John Lennon was just 17 years old when his mother died.
He had suffered a difficult childhood, and was raised predominantly by his Aunt Mimi, as his mother Julia struggled with the responsibility of being a single parent (his father was away at sea showing little interest in his son). As John grew into his rebellious teenage years, so did his relationship with his mum, she was musically talented and her carefree attitude to life resonated in John, becoming great friends (his Aunt feared she was a bad influence) rather than anything parental. She taught him how to play the banjo, the ukulele and even bought him his first acoustic guitar.
Traumatised by her death when she was hit by a car in 1958, John’s love for his mother never waned but his anger at the cruelties of life inspired some of his most revered pieces of music. His friendship with Paul McCartney was no doubt stronger having both lost their mums at an early age and when his first wife Cynthia gave birth to their son, he would be called Julian. Incidentally Julian’s name plays a part in one of the Beatles most popular song “Hey Jude”, with Paul originally using the lyric “Hey Jules” during John and Cynthia’s divorce.
Celebrated for his music about peace and love, but in truth John’s best work was when he was at his most bitter. Being a member of the most successful group of all-time meant John Lennon could have anything he wanted but for all the riches in the world he struggled to replace the mother figure in his life, that is until he met Yoko Ono.
The Beatles’ White Album released in 1968 contains one the greatest love songs of all time in Lennon’s Julia as he finally felt secure with Yoko in his life to face the reality of his mother’s death:
Half of what I say is meaningless,
but I say it just to reach you, Julia
The soft melody carries you along, the drawn out pronunciation as he speaks her name still sounds pained, but finally finding peace. His “ocean child” is Yoko, the English translation of her Japanese name:
Ocean child calls me,
So I sing the song of love for Julia
A whispered poem, of his lasting memories of her:
Her hair of floating sky is shimmering,
glimmering in the sun