The Beatlefan Interview With Cynthia Lennon

Bill King wrote in his Publisher’s Notes for Beatlefan #213 about interviewing and meeting Cynthia Lennon. Here is that interview, originally published in early 1982. …

cyn john sepia

Cynthia Lennon Twist could never escape being known as the first Mrs. John Lennon, even if she wanted to — and she doesn’t. But the 42-year-old blonde has found a new way to make her unavoidable place in history work for her.

So it was that in the wake of a much-publicized art show in September (1981) at Long Island’s Tower Gallery, Cynthia Lennon (the name she uses professionally now) came to Atlanta the first week of December to launch a national tour of her artwork at the Limelight disco.

It’s a situation that finds her with one foot in the future and one in the past. The art shows open up the possibility of a belated career as an artist for her, but the subject of her exhibited works is her life with Lennon and The Beatles. She wants to be known for something she’s done on her own, yet she is using the last name of Lennon instead of the name of her estranged husband, John Twist. She laughed slightly with embarrassment when asked about that.

Speaking in a British accent devoid of any Liverpudlian drawl, she talked willingly about her work and her life with The Beatles. But her relationship with Lennon was put off-limits for the conversation Beatlefan Publisher Bill King had with her.

In addition to the exhibit of 15 cartoons, she brought with her to Atlanta a large, colorful painting of The Beatles (valued at $25,000), which she donated in Lennon’s memory to the Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital.

What follows is the Beatlefan interview with Cynthia Lennon, originally published in two parts in Vol. 4, No. 2 (February-March 1982) and Vol. 4, No. 3 (April-May 1982). …

What name are you using?

Well, the name I’m using is Lennon, mainly because I wrote the book “A Twist of Lennon” and it was Cynthia Lennon and, you know it seems to be with me.

Is that both professionally and personally?

Professionally.

How did this art exhibit and tour come about?

Oh, it was pure chance, really. I don’t know if you read about it, because I did a few interviews. No, it was just purely — I was running a restaurant at the time in North Wales and a friend of mine who is from the old days came to the restaurant, also with another friend, and saw my drawings from the book there on the walls.

Was that Peter Brown?

That’s right, Peter Brown, and Stephen Gaines is an author. He’s working on a book with him at the moment. And they came to have a chat, and they came to see the restaurant and see me. And the drawings were on the wall and Stephen Gaines said that he knew somebody on Long Island who had a gallery, it happened to be Gary Lajeski, and he took some photographs and sent them to Gary, and Gary liked them and invited me to come, so that’s how it all began.

Had you ever given any thought yourself to exhibiting your artwork?

No, I hadn’t really, because I’d been so busy. I’d been running a restaurant, you know, and all sorts of things, sorting out, looking after Julian, sorting things out. I’ve had a very heavy sort of two years, the last two years and this, for me, was a wonderful opportunity. It was out of the blue, really.

Is this the same artwork that was in your book?

A painting by Cynthia Lennon donated to Scottish Rite Children's Hospital in Atlanta in 1981.

A painting by Cynthia Lennon donated to Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital in Atlanta in 1981.

Yes, it’s the cartoons. There are 15 cartoons. They didn’t put them all in the book. But I’m also doing a painting, a large painting.

The one you’re donating to the hospital?

Yes.

What is that painting about?

Well, it’s in the same vein. Of course, it’s very large and it’s on canvas. So it’s not a small drawing, a small cartoon, it’s a large painting.

What does it depict?

It’s the era, again the ’60s, the “Magical Mystery Tour” time.

The drawings you’re exhibiting, was this something you did particularly for the book?

Actually, I did them when I was writing the book. I thought it would be nice to illustrate, you know, because I hadn’t done any illustrations for years. But, I mean, all the memories were there, and in writing the book the memories came back. Being trained as an illustrator, I thought it would be nice to sort of slot in the illustrations.

Did you continue with your art at all after you left art school and got married?

When I was married to John? No, no, I was busy looking after Julian and, you know, it was an incredible time, so really I had very little time to carry on with art.

Didn’t you make a reference to your work in India, where you spent some time …

Oh, yes, yes. I did a lot of drawings and paintings there. Yes, because I had the peace and quiet to do it and the meditation and everything.

What was that whole experience like, that Indian adventure?

For me, it was a marvelous experience. I loved it. Purely because it gave us — well, it gave me a time to breathe. And it gave us all a time to breathe, you know, to relax, totally out of the glare of everything, you know, publicity and everything. And it was a marvelous time.

Did any of that stay with you, the meditation?

Not in great depth. I wouldn’t say I go into meditation in great depth. But now and again I do meditate because it’s a peaceful way of relaxing, it’s a good way of relaxing.

What’s it been like to re-enter the public eye?

Well, it’s quite amazing, really. But I think I’m a lot older and a lot wiser and, possibly, I think I can cope with it better now. Also, it’s something I’m enjoying because, hopefully, I’ll be successful in what I’m doing. It’ll give me the chance to start all over again, which is what I wanted to do. And it’s just, just the way it’s happened, I’m going with the tide, you can put it that way. But also doing what I want to do, what I wanted to do for years, anyway.

So, you would have liked to have had a career as an artist?

Oh, yes, I would have loved to. But life sort of didn’t deal me the cards.

Sort of makes choices for you, doesn’t it?

Yes, it does.

Is it difficult now, dealing with being a former Beatle wife or John’s ex-wife, in particular?

Well, I cope with who I am and what I am, not with, not a nametag, if you know what I mean. I know who I am and, no, it’s not difficult because I’m the same sort of person. I haven’t changed a great deal. I’ve just gotten a little older and a little wiser.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known 17 years ago?

Oh, gosh, that’s a difficult one. It’s just to take life a little easier and to … the fact is, I realize how precious each day is, and to make the most of it.

You and everyone involved with The Beatles lived sort of at full speed, didn’t you?

Absolutely, yes. Frenetically. So, now it’s nice to pick and choose, really.

Do you still run that restaurant in Wales?

No, that closed down. Well, that’s another experience in life. I’ve done it once. I could probably do it again if I have to.

Weren’t you involved with Mike McCartney’s ex-wife and doing some songwriting?

Yes, that’s right. She was working with us. Angie was always doing songwriting and I write words and she was putting the words to music. You know, she played the piano and I was the word person, but nothing evolved from it. It was just fun, really. It was fun. It was creative.

What is the book you’re working on now, a fairy tale?

Well, the idea is to do a fairy tale of the story of The Beatles. But for children as well as adults, not … it’s very hard to describe, but more fantasy as well as reality, do you know what I mean?

You mean telling the story of The Beatles in the style of a fairy tale?

Yes, yes. In pictures.

Will this be published in the U.S. as well as Britain?

I have to work on it yet [laughs].

Is this something that has come about just since you did the exhibit?

Yes, yes, this is evolving from it.

I understand you went to the New York Beatlefest.

Yes, it was incredible. I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing because I’d never been to one before … I was just amazed by the whole experience.

Were you apprehensive about that?

Well, it happened quickly, like everything else has happend very quickly in the past sort of six months or so for me. And it just happened. And I just happened to be there and it was an experience I’d never had before. And it was fascinating.

What was the fans’ reaction?

They were lovely. They were wonderful. They were really super. And it was lovely to see them. I couldn’t believe that it was still all going on. You know, the Beatlefest, which I’d never been to before, but I couldn’t – I’d never been able to imagine what one would be like. And the devotion and the love from all different ages, it was just incredible.

Has your relationship with the fans changed over the years?

I think I’ve always had a good relationship.  I’ve had plenty of mail – fan mail. I don’t like to say fan mail. But I have lots of contacts and things from the old days. And it’s never really stopped.

Did it change at all when you first came out in the open as John’s wife? Any negative?

Very little. Very little. I seemed to have a lot of support at that time.

How about the divorce?

A lot of support then. I just can’t say I’ve ever had anything really negative at all.

You were in a position of observing the formative stages of The Beatles. Was John in the group before you met him?

John and Cynthia in the early days.

John and Cynthia in the early days.

Well, we were at college together. We were students and I was there when they formed the group.

So you knew him before they formed it?

Oh, yes, yes.

Did you have any feeling at that time they had any real future in entertainment?

Well, it was very difficult because  we were studying a lot and they were doing it on the side, but I think once they started, once they went to Germany, and came back from Germany – they went to Hamburg – and John threw up his art studies and everything, then it all started happing in Liverpool. Then I did believe. You know, in the beginning, they were four young lads sort of trying their best and doing what they wanted to do most of all, which was play music.

What was the relationship between John and Paul like in those days?

Oh, very good. They were friends.

In some of the biographies, they try to picture it as sort of an adversary relationship even then.

As far as I can tell you, we were all friends, we were a group, we were friends and they were playing music together, and happily as far as I know. (As with) any other sort of relationship, they had their ups and downs. They were only kids.

Were they as close as brothers?

They were just close friends. I can’t say brothers, no. I wouldn’t say that, but very good friends with the same thing in common: music.

Did it change over the years with the fame, money and pressure?

No, I think during the pressure they even got closer together, you know.

Were they basically agreeable? Did they get along fairly well?

Yes, very well. In fact, they couldn’t have played such good music, I don’t think, if they didn’t.

Or stuck it out all those years.

No.

You went over to Hamburg some while they were playing there, didn’t you?

Yes, yes, yes.

The Hamburg experience is credited as a turning point for them as a band. Did you see that happening? Did they change?

Oh, gosh, yes. They had to work solidly for hours and hours and hours and their music evolved and they changed because they weren’t students or schoolboys anymore. They were in the big grown-up world of entertainment, even though it was in sort of the Reeperbahn of Hamburg. They were earning some brass.

What was your first perception of Brian Epstein when he offered to manage them?

I was thrilled to bits. I liked Brian very much. He was great fun. I loved Brian.

Revisionists, particularly in “Shout!”, make it seem Brian didn’t really know what he was doing.

Yes, well, I haven’t read that book yet. I’m sort of a quarter of the way through it. So I can’t really comment on what’s been said.

What is your impression of Epstein as a manager?

I think he had flair and was creative and perhaps not in the total business sense of the businessman, but he loved them and he did his best for them. And I think he did very well, don’t you? Listen, nobody’s perfect, are they? It’s afterwards that everyone wants to sort of … I don’t know, go into such fine detail about something, that it’s very hard to do. Cause if you’re there at the time, it’s a totally different situation.

Were he and the group members very close?

Oh, yes. They were a unit, you know, and a good unit.

You were the only wife to go on any American tours, weren’t you?

Yes, I came on the first one.

What was that like?

Oh, it was fantastic. I didn’t see much of New York, though … or anything else, quite honestly, but it was a fantastic experience. Unbelievable.

Were they still enjoying it at that point?

Oh, yes. They found it unbelievable as well.

Was it as grueling as it is nowadays?

Oh, yes, definitely. No, it was all grueling. It was very very hard work.

A lot of people like to tie in The Beatles stopping touring and branching out creatively with their introduction to drugs. What role did drugs play creatively?

Together at the height of Beatlemania.

Together at the height of Beatlemania.

Creatively, it’s very difficult to say. I think drugs were an escape at the time. And that’s my view, and they were still – no matter what they did, as far as drugs were concerned, I think they were creative in themselves. So the creativity would still be there. It might be heightened or lessened – but they were still very creative.

How about its effect personally on their lives?

Well, you have to read my book. [laughs]

You wrote that you thought in your case you thought drugs played a major role.

Oh, yes, it did.

I was thinking in broader terms of the group in general.

Again, that’s a difficult question because that was a time of sort of drifting apart, really, evolving more individually, I think, at that time, as opposed to the unit of four, because Brian wasn’t there anymore.

In other words, you think that would have happened anyway?

I’ve no idea, I’ve no idea.

You seem to have continued some relationships from that time. I know I read you’re still close to Maureen …

Yes, well, it’s very strange. It’s only – it’s almost full circle. Because I wasn’t close to them for a long, long time until this time last year, really.

So it wasn’t something that just continued unabated?

No, because I had my – I went separate ways, you know, trying to find different avenues and, of course, they were still involved in music and I was out of the music scene altogether for years.

How did you come back into contact?

Actually, through that meeting in the restaurant with Peter Brown, ‘cause I hadn’t got Maureen’s phone number. I had lost her address. And it was through that meeting that I saw Maureen again.

How about others from The Beatles’ family at large?

Yes, I’ve seen Pattie, who’s now married to Eric Clapton. I’ve seen George. See, but I live in North Wales and it’s a long way from London.

How did you end up in Wales?

I don’t know. I just took off one day in the car and I was looking for a little cottage to paint in – again, I wanted some isolation and privacy. And I found a place and it was for sale. I just ended up at the end of this sort of … through this forestry commission land, and I ended up looking at this place and it happened to be for sale, and that was it.

You mentioned George. After you were divorced from John, did you continue to have a relationship with the other three Beatles?

No, I saw them occasionally, sort of on the nightlife circuit, you know, bumped into them occasionally, but, no, we didn’t carry on a close relationship.

How did The Beatles’ wives and children get along with each other?

Oh, fine. You know, we were really one big happy family, because we were thrown together because of circumstances, but, I mean, luckily enough we all got on very well together.

You had similar backgrounds …

Two of us did – Maureen and I did. We’re from the North and I think Jane and Pattie were from the South. But, apart from that, we just got on very well together.

Doesn’t Julian know one of Ringo’s sons?

Through Julian and I going to stay with Maureen, he got to know Zak. Zak is Maureen’s oldest son, but Zak is still at school and he’s doing his own thing and Julian is doing his own thing as well. You know, Julian’s three years older than Zak.

I understand they’re both musically oriented.

Very, yeah. Very.

Did you ever have the urge to join in with the music and the performing?

No, no. I like writing and I like painting, but entertainment is … I had a dream once that I would have liked to have been a chorus girl, but that was when I was a little girl. [laughs]

When The Beatles were going, there was sort of an impression they had a thing going on which no one else could have fitted into.

That’s true. That’s true, because they evolved together from such an early  age and they went through so much together, that I think it would be impossible. It was impossible, really.

What are your feelings about having a son go into entertainment?

Well, I think entertainment’s wonderful, you know. I love entertainment. I think it makes people happy. And I think if Julian is lucky enough to be gifted musically, and he has the proper training, I believe he has to have the proper training first, not just thrown into it because of who he is and everything. But the thing is, Julian is musical and he is artistic and he’s working on it at the moment, and if he’s successful, then I’ll be very happy.

Is he studying music?

He’s studying music, yes.

So he’s actually going about it a different way from the way his father did.

Yes.

Can you separate yourself f from being his mother and tell me what you think his potential is?

Very good. [laughs] You mean, not be biased? Well, I also listen to what other people say. I sit back and see other people’s reaction to Julian’s music. And I do believe he’s got a great deal of talent and determination, which is very important.

Does he still plan on coming to New York?

Well, not at the moment, no. I think he’d probably like to come have a holiday.

I know that he got a lot of press.

I know. I know. Well, it was a very frantic time.

There were magazine articles that tried to make it look like you and Yoko were having a tug of war over Julian. Is that just sensationalism?

Obviously. I mean, you know, it’s ridiculous. But, I mean, these things are bound to happen.

Did being John Lennon’s son make it tough in any way for him growing up?

No, he’s been pretty well protected, really. I think he’s had a few hard times, but I think where we’ve lived – you know, Julian has been out of the limelight, really. And I’ve tried to give him a sort of quiet, normal sort of upbringing. And it’s only in the past year that he’s been thrown into the big, wide world with the press.

Like in school, did kids ever give him a rough time?

No, not a lot. Obviously, occasionally they did. There’d be different reactions, but I think on the whole he’s had a very good – he’s had it reasonably easy.

Do you still keep in touch with people in Liverpool, like Aunt Mimi?

Oh, yes, I’ve spoken to Mimi. I haven’t seen her because she lives in Bournemouth. She lives down south, but I have spoken to her. I do keep in contact.

Do you go back to Liverpool much?

Well, Liverpool’s only an hour from North Wales, and I’ve got friends in Liverpool as well, so I’m still based in the North.

Has it changed a lot?

Liverpool? Oh, gosh, yes. A great deal.

Bill Harry says he hardly recognizes it now …

It’s a very sad area at the moment, but they’re hoping to – they suddenly realized they sort of wrecked it. They pulled it apart, tried to modernize it, and took the heart out of the city. And now they’re going to have to put it back again. The planners’ dream didn’t work.

Do you ever read books about The Beatles?

I read a few. I usually read other people’s books who happened to have them. [laughs] No, because I know what’s going on without reading.

I was just wondering whether there were any books that you thought got the story right.

I suppose they’re all right in many facets. Everyone has something different to say, has a different outlook. And a bias towards the book they are writing, and I haven’t really read a lot about it, no.

Did Philip Norman interview you for “Shout!”?

No, he didn’t.

He tries to imply that he did.

I know, but he didn’t, and that’s the part that I’ve read, the first bit, the beginning of the book, and I was a little bit annoyed, because a lot of what he’s put in is sort of taken from the book that I wrote. That’s almost his interview with me. No, he didn’t contact me at all. I would have given him an interview, but he didn’t contact me.

Have you been asked to consult on any Beatles films or films about John?

No, there is a play on in Liverpool at the moment called “Lennon,” and they asked me if I could help them with that, but I couldn’t. I mean, I wanted to, but I couldn’t, I couldn’t even go to see it, because it’s too upsetting. I was hoping perhaps someone could video it for me. I just couldn’t watch it, you know, because apparently it’s, uh, very upsetting. I just couldn’t sit there and watch it. Perhaps I could on my own, but I couldn’t do it in an audience.

How did you come to be friends with May Pang?

May Pang and Cynthia Lennon at the Limelight in Atlanta, December 1981.

May Pang and Cynthia Lennon at the Limelight in Atlanta, December 1981.

Well, when May was with John for the 18 months, during that time I brought Julian over to stay with John and May, and I went off on holiday in L.A. But I wanted Julian to see his father and May was with him at the time and they got along beautifully. You know, we got on very well together. You know, when two people love the same person, it’s hard to describe, but it’s just that we get on very well together. And there’s no sort of bitterness or anything, and Julian loved May, and May was very kind with Julian, and so that’s how it evolved, came about.

What is your relationship with Yoko Ono?

I don’t really have a relationship with Yoko. It’s as simple as that.

You never see each other or have any contact?

No, no, there’s never been any reason to. Because any contact between Julian and his father was done between him and his father. And I had nothing to do with it.

What sort of relationship did he have with his father in later years?

It was getting very good.

Did he see a lot of him?

He went about once a year to stay with him.

Is Julian coming to Atlanta for your art show?

No, I don’t think so. I don’t think it would be wise for him to come, really.

How did it come about that you’re donating this painting to the children’s hospital?

Since it’s the Year of the Child, I decided to do it in memory of John.

The last year has been a difficult one for you.

Yes, it’s been difficult and very different.

Is it something you still have great difficulty dealing with?

Yes, I do [voice trembles noticeably], but life has to go on, doesn’t it?

Do you feel you’re at a turning point in your life?

A definite crossroads. Definitely.

What brought you to this point where you want to try something different?

I’ve no idea. It’s circumstances, again. It’s like, how did I find the cottage in Wales? Sometimes I feel I’m being sort of led. And when it’s right, I go with the tide. If it’s wrong, then. … It feels right at the moment.

Do you have any plans other than that book of drawings you’re working on?

I’m taking each day as it comes, and I’m making the most of it and whatever evolves, you know, will be very exciting. What is important to me is to be creative and to do something good. And if I have the opportunity to do that, then I’ll do it. And if this is the opportunity I have, then I’ll make the most of it.

 

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