John Lennon is one of the most adored figures in the history of music for several reasons. The most obvious is his genius songwriting, which has positively touched the lives of many – whether with The Beatles or through his successful solo career. Another was his activist reputation, stressing a simple yet effective sentiment like “give peace a chance” that resonated as a staple ideology of the ‘70s. A great musician who was an activist for peace, a fashion icon, and undeniably handsome seem like aspects that are impossible to despise, and that’s what John Lennon really was to most: an icon devoid of much criticism in his heyday. But even before his death in 1980 there were negative aspects of his personal life that surfaced. This made the great British singer-songwriter seem not-so-perfect in the eyes of some. A materialist, deadbeat father, hypocrite, and even a wife-beater are some names that have been used to describe Lennon, whose music has overshadowed a relatively turbulent personal life.
Lennon’s role in several domestic abuse cases is perhaps the most serious claim against the musician. Although known since the ‘70s, these allegations surfaced again in 2009, when bloggers and press had a field day comparing Chris Brown and John Lennon. That year, Brown had endured plenty of deserving ridicule for beating up Rihanna. Many of Brown’s fans wondered why their favorite artist was being vilified, but John Lennon – who had a history of beating his wives – had never been. For one, Lennon’s wives did not provide graphic pictures to the press. If they had done so, surely a similar reaction would have taken place – even if Lennon, as a highly superior songwriter, would have significantly more apologists in his corner. There is no arguing that the better and more successful a musician is, the more they can get away with. It’s the grim truth. When activists posted a sticker stating “Warning! This man beats women!” on Brown’s recent album, few complained. But when the same activists posted the sticker on Lennon’s albums, it drew the ire of many. While it may seem hypocritical, such is the case in a modern age – where one’s perception is defined by the quality of their music as well as their reputation in new media, which rose long after Lennon’s death.
Lennon was most physically abusive to his first wife, Cynthia. His second wife, Yoko, never touched on details of Lennon’s physical abuse with her – but she did mention how he could be mentally abusive to both her and his sons. Lennon would often ignore and ridicule his son Julian, upset that his birth had forced Lennon to marry Cynthia. Julian Lennon later stated that Paul McCartney had a more positive impact on his life than his father John. These were brutal but true words about his father, whose temper and jealousy was known to many – and even to himself. “I used to be cruel to my woman I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved,” he sings on The Beatles’ “Getting Better”. “Man I was mean but I’m changing my scene and I’m doing the best that I can.” On tracks like that and “Jealous Guy” he seemed to be apologizing for his flawed nature. Toward the end of his life, Lennon reportedly did become more peaceful and less abusive. Still, that didn’t stop some negative aspects of his personality from appearing up until his death.
In addition to Lennon’s turbulent relationships with a variety of individuals, from family members to The Beatles, there were knowledgeable politically-minded groups that viewed Lennon as a sham. Lennon would preach about contradictory ideologies; he spoke about living without materials while living an extremely lavish lifestyle in his penthouse, while very rarely donating to charity. His oft-spoken political allegiances were usually vague, and when he did support a specific group it was often controversial, like when he donated to The Black Panthers. His statements to the press for certain political allegiances always seemed wish-washy, much like his convoluted tales about how Paul McCartney broke up The Beatles, or how he met Yoko. These tales would later prove to be false. Though many would be quick to label him a pathological liar, his tendency to exaggerate pertains to his desire for success and acceptance, even as one of the world’s most popular musicians. Although casual fans may view Lennon as a peace-loving hippie who was also a genius songwriter, it’s clear they are only correct in presuming the latter. In reality, John Lennon had as many character issues as Chris Brown, James Brown, Randy Travis, or any number of musicians with a sullied reputation.