John Lennon – The Life
By Philip Norman
Harper Collins – 25.00
Of the three definitive John Lennon biographies (the academic yet dry John Lennon – Parts One & Two by Ray Coleman and the asinine rather ghastly The Lives of John Lennon by Albert Goldman), this third and most recent by Philip Norman, is quite possibly the best; simply because it’s so authoritative and readable. Authoritative, because it includes contributions from his former partner in genius, Sir Paul McCartney, as well as Sir George Martin, Yoko Ono and countless others. Readable, because it’s written in a somewhat conversational style which doesn’t make Lennon out to be a saint.
By shedding new light and candour upon Lennon folklore, Lennon’s widow Yoko reveals much about the machination(s) of their tender/tempestuous marriage, which, prior to Lennon becoming a house-husband, culminated in the so-called ‘Lost Weekend.’ A fourteen-month hiatus, which at the time, was often referred to by Lennon as: ”I’m in Lost Arseholes for no real reason.” No real reason that is, other than going a tad bonkers with Messrs. Keith Moon, Harry Nilson, Phil Spector and former Beatles roadie/skivvy/nursemaid, Mal Evans. Worth mentioning, purely because many writers of a shoddier calibre, would have taken such an episode as a green light upon which to pontificate from that of a spurious/curious moral high ground.
Moreover, as is to be expected of a writer with Philip Norman’s credentials (whose past books include Shout!: The Beatles in Their Generation, Days In The Life: John Lennon Remembered, The Life and Good Times of The Rolling Stones, Elton John and many more), this book ceases to stray into unwarranted territory. It refuses to stoop to the level of the aforementioned Albert Goldman. The author simply writes it and tells it as it probably was: which is all that we can ask for. And all that Lennon deserves.
That’s no to say the author glosses over Lennon’s short-comings – quite the opposite in fact.
Always real, at times blokey, tormented, loud, lost and alert, not to mention horribly trapped by Beatlemania, Lennon was many things to many people. From old ladies in hair-nets to burly lorry drivers with tattoos to Kurt Cobain types in torn jeans – everyone has an opinion (if not a soft spot) for John Lennon; a towering subject of seemingly endless inspiration if ever there was one.
When interviewing Liam Gallagher a few years back, I asked him what he’d say to Lennon were he to meet him. The initial response was stone, cold silence, immediately followed by an avalanche of almost childlike awe and appreciation.
Clocking in at 822 pages, the book also contains a (delicate and forthright) postscript written by the thirty-two year old Sean Lennon – which on occasion, is delicate and forthright in such a way that is reminiscent of his father: ”Dylan always observed other people’s emotions; it’s like he’s a journalist – he’s not saying it’s good or bad – just articulating something that’s in the air and jotting it down. That was an aspect of my dad’s work but, to me, not the best one. ”Give Peace A Chance” is great, but that’s not the one I want to go home and listen to; it’s not as good as ”Hide Your Love Away” or ”Girl” or ”In My Life.” To me, those songs are on a whole other level. For a man to feel insecure and question himself the way my dad did in songs is a post-modern phenomenon. Artists like Mozart or Picasso never did; it’s something that’s only happened since the Second World War. And that’s something he owns, that feeling of insecurity so many other songwriters have since tried to copy. He invented that.”
Thank God he did!
Along with said musical inventiveness, Lennon had an edge and an honesty and a way with words, much of the world could relate to (and perhaps still do). But it was Lennon’s open vulnerability, which no doubt made this relationship all the more plausible and acceptable. He was after all, just another brash, insecure, northern soul.
As such, Norman doesn’t try to suggest otherwise, which accounts for John Lennon: The Lifebeing as essential and enjoyable as it is.