From the Sketch Pad of John Lennon's First Wife, Cynthia, Come Poignant Memories
He’d have come. Why not? He was a good fellow,” sighed Cynthia Lennon Twist, 42. She was talking about John Lennon, to whom she was once married and with whom she had a son. If Lennon were alive, Cynthia is certain he would have turned up at the Tower Gallery in Southampton, Long Island on Labor Day weekend for the first American showing of her art: 15 original drawings recalling her days with John and the Beatles. “I did them from memory,” Cynthia says. “They’re for history.”
She and John met and dated while both were students at the Liverpool College of Art. She was Cynthia Powell then, a salesman’s daughter from Hoylake, England. John frightened her because he was so antiestablishment. Then, in Cynthia’s words, “I got pregnant, we got married, the Beatles began—and we were all plunged into the whirlwind.”
In her 1978 book, A Twist of Lennon (for which she did the drawings), Cynthia admitted that she was not experimental enough for John and not really “on his wavelength.” In fact, she claimed she even took LSD with John in the desperate hope that the experience would draw them closer together. Instead, she sat paralyzed with fright while he glared at her as though she were “an intruding stranger.” Not long after that, they went to a meditation session in London which Yoko Ono also attended.
Hoping to rethink her shaky marriage, Cynthia took a holiday in Greece. Returning home, she says, she found John and Yoko—he in his dressing gown—having breakfast and perfectly at ease. According to Cynthia their only response was an offhanded “Hi.” In a daze Cynthia asked if they would like to have dinner later. When they replied, “No, thanks,” Cynthia says, she packed her belongings and fled her own house.
“I was in a state of shock that lasted three or four years,” she recalls. “I felt I had no strength to fight at all.” Her friendship with Paul, George and Ringo ended after the divorce but she claims she is not bitter. “The loyalty of the Beatles was stronger for each other than for me,” she says.
After the Beatles themselves broke up, with “everyone disappearing and going their own way,” she married Italian playboy Roberto Bassanini in 1970. That marriage failed after three years, and she eventually moved to Wales and married John Twist, an engineer and draftsman. From Lennon she had received a flat £100,000 (about $240,000) in settlement, plus “a small trust fund” for their son, Julian. She and her new husband went into the restaurant business, or as she remembers it, “I waited tables, cooked and worked from 7 each morning to 2 a.m. the next.”
Cynthia now says her treatment by John and Yoko was “unjust,” but she remains outwardly philosophical. “I’m a fatalist,” she says, insisting that she has no regrets about her eight years with a man whose music she still admires (especially the songs “Woman” and “Starting Over”). “You meet a lot of bullshitters,” she says, “but John was always straight. You knew where you stood with him at all times.” Of her successor, Cynthia remains silent, although she received a congratulatory note from Yoko before her show.
The night Lennon was murdered, Cynthia was staying with Ringo Starr’s first wife, Maureen Starkey, in London. “John was just starting to discover what it was all about,” Cynthia says, her voice trailing off. “I just can’t talk about it; it’s too much inside me.”
Recently separated from her third husband, Cynthia lives in the Welsh town of Ruthin with her 81-year-old “Mum.” Julian, now 18, studies music in London and hangs out with Ringo’s son, Zak. For the first time, Cynthia says, she feels free to indulge her own whims and desires. “All of a sudden I’d love to be a successful artist.” Her Southampton show drawings were purchased by a private collector for an undisclosed amount; she also has an offer to do lithographs for a London fine arts publisher. “The time is right for me,” she says. “It’s like, well, starting over.”