Tuesday, January 13, 2009

John Lennon: the Life by Philip Norman



Philip Norman wrote "Shout", a so-called definitive biography of the Beatles. Now he has written a biography about the life of the Beatles charismatic and witty leader, John Winston Lennon. He certainly had access to all the major players in John's life and some previously untapped sources, so the book makes for interesting reading. And believe me, I thought I had read and knew just about every detail of the life of John, Paul, George, and Ringo--being a strong Beatle fan myself, but there were a few surprises in this book for me as well. So I think it is a book that will appeal to the casual fan, as well as any died in the wool "Beatlemaniac".

The author says he spent three years researching the book, and the book covers every aspect of John's life, from his upbringing by his strict Aunt Mimi, through his student days, his meeting and partnership with Paul McCartney, the Beatles early Hamburg days, his affair with Japanese performance artist Yoko Ono, and their eventual marriage, culminating with his early death at the age of 40, when he was shot down in front of the Dakota apartment building in New York by a deranged fan. He manages to paint a portrait of a very complex man who seemed to be a bundle of contradictions. John was very tough, and very cynical, but also vulnerable and very insecure. He was very witty and funny and yet very naive.

John Lennon in Hamburg on a fairground , near the Reeperbahn.

The book is broken into five parts (1) The Country Boy ( 2) To The Toppermost of the Poppermost (which was a phrase that John used when they were in Hamburg and the other Beatles would ask him "John, where are we going?"--and he would reply "To the Toppermost of the Poppermost") (3) A Genius of the Lower Crust (4) Zen Vaudeville (5) Pizza and Fairy Tales.

Each part has several sections that start off with a quote from John. For example, under The Country Boy part, there is a section titled "Shortsighted John Wimple Lennon" with a quote by John saying "I thought, I'm a genius or I'm mad. Which is it?" The book also finishes up with a Postscript called Sean Remembers, contributed by John's son with Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon.


video

The last major biography of John was published twenty years ago by Albert Goldman. This book was written with the blessing of Yoko Ono and the cooperation of Paul McCartney, though it has been said that both were a little unhappy over the results. Anyone who has paid any attention at all to the lyrics of John's songs over the years can see how emotionally tortured he was, how much pent up anger he contained, and how his life long fear of abandonment figured prominently in his music.

The irony of his death was that it came at a time when he seemed to have finally exorcised his demons and achieved a degree of contentment and fulfillment in his life. He was starting to mature and mellow and one can't help but wonder what other changes would have occurred if he had been allowed to grow old, and what new trails he would have blazed for us had he been given the chance.

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