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IMAGE: Nowhere Boy
The Weinstein Company
Aaron Johnson, who starred in "Kick-Ass," plays musician John Lennon in "Nowhere Boy." Lennon certainly earns a generous share of attention, but does this mean he is the most interesting of the Fab Four?
By
TODAY contributor
updated 9/27/2010 3:01:53 PM ET 2010-09-27T19:01:53

John Lennon was born on Oct. 9, 1940, in Liverpool, England. To celebrate the 70th birthday of the late Beatle, events will be held all around the world, from a party at Radio City Music Hall, to reissues of his recordings, to the burying of three time capsules containing his work, to a Liverpool celebration featuring Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne.

One day before his birthday, on Oct. 8, the film “Nowhere Boy,” which recounts the early years of Lennon’s life, will get its theatrical release in the U.S. The film has already played in theaters in the United Kingdom and at film festivals to generally positive reviews.

As Beatles aficionados know, each member of the Fab Four had a distinct identity: Paul was the cute one, George was the quiet one, Ringo was the funny one and John was the smart one. Of course, you can certainly find disagreement among the legions of Beatles fans, even today, who believe at various times the guys all were cute, quiet, funny and smart, depending on circumstances.

Slideshow: Music biopics hit all the right notes (on this page)
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But which Beatle was the most interesting? That, too, is hotly subjective. Yet the fact that a feature film was made that examines the young life of Lennon suggests there may be more fascination with the man who essentially gave birth to pop music’s most popular band than there is in the other three.

“As an artist, John had an interesting and cynical way of viewing the world,” said Andy Babiuk, bass player for the band The Chesterfield Kings as well as an author, whose “Beatles Gear” — the definitive study of the band’s instruments and equipment, containing reams of behind-the-scenes information — is out in a new revised edition. 

Review: 'Nowhere Boy' sweetly reveals young Lennon

“Even with the ‘Daily Howl’ (the irreverent comic book Lennon wrote as a teenager), imagine a young kid doing that,” Babiuk added. “He came from an interesting perspective, the books he penned, his poems. He was cynical and funny, but he was very interested in life in general.

Video: 'Nowhere Boy': Oct. 8 (on this page)

“I think people are very drawn to John Lennon because he was a very strong, at some points a very radical guy. People are drawn to that personality.”

Standing ground against the unseen
Skidmore College music professor Gordon Thompson, author of the book, “Please Please Me,” a look at the British pop-music industry in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, said he finds the late George Harrison to be the most interesting Beatle because of his personal and creative growth and his cultural awareness.

But he recognizes the fascination with Lennon. “He definitely had an edge to his personality,” Thompson said. “Perhaps his near-sightedness contributed: Without his glasses, he had trouble reading other people’s expressions and, consequently, couldn’t always gauge their intentions. He always seemed angry at the world around him in the ’60s, but he may have simply been standing his ground against the unseen.”

Lennon was murdered by stalker Mark David Chapman on Dec. 8, 1980. Chapman is currently serving a term of 20 years to life inside the Attica Correctional Facility in New York.

John Lennon's killer also considered murdering Liz Taylor

Thompson said the tragedy of Lennon's death at the age of 40 added to the interest in his life.

“His assassination certainly has contributed to the hagiography that has developed around his story,” Thompson said. “Just as John Kennedy’s legend has grown since his assassination, Lennon’s quirks and accomplishments have been magnified in the retelling.

Video: 'Nowhere Boy': Paul's audition (on this page)

“In part, he had retired from the world in the mid-’70s, until he re-emerged during the ‘Double Fantasy’ sessions. He continued to write good songs, but public taste had moved on to punk, new wave and the jazz-rock bands like Steely Dan. The assassination deified him.”

Fans have their favorites
Fans, of course, have maintained an unwavering allegiance to the Beatles as a group, and to Lennon as an artist, activist and citizen of the earth.

Museums celebrate Lennon's life and legacy

“I love the sound of his voice,” said Carol Bertolotti of Kenilworth of N.J., a self-described lifelong Beatles fan. She admits Paul is her favorite, but she finds John the most interesting. “The songs are so musical and the lyrics so full of imagery. His stance when he played guitar, his style, his wonderful surreal humor, the charismatic wise-guy class clown.

“I love the naughty boy look on his face after the ‘rattle your jewelry’ quip at the Royal Variety Performance. I like the way he would make a song out of anything, like ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite’ taken from an old poster.”

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Bengt Warmlind of Sweden has been a Beatles fan since the first time he heard “Love Me Do” in the fall of 1962. He recently attended his 13th consecutive Beatle Week in Liverpool. He cites George as his favorite Beatle because of “his friendly way of meeting people” as well as his “humor and humbleness.”

He said John interests him simply for “the way he got people to listen to what he had to say.”

Ramann Shukla of England travels frequently to Beatles celebrations in the U.S. and the U.K. and said in his opinion, John is the most interesting because of his “leadership, vision, ambition, originality and honesty” but feels “George must be mentioned for his spirituality, religion and courage to learn from other cultures.”

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Darlene Jones of California, another frequent attendee at Beatle Week in Liverpool, is most intrigued by Paul, and noted that “the music was the best when they were all together.”

And Dennis Blair, an American living in the U.K., offered this thought about the most interesting aspect of John: “It’s purely imaginary: What would John have written in the last 30 years had he not been murdered? … How much poorer is popular music without his presence? (Of course, the same can be said of George.)”

Blair said he hasn’t yet seen “Nowhere Boy,” but hopes the filmmakers used restraint and good judgment in one particular area.

“Don’t demonize anyone in the film just for the sake of overt dramatic tension,” he said. “The story is exciting enough as is.”

Michael Ventre is a frequent contributor to TODAYshow.com.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: 'Nowhere Boy': Oct. 8

Discuss: Who's your favorite Beatle, and why?

John, Paul, George and Ringo -- the smart one, the cute one, the quiet one, and the funny one. Or were they? Make your case for the best member of the legendary band.

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Photos: Music biopics hit all the right notes

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  1. John Lennon

    Numerous films have been made about The Beatles, but 2009's "Nowhere Boy" focuses solely on John Lennon -- his youth, the creation of The Quarrymen, and how that group evolved into The Beatles. Aaron Johnson, left in photo, perhaps best known from his starring role in "Kick-Ass," plays Lennon. (The Weinstein Company/Redferns via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Joan Jett and the Runaways

    Actors love playing rock stars, and over the years, musical biopics have tackled the lives of everyone from Jim Morrison to Joan Jett. In the photo on the left, "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart (with dark hair) plays Jett and Dakota Fanning plays fellow bandmate Cherie Currie in the 2010 film "The Runaways." The photo on the right shows the real Jett and Currie. (Apparition, Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. The Notorious B.I.G.

    Jamal Woolard, left, pulled off an eerie resemblance to The Notorious B.I.G. in the 2009 film "Notorious," about the life and 1997 murder of the rapper. The murder remains unsolved. (Fox Searchlight, AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Edith Piaf

    Marion Cotillard, left, played French singer Edith Piaf, seen at right in 1948, in the 2007 film "La Vie en Rose." Lesser known in the U.S., Piaf is a national treasure in France. (Picturehouse, Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Ian Curtis

    Actor Sam Riley, top, played Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis in the 2007 movie "Control," which was based on material from a book by Curtis' widow. Health problems and a foundering marriage led Curtis to hang himself in 1980. His gravestone bears his most famous lyric, "Love will tear us apart." (The Weinstein Company, Redferns) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Bob Dylan

    Christian Bale, left, was one of several actors portraying different stages in the life of Bob Dylan in 2007's "I'm Not There." Dylan is seen at right in 1962, recording his first album. (The Weinstein Company, Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. The Supremes

    In 2006's "Dreamgirls," Anika Noni Rose, Beyonce Knowles and eventual Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson play The Dreamettes, a girl group based on numerous real groups, but most concretely upon the lives of The Supremes. Mary Wilson, Diana Ross and Cindy Birdsong of The Supremes are seen in 1968 in the bottom photo. (DreamWorks/Paramount Pictures, Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash

    Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix, top photo, won acclaim for their portrayals of June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash in 2005's "Walk the Line." The real Cashes are seen in the photo below performing for 900 inmates at Cummins Prison in Arkansas in 1969. (20th Century Fox, Arkansas Department of Corrections) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Ray Charles

    Jamie Foxx, top, won the Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal of Ray Charles in 2004's "Ray." The real Charles, shown in an undated photo below, lost his sight at age 7 but went on to become one of soul music's pioneers. In 2002, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Charles No. 2 on its list of the greatest 100 singers of all time. (Aretha Franklin was ranked first, Elvis Presley third.) (Universal, Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Bobby Darin

    Kevin Spacey, left, portrayed singer Bobby Darin, right, in the 2004 movie "Beyond the Sea." The singer was just 37 when he died in 1973 after complications from heart surgery. (Lionsgate, Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Dorothy Dandridge

    Halle Berry played the legendary singer and actress Dorothy Dandridge in 1999's "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge." Dandridge was the first African-American to be nominated for a best actress Oscar, and when Berry later won her own best actress Oscar for "Monster's Ball," she mentioned Dandridge in her acceptance speech. (Everett Collection, Time Life Pictures/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Selena

    Jennifer Lopez, left, played Tejano music star Selena Perez Quintanilla in 1997's "Selena." The real Selena, seen at right in 1995, was murdered that same year by the president of her fan club. Selena was just 23 when she died. (Warner Bros./ Everett Collection, AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Tina Turner

    Angela Bassett, left, played Tina Turner in 1993's "What's Love Got To Do With It?" Turner, seen at right in 1980, came out of semi-retirement for a 50th anniversary tour in 2008 and 2009 when she was 70. (Everett Collection, Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Jim Morrison

    Val Kilmer, left, played legendary Doors frontman Jim Morrison, seen at right in 1968, in the 1991 Oliver Stone movie "The Doors." Other actors reportedly considered for the lead role were Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and John Travolta, but legend has it Kilmer was cast after he made a video of himself performing as Morrison, and Stone couldn't tell it apart from the real thing. (TriStar Pictures/ Everett Collection, Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Jerry Lee Lewis

    Dennis Quaid, left, played rocker Jerry Lee Lewis in 1989's "Great Balls of Fire!" Lewis, seen at right in 1970, was controversial for many reasons, among them the fact that his third marriage was to his 13-year-old cousin. (Orion Pictures/ Everett Collection, Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Ritchie Valens

    Lou Diamond Phillips played rock 'n' roll pioneer Ritchie Valens in 1987's "La Bamba." Valens had only an eight-month career before dying at age 17 in the small-plane crash that also took the lives of Buddy Holly and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. (Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection, Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen

    Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb, at left, starred in 1986's "Sid and Nancy," about the lives of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, who murdered his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, in 1978. The two are pictured in the photo at right the year of the murder. (Samuel Goldwyn Company, Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Loretta Lynn

    Sissy Spacek, left, won an Academy Award for best actress for portraying Loretta Lynn in 1980's "Coal Miner's Daughter." Lynn, seen at right in the 1960s, grew up poor in backwoods Appalachia, wed at 15 and had four children by age 19, yet still went on to country music superstardom. (Universal Pictures, Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Elvis Presley

    Kurt Russell, left, played legendary rocker Elvis Presley, shown at right in an undated photo, in 1979's TV movie "Elvis." Russell has had other Elvis run-ins throughout his career. At age 11, Russell had a small part speaking to Elvis in 1963's "It Happened at the World's Fair." He played an Elvis impersonator in 2001's "3000 Miles to Graceland" and provided the voice of Elvis for a scene in 1994's "Forrest Gump." (Everett Collection, Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Buddy Holly

    Gary Busey, left, starred in 1978's "The Buddy Holly Story" and was nominated for an Oscar for the role. Holly died along with Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper in the famed 1959 plane crash immortalized as "The Day the Music Died." Holly was just 22 when he died. He had proposed to his wife on their first date and they wed less than two months later. She was newly pregnant with their child when Holly died, but later miscarried. (Everett Collection, Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Fanny Brice

    Barbra Streisand, left, starred in the 1968 film version of the musical "Funny Girl," about the life of comedian and singer Fanny Brice, seen at right in 1935 with British actor Hanley Stafford. Although Brice began her career as a singer, she is perhaps most famous for her role as the bratty toddler Baby Snooks, which explains the baby doll dresses and giant hair bow. (Columbia Tristar, Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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