it did not get played.
John dropped a publicity postcard–showing them with Pete Best, so a very early card–into Aunt Harriet’s house, writing on the back the name of Sam Costa (1910–81), a popular wartime radio performer who later presented various music programmes. Presumably they hoped he would play their record.
Letter 19: Postcard and note to Aunt Harriet, 1962?
Sam Costa–? 9.30
Ray’s on 11.30
EMI, Parlophone, Capitol etc every night
John was still living at home with Aunt Mimi, coming in late from playing at places like the Cavern and other venues, leaving her notes, such as when to call him, buy him some Nelson cigarettes or lend him money. John, like most teenagers, could stay in bed for hours, if given half a chance. His cousin David remembers being in Mendips and hearing Mimi shouting up the stairs, ‘John! Get up! Your call-up papers have arrived!’ Not true, of course, he was born just too late to be called up for National Service–which finished in 1959–but it was a threat that worried him.
On the back of a photograph, he has scribbled two notes for Mimi–one in ink and one pencil:
Letter 20: Notes to Mimi, 1962?
Will you call me as I’m on today (Thurs)
I’ve only £3 change so I owe 10/–[ten shillings]
Please get me 20 Nelson. Don’t call till 5 if I’m not up.
Towards the end of 1962, or early 1963–judging by the address Freda Kelly was using–John and the Beatles wrote a letter welcoming some fans in Switzerland. They must have been very quick off the mark, these Swiss fans, as they could only have heard ‘Love Me Do’ or possibly ‘Please Please Me’. (The Beatles in fact never got round to playing in Switzerland.)
Letter 21: Fan club letter to Swiss fans, 1962/63
Hello, and welcome to all of our friends in Switzerland.
Nice to have you in the fan club.
Best wishes from the Beatles
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
Despite all the new national fame, John was still giving out his home address to fans and trying dutifully to answer their queries and questions. In March 1963, he replied to two girls called Sylvia and Kath, not only revealing his own address but listing the home addresses of the other three Beatles. This letter was clearly well loved by the recipients, probably hugged and kissed, for today it is torn and patched up with sticky tape, but most of it can still be read, if you put on your best specs.
Letter 22: to Sylvia and Kathy, March 1963
Dear Sylvia & Kathy,
Thanks for your letter–here are the addresses you asked for.
George–174 Macketts Lane, Woolton, Liverpool 25
Paul–20 Forthlin Rd, Allerton, Liverpool
Ringo–8 Admiral Grove, Dingle, Liverpool
I will keep the promise I gave you when you give the nail-clippers to the Doorman so don’t worry about that! The Fan Club address is Beatles Fan Club, c/o NEMS Enterprises, 12-14 Whitechapel, Liverpool.
Hope you like the LP.
See you soon,
Love, John Lennon xxxx
[written on reverse of envelope]
Can you pass this on to the girl Janet who was with you at the door of the City Hall in the morning. I’ve lost her address I hope you know her!
John replied to a couple of presumably older fans the Beatles had met, a Mr and Mrs Nixon, writing them a message on the back of a photograph, boasting that ‘our LP is out in three weeks’. On the back of the envelope, John has again written his full address.
Letter 23: to Mr and Mrs Nixon, March/April 1963
Dear Mr & Mrs Nixon (& family!),
Sorry I haven’t written sooner I think you will understand why. Hope this photograph is suitable–George sends his regards–we’re all glad you like the records, we will try and ‘POP IN’ whenever we are in your district. Thanks again for your letter and your hospitality (excuse this ‘PEN’?)
Excerpted from The John Lennon Letters by John Lennon Copyright © 2012 by John Lennon. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
"A massive deposit of freshly excavated notes, screeds, asides and howls, each lavishly reproduced and carefully annotated, 'Letters' is the most intimate book ever published about Lennon. In its revelation of the man's psychology, it far surpasses all previous accounts by wives, lovers, half-siblings, ex-aides and even the best biographers." James Rosen, The Washington Post
"... Lennon's collected letters 285 of them, richly contextualized and handsomely presented... make for fascinating reading." The New York Observer
"... a must-read for Beatles fans." Glamour
An "illuminating volume that shows a different, unguarded side of the man." Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"Fans will lap it up." Bloomberg
"This book makes it clear, more than ever, how lamentable it is that we lost Lennon the man." Maclean's
Meet the Author
John Lennon was born in Liverpool in 1940. A singer, songwriter, and musician, he was one of the cofounders of The Beatles. He died in 1980.
Hunter Davies is the author of over 40 books and has written for The Guardian (London), New Statesman, and The Sunday Times (London). He is married to the novelist and biographer Margaret Forster and they live in London.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
Thank you Hunter Davies for this lovely gift, 'The John Lennon Letters'. By far the most autobiographical of the Beatles and the one with a love of words and word play, this collection paints a colorful portrait of John ripe with his humor, emotion, sentiment and thought provoking observations. From his homemade book at the age of eleven to an autograph given on the 8th of December 1980, we see John on his remarkable journey. There are letters to family; Cyn, his father Freddie, his sisters, his aunts, uncles & cousins ... to fans ... to friends; Ringo, Brian and Paul and many others revealing a side of John that was intimate, wise, heart wrenching & deeply private. John was human ... he was open and spoke truths that many were not prepared to listen to and it's all in this vast collection. Many books have been written about John and I'm sure many more are still to come. He continues to inspire & fascinate but none capture the essence of the man as this treasure trove of words that are uniquely John's.
Book title and author: The John Lennon Letters By John Lennon Title of review: John Lennon Lives On Number of stars (1 to 5): 5 We know John Lennon for many things. His music, his upbringing, his legacy, his death; but do we really know as much as we think we do? For the first time in over forty years, we may have just cracked the case and scratched the surface of the man who seemed larger than life itself through the medium of his letters to his closest friends and family. To say John Lennon was a simple character with a range of three emotions is extremely false. The interworking of his mind is that of a quadratic equation: almost impossible to solve for the average fan, but not as hard as it seems from the perspective of an expert. Throughout his life, John left us the gift of his writings and letters, reflecting his relationships with friends, lovers, and family. The letters start in 1951 thank you notes to his two of five aunts, up to 1958 with love letters to his future wife, Cynthia. Each letter giving just a little glimpse into his thoughts, with many of the letters being spontaneous scribbles and sketches. The letters even go up to the day that he died on December 8, 1980, with a letter to a good friend, signed John and Yoko. These letters are that of a breakthrough in scientific research, finally just breaking the surface. I thought this book was a great idea, in concept and in full print. It is very well detailed, and even includes foot notes about John’s life at the time. And since it was edited by a close friend of his and the band, all of these notes can be considered accurate, at least more accurate than Wikipedia that is. With all this information given, it really makes you wonder where John would be today if he lived. Wherever he may be, making music, raising his son, or just being famous. All we do know is that we had any amazing artist on this earth, and it’s a shame that we lost him My final review of this book is that every Beatles/John Lennon/classic rock fan should read this amazing book.
Bummer but will order the hard cover...
NOT FOR NOOK HD (no PagePerfect, i.e. graphically enhanced, books are). They don't tell you this when you purchase a NOOK HD - which is the updated version of the Nook Color. The newest reader gets fewer compatible books, and none with enhanced graphics! Nice.
I read the sample..so far so good. Bought the book to read more but all that showed up was the sample i just finished reading. I want my money back unless i can view the entire book!