The John Lennon They Knew

making beatles a day in the life

It’s mind-boggling to think that the world has been without John Lennon longer than he was with us. His music, art, literature, films, and colorful projects for peace linger with us 43 years after his untimely death. But as time slips by, some have begun pigeonholing John merely as “the caustic Beatle,” or the “sardonic one” – reducing him to a caricature, a label.

Like all of us, John was a complex person. He could be acerbic and taciturn. He could be funny and entertaining. He could be kind and generous. He could be outspoken and boisterous. He could be quiet and withdrawn. Here is what those who knew him best have to say about the man who founded The Beatles, who wrote the great majority of the group’s hits (co-writing many with Paul McCartney), who served as the leader of that legendary band, and who, with his mates, has astounded fans yet again this past month with the release of a song he wrote in 1977, the Number One hit “Now and Then.”

This is how those who knew him best recall the “Leader Beatle.”

Ruth McCartney, Paul’s step-sister, knew all four Beatles well via their frequent visits to the McCartney home Rembrandt on the Wirral. The McCartneys also traveled with The Beatles to the Bahamas for the making of Help! and the celebration of Ruth’s fifth birthday. Today, Ruth (AKA “The Digital Diva”) is the CEO of, which focuses on business success through logo and corporate identity development, web design, fan club building, marketing communications, and all the steps along the path to success for any brand or personality. Ruth fondly recalls John Lennon this way:

“People, in my opinion, often mischaracterized John as a busy Beatle who was short on patience and possessed with nothing short of an acerbic wit. However, in my personal experience, as a child of six years old, he took endless hours, hanging onto the back saddle with my big grown-up, two-wheeler, bicycle going round and round until I’m sure he was dizzy, persevering with me and ultimately teaching me how to learn to ride a bike. The metaphor is not lost on me. If you fall off in life, as I did in the back garden at Rembrandt, many times, John would simply say ‘get back on and try it again.’”

Gary Van Scyoc was the gifted bass player for the Plastic Ono Elephants Memory Band and in 1972 worked with John and Yoko to create the Some Time in New York City album. Gary also performed with the Lennons onstage at the “One to One” Concert in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Working closely together in studio and in rehearsal for the concert, the two men became friends. For more, see Here’s Gary’s memory of his bandmate and producer:

“During my two years with John, he was the only person honest enough to tell me what he really thought of the songs I was presenting to be recorded at the Record Plant. Even more so than any of my Elephants Memory bandmates. As producer, he took me aside and warmheartedly told me the first song that we had just laid down was rather ‘two penny’ and to please go home and try to write something more personal about my life or childhood experiences. The next night I brought in my song ‘Wind Ridge’ about the little Pennsylvania town where my grandmother took care of me as a child while my mother worked. John loved it, and after it was recorded wanted it to be our first Apple single. He fought for it quite hard with the ‘suits’ at Apple (Allen Klein) but there was ‘too much politics,’ as he explained, to get it approved. John was so supportive…an incredible learning experience! Thanks to John I became a much better songwriter and gained a close friend in the crazy world of the record business. Thank you, John!”

Ivor Davis was the only journalist who traveled with The Beatles on the entire 1964 North American Tour. (Other reporters jumped on and off the tour due to previous engagements.) Then, in 1965, Davis was one of only two journalists selected to accompany The Beatles to the “great summit meeting” with Elvis Presley. Ivor remained friends with John and saw him again in the 1970s when John and May Pang returned to Los Angeles. Ivor’s brilliantly told true stories about The Beatles – along with many new anecdotes and photos – will be released in early 2024 in this 60th Anniversary book, The Beatles and Me on Tour, He remembers John with a wry smile:

“The John Lennon I knew in l964, 65 and 66 was a




And a genius.

Like Peter Sellers, whom he knew, and like Robin Williams, whom he did not, he was a showoff – wickedly and savagely funny. He spoke his thoughts and sometimes regretted it.

And somewhere along his (tragically) shortened long and winding road, he wrote a few songs.”

Helen Anderson was John’s closest friend at Liverpool College of Art. Because she had been commissioned to paint a portrait of Lonnie Donegan, John sought her out and was quite impressed with her talent. As John became a world success with The Beatles and Helen went on to become an internationally famous artist and fashion designer, the two remained close. Helen even designed John’s signature leather Lennon cap, copies of which she continues to custom-make for clients today. Helen fondly recalls her dear friend with these words:

“John  Lennon has been so misunderstood. Occasionally, the enormous pressure that followed him from his childhood into adult life became too much. Then, he would let rip and say or do something he would probably regret later and forever. That was John to some people. He was just black and white, never grey; there were no half-measures with John Lennon. The people he liked – he LOVED. He chose his friends carefully and could never suffer fools gladly. My personal memories of John were extremely happy ones. We never shared a cross word – such good chums, especially during art college days and those early successful years. I have always felt grateful and fortunate to have been his friend.”

Art Schreiber was a respected political journalist for the Westinghouse Network who was assigned to The Beatles’ 1964 North American Tour. Because Art was so knowledgeable about politics, he became one of John’s closest companions. They spent hours together discussing manned space, the JFK assassination, Civil Rights, and the conflict in Vietnam. Art says of John:

“John and I sat together on the plane every day for three weeks I took part in the 1964 North American Tour, and we talked constantly. John wanted to talk, not about music, but about politics and what was happening in America regarding the fight over Civil Rights. I really got to know John Lennon. We played Monopoly with George every night during my three weeks and it was there I learned that John was not only very intelligent but very competitive. Most nights, we played Monopoly all night long until the sun came up, and I never once witnessed John or George drinking or taking drugs. Nor was John ever rude or unkind or anything but inquisitive, interested, and interesting. He always wanted to know what was going on in America and why. He was one of the brightest young men I’ve ever known. We kept in touch through the years, and we scheduled a lunch together in mid-December 1980 when I was going to be in town. Sadly, that lunch never came to be.”

Thelma McGough née Pickles was a seventeen-year-old art student at Liverpool College of Art when, in 1958, she met John Lennon. They had much in common and she quickly became his girlfriend and confidante. Thelma was part of John’s life during those difficult months after the loss of his mother Julia. Eventually, the two parted ways, and Thelma married Roger McGough of The Scaffold. Subsequently, she became a BAFTA award-winning TV Producer. She remembers John this way: 

“I met John and began my relationship with him at the worst time of his life. He was eighteen and his mother Julia, whom he had only just begun to get to know, had been killed six weeks earlier. He was understandably vulnerable. Frequently, he wanted – and on occasion demanded – that I be constantly at his side. For the most part, I was willing to oblige like when he wanted to go and see Elvis films, wander the churchyard of Liverpool Cathedral, or visit Paul’s house and sometimes his mate’s house in Penny Lane to practice. I resisted joining him in Ye Cracke at lunchtime because I loathed pubs; I didn’t drink, and I was underage at seventeen years old. Of course, there were many trips to Mendips on the nights Mimi went out to play Bridge. When we were alone, he was softly spoken, gentle, and caring. This was in contrast to his abrasive public persona, which I soon learned was a front for the damaged lad within. We had both suffered adverse childhood experiences and it was this that cemented the bond between us. It’s difficult to be altruistic when you’re damaged and hurting.

“With hindsight and the inevitable wisdom that comes with maturity, John’s turbulent, irascible character is simpler to understand. In Paul, George and Ringo, John found himself part of a non-judgmental family where he was loved, and where each individual worked hard to achieve a singular collective aim.”

Larry Kane was an enterprising young deejay at Miami’s WFUN radio when he was assigned to travel with The Beatles on the 1964 North American Tour. He became such a favorite of the Fab Four that he also was given permission to join the band in the Bahamas (February 1965) to interview them on location for the making of “Help!” Additionally, Larry accompanied the lads on the 1965 North American tour, and he became such close friends with John Lennon that in 2005, he wrote an insider’s biography about John entitled Lennon Revealed. In that book, Larry recalls his first meeting with John:

“…I was stunned by my initial encounter with John [in San Francisco, 1964]…Puffing on a cigarette and looking tired, John publicly chided me about my clothing…calling me a “f*g a*s.” I roared back, ‘It’s better than being a slob like you!’ Minutes later, he ran out into the hallway outside the room, spun me around, and rather heartily apologized. In life, there’s something to be said for candor. There is also much to be admired for realizing you’ve screwed up and doing something about it. Few of the chroniclers of John Lennon’s life have ever given him credit for loving more than hating, for creating more than destroying, and ultimately, for leaving the world a better place.” (p. 198)

Every single day, crowds gather in New York’s Central Park, at the international memorial for John in Strawberry Fields. Sometimes, they sing “Imagine.” On other days, they sing “Help!” John had one foot in both of those musical worlds: the world of peaceful coexistence and the world of agitated angst and fear. He battled demons; he sang “Bless You.” He raged against injustice in Ireland but begged us to “Give Peace A Chance.” And he told us that real “Revolution” came when we “changed our minds instead.” John was an award-winning writer, a talented single-line artist, a peace activist, an actor, and yes, an unequaled composer. But most of all, he was a genuine soul, the real deal. “Now and Then,” we miss him. December 8 is one of those days.

-Jude Southerland Kessler

Photo: Getty Images


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Jude Southerland Kessler is the leading expert on the life of John Lennon and the author of The John Lennon Series, a projected 9-volume expanded biography taking readers chronologically through John’s life. The first five volumes are out in print, plus a new audiobook version of "She Loves You" (Vol. 3). With a personal Lennon library of over 300 books, Kessler undertook seven trips to Liverpool, England to interview John Lennon’s childhood friends, early band members, art college mates, and business associates before embarking on writing the series, which is told in a narrative format and heavily documented. You can learn more about Jude's work at

6 comments on “The John Lennon They Knew

  1. Barry Baddams

    I unhappily witnessed him humiliate a female hotel domestic staff member in Australia in 1964. His abuse was foul and when it looked like it was about to escalate into physical abuse, he was dragged away by a couple of Sounds Incorporated guys and Derek Taylor. It was galling because just 30 minutes prior to that, I’d had a conversation with him in which he was polite, witty and charming. There was a dark side.

    • Sally Ann Mays

      I think he learnte

    • Sally Ann Mays

      I think he learned a better way as he progressed through life. I am not excusing that behaviour, but we should allow for personal insights that lead to a kinder way. He was all for world peace, and wrote and took actions (ie marching and protesting against Vietnam). I’d rather remember that.

  2. Steve Valvano

    Thanks Mr. Jude… this was a deep and sincere piece that give a wonderful comprehensive look at John through people eyes that actually knew him.

  3. Just a quibble. To say John wrote the “great majority” of Beatle songs is overstated. He wrote many in the early days and Paul wrote many in the later days, and yes, some together. I love them both for enriching my life with their music.

  4. These capsule memories are wonderful thoughts and insights into the complicated but brilliant and thoughtful person the John Lennon I knew when he was simply “Watching the Wheels.” Thank you, Jude. Jay Bergen

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