am 15. November 2005
I have loved the Beatles since I was 3 and have been a rabid, inveterate fan and Beatle expert since I was 11. It is not surprising that I have an extensive Beatles' library and have read many books about the Beatles, individually and as a group for many years.
John Lennon, aka the Chief Beatle, was a prominent figure in every sense of the word. He left an indelible stamp on history, music and other aspects of culture and remains a fascinating person to this day.
Of the many Lennon biographies I have read, I liked this one best. This is not to discount the stellar works by Alan Clayson and Ray Coleman, whose objective, scholarly treatment of Lennon remain biographical bars that have been raised.
Cynthia's first book, "A Twist of Lennon" was written when John was still living. In that first book, which could be thought of as a volume one to this work, one gets the impression that Cynthia was too close to the memories and that it was hard for her to write objectively. That would certainly be understandable. Since she was writing about her life and experiences as she knew them, objectivity was not required; however, one gets the sense that Cynthia was still as freshly hurt as she was when the incidents took place.
In "John," readers get a more rounded picture of Cynthia, John, the other Beatles and their wives as well as others who were close to the Beatles, such as their manager, the late Brian Epstein. Readers get a "feel for" or a sense of each person mentioned in the book, including family members such as the previously little mentioned people in Cynthia's family. Readers come to see the forces, people and influences that shaped Cynthia, and by extension John Lennon as well.
I think this is a stellar book; it presents a John Lennon as only one person could have possibly known him. John is not placed on a pedastal, but on his feet of clay, warts and all so that readers keep in mind that John, George, Cynthia, et al. are REAL PEOPLE and not impersonal, out of reach icons. From all accounts, Cynthia's included, John did not want to be idolized or viewed as anything other than a human being, warts and all. His early post Beatle classic, "Working Class Hero" reflects this sentiment as well.
John's indomitable Aunt Mimi is described in fuller detail; readers learn of her relationship with her niece-in-law, Cynthia and how the two often locked horns. Cynthia appears to feel John's aunt was quite a force to be reckoned with until her death in 1991. Although the wrapping paper and bow are taken off of John's aunt and her human foibles and short comings are portrayed, it is done with respect and as only a person who knew her could say.
I loved the parts about Cynthia's ride on the train with John during their school years and, later the birth of their son, Julian in April of 1963. At that time, John's fame with the Beatles was just starting to sky rocket, so it was suggested that Cynthia remain relegated to the background with their child. While nobody could or would doubt John loved their son, he had trouble communicating with him during their lives together and later, after he and Cynthia were divorced in 1968. John is shown at his most vulnerable; from what he called his "fat Elvis" stage in 1965 to the long periods he and Julian were apart. His music reflects a lot of that sadness; the loss of John's mother Julia is immorialized in song. "Julia" and "Mother" are nods to the mother John had an intermittent relationship with until her untimely death in 1957.
You want to grab your hat and glasses for the bumpy ride as you feel and read about John's downward spiral; the deterioration of his marriage to Cynthia; his drug usage; his 1965 classic "Norwegian Wood," which was a cryptic piece about an extramarital affair John had. Sadness from Cynthia and John are painted in bold strokes and bright colors; you can feel sadness emanating from them both and get a good understanding of the issues that led to this feeling.
Althought written from Cynthia's perspective, she strives to explain John's also and understands they were both vastly different in many areas. It showed to me that she still loves John to this day. Since this is Cynthia's account, one believes her; she was the only person who lived these experiences and had the unique perspective that being the first Beatle Wife had. John's seemingly callous ending of their marriage was painful to read as one felt Cynthia's pain as she recounts this very difficult point in her life. She and Julian say that John in effect cut them out of his life and they all suffered as a consequence. Cynthia in effect calls John on his hypocricy of singing about peace in public, while not extending that olive branch to their child.
Cynthia does an admirable job of presenting the "real" John Lennon, not the idealized icon people have idolized for decades. She stands him up on his feet of clay and reminds all that John, as everybody else has those feet of clay and not to be disappointed to see that he was far from perfect. In fact, John would have admitted that himself according to Cynthia and others who were close to him.
Despite the hardships and rough spots in their own Long & Winding Roads and many a Hard Day's Night, John appeared to be turning things around towards the latter part of his life. He was happier; had a good marriage to Yoko; a second son, Sean, whom he obviously adored. (Sean was born on John's 35th birthday in 1975). John was moving closer towards Julian and it was Julian who, with Yoko comforted Sean when their father was killed in 1980. John's music during the latter part of his life reflects that of his song, "Starting Over." It was very sad that this complex, brilliant man of many contradictions was killed in the prime of his life. Julian, Cynthia, Yoko and Sean were deprived of a vital human being in their lives and are undoubtedly left with many sad, open-ended questions. John's 1965 classic "In My Life" and his 1980 hit, "Starting Over" are the songs that beautifully underscore this book.
Still, this is an excellent book. It offers a deeper, more probing and insightful look into John's life. This is a book that not only Beatle fans will treasure, but everyone will. Julian's introduction makes a good book even better still. I love this book!