Fame affects everybody in different ways. While some prepare for it since childhood and seamlessly transition from civilian life, that’s not the case for all. John Lennon dealt with his woes the only way he knew how to, and that was through song.
In the space of a couple of years, Lennon had gone from leading a relatively ordinary life to being one of the most recognisable faces on planet earth. He couldn’t walk down the street without being harassed, which sometimes got too much for him. Lennon had lost the lust for life from the group’s early days, and it became a suffocating experience.
While countless positives came with success, such as the unfathomable riches he accrued and the places it allowed him to visit, it wasn’t all rosy for Lennon. He once succinctly put it, “The price of fame is not being able to go to the Phil for a quiet pint.”
In 1964, Lennon wrote ‘I’ll Cry Instead’, which was his way of dealing with the dark side of fame, and losing his freedoms. The heartfelt track includes the verse: “I’ve got a chip on my shoulder that’s bigger that my feet, I can’t talk to people that I meet, If I could see you now, I’d try to make you sad somehow, But I can’t, so I’ll cry instead.”
Lennon shied away from talking about the subject matter when David Sheff interviewed him in 1980. He said: “I wrote that for A Hard Day’s Night, but Dick Lester didn’t even want it. He resurrected ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ for that sequence instead. I like the middle eight to that song, though – that’s about all I can say about it.”
However, his then-wife, Cynthia, claimed it was Lennon’s way of making a cry for help. She said: “It reflects the frustration he [John Lennon] felt at that time. He was the idol of millions, but the freedom and fun of the early days had gone.”
It has also been speculated the song was about the breakdown of his relationship with Cynthia. Even that was an indirect result of the astronomical success of The Beatles, and it was just one of the many areas his fame had a detrimental impact on his life.
Furthermore, when Lennon was asked about the track in 1980, he’d moved on and created a new life with Yoko Ono, which perhaps explains his hesitation to revisit the roots of the song. Nevertheless, ‘I’ll Cry Instead’ remains a brutally honest piece of songwriting by Lennon, which provides a glimpse into his mindset during a traumatic time.