John Lennon often discussed it and was quite intrigued by it: his bizarre and potent connection to the number nine. It was an uncanny association that followed him from his birth on 9 October 1940 throughout the next 40 years. John’s first home as an infant, for example, was 9 Newcastle Road, and most of the outstanding events of his life occurred, oddly enough, on the ninth. Here are a few you might recognize:
9 June 1957 – John Lennon’s first band The Quarry Men met in Liverpool’s City Centre, just outside the Empire Theatre where they were anticipating an exciting contest audition with star-maker, Carroll Levis. Levis had traveled north from London, seeking undiscovered talent for his “Search for the Stars” program, and The Quarry Men considered themselves “well in the running.” Unfortunately, the much more charismatic Sunnyside Skiffle Group, led by vivacious Nicky Cuff, roundly defeated the wooden Quarry Men. Thus, after their lackluster performance, Lennon demanded that by their next imminent gig (The Roseberry Street Festival) drummer Colin Hanton must paint the moniker “The Quarry Men” on their bass drum head, and the other group members must “come up with gimmicks” to “put the show over.” This was the day that sealed “showmanship” as a “must” for the ingenue band.
9 February 1961 – The Beatles played their first “lunchtime session” in Mathew Street’s Cavern Club. Becoming a staple in this humid underground venue, The Beatles would rock The Cavern’s tiny wooden stage over 292 times. To the sound of compère Bob Wooler’s melodious introductions and the theme music of “The William Tell Overture,” The Beatles charged the Cavern stage, owned it, and firmly established themselves as the greatest band in Liverpool.
9 November 1961 – After speaking with Mersey Beat magazine owner and editor, Bill Harry, about the potential of a Liverpool band known as The Beatles, North End Music Store owner Brian Epstein asked Harry to “make a reservation for him” at their lunchtime Cavern performance. Attending this show with his assistant, Alistair Taylor, Epstein intended to stay only for the first segment. However, Epstein was bowled over by the charismatic, unruly Scousers in leathers who shouted epithets at the crowd and were “in full cry” with all the mach shau magic at their disposal. At intermission, Mr. Epstein visited the Cavern band room and asked The Beatles to come to his NEMS office some few days hence to consider “an offer of management.” The Beatles – who had been floundering for several months without a permanent manager (assisted off-and-on by Mo Best, Bob Wooler, Sam Leach, and various others) – were intrigued. Having a robust manager, the boys thought, would enable them to get a recording contract…make a name for themselves outside Liverpool. As we all know now, it certainly did. Brian Epstein became their manager in December 1961, and the climb to the “toppermost of the poppermost” began.
9 February 1964 – Many of you were probably “front and center” for this landmark event. This was the charmed evening that gave us The Beatles’ very first performance on CBS’s hit television program “The Ed Sullivan Show.” John, Paul, George, and Ringo sang “All My Loving,“ ”’Til There Was You,” and “She Loves You” in their first Sullivan segment and “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in a second segment. They performed to the largest audience to ever view a TV program, up to that time, and trite as it may sound, the world was never the same again. From that moment on, Beatlemania enveloped the globe. Whilst in New York on this initial visit, the boys also performed in New York’s Carnegie Hall, but the Sullivan performance would forever be “the game-changer.”
9 November 1966* – John Lennon always claimed that he met Yoko Ono on this date. *Today, we are fairly certain that the actual date was 7 November. But in John’s mind, he had been invited to London’s Indica Gallery on 9 November 1966 for a preview of a new art exhibition from the avant-garde artist, Ono. Ono was present, and when John asked her permission to hammer a nail into her “Hammer a Nail“ piece, she pertly refused, explaining that she wanted to preserve the sanctity of that experience for the actual show on the following day. John recalled that he snapped back with, “I’ll give you an imaginary five shillings and hammer in an imaginary nail,” and Yoko had appeared amused. When John climbed a ladder to read the tiny word that Ono had artfully scribbled on the ceiling and discovered that word to be, “Yes,” it was John’s turn to be pleased. A bond formed between the two creative souls, and John believed this life-changing moment to have transpired on the ninth.
John Lennon is certainly not alone in his awareness of the unique significance of nines. Mathematicians have long pointed out the unusual qualities of the numeral. For example, T. R. (Joe) Sundaram stated in “The Many Mysteries of The Number Nine” (Washington Post, 13 May 1998) “When any number is multiplied by nine, if the individual digits in the resulting product are added, they will always total nine as long as you keep summing the digits produced at each step until you get a one-digit number.” Furthermore, the singular principle of “Casting Out Nines” is based on the elegantly strange property of nines. Read more about the numeral’s mathematical properties.
John Lennon, sensing an unusual affinity with this number, wrote three songs heralding his connection. “The One After 909,” co-written with Paul, was composed early in the boys’ career. John’s “#9 Dream” and “Revolution 9” were both written later in his career (the latter song prominently featuring the oft-repeated phrase: “Number 9, Number 9”).
Of course, John would enthusiastically point out many other pivotal moments that happened to him on days whose dates add up to nine. For example, the first screaming, fan-frenzied outbreak of Beatlemania took place in Litherland Town Hall (near Liverpool) on 27 December 1960. And Paul McCartney’s first appearance with The Quarry Men occurred on the tiny stage in Clubmoor Hall, Norris Green on 18 October in 1957.
John also told interviewers that as a student he rode the Number 72 bus from Woolton – where he lived with his Aunt Mimi – into Liverpool College of Art, where Paul, George, and he would meet in Arthur Ballard’s classroom to rehearse songs together. And when John and Yoko moved into their first apartment in New York’s Dakota building (located on 72nd Street at Central Park West), their apartment was none other than Number 72. Additionally, one of John’s favorite “coincidences” was the fact that Yoko Ono Lennon plus John Ono Lennon when added together totaled nine “o’s.” But we don’t have to stretch the connection quite that far to see the “sign of the nines.” Nines kept popping up in odd and various places all along John’s way. Indeed, John is quoted as saying, “Nine turned out to be my birthday and my lucky number and everything.”
Was this a curious coincidence? Fate? Happenstance? Destiny? One (the loneliest number) never knows. But John Lennon believed that “in his life,” the number nine held significance. In his song, “Crippled Inside,” John reminded us that “a cat has nine lives/Nine lives to himself.” Then, referring to himself, he begrudgingly sang, “You’ve only got one, and a dog’s life ain’t fun…” Regrettably, John was quite correct there. He did have only one life…and sadly, it ended (in Liverpool time) on 9 December 1980, the final and irreversible nine of John’s cryptic and all-too-abbreviated time.
-Jude Southerland Kessler
Photo: John Lennon (Getty Images)