Cristiana Minelli

Copertina di / cover of "Rolling Stone", gennaio / January 1981

Unlike the homage that his mother wished to pay to Churchill – giving him the name John Winston, like the British prime minister in office at the time of his birth – Lennon was never a man at ease with traditions and institutions.

Over the course of his life, he wrote to Queen Elizabeth II, refusing the knighthood that he had been awarded by the Crown as a sign of protest. He then wrote to dozens of governors around the world with a message of peace, often accompanied with the most bizarre contents. For example, the Malawi president, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, received “two living sculptures,” i.e. two acorns with which he – together with Yoko Ono – invited the addressee “to grow two oak trees for world peace.” Worried by the possible contents, President Banda never opened the package, unable to decide whether to have it destroyed in the gardens of the presidential palace.

Having lived before the onset of internet, Facebook and the social networks and the rest of the entire digital era, John Lennon wrote freehand, continuously, and on any surface, to family members, fans, and even to his launderette.

Pallbearer of the ‘Peace and Love’ motto, much of his written work – song lyrics apart – dealt with love. In a letter addressed to Kevin, at a school in Oxfordshire, together with Yoko Ono he wrote “Love is all. God is love. Christian or otherwise. Love John & Yoko.”

On 27th May 1979, the New York Times published a love letter, once again signed also by Yoko Ono, addressed “to people who ask us what, when and why.” “When somebody is angry with us we draw a halo around his or her head in our minds. [...] Suddenly the person start to look like an angel to us. This [...] reminds us that everyone has goodness inside. And that all people who come to us are angels in disguise, carrying messages and gifts to us from the universe. Magic is logical. Try it sometime.”

Almost overwhelmed by a creative drive from when he was a child, this energy was largely expressed in writing. When still at primary school, he wrote ‘Sport, Speed and Illustrated, edited and illustrated by John Lennon’ with the words, “If you liked this, come again next week. It’ll be even better,” the sentence with which he would end the serial story in the magazine. This was followed by the ‘Daily Howl’ in which he would no longer cut out news and comic strips, but create a work of his own, complete with rhymes and short stories.

“I love you like guitars, I love you like anything lovely,” he wrote to his first wife-to-be, Cynthia Powell, shortly after meeting her, on a Christmas card he had illustrated with drawings and strips, sent to her in 1958. And on 2nd November 1963 he wrote: “it’s a pain travelling all day through the forests. I love you. I’ll see you somewhere in England where the grass grows.”

He would play with verse and calembours, dialoguing with himself and with the capacity to articulate thoughts and words in a thousand different directions. In the earliest typed writings by Lennon, of which only a single page survives (1961- 62?) he wrote, “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 my maker.”

He experienced writing as a need, and as such it accompanied him day after day, like an invisible yet essential companion. “Usually write like this and forget about it, but if post, in a little part of my almost secret self in the hands of someone.” he wrote in a letter to Stuart Sutcliffe in 1961.

“In his letters, John would go straight to the point. And he would often accompany them with a little winding drawing. That’s when you knew he was opening up completely to a friend” writes Yoko Ono in the preface to the book edited by Hunter Davies, ‘The John Lennon Letters’ (Little, Brown & Company, 2012). In January 1979 he wrote a long letter to his cousin Liela in which we find the words, “I'm 40 next year. I hope life begins.”

We know that was not the case, for on 8th December 1980, John lost his life in front of the Dakota Building, but in order to remember his once more, we might re-read a note written in 1948, in an album belonging to his cousin Stanley Parkes: “By hook or by crook I'll be last in this book.”