Searching for a Lost Soul
On a summer morning in May 1971 a homeless American arrived at the gates of John Lennon’s Ascot home while the Beatle was recording his 2nd solo album Imagine.
This is the story about one man’s quest for meaning, what brought him to that moment and where it would lead him.
This is his story…
by Gavin Munro
Before you cross the street, take my hand
from Beautiful Boy by John Lennon 1980
Cesare Curtis Claudio was born on the 28th August 1948.
"Cesare" was a difficult name for a child, no matter how it was pronounced, so he always went by Curt.
Curt’s grandparents were Italian immigrants that moved to America around 1910 where they eventually settled in San Francisco and became naturalized citizens. His father was born in 1914 in Victoria, British Colombia.
Curt’s parents (Cesare & Martha) were both musical, like his father before him Cesare was a classically trained musician and achieved great success in playing the cello, winning a scholarship to study at the St Cecilia Academy in Rome just before the second world war.
The growing unrest in Europe forced Cesare to leave Italy and abandon his studies but on his return he earned a seat in the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
He was soon drafted into the army and served in North Africa, once discharged he returned to playing back in the orchestra in San Francisco. Cesare enrolled into University of California at Berkley where he would meet fellow student Martha Curtis.
Martha and Cesare married in 1946, in the first few years of marriage the couple had 2 children
"Our first son was Ernest and our second was Cesare Curtis Claudio."
Curt was brought up in Fremont California through the 1950s and 1960s. He was the younger brother of Ernie and the older brother of Dayton, Victor and sister Antonia (Toni).
Dayton recalls some early childhood memories.
"He was real fun loving and mischievous and always had a glint in his eye and a smile on his face."
"He was interested in model airplanes, they were called free flights, before remote control came along. We’d go into the fields of Fremont, right where Tesla now have their factories.
You put gas into the engine which would power the engine for 3 minutes, and try and throw it as high as you could and the engine would cut out and it’d glide down.
Curt would try and get it to fly for as long as he could. One time he threw it and the plane caught a thermal and we ran through the field after it and all of a sudden it flew right out of sight and we lost it but Curt was delighted! It was a successful flight because it’d flown away.'’
from Working Class Hero by John Lennon 1970
His brother Dayton describes his high school years (1962-1966)?
" He was pretty much a straight A student, he didn’t have to try too hard, popular with the girls. Before he left the house to go to school he’d be smiling all the time, great sense of humor and just enjoyed having fun
He was a huge Beatles and had to have their latest records. He was also in a garage band around this time, he played the trumpet!"
Things changed when Curt earned a scholarship for University of California in Davis, California (1967?).
"Drugs were everywhere, when I was in middle school there were kids there that were doing serious drugs.
Acid was the big thing, I know Curt got into that and the psychedelics back then were pretty heavy duty."
Dayton recalls visiting Curt ...
"It was a big thing for me to see my big brother at college. But it was around the time he was getting into drugs and everything changed."
His mother Martha, takes up the story:
"Curt was a good student with a pleasant, outgoing personality, and was enrolled at U. C. Davis when Timothy Leary came out with his endorsement of LSD, and the invitation to "Tune In, Turn On, and Drop Out", which Curt did, and you could say that this was the end of his life as a functioning human being."
Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream
from Tomorrow Never Knows by John Lennon 1965
Timothy Leary was an American psychologist and writer and was a big advocate of acid back in the late sixties and was present at the recording of Give Peace A Chance, he seemed to legitimize and intellectualize LSD for the youth.
His philosophy of ‘Tune in, Turn on, Drop out’ struck a note with many of the younger generation that felt the decisions of authority at the time were not to be followed.
Leary advocated the ‘intelligent use of drugs,’ and rallied against the ‘thoughtless use of them’. He was a powerful speaker with provocative and controversial rhetoric.
Then in 1965 the biggest band in the world started to listen to him...
No one I think is in my tree
from Strawberry Fields Forever by John Lennon 1966
In Spring 1965 John Lennon took LSD for the first time, it was without consent and ended with bizarre consequences:
"A dentist in London [John Riley] laid it on George, me, and our wives without telling us at a dinner party, and he just put it in our coffee. He was advising us not to leave him, we all thought he was inviting us to an orgy or something.
It was insane, we were in a lift and we thought it was on fire and we were all screaming, it was just a red light! George managed to drive us home at like 10 miles an hour and it felt like a thousand...
God it was just terrifying, but it was fantastic!"
Paul McCartney was more cautious of the long term effects of the drug and resisted until December 1965
At an Eaton Row house in London, Tara Browne (heire to the Guinness fortune) suggested they all take LSD. McCartney was unsure, having never before tried the drug:
'I was more ready for the drink or a little bit of pot or something. I’d not wanted to do it, I’d held off like a lot of people were trying to, but there was massive peer pressure.
And within a band, it’s more than peer pressure, it’s fear pressure. It becomes trebled, more than just your mates, it’s, ‘Hey, man, this whole band’s had acid, why are you holding out? What’s the reason, what is it about you?’
So I knew I would have to out of peer pressure alone. And that night I thought, well, this is as good a time as any, so I said, ‘Go on then, fine.’ So we all did it.'
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
God is a concept by which we measure our pain
from 'God' by John Lennon
The acid that Curt was taking seems to have given him a God-complex at times.
Dayton recalls a light hearted moment from a family dinner where the whole family was sat around the table and heated debate started about politics, like all family table discussions they could be equally tedious and engaging.
"At one point Curt’s head dropped to the table and he acted like he’d fallen asleep". The debate escalated until dad, in frustration, yelled "Jesus Christ!" to which Curt lifted his head and questioned "Yes?", it cracked us all up!"
Martha explains "During his acid trips he said he had seen God, so I guess it was natural for him to consider himself Jesus Christ incarnate."
Say The Word And You’ll Be Free
from The Word by John Lennon/Paul McCartney 1965
Curt’s Love of The Beatles
"Curt talked a lot about The Beatles, he was a huge fan, every time a new album came out he’d rush out to get it.’ Dayton says ‘He would fixate on songs and particular lyrics in the songs."
In 1970 John Lennon wrote the song God in which he cast aside all the belief he had in religion and culture to make way for his love for Yoko.
In some ways it was advice for his fans not to believe the mystery on The Beatles and move on. ‘I was the dream weaver but now I’m reborn, I was the walrus, but now I’m John’ was a couplet that seemed to say ‘I’m no longer your idol, I’m just a guy’.
When Curt got more heavily into acid he found more profound meanings in the songs. When he met Lennon he quoted 2 song lyrics by The Beatles, the first was 'You're gonna carry that wait a log while' which appeared on the Abbey Road album of 1970. The second was 'You can penetrate any place you go' from the song Dig A Pony.
He started to believe the authors of these lyrics were magical and they were trying to tell him something.
His friend, Sandra Cates says that Curt opened up to her in the 1970s about his meeting with Lennon
"I don't think he knew they filmed him and when I saw Imagine years later.
I had to chuckle when John is explaining to Curt that he wasn't talking to him personally in the lyrics."
I'm just a child of nature
Child of Nature by John Lennon 1968
Curt was an all or nothing kind of guy, if there was something worth doing it was worth throwing everything into it.
‘He was hedonistic in a sense but would always have a big smile and that look in his eye that was like “I got this!” Dayton says
"The thing I remember about Curt is that he wasn’t a ‘follower’, there was no way he’d be joining a cult, he was confident, independent and no matter what he was doing like joining a garage band or taking drugs he always had the intelligence about him that made me feel he was in control.
So when I saw the video of the meeting with Lennon years later I thought he was in a different place, I didn’t recognize him. It just wasn’t him"
After college in 1968 (CHECK YEAR????) Curt adopted a vagabond type of lifestyle, he travelled around the state doing odd jobs and went from the college student into the serious hippy.
His mother lived on Coelho Street in Fremont and father Cesare lived a block away, Curt would use this home as his mailing address and would visit from time to time but he was couch surfing around friends with his new found bohemian lifestyle. Dayton was staying with his father at this point.
Dayton recalls a visible difference in Curt’s appearance one time he returned to Fremont ‘
"He been staying in the foothills of San Jose and he came back and he must’ve weighed 100lbs.
He’d been hiking in the mountains probably doing drugs and in search of something. When he came back he said he’d had visions..... and he was emaciated."
MIND altertering effects of a CULTERe altering drug
I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier Mama
by John Lennon 1970
Much has been said about Curt being a Vietnam veteran and returning with PTSD and being admitted to a mental hospital, this appears not to be true. Both friends and family have refuted this claim.
His mother confirmed this ‘Curt had a high daft number so was never called up. He did not serve in the Armed Forces.’
Brothers Ernie and Dayton also deny he was ever in the military. ‘Curt was never in the military, he had a knee injury so his draft code was F.
There’s some 2 reasonable explanations as to why this story became popular. The first is Curt’s mental state when he was discovered by Lennon’s staff in the grounds of Tittenhurst Park in June 1971. Dan Richter said that he and Lennon were convinced Curt was a Vietnam veteran and thought his appearance on film would further their anti-war cause by showing the devastating effects war had on young soldiers. It doesn’t appear anyone in the Lennon camp checked for Curtis’ military record but it wouldn’t be too outlandish to presume that in 1971.
The war between the US and Vietnam lasted 20 years (1 November 1955 – 30 April 1975). It had started when Curt was 7 years old and didn’t finish until he was 27.
Many young American soldiers that came back showed signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or ‘Shellshock’ as it was known at the time. Curt’s brother Ernie confirms he was never conscripted
‘‘Curt was never in the military. He was a straight “A” student in high school and earned a scholarship to the University of California in Davis, California’… Then he started using drugs and dropped out of school.’
The other reason that this rumor may have been fueled when the internet arrived is because of an obituary for a ‘Cesare Claudio’ which states ‘he played until he was drafted into the Army’.
Cesare Claudio was Claudios father. When Europe fell under the wrath of the Nazis Cesare was called up to serve in North Africa. This reason has been mistakingly propagated on the internet to back up the ‘veteran story’ of Curt. 209
The Mental Hospital thesis could also have come from the awareness of these types of institutions in the culture of the day. Although the film One Few Over The Cuckoos Nest was not released until 1975, the novel was released in 1962 and first adapted into a stage play in 1963. In the 1971 there was an off-Broadway production of the play and this could have well been in the minds of the Lennon camp at the time.
The truth seems to be much different. Many of Curt’s school mates would be drafted to Vietnam and come back with horror stories of their experience. Dayton told me ‘Friends of Curt would come back from Vietnam and they were changed people and they would say “get into college, stay in college, don’t go to Vietnam.” It was an incredibly unpopular war’.
‘Anyway, Curt wasn’t eligible for the draft, he was classified as 4F because of a bad knee.’
At Tittenhurst Park in May 1971 John began recording a new song ‘I Don’t Wanna be a soldier’ about the growing disapproval to the war in Vietnam. (QUOTE FROM LENNON ABOUT YOUNG AMERICAN SOLDIERS GOING TO VIETNAM TO DIE).
Claudio’s sister studied at UC Berkley, where a lot of anti-war protests were happening. ‘She’d be walking around the campus through clouds of tear gas’ says Dayton ‘Everything was volatile back then’. Claudio’s older brother Ernie did military service but after some wise words from his football coach joined the Navy reserves in the Navy on supply delivery to avoid the first conflict.’ (ERNIE'S MEMORIES OF BEING ON THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER)
After Curt’s father retired his family moved to Chico, north of San Francisco and bought some bare ground in Glenn County, where, with the help of his sons, he cleared and leveled the land, installed in irrigation system, and planted it in olives. Curt’s brother also confirms this ‘He spent most of his life working on farms.’’
War is Over (If You Want It)
In 1963 just months before The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan the US had 16,000 troops based in Vietnam by 1969 it was 500,000.
John & Yoko were pillared and humiliated by the press in the late 60s when they started a campaign to promote the most basic of human rights, the right of peace. John was ridiculed, Yoko vilified and the couple were portrayed as ‘crackpots’ but he media that didn’t understand their avant guard ‘Bed ins’ to promote their concept of a better world.
The 2 main points of these ‘happenings’ were to encourage people to think or Imagine a world without war, a radical idea back then, even more radical now with an industrial war complex that's very survival pivots on the need for conflict and destruction.
Back in the 1970s there were fewer more sporadic conflicts, whereas now the American government have been at war somewhere in the world for over 30 years. After the 2nd world war the US escalated it’s international conflict invading countries around the world, places that most Americans would find hard to point out on a world map. Some estimates say the US foreign policy has claimed 12 million lives since World War 2.
The Vietnam war claimed the lives of over 57,000 Americans and more than 3 million Vietnamese.
John and Yoko had a point and they were going to make it. It’s difficult to look back now and think that two people advocating peace would be vilified so much.
All I want is the truth, just gimme some truth
Gimme Some Truth by John Lennon 1971
In May 1971, aged 23 Curt travelled to England and would meet his hero John Lennon at John’s Tittenhurst Park home.
But if this guy was a homeless American how did afford to fly all the way from California? In 1971 the cost of a return transatlantic air ticket would be around £400 ($550), around £2,000 ($2,516)in todays money (or approximately a months average salary).
This was until British businessman started a service that cost a quarter of that. Freddie Laker started the first of the no-frills airlines and the price of the ticket would be probably a couple of weeks work for Curt, and in his eyes it was a pilgrimage so he’d have been focussed on saving for that.
Lennon’s staff had prior notice of this man’s mission, as Dan Richter, Lennon’s assistant remembers :
"Weeks before we received a telegram to John Lennon, I would review the mail every morning before presenting them to John and Yoko. This telegram said something like ‘Hi, I need to look in your eyes, I’ll see you soon, Claudio. We could tell from the postmark that it came from the San Francisco area. These telegrams kept arriving from Claudio. People would tell me ‘Don’t worry, he’ll never come all that way’ but from the second or third telegram I remember thinking ‘We’re going to find out who Claudio is."
Richter was under the impression that Claudio was a veteran of the Vietnam War with PTSD who was in a VA hospital and was about to be released ‘That was the story’ recalls Richter ‘and low and behold about a week later, there was Claudio standing outside the gate.’
‘"So I went up to him and said 'You can’t really stay here'. The thing about John [Lennon] was that he really cared about people, and he really didn’t want anything bad to happen to Claudio. When the police took him into London John was concerned for his safety, ‘He said please don’t hurt him'. "
Lennon’s home was in Ascot, only 30 or so miles from London. Richter continues the story ’The police told us that once they’d took him to London they’d dropped him off at a train station and I thought “Oh he’s going to be back”. He eventually made his way back to the gate and we didn’t know what to do with him. At the same time as this was happening we were making Imagine.’
Imagine was the 2nd solo album of Lennon’s and the recording process at Tittenhurst Park was being filmed for a possible future project.
It was looking like the police would’ve arrested Claudio for a second time. Dan had an idea to appease both sides, Claudio was desperate to meet Lennon and the Lennon’s, believing he was a shell-shocked war veteran wanted to meet a victim of the Vietnam conflict.
Dan explains "I said to John and Yoko, he says he wants to look in your eyes…why don’t we let him look in your eyes?" There were obvious concerns about the safety of of the most famous couples in the world which Dan addressed "I told John and Yoko we’ve got a lot of people here and I’ll stand between you case he has a knife or a gun, we won’t let him hurt you".
John and Yoko thought about the proposal for a while and said "Yes, and we could film it".
Dan defends the decision to film the encounter "It wasn’t exploitative on their part because they were filming their life. So we got a film crew there and we had some people walk him up from the gate and you can see what happened in the film".
John, Yoko and Dan can be seen on the driveway, Lennon and Yoko in the doorway of Tittenhurst Park and Dan standing between them and Claudio.
John and Claudio talked for 10 minutes about the meanings behind John’s songs. Claudio was inquisitive about the messages the songs were sending out and how he intended them to be received.
John Lennon (JL): So we met you know, I'm just a guy man who writes songs.
We can only say hello and then what?
Curt: Yeah, I figured that if we'd met I'd know, just by meeting you
JL: But know what? Is it true?
Curt: Well, I guess not.
JL: I’m just a guy man.
Curt: But it all fits
JL: Anything fits. You know, if you're tripping off on some trip, anything fits you know.
Yoko talks to Curt in the kitchen of Tittenhurst Park
Photo by Kieron Murphy
Dan Richter saw the meeting as a display of Lennon’s compassion:
"John had great empathy, which is, if you think about it, can be very painful."
"I liked the fact that Lennon gave Curt something to eat and I can understand his apprehension about meeting some random stranger, especially knowing what happened to Lennon later.
I thought it was big-hearted of John to let a stranger in and talk to him. I’d seen him in weird states, but that Curt in the video was the most far out I’d ever seen him.
It looks like he’s coming down from something and/or not eating and he’d been traveling, but I’d never seen him look so forlorn."
Curt's older brother Ernie said that the meeting left Curt with a bitter taste in his mouth...
"When Curt returned home, in California, he was upset with John. He felt like John had deceived him.
Curt was convinced the Beatles were calling him to England, through their music.
Curt was using drugs, and the drugs were causing him to think strangely.
But he did say John treated him well, and even let him play in his music room."
Curt left Tittenhurst Park, the same day he arrived.
As he departed one Beatles’s residence he had his sights fixed on another….535 miles north.
JL: I mean, Dylan does that anybody does know is that they just take words and you stick them together and it's like throwing the Ai Ching or something you just see what happens.
Take a bunch of words. You throw them out and see if they have any meaning. Some of them do. Some of them don't
Curt: 'Old Hari Krishna has nothing on you'? For instance...
JL: Yeah, well he don't. No, I mean you're it.
See that last album was me coming out of my dream and....
Curt: Seems like it could've have been different.
JL: What could've?
Curt: Well, before the last album, the way to build up that was to me it was just a hallucination, a dream.
And it is now because...
JL: Right. I mean, it can last your whole life on that dream and then it's all over.
Curt: You mean you weren't thinking of anyone in particular when you were singing all that?
JL: how could I have been thinking of you?
Curt: Well, I don't know, maybe I don't care of me but it's all somebody...
JL: I’m thinking about me or at best, Yoko, if it's a love song, you know, and I think maybe think about an audience in general.
I'm sort of talking to any old friends have been listening to what we were saying and saying, look, well, I think it's a it's a lot of bullshit now, you know, let's forget it, you know, and that as far as I'm concerned, you know, and but that's it.
I'm basically saying about me and I'm saying, you know, I had a good shit today and this is what I thought this morning.
And, you know, and I love you, Yoko. Whatever. I'm singing about me in my life, you know, and if it's relevant for other people's lives, that's all right...
Every night I just wanna go out, get out of my head...'
from Every Night by Paul McCartney
1970 had been a rough year for Paul McCartney. He had low self worth after The Beatles split he didn’t know what he was going to do next. The business pressures had also become too much.
So the McCartneys decided to move out of London to High Park Farm in Scotland. Paul had bought the farm with it’s 53 acres in 1966 for £35,000 to protect his income from the taxman, (The Beatles were at that point paying 95% tax).
Paul was depressed and drinking quite heavily but the tables were turning a year later.
In June 1971 Paul was excited again, the ‘funk’ of The Beatles had started to clear and he was getting back on track.
Paul and Linda would be relaxing after the release of their last album Ram that April and planning their next musical adventure as Wings.
What must they have thought when they found Curt on the grounds?
(QUOTE FROM MCCARTNEY)
Sandra Cates recalls Curt's memories of the encounter...
"He told me he did see Paul and Linda as well . He said he hung out with the sheep on his property until Paul came out and invited him inside.
I remember him telling me that Linda was very wary of him."
It would certainly make sense that Linda would be ‘wary of him’. Paul and Linda had daughters at the farm, 9 year old Heather & Mary who was coming up to 2 years old.
Linda was 5 also months pregnant with Stella so it’s easy to believe she would not be welcoming of unsolicited strangers.
Dayton Claudio also recalls Curt telling him he visited them.
‘QUOTE FROM DAYTON’
Many people are convinced that Curt appeared with Lennon a second time, asking him a question on The Dick Cavett Show, is this true? John & Yoko went onto the Dick Cavett Show on September 8th 1971 to premier the film for the song Imagine and promote Yoko’s album Fly and showcase various other projects they were working on.
The footage shows a long haired young man standing in the audience and asking Lennon what he meant by the line “If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone any how’ in the song Revolution by The Beatles. Lennon answered that it was a quick line that he’d thought of in the studio and it was meant to represent 'not following iconography.'
The audience member does look a little like Curt and he was asking a question about Lennon’s lyrics as Curt did, but that’s where the similarities end. The man on the Cavett show has a difference accent (seems more harsh east coast compared to Curt’s softer west coast Californian accent) and when comparing the images together, their facial features differ significantly.
Dayton finally lays this myth to rest
"I saw the clip recently and It's clearly not him, the Cavett Show was filmed in New York anyway and Curt would've been on the west coast at that time."
The Final Years and Accident
In 1972 (CHECK) Curt and his brother Ernie started worked at the Ford Motors in Milpitas. It was the automaker's primary factory in that region from 1955 to 1983, numerous vehicles were produced at the plant including the Mustang, Falcon & Torino.
It was one of the first plants in the nation to which the term "automation" was applied because most of the assembly line was interlinked and did not depend on human control.
In 1980 the plant started to lay people off due to increased competition from Japanese imports. Curt was offered a severance package of $12,000 ($60,000 in today’s money) and some retraining.
Martha says he tried other options but they didn’t work out:
"Curt tried a welding class but understandably couldn't take the heat and discomfort of the heavy head gear they have to wear. "
Curt’s brother Ernie says Curt pondered about what to spend the money on
"I’m either going to buy a Harley or an ultra-light airplane."
He chose to buy a self-assembled light aircraft kit.’
why don't we take off alone?
take a trip somewhere far, far away
from Starting Over by John Lennon 1980
The aircraft was supplied as a kit for amateur construction.
It had a single-seat, open cockpit, tricycle landing gear and a single engine.
In service the control system has proved inadequate and the aircraft was difficult to control in flight, particularly in air that is not smooth and there were a number of loss-of-control accidents.
The Virtual Ultralight Museum describes the aircraft as "ungainly and unstable".
the design faults of the HM81 Tomcat
At 10:50pm on December the 8th 1980 John Lennon was shot dead in front of his New York apartment building, he was 40 years old.
Curt's girlfriend Linda recalls his reaction:
When John Lennon passed, Curt was devastated.XXXXXXX
(SPEAK TO LINDA GET MORE DETAILS)
The Final Days
He managed to get a little straighter in his later years but still frequently used drugs in a recreational sense.
"I would not classify him as an addict’ says his younger brother, "he could stop and start as he liked, he could keep down a job. He would do a good job and was responsible."
Dayton had strong reservations about Curt’s new purchase
“He showed me pictures of the microlight and it looked unsafe and he asked me if I wanted to get into it, and I said 'Well not this thing!'
It looked really unsafe, and it was unsafe. But it was a great thing for him, cos he could fly it whenever he wanted and it was freedom, it was as though he was becoming that model airplane that flew away in that field in Fremont all those years before."
Four months after his 33rd birthday on the 22nd December 1981 Curt wheeled the Tomcat out of Linda’s garage and went to XXXXX airfield. (TALK TO LINDA)
Ernie explains what happened next
"He was flying too low and too slow and the plane stalled. It happened in Fremont, California. The plane came down, bounced off a carport roof and landed in a tree, six feet off the ground."
Martha heard he was playing around under the influence at the time of the crash
"He was living on the street with a bunch of hippie friends in Fremont, CA. at the time. He managed to get the kit assembled and flying and was showing off landing and taking off, and his friends were supplying him with alcohol, when he flew into the branches of a tree.
This would have been survivable except that something--either part of the plane of part of the tree--struck him just below the sternum where the heart is extremely vulnerable."
If you look at the cockpit of the Tomcat it’s possible that the joystick was the deadly instrument, it protrudes in front of the pilot and with the lack of safety belt it would’ve been the first thing Curt came in contact with as it crashed.
INCLUDE PHOTO OF CURT'S FINAL RESTNG PLACE
QUESTIONS FOR CONTRIBUTORS
This should contain summaries of all commentators from answers to questions like:
What would Curt like to be remembered for?
If you could see Curt again, what would you say?
How do you remember Curt?
CESARE SILVIO CLAUDIO
1958 - 1981
This project was made in full cooperation with the Claudio family without whom it would not of been possible.
Thanks to Martha, Dayton & Ernie for sharing their memories with us.