Before John Lennon enchanted us with his musical genius, his first love was drawing!
As a young child he would fill sketch pads with unusual characters and creatures, some who would show up later in his music. Before there was John Lennon the rock star, there was John Lennon the art student where he attended the Liverpool Art Institute from 1957 – 1960. However, before he could finish school and launch a career as an artist, Lennon was consumed with a little side project, one we would soon know as the Beatles!
A genuine renaissance man, while his Beatles changed music and culture around the world, Lennon also made the bestsellers list with his first book. “In His Own Write” in 1964, was a unique collection of nonsensical writing and drawings.
While his music was inspired by Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Motown, readers could easily see that his writing style was influenced by James Joyce, James Thurber, Lewis Carroll, and the literary nonsense of Edward Lear. In an interview with Dick Cavett, John Lennon said, “I used to love his stuff when I was a kid. There were three people I was very keen on—Lewis Carroll, James Thurber and Ronald Searle. When I was about 11, I was turned on to those three. I think I was about 15 when I started Thurberizing the drawings.”
I can’t remember when I first discovered John Lennon’s drawings, but I knew immediately who his influence was! Whether it was a simple dog drawing or a fantastical creature, I remember thinking John had to have been aware of James Thurber. I loved James Thurber, Pete Arno, Whitney Darrow Jr., and a long list of the wonderful New Yorker cartoonists from its early days. In fact, it’s easy to see how New Yorker writers like S.J. Perelman, who wrote Marx Brothers classics, influenced the comic sensibility of John and his fellow Beatles in their first musical and comedic romp “A Hard Days Night”.
That James Thurber, the most popular humorist in America and artist whose drawing derived from his degenerative eyesight, had an artistic influence across the Atlantic on an iconic creator like John Lennon, lends itself to a belief in the magic of art regardless of the media. Thurber and Lennon’s simple drawings and words appealed to children and adults around the world, not just in their lifetime but as long as we find joy in art, music, and the written word.
We’ll celebrate and honor John Lennon’s birthday this Friday on October 9th on what would’ve been his 80th birthday. As someone who has worked with children over twenty years, I am in awe of how almost every generation knows and loves the music of the Beatles. Just last week my grand nephew at age six was singing “Tell me why”! Now that’s staying power! Perhaps not everyone can sit down and write a catchy tune like John and Paul, but it’s easy to sit down with your child and draw some simple, fun little characters like John and James. You’ll be amazed of how much fun you’ll have. In the words of John…Imagine, it’s easy if you try.