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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?
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.

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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.

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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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