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Even John Lennon Needs A To-Do List


The same man behind these words...


JOHN LENNON: (Singing) Imagine there's no heaven.

BLOCK: ...also wrote this somewhat less inspiring message: HBO guy coming between 3 and 5, be there. That's from John Lennon's handwritten to-do list on a sheet of lined paper. It's being auctioned off on the website Gotta Have Rock and Roll. Pete Siegel is one of the site's cofounders. And, Pete, John Lennon does seem to be pretty concerned about HBO on this list.

PETE SIEGEL: Obviously, he had a little time on his hands and wanted his television. So he was waiting for the HBO guy, and hopefully, he came.

BLOCK: This is a list, I guess, to his personal assistant at the time, dated May 22nd. We don't know what year. What else is on this list? Walk us through some of the other items.

SIEGEL: Well, actually, interestingly enough, we did denote the year. It's 1980, which was probably about six months before he passed. And the way we dated it was the Margaret Trudeau book that was actually published January 1st of 1980.

BLOCK: Yeah. He's asking for that book.

SIEGEL: Right.

BLOCK: He's asking for a lot of books: the book about Thor Heyerdahl and the Hope Diamond.

SIEGEL: Correct. He was an avid reader and, you know, very intelligent man. And this is a to-do list to leave his valet to go ahead and get things done because it had to be done, like every normal person.


BLOCK: I'm intrigued by item number four, which is - it says marmalade, and then in parenthesis, enough jam for Noah's Ark already.

SIEGEL: Oh, they were big marmalade eaters, and I guess they wanted more, maybe different flavors. But, you know, again, it's a day in the life of a regular human being that needed to go ahead and have his food.

BLOCK: Do you have a favorite item on this list, Pete?

SIEGEL: Well, I really do. I like the FM radio reception. He wasn't getting good FM radio reception, and he wanted to go ahead and take care of it. So, to me, that was really important. You know, where would he be without FM radio?

BLOCK: There you go. Where did you get the list?

SIEGEL: Years ago, his valet had sold some items, and we were fortunate enough to go ahead and purchase them.

BLOCK: The valet you mentioned, this is his personal assistant, his former personal assistant Fred Seaman?

SIEGEL: Correct. Yes.

BLOCK: There's a backstory with Mr. Seaman, of course. He was convicted of stealing a lot of items from John Lennon and selling them and ultimately served five years of probation.

SIEGEL: Right. Mm-hmm. Well, they got some items back. Others, he was certainly allowed to keep. I mean, this was, I guess, his property, letters to him, you know, so we did our diligence, and we went through the lawyers at the time, and everything was OK so - but, you know, it's, like I said, it's just a great piece of history to see, you know, how somebody reacts on a day-to-day basis, and here it is.

BLOCK: OK. Pete Siegel, cofounder of the website Gotta Have Rock and Roll, which has put up John Lennon's to-do list for auction. Pete, thanks very much.

SIEGEL: Thank you.


Well, Mr. Lennon's memo got us hunting for other to-do lists.


RAZ: We found this rather short to-do list from John F. Kennedy. He wrote it during a meeting with congressional leaders back in January 1961. On his personal agenda?

BLOCK: Possibly donate his Pontiac to charity and - oh, yes - paint the Cabinet room.

RAZ: According to JFK's secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, who provided translations of his hard-to-read handwriting, the day the president walked into his office in the West Wing of the White House, it was decided the room should be repainted from a color known then as government green. Archivists at the JFK Presidential Library aren't exactly sure when the revamp happened, but by April of that year, the walls were white.

BLOCK: And finally, we add a bit of color to our list from the man in black.


JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) I fell into a burning ring of fire. I went down, down, down, and the flames went higher.

BLOCK: Johnny Cash wrote this tongue-in-cheek to-do list that we first saw on the website Letters of Note. It reads: Things to do today. One, not smoke.

RAZ: Two, kiss June.

BLOCK: Three, not kiss anyone else.

RAZ: Four, cough.

BLOCK: Five, pee.

RAZ: Six, eat.

BLOCK: Seven, not eat too much.

RAZ: Eight, worry.

BLOCK: Nine, go see Mama.

RAZ: Ten, practice piano.

BLOCK: And lastly, not write notes.

RAZ: Well, for our sake, we're glad he did and glad you've put us on your to-do list.


CASH: (Singing) I fell into a burning ring of fire. I went down, down, down, and the flames went higher, and it burns, burns, burns. The ring of fire, the ring of fire. The taste of love is sweet. When hearts like ours...

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.