A few infrequent meetings were, eventually, arranged, but only after Cynthia sent Lennon stern words on his absence. Legend tells us father and son were bonding before Lennon’s death. Son says otherwise. “It was still very distant,” Julian said. “There were cuddles now and then but there was always an uneasy tension.” He would be in his 30s before he’d receive anything resembling a fair share of Lennon’s estate. Lennon said it wasn’t until he met Yoko that he saw the error of his chauvinistic ways. But they would go on to make some grave errors in judgement together. “The biggest mistake Yoko and I made in that period,” Lennon wrote in 1978, “was allowing ourselves to become influenced by the male-macho ‘serious revolutionaries,’ and their insane ideas about killing people to save them from capitalism and/or communism (depending on your point of view). We should have stuck to our own way of working for peace: bed-ins, billboards, etc.”
One such ‘serious revolutionary’ was Michael Abdul Malik. In 1972, he hacked to death two members of his commune in Trinidad and buried them in shallow graves. The self-styled black power leader, also known as Michael X, was eventually hanged for his crimes. Lennon paid his legal fees throughout the trial preceding his execution, just as he’d given Malik financial support to set up the commune at which the murders took place. It was not his only show of misguided support.
Lennon declared that, given a choice between the two, he would side with the IRA ahead of the British army. His comments came in the wake of Bloody Sunday, where 26 unarmed civil-rights protesters and bystanders were shot by British soldiers in Northern Ireland. Former M15 intelligence officer David Shayler said he’d seen files which claim Lennon went as far as to give money to the official IRA in the early 1970s. With the help of M15, the FBI kept a detailed file on Lennon. He became a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War after moving to the US in the early 1970s, and Richard Nixon was concerned his support for the Democratic Party would cost him victory in the 1972 presidential election. Nixon also believed Lennon would attempt to disrupt the Republican national convention, so he ordered a full investigation into his activities.
In total, the FBI amassed 281 pages of material on Lennon – from transcriptions of his TV appearances to information on the company he kept. When his file was released under the Freedom of Information Act – in dribs and drabs over a three-decade period – it concluded Lennon ‘does not give the impression he is a true revolutionist, since he is constantly under the influence of narcotics.’
There were many aspects of his lifestyle which ran contrary to the social insurgent he purported to be. “Remember ‘no possessions,’ John. ‘It’s easy if you try,’ ” former Beatles roadie Neil Aspinall once said to Lennon, quoting Imagine to mock the luxury he lived and the size of the entourage he kept. “It was only a bloody song,” came Lennon’s reply. “Imagine six apartments,” goes the Elton John parody of his most famous song. “It isn’t hard to do. One is full of fur coats. The other’s full of shoes.” Lennon’s father was absent most of his life. He was a good father to his second son Sean and second wife Yoko Ono. Neither facts excuse his failings with Julian and Cynthia. He was not Michael X’s only high-profile supporter – many of his peers stood behind this strange and complex character. Similarly his comments on the IRA were not unwarranted – and were bold in the climate of the time. But his financial support was beyond foolish.