The Lives of John Lennon


The Lives of John Lennon

"The Lives of John Lennon" is a 1988 biography of musician John Lennon by Americanauthor Albert Goldman. It is best known for its criticism and generally negative representation of the personal lives of Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono.

Lennon in the work

Concerning the author's account of Lennon's consumption of LSD, the "New York Review of Books" said: "Goldman's background research was either slovenly or nonexistent." As such, "The Lives of John Lennon" was extremely controversial upon its release because of its portrayal of Lennon in a less-than-admiring light. Lennon was presented in the book as an extremely talented, but also extremely needy, duplicitous and deeply flawed man, who manipulated people and relationships throughout his life, flinging them aside when they were no longer useful to him. Goldman also suggested that Lennon was an anti-Semite, and that he was dyslexic and a schizophrenic; such claims had never been made before. The book has been criticized by Lennon fans for allegedly containing much unsubstantiated conjecture, and tending to present worst-case scenarios when doing so.

Goldman went into detail about the alleged homosexual affair between Lennon and The Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, as well as a number of Lennon's liaisons with other men, including a claim that he solicited underage male prostitutes in Thailand. This greatly angered Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney.

Among Goldman's most serious charges are that Lennon was not only instrumental in the murder of a sailor whom he met in Hamburg, but also in the death of bandmate Stuart Sutcliffe. Goldman states that Sutcliffe's death was the long-term result of severe kicks to the head administered by Lennon in a fit of drunken rage. He also alleges that Lennon caused the death of an unborn baby he'd conceived with Yoko Ono during 1968, when he kicked the pregnant Ono in the belly during an argument.

Goldman does show genuine respect for Lennon's musical achievements with the Beatles and some of his early solo work (although he largely dismisses most of it, even the widely acclaimed "Imagine"). All the same, Lennon's best writings are presented as more the products of mental illness or drug abuse (especially post 1966), than the creations of a talented person, while his melodies are charged with being mostly "stolen" from other musicians' songs, changed just enough to avoid legal action. Some of Lennon's post Beatles writings (songs), are believed to have in reality been written in total or in part, by other non-recognized contributors. Lennon was sued for plagiarism, most notably for Come Together and settled out of court in return for promise to record songs by the original songs' publisher, Morris Levy, resulting in Lennon's Rock 'n' Roll (1975) album. ["The Lives of John Lennon" by Ray Albert Goldman (1988, William Morrow and Co.) chap. "You Can't Catch Me", p. 517 et al]

Goldman also claimed that when Lennon started making music again in 1980 following a long hibernation, he was not immune to Manhattan's cocaine / disco era. According to Goldman, on the day Lennon was murdered he was scheduled to undergo plastic surgery several days later to repair the part of his nose he supposedly had destroyed by snorting cocaine, which he supposedly did at the Hit Factory recording studio (where he recorded his Double Fantasy album). Goldman did not cite a single name of anyone who might have witnessed this at the studio. Goldman alleged further that on December 8, 1980 (the day of Lennon's murder) not only did the singer's cocaine snorting warrant plastic surgery, but he was in such bad physical condition from drug abuse and lack of exercise that during his autopsy the medical examiner recorded observations to that effect, overlooking the four bullet wounds momentarily.

The over-arching theme of the book is to debunk the notion that Lennon retired from rock for five years, from 1975 until his 1980 comeback album, Double Fantasy, to live as what Lennon characterized as a "house husband" to raise the couple's son, Sean. Goldman asserts that actually Lennon had retreated into a secluded, darkened room watching television all day, every day, leaving domestic servants to tend his son, while John was feeding a chronic heroin habit. Goldman claimed this caused Lennon's emaciated physique (evidenced by the photo-spread shot not long before his death by Annie Leibovitz).

Goldman further asserted that this turn of events was caused, not only by Lennon's own native laziness and dependence on strong women throughout his life to manage his affairs, (other than his marriage to Cynthia, in which he took a dominant role), but through the instigation and manipulation of Yoko Ono, who Goldman claimed in the book was jealous of Lennon and saw his fame as competition for her own musical ambitions.

Goldman contends Ono encouraged Lennon's heroin addiction as a way of controlling him and his vast fortune, to her own ends. She also used tarot reading charlatans ["The Lives of John Lennon" by Ray Albert Goldman (1988, William Morrow and Co.) chap. "Making Magic", p. 580] to feed John readings that would urge him to take various courses of action Ono supported. These readings would determine seemingly trivial choices of Lennon's life, such as which route the limo would take home from the studio or which day was most propitious on which to record, but were, in fact, according to Goldman, often part of Ono's constant machinations. ["The Lives of John Lennon" by Ray Albert Goldman (1988, William Morrow and Co.) chap. "Lying In", p. 547 et al; chap. "Postpartum Depression", p. 564 et al; chap. "Rock Bottom", p. 605 et al]

He also alleges Lennon's comeback was only allowed, and then orchestrated, by Ono after she realized her own ambitions at stardom without Lennon were futile. ["The Lives of John Lennon" by Ray Albert Goldman (1988, William Morrow and Co.) "Creature of Habit", p. 624 and ibid]

He also enumerates what he described as Yoko Ono's lavish spending habits, wasting of Lennon's resources, abuse of domestic servants and personal assistants, even to the point of setting up May Pang as Lennon's girlfriend and Ono's personal spy during his Lost Weekend when he was separated from Ono during the autumn of 1974. ["The Lives of John Lennon" by Ray Albert Goldman (1988, William Morrow and Co.) chap. Ping Pang Pong, p. 648)]

Much of this story is confirmed by Pang in her own book. cite web |first=Ronnie |last= |url=http://earcandy_mag.tripod.com/maypang.htm |title=Interview with May Pang |publisher=Ear Candy |accessdate=2008-01-12] [May Pang "Loving John" 1983] [cite web|url=http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/non-fiction/article1649633.ece|title=Mono Maniacs Tearing Down The Wall of Sound|accessdate=2007-08-08]

Goldman quotes the Lennons' lawyer for the last years of John's life, Harold Seider's explanation for the deception of the public about the true character of Lennon's five years as "house-husband" who had given up his career to raise Sean Lennon while Yoko ran his business affairs:

"The real Lennon was not the public statements that he made. They were made because they were public statements, and he was looking to make a point. He couldn't give a shit (about lying) because to a certain extent he had contempt for the media because they bought all the crap. He was there to manipulate the media. He enjoyed doing that. He understood how to use the media. You got to give him credit for that, and you got to give her credit... They would use the media, but it was not that they believed it, but that was the image they wanted to present" ["The Lives of John Lennon" by Ray Albert Goldman (1988, William Morrow and Co.); p. 556]

Others in the work

Despite the damning from Goldman in the book, Lennon comes across much better than Yoko Ono, for whom Goldman shows unbridled contempt. Goldman alleges that Ono had been a prostitute while attending Sarah Lawrence College, and depicts her as a willing participant in various alleged crimes of her previous husband, Tony Cox. Goldman also goes into great detail about Ono's treatment of Lennon's first wife Cynthia, and her rather bizarre antics which successfully lured in Lennon (in material largely taken from "The Love You Make", an earlier Beatles biography Fact|date=February 2007). Such behavior as described would today likely result in the perpetrator's arrest for stalking. The book also depicts Ono as pushing Lennon into heroin use, being greedy and money-obsessed, and openly cheating on Lennon with gigolos.

Goldman depicts Paul McCartney in an extremely positive light, as being the only true talent among the Beatles, and the man who made the band able to function. Much more controversially, Goldman depicts manager Allen Klein as being somewhat of a saint, as someone who had the Beatles' best interests in mind, and who was railroaded by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission when he was tried, convicted, and served prison time for insider trading and securities fraud.

Goldman implies that Mark David Chapman's murder of John Lennon may have been part of a conspiracy by Fundamentalist Christians. Chapman was a fundamentalist who viewed Lennon as a corrupter of youth. Goldman does not offer any conclusions, but mentions that the NYPD files on Lennon's murder are sealed and any conclusive answer would have to wait until the files are released to the public.

Criticism

Lennon's widow Yoko Ono threatened to sue for libel, claiming the book made her briefly consider suicide ["Lennon: The Definitive Biography" by Ray Coleman (1995, Pan Books) p.43.] , but never pursued any legal action, later explaining that she wanted to maintain a positive attitude and that her lawyers had advised her a civil action would only draw more attention to the book. [McGuigan, Cathleen, " [http://members.fortunecity.com/lisabauer/newsweek.html A Widow Guards Her Husband's Legacy] ". In "Newsweek", October 17, 1988, pp. 64-73. Online version found 2008-05-31.]

Lennon's first wife Cynthia Lennon denounced the book, stating "Every single person was annihilated. My mother was called a bulldog and a domineering woman, which was nothing—nothing—like my mother. And he called "me" a spaniel. I thought, I'd rather be a spaniel than a Rottweiler, which is what he was." [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10115403/site/newsweek/page/3/]

Despite Goldman's praise of him in the book, Paul McCartney did not return the favour, and condemned Goldman's account of his old bandmate, telling fans and the press "Look, don't buy it." Singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson, whose friendship with Lennon peaked during his 1974 separation from Ono, told "Rolling Stone" that Goldman "got me drunk" while interviewing him, probing Nilsson for 'dirt' about Lennon, and Nilsson wouldn't cooperate. (Nilsson gets a chapter in the book, "Harry the Hustler", which credits him with having better confidence-man skills than singing talent.)

In Ray Coleman's "Lennon: The Definitive Biography", there appears the following quote from Beatles' record producer George Martin: "I think it is iniquitous that people can libel the dead. If John was alive, that book would not have come out. It is largely untrue, but, sadly, if mud is thrown it tends to stick." Martin also labeled the book as "codswallop" (Coleman page 32).

Other celebrities who'd known Lennon personally, including Geraldo Rivera and Tom Snyder, largely expressed an attitude of "Interesting story—who's it about? That's not the man I knew."

The October 20, 1988 issue of "Rolling Stone" lambasted the book in a lengthy and extensively-researched article by David Fricke and Jeffrey Ressner, "Imaginary Lennon". This attack was motivated by the intimate, familial relationship that obtained between the magazine's publisher, Jann Wenner, and Yoko Ono (the latter was cast in a very bad light by Goldman). The reviewers described the book as "riddled with factual inaccuracies, embroidered accounts of true events that border on fiction and suspect information provided by tainted sources." Further, Fricke and Ressner stated that "Rolling Stone spoke to sources interviewed by Goldman who said that they were misquoted or that the information they provided him was used out of context. Other figures close to Lennon who refused to speak to Goldman or were not contacted by him claim that incidents in the book in which they appear either never happened or did not occur in the way Goldman recounts them." [Fricke, David, and Jeffrey Ressner, " [http://members.fortunecity.com/lisabauer/imaginarylennon.html Imaginary Lennon] ". In "Rolling Stone", October 20, 1988, 42-52, 93. Online version found 2008-05-31.]

David Gates responded in "Newsweek" by reminding readers that a romantic vision of Lennon is just as much of a myth as Goldman's portrayal. Editor Jann Wenner is quoted as saying that the book "offended him at every level", suggesting that he as a personal friend of the Lennons had good reason to want to preserve an idealist version of Lennon's life. However, by stating a number of easily researched facts, the article also exposes a number of Goldman's inaccuracies and concludes with a reminder that the best way to know Lennon is through his recordings. [Gates, David, " [http://members.fortunecity.com/lisabauer/newsweek.html The Battle Over His Memory] ". In "Newsweek", October 17, 1988, pp. 64-73. Online version found 2008-05-31.]

Luc Sante, in "New York Review of Books", said about the account of Lennon's consumption of LSD in the book: "Goldman's background research was either slovenly or nonexistent."

Goldman denounced the "Rolling Stone" article as "a farrago of groundless or insignificant charges designed to discredit my biography of John Lennon". He also mocked what he called "the stupidity of the ["Newsweek"] magazine employees who were assigned the task of smearing me and my book", and concluded by saying that Sante was "a young man of no reputation in the field of popular culture." Sante good-naturedly replied that Goldman's tirade proved that the book was a gigantic, humorous "put-on". [Goldman, Albert, " [http://www.nybooks.com/articles/4122 The Lives of John Lennon] ". In "The New York Review of Books", Volume 36, Number 3, March 2, 1989, with response by Luc Sante. Webpage found 2008-05-31.]

References to the book in other media

On their 1988 album "Rattle and Hum", U2 attacked Goldman's allegations about Lennon in the song "God Part 2", "sequel" of sorts to Lennon's song "God", with the lyrics "Don't believe in Goldman/his type is like a curse/Instant karma's gonna get him if I don't get him first."

In an October 1988 Episode of "Saturday Night Live", a sketch was done that revolved around why Goldman wrote the book, claiming it was in retaliation for The Beatles kicking him out of the band in 1962. Phil Hartman played Goldman (On Trombone), Dana Carvey played Paul McCartney, Dennis Miller (in a rare Non "Weekend Update" role) played George Harrison, Jon Lovitz played Ringo Starr, and guest host Matthew Broderick played John Lennon. In the sketch another subject of Goldman, Elvis Presley (played by Kevin Nealon) is the one who urges Lennon to fire Goldman.

External links

* [http://www.nybooks.com/articles/4122 Letter from Albert Goldman to "The New York Review of Books"]

References


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