John Lennon was tragically murdered on this date in 1980 when he was shot outside his apartment in New York City. He was just 40-years-old. John’s beloved wife Yoko Ono — who was present when he was shot — issued a statement the next day saying that there would be no funeral for John. She knew there didn’t need to be. The whole world mourned John’s death together.
Making John’s death all the more heartbreaking was that he had two young sons, 17-year-old Julian and 5-year-old Sean. But being the sons of a Beatle, in a way, they had three other father figures looking out for them. 40 years after John’s death and in celebration of what would have been his 80th birthday on October 9, 2020, Sean Lennon — who shares a birthday with his dad — conducted a series of interviews for the BBC with John’s family and friends including Sean’s brother Julian and Paul McCartney.
To remember John, JamBase takes a look at Sean’s interview with Paul, which sees the fellow musicians touching on a number of fascinating subjects from Paul seeing “teddy boy” John around before their almost mythical meeting at St. Peter’s garden fête in Woolton, Liverpool in 1956, up through The Beatles years and beyond. While the interview is engrossing to any Beatles fan, Sean is picking Paul’s brain about things he wanted to know about his dad as well as his grandmother, Julia, who also died tragically when she was hit by a car in 1958.
Sean: My grandmother Julia did play banjo and ukulele. Do you remember what she was like because I’ve actually never really spoken to anyone about my grandmother, who actually met her in person before. What was she like?
Paul: This is one of the sadness’s about life, you know, that you would have just loved her. She was a doll, she was just a very cool lady. She had long red hair and she was very spirited, and she would sort of joke and stuff. And she did play a little banjo thing and she taught John some chords. So when I met him he used to play these kind of banjo chords and so we had to swap it round to guitar. But she was lovely and he idolised her and it was so sad that he wasn’t living with her and his half-sisters. But yeah, she was a terrific lady, a lot of fun and we’d go around to their little council house which was in the area where I lived which was not quite as well off as the people up on the hill where John lived.
Sean also inquired about John’s insecurities as both a musician and a singer:
Sean: I always got the impression that dad felt, and it may be expressed in different ways over the years that somehow he wasn’t officially a true musician or something and that everyone else was. I mean, was there that kind of feeling that he thought, you know, I’m not a real musician?
Paul: I don’t think any of us were, tell you the truth. And I think that was a very good, strong thing about us actually, funnily enough. We all had to learn together. The nearest to John feeling like he wasn’t a true musician could have been that in the skiffle craze, when everyone else is playing guitar chords, he only knew a couple of banjo chords, but that only lasted a week or two. And I would just show him chords I knew which was very basic, but it was great bonding just learning chords off each other. And I think the minute he knew those chords, he was as good as anyone and he might have had a little bit of a hang up about not being sort of musically trained, but none of us were. And I think that was one of the strengths of The Beatles, that none of us knew what we were doing so we had to discover the root for ourselves and each of us discovered it together at the same time so that was lovely.
The conversation also toucheed on the breakup of The Beatles and the rift that grew between John and Paul in the early ’70s. Sean brought up an interesting point that even though they may not have been talking, they were still connected:
Sean: …I listened to your first solo album, McCartney, and his Plastic Ono Band. In a way they are connected to me, maybe I’m stretching, but they’re connected because they’re both so raw and stripped down in a way and I feel like they don’t sound like The Beatles in the similar way in the way that they’re more kind of bare and I really love them both, but it seems like you weren’t as, you hadn’t completely drifted apart necessarily, like there was still a kind of, you’re on the same page to me.
Paul: Yeah, well, you know if you know someone that long from your early teenage years to your late twenties, that’s an awful long time to be collaborating with someone and you grow to know each other and even when you’re apart you’re still thinking about each other, you’re still referencing each other. So I like to think that. I always say to people, one of the great things for me was that after all The Beatles rubbish and all the arguing and the business, business differences really, that even after all of that I am so happy that I got it back together with your dad who really, really would have been a heartache to me if we hadn’t have reunited, was so lovely that we did. And it really gives me sort of strength to know that.
A sweet moment came at the end of the interview when Sean asks about some of Paul’s favorite John solo material:
Sean: …are there any solo records of dad’s that you kind of remember thinking like, ‘Oh, he’s doing a good job of that.’ Like I imagine you would have liked “Mind Games,” the song or something, but that’s just in my head or “Number Nine Dream.” Are there any songs or records that you remember being a fan of his when he was going solo?
Paul: Yeah, I mean, I’m often asked for my favorite tunes kind of thing, and I always include “Beautiful Boy.”
John wrote “Beautiful Boy” about Sean. The interview also touches on John and Paul learning the crucial B7 chord, writing songs like “Strawberry Fields,” Peter Jackson’s new Get Back documentary and much more. To remember John, listen to Sean Lennon interview Paul McCartney in 2020 below: