Penthouse Retrospective

by John Green Originally Published: July, 1983

John Lennon and Yoko Ono


The Lennons’ son was born on John ’s thirty-fifth birthday, October 9, 1975. Later John would claim with a smile that he had actually planned it that way. But that was later. In the days immediately following the birth John was not in the mood for humor. The child had had to be delivered by cesarean section and Yoko was required to stay in the hospital some two weeks to recuperate. John haunted the hospital during visiting hours and banged around his ten-room apartment the rest of the time.

Late one night during this period, John called me. In the wee, small hours I listened to him relate how the event could have been happier as far as he was concerned. more like I’ve lost a wife!” he complained. “Nothing’s worked out the way it was supposed to, you know. We had it all planned out. We’d have the baby at home, we said. I would be there for the delivery, we said. Natural birth, no problems, we said. So what happens? Off she goes to the hospital, telling me she doesn’t want me there, and the doctors perform a cesarean section. Now they’re keeping her for observation because of ’complications. ’ It ’s good we planned everything so carefully. Birth classes and health foods and now they’re shooting her full of some damned drug. What was it all about, all the talk, all the plans? What did we get out of it?”

John’s anxieties regarding his son, Sean, grew. When Yoko and the baby came home to the Dakota, John began disappearing sporadically for several hours at a stretch. During the evenings, he caroused with cronies or ladies of the night. When not so engaged he moped around the house, finding fault with almost everything and collecting newspaper clippings on Sean’s birth.

A few days before Thanksgiving 1975, I found him sitting in the kitchen with a pile of these articles telling of Sean, Yoko, and the proud father. I had come to give him his reading but he had no questions that afternoon, only comments, as he thumbed through his stack of papers.

“Well, it’s done,” he said morosely. “Our nine-day-wonder ceases to amaze. I suppose it couldn’t last but it was nice while it did.”

“You could have made more press if you’d wanted.”

“Ah, not true, Charles. The press is a strange beast and I have spent the better part of my adult life learning its habits. It comes sniffing and yipping up to your door begging for yummies, but if you offer it the wrong treat, it will turn on you.

“For a while I didn’t think anyone loved me, really. This year I got three nice spots. Hosting the Grammy Awards. That was nice musician honors his peers. Then the Lew Grade special that was also nice. Now Sean, and they ’re being very nice about this, too. I don’t want to blow it. I just wish I had more of it, but that I can’t have unless I have something to say, which I don’t.”

“How about ’father and son seen in park, ’ that sort of thing?”

“Not wise, wizard. First of all, that sort of thing doesn’t work for someone in my position. The public expects me to be doing something and strolling with the baby, playing family man, isn’t something. Even if they did take the copy, it is really more Sean’s press than mine. There’s going to be enough competition later on. We don’t have to rush it.

“Look at these.” He waved the clippings. “I mean, it’s great that the press beast loves the baby, but I used to be in the papers every day. Now, three shots in a year. I feel as though the factory closed and I got laid off.”

“Do I detect a note of jealousy?”

“You detect a whole symphony of it, Charles. Look at this one, the whole story of how Sean’s birth saved John from deportation. The government gives me a break because the wife’s knocked up. That doesn’t sound like I played a very important role, does it? Whatever whoever was going to say about the album got swallowed up by the baby, and perhaps that’s just as well.”

Just two weeks after Sean’s birth, John had released his album Shaved Fish. The public response to it had been cool. Placed on the market with minimal promotional support, Shaved Fish was not selling well, as the all-important first month’s sales receipts showed. For the press, the story of Sean was better copy.

“There’ll be no hits this year,” John continued sadly. “I’m lucky the press beast didn’t start howling, ’Lennon’s had it. ’ Lucky for me I can still make babies. Maybe I should do it again.”

“I don’t think that’s really the best idea.” “Neither do I, actually.” He paused, looking back to his collection of clippings. “Can you see it? Sean’s first long pants. Sean in school. Sean will be so famous no one will remember who his father was.”

“That’s a little hard to believe.”

“Wait and see. The press beast is a weird critter and the public loves babies.” He paused resentfully. “When Julian was born, all they loved was me.”

Poor Sean, I thought.

A compelling view from a unique perspective on a rock music icon and the absurdities that surround him.

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