Lennon Revealed/John/John Lennon: The New York Years

By Booth, Philip | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), December 2006 | Go to article overview

Lennon Revealed/John/John Lennon: The New York Years


Booth, Philip, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Lennon Revealed Larry Kane. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2005.

John Cynthia Lennon. New York: Crown Publishers, 2005.

John Lennon: The New York Years Bob Gruen. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2005.

There is a good chance that the iPod generation is not particularly impressed that Paul McCartney routinely sold out arenas worldwide on a recent tour in support of old, familiar Beatles hits and the critically lauded CD, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard; that Ringo Starr regularly tours mid-sized venues with a rotating cast of aging former rock superstars; that a musical based on John Lennon's life recently made a splash on Broadway; or that the Lennon-penned "Revolution" and other Fab Four tunes continue to be used in television advertisements. It is sad, true, and telling: To the iPod generation, the musical and cultural revolution fomented by the Beatles and their British Invasion and American rock and roll counterparts must seem at least as moldy as the Big Band craze did to those who came of age in the '60s and '70s. For millions of baby boomers, though, John, Paul, George, and Ringo remain the Mount Rushmore of contemporary music, the creme de la creme of the rock era, the gold standard against which all other pop artists must be judged. Further, Lennon and McCartney stand tall as two of the most significant composers of the twentieth century.

So it is comforting to realize that, for the above reasons and others, 2005 was yet another Year of the Beatles. Ringo turned 65 in July of that year, and Lennon would have celebrated as many candles on October 9. Another, far grimmer anniversary recently passed: December 8, 2005 marked the twentieth anniversary of the awful night that a deranged Beatles fan shot Lennon to death on the sidewalk in front of the Dakota building on Manhattan's Upper West Side. And Sir Paul, on Father's Day of 2006, turned sixtyfour, the age he speculated about when he was a teen and wrote "When I'm Sixty-Four."

Beatlemania, of a sort, still thrives. Proof, in addition to the surviving Beatles' continuing vitality as concert attractions and tabloid fodder (e.g., see: McCartney's recent divorce): At least five books on John, Paul, George, and Ringo were published last year, including The Beatles: The Biography, a voluminous, well-reviewed tome by music writer Bob Spitz, and Lewis Lapham's With the Beatles. Lennon is the subject of three of the books-two biographies, Larry Kane's Lennon Revealed and Cynthia Lennon's John, and Bob Gruen's coffee-table photo essay with scattered text. Not surprisingly, given the mountains of writing on the subject, little in the way of revolution or revelation is offered by the trio of new Lennon volumes. Revisionism is not afoot-stories of Lennon's brilliance and/or bad behavior are mostly rehashed and reconfirmed -and practically nothing is revealed, despite the fact, in the case of former television broadcaster Kane, that several new interviews were conducted. Even worse, for students of Beatles music, is the complete lack of musical or social analysis. For example, how, exactly or approximately, did Lennon and his bandmates go about writing and structuring their music, and what, aside from the general mania associated with the Beatles, accounted for their songs' resonance with audiences worldwide?

The readily categorized biographies might be thought of as two sides of the same coin. John, written by Lennon's first wife, the mother of his elder son, Julian, is a portrait of the artist as a real bastard with key redeeming qualities. Most of those positive character traits, according to Cynthia, were smothered by a certain avantgarde artist from New York by way of Tokyo. Lennon Revealed, penned by the author of 2003's Ticket to Ride, is a collection of often overheated word pictures designed to heap praise on a brilliant, troubled man. The difference between the motivations behind the two books is underscored in passages centering on Lennon's role as a father.

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