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Why John Lennon called songwriting "torture"


John Lennon never liked to sugarcoat the thoughts that ran through his mind, and while his brutal honesty was at times refreshing, it often ruffled more than a few feathers. His opinion on the art of songwriting was worth its weight in gold, however, with the former Beatle even describing the process as “torture” during his final interview.

Life in the limelight was a double-edged sword for Lennon. He was always wary about the pitfalls that came with fame, but he simply couldn’t be involved in anything other than the art of creating music. While his 1960s were played out at breakneck speed, in the ’70s, he managed to successfully escape the machine, and his existence became considerably richer for it. Even though he was no longer touring, Lennon still kept himself active in the studio, yet he never found the act of songwriting an easy one.

While the never-ending attention that surrounded Lennon made him grow to dislike aspects of his career, fame was never his primary source of anguish. Instead, his main form of misery came from the mental strength it took to look deep within his mind to fuel his songwriting, which drained the singer. He once commented, “Songwriting is about getting the demon out of me. It’s like being possessed. You try to go to sleep, but the song won’t let you. So you have to get up and make it into something, and then you’re allowed to sleep”.

That comment from Lennon shows just how introspective he needed to look in order to produce his masterpieces. Everybody knows that Lennon had that ‘special something’ inside him, a factor that spiralled his work into the hearts of millions, and why it continues to shine so brightly even over 40 years on from his death.

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In the final interview before his death, Lennon opened up about how he has always struggled to write songs throughout his career and why he finds it a gruelling experience. “What I realised when I read ‘Lennon Remembers’ [John’s legendary 1970 interview with Jann Wenner] or the new Playboy interview [conducted by David Sheff September 8th-28th, 1980] was that I’m always complaining about how hard it is to write or how much I suffer when I’m writing – that almost every song I’ve ever written has been absolute torture,” he said three days he was murdered.

“I always think there’s nothing there, it’s shit, it’s no good, it’s not coming out, this is garbage and even if it does come out, I think, ‘What the hell is it anyway?'” he added.

Clearly in a reflective mood, Lennon commented: “It’s just stupid. I just think, ‘That was tough. Jesus, I was in a bad way then’. Except for the ten or so songs the gods give you, and that comes out of nowhere.”

Perhaps, what allowed Lennon to reach heights that few could ever even dream of reaching is that he could carry on mining for gold when others would have simply given up, and he wasn’t afraid to put himself through pain for the sake of his art.