Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

Close Encounters: The Beatles John Lennon and UFO’s.

lennonnyc-ufoOriginal publish date:                August 18, 2013

If you haven’t noticed, I like trivia. In my lifetime, I’ve watched as trivia has leapt from the pages of obscure library books to become popular board games and highly rated TV game shows. I try hard not to replace or confuse trivia for history, but I think trivia has a place in our history books nonetheless. Sometimes, trivia about a historical person or event helps rationalize or humanize that person, place or thing allowing us to relate to it in a more down-to-earth fashion. So, since I can’t find anything else to write about this week, I’ll share with you a trivial story that I’m betting you’ve never heard of before.
39 years ago this Friday (August 23, 1974) was a typical hot summer night in New York City. Beatle-gone-solo John Lennon was on what he would later call his “Lost Weekend”, an 18-month-long fling with former assistant May Pang during his break-up with Yoko Ono lasting from the summer of 1973 to the winter of 1975. John and May had just returned home to their East 52nd street apartment, after spending the day at the Record Plant East recording studio, where John was in the final stages of his Walls and Bridges album. Lennon loved the location of the 52nd street address as it was only one building away from the East River. The view from his top floor apartment, overlooking Brooklyn’s navy shipyard docks, reminded him of Liverpool. Another draw for Lennon was the fact that reclusive actress Greta Garbo also lived on the block and he counted himself among the legion of her fans who tried daily to catch glimpse of her.
Lennon-PangThat August night began no differently from any other evening for John and May. John made and received phone calls, watched TV and listened to the day’s recorded studio work while making notes. The 52nd Street apartment was hot that night, but by 8 O’ Clock the air had cooled off enough for May to turn off the air conditioner and open the windows to catch the breeze coming off the river. Just a few feet off the apartment’s living room was the building’s roof, accessible through a side window. This rooftop acted as the couple’s private observation deck, offering a million dollar view of New York’s Eastside. The haze had now cleared over the cityscape and around 8:30 p.m., May decided to take a shower, leaving Lennon alone in the living room reviewing mock-ups of his new record’s cover. The cover art on the final product would be a painting by a 12-year-old John Lennon.
As May was drying off, she heard John yell from the outside roof, “May come here right now!” Startled, she ran out to find him completely nude standing on the roof and pointing wildly at the southeastern sky. May wasn’t surprised by finding John naked on the roof, (John was a closet nudist: if you need proof, Google “Two Virgins” and you’ll understand), what surprised her was what he was pointing at. Just south of the building was a brightly lit “textbook” circular UFO, hovering silently less than 100 feet away from the couple.
As John Lennon would later describe, “I wasn’t surprised to see the UFO really, as it looked just like the spaceships we’ve all seen on the cinema growing up, but then I realized this thing was real and so close, that I could almost touch it!”. As they watched in astonishment, the UFO glided silently out of sight. May later told a reporter, “the lighting on the thing left us awe-struck, as it would change its configuration with every rotation”. According to May, the object made no sound and the main structure of the craft could be clearly seen for the duration of the event; lit by the dying rays of the setting sun. May ran back into the apartment and grabbed her ever-present 35mm camera (Her mountain of photos of John Lennon and their “lost weekend” are legendary).
Once back on the roof both she and John took numerous pictures of the craft. May recalls how John stood screaming at the UFO, arms outstretched, to come back and take him away. She said, “He was very serious and I believe he really wanted that thing to take him with it back to wherever it came from, but then that was John Lennon, always looking for the next big adventure”. The couple watched as the object glided past the United Nations building and slowly veered left, crossing over the East River, then over Brooklyn before simply blending in with the heavy commercial air traffic found over southern Long Island. The couple climbed back into the apartment and John picked up the phone to call his friend, noted rock photographer Bob Gruen. Lennon told Gruen to get over there as soon as possible as he had some film he needed developed immediately. As they waited for Gruen to arrive, John began drawing sketches of what he had seen, noting its size and distance. John then called Yoko Ono at the Dakota apartment to tell her about the UFO. May remembers that Yoko became upset at John because she hadn’t seen it too and felt that he had “left her out of all the excitement”.
1280x720-z7RBob Gruen arrived and John excitedly told the photographer what had transpired. Gruen later recalled “I took the film home and put John’s roll between two rolls of film I’d taken earlier that day and developed them”. “My two rolls of film came out perfectly but John’s roll was blank. Later I asked him ” did you call the newspaper?” and he said “I’m not going to call up the newspaper and say, This is John Lennon and I saw a flying saucer last night”… So Bob Gruen called up the local police precinct and asked if anyone had reported a UFO or flying saucer. The police responded with “Where? Up on the East Side? You’re the third call on it”. Then Bob called the Daily News and they said, “On the East Side? Five people reported it”. Finally, Gruen called the ultra-conservative New York Times and asked a reporter if anybody had reported a flying saucer? The reporter hung up on him.
Neither John Lennon nor May Pang would ever forget their UFO experience. John even mentions the encounter in the booklet that accompanied the Walls & Bridges album released in the autumn of 1974. On the bottom right of the back cover it reads “On 23 August 1974, I saw a UFO J.L.”. May Pang has an audio tape of John, recorded just a few weeks after their experience, where Lennon discusses his thoughts on UFO’s in general. Lennon states that he had “no doubt that the craft he saw was from another world” and nixed the idea that it could have been a “secret government test plane”. John Lennon believed the craft he saw was part of a much larger fleet stationed just north of New York City, near the Indian Point nuclear power plant.
In the tape, Lennon expressed his personal theory of how these craft use the earth’s gravitational field and take energy from our nuclear plants to counter the earth’s gravity. John also voiced his opinion and suspicion of a high level conspiracy to cover up verifiable UFO sightings and close encounters with aliens. He continued that “if the masses started to accept UFO’s, it would profoundly affect their attitudes towards life, politics, everything”. He added, “It would threaten the status quo…Whenever people come to realize that there are larger considerations than their own petty little lives, they are ripe to make radical changes on a personal level, which would eventually lead to a political revolution in society as a whole”.6-25-2015-4-15-07-PMHand drawn, autographed UFO sketch by John Lennon.

However, John Lennon was not a newcomer to the “UFO Phenomenon”. He was a known subscriber to the British UFO journal “Flying Saucer Review”, aka “FSR”, as far back as his years with The Beatles in the late 1960s. Several copies of “FSR” have been found, and subsequently auctioned off, addressed to John Lennon. May Pang reports, “Oh no, 74 wasn’t John’s first sighting… In fact he told me that more than once he suspected he had been “abducted” as a child back in Liverpool!…She continues, “And he felt that experience was responsible for making him feel different from other people for the rest of his life”. Yes, according to May Pang, John Lennon believed he had been “Abducted” by aliens as a lad in Liverpool, but he didn’t like to talk about it.
The more you know about John Lennon, the less you understand. He was a walking contradiction. He was fiercely anti-Capitalism but lorded over nearly every “Beatle” mass marketing scheme during his early days with the Fab Four. He was deeply spiritual, but averse to organized religion. He was an intensely private person, yet readily greeted and signed autographs for fans outside his Dakota apartment. Those last two contradictions contributed to his untimely assassination by a crazed, mentally disturbed fan in December of 1980. Knowing this, can it come as any real surprise that John Lennon believed he had seen a UFO 39 years ago? I suspect not. When dealing with John Lennon, one need only refer to John’s own words, spoken only hours before his death, to San Francisco DJ David Sholin of RKO radio, “Who knows what’s going to happen next?”

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A drawing of that 1974 sighting, sketched for his “Walls and Bridges” album, depicts what appears to be a classic flying saucer with the word “UFOer” written on the bottom of the object. On the album’s liner notes, the famed musician wrote: “On the 23rd Aug. 1974 at 9 o’clock I saw a U.F.O. J.L.” Drawing was auctioned on March 21, 2017 by CooperOwen Auctions of London. The album sleeve was originally expected to bring in between $1600 to $2500, but ended up selling for just over $16,600.

Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

Genesis: John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s First Meting.

Lennon-McCartney 1st meetingOriginal publish date:  June 29, 2015

58 years ago this Monday, the headline on the front-page of the July 6, 1957 Liverpool Evening Express read “MERSEYSIDE SIZZLES.” England was in the 10th day of a heat wave that had enveloped all of Europe. The day before it reached 98 degrees in Vienna and a staggering 125 degrees in Prague. The headline proved prophetic because that day was the first meeting of two Liverpool teenagers who would change the world: John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
On that fateful Saturday afternoon John Lennon’s “skiffle” band, “The Quarrymen” performed at St Peter’s Church in Liverpool. The church fair featured booths selling crafts, cakes, carnival games, police dog demonstrations, and a parade culminating with the crowning of the Rose Queen. The first parade truck carried the Queen and her court. The second truck carried John Lennon and his Quarrymen.
The band was asked to play and sing while the truck slowly lurched its way down the street. When the bumpy ride prohibited the standing band’s ability to play coherently, Lennon sat on the edge of the truck, his legs dangling over the edge, as he dutifully played his guitar and sang for the curbside crowd.
Eventually the trucks came to a stop and the Quarrymen’s first set took place on a molten hot stage in a shadeless field behind the church. 16-year-old John Lennon was the undisputed leader of the band. Even though his guitar skills were rough and he often forgot the lyrics to the songs he was performing, he covered it well by ad-libbing his own lyrics. Midway through that first set, 15-year-old Paul McCartney arrived and watched, transfixed, as John held the crowd with his charm and swagger.
The band’s second set took place that evening inside the Grand Dance Hal at St. Peter’s church. Admission to the 8 p.m. show was two shillings (about 10 ¢). After setting up their equipment to play, bass player Ivan Vaughan introduced the band to one of his classmates, Paul McCartney. It was 6.48 pm on July 6 1957 and the older, cocksure Lennon sat slouched on a folding chair. When Ivan introduced Paul to John, the two didn’t shake hands, they just nodded warily at one another. Ivan arranged the meeting but recalled that Paul wasn’t going to go until he was informed that it was a good place to pick up girls. At first Ivan thought he’d made a mistake as the two hardly spoke to each another. But Paul, who Lennon himself often described as precocious and wise far beyond his years, was determined to make a good impression.
young_paul_mccartney_thumbPaul, sharply dressed in a white, silver flecked jacket and black stovepipe pants with a guitar strapped to his back, whipped out the guitar and began playing Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” followed by Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop A Lula” before launching into a medley of Little Richard songs. Lennon was floored by the demonstration. McCartney sealed the deal by tuning Lennon’s guitar and writing out the chords and lyrics to some of the songs he’d just played.
After the Quarrymen’s show the group invited McCartney to come along to a local pub where they lied about their ages to get served. For Lennon it must have been a dilemma to invite the talented youngster into the fold as a possible challenge to his own superiority within the group. Lennon, even then a savvy businessman, realized that McCartney’s addition might mean the difference between success and failure. Two weeks later Paul joined the band.
In a 1995 interview, McCartney recalled: “I remember coming into the fete and seeing all the sideshows. And also hearing all this great music wafting in from this little Tannoy system. It was John and the band. I remember I was amazed and thought, ‘Oh great’, because I was obviously into the music. I remember John singing a song called Come Go With Me. He’d heard it on the radio. He didn’t really know the verses, but he knew the chorus. The rest he just made up himself. I just thought, ‘Well, he looks good, he’s singing well and he seems like a great lead singer to me.’ Of course, he had his glasses off, so he really looked suave. I remember John was good. He was really the only outstanding member, all the rest kind of slipped away.”
Lennon was equally impressed with McCartney’s instant ease in playing and singing songs that the Quarrymen worked long and hard to learn. McCartney remembered, “I also knocked around on the backstage piano and that would have been ‘A Whole Lot Of Shakin’ by Jerry Lee. That’s when I remember John leaning over, contributing a deft right hand in the upper octaves and surprising me with his beery breath. It’s not that I was shocked, it’s just that I remember this particular detail.” Yes, at that historic first meeting, 16-year-old John Lennon was drunk.
In his 1964 introduction to bandmate Lennon’s first book, “In His Own Write”, McCartney recalled: “At Woolton village fete I met him. I was a fat schoolboy and, as he leaned an arm on my shoulder, I realized he was drunk…We went on to become teenage pals.” More recently, Paul recalled: “There was a guy up on the stage wearing a checked shirt, looking pretty good singing a song I loved, the Del-Vikings’ Come Go With Me. He was filling in with blues lines, I thought that was good, and he was singing well. He was a little afternoon-pissed, leaning over my shoulder breathing boozily.”
Pessimists may assume that John and Paul would eventually have met on some other day had that hot and humid Saturday introduction 58 years ago never happened. But despite their mutual passion for music, the two lads lived in different neighborhoods, went to different schools and were nearly two years apart in age. All recalcitrant intentions aside, ‘Imagine’ if John Lennon had never become a Beatle. ‘Imagine’ if the band that changed pop culture forever had never existed. Fate is a funny thing. Encounters like this are often the stuff of legend; primarily unwitnessed, unobserved, and unrecorded thereby making them unprovable.
DYRYyu3X4AAEnC3But wait, there is proof. That July 6, 1957 Quarrymen’s set was recorded by a member of St Peter’s Youth Club, Bob Molyneux, on his portable Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder. Made just moments after that historic meeting, it remains the earliest known recording of Lennon. The three-inch reel includes Lennon’s performances of two songs; “Puttin’ on the Style,” a No. 1 hit at the time for Lonnie Donegan, and “Baby Let’s Play House,” an Arthur Gunter song made popular by Elvis Presley. In 1965 Lennon used a line from the Gunter song – “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man”- as the opening line of his own “Run for Your Life”. In 1963, Molyneux offered the tape to Lennon, through Ringo Starr. But Lennon never responded, so Molyneux put the tape in a vault.
In 1994 Molyneux, then a retired policeman, rediscovered the tape and contacted Sotheby’s auction house. The tape, along with the portable Grundig TK8 tape machine that made it, was sold on September 15, 1994 at Sotheby’s for £78,500 (Roughly $ 730,000 US) to EMI records. EMI considered using the recording as part of their Beatles Anthology project, but chose not to as the sound quality was substandard. It was recorded with a hand-held microphone in a cavernous church hall with a high, arched ceiling and a hard floor. EMI decided that although it was an incredibly important recording made on a historic day, the poor sound quality made it unsuitable for commercial release.
The two Beatles never forgot the friend who brought them together. Ivan had first met John when he was three and the two boy’s shared adjoining backyards. Years later, Ivan recalled, “One wet morning, John appeared on my doorstep clutching his Dinky toys, looking to make friends. And we did, going on to play cowboys and Indians in the fields and cricket in the park.” Paul and Ivan were born in the same city (Liverpool) on the same day (June 18, 1942).
For a time the Beatles put Ivan on the payroll of Apple records, in charge of a plan that never took off to set up a school with a Sixties, hippie-style education theme. Ivan’s wife Jan, a French teacher, was hired to sit down with Lennon and McCartney and help with the French lyrics to the 1965 classic “Michelle.” In 1977 Ivan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and spent the next 15 years working on a search for a cure. During those years Ivan and Jan often spent the evening’s out with Paul and his wife Linda in London restaurants. Ivan died in 1993. His death upset Paul so much that he started writing poetry again.
In 2002, Paul wrote the book “Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics, 1965-1999″ in which he honored his old friend with a poem titled, Ivan: ” Two doors open, On the eighteenth of June, Two Babies born, On the same day, In Liverpool, One was Ivan, The other – me. We met in adolescence, And did the deeds, They dared us do, Jive with Ive, The ace on the bass, He introduced to me, At Woolton fete, A pal or two, And so we did, A classic scholar he, A rocking roller me, As firm as friends could be, Cranlock naval, Cranlock pie, A tear is rolling, Down my eye, On the sixteenth of August, Nineteen ninety-three, One door closed.” And it all started 58 years ago: July 6, 1957.