John Lennon: The Life– A Painful Portrait

lennon-bookAccording to Philip Norman, John Lennon was a bully. He also cheated, manipulated, lied to and fought with practically every single person in his life. Also according to Norman– Lennon was abusive, spiteful and everything the ex-Beatle ever believed in or dared to support politically or otherwise… was merely an elaborate “ruse” of sorts, all meant to create a more diverse and inspiring human being who, at times, didn’t really exist. No one was completely immune from his bullying. He smacked a girlfriend just for talking to another man. He once accosted a drunken fan. And Norman even investigates– INCONCLUSIVELY I might add– an accusation that the brain hemorrhage that killed original Beatles bass player Stuart Sutcliffe was caused by a beating Lennon administered. I will confess… undeniably the book itself is indeed a page turner. But then, one would expect it to be, given the passionate flames of its subject’s perpetual conflict. My question is simply this… why would anyone grind an axe based on very little hard evidence and mostly hearsay, with one of the greatest musical minds of our time? I’m not sure… and therein lies the rub. As a die-hard Lennon fan, I would have to assume that perhaps Philip Norman is yet another of those authors, driven purely by some internal rage and various demons of his own… or perhaps, Norman simply wanted to punctuate a statement that had been left open and unedited for far too long. The journalist in me wants answers, definitive ones… but that’s not possible anymore… without John Lennon. All we really have to go on are “perceptions”.

While I am not completely convinced that John Lennon was void of an “agenda”, I do believe he was, more times than often, a horribly dysfunctional product of the tumultuous 60’s… a time when America was struggling to understand how a well-loved President could be assassinated, how Ozzie and Harriet were merely “myths”, bestowed upon us by as many propaganda-meisters as we could ever fully comprehend… But more than this, we were growing as a nation. And growth often hurts like hell. In short, John Lennon’s life was as inspired and messy as was the 1960s, that transformational, evolutionary decade in which he reigned as an iconic rock star and the unapologetic voice of the counterculture. Norman shows John to be as maddeningly cruel as he was disarmingly gentle, as competitive as he was philanthropic, as materialistic as he was eager to find all of the answers to life’s deeper questions. And… in order to find those answers, Lennon himself may have also been faced/plagued with the tragic reflection that fame inspires…

Lennon’s final years saw him trying desperately to rearrange all of his priorities to become a sober, loving, hands-on father. To possibly atone for his previous sins. Yet, the contradictions remained. Has there ever been an artist who so desired celebrity, yet with a wink and a self-effacing joke reminded us of the charade of it all? Despite the searing honesty of Lennon’s songs and his tell-it-like-it-is repartee with the press, much of the man has remained an enigma.

In a recent Page Six Piece identifying a rather disturbing postscript– Sean Lennon tells how his father flew off the handle and screamed into his ear as a young boy. “[He was] teaching me how to cut and eat steak, which was a mystery to me at age 4; how to stick the fork in and cut behind it, and that was how you got a piece in your mouth,” writes Sean, now 32, whose mom is Yoko Ono. “I think it was that night when he got very upset with me, I think because of something I did very cheekily with the steak. He did wind up yelling at me very, very loudly to the point where he damaged my ear, and I had to go to the hospital.” He says John, mortified by his cruelty, was immediately apologetic: “I remember when I was lying on the floor and hurting, and him holding me and saying, ‘I’m so sorry.’ He did have a temper.”

And what does Yoko Ono have to say? Well, according to several sources, she cut off Norman completely after having read one of the book’s first manuscripts. She felt that Philip Norman was being “mean” to John Lennon. Maybe not quite as mean as Lennon had been to so many. Although I am a tad bit conflicted by the book, it is a fascinating portrait, flaws and all, of a man who defined for so many of us, a musical era that will never be forgotten. And all that will remain in the end… when all has been said and analyzed… is the music. For this, I am personally grateful.

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~ by upbeatmag on November 27, 2008.

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