Julie Burchill: on John Lennon

Working-class hero? My arse! He was about as working class as a Wilmslow dentist. Sexy? He was hideous

I don't normally feel the need to return to the scene of a hate-crime - once I've dissed 'em, they stay dissed - but in John Lennon's case, I will make an exception. John Lennon! Even his name makes me feel nauseous. Was one human being, with the possible exception of Jeffrey Archer, ever such an all-weather compendium of lies, boasts and eye-watering phoniness? It's actually quite hard to think of a person you can't stand one damned thing about - even Jeffrey Archer's good for a cheap laugh - but Lennon takes the booby prize every time.

I would have let the old geezer rest in pieces if there hadn't been this recent flurry of sentimental activity around his remains. The Beatles Anthology book comes out and cretins queue all night for it. That album gets to number one. George Michael, whose once-sharp brain must surely have been well bleached by the bright brazen sun of La-La Land, buys Lennon's piano partly "to keep it out of tiny hands in Tokyo" and partly because Imagine was - ahem - the greatest song ever written, casting a giant shadow over today's bonsai bands. Liam Gallagher, Mr Brains Trust himself, names his kiddie after his all-time hero, while, in a Putative Project of truly sumptuous grotesquerie, plans for Yoko Ono and Michael Jackson to bring a Yellow Submarine musical to the West End stage in 2002 are announced.

To cap it all, any swot lucky enough to be blessed with BBC Choice can tonight experience "an evening of programmes dedicated to one of the greatest singer-songwriters and one of the most influential political artists of modern times". Yes, be still my beating heart as the Professional Widow introduces such toe-tapping classics as Instant Karma, Power To The People and No9 Dream (bet you can't whistle that one). There's also an ass-sucking documentary, Gimme Some Truth, in which (according to a reverent BBC press release) "an American fan turns up on Lennon's doorstep saying that he needs to talk to him because he believes that Lennon's lyrics were written specifically for him. He is invited into the house for something to eat." For some reason, this piece of writing made me hoot with laughter, so I just wanted to share it with you. And, as the cherry top, there's a long, lingering look at the "Lennon Shrine" in New York's Central Park, containing interviews with "the thousands of people who make a pilgrimage to the shrine on the anniversary of his death". And every one of them nuttier than his killer Mark Chapman, I'll be bound.

Lennon; what a phoney! For a start - working-class hero? My arse. The Marianne Faithfull cover version was more heartfelt! Lennon was about as working class as a Wilmslow dentist, unlike Paul, George, and Ringo. That's why the tosser was at art school in the early 50s, for Pete's sake! (And, on the subject of Petes, who was it insisted that the original Beatles drummer, Pete Best, be sacked because he was too good-looking and all the girls screamed at him? Right first time.)

Someone once said that pop stars must be either sexy or profound; when you get the pair, you've hit the jackpot. Lennon was neither. Imagine's lyrics could have come out of a stoned fortune cookie or maudlin Christmas cracker, and generally appeals to vicious go-getters who'd sell their best pet to a torture lab if the price was right. But more seriously, he wasn't sexy in the least - he was hideous, even when young. Those piggy little eyes, that thin, curtain-twitching little mouth, the voice a tight whine of ill-temper - ugh! If he was anything like as unattractive, whiny and boring as a child as he was as an adult, I'm not surprised his mother - Julia, by all accounts an attractive, intelligent, high-spirited woman who must have felt she'd given birth to a switched baby - ran away and left him with his Aunt Mimi. (See that early giveaway as to his manicured roots, by the way; working-class people never refer to their mother's sister as "Aunt"; she is invariably "Auntie".)

The young adult Lennon was an appealing chap, too: this is the man, remember, who, in front of a packed dressing room, shouted "QUEER JEW" in response to Brian Epstein fussing, "Now what shall I call this autobiography of mine?" He was crap during the Beatles - everyone knows that Paul wrote 99% of all the decent songs - and crap after the Beatles. He was always the weakest link. I'll take the spirit and soul of Ringo's Back Off Boogaloo and It Don't Come Easy over the smug platitudes of Woman or Starting Over, any day.

Ah, the Yoko years! Move over Romeo and Juliet, Dante and Beatrice and Jimmy and Janette Krankie, and let this pair of lovers show you how it's really done! In reality, of course, their alliance was a fetid mess of domestic violence, drug addiction and mutual adultery - hey, if I'd wanted that, I could have got it at home. After the initial provincial excitement of copping off with a "Jap", as Lennon so frequently referred to his lady love, I think it fair to say that there wasn't even a great deal of physical attraction - on either side, and who can blame either one after seeing that album cover? ("Couldn't Paul and Linda strip off instead?" said the sweet, vague Sir Joe Lockwood, head of EMI at the time Two Virgins was released. "They're so much prettier .") "I don't believe in Beatles - the dream is over," Lennon once sang. "I just believe in me - Yoko and me." I'd bet any money that the Yoko Dream turned out to be emptier and phonier than the Beatles Dream. But when Lennon wanted to turn back, he was too afraid of losing face. Instead, he swaddled himself in ("Imagine no . . .") possessions; at the height of their swinishness, the Ono-Lennons kept a whole apartment in the Dakota building, just below the one they lived in, for the exclusive occupation of their fur coats - just to keep them at the right temperature. Forget sex and drugs; that's probably the most decadent, vile pop star antic I've ever come across in my life.

Yet still the legend lives. But that doesn't make it legit. Lennon famously got into trouble for saying in the 60s that the Beatles were "bigger than Jesus" - pathetically, he also apologised when this statement threatened to damage their sales in the God-bothering US South. And, of course, it was a ridiculous thing to say - for a start, Jesus had better songs and he didn't go about calling people "Queer Jews". A far better comparison would be with the Queen Mother, about whom it is equally impossible to imagine the BBC ever making even a slightly critical programme. In the long run, I think that's what John Lennon will turn out to be: a Queen Mum body double, a dry run for the big one - the man who united one nation under a vale of tears.


Julie Burchill

The GuardianTramp

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