A Lennon Birthday Celebration with John, Yoko & Sean

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John Lennon and Yoko Ono Lennon, New York City. | Photo: Jack Mitchell (Wikimedia Commons 4.0).

Not just one Lennon birthday, but two on October 9 make it a doubly special day for John Lennon’s family, and everyone who cares about the late singer, songwriter, musician, producer, artist, social activist, husband, and father.

It’s the date of his birth in Liverpool in 1940, and in 1975, also coincidentally the birthday of Sean Taro Ono Lennon, John’s second son and his first child with Yoko Ono Lennon, in New York City (his first son, Julian, was born to first wife Cynthia Powell Lennon, also in Liverpool, on April 8, 1963).

John would have turned 80 on October 9, 2020, while Sean celebrated his 45th birthday.

On October 3-4, BBC2 in the U.K. premiered a two-part documentary, “John Lennon at 80,” in which Sean interviewed Julian as well as family friends Paul McCartney and Elton John. The special and individual interviews plus a compilation of all of Lennon’s BBC appearances are now available to listen to in full on BBC Sounds.

On October 6, Yoko posted this message to fans on her YouTube channel:

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The Imagine Peace Tower in Reykjavík, Iceland, on October 9, 2007. | Photo: Steinninn/WMC 3.0.

“Dear Friends –

“On October 9th, 2020, IMAGINE PEACE TOWER will be relit in Reykjavík, Iceland, in memory of my late husband John Lennon, on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

“I hope you will join us in celebrating the relighting of IMAGINE PEACE TOWER at http://imaginepeacetower.com, in Iceland, and around the world.

“Remember, each one of us has the power to change the world. Power works in mysterious ways. We don’t have to do much. Visualize the domino effect and just start thinking PEACE.

“Thoughts are infectious. Send it out. The message will circulate faster than you think. It’s Time for Action.

The Action is PEACE. Think PEACE, Act PEACE, Spread PEACE. PEACE is POWER!

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, I love you!

Yoko Ono Lennon

1 October 2020.”

And on October 8, Sean flipped the switch to light up the Empire State Building, as John’s adopted city remembered a favorite adopted son.

‘GIMME SOME TRUTH. The Ultimate Mixes’

As in fall 2019, when a new boxed set of music and more from the 1971 “Imagine” sessions was released to coincide with John’s 79th birthday, a new deluxe Lennon package marks the occasion in 2020.

“GIMME SOME TRUTH. The Ultimate Mixes” presents 36 classics hand-picked by Yoko and Sean spanning John’s post-Beatles solo years, all remixed by Paul Hicks, who also helmed the “Imagine” project.

(Read more about “The Ultimate Mixes” here.)

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The cover of GIMME SOME TRUTH. THE ULTIMATE MIXES, out to celebrate what would have been John Lennon’s 80th birthday on October 9, 2020.

Morrison Hotel Gallery Exhibit: ‘In His Life’

The Morrison Hotel Gallery’s “In His Life: A Celebration of John Lennon at 80” exhibit opened online on October 1, with select works available also for viewing by appointment at the Gallery’s New York City and Hollywood locations.

The Lennon birthday exhibit features iconic images of Lennon with The Beatles, Yoko Ono, and solo, taken by renowned rock photographers including Bob Gruen, Astrid Kirchherr​, Allan Tannenbaum and Ethan Russell, among others.

Also featured is a limited edition of fine art prints of John’s original handwritten lyric sheets for four songs – “Yer Blues,” “I’m So Tired” and “Dear Prudence” for 1968’s “The Beatles” and “Watching the Wheels” for 1980’s “Double Fantasy” – made available through a special offering by the John Lennon Estate on behalf of Yoko Ono.

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Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono and Julian Lennon pose for photographers at the opening party for Julian’s “Timeless” photography exhibition, Morrison Hotel Gallery, New York City, Sept. 16, 2010.

John Lennon at 80: Elliot Mintz Reflects

On October 1, 2020, “Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series colleagues Elliot Mintz (host, and a Lennon family friend, confidant, and media rep since the early 1970s) and this reporter (original writer-producer, episodes 1-128, broadcast February 1988-July 1990) reconnected by phone to reflect on October 9’s special birthdays.

We also flashed back to a very special episode of the series from October 1988, a few highlights of which are included later in this story.

Elliot: The first thing I have to get beyond is that if John were with us today, he would be an 80-year-old man. It’s so difficult to embrace that reality.

Julian Lennon and Elliot Mintz look at some photo prints, Beverly Hills, the early 1980s. Courtesy photo.

We miss him. We’re talking about him. I don’t know how many other public figures who were born 80 years ago who have been gone for 40 years would still generate this amount of scrutiny, inquiry, senses of loss. He was a singular human being. He was original to his art form and to his convictions, and I would have just loved to have seen what he would have been like at 80.

Stephen: What do you imagine he would have been like? A grandfather, say?

Elliot: Yes, very possibly. Sean will turn 45 [and Julian is 57], so that certainly would have been a possibility.

People ask me frequently, “What would John be doing today? Would he be active on the internet, be one of those people constantly tweeting and blogging, would he be on the streets demonstrating, would his voice be raised; or would he be living on that proverbial island up the coast of Ireland or Wales, going through his scrapbook of memories with Yoko, as he indicated he would be doing when he grew older?”

And, you know me, I try never to speak for him and I try not to rely upon the Tarot deck to speak with him.

My guess, if I had to guess, would be that he would be as active, as committed, as verbal, as non-censorial as he was in life.

Stephen: Now, have you been in touch with Yoko and Sean and Julian recently? How are they?

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Elliot Mintz and Sean Lennon, New York, February 18, 2020. “After Yoko’s birthday dinner, Sean and I just found a place to talk till 4 in the morning. He snapped this pix of us,” Elliot said. Courtesy photo.

Elliot: I last saw both [Yoko and Sean] five months ago, exactly on February 18 [her 87th birthday]. Sean threw a little birthday party for Yoko in New York. I went back to the city to attend, as I do for each one of her birthdays. We had a chance to talk, spend time together.

I think it was a year before that she came out to Los Angeles to attend an event at the Music Center where other contemporary artists were singing her songs. And she called one evening and asked if I was available to meet with her for just a private dinner, which I did, and we spent two or three hours together.

Sean and I do communicate, and we’re in touch frequently, like everybody else usually by e-mail, the last probably a week or so ago. I’ll be calling him to wish him a happy birthday.

But in terms of my ongoing connection with Yoko and Sean, that’s very much in place, and I also maintain a dialogue with Julian through Facebook.

Stephen: There’s also a new release, “GIMME SOME TRUTH. The Ultimate Mixes,” commemorating John’s 80th birthday; 36 songs remixed by Paul Hicks. What do you think about that project?

Elliot: Extraordinary. Just like the one that appeared last year, the giant collection of remixes, all of the material from “Imagine.”

I am of two minds about all this stuff. You’ll remember that John famously wore a little pin in his lapel, saying “I prefer it in mono” [an homage to Phil Spector]. He liked his material, lots of his material, in raw form.

He was visiting in Los Angeles and one day he asked me to go with him to Capitol Records to visit the then-president of Capitol. We went to his office, had a conversation, and afterward, John asked if he could go down to the secret vaults beneath the Capitol building, where they store masters. He just wanted to take a peek.

And we got into the elevator and pushed the right buttons and turned the right keys and said the right passwords and there the three of us were in this cavernous [space] – it could have been an aircraft hangar. You would just walk down these rows and see these large boxes of artists that recorded for Capitol, and you’d walk past names like Sinatra and everybody you’ve ever heard of, and there was a collection of Beatle boxes.

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Capitol Studios entrance on Dec. 2, 2014. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

There were Beatle boxes no doubt at Apple in London, there may have been Beatle boxes somewhere else, but certainly, Capitol had their fair share. And he looked at it; it was almost like being in a museum.

As we were driving home, I remember he seemed somewhat emotional about it. He told me that frequently, in Beatle days, when they made an album, they listened to it in London and then sent it off to the various places where masters are sent off or materials are sent off for remixing, enhancing, whatever is done to them. And he said frequently, they just didn’t sound the way they sounded when they were originally recorded.

And of course, when they were originally recorded, the equipment was far more primitive and it lacked this degree of sophistication where you can create [“The Ultimate Mixes”].

I like it, I love it. And to hear his music with the vocals punched up a bit so he’s clear and present…

I went to a listening gathering at Capitol in Studio A where I sat in the control room and they played some of the material in Surround Sound that had been enhanced or cleansed, whatever the terms were, and it was breathtaking; you close your eyes and you felt you were in the room with John.

Yes, I love the new release. To me, when it comes to Lennon material – I’m not talking about just Beatle material, but Lennon material – I have always been attracted to this stuff that’s closest to the bone. Pure, raw, John.

I loved rehearsal tapes, demo tapes, first passes; they worked for me. I just felt a connection with him as well as the music he was doing. That’s just my aesthetic.

John Lennon: GIMME SOME TRUTH. THE ULTIMATE MIXES. Out October 9, 2020, celebrating what would have been his 80th birthday.

‘Lost Lennon Tapes’ Flashback: ‘John & Sean Birthday Show’

Speaking of rehearsal tapes, demo tapes, and first passes, “The Lost Lennon Tapes” weekly radio series – featuring all those things and more audio from the John Lennon Estate’s archives – premiered in the U.S. and Canada on the Westwood One Radio Network the week of January 25, 1988.

lennon birthday

Simultaneous to the series’ production in Culver City, California, filmmakers Andrew Solt and David Wolper were nearby in Hollywood producing their theatrical documentary, “Imagine: John Lennon,” based on the Lennons’ personal film archives and myriad other visual sources.

The producers, in fact, were tuned into “The Lost Lennon Tapes” on its L.A. affiliate and heard a demo from October 1979, of John accompanying himself on acoustic guitar as he was writing a song he initially titled “Boys and Girls,” and in later takes, “Real Love.”

Solt’s crew contacted me at Westwood One and asked for that take because they wanted to use it as the movie’s theme, over the credits.

I was tasked to take John’s master cassette (which had several other takes of the song as well) to Capitol Studios to make the digital transfer of that take for the movie’s soundtrack, which also appeared on the soundtrack album released by Capitol on October 10, 1988.

(In 1995, building on a slightly different Lennon demo take of the song with new instrumental and vocal tracks recorded by Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne would produce The Beatles’ single version of “Real Love,” which was subsequently included on “Anthology 2.”)

In the first week of October that year, “The Lost Lennon Tapes” featured an episode spotlighting John & Sean’s birthday on October 9 as well as the premiere of “Imagine: John Lennon” on October 7.

On the music side, the Lennon birthday show’s highlights included the previously unreleased Take One of John’s “Beautiful Boy” demo and an early mix from the “Double Fantasy” sessions, plus a few choice 30th-birthday musical greetings recorded and sent to John by George Harrison (“It’s Johnny’s Birthday”), Ringo Starr and friends including Billy Preston, Stephen Stills and Klaus Voorman (“Happy Birthday, John”), Donovan (“Here Come the Threes”) and Janis Joplin with the Full-Tilt Boogie Band (“Happy Trails”).

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Cue sheet for the “Lost Lennon Tapes” “John & Sean Birthday Show,” No. 88-41, October 3, 1988.

Also included were a few clips from John’s alcohol-and-whatever-fueled 31st birthday party sing-a-long in a Syracuse hotel room a year later, after a Yoko Ono art exhibit. She and friends including Ringo, Phil Spector, Allen Ginsberg, Klaus Voorman and Jim Keltner joined John, who grabbed a guitar and accompanied the crazed crew on Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say?” “Yellow Submarine,” the inevitable “Happy Birthday” and the capper “Good Night, Irene.”

While I’d love to post the birthday show complete, copyright restrictions preclude it.

But Harrison’s wacky “It’s Johnny’s Birthday,” recorded during the epic “All Things Must Pass” sessions and released on the three-LP album in November 1970, will hopefully represent the music and just might put you in the mood.

* * * * *

John & Yoko’s ‘Baby’ Interview with Elliot Mintz, New Year’s Day 1976

Along with the rare music tracks, the “John & Sean Birthday Show” featured an exclusive interview Elliot had conducted with John and Yoko at the Dakota on New Year’s Day 1976, when Sean was just a few months old.

The Lennon birthday episode also included priceless audio clips of Lennon interviewing Sean, recorded on that day and four years later in October 1979 on their 39th and 4th birthdays.

Never heard by the public before that October 1988 broadcast, those clips were among the most intimate of my finds while going through the more than 300 hours of audiotapes the Lennon Estate provided to Westwood One for me to write “The Lost Lennon Tapes.”

As a father of two toddlers at the time, my pride and joy, the clips brought me to tears then. Still do.

Here’s a transcript of the segment:

Elliot “LLT” narration: It was in the spring of 1975 that Yoko learned she was going to have a baby. The news produced great joy.

“We’re pregnant,” was John’s famous quote.

But with the good news came great anxiety. Three previous pregnancies had ended in miscarriage, and Yoko’s physician said that her age, 42, might also work against her.

Fortunately, there was a happier ending this time. Sean Taro Ono Lennon was born at the New York Hospital on October 9, 1975, his father’s 35th birthday. He weighed in at a whopping 9 pounds, 10 ounces, even though he was delivered about two weeks early.

A few months later, during the year-end holiday season, I had the pleasure of spending some time at the Dakota with John, Yoko, and Sean.

It was a time that I’m never going to forget. I remember the very first time John greeted me at the door at the Dakota, and he said, “Shhh, don’t make any noise, just follow me.” We had our shoes off and we walked over to this little spot where Sean was resting on the bed.

And he was sleeping quietly, and John just said that I should look at him but not get too close to him. He woke up, John lifted him up from the bed, held him in his arms, we went into the white room – the living room of the Dakota – and later he let me hold Sean as well. That was our very first introduction.

Then, on New Year’s Day 1976, I did a pair of interviews: One with John alone, covering music, The Beatles, his solo career and so forth. The other was with John and Yoko, talking only about their experience being pregnant and giving birth to Sean…

…I asked John and Yoko how they decided on [Sean’s] name:

John: The very first name I thought of was Sean; I’ve always liked it, and I was always fascinated by the S-E-A-N spelling. And being a little bit of Anglo-Irish descent, and so I was always reading about Celts and things like that, and it’s an Irish name, and it’s Irish for John, and I don’t like Juniors. I know it’s very popular in America, but not in Europe.

Yoko: Not anymore, is it? Not anymore.

John: It’s still pretty popular to have somebody, Junior, like a replica of yourself, which is…

Elliot: Or the Second.

John: The Second, yeah, or the Third, which I think is ridiculous, ‘cause although one tends to think it’s a little John because it’s a male, it isn’t! It’s a combination of John and Yoko which produced something completely and entirely separate from us; it is not a little John Lennon or a little Yoko Ono, it’s a Sean. It’s itself, you know? He is himself; he’s not the – apart from us giving birth.

Elliot: John recalled the now-famous story of his phone call to Aunt Mimi back in England.

John: I called my auntie [Aunt Mimi] in England – this is a nice story; might round it off for us, OK. ‘Cause all my family is English except for my father’s side, you know, pure, straight English. But my father’s father was Irish, and that’s not too good in England, as you might guess from the news. But I’ve always been a bit interested; the name Lennon is Irish, so I’m entitled.

So I called my auntie who brought me up, who’s pure English. I says, “It’s a boy, it’s a boy,” and she says, “Oh, it’s great, it’s great!” and she’s happy and screaming on the other end of the phone.

And I say, “Well, I’ve got one thing to tell you.”

“What, what is it?” [John mimicking his aunt’s high voice and prim accent]

I say, “Ah, do you want to know what I called him?”

“Oh yes, yes, yes!”

I said, “It’s Sean.” [elongates the word]

She goes, “Oh, my God, John, don’t brand him!” [laughs]

And she kept saying that over and over, and I said, “Don’t worry, he’ll probably be brought up in America or internationally and it’s no harm.” But she couldn’t believe it.

John Interviews Sean, 1976 & 1979

Elliot “LLT” narration: Well, as you can easily tell, John and Yoko were way into the family groove when we did this interview. Later that day [New Year’s Day 1976], yet another interview took place, only in that one, it was John wielding the mike and Sean fielding the questions.

John: I was wondering if the fiscal crisis of New York had any…

Sean: [gurgles gibberish, apparently in the affirmative]

John: Uh-huh, that’s the one I was talking about, yes.

Sean: [opinionated gibberish]

John: Exactly. What do you think that Mayor Harry is doing about it?

Sean: [more opinionated gibberish]

John: You think he’s doing a good job? And Governor Bean?

Sean: [more opinionated gibberish]

John: I agree entirely, yes.

Sean: [continues in gibberish]

John: Uh-huh. And where did you get that outfit from, may I ask? Knowing the interviewee’s very fashion-conscious, I just thought I’d mention it.

Sean: [answers in gibberish]

John: I see that you’re having your diaper changed. Is this an enjoyable experience? ‘Cause I do believe some people pay to have this done.

Sean: [remains silent]

John: No comment, I see. I see you know which subjects to avoid and which not to. That’s very sensible. Must be running for office, is that what it is?

Sean: [more opinionated gibberish]

John: It is exciting, isn’t it? And such a strain on the old ticker. [Chuckles]

Elliot LLT narration: These guys should have been in broadcasting, huh? Now speaking of interviews, listen to this bit from late 1979. Four years later, as John and Sean and Yoko gather ’round the birthday cake…

John: You’ll be 5 next year on October the 9th. The same day that I’ll be 40 next year. There’s nothing I can do to get to be 40 quicker. I have to be 39 for one whole year, and you’re going to have to be 4 for a whole year. You can’t rush it.

Sean: I was waiting…I wanted to be 4.

John: Well, you are 4. And next, you’re going to be 5.

Sean: That’s why I wanted to go to someone else’s birthday and be 4 so quickly.

John: But you can’t. You have to be each number for a whole year, and a year is 365 days. That’s how long a year is. 365 days.

Sean: Oh… [unintelligible]

John: I love you, too, sweetheart.

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Stephen (2020): Listeners got a real taste of John’s creative process through the demos and rehearsals and alternate takes broadcast in “The Lost Lennon Tapes.”

But other nuggets from the archives like those in the Lennon birthday show also gave us deeper insight into Lennon as a man, husband, father, divorced husband, separated husband, and father again.

Elliot: Ah, yes, yes. I remember those tapes, I remember those moments. John was the walrus; he was also the archivist, the preservationist who shares those characteristics with both you and me. There was always a little tape recorder hanging around, always their first-generation Polaroid Land cameras and a pull-out drawer in the kitchen that had 20, 30, 40 packages of Polaroid film to use to take pictures.

He loved to tape everything. That was him; he would send me tapes of radio shows he was listening to, usually off of WBAI-FM Radio in New York. Of course, these were in the days before the internet where I couldn’t necessarily access what he found to be of interest, so he taped it and sent it to me, either by messenger or just dropped it in the mail, many times.

Those moments shared with Sean – I remember the interview segment that depicted John’s humor, his closeness to Sean. When I see Sean, who I’ve known since he was just a week or two old – we’re going on 45 years now, and, you know, he’s the brother I never had – I lament so much, including the fact that I got to spend more time with John than his son did, and that we shared more memories. Sean should have had the benefit of being with his father through this day, of course.

Stephen: And you’d extend that to Julian as well.

Elliot: Absolutely. Absolutely. Of course, it’s Sean that we hear on these tape recordings because it was Sean as an infant who was in the Dakota building with John when they were recorded.

Precious few recollections that we have on audio of Julian and John speaking – I was privy to some of those minor exchanges, but they weren’t taped, they weren’t there. For a long time, there was this absence of parenting between John and Jules that John spoke about toward the end of his life as something that he wished he could have done differently, and didn’t.

You’re a dad, you know – the love shared between father and son is immeasurable. Those little snippets of tape, to the folks who are listening to us or reading this, that’s the family scrapbook. They’re like pictures you took with your child at age 1 or 2 when you were changing diapers or talking. Or maybe you’ve got some old home movies from that particular period of time that preserve those memories, and when you look at them, you can’t take your eyes off of the screen.

I’m so glad he preserved them and I’m so glad that we had the opportunity to share them with so many; it brought people closer to John as a person, as a father, all of those entities that you mentioned beyond the music.

That, of course, is the common denominator and partially the reason we’re speaking about him tonight, that there were so many people who could relate to him as a guy, as a man, as a person, beyond being ex-Beatle John, beyond being a performer, beyond being all of those titles that were ascribed to him. What meant more to him than the titles was his family.

The “Imagine” mosaic in the section of New York’s Central Park dubbed “Strawberry Fields,” near W. 72nd. Street and Central Park West, a half block from the Dakota, summer 1989. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

We’ll give the last word to our friend and colleague Mark Lewisohn, who was Research Consultant on “The Lost Lennon Tapes” series. Taking a moment from working on Vol. 2 of his definitive Beatles biography, tweeted this on October 9:

Video slideshow photos from the Lennon birthday #70 celebration at Capitol Records in Hollywood and other slideshow images by Stephen K. Peeples. Special thanks to Elliot Mintz and Rory Aronsky.

Grammy nominee Stephen K. Peeples was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One from 1988-1990, and writer/producer of hundreds of WW1 programs in the preceding five years. • He earned a Grammy nomination as co-producer of the “Monterey International Pop Festival” box set with Lou Adler and Geoff Gans (Rhino/MIPF, 1992). • Peeples was raised by career newspaper journalists and music-lovers in Miami and Los Angeles. His first music industry gig was as an Associate Editor at Cash Box magazine in Hollywood in 1975. He went on to be a Media Relations-PR executive for Capitol Records (1977-1980), Elektra/Asylum Records (1980-1983) and Rhino Entertainment (1992-1998). • Moving online, he was Rhino’s first web editor (1996-1998), then elevated to content editor of Warner Music Group websites (1998-2001). • Based in the Santa Clarita Valley just north of L.A., Peeples was the award-winning Online Editor for The Signal newspaper’s website from 2007-2011, and wrote-hosted-co-produced SCVTV’s WAVE-nominated “House Blend” local music TV show from 2010-2015 (archived online and still airing in reruns). • The Santa Clarita journalist is now a News Editor at SCVTV’s SCVNews.com, SVP/New Media for Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. and developing a biography of notorious Texas Artlaw Boyd Elder. • For more info and original stories, visit https://stephenkpeeples.com/For exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews, subscribe to Peeples’ YouTube channel.

Article: A Lennon Birthday Celebration with John, Yoko & Sean
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Category: News and Reviews
Article Source: StephenKPeeples.com