John Lennon was a passionate man. It’s hard to throw yourself into your work with the verve he did if it lacked integrity or passion, and every vocal, hook and lyric was done with tremendous enthusiasm. But he later felt a little uneasy as he grappled with ‘All You Need Is Love’ because before meeting Yoko Ono, he had actually never experienced love. His first marriage brought him stability, solitude and children, but it didn’t bring him the love he had spent a lifetime longing for.
But he finally found true love in the guise of Ono, the one collaborator Lennon would concede as superior to Paul McCartney. She encouraged the guitarist to be honest, feeling that his work on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band lacked the essence of his personality or carefree nature. When he met love, he understood that it wasn’t the idealism that he had striven for in his work, but something ordinary, angular and deeply wonderful.
He was ignorant of its charms, but the perfume of unconditional love caught up with him, and it was stunning. “And it’s a long wait, you know, I didn’t think it was,” the rhythm guitarist said. “I thought it was an abstract thing, you know, when I was singing about all you need is love. I was talking about something I hadn’t experienced.”
The Beatle had sung about yearning for this type of love on Rubber Soul standout, ‘Girl’, and returned to the emotion on Revolver with ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. But although he sang about ‘knowing’, he wouldn’t understand it completely until he shared his body and soul with the woman who would become his soulmate. “I had experienced, you know, love for people in gusts, and love for things and trees and things like that, but I hadn’t experienced what I was singing about,” he revealed. “It’s like anything, you sing about it first or write about it first, and find out what you were talking about after.”
Many of us aim for perfection in life, often building an idea in our heads of the ways and directions our lives are meant to take, sometimes misinterpreting the scenarios as they unfold before our very eyes. But when the moment reveals itself to the person, it arrives at an essential moment in the person’s life, which means the build-up – or, journey, if you will – has given them the building blocks from which this moment of truth is born.
And so it comes to pass that the works, such as they were, had added meaning when he met the love of his love, which congratulated the songwriter on his quest for completion and destination.
The journey is an integral component of art, much as it is aphorisms that stand as the principles of a person’s quest.to self-fulfilment and enlightenment. In many ways, this pathway to acceptance and understanding is what makes the songs sound so alluring in hindsight, because it shows a man in some uncertainty, before crawling upon that moment of great realisation.
Lennon put his life on record, and it’s there to be heard for all the failings, fears, triumphs and miseries to be cherished upon. In some ways, ‘All You Need Is Love’ is the songwriter’s most impressive piece of work, precisely because it’s so searching, soulful and unsure of itself. But we don’t need certainty in life to wow people over, we just need to be sure of our convictions and beliefs. And good for him that he found the love he spent a lifetime searching for, one that fulfilled him up until the moment a man with a gun took his life away.