Tuesday, December 16, 2014

HGB Podcast 16 - The Life and Afterlife of John Lennon

Moment in Oddity - Lee Harvey Oswald's Coffin

On November 25th in 1963, the alleged assassin of President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, was laid to rest at Rose Hill Cemetery.  He was buried in a No. 31 Pine Bluff coffin wearing a dark suit.  His brother, Robert Oswald, had paid Baumgardner Funeral Home $710 for the coffin, vault and flowers.  Last week, an odd trial came to a close and a judge's decision is pending.  This court case is over Oswald's No. 31 Pine Bluff Coffin.  Here is the back story into how a coffin caused a court battle.  Oswald was exhumed in 1981 when rumors started that a Russian body double had been buried, rather than Oswald.  Tests confirmed that Lee Harvey Oswald was the guy in the grave.  Apparently the coffin was in bad shape, so the owner of the funeral home put Oswald in a new coffin and stored the old one for 30 years.  Then he decided to sell it in 2010 and he did for $87,468.  When Robert Oswald heard about the sell, he sued to block it and claimed that not only was it ghoulish, but he owned the coffin and had thought it was destroyed.  The funeral home owner, Allen Baumgardner, countered saying the coffin had been a gift to Lee from his brother and so the brother had relinquished his rights to the coffin, plus no one had claimed the coffin in 30 years.  Allen also declared that the coffin had historical value and should not be destroyed.  Not only did the funeral home sell the coffin, it also sold the table Oswald was embalmed on.  We don't know what the judge's decision will be, nor what it should be, but a court battle that has raged for several years over a rotting wooden coffin certainly is odd.

This Day in History - The 1835 Great New York Fire

On the evening of this day, December 16th, in 1835, a city watchman smelled smoke as he patrolled the streets.  The area was the heart of the import and export industry of New York.  Rows of warehouses were packed with fine silks, glassware, coffee, furnishings, lace chemicals and musical instruments.  New York's volunteer fire departments were called into action, but their efforts to save the area were thwarted by the freezing temperatures that had frozen hydrants and water pumped from the nearby East River was blown back by freezing winds.  The entire area south of Wall Street between the East River and Broad Street was burning out of control.  The fire continued to spread engulfing one of the finest buildings in America: the Merchants' Exchange.  The only thing that managed to hold back the fire was a rubble barrier built by the military from buildings they blew up that were in the path of the fire.  When the Great Hew York Fire was finally over, two people were dead and 674 buildings had been destroyed.  The area was rebuilt in a few years and measures were taken to fire proof buildings.  The area was never threatened by a large fire again.

Life and Afterlife of John Lennon

Thirty-four years ago this month, the world lost a musical legend in an unexpected way outside of the Dakota
on Central Park West in New York City:  assasination.  The story of John Lennon - his life, death and afterlife - is seasoned with legend and mystery.  Reams have been written about the life of John Lennon and so we are only going to give a brief overview of his life and focus more on what is not usually covered in the anthologies and documentaries about this gifted man and that is his afterlife.

John Winston Lennon was born on October 9th, 1940 in Liverpool, England.  The middle name Winston was chosen in honor of Winston Churchill.  Early life for Lennon was not in a happy home.  His father was away all the time working as a merchant seaman and his mother paid very little attention to Lennon, eventually leading John's aunt to report the substandard care and she was given charge of Lennon's care.  In 1946, John's father attempted to take Lennon away to New Zealand, but his mother confronted his father and a scene no child should have to endure ensued.  Lennon was forced to decide between his parents and he chose his father, but as his mother walked away, he ran after her crying and he would not see his father again for twenty years.  Although he has chosen his mother, it would be Aunt Mimi who would raise John.

John Lennon's musical career began early.  When he was a child, his uncle bought him a mouth organ and his mother taught him to play the banjo and introduced him to the music of Elvis Presley, whom Lennon always looked to as inspiration and he hoped one day to be as big as Elvis.  Lennon was a troublemaker though, the type of boy parents would warn their children to stay away from and school labeled him as someone who would be a failure.  In 1956, Lennon's mother bought him his first guitar and insisted that he leave the guitar at her house so that his musical ambitions would not be squashed.  It would seem that Aunt Mimi was not a fan of Lennon getting involved with music and his declarations of being famous one day caused her to scoff.  When Lennon was seventeen, his mother was struck and killed by a car.

Lennon seemed to be heading nowhere when he entered college.  As a matter of fact, he was only accepted into art school after his Aunt Mimi intervened and he was thrown out before he was able to graduate.  Music was always there though.  Before college, Lennon had become interested in skiffle music.  Skiffle arose in America during the 1920s from New Orleans Dixieland jazz and it incorporated the use of mostly handmade instruments like guitars made from cigar boxes and washboards and the melodies combined folk, blues and jazz music together.  Skiffle jumped the pond and became very popular in Britain in the 1950s.  Many small bands started as skiffle bands and Lennon had one named the Quarrymen that he actually launched when he was only fifteen.  Paul McCartney was at the second Quarrymen performance and the two future legends met.  Lennon asked McCartney to join the band.  At 18, Lennon wrote his first song, "Hello Little Girl."

George Harrison joined the group along with Stuart Sutcliffe and in 1960 they changed their name to The Beatles.  They got a booking agent and were set up with a gig in Hamburg.  They had a problem though, they had no drummer.  Lennon recruited Pete Best and they set off for Hamburg where they would play in different clubs until 1962.  Sutcliffe left the group at that time and later died of a brain hemorrhage.  The Beatles recorded their first record and were discovered by Brian Epstein who is responsible for formulating the group's image.  Pete Best left the group and Ringo Starr joined forming the Fab Four the world would come to love.  For all of the incredible music the group created, one would think that the collaboration lasted a really long time, but by 1970 the group had broken up.  Lennon may have been unfocused in school, but he was driven when it came to music and he was a task master in the studio.  Their first album, "Please Please Me," contained fourteen tracks and was recorded in ten hours!  The album featured eight songs that McCartney and Lennon wrote together.

Towards the end of these Hamburg performances, Lennon's girlfriend Cynthia Powell became pregnant and so he insisted that they get married.  Later in life, Lennon became known as a man of peace, but during these early years he was a man of violence getting into fistfights and this hitting was not just focused on men, he hit women too.  Lennon terrified Powell with his angry outbursts and he abused her.  In 1963, she gave birth to their son Julian.  Lennon and fellow Beatles had already begun abusing drugs to help them stay awake on the road and Lennon started using LSD after Julian was born.  Dealing with the drugs, abuse and finally discovering Lennon with Yoko Ono, Cynthia asked for a divorce in 1968 and was given custody of Julian.  Julian and Lennon would have a strained relationship with Julian becoming closer to McCartney who wrote the song, "Hey Jude" for him.  Before his death, the strained relationship became better and Lennon guided Julian into his music career, although Julian was left very little in Lennon's will.

Lennon met Yoko Ono in 1965 and she became pregnant in 1968 with their first child, which she miscarried shortly after Lennon's divorce was final.  The circumstances of how Ono and Lennon met depend on whom you ask, but they always claimed it was at an art exhibition of Ono's work.  The couple married in 1969.  Their relationship eventually lead to the break-up of The Beatles and Lennon launched a successful solo career with Ono occasionally accompanying him on songs, much to our ears' dismay!  The couple moved to New York in 1971 and lived at the St. Regis Hotel until they found a flat in Greenwich Village.  They were robbed while living their and so they moved to the Dakota in 1973 for more security.

It was at this time that Lennon began an affair with the couple's personal assistant May Pang and Lennon eventually left Ono and moved to California with Pang.  She was good for Lennon and helped him re-establish a relationship with his son Julian and with friends like his Beatles mates.  His violent temper did cause him to nearly strangle her once though.  Lennon always referred to this time in his life as "The Lost Weekend."  The couple returned to New York and planned to buy a home.  In 1975, Lennon agreed to a meeting with Ono and great mystery surrounds what happened at this time.  Many people, including Pang, suspect that Ono somehow managed to brainwash Lennon.  Two days after the Ono meeting, Lennon met up with Pang at a joint dental appointment.  She had not seen or heard from him in those two days and he announced that he was getting back together with Ono.  Pang claims he seemed almost drugged and confused.  She would continue to be his mistress.  Later that year, Ono gave birth to a son whom they named Sean.  Lennon spent the next five years rearing Sean and staying out of the music business.

It was also during the year 1975 that deportation proceedings finally ended against Lennon.  He had been very politically active and protested the Vietnam War loudly.  His influence and criticism worried American President Richard Nixon who was seeking re-election and Nixon began deportation proceedings in 1972 against Lennon on grounds that he should have never been allowed to enter the country due to cannabis charges in Britain back in 1968.  After Nixon resigned due to Watergate, President Gerald Ford stopped the proceedings and Lennon received his Green Card.

In October of 1980, Lennon finally emerged from family life with the hit song, "(Just Like) Starting Over."  The single was ranked as the 62nd biggest song of all time by Billboard Magazine in their Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2013.  The album "Double Fantasy" was released in November to harsh criticism.  Most critics dubbed it a big yawn.  On December 8th of that year, Lennon and Ono were taking a walk outside of their apartment at the Dakota when Mark David Chapman approached the couple from behind and shot Lennon four times in the back.  He was dead on arrival at the hospital and Ono had him cremated and later spread his ashes in Central Park.  Chapman would claim as recently as just a few days ago that the idea of fame and notoriety that would come from killing someone like Lennon was irresistible.  Chapman pleaded guilty and was sentenced twenty years to life.  He remains in jail and has been denied parole eight times.

Lennon left a legacy that continues to this day not only in the world of music, but in the world of political activism.  Memorials and tributes to Lennon exist throughout the world.  But does something other than just a legacy continue on for John Lennon?  There is much mystery, conspiracy and supernatural activity that exists when it comes to Lennon. One of the first mysterious circumstances that occurred after Lennon's death came with the release of the Double Fantasy album.  People have claimed that the song Kiss Kiss Kiss on the album sung by Yoko Ono features her saying, "I shot John Lennon."  It's a bizarre song and I have to say, it does sound a bit like she is saying that in several sections.

In the book "The Lennon Prophecy" by Joseph Niezgoda, the Lennon Prophecy is described as a pact made with the devil.  The story goes that John Lennon wanted to be as big as Elvis and so he sold his soul to the devil.  The pact was made in 1960 and was to last for twenty years.  Right after the pact was made, the Beatles performed Litherland, England and Beatlemania ensued with the Beatles going on to International fame and fortune.  Did Lennon really sell his soul?  Some say the evidence is in the reaction of crowds to the Beatles.  People appeared mesmerized and crazed when the group sang.  Niezgoda also claims that Lennon told his friend Tony Sheridan that he had sold his soul.

Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison reunited to make a song in 1995 named "Free As A Bird."  They posed for a promotional picture outside and at the last minute a rare white peacock walked into the picture and was captured on film.  McCartney said of the event, "I said to the other guys, 'That's John!  Spooky, eh?'  It was like John was hanging around.  We felt that way all through the recording."

Liam Gallagher of the group Oasis claims that John Lennon paid him a visit.  In his story, Gallagher recounts that he was taking a nap and awoke feeling the presence of someone else in the room and he says that he knows it was Lennon.  Gallagher also claims to be the reincarnation of Lennon.  May Pang describes her experiences with Lennon in the afterlife here.

Lennon had told his son Julian that if anything happened to him and he died that he would return through a sign to Julian and that that sign would be a white feather.  In 2007, Julian was working on the film "Whaledreamers" in Australia about the plight of whales.  He was working closely with the aboriginal tribes.  A tribe elder invited Julian to attend a ceremony one evening and Julian was presented with a white feather there.  Julian believes that this was the sign his father had promised him.

People claim to see the spirit of Lennon outside the Dakota and he is occasionally seen across the pond with a woman whom people believe is his Aunt Mimi.  A musician named Joey Harrow was walking with a friend near the Dakota and he said they both saw him standing near the entrance with an eerie light surrounding him in 1983.  Yoko Ono claims that she saw Lennon sitting at his white piano and that he told her that he was still with her.

The Dakota has a history of being haunted, so Lennon just may have joined the crying lady ghost he said he once saw there.  Is the legacy of John Lennon more than just his memory?  Is the spirit of John Lennon still here among the living?  That is for you to decide.

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