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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2006/01/15
by Mike Gruenberg

Cynthia Lennon

In My Life
Do you remember the first person you truly thought you were in love with? You were probably in your teens, full of lust and unreal expectations as you tried finding your true romance and then, all of a sudden, it happened. It may have been at summer camp when you saw the junior swimming counselor in charge of boating at the waterfront. Or maybe you sat next to the most beautiful or handsome person in your 10th grade high school biology class. Or maybe you met that certain someone at the orthodontists office while you both were there to have the doctor adjust those cumbersome braces.
More often than not, your first love does not work out. Immaturity, wanderlust or just plain stupidity usually rears its ugly head and that person unceremoniously exits from your life. However, you are left with a lasting memory that in many cases causes you to wonder in later years why you allowed that person to get away.
At this joyous holiday time of year, the tradition is to exchange gifts among family and friends. My family has come to the conclusion that I am a difficult person to shop for because I never know what to tell them to buy for me. Inevitably, they decide to give me books or records that delve into the music, lives and loves of the Beatles. This type of purchase is a very safe bet for them and as a result, I have been able to amass a significant collection of books about the lads to go along with the extensive music collection of their tunes that I own as well.
By anticipating the question of what to get for me, I use the time in November and early December to try and write down the names of Fab Four books or CDs that I would appreciate being given when the holidays inevitably arrive. In doing my research this past year, I noticed that Cynthia Lennon had written a book about her life with her first husband, John. The book is simply entitled, John. I knew about it because I was part of a group that received an e-mail from her son, Julian explaining how proud he was that his mother wrote the book and that I should hurry out to the store and purchase it. At the time, I asked myself why I would want a book that chronicled her failed marriage. After all, my interest has always been with John and the band, not his first wife who I barely knew about.

Normally, I would have passed over this selection if I were buying Beatle related books for myself. As a matter of fact, on a recent trip to England in December I passed a book store in Oxford that had devoted an entire front window to publicizing the book. I was mildly amused thinking how difficult it would be for the store to sell all the books displayed. After all, Cynthia Lennon was just an appendage to John, the intelligent Beatle. You can therefore imagine my surprise when I unwrapped my holiday book gifts only to find the Cynthia Lennon book in my hands.
I couldnt believe that a member of my family would actually buy me a book that seemed to me nothing more than stories written by a wounded first wife giving her side of the divorce. Who cares, I said to myself. I would care if she wrote some of the Beatle tunes when she was married to John. I would also care if she had a profound influence on him, but that fact was never even mentioned in all the Beatle related books and articles I have read over the years. This looked to me of yet another example of tabloid journalism. My disdain for tabloid influenced books is a result of the constant assault I feel we are subjected to by gossip columns in newspapers, kiss and tell books supposedly written by starlets and athletes and the myriad amount of TV programs that follow rock stars and movie stars from restaurants to their private vacation spots and to their homes.
In spite of all of these reasons not to read the book, I decided to read it anyway. Much to my surprise, I found the book to be quite informative and interesting. Cyn, as he called her and John met when they were both teenagers in college. Apparently, Cynthia and John were very much in love at that time. For both of them, they were each others first true loves.
The primary reason we know so little about Cynthia was the fact that Beatles manager, Brian Epstein did not want the public to know that John was married and had a son. Ever the businessman, Epstein was afraid that female fans of the group would not buy as many Beatle records if they thought the boys were married. As a result, Cynthia was relegated to virtual anonymity even though she was an integral part of Johns life. She was with him at a time when his and the Beatles creativity was growing rapidly every day. To dismiss her influence and say that she was simply an appendage to John is a gross distortion of the truth and the events that made the Beatles a world-wide phenomenon. She was there. She lived the experience with John, Paul, George, Ringo, Stu Sutcliffe, Pete Best, Brian Epstein, George Martin and all their assorted lovers and friends.
There are great stories in this book of how John, George and Ringo bought homes near each other in the country and how they socialized with one another. Paul, who lived in London as opposed to the country where the other three lived, would often join them with his girlfriend, Jane. The four Beatles and their significant others formed an unusually tight bond in the early days of the groups burgeoning successes. Cynthia also talks bout how John and Paul wrote songs together. The tension, camaraderie and competition when they composed songs together is a fascinating account of the two of them at their creative best. The book gives great insights into Johns thought patterns and the life he led. She was there! She knew it all.
The bottom line is that only she and John know the truth as to why they divorced after ten years of marriage. There are many theories why it happened, but only Cynthia can relate the facts to us now. When a young couple gets married or decides to live together, each one embarks on their own path with a career or mode of life. Sometimes, when one spouse becomes enormously more successful, the other one may be left behind. The successful one finds a new set of friends, a new set of values and may tend to forget or does not want to be reminded of their humble beginnings. Adulation comes with success. Fame brings a heightened self-confidence. As that person enjoys their new life, the reality of the old life wants to be forgotten. When the only memory of ones past humble life can be remembered or brought up by the spouse, a degree of awkward silence may often be the response when the topic is brought up in conversation and a separation of the married couple may soon follow.
Males chase females for as long as the female allows herself to be caught. Many males are not always aware of the female trying to catch them. I have read a number of accounts describing how Yoko made a significant effort to romance John. Another possible explanation for the dissolution of Johns and Cynthias marriage was that this new person in Johns life represented a new world to Celebrity/Beatle John. As we know, John and Yoko went on to a storied life together, but the reality was that Cynthia was left behind in the old world of Liverpool/Beatle John.
Through the book, I got to understand the life of a rock star. Although I felt that his son, Julian was the most victimized person in their marriage melodrama, I finally came to the conclusion that the most tortured soul of all was John. He was abandoned by both his father and mother at an early age only to be left in the care of his mothers sister Aunt Mimi. Her style of bringing up a child could not be described as nurturing or loving, which were the very aspects of a parental figure John sought. This disconnect made for a tragic beginning of the formative years of his life. His life of success as a musician that took him away from his new wife and baby son created enormous angst for him. His new life with Yoko and Sean was paved over the mistakes he made with Cynthia and Julian which unfortunately was never entirely resolved.
Whatever the case, the Cynthia Lennon book paints a picture heretofore not entirely known about her and Johns life together. I was touched by their love for one another when he was just starting out on his quest to conquer the music business, His family, friends and colleagues are all given ample time in this book. The book will not win any Pulitzer Prizes for journalistic excellence, but it will give you great understanding of how John coped, made mistakes and excelled as a musician and sometimes as a person. There are portions of the book where you will laugh and some times you may want to throw up your hands in disgust for his actions, but most of all you will see the human, gregarious and frail sides of a man who became an international celebrity born of humble beginnings in Liverpool.

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