Here in the disease-ridden hellscape of 2020, much is being made of it being John Lennon’s 80th birthday. By applying a little simple math, we can see that 50 years ago John would have been turning 30.

This was a bigger deal in 1970, I think, than it would be now. Back then you weren’t supposed to trust anyone over 30 (as opposed to now, when you just plain can’t trust anybody), so it was a big rubicon to cross. And if that wasn’t stressful enough, John spent the afternoon with his father Alfred, known alternately as Alf and Freddie.

Their relationship was fraught, to say the least. When John was 5, his dad had tried to kidnap him to New Zealand. If he’d succeeded, I wouldn’t be writing this now. (Or maybe I’d be writing about the 80th birthday of a still-living beloved Kiwi; who knows.)

At one point John was asked to choose between his parents, a trauma which no doubt featured in the therapeutic screaming he was doing during this period. Legend has it that he chose his father, but that when his mother started to walk away, John followed her.

After that Alf drifted out of John’s life until 1966, when he reappeared to reconcile with/take advantage of his famous son. John was suspicious, but over time the old man charmed him. By 1969 — by which time Alf had traded on his name to make a record and convince a 19-year-old girl to marry him — their relationship was close enough that John allowed the newlyweds to stay with him.

But by 1970 something had changed. When they met today, says The Beatles Bible, “the encounter was not a success, and Lennon launched into a tirade against his father.” In Lennon pere’s account,

His voice rose to a scream as he likened himself to Jimi Hendrix and other pop stars who had recently departed from the scene, ending in a crescendo as he admitted he was ‘Bloody mad, insane’ and due for an early demise. It seemed he had gone to America, at great expense to have some kind of treatment through drugs, which enabled one to go back and relive from early childhood the happenings, which in his own case, he should have been happier to forget. I was now listening to the result of this treatment as he reviled his dead mother in unspeakable terms, referring, also, to the aunt who had brought him up, in similar derogatory terms, as well as one or two of his closest friends….

His countenance was frightful to behold, as he explained in detail, how I would be carried out to sea and dumped, “twenty – fifty – or perhaps you would prefer a hundred fathoms deep.”

It was the last time they saw each other.

Later in the day, John headed to EMI Studios, where he worked on “Remember” with Klaus Voormann and Ringo. George Harrison turned up and gave John a plastic flower; Yoko had gifted him with a “sensory box.” According to EMI engineer Andy Stephens, who was there that day, “It was about twice the size of a shoebox, with lots of holes in it. You had to put your finger in — one hole would be warm and mushy, one would be wet, one would have a pin in it.”

TBB says that “one of the outtakes from the session has Lennon singing ‘Happy birthday… to me…’ to the tune of Remember.” Sadly, I have been unable to find this item; let me know if you run across it.

What I could find was Janis Joplin’s birthday message to John from that year. It’s not the same, I know, but it’s something:

Happy Birthday, John. Happy Birthday, Sean (D.O.B. 10/9/1975). And to the rest of you, happy Friday, and happy whatever else you can figure out to be happy about. If it’s anything good, let me know.

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