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John Lennon


John Lennon Meets Paul McCartney
Quarry Men Paul McCartney (playing a right-handed guitar upside-down), Ken Brown, and John Lennon, at the Casbah Coffee Club in Liverpool.

Paul McCartney, who had been brought to see the band the Quarry Men by mutual friend Ivan Vaughan, was not only fascinated by the flashy checked shirt, strange method of playing, and ad-libbed lyrics of the

Teddy boy lead singer

, but also by the way in which he peered menacingly at the audience. John Lennon, in fact, had trouble seeing the audience; extremely nearsighted from an early age, he was reluctant to wear glasses in public. (Later, photos of bespectacled rock star Buddy Holly at least partially convinced him otherwise.)

Afterwards, while the Quarry Men -- Lennon's first band as a teenager -- were setting up their equipment for the evening dance in the church hall, Ivan introduced Paul to the band members. "John said 'hello,' but as usual he was very withdrawn," recalls friend and percussionist Pete Shotton. "He was always very suspicious of other people and wanted to make them come to him. He wasn't always outgoing as a kid, but after a few minutes of standing awkwardly and saying virtually nothing, Paul, being the exuberant type of person that he was, got his guitar out and started playing, and then he and John had this thing in common."

McCartney, in fact, managed to impress John and the rest of the group right away, by playing Eddie Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock" and Gene Vincent's "Be-Bop-A-Lula," writing down the correct lyrics to these two numbers, and then tuning the guitars of both John and Eric Griffiths. John, for his part, could never memorize the words to songs -- the first one that he learned properly was Buddy Holly's "That'll Be The Day" -- and he couldn't tune a guitar. Paul's abilities in these areas were helpful -- what's more, the new kid even looked a bit like Elvis!

"Later, John and I walked home alone," Shotton remembers, "and John said to me, 'What do you think of him?' I said 'I like him,' and he said, 'What about asking him to join the band then?' So I said 'Well, if he wants to, it's okay with me.' Okay with me! Lucky you, Paul!"

"I had a group, I was the singer and the leader," John recounted to Jann Wenner in an interview with Rolling Stone in 1970. "I met Paul and I made a decision whether to -- and he made a decision, too -- have him in the group: Was it better to have a guy who was better than the people I had in, obviously, or not? To make the group stronger or let me be stronger? That decision was to let Paul in and make the group stronger."

Bespectacled Buddy Holly, with the Crickets, Jerry Allison (top) and Joe B. Mauldin (bottom). Holly’s music influenced John tremendously.
Bespectacled Buddy Holly, with the Crickets, Jerry Allison (top) and Joe B. Mauldin (bottom). Holly’s music influenced John tremendously.

For Pete Shotton and John's other friends, playing in the band was just an enjoyable pastime. For John it was turning into a serious business. Hunter Davies's The Beatles: The Authorized Biography reports John's assertion that, "That was the day, the day that I met Paul, that it started moving."

For the first time John had a goal, some form of ambition, but in the meantime what was he going to do in order to keep the adults off his back?

Writer Philip Norman, author of Shout!, notes that John later recalled, "I was just drifting. I wouldn't study at school, and when I was put in for nine GCEs I was a hopeless failure."

The GCEs were the certificates required in each subject at the age of 16, in order for the student to move on to higher education. Five passes were needed, and in John's case none were achieved. For his Aunt Mimi Smith, who raised him, this spelled complete disaster, but the fact that John had failed every subject by just one grade demonstrated to his principal, Mr. Pobjoy, that he had the ability. All he needed to do was put forth the proper effort.

For this reason, Pobjoy put in a good report for the wayward student, helping him to enter Liverpool College of Art. This was a prospect that even John, for once, was looking forward to. Now he would just have to apply himself more seriously.

"I was disappointed at not getting art at GCE," he admitted­ later to biographer Hunter Davies, "but I'd given up. All they were interested in was neatness. I was never neat. I used to mix all the colors together. We had one question which said do a picture of 'travel.' I drew a picture of a hunchback, with warts all over him. They obviously didn't dig that."

John Lennon's individualistic pursuit of the arts had begun.