Category Archives: John Lennon

It Doesn’t Matter Who You Love or How You Love, But That You Love

John Lennon? Rod McKuen? Sally Jessy Raphael? Anonymous?

sunset09Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular meme/quotation on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr:

It matters not who you love, where you love, why you love, when you love, or how you love, it matters only that you love.

This saying is attributed to the famous musician John Lennon of the Beatles, but I have not found it in his writings or song lyrics. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that John Lennon employed the above expression. Lennon died in 1980, and the words were linked to him by 1997.

Rod McKuen was a singer-songwriter and poet who achieved a remarkable peak of popularity in the 1960s and 1970s. He performed a large number of well-attended concerts, and he often delivered an emphatic and empathetic message to his fans at the end of a show. In April 1971 “The New York Times” profiled McKuen, and reported his message which was a concise version of the saying listed above. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

He has no solutions to offer, no panaceas to propound and makes no claims to cosmic insights. “I’m not preaching. I’m just talking about the things that move me.” Still, at the end of every public appearance recently, he’s been admonishing his listeners that “it doesn’t matter who you love or how you love, but that you love.”

This, apparently, is a message a great many people want to hear, whether it’s stated directly or merely implied in the way McKuen talks or sings or writes about the things that matter most to him.

QI conjectures that the statement attributed to Lennon was derived from the words of Rod McKuen via extension and elaboration.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1971 April 4, New York Times, Says Rod McKuen: ‘It Doesn’t Matter Who You Love or How You Love, But That You Love!’ by William Murray, Start Page SM32, Quote Page SM33, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest)

Obscene and Not Heard

Groucho Marx? Ethel Barrymore? Maurice Barrymore? Paul M. Potter? Gertrude Battles Lane? John Lennon? Joe E. Lewis? Robert Heinlein? Marilyn Manson? Augustus John? Oscar Wilde?

barrymore12Dear Quote Investigator: There is well-known and often repeated admonition directed at young people who are making too much noise:

Children should be seen and not heard.

Wordplay has produced multiple quips which transform the phrase “seen and not heard” into other similar sounding statements:

Back in our day sex was obscene and not heard.
The writing was obscene but not absurd.
Graffiti should be obscene and not heard.
Women should be obscene but not heard.

Instances of these statements have been attributed to Groucho Marx, John Lennon, Ethel Barrymore, Robert Heinlein, and Oscar Wilde. Attitudes have changed over the years and some statements in this family grate on many modern ears. Would you please examine this family of adages?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in an anecdote published in a New York newspaper in 1892. The quip was spoken by Maurice Barrymore who was the patriarch of the famous theater family that included his children John, Lionel, and Ethel. A large show had recently closed, and Barrymore discussed the production with a fellow actor. He defended the risqué performances of the lead actress while mentioning the poor acoustics of the capacious venue. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Here is the latest scintillation of Barrymore’s wit. Barrymore and Wilton Lackaye were discussing Mrs. Bernard-Beere’s unfortunate engagement at the Manhattan Opera-House. Lackaye having said something about the English actress’s failure, Barrymore replied: “My dear boy, you must remember that the size of the theatre was entirely against her; it is so large that it entirely destroyed the delicacy of her art. The stage of that theatre is intended only for broad effects.”

“Well,” said Lackaye, “judging from what I have heard, the broad effects in some of her plays were marked, especially certain scenes in ‘Ariane.'”

“Oh, that’s nothing,” declared Barrymore. “On that big stage anybody can be obscene and not heard.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1892 December 12, The Evening World, Stage News and Notes, Quote Page 5, Column 3, New York, New York. (Newspapers_com)

Every Child Is an Artist. The Problem Is How to Remain an Artist Once He or She Grows Up

John Lennon? Pablo Picasso? Carleton Noyes? Percy Mackaye? Dudley Crafts Watson? Agnes Snyder? Ricky Gervais? Anonymous?

drawing09Dear Quote Investigator: When a child is supplied with paint, clay, paper, and scissors he or she will experiment and construct images and figures. The artistic impulse is strong in the early years of life, but sadly it is often attenuated as a child matures. I believe that the prominent painter Pablo Picasso and the notable musician John Lennon both made statements on this theme. Are you familiar with these quotations?

Quote Investigator: John Lennon did mention children and art during an interview in 1969. Lennon was highly critical of many aspects of society during the colloquy, and he was asked about his alternative ideas for governance. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Just the idea that the individual is capable of looking after himself, that we don’t need centralized government, that we don’t need father-figures and leaders, that every child is an artist until he’s told he’s not an artist, that every person is great until some demagogue makes him less great.

Pablo Picasso died in April 1973, and a few years later in October 1976 a quotation about childhood and art was attributed to him in the pages of “Time” magazine: 2

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.
—Picasso

This citation was the earliest linkage to Picasso known to QI; however, the statement was listed without a source or context. QI does not know where the “Time” magazine writer found the quotation. Perhaps Picasso spoke or wrote it in French or Spanish originally.

The thesis of a universal though evanescent artistic temperament in childhood has been propounded for more than one hundred years. For example, in 1907 the art critic Carleton Noyes published “The Gate of Appreciation” which contained the following passage: 3

The child is the first artist. Out of the material around him he creates a world of his own. The prototypes of the forms which he devises exist in life, but it is the thing which he himself makes that interests him, not its original in nature. His play is his expression.

But Noyes argued that the artistic instinct was usually lost as the child grew older:

Imagination surrenders to the intellect; emotion gives place to knowledge.
Gradually the material world shuts in about us until it becomes for us a hard, inert thing, and no longer a living, changing presence, instinct with infinite possibilities of experience and feeling.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1976, John Lennon: One Day at a Time: A Personal Biography of the Seventies by Anthony Fawcett, Chapter: The Peace Politician, Start Page 45, Quote Page 55, Published by Grove Press, New York. (Fawcett stated that the quotation was spoken during an interview given by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in an office at Apple Records in 1969)(Verified with scans)
  2. Date: October 4, 1976, Periodical: Time, Article: Modern Living: Ozmosis in Central Park, Note: The quotation appears as an epigraph at the beginning of the article. (Online archive of Time magazine)
  3. 1907, The Gate of Appreciation: Studies in the Relation of Art to Life by Carleton Noyes, Quote Page 29, Published by Houghton Mifflin, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

The Price of Fame Is Not Being Able to Go to the Pub for a Quiet Pint

John Lennon? Philip Norman? Bill Harry? Apocryphal?

phil07Dear Quote Investigator: Today paparazzi stalk celebrities, and gossip websites shriek about every misstep or manufactured scandal. But the struggle of living in a fishbowl is not new for well-known individuals. In the 1960s after the Beatles became famous, John Lennon reportedly feared that he would cause pandemonium if he returned to a favorite pub of his youth called “The Philharmonic” simply to have a drink with friends. These words have been attributed to Lennon:

The price of fame is not being able to go to the Phil for a quiet pint.

Did Lennon really say this? I have not been able to find any solid citations.

Quote Investigator: The earliest relevant evidence located by QI appeared in the 1981 band biography “Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation” by Philip Norman. John Lennon told one of his old friends about his desire to visit a pub according to Norman in a chapter that described events in December 1966. In the following excerpt, Brian referred to the manager of the Beatles, Brian Epstein: 1

Liverpool was one more embattled dressing room. John confided to his old Art School friend, Bill Harry, that he’d give anything to go into a pub like the Philharmonic or Ye Cracke, and stand under the chandeliers, or the Death of Nelson, just having a quiet pint.

They didn’t go to the Cavern Club, although John begged Brian to allow it. “Couldn’t we do a few numbers down there,” he pleaded, “just for old times’ sake?” Brian said that if word got out, they would be crushed to death.

The phrase “quiet pint” was used in the passage above and in the common modern quotation. Yet, Norman mentioned two pubs and did not present a direct quote. Interestingly, Norman visited this topic again in the revised 2005 edition of his book and altered some details. See the citation and excerpt given further below.

QI conjectures that Bill Harry was the source of this quote, and Harry has written extensively about the Beatles. It is possible that he presented a version in one of his books or in an interview; however, QI has not yet found it.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1981, Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation by Philip Norman, Chapter 14: December 1966, Quote Page 260, A Fireside Book: Published by Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper)

Count Your Age by Friends, Not Years. Count Your Life by Smiles, Not Tears

John Lennon? Birthday Card? Dixie Lee Crosby? Dixie Willson? Anonymous?

dixielee01Dear Quote Investigator: I am a big fan of the Beatles, and I think I have a good mental picture of my favorite band member, John Lennon. The following popular pair of statements is often credited to Lennon, but I think the attribution is false:

Count your age by friends, not years.
Count your life by smiles, not tears.

Disagreement with a friend of mine about these words has led to a social rift. The prevalence of incorrect ascriptions is irritating to me. Yet, an expression like this can have a deep emotional resonance for an individual, and skepticism about an attribution can be viewed as callous. Perhaps an exploration of this saying will help to repair our relationship.

Quote Investigator: The musician John Lennon was born in 1940. The earliest evidence of this quotation located by QI was printed in a newspaper in 1927. Hence, Lennon did not craft these two statements. They were part of a larger poem that was printed in a birthday card given to a woman in Richfield Springs, New York when she attained her ninetieth year: 1

The following quotation is taken from one of the many beautiful greeting cards:

“Count your garden by the flowers,
never by the leaves that fall;
Count your days by golden hours
don’t remember clouds at all!
Count the night by stars, not shadows
Count your life with smiles—not tears
And with joy on today’s birthday,
count your age by friends—not years!”

In 1931 a newspaper in Roswell, New Mexico published a version of the poem under the title “Count Your Blessings” without an attribution. The first four lines were identical to those given above. The end of the poem was slightly different, e.g., the mention of a birthday was omitted: 2

Count your nights by stars — not shadows;
Count your life with smiles, not tears — and with joy
Count your age by friends, not years.
–Author Unknown To Us.

In 1933 a newspaper in Anniston, Alabama printed an article titled “How ‘Count Your Garden’ Was Written”. The author of the poem was identified as Dixie Willson: 3

Into the Volland office one day came Dixie Willson. She had come to see the editor. “I’m broke,” she told the editor. “And not only broke, but I haven’t eaten in so long that the old belt won’t pull any tighter. But I can write verses. If I should write a greeting verse for you, would you buy it?” “Write it, and I’ll see what I can do,” said the editor.

The article stated that Willson wrote a verse that was accepted, and she received $5 from the editor. Willson and the editor went to dinner which she generously paid for with the money. Finis for the $5.

But it wasn’t finis for the verse: it was the beginning of an edition that has passed the half-million publication mark. For the verse that she wrote is this favorite of greeting card buyers everywhere:

Count your garden by the flowers, never by the leaves that fall;
Count your days by golden hours, don’t remember clouds at all!
Count your nights by stars—not shadows; count your life with smiles—not tears.
And with joy, on this your birthday—count your age by friends—not years.

In February 1935 an inquiry about the poem was printed in the “Queries and Answers” section of the New York Times: 4

S. H. requests the title and the name of the author of the poem which contains the following lines, possibly not quite correctly quoted:

Don’t count your troubles
By the leaves that fall.
The poem ends with these lines:
Don’t count your birthdays by the years that pass
But by the friends you have.

In March 1935 a partial answer to the inquiry was published in the “Queries and Answers” section of the New York Times: 5

The poem desired by S. H. (Feb. 3) appears as a popular birthday card and bears no author’s name.

After the remark above, the paper printed a poem very similar to the one given in the 1927 citation, and after the poem the following comment appeared:

Several readers sent these lines, but none of them was able to give the title or the author’s name. One correspondent informs us that the poem has been set to music by Harriet Ware and published by G. Schirmer, Inc.

In April 1935 a sardonic article about the greeting-card business by E. B. White was published in The New Yorker magazine. The article presented a different identity for the author of the poem: 6

Bing Crosby’s wife, Dixie Lee, is one of the people who have lived to regret the passing of the royalty system. Miss Lee, about six years ago, sold to the P. F. Volland Company the following poem:

Count your garden by the flowers,
Never by the leaves that fall,
Count your days by golden hours,
Don’t remember clouds at all;
Count your nights by stars, not shadows,
Count your life with smiles, not tears,
And with joy on this, your birthday,
Count your age by friends, not years.

The firm paid her five bucks, and she blew most of it taking one of the editors to lunch. The next few months she watched her greeting become a best-seller.

The year specified in the article for the sale of the poem was six years before 1935, i.e., in 1929, but the card was already in circulation by 1927. This slight inaccuracy does not rule out the correctness of the authorship indicated. Also, The New Yorker was once praised for the high-quality of its fact-checking.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1927 January 27, Richfield Mercury, Ninetieth Birthday Celebrated at Monticello, Quote Page 1, Column 6, Richfield Springs, New York. (Old Fulton)
  2. 1931 January 6, The Roswell Daily Record, The Social News by Grace Thorpe Bear, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Roswell, New Mexico. (Newspapers_com)
  3. Date: 1933 February 28, Newspaper: The Anniston Star, Section: Social News – Personal Mention – Women’s Clubs, Social Editor: Iva Cook, Article: How “Count Your Garden” Was Written, Quote Page 5, Column 1, Anniston, Alabama. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1935 February 3, New York Times, Section: Book Review, Queries and Answers, Quote Page BR27, Column 2, New York. (ProQuest)
  5. 1935 March 3, New York Times, Section: Book Review, Queries and Answers, Quote Page BR27, Column 3, New York, (ProQuest)
  6. 1935 April 20, The New Yorker, Onward and Upward With the Arts: Terse Verse by E. B. White, Start Page 32, Quote Page 38, F.R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Online Archive of page scans of The New Yorker; Accessed July 21 2013)

They Asked Me What I Wanted To Be When I Grew Up. I Said ‘Happy’

John Lennon? Charles M. Schulz? Goldie Hawn? Apocryphal?

goldie05Dear Quote Investigator: Did musical superstar John Lennon really tell the following story about his childhood?

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.

This tale appears on many websites, but I have never seen a pointer to an interview with Lennon or some other material supporting this account. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI has been unable to locate any substantive evidence connecting this heartfelt anecdote to John Lennon. The volunteer editors at Wikiquote relegated the passage to the “Unsourced” section of the “Discussion” page indicating that no supporting data had been discovered. 1

John Lennon died in 1980. A version of the text closely matching the words above was in circulation by November 2008 on a set of tumblrs. In the earliest matching instances found by QI the narrator was not named. Details are given further below.

Interestingly, the humorous kernel of this anecdote appeared in the very popular syndicated cartoon strip Peanuts which was written and illustrated by Charles M. Schulz. In January 1960 a strip was published showing a conversation between Charlie Brown and Linus van Pelt. In the first panel Charlie said, “Do you ever think much about the future, Linus?” In the second panel Linus replied, “Oh, yes…all the time.” Here are the final two panels: 2 3

outrageously190Great thanks to correspondent Jay Lund who told QI that he recalled reading a Peanuts cartoon on this topic in the 1960s.

The core of the anecdote was also presented as an autobiographical incident by Goldie Hawn, an Oscar winning actress and successful movie producer. In 1992 Hawn was profiled in Vanity Fair magazine, and she mentioned her response to a question about her future goals: 4

People used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I’d say ‘Happy!’ That was all I wanted to be.

In 2005 Hawn released the memoir “A Lotus Grows in the Mud” which included a vignette exhibiting several points of similarity with the anecdote under examination: 5

Happiness was always important to me. Even at the young age of eleven, it was my biggest ambition. People would ask, “Goldie, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Happy,” I would reply, looking in their eyes.

“No, no,” they’d laugh. “That’s really sweet, but I mean . . . what do you want to be? A ballerina? An actress maybe?”

“I just want to be happy.”

The quizzical adults expected young Hawn to respond with the name of a profession or career, but she answered with something she thought was much more important, her desired mental state. Thus, Hawn’s bold guileless behavior in offering the single-word response “happy” matched the core of the anecdote.

Here is one additional citation and the conclusion.

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Notes:

  1. Wikiquote website, Wikiquote webpage for John Lennon: Discussion page, Section: Unsourced, A Wikimedia Project of Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (Accessed wikiquote.org on May 28, 2013) link
  2. 1960 January 11, Reno Evening Gazette, (Peanuts Cartoon Strip), Quote Page 11 (NArch Page 3), Reno, Nevada. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1960 January 11, Press-Courier, (Peanuts Cartoon Strip), Quote Page 11, Oxnard, California. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1992 March, Vanity Fair, Solid Goldie, (Profile of Goldie Hawn), Start Page 168, Quote Page 220, Column 3, (Advance Magazine Publishers), Conde Nast Publications, New York. (Verified on paper)
  5. 2005, A Lotus Grows in the Mud by Goldie Hawn with Wendy Holden, Section: Growing Pains, Quote Page 17, G. P. Putnam’s Sons – Penguin Group, New York. (Verified on paper)

Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

John Lennon? Allen Saunders? Quin Ryan? Walter Ward? Henry Cooke? Robert Balzer? L. S. McCandless?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, a medical emergency threw all my carefully constructed plans into complete disarray. I was reminded of a remarkably astute and ruefully humorous saying credited to the musical superstar John Lennon:

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

When did he say this? Was he the first to express this idea?

Quote Investigator: John Lennon did compose a song containing this saying and released it in 1980. The song was called “Beautiful Boy” or “Darling Boy” and it was part of the album “Double Fantasy”. Lennon wrote the lyrics about his experiences with his son Sean whose mother is Yoko Ono. YouTube has a streamable version of the song, and the phrase can be heard at 2 minutes 16 seconds into the track which has a total length of 4 minutes 12 seconds. Lennon sings [BBJL]:

Before you cross the street take my hand.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

But the general expression can be traced back more than two decades before this time. The first known appearance was in an issue of Reader’s Digest magazine dated January 1957. The statement was printed together with nine other unrelated sayings in a section called “Quotable Quotes” [RDAS]:

Allen Saunders: Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.
—Publishers Syndicate

The newspaper comic strip “Steve Roper” was written by an individual named Allen Saunders and distributed by Publishers Syndicate. It is likely that the attribution above was referencing him. Saunders also worked on the strips “Mary Worth” and “Kerry Drake.” But the saying has not yet been located in any of these comics. Three important reference works list the Reader’s Digest citation to Saunders: The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs [DPAS], The Quote Verifier [QVAS], and The Yale Book of Quotations [YQAS].

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Time You Enjoy Wasting is Not Wasted Time

John Lennon? Bertrand Russell? Laurence J. Peter? Marthe Troly-Curtin?

russelllennon06Dear Quote Investigator: I like to enjoy life and sometimes I am criticized for spending too much time on amusements and diversions. My favorite response is attributed to the legendary free-spirit John Lennon:

Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

An acquaintance told me recently that the saying is actually from the brilliant philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell. It is clear that you enjoy tracing quotations, so could you please look into this one? I am certain you will not be wasting your time.

Quote Investigator: In addition to John Lennon and Bertrand Russell, the saying has been attributed to T. S. Elliot, Soren Kierkegaard, Laurence J. Peter, and others. The attribution to Russell was a mistake that was caused by the misreading of an entry in a quotation book compiled by Peter. The details of this error are given further below in this post.

The first instance of the phrase located by QI was published in 1912, a year that occurred before Laurence J. Peter and John Lennon were born. The expression appeared in the book “Phrynette Married” by Marthe Troly-Curtin. This novel was part of a series by Troly-Curtin that began with “Phrynette” in 1911. The image to the left is the frontispiece of this earlier novel. 1 An advertisement in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine grandly proclaimed that “Phrynette” was “The Most Talked-About Book in London Today” in July 1911. 2

In the following excerpt from “Phrynette Married” a character is reproved for wasting the time and energy of others: 3 4

“… Your father, for instance, don’t you think he would have done three times as much work if it had not been for your—what shall I say—’bringing up’?”
“He liked it—time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”
“Oh, but it was in his case—wasted for him and for many lovers of art.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1911, Phrynette‎ by Marthe Troly-Curtin, J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia and London. (Google Books full view) link
  2. July 1911, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Section: Lippincott’s Magazine Advertiser: [Advertisement for Phrynette by Marthe Troly-Curtin], Page not numbered, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia. (HathiTrust) link  link
  3. 1912, Phrynette Married by Marthe Troly-Curtin, Quote Page 256, Grant Richards Ltd, London; Riverside Press, Edinburgh. (Google Books snippet view) (Thanks to Eric at the Stanford University Information Center for verification of the text on paper) link
  4. 1912, Phrynette Married by Marthe Troly-Curtin, Quote Page 256, Published by The Macmillan Company of Canada, Toronto, Canada. (Note that a flaw is present in the digital image of the microfilm image of page 256; some words are repeated)(Internet Archive archive.org; digitized from University of Alberta Libraries Microfilm; accessed December 3, 2013) link