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Ain’t She Sweet: A Tribute To Cynthia Lennon

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When you think of the Beatle wives, a line from poet Ted Berrigan comes to mind: “Feminine, marvelous and tough.”

Cynthia Lennon was proof of the definition. She never could escape being the first Mrs. John Lennon and she learned to live with his looming shadow.

Born Cynthia Powell, she wanted to be an artist, enrolling in Liverpool’s art school. There was this boy in her classes who was never prepared. He always asked for pens and pencils to borrow. It was irritating; why couldn’t good old John Lennon bring his own pens to class? He was always calling her names: Miss Prim. Miss Powell. Oh, he was so irritating. But he was funny, and charming. He once sang “Aint She Sweet” to her. They were drawn to each other. Shortly after his mother died in 1958, they began dating.

They always fought. He was happy go lucky John, she was Miss Prim.

Plus he was always trying to get this musical group off the ground with that McCartney bloke and Stu Sutcliffe. She couldn’t concentrate on her own work, evenĀ failing a teacher’s exam. In the summer of 1962, she told John she was pregnant. He told her they had to get married. They had a baby boy in 1963, Julian, named after John’s mother.

At the same time, something else was born: Beatlemania.

Please Please Me, the Beatles’ first album hit the charts a month before Julian’s birth. John had to go away on tours. America soon caught Beatlemania. When The Beatles made their debut on Ed Sullivan, there was a closeup on John. A caption flashed on the screen: Sorry Girls, He’s Married. Cynthia Powell Lennon became the most envied woman in the world.

Or the most hated.

Either way, it wasn’t a great position to be in.

Cynthia found herself raising Julian by herself because John was always gone on tour after tour, appearance after appearance. He bought her cars, but never asked what she wanted. Rather, he gave her what he thought she would like. She became frustrated. What was she? Some housekeeper? Would it be so hard for him to change a nappy, or take care of Julian for an afternoon?

When Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager died in 1967, everyone was devastated. Brian was always the one who kept the boys in line. He made sure they kept their noses clean, any possible messes unseen. Now the Lads were on their own. For John, this meant pursuing the artist he met in 1966, Yoko Ono.

In May 1968, Cynthia arrived home after a vacation in Greece with Patti Harrison’s sister, Jenny Boyd and singer Donovan. She came home early to find John and Yoko in her living room wearing white robes. Yoko’s slippers were right by the bedroom. Cynthia left immediately. Now I wonder what she was thinking. There had always been rumors of affairs, but this was different. She couldn’t turn her back on this. She had to deal with it.

John sued for divorce. She countersued after she learned Yoko was pregnant (Yoko miscarried). Suddenly Cynthia was the Poor Girl, the Pitied One. In the documentary Imagine, there’s footage where John and Yoko are dealing with fans, one of them yelling, “Cynthia was better than her!” People were on Team Cynthia. No one wanted to be on Team Yoko. Paul McCartney was definitely Team Cynthia; he came to visit her and Julian then one night wrote “Hey Jude” to make Julian feel better.

She sought and got custody of Julian. No matter what, he had to be provided for. Married twice again, divorced. The last time she saw John was during a visit taking place in LA, encouraged by John’s mistress at the time, May Pang. Pang and Cynthia became friends. They both loved John. But they also realized John loved Yoko more.

One night in December, 1980 Cynthia got a phone call in the middle of the night. It was Ringo Starr. He had terrible news: John was dead. I can’t imagine what was going through her head. The boy who borrowed pens from her was gone? No. Then I am betting she thought: Julian, I must tell Julian before the press does. Julian always came first.

She tried several business ventures, even doing a cover of “Those Were the Days.” Wrote two memoirs. Married again to Noel Charles, a club owner. Watched Julian succeed first as a singer whose voice sounded so much like his dad’s. Then he started another career, photography. In 2010, Julian had an exhibit at New York’s Morrison Hotel of his photographs. Cynthia came, of course, along with May Pang, Sean Lennon (Julian’s brother) and Yoko. They posed for pictures. They were never going to be best friends. Time was an ultimate healer that they could at least be in the same room together.

When the news about her death came out, she was addressed as John Lennon’s first wife. I am betting she would’ve preferred businesswoman Cynthia Lennon died at age seventy-five, or Cynthia Lennon, Julian Lennon’s mother died today. Even in death, she was associated with the man who once looked at her and sang: Oh ain’t she sweet/Well see her walking down that street/Well I ask you very confidentially/Ain’t she sweet?