MOTHER. → Watch the 4K Remastered Video & discover more about John’s childhood.
Watch the newly restored 4K video of 'Mother' by John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and discover more about John Lennon's parents and childhood.
JOHN’S MOTHER, JULIA LENNON.
Above: John’s mother Julia, aged 35, in the garden of her sister, Anne ‘Nanny’ Cadwallader at ‘Ardmore’, 486 Old Chester Road, Birkenhead, Cheshire, in the summer of 1949.
‘MOTHER’ 2003 Music Video – Newly Remastered in 4K with Ultimate Mix soundtrack, 2021.
Newly remastered in 4K, the ‘Mother’ video explores layers in the meaning of the lyrics and performance of the song – telling the story of John’s relationships with his mother and father figures, including fractured memories from his childhood and important moments in his life.
We see parental figures gone too soon and desperately missed: his mother Julia, father Alfred, his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George Smith who raised and housed him for most of his childhood and teens, and manager Brian Epstein.
We see John with his wife Yoko Ono Lennon (who he nicknamed ‘Mother’ in 1980, five years after they had become parents to Sean), we consider John as a father, with sons Julian Lennon and Sean Ono Lennon, and then explore themes of John himself as absent and gone too soon, missed sorely by his wife, sons, extended family and the world.
Produced by Yoko Ono Lennon, directed and edited by Simon Hilton with 3D compositing by David Frearson, the video was first created in 2003 for the DVD release: ‘Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon’ and includes photographs by Bob Gruen, Stanley Parkes, Geoff Rhind, Robert Freeman, Jack Mitchell, Iain Macmillan, Paul Goresh, Joyce Ravid and many others.
John: I wrote ‘Mother’ and ‘Isolation’ in England. I finished them off in California. All these songs just came out of me. I didn’t sit down to think, ‘I’m going to write about my Mother’. I had the time in therapy and on holiday.
It was nice to do it and it was minimal. There was no overdubbing: just my piano, a bass and drums. I had a few ideas to do this and that with ‘Mother’ but when you just hear it, the piano does it all for you. It’s got all the harmonics in it. Your mind can do the rest. I didn’t need anything else.
At the beginning of ‘Mother’, the beginning of the album has this bell going, ‘dong, dong, dong’. It’s a church bell which I slowed down [from 45rpm] to 33, so it’s like a horror movie.
And that was like the death knell of the Mother-Father Freudian trip.
John: Penny Lane is a suburban district [of Liverpool] where, up until age four, I lived [at 9 Newcastle Road] with my mother and father, although my father was always at sea, and my grandfather, in one of those row houses like they always picture the early Beatles life in – in [the film] Yellow Submarine and other dreamy versions of the poor, working-class lads.
There were five women that were my family. Five strong, intelligent, beautiful women. Five sisters. Those women were fantastic. They dominated the situation in the family. The men were invisible. I was always with the women. I always heard them talk about men and talk about life, and they always knew what was going on. The men never ever knew. That was my first feminist education.
Julia was my mother. A housewife, I suppose. She was a comedienne and a singer. Not professional, but she used to get up in pubs and things like that. She had a good voice. She could do Kay Starr.
She used to do this little tune when I was just a one or two-year-old, from the Disney movie [Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937], ‘Want to know a secret? Promise not to tell? We are standing by a wishing well.’
My mother and father split when I was four. Then my father split. He was a merchant seaman and it was the Forties and the war was on and I guess she couldn’t live without somebody. She was the youngest and she couldn’t cope with me and I ended up living with her elder sister [Mimi].
AUNTY MIMI AND UNCLE GEORGE.
John’s home between 1945 and 1963 was with his uncle and aunt, George and Mimi Smithseen here in the garden with Sally the dog; Mendips, 251 Menlove Avenue, Liverpool, 1947.
Mimi told me my parents had fallen out of love. She never said anything directly against my father and mother. I soon forgot my father. It was like he was dead. But I did see my mother now and again and my feeling never died off for her. I often thought about her, though I never realized for a long time that she was living no more than five or ten miles away.
Strawberry Fields is a real place. After I stopped living at Penny Lane, I moved in with my aunty who lived in the suburbs in a nice semi-detached place [251 Menlove Avenue, Woolton] with a small garden, and doctors and lawyers and that ilk living around. I was a nice clean-cut suburban boy and in the class system I was about a half an inch in a higher class than Paul, George and Ringo who lived in government-subsidized houses.
We owned our own house, had our own garden and they didn’t have anything like that. I was well protected by my aunty and my uncle and they looked after me very well. My mother was alive and lived a fifteen-minute walk away from me and I saw her sporadically, all the time. I just didn’t live with her.
I re-established a relationship with my mother for about four years. She gave me my first coloured shirt. I started going to visit her at her house. Julia became a sort of young aunt to me, or a big sister. As I got bigger and had more rows with Mimi, I used to go and live with Julia for a weekend.
I met her new bloke and didn’t think much of him. I called him ‘Twitchy’. Bobby Dykins – a sleazy little waiter with a nervous cough and thinning margarine-coated hair. Used to always push his hand in the margarine and grease his hair with it before he left. Used to keep his tips in a big tin on top of a cupboard in the kitchen and I used to always steal them.
She taught me music. She first taught me how to play banjo chords – that’s why in very early photos of the group I’m playing funny chords – and from that I progressed to guitar. I used to borrow a guitar at first. I couldn’t play, but my mother bought me one from one of those mail-order firms. It was a bit crummy, but I played it all the time and got a lot of practice.
The first song I learned was ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ – an old rock hit by Fats Domino – and it has a lot of memories for me. Then I learnt ‘That’ll Be The Day’. I learned the solos on ‘Johnny B. Goode’ and ‘Carol’, but I couldn’t play the one on ‘Blue Suede Shoes’.
And then unfortunately, she was run over – by an off-duty policeman who was drunk – after visiting my aunty’s house where I lived, but I wasn’t there at the time. That was another big trauma for me. I lost her twice. Once as a five-year-old, when I was moved in with my aunty, and once again where she actually physically died. I was at art school. So I must have been seventeen.
I was staying with Julia and Twitchy that weekend. The copper came to the door to tell us. It was just like it’s supposed to be, the way it is in the films, asking if I was her son and all that. Then he told us, and we both went white. It was the worst-ever thing that happened to me. We’d caught up so much, me and Julia, in just a few years. We could communicate. We got on. She was great. I thought, ‘Fuck it! Fuck it! Fuck it! That’s really fucked everything. I’ve no responsibility to anyone now!’
Twitchy took it worse than me. Then he said, ‘Who’s going to look after the kids?’ And I hated him. Bloody selfishness. We got a taxi over to Sefton General where she was lying dead. I didn’t want to see her. I talked hysterically to the taxi driver all the way, ranted on and on, the way you do. The taxi driver just grunted now and again. I refused to go in, but Twitchy did. He broke down.
That was a really hard time for me and it just absolutely made me very, very bitter. And the underlying chip on my shoulder that I had as a youth was really big then. Being a teenager and rock ’n’ roller, and mother being killed just when I was re-establishing a relationship with her. It was very traumatic for me. I was in a blind rage for two years. I was either drunk or fighting. I was a troublemaker.
It’s hard for me to speak about death. I have had so much death around me. My uncle [George] died right around the same period as my mother, within a few years of each other. Stuart Sutcliffe died of a brain tumour. So did Len Gray, another guy in one of our groups. Buddy Holly died when I was in art school. They all affected me, but I can’t find a way to put the feeling into words. It’s like you lose a piece of yourself each time it happens.
The next verse says ‘Father, you left me but I never left you.’ I never knew my father. I saw him twice in my life till I was twenty-four. He turned up after I was famous. I didn’t want to see him. I was too upset about what he’d done to me and to my mother, and that he would turn up when I was rich and famous and not bother turning up before.
He knew where I was all my life. I’d lived in the same house in the same place for most of my childhood. I thought it was a bit suspicious, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt after he’d put a lot of pressure on me in the press.
I opened the Daily Express and there he was, washing dishes in a small hotel, very near where I was living, in the stockbroker belt outside London. The front-page news was: ‘John’s dad is washing dishes, why isn’t John looking after him?’ I said, ‘Because he never looked after me.’
I started supporting him, then I went to therapy and remembered how furious I was in the depths of my soul about being left as a child. So I came out of the therapy and told him to get the hell out, and he did get the hell out, and I wish I hadn’t really, because everyone has their problems – including wayward fathers. I’m a bit older now and I understand the pressure of having children or divorces and reasons why people can’t cope with their responsibility, or whatever happens when you’re feeling your own misery.
He died a few years later of cancer. But at sixty-five he married a twenty-two-year-old secretary that had been working for the Beatles, and had a child, which I thought was hopeful for a man who had lived a life of a drunk and almost a Bowery bum.
By the time you read this I will already be dead, but I hope it will not be too late to fill the gaps in your knowledge of your old man which have caused you distress throughout your life. Of course, your only source of information has been your aunt Mimi who for reasons best known to herself refrained from telling you anything about me. Perhaps the revelations in my life story may bring you a clearer picture of how fate and circumstance control so much of our lives and therefore must be considered in our judgment of one another.
Until we meet again, some time, some place,
Freddie Lennon (from the foreword of the autobiography
he arranged to be sent to John after his death in 1975).
John: You know, all he wanted was for me to hear his side of the story, which I hadn’t heard. Why he wasn’t there. And there’s this incredible manuscript of every detail of his life. It’s a wild adventure. He was a sailor and he was always in trouble all around the world. He was in prison in Africa during the war and running around New York and boxing in Bali, going to bars, this incredible trip. He said (on the phone), ‘Read the book, read the book, read the book.’ I said, ‘OK, I’ll read it.’ And then he died and left me this book, which has filled a big hole in my life. I said, ‘Oh, that’s why he couldn’t make it.’
Left: Back cover of The Beatles' single Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever, 1967.
Right: Back cover of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album, 1970.
Both featuring the same childhood photograph of John.
A lot of people thought ‘Mother’ was just about my parents, but it can apply to anyone. It doesn’t have to be someone who lost them. Fathers do leave their children – not physically, but mentally. They never need the child the way the child needs the father. The mother I had, ‘I never had you’ – meaning my mother left me or my mother died. Lots of people, say Yoko for instance, had their mother with them all their life, but literally didn’t have enough love from them. Well, lots of us suffer that because parents have got their own hang-ups.
MY MUMMY’S DEAD.
‘My Mummy’s Dead’ is the painful thing. ‘Mother’ is a realisation and ‘My Mummy’s Dead’ is the realisation manifest. It helps to say ‘My Mummy’s Dead’ rather than ‘my mother died’ or ‘my mother wasn’t very good to me’ if your mother didn’t die. Yoko has the same problem only her mother isn’t physically dead. A lot of us do, we have images of parents we never get from them.
It doesn’t exorcise it – bang! gone, the spirit’s gone, but it helps.
I’d never allowed myself to realise that my mother had gone, and bang! gone, that is the end, because the same as you don’t allow yourself to cry or feel anything else. Some things are too painful to feel and so you stop. We have the ability to block feelings and that’s what we do most of the time.
So these feelings are now coming out of me, feelings that have been there all my life and they continue to come out. I don’t know if every time I pick up the guitar I’m going to sing about my mother or something, I don’t know. I presume it’ll come out some other way now.
All art is pain expressing itself.
FEELING YOUR OWN WANT.
John: I was free from the parents’ strangehold. That was the gift I got from not having parents. I’ve cried a lot about not having them and the torture it was, but also the gift of awareness it has given me. Most people never get out of it. Some people cannot see that their parents are still torturing them even when they are in their forties and fifties, and they still have that stranglehold over them and their thoughts and their mind and everything.
The problem for most people and extraordinarily enough for me who’d had no real impression that my mother actually wanted me because she wasn’t there or father. But still one of the hardest things is to realise that actually they didn’t want you anyway, you’re just the result of a fuck. Not many of us are planned. Ninety per cent of the people on this planet, especially in the West, were born out of a bottle of whisky on a Saturday night, and there was no intent to have children. Ninety per cent of us were accidents – I don’t know anybody who has planned a child. All of us were Saturday-night specials.
And in fact their own need is so great that they cannot possibly give to you. So the thing is to cut off.
To allow yourself to feel your own want is a big problem. The thing we all seem to greatly fear is to show the want we have of love from other people or whatever it is, especially parents, and to feel it and acknowledge in your mind, ‘No, they didn’t want me. That is the fact. I was not wanted’. No wonder I feel shitty because I couldn’t explain it as a child, you just know that something’s not right. Something is not there. And that is the big trauma to experience that.
The worst pain is that of not being wanted, of realizing your parents do not need you in the way you need them. When I was a child I experienced moments of not wanting to see the ugliness, not wanting to see ‘not being wanted’. This lack of love went into my eyes and into my mind.
I was never really wanted. The only reason I am a star is because of my repression. Nothing would have driven me through all that if I was ‘normal’.
Sometimes I was relieved to have no parents. Most of my friends’ relations bore little resemblance to humanity. Their heads were filled with petty-cash bourgeois fears. Mine was full of my own ideas! Life was spent entertaining myself, whilst secretly waiting to find someone to communicate with. Most people were dead. A few were half-dead. It didn’t take much to amuse them.
And a lot of people, especially the middle class people who have nice image-y parents, you know, smiling and all dolled up and that, they are the ones that had the biggest struggle to say, ‘Goodbye Mummy, Goodbye Daddy, I never had you and and I must realise that I never had you and I never will’.
But the middle-class people in the therapy were continually going back to their parents just to see him and maybe I can tell him about this experience I’ve had and I understand them, but the parents could not associate with him.
I understand the difference between sex and wanting my mother now, which was a big trip. Promiscuity, in a nutshell, is wanting your mother. Wanting all the mummies in the world. And it’s a lot of energy.
I always expect too much. I’m always expecting my mother and don’t get her. That’s what it is, or you know, or some parent, I know that much.
Half of what I say is meaningless
But I say it just to reach you
Ocean child calls me
So I sing a song of love
Windy smile calls me
So I sing a song of love
Her hair of floating sky is shimmering
In the Sun
So I sing a song of love
When I cannot sing my heart
I can only speak my mind
So I sing a song of love
Hmm hmm hmm
So I sing a song of love for
I’ve got the security of Yoko and it’s like having a mother. I was never relaxed before, I was always in a state of uptightness, and therefore the cynical Lennon image came out.
Yoko: John used to call me ‘Mother’ – that started around 1980. I think part of him was thinking, ‘I’m going to make her a mother, because she’s so not’. I started thinking ‘Maybe John’s right, maybe we are going to live together forever and this is getting all right. Now I can see it – that a couple and a family can work.’