The Story Behind The Song: John Lennon’s heart-wrenching ‘Mother’
John Lennon’s heart-wrenching track ‘Mother’ is one of the most moving creations that the late musician ever concocted. The former Beatle lays himself emotionally bare and finally deals with the abandonment issues that scarred him from childhood.
The track addresses Lennon’s relationship with both of his parents, Alf and Julia. His father, a merchant seaman of Irish heritage, was mostly away during the war for the first few years of John’s life and, when he did return, the visits were brief. In February 1944, Alf then went absent without leave and the cheques he regularly sent to Julia stopped when he fell off the grid. When he returned home six months later, he offered to return to the family. However, it was too late, and his wife was pregnant with another man’s child.
John’s aunt Mimi became bereft at the circumstances he was being raised in and complained to Liverpool’s Social Services twice before Julia eventually gave Lennon’s custody. In July 1946, Lennon’s father visited his auntie’s home and surprised his son with a holiday in Blackpool but, in reality, secretly intended to emigrate to New Zealand with him. Julia and her new partner found out about the plot and travelled to Blackpool, where John painstakingly was forced to pick his father or mother. He opted to stay in Liverpool, and his father remained out of his life until Beatlemania took over the world.
Lennon remained on good terms with his mother, even though he chose to live with Mimi. However, tragedy would strike in July 1958, when Julia was killed by a car while walking home after visiting her sister’s house. The teenage Lennon never entirely wrapped his head fully around his mother’s sad death, and instead, he turned to drink in a bid to escape his thoughts and often found himself fighting.
The former Beatle was inspired to revisit his childhood trauma after undergoing primal scream therapy with Arthur Janov, initially at his home at Tittenhurst Park and then at the Primal Institute, California, where he stayed for four months. The treatment helped Lennon finally come to terms with his mother’s death in 1958, which had been eating him up for over a decade and on ‘Mother’ he finally lets everything out.
“Primal is like another mirror, y’know,” Lennon said in 1970. “At the beginning of therapy, you’re so astounded about what you find out about yourself,” the former Beatle then added. “People know what I’ve been through and that’s why I don’t even want to talk too much about it, and if they want to find out, they can find out. Otherwise, it turns into that again.
“I have no idea about any other therapy, I don’t think anything else would work on me so well, but then again I’m not through with it. It’s a process which is going on with primal, almost daily. I don’t really want to get this primal thing going because it gets so embarrassing and in a nutshell, primal theory allowed us to feel feelings continually and those feelings usually make you cry — that’s all.
“It’s just a matter of breaking the wall that’s there in yourself and come out and let it all hang out to the point that you start crying,” Yoko later said about the therapy to Uncut in 1998. She added: “He was going back to the days of when he wanted to scream, ‘Mother.’ He was able to go back to that childhood, that memory.”
This therapy allowed Lennon to unlock a part of himself which he had tried to hide away for most of his adult life before this. The daily emasculation Lennon suffered because of primal scream theory made him feel free. The former Beatle was no longer hiding away from these emotions. The therapy helped him personally deal with his grief and liberated Lennon as an artist and played a pivotal part in the extraordinary John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band LP.