The Spirit of John Lennon

Instant Karma’s Gonna Get You! The John Lennon Séance

When John Lennon was fatally shot outside of his New York residence on 8th December 1980, a generation mourned the loss of a pop culture legend. Fans of Lennon and The Beatles sank into a deep period of mourning, heartbroken that their idol had been cut down in his prime. The death of Lennon signalled the end of an era, and the end of John Lennon’s musical output, this side of life at least.

Following his death and outpourings of public grief, rumours began to circulate of Lennon’s survival, that his death was little more than a means for him to escape fame. Others believed that Lennon’s spirit was too strong to kill, and lingered among us, inspiring fans and musicians worldwide with melodies and messages of peace.

Much like Elvis before him, celebrity deaths breed conspiracies, and conspiracies breed media. For every after-death Lennon sighting, there is an associated book, tape or record. And in the age of pay-per-view and affordable physical media, there’s a séance too.

For a brief few years in the early to mid 2000s, the lucrative world of pay-per-view television expanded into more supernatural realms. Originating with The Spirit of Diana in 2003 – a critically panned but financially lucrative Princess Diana séance – production company Starcast were keen to take a bite of the same spectral cherry. For just $9.95, viewers of the US-based, now-defunct ‘In Demand’ Pay-TV service could tune in for a 90 minute romp through John Lennon’s life in Liverpool and his afterlife in…several countries, if the mediums are to be believed.

The Spirit of John Lennon would be one of Starcast’s final releases, premiering in the same year as their ‘The Real Pirates of the Caribbean’ and ‘666 Revealed’ low-budget documentaries. While The Spirit of Diana was rumoured to have earned Retro Multimedia close to $8 million[1], the same successes were not to be replicated with Liverpool’s finest, with the production company folding shortly after release.

Prior to the programme’s debut (and subsequent DVD release), attitudes towards the séance were clear. Made without the knowledge or permission of the Lennon estate, Yoko Ono declined to comment, whereas Lennon’s friend and family spokesman Elliot Mintz went on record, calling the séance ‘tacky, exploitative and far removed’ from Lennon’s morals or lifestyle, ‘A pay-per-view séance was never his style’.[2]

The DVD release of The Spirit of John Lennon makes this abundantly clear, with the phrase ‘Not authorised by or connected to the estate of John Lennon’ emblazoned almost as boldly as the title itself. But like every glittery Elvis handbag in a seaside gift shop, licencing doesn’t matter when you can corner a niche market and shift half a dozen DVDs at a tenner a pop.

Leading the publicity drive for the séance was the promise of a shocking EVP (electronic voice phenomena) recording, purportedly capturing the voice of Lennon himself and his message for the world from beyond the grave. But before that, came a series of documentary segments and visits to places connected with Lennon; from Liverpool to New York and into the Himalayas. These segments were largely showing efforts to pick up on any residual spiritual energy of Lennon’s, but also to fill the time slot. While talk of the afterlife may be enticing in short bursts, feature-length séances take a LOT of padding.

The Spirit of John Lennon was a true ensemble piece, featuring a British trance medium, ‘close friends’ and colleagues of Lennon’s, an Indian mystic and a spirit channeller who would be a familiar face to viewers of the aforementioned Diana debacle.

To justify Lennon’s assumed spiritual compliance in the séance, his interest in the paranormal is stretched and pulled from hearsay and album lyrics. Not only was Lennon rumoured to have taken part in a séance to contact former residents of his apartment building, but refers to a UFO sighting referenced in the lyrics of Lennon’s ‘Bridges and Walls’ album; presented as sure-fire proof that Lennon would approve. Such tenuous links are tugged and drawn throughout the séance, ultimately weaving themselves into an enormous, baffling tapestry.

Opening proceedings was an introduction to our primary medium of the documentary, Liverpool-based Joe Power. Medium Power gained both fans and infamy in the 2000s, when he was celebrated for his abilities on many international TV spots, but presented rather differently in Channel 4’s ‘Derren Brown Investigates’ (2010) where his title as ‘The Man who Contacts the Dead’ was significantly called into question.

Presented as being of official assistance in ongoing murder cases, female victims are name-checked as handy, inhuman reference points in Power’s psychic CV. As amusing and compelling as celebrity seances can be, sudden moments of stark clarity can’t help but hammer home the exploitative and dehumanising nature of some mediumistic practises.

Ethics have no place in The Spirit of John Lennon, and enjoyment can once again be found in the awkward and less-than-mystical interactions during Power’s time in Liverpool and New York. During Power’s Liverpool tour, he visits such gloriously mundane Beatles-related sites as Tony Slavin’s Hairdressers which “actually feels quite mystical” and may have signed photographs hidden in the false roof. Most dramatically of all, he reveals to the upstairs tenants that “a tap keeps dripping”, leading to the interaction “Does the toilet not work?”. “It never used to, but it does now.”

When led to the new Cavern Club (the original having closed in 1973), spirits are close by as Power can ‘hear the bands playing here going right back to the 1960s’ and has John whispering the name of famous 60s rock n roll star ‘Eddie Cochran’ in his ear – information presented as further proof of Lennon’s presence and Power’s psychic credentials. Similar revelations can be found at Lennon’s former Quarrybank school where spirits revealed that this was where The Beatles found their first name, ‘The Quarrymen’ (A fact that remains unavoidable in most pub quizzes.)

In a more unusual turn of events, the documentary team (sans Joe Power) took to India, the spiritual home of The Beatles in the late-1960s. Leaning on the band’s interest in transcendental meditation, we’re introduced to the most interesting figure in the whole documentary, and arguably the most interesting figure in any discussions. In a small village, high in the Himalayas, lives a guru who ‘hears John Lennon’s music from the spirit world.’

Through a process of meditation and channelling, the medium performs a cheerful melody on the sitar – directly from Lennon’s spiritual consciousness – before stopping to set the piece to lyrics. While this involves a lot of scribbling and crossing-out in Hindi, once the process was complete, the full package was translated and packed off to LA. The resulting re-recorded song – produced in a style similar to Lennon’s – was to be the huge, musical carrot, dangled at the end of the production. Truly, the pay-off from this self-described ‘landmark’ experiment.

Taking to New York, Joe Power soon found himself spiritually crowded in a horse-drawn carriage. Trotting through Central Park, Power appears somewhat like a psychic Cinderella, navigating John’s happy history in the city, but also the spirits sharing his seat.

The ghosts of both John Lennon and George Harrison are keen to hitch a ride, but continue to offer little insight, at least until our tour reaches The Dakota. The towering apartment complex was to play the scene for John Lennon’s assassination at the age of 40. Standing outside the Dakota, Power re-lives Lennon’s last moments with discomforting ambivalence. Repeating “I’ve been shot, I’ve been shot”, city commuters pass by, unperturbed by another film crew on their streets.

The first of two séances takes place in Café La Fortuna, a restaurant in which Lennon spent many happy evenings. His friendship with owner Vincent Urwand is well documented, and to have him present at the back-room séance is one of the show’s true mysteries. Vincent proves to be tolerant but steadfast throughout, giving Power no slack or positive indications, despite being told that John is patting him on the back and that he’s had ear problems recently. Vincent barely missed a beat before saying that he’d had many health problems, but his ears were one of the few healthy parts of him.

The remainder of the séance continued this path of mundanity, interspersed with cringeworthy questions about hospital appointments, jukeboxes, flooring and leaking sinks. Having mentioned a leaking tap in Lennon’s hairdressers, one has to wonder if the former Beatle has retrained as a plumber in the afterlife.

As the séance is brought to a close, Lennon promptly addresses the lack of a Beatles reunion, (“it wasn’t meant to be”), advice to new generations, (“know that the world is in pain…children, the people of Africa, the famine people.”) and whether his music or messages of peace should be his legacy (“Peace and music. Music is peace. Murder is senseless.”).

As the grand denouement of the Café La Fortuna séance, a microphone glitch and mumble is enhanced to reveal an EVP within the static. Lennon’s voice from beyond the grave gives the production, and the audience his lasting message… “Peace…the message is peace.” It goes without saying that the EVP isn’t the clearest of speech patterns and required a hefty level of enhancement and suggestion to make the suggestions meet the static, but at this stage of the séance, we’d all do well to take this ‘evidence’ and run.

While Power’s time in the limelight fades in New York, another channeller is poised to pick up the ghostly baton. Patricia Bankins, a ‘born intuitive’ and ‘trance channel’ offers a different method of spirit contact, whereby her own soul leaves her body and her spirit guide, Saint Germain, takes her place. Joined by other media personalities and tenuous Lennon associates, she succeeds in heightening the sheer absurdity of the evening with St Germain’s arresting part-German, part-Indian accent and unsettling facial tics.

Despite being centuries old, and with a far greater spiritual fluency than most, both he and Patricia fail to convey any real insight from the great hereafter. Reporting on his experience of heaven, Lennon – speaking to St Germain, who then conveyed the message, like a long game of telephone – revealed that “It is whatever you want to make it. It is what you imagine.” With Patricia/Germain’s mention of ‘imagine’, there’s a certain inadvertent excitement – a novelty, miniature celebration of shared madness that could induce one to cheer, or mix a stronger drink.

The inevitable denouement of The Spirit of John Lennon is the revealing of John’s heavenly new song. Decades after his untimely death, has John Lennon’s song writing prowess survived, nay developed through spiritual enlightenment? In short, no. What rings out over a Beatles montage and welcome credit sequence is something of an inoffensive middle-of-the-road melody with offensively bland lyrics. Admittedly, ‘Imagine’ is effective in its simplicity, but has arguably more nuance and effectivity than John’s ghostly couplets of “everyone lives, everyone dies, everyone loves, everyone cries.” While a noble task in theory, and an important one in the history of both pop culture and popular spirituality, the guru’s channelled song, ‘Peace’, is rather more of an album track than a single.

While The Spirit of John Lennon made few shockwaves in the world of Beatles fans, paranormal enthusiasts or subscribers of Pay-per-view content, its place in the history of spiritualism and celebrity-worship is secured. Para-social relationships are an inherent part of the celebrity/consumer cycle, but clearly do not finish at the point of death, merely transforming and elevating, where projections of ideas and our senses of self can be projected onto a heavenly blank slate. When mediums are said to have made contact with deceased celebrities, regardless of one’s belief in the supernatural, one has to wonder how much of the medium’s creative sense of self is performed through their mediumship. Are celebrity seances such as this little more than karaoke evenings?

The ethical dilemmas of public figures becoming commodities, and subjects of common or public ownership, are none more obvious that in instances of celebrity spirit contact such as this. Through fame or success, they relinquish their humanity and become a product to exploit and mimic.

As awkward and gimmicky as The Spirit of John Lennon is, the subject was still a living man, husband and father, and someone whose death was played out on television by a stranger who claimed to have shaken him from heaven. Its little wonder that the project was a financial failure, but the format has yet to die. With each fresh celebrity death, one only needs to hop onto an internet livestream to find a gaggle of psychics and investigators, each more keen than the last to be the first to make contact. Whether contacting family or celebrities, public mediumship continues to pose uncomfortable questions, ones that cannot be answered by faith or rationality alone.

However, if The Spirit of John Lennon is anything to go by, we can only hope that there’s no recording studios in the afterlife. Spare us.

The Spirit of John Lennon
Famed psychics from around the world gather together and contact musical genius, John Lennon. Their attempts culminated in a spine tingling seance held after they each separately sought out Lennon’s spirit in different sites significant to the former Beatle.

Related: Enjoyed this article? Check out ‘The Michael Jackson Séance‘ as Kate Cherrell remembers one of the most controversial paranormal TV shows ever broadcast!

[1] Wall street Journal ‘Instant Karma? TV Channels John Lennon’s Ghost’ 19/4/2006, Brooks Barnes

[2] NY Times. Arts, Briefly. 26/4/2006, Lawrence Van Gelder.

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