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John Lennon bio uncovers his seamy side

Most people like to remember John Lennon as the dippy Utopian of Imagine.

Less remembered is the Lennon of Run For Your Life: "Well I'd rather see you dead little girl/Than to be with another man."

In Philip Norman's merciless biography, Lennon No. 2 is on full display, and the picture isn't pretty.

Spiteful and selfish, miserly and misogynistic, Lennon abused his friends, cheated on his women and quarrelled with almost everyone he knew. His politics were phony and his public persona a pose, the working-class hero who never laboured a day in his life. (Personal motto: "Death before work.")

Even such details as his all-macrobiotic diet were hippie spinmastering. Norman recounts a horrified host discovering Lennon and Yoko Ono ransacking his refrigerator for bologna.

John Lennon: The Life started out as a semi-authorised biography, with Norman - the author ofShout! The Beatles in Their Generation, a well-regarded history of the group's complicated and ultimately disastrous business dealings - getting full access to Ono and her family for three years' worth of interviews.

But when Ono got a look at an early version of the manuscript, she told Norman he had been "mean to John" and cut him off. "I hope that in time she may revise this judgment for I do not think any other reader will share it," he writes.

Oh yes they will. Unlike Albert Goldman's viciousThe Lives of John Lennon, this book is no calculated character assassination. Norman admires Lennon's writing and musicianship and even appears to have some personal affection for Lennon. But he's undone by his reporting, which again and again butts up against the ruthlessness and self-indulgence with which Lennon conducted his life.

Manipulative from childhood, when he learned to play his troubled mother against the aunt who raised him, Lennon skated through art school on work done by his friends, then secured gigs for his band by installing the son of a club owner as the drummer. When the drummer, Pete Best, outlived his usefulness, and the band got a recording contract, Lennon sent the group's manager to fire him.

He loved to play the role of a thuggish Teddy Boy, the primitive British gangbangers of the day, but let his burlier friends finish the fights he started.

"He was playing the tough guy with nothing to back it up, which was a dangerous thing to do," recalls a bar bouncer who rescued Lennon from countless brawls when the Beatles were playing seedy bars in Germany.

No one was immune from his bullying. He smacked a girlfriend for talking to another man. He once mugged a drunken fan. And Norman even investigates - inconclusively - an accusation that the brain haemorrhage that killed original Beatles bass player Stuart Sutcliffe was caused by a beating administered by Lennon.

Perhaps no one suffered more at Lennon's hands than Cynthia Powell, his first wife. If their courtship was often ugly - when Cynthia suffered an appendicitis attack while on a date, Lennon simply put her on a train to her mother's house - their marriage was an utter travail.

Left alone to cope with her pregnancy (Lennon was on the road and under pressure from his manager to keep the marriage secret), she endured a threadbare existence while her husband splurged on clothes. A college friend who bumped into Cynthia was aghast to learn that she had only a one-pound note to her name "and she was terrified that John would find out about it and take it."

Lennon cheated on Cynthia with friends, fans, practically any female at hand. (The dreamy, sitar-driven record Norwegian Wood, widely assumed to be a drug anthem when it was released in 1965, actually chronicled an affair with a downstairs neighbour.) Yet when Lennon dumped her for the loony avant-garde artist Ono in 1968, the divorce suit accused Cynthia of adultery, even though Ono was pregnant with his child.

As the Beatles rose from a boozy bar band into the leading cultural export of Great Britain, Lennon maintained a carefully manicured image of puppy-dog rebellion, epitomised by his remark at a concert attended by various members of the royal family: "Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewellery."

With Ono, he restyled himself as king of the counterculture, with even less authenticity.

Certainly his callous blend of macho faithlessness and nearly deranged jealousy continued. Soon after taking up with Ono, he demanded that she write out a list of everyone she'd slept with - then flew into a rage when he saw it.

And at the same time he was proclaiming that the Beatles' company Apple Corps was practicing "Western communism," he was privately blistering its lawyers and managers for bleeding money. One such tirade, about how he was "sick of being (bleeped) around by men in suits, sitting around on their fat arses" upset a deal that would have allowed the Beatles to keep control of their song publishing.

Michael Jackson, who gets a nickel every time somebody plays Yesterday or I Want To Hold Your Hand, will no doubt be amused to read John Lennon: The Life. It's even possible that Lennon would, too; had he survived a deranged fan's bullet in 1980, he'd be 68 and perhaps past the age of artifice. Certainly, whether he liked it or not, he would recognise the portrait in these pages.

"These things are left out, about what bastards we were," he confessed in an unguarded post-Beatles moment.

"(Bleeping) big bastards, that's what the Beatles were. You have to be a bastard to make it, and that's a fact. And the Beatles were the biggest bastards on Earth."

Reading John Lennon: The Life, you won't doubt it.


-MCT 
TheAge.com.au

10 comments so far..

  • ziggysawdust's avatar
    Commenter
    ziggysawdust
    Date and time
    Tuesday 04 Nov 2008 - 6:40 PM
    I am appalled to see yet another 'Albert Goldman' emerge, two decades after the libellous 'Lives of John Lennon'; a book that claimed Lennon had inadvertently caused former best friend Stu Sutcliffe's death by 'beating him senseless', a book that accused Lennon of adultery throughout his first marriage, a book that tabled his material excesses, and most importantly, an author (Goldman) who claimed throughout the book to have 'affection' for Lennon. Here is ANOTHER book, basically rehashing the old 'allegations', picking a dead man's corpse as Goldman did, and providing no real primary source interview material to found these 'same ole same ole' accusations of cruelty, materialism, violence, of Lennon being a 'fake', et-bloody-cetera. This particular journalist who is responsible for basically printing a synopsis of this new astonishing read, which by all accounts which will set at least two fan's minds alight (the ones too you to have read the Goldman cowardly text). John Lennon's imperfections were what made him so much more real to his fans and to the world, and he made no attempt to hide these imperfections. He had repeatedly said that what drew him to the substantial work in the peace movement (from 1968-1973, his song 'Give Peace a Chance' being the Vietnam War rally peace anthem for a generation of millions of Americans), was that he had a violent past, which he was not proud of. He had always said he was a 'hitter' and had Yoko to thank for stripping him of his male chauvinist pig traits. Dippy utopian 'Imagine'? Surely a song as moving, and as positive and racially, religiously and materialistically UTOPIAN (yes, it IS utopian), is not 'dippy'. Millions would disagree on your assessment, Mr. Journalist who simply parrots this mysterious author of this 'been there seen that' book. John Lennon was a musician, not a man of office, and his behaviour is widely regarded as being a Hell of a lot more respectful than dozens of men of office, and he died by assassination, the same way men of office, leaders of men, have perished. By the way that 'unguarded quote' that you mention about John calling the Beatles 'the biggest bastards on Earth', is a widely used, non-secretive quote which I have heard said dozens of times in dozens of books. My main beef is: where is the news here? As a Lennon fan I know this stuff and I know the degrees of truth in the shopping list of assertions (some are outrageous and untrue, others spot on). But surely, why perpetuate Goldman's legacy with nothing new (Goldman met Lennon as well and also campaigned in favour of an art show in NYC)........Goldman is, in music circles, one of the most hated authors in history after waiting until the death of Elvis to pick at his corpse, then Lennon seven years after he died. The journalist uses the wording 'loony avante guarde artist' to describe Yoko then has the audacity to comment at the end of the 'article-actually just a shameless promo for the upcoming boo
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  • darrynking's avatar
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    darrynking
    Date and time
    Tuesday 04 Nov 2008 - 8:51 PM
    John almost comes across as a ridiculous moustache-stroking villain from a melodrama in this article/book synopsis. Agreed, Ziggy: no news here. And using a lyric from one of John's songs to paint a picture of him as a murderous misogynist... Come on.
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  • amileigh's avatar
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    amileigh
    Date and time
    Tuesday 04 Nov 2008 - 10:32 PM
    Wow Ziggy, that is a colossal comment!
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  • ziggysawdust's avatar
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    ziggysawdust
    Date and time
    Wednesday 05 Nov 2008 - 11:28 AM
    I am actually so amused/pissed off about this article that I will expand on my first post. Cynthia Lennon, a woman who, if you were to soak in this journalist's words, would be a battered, penniless, unloved, controlled and bullied victim, has written two books on John, and paints him as a less-than-ideal husband, but makes NO mention of John taking all of her money and making her live in near-poverty while he was touring the world in luxury! Nor does Cynthia herself mention that she was guiltless during their eventual divorce, as she had been having an affair with Alexis Mardas in the Greek Isles while John was having an affair with the love of his life, 'loony' Yoko Ono. Truth is that their marriage had been unravelling for two years, and they had fallen out of love. She was well looked after financially, had nannies for Julian, and John bough her mother a house. John married her when he got her pregnant, even though he wasn’t in love with her. He was twenty years old. Sure, he was absent as a father, but if you look at the Beatles touring itinerary between ’62 and ’66, they had no more than one week breaks throughout the entire period. They were worked (and exploited by U.S promoters) to the bone, and were prisoners of hotels, constant victims of death threats, targeted by the Ku Klux Klan in 1966, attacked in the Philippines because they snubbed Imelda Marcos and basically besieged by fans and the press to the point where they couldn’t set foot in the street anywhere in the world, including their homes in London. This is laughable. Here is a comparison: When Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones was in a relationship with a woman who had his child, he simply took off and utterly abandoned her when the Stones began their trip to stardom. He subsequently had no contact with his 'wife' and child for the rest of his life. Keith Moon fits the mould of an abusive husband far more perfectly: he would disappear for days, sometimes weeks, when the Who weren't even touring, and came home, 'coming down' from his binges and would command his wife to cook him meals at 3am, punch the crap out of her on regular occasions (she had no less than three broken noses from his abuse) and imprisoned her in the family home so furiously that she eventually 'escaped!' Phil Spector literally imprisoned his wife Ronnie, halted her recording career, threatened her with guns, beat her and made her drive with a blow up dummy of himself on the occasions he 'allowed' her to actually leave his fortress of barbed wire, with German Shepherds and gun towers. Meanwhile, when John Lennon got Cynthia pregnant, he married her, even though he had mixed emotions about this, and stayed married to her for six years in a loveless relationship, took her on many Beatles tours (such as the famous first U.S tour the Beatles went on).....included her in his 60s psychedelic lifestyle (the famous first acid trip he had included her and George Harrison plus his wife Patti for example).
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  • ziggysawdust's avatar
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    ziggysawdust
    Date and time
    Wednesday 05 Nov 2008 - 11:32 AM
    (continued) He was adulterous on tour, but *what 60s famous male musician wasn't adulterous?????* The only 'stable' 1960s pop marriage I can think of is ray Davies from the Kinks who was totally committed to his marriage and his wife later cheated on him, breaking up the marriage. John Lennon was a homebody, and this meant he was, after touring ceased in 1966, he was at home with Cynthia permanently. This quote both amuses me and angers me as well: "Certainly his callous blend of macho faithlessness and nearly deranged jealousy continued. Soon after taking up with Ono, he demanded that she write out a list of everyone she'd slept with - then flew into a rage when he saw it." Oh dear. John got angry about Yoko having sex. Firstly, I have read every book and article ever written about John Lennon, and I have never heard of this. But I'm sure it is possible, John certainly had a temper and was jealous when it came to Yoko. But he got angry? Is this even worth the paragraph in this 'article'? I mentioned the total libel that is the 'John killed Stu Sutcliffe' crap. This features prominently in Goldman's book, and has no factual evidence to support it. I love the way the journalist says that "Norman even investigates - inconclusively" about John being Sutcliffe's murderer! So 'Norman' is a forensic crime specialist now is he? Or is he a stupid sensationalist muck raker, whose 'investigation' consists of reading the section of Goldman's book that asserts this? ALL of the Beatles were beaten up in both Liverpool and particularly Hamburg, two extremely violent cities for guys with leather jackets and chips on their shoulders. Certainly the speed the group was eating like lollies at that point would not have helped Sutcliffe's condition, but it is pretty much established fact that Sutcliffe had a genetic condition, and if he didn't, there would be a queue of 'suspects' in his 'murder'. Finally, this quote is beyond ridiculous: "With Ono, he restyled himself as king of the counterculture, with even less authenticity." Who judges the 'authenticity' of John's status as 'king of counterculture'? John Lennon once said that 'the 1960s was just a great time for people to dress up'; he was disillusioned by the supposed 'revolution' of the 60s. He saw the Haight Asbury movement as like a modern day bowery, full of spotty faced pointless kids on acid, and Christ, just listen to the lyrics of 'Revolution' in which he is talking to the world about his stance on political change. His peace protests, which lasted for years and were, for the record VERY authentic, producing 'Give Peace A Chance', 'Imagine' and 'Love', were seen then AND now as genuine, powerful, off the wall certainly but lacking in drive and substance? Surely not. He gave up two years of his life and considerable time in which he could have churned out commercially successful cash cow records, to campaign for peace, in an artistic, funny and attention grabbing fashion. Joh
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  • ziggysawdust's avatar
    Commenter
    ziggysawdust
    Date and time
    Wednesday 05 Nov 2008 - 11:34 AM
    (continued again) John Lennon was killed by Mark David Chapman because Chapman read an interview with Lennon in which it was apparent that after years of peace campaigning and fighting for various causes ('Woman is the Nigger of the World' precipitated 'I am Woman' by at least a year if not more), he wanted to focus on family, and Yoko was making the family a lot of money by assuming the role of business manager, five days per week, at offices full of cigar smoking male chauvinist capitalists, and she actually increased the Lennon family earnings by double. Chapman read this and thought 'this man once sang "Imagine no possessions" and now look at all the possessions he's got' thereby equating John with Holden Caulfield from 'Catcher in the Rye' and murdering him. The basic fact is that 'Norman' is saying nothing new, infact if Goldman was still alive he could probably sue 'Norman' for plagiarism! I see nothing here that every muck raking anti-Lennon critic has been saying since Lennon died. If Lennon was alive they would be too afraid to say it because Lennon's pen was mightier than anything a two-bit sensationalist could muster. If I read this book and find even one new piece of information, I'll retract everything I said. Goldman said that Lennon was a heroin addled, reclusive Brian Wilson style wreck before his death, and went so far to say that if Lennon was in better shape physically, he would have survived the bullets! Come on people. This man was human, and humans make mistakes. Lennon would be the first to acknowledge that, and think for a moment, what the world would be like if John Lennon had not given us twenty years of poignant, tuneful, soulful and beautiful songs. Do not listen to imbeciles that just want to make a buck re-hashing old, old misinformation and speculation. Read Cynthia Lennon's book or May pang's book 'Loving John', even Fred Seaman's very anti Lennon books, at least Seaman was a trusted member of John's inner circle for three years up until his death. These are books written by people who were there, not people who, in 2008, want to buy a mansion, Porsche and litter of poodles by trashing the greatest songwriter of the 20th Century. End of rant.
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  • AnnieFox's avatar
    Commenter
    AnnieFox
    Date and time
    Wednesday 05 Nov 2008 - 11:37 AM
    Silly that we never decided to truncate comments.
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  • ziggysawdust's avatar
    Commenter
    ziggysawdust
    Date and time
    Thursday 06 Nov 2008 - 7:58 PM
    Apologies for speaking my mind so annoyingly, but I guess you don't have to read it? I wasn't aware that it was a case of 'short and sweet' and keep all my comments to one or two lines in future. aplogies ANNIEFOX, just pretend it isn't there.
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  • Cheeseface's avatar
    Commenter
    Cheeseface
    Date and time
    Thursday 06 Nov 2008 - 9:06 PM
    "Just pretend it isn't there"? Consider it done, ZIGGYSAWDUST.
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  • missdemeanour's avatar
    Commenter
    missdemeanour
    Date and time
    Thursday 06 Nov 2008 - 10:02 PM
    Haha! Now, now.. let's all just be friends.
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