Sometimes the biggest talents are the ones most lacking in confidence. Take the Beatles and John Lennon for example. They blazed a trail across the world stage between 1960 – 1970, yet for their most attention-grabbing member fame was a source of anxiety.
Speaking to 60 Minutes, Sir Paul McCartney told interviewer Sharyn Alfonsi that Lennon once confided in him over the single biggest fear he had and the doubt he was having about his public persona.
Despite being much-admired by an army of aficionados, Lennon told McCartney “I’m worried about how people are going to remember me.”
Alfonsi and viewers saw that McCartney was clearly moved by the experience, even decades on. He “recalls trying to console him by saying, ‘John, listen to me, look at me. You’re going to be remembered as one of the greatest people.’ I’m getting choked up. I said… ‘Cause you are, you’re fantastic.’”
It may sound surprising that a performer of Lennon’s stature was quite so concerned about his legacy. However for McCartney it goes with the territory.
“I think if you care about what you’re doing, if you really want to get it right, then you’ve got to deal with insecurities,” he says in the interview. “It’s what makes it right. It doesn’t matter how elevated you get or your reputation gets, you still worry about things.”
Maybe Lennon’s insecurity stemmed from his complex personality. As noted in a review of Being John Lennon: A Restless Life by Ray Connolly in The Washington Post this month, “Connolly’s account of Lennon, whom he calls ‘a labyrinth of contradictions,’ emphasizes his sardonic, rebellious, self-inventing qualities.”
Lennon was clearly looking to be more than just another rock star, as his association with Yoko Ono among other developments proved.
Connolly “recalls, for example, Lennon saying that his youthful ambition was ‘to write Alice in Wonderland and be Elvis Presley’ — as succinct and prophetic a description of the Beatles’ career as one could imagine.”
He was arguably a man of such high ambition that he would always be subject to self doubt. But he went on achieve titanic feats in rock and pop music, spanning skiffle, psychedelia and the peace movement.
One of the bedrocks of his life was his long-standing friendship with McCartney, with whom he wrote such classics as “Ticket to Ride” and “Help!” (both 1965).
Not that it was the smoothest of partnerships. Like with any creative pairing, the road could be rocky. The pair have contradicted each other over who contributed what.
And McCartney revealed to 60 Minutes that his pal wasn’t exactly generous when it came to dishing out the praise.
In contrast to McCartney’s reassurances to Lennon, Paul revealed that there was only one single occasion where Lennon praised McCartney’s songwriting prowess. The track was “Here, There & Everywhere”, as featured on the band’s Revolver album of 1966.
“That’s a really good song, lad,” Lennon reportedly said. “I love that song.”
Tragically Lennon wasn’t able to reflect too long on his contribution to global music. On December 8, 1980, at the age of just 40, he was gunned down in New York by Mark David Chapman.
As mentioned on the History.com website, “Chapman was a troubled individual who was obsessed with… various celebrities… he decided that Lennon was a phony and, while listening to Beatles tapes, Chapman decided to plan his murder.”
A request for parole, Chapman’s 10th, was refused late last year. It was a horrifying end to a successful life. That said, it hasn’t diminished the impact of Lennon’s work in the close to four decades since his assassination.
As long as family, friends like McCartney, and millions of fans are there to speak of him with love then he’ll always be remembered as one of the all time greats.