Love him or loathe him, it’s hard to argue that John Lennon wasn’t a pop music genius. As one half of the most successful songwriting partnership of all time in Lennon-McCartney and, of course, the founding member of The Beatles, Lennon has written some of the world’s most adored songs. His intelligence and craft revolutionised pop music in the sixties and, in truth, he was always destined to be a figure worth following.
Throughout the singer’s childhood, Lennon faced a number of challenges. As well as being hit by tragedy after his father left him and his mother sadly died, the singer was also routinely lambasted by authority figures who struggled to come to terms with his searing intelligence and rebellious ways. In one famous Beatles song, Lennon took the opportunity to discuss that childhood and how it shaped him into the leading man he would become.
Of course, The Beatles were never afraid of looking back at their childhoods to provide some material for their songs. Tracks like ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘When I’m Sixty Four’ are both reflections of Paul McCartney’s life in Liverpool before reaching fame and fortune. Typically, Lennon’s re-telling of his childhood follies are a little more subversive and highlight the blistering cerebral capacity he reserved for only the most special people and places. One such place was, of course, Strawberry Fields and inspired his song ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.
“Strawberry Fields is a real place,” Lennon told David Sheff of Playboy in 1980. “After I stopped living at Penny Lane, I moved in with my auntie who lived in the suburbs… not the poor slummy kind of image that was projected in all the Beatles stories. Near that home was Strawberry Fields, a house near a boys’ reformatory where I used to go to garden parties as a kid with my friends Nigel and Pete. We always had fun at Strawberry Fields. So that’s where I got the name.”
In the song, Lennon opens up about the loneliness he felt during those years, feeling as though nobody understood him. He continues speaking with Sheff: “The second verse goes, ‘No one I think is in my tree.’ Well, I was too shy and self-doubting. Nobody seems to be as hip as me is what I was saying. Therefore, I must be crazy or a genius— ‘I mean it must be high or low,’ the next line.” For any child, it’s difficult to align with their projected intelligence but for Lennon, in the fifties, it was nigh on impossible: “There was something wrong with me, I thought, because I seemed to see things other people didn’t see. I thought I was crazy or an egomaniac for claiming to see things other people didn’t see. I always was so psychic or intuitive or poetic or whatever you want to call it, that I was always seeing things in a hallucinatory way.”
Psychedelia, and its explosion in the sixties, confirmed a lot of what Lennon had already been feeling: “Even as a child. When I looked at myself in the mirror or when I was 12, 13, I used to literally trance out into alpha. I didn’t know what it was called then. I found out years later there is a name for those conditions. But I would find myself seeing hallucinatory images of my face changing and becoming cosmic and complete. It caused me to always be a rebel.
“This thing gave me a chip on the shoulder; but, on the other hand, I wanted to be loved and accepted. Part of me would like to be accepted by all facets of society and not be this loudmouthed lunatic musician. But I cannot be what I am not.”
The song, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ is rightly revered as one of The Beatles best and should also be seen as one of Lennon’s most personal. It is this track that sheds a light on the innermost facets of an icon and, for that reason, needs to be revisited. Listen to ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ below.