Beatle Beat: Remember John Lennon through the eyes of his sister

By  Gillian G. Gaar

I first met John Lennon’s half-sister, Julia Baird, in 1990 at Liverpool’s annual Beatle Week, and I recently spoke with her just after this year’s Beatle Week, which she described as “Absolutely fantastic; I’m in recovery! My voice is just coming back.”

BeatleBeatLennon.jpgAs one of the directors of Cavern City Tours, which organizes Beatle Week, Julia is always around during the big event, and this year she also had a book to promote, “Imagine This: Growing Up With My Brother John Lennon.”

Julia previously had written 1988’s “John Lennon My Brother,” prompted by the 1985 BBC TV special “John Lennon: A Journey in the Life.”

 “It didn’t mention me, my sister [Jacqui], or Victoria [another half-sister], and it didn’t mention [John’s son] Julian, not once,” she says. “So I phoned the BBC and they said, ‘We’ve done thorough research, and John hasn’t got any sisters.’ Truly! And I said, ‘But I am his sister!’ And they said, ‘No, he hasn’t got any.’ I can laugh about it now, but it’s tragic. It’s just wiping out my mother’s life like she’s a nonentity.”

Part of the problem was that many Beatles books hadn’t properly covered John’s childhood. John was the firstborn child to Julia Dykins, who married Alfred Lennon in 1938. While Alfred was away during World War II, Julia had an affair resulting in a daughter, Victoria, later put up for adoption. Then Julia and Alfred split but never obtained a divorce; Julia and her common-law husband, John Dykins, then had two daughters, Julia and Jacqui. For years, many Beatles fans knew nothing about John’s half siblings, and Julia’s John Lennon book endeavored to set the record straight.

Julia has since learned even more about her childhood from her aunt Nanny (her mother, Julia, having died in 1958). “She’d always been the keeper of all the facts and wouldn’t speak at all,” says Julia. “But in the last 18 months of her life, I was with her an awful lot, and she just started to talk. It put a completely different light on what happened in our childhood. And with this new information I thought, I’ve just got to do another book.”

“Imagine This” paints an evocative picture of the years before mother Julia’s death, tranquil days of games and birthday parties, but also of the shame and secrecy surrounding the family.
“Most people’s first question is, how did John end up with Mimi?” says Julia, referring to Mimi Smith, her mother’s sister, and the woman who primarily raised John. As Julia explains it, the rest of family considered her mother to be “living in sin” with John Dykins, hence they were able to force John’s mother to surrender him to Mimi. “Mimi used the services of the state to take John away from my mother,” says Julia.

A sympathetic relative later showed John where his mother lived, and he would regularly sneak over for visits.

 “We all knew that we couldn’t tell Mimi,” says Julia. “Even the neighbors knew, ‘Don’t tell Mimi!’’ It engendered a conspiracy of silence Julia admits was “not good” for the family, though she adds, “the only thing I have to say in their defense is that many families have skeletons in the cupboard. There are many secrets that are never uncovered, and some that are uncovered. But, in our family, it was a matter of once John became famous, these things were written across the sky. All the time, and never the same way twice.”

And it was particularly ironic for Julia to learn that after Mimi’s protestations about mother Julia’s “sinful” lifestyle, Mimi herself had an affair with one of her student lodgers after her husband’s death.
“Aunt Nanny gave me the idea about Mimi and the affair,” Julia explains. “She said, ‘There was something going on there, there was just something.’ And as soon as the idea came into my head I thought, she’s right. And I started to think about how, what and why. I waited until after Nanny had died, and then I went to have a look.”
Julia even tracked down the lodger, who confirmed her suspicions — something that certainly offers new insight into Aunt Mimi’s character.

And there’s a lot more in the book as well, making it essential for those interested in John’s formative years. “Imagine This” will be published in the U.S. next spring by Ulysses Press, but if you can’t wait, it’s already available from Hodder & Stoughton in the U.K. (check amazon.co.uk).

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I was quite pleased to receive “Price Guide For The Beatles American Records” from Bruce Spizer’s 498 Productions, the 6th edition of Perry Cox’s price guide, co-written with Frank Daniels.

The book is absolutely gorgeous, with full color glossy pages throughout, and, like the other books from 498 Productions., it’s great fun to look through, even if you’re not a record collector. The guide covers vinyl, tape and CD releases, and there are sections on The Beatles, solo Beatles, the Apple and Dark Horse labels, compilations, and Pete Best and George Martin’s records (and only records; no memorabilia). Plus, there is interesting information on label variations and collecting trends.

Definitely clear space on the bookshelf for this one! Info: www.beatle.net, (504) 524-5880.

•••

On Aug. 21, 1965, The Beatles played Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. (north of Minneapolis). “The Beatles! A One Night Stand in The Heartland” (Cumberland House) depicts the events of that day via the photographs of Bill Carlson. Carlson was a high school student at the time, apprenticing for a local photographer who was affiliated with United Press International, and when none of the other photographers from UPI were interested in covering The Beatles visit, Carlson got the job.

Most of his photos are of the press conference (during which George Harrison was given a Gibson guitar). There are brief comments from fans throughout the book, along with contemporary press reports, giving you a feel of the day’s atmosphere, not to mention the inane questions the group had to put up with (“What kind of cigarette are you smoking, Paul?”). I wish there were more shots of the concert itself, and fewer of the crowd, but the press conference shots are excellent. Now, if there was only a book like this for every Beatles show….

•••

“Across The Universe” is the first film in many years to rely exclusively on Beatles music to tell its story. It’s a typical boy-meets-girl plot, set in the ‘60s, with Liverpudlian Jude journeying to America, where he and newfound love Lucy get caught up in the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’  roll of era.

I found it something of a mixed bag. It’s as if the styles and events of the times are nothing more than superficial accoutrements, just a psychedelic backdrop for what’s a pretty run-of-the-mill love story. That said, some of the musical sequences are imaginative and entertaining, as you’d expect from the film’s director, Julie Taymor, who dazzled Broadway with her production of “The Lion King.”

There’s an accompanying soundtrack from Interscope, with 16 songs from the film (including Bono on “I Am The Walrus” and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”), though I feel they work better in the context of the movie. Speaking of covers, I’d like to note that Ann Wilson does a great version of John Lennon’s “Isolation” on her new CD, Hope and Glory.

•••

Finally, I want to mention the DVD release of “All My Loving” (MVD Visual), Tony Palmer’s incisive look at (mostly) British rock that first aired on U.K. TV in 1968.

It was one of the first serious looks at the subject, which is no doubt why it garnered the participation of the bands (including The Beatles). There’s also an excellent interview with Palmer as a bonus feature. Highly recommended.

Gillian G. Gaar
1122 E. Pike St. #897
Seattle, WA 98122
gaarski@hotmail.com

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