The joys of putting a book together. Not so secret. Find your subject and allow them to trust you. Such is the case of June Furlong, the life model who posed for John and Stuart at the Art Institute. Her stories about teaching the good friends were wonderful. But sometimes, during an interview, you never know what you’re going to get.
June was a mere 12 years old during the bombings of Liverpool. Her stories of terror during the bombing raids helped me paint a portrait of wartime Liverpool.
Here’s an excerpt.
June Furlong tried to live with the darkness of war. She would later make history posing for a young art student who would achieve undying fame long after his heart stopped beating. She was ten years old when the bombs start- ed dropping.
“We would sit around the table during the blackouts. The only illumina- tion [was from] the paint on the railings of the narrow staircase. I practiced piano in the dark, studied in the dark, sat in the dark, and heard the news that my cousin, a pilot, was shot down and killed. It was truly terrifying.”
Furlong still shudders to think what else could have happened. Recalling the fright, she talks of one fateful night. “An incendiary device came crash- ing through the roof,” she tells me.
She remembers the moment, her eyebrows arching, her face still showing the pain of the memory, sixty years later. “We sat under the table in the din- ing room. As the house shook, so did my body. It was so bloody frighten- ing.”
When the bombers stopped, even before the war ended, Furlong and her generation remembered the way it hardened the souls, and brought people together.
Furlong, who would play a role in the education of John Winston Lennon, is a woman of great enthusiasm, and has an undying love for her city. Her lips widen, her eyes glow, her voice becomes high-pitched and cheerful as she talks about the suddenly unchained people of her city and their ultimately positive reaction to the war.
“It [brought out] the best in people. People who didn’t talk for years start- ed talking. Friendship and dependency in war was second to none. We had street parties, jellies [candies], and parades. They were filled with music.”
What wonderful quotes from the mature June Furlong, who shared her story with me over tea in the lobby of a Liverpool cinema.
The research for this book lasted three years. The hardest interview to get was Julia Baird, John’s sister. She was reluctant. She wanted to make sure that their mother got the credit she deserved for helping John. She was disturbed that her Aunt Mimi was getting all the credit for John’s success. In her view, history has not served her mother well.
Mimi had conjured up a story that my mother had moved into a house with my father [Dykins] and two children, my sister and I, alluding that he was our father and she was not our real mother.
John is John. John is a world icon. People will be wanting to know about John when we’re long dead. I don’t want my mother to have never been in the story.
The family story came apart when mother Julia, leaving Mimi’s house after tea, crossed Menlove Avenue and was struck and killed by a car driven by an area constable. It was July 15, 1958. John was seventeen years old, and his music was beginning to enter the magical phase. It was a loss that brought fits of rage, nightmares, and anger to John for the rest of his life.
Julia Baird, at the time shell-shocked, devastated by the loss of her moth- er, remembers how John tried to hide his tears.
“He was so ripped apart. He tried to hide his pain, but he had a lot of it, and it didn’t go away . . . not ever, especially when it came to her.”
Nigel Walley, an original member of the Quarrymen, and later manager of the group, had left Julia Lennon at a bus stop near her home. He was the last person to see her before the fatal accident.
“John could hardly face the funeral,” Walley recalled. “John didn’t want anyone to see him crying. For many months after her death he wore black in her memory.”
John, like Paul, who also lost his mother in his teenage years, may have never recovered. It was a big hole in his life, but he rarely talked about it.
On the Beatles’ chartered Electra airplane in August 1964, John Lennon had heard that my mother had just died. He found out from Paul McCartney, who was sharing thoughts with me on losing a parent.
“How are you, Lawrence [my birth name is Larry but he liked to call me that]? How are you doing?” John asked.
“Okay,” I said, the memories still lingering then after my mom’s death at the age of forty.
“Well, it’s hard. I know. My mum was killed in our neighborhood.” He explained the accident, the feeling of loss. It was comforting.