John Lennon is one of the great icons of rock music and popular culture. As a member of the Beatles he played a key role in transforming pop music from simple bubblegum entertainment into an increasingly complex medium, and as a campaigner for peace he stood at the foreground of rock’s ascent as a force for social, political and cultural change.
Yet Lennon himself was a mass of contradictions; a man of peace with an infamous violent streak who was involved in several high profile aggressive episodes, who sang “imagine no possessions” to accompanying footage of himself strolling through his vast Surrey mansion, and a man who castigated authorities and yet spent his life searching for an ideology or father figure to believe in. These traits reveal Lennon as an Enneagram type Six (The Partisan, The Loyalist, The Questioner).
“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together”
John Lennon was always the wild card in The Beatles pack, less predictable or professionally tactful than his fellows, and as likely to summon a storm of controversy than to launch a charm offensive. Where Paul McCartney was cute and diplomatic, Lennon was controversial, infamously comparing the Beatles popularity to that of Jesus. Where George Harrison was taciturn and subdued, Lennon was animated and expressive. Where Ringo Starr was sweet and straightforward, Lennon was caustic and complicated, baffling friends and associates with rapid changes of temper, ideology and interests.
Yet, as a Six, Lennon was a paragon of paradox (once describing himself as (“part monk, part performing flea”), displaying diplomacy and wit when fired by a deep conviction, (such as World Peace), tireless spiritual and intellectual inquisitiveness, and a great empathy that allowed him to engage his audience on a profound level.
“As soon as you’re born, they make you feel small”
Sixes are commonly defined by their relationship to authority, either trying to win its approval or defiantly tilting against it. In the latter case, the Sixes rebelliousness often sources from a sense of distrust which, in turn, might have its roots in the distress they experience at discovering the fallibility of the father/authority figure. The Six might, early in life, have been confronted with painful and even impossible decisions, or found themselves in an unstable environment. However, rather than developing a sense of self reliance, the Six often goes through life as a somewhat wounded child in search of assurance, boundaries and belonging.
For John Lennon, the die was cast by his parents’ separation when he was a small child, a painful scenario that culminated in a harrowing episode whereby he was asked to choose between his father, Fred, and mother, Julia. Facing both expectant parents and a devastating dilemma, little John initially chose Fred, upon which Julia fled in tears. John then ran after his mother, crying that he now chose her. In what turned out to be a cruel twist, Julia then placed the already traumatized boy in the care of her childless sister. John’s aunt Mimi was undoubtedly a decent and goodhearted woman who did her best as a responsible guardian. However, her conventional and somewhat uptight manner was in stark contrast to that of John’s jovial and playful parents (who were musical, theatrical and generally considered “characters”) and was to invite antagonism from her deeply insecure and damaged nephew.
Lennon retained a deep hurt and sense of abandonment from these experiences, feeling himself to have been deceived (committing himself to his mother, but getting his aunt instead) and rejected (why, he wondered, didn’t his father fight for him?) by those he loved and needed the most, and a cauldron of rage and sense of injustice burned in him, infusing many of his songs with an incendiary passion, pain and visceral fury.
His 1970 album, “Plastic Ono Band”, frankly confronts these painful issues. Recorded after a period of Primal Therapy (whose founder, Arthur Janov, proved to be another in a line of idealized and then rejected father figures) with Lennon reeling from the Beatles break up, a failed marriage and heroin addiction, this was the artist laid bare, free of audience expectations. The album opens with “Mother” (to the sound of tolling bells for Julia, who died when Lennon was fifteen) with an accusatory Lennon excoriating his parents for not wanting/needing him before, at the songs climax, devolving into a terrified little boy screaming for his parents (“mamma don’t go, daddy come home”). Here is archetypal Six ambivalence; the authority figure is condemned for their failures, yet masochistically cried out for. Where another personality type might be inclined, on being disappointed or hurt, to cut their losses and move on, the Six finds it exceptionally difficult to let go of both the pain of being let down and the ongoing need for the protection and approval of the authority figure.
The Self- Defeating Masochist
As with many Sixes, Lennon’s life was spent in search for an ideal person or belief behind which he could place his considerable zeal, and followed a pattern of child- like enthusiasm followed by disillusion, and culminating in bitter and childishly petulant recrimination. Lennon was like the little boy who, despite discovering that Santa Claus is actually his father, never quite relinquishes belief that the “real” Santa Claus is out there somewhere, and is thus set on a path of masochistic disappointment as the flesh and blood mortal or abstract ideology fails to meet the lofty demands of the Six’s ideal. Lennon’s parents, business managers (Brian Epstein, Alan Klein), gurus (The Maharishi, Arthur Janov) and ideological allegiances (Flower Power, Radical politics) were all initially championed, before being found flawed, and finally discarded and lacerated, with Lennon using the medium of song to vent spleen (The aforementioned “Mother” for his parents, “Steel And Glass” and “Baby Your A Rich Man” for Klein and Epstein respectively and “Sexy Sadie” for the Maharishi).
Two songs from “Plastic Ono Band”, “I Found Out” and “God” offer a revealing insight into the disillusioned Six’s psyche. In “I Found Out”, a venomous Lennon rejects his Hippie High Priest status (“Don’t give me that “brother, brother””) and castigates his former need to believe in saviours, spitting outthelines “Thereain’tnojesusgonnacomefromthesky,nowthatIfoundoutIknowIcancry…Old HariKrishna’sgotnothingonyou….There ain’t no guru who can see through your eyes”. He also points to his desire for recognition as sourcing from parental rejection (“I heard something about my Ma and Pa, they didn’t want me so they made me a star”) as well as a determination to fully realize himself and accept his individualism and experience (“No one can harm you, Feel your own pain”). In”God”Lennon asserts that the Deity is “a concept by which we measure our pain”, before knocking down the figureheads of his age, Buddha, Gita, Jesus, Kennedy, “Zimmerman” (Dylan), Elvis and finally Beatles, thus symbolically discarding his own past and achievements. Lennon concludes by stating that he now believes only in himself, adding Yoko as if in afterthought, before lamenting “the dream is over”.
The Rebel; “You Say You Want A Revolution”?
However, as a Six “the dream” (of acceptance, belonging and cultural relevance) couldn’t remain dormant for long, and so it was that Lennon followed the most emotionally brutal and uncompromising work of his career with the commercial, comparatively tame “Imagine” album. Despite featuring swipes at both his former bandmate Paul McCartney (“How Do You Sleep”) and manager Allen Klein (“Steel And Glass”), “Imagine” was clearly intended for a mass audience (Lennon described it as being “chocolate- coated for public consumption”), and the simple idealistic sentiment of the title track, with Lennon’s singing “you may say I’m a dreamer” is something of a volte face negation of the disenchantment of “God” (“The Dream Is Over”) and “I Found Out”. As in so many areas, success was a cause of ambivalence for Lennon, and whilst he may have been willing to “imagine no possessions”, it was apparently a principle he wasn’t prepared to put into practice. Indeed, his wealth, and the distance it placed between him and his audience, was perhaps a motivating factor in his immersion in radical politics, leading to his most overtly political album “Some Time In New York City”. Once again Lennon exhibited classic Six changeability; the gentle, melodic flower power sentiment of “Imagine” is superseded by decidedly unpretty sloganeering (“Woman Is The N***** Of The World”, “Luck Of The Irish”) and a musical language that seemed one- dimensional and artless. Reviewing the album for Rolling Stone, Stephen Holden wrote, “The tunes are shallow and derivative and the words little more than sloppy nursery-rhymes that patronize the issues and individuals they seek to exalt”. Indeed, Lennon seems to be less an artist than a rebel (with no cause left unattended) desperate to display his “Right On” credentials, reduced to the reactive partisanship of the counterphobic Six famously embodied by Marlon Brando’s “The Wild One” character Johnny Strabler who, when asked what he is rebelling against, replies “Whaddaya got?”?
“Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see”
Arguably this album’s gravest flaw is less it’s politics than it’s absence of the wit, melodicism and artful synthesis that distinguishes much of Lennon’s best work. In “Strawberry Fields Forever”, hesitant lyrical assertions (“That is, I think it’s not too bad”) are merged with a haunting melody and instrumentation to suggest a state of dispossession where “nothing is real”. The annual garden party at the Strawberry Field Salvation army children’s home was a treasured treat for the young Lennon, and its spirit is captured in the song’s brass band-like arrangement. Here, the question of belonging, so crucial to Sixes, is imaginatively explored, with Lennon, abandoned by his parents and thus of spiritual kinship to the orphans of Strawberry Field, appearing traumatized (“Always, no sometimes, think it’s me”) and conveying the indecision and uncertainty of his Enneagram type; “I think I know I mean a ‘Yes’ but it’s all wrong, that is I think I disagree.” “Strawberry Fields Forever” exhibits Lennon’s melancholy apartness and ability to marry lyric sentiment to an evocative musical setting, as well as his verbal inventiveness. This latter trait, evidenced by his love of puns and “jabberwocky” (given full reign in his book of verse
“In His Own Write”), relates to one of the most endearing characteristics of the healthy Six; a child- like openness and sense of wonder. Keenly aware of their own vulnerability, healthy Sixes often display strong nurturing instincts, sympathy with the marginalized (consider Lennon’s sincere if naive political pursuits) and a deep love of innocence that allows them to, when secure, reveal great tenderness and trust.
In his beautiful song “Julia”, written in the first flush of his relationship with Yoko Ono, Lennon is able to face the devastating loss of his mother as well as acknowledge his love for her. Accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, Lennon sounds as blissful and unguarded as an infant in the arms of his mother. Lennon refers to Julia as “silent cloud” and, tellingly, as “ocean child”, the English translation of Yoko’s name. Evidently Lennon felt himself to once again be in the safe and secure place of the nurtured and protected child, a fact bore out by his referring affectionately to Ono as “Mother”.
In recent years there has been a backlash against Lennon’s somewhat saintly status. However, those who blindly revere him as a blameless apostle for peace do as grave a disservice as those who pillory him as a fatuous hypocrite, in that both are simplistic and lack nuance. Lennon, as a Six, was a mass of contradictions. However, these very contradictions, his public disputes with himself (as a violent man of peace, a rich revolutionary, a bruised and broken- hearted tough guy,) invite ongoing examination and debate, thus ensuring that Lennon remains one of the most enduring and humanly engaging of public figures.
John Lennon; The Life. Philip Norman (Ecco)
The Lives Of John Lennon. Albert Goldman (W. Morrow)
Lennon; The Definitive Biography. Ray Coleman (HarperPerennial)
Photo: flickr / orsorama
Gavan Kearney is a musician and artist based in London. After completing a degree in Fine Art with Sonic Art, Gavan commenced recording under the moniker Sand Snowman and has, to date released six highly acclaimed albums, toured Europe and collaborated with Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson and Gong’s Theo Travis. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org