After reading Being John Lennon by longtime Beatles chronicler Ray Connolly, one can’t but help think that John Lennon simply never grew up. Murdered at age 40, he was, to the end of his life, a petulant genius, capable of writing great songs and administering great cruelty to those who knew him.
Toward the end of this encyclopedic biography, Connolly, who interviewed Lennon countless times, sums it up this way: “Though millions who didn’t know him loved him, sometimes those who knew him well didn’t always like him. A natural leader, who could so easily be led and who saw himself as a chameleon, he was at various times a clever, witty, angry, funny, sharp-tongued, far-sighted, impetuous, talented, guilt-laden, preaching, sardonic, exaggerating, gullible, aggressive, unfaithful, obsessive, self-absorbed, outspoken, jealous, sometimes cruel but often generous man. He was certainly no saint, but, to his friends, he was hard not to like. Above all, he was absolutely a one-off.”
Because Lennon died so young, he seems never to have achieved perspective on his life. It must have been hard for any Beatle. Famous in their early twenties, they were showered with lavish praise worldwide, especially Lennon and McCartney. It’s a minor miracle that Paul and Ringo are seemingly as normal as they appear but they have the benefit of having lived a long, full life.
Lennon didn’t have that.
Connolly makes it clear that Lennon was still being buffeted by events rather than choosing them. Yeah, he started the Beatles but Paul broke them up. Lennon never even lived alone, going from Paul and onetime wife Cynthia to Yoko to girlfriend May Pang and then back to Yoko again.
Lennon famously did not suffer fools but, as Connolly points out, it was relatively easy for Yoko to make a fool of him. She simply stalked him until he gave in to her avant-garde personality and, as Lennon once said, “Avant-garde is French for bullshit.” If only he’d listened to himself.
There is an untold number of books on the Beatles but at least Connolly actually knew the boys. That counts. In probably his most famous moment, Lennon handed the author one of the biggest scoops in the world at that point, the revelation that Lennon was going to quit the Beatles. Later, when Paul beat him to the punch, Lennon cornered Connolly. It’s one of Connolly’s best stories:
“Why didn’t you write it when I told you in Canada at Christmas,” he asked me that day.
“You asked me not to,” I replied.
“You’re the journalist, Connelly, not me,” he stabbed back.
The problem here is similar—Connolly waited too long to write this book. He may have intimate knowledge of the lads but Lennon was right—Connolly is too slow for his own good. The idea that he waited 38 years since Lennon’s murder to write this bio is astonishing. Talk about sitting on a story!
The sad truth is that, by now, there’s nearly nothing left to squeeze from the life of the Beatles. Any Beatles fan can recite all the touchstone moments off the top of his head—the day John met Paul, the day Pete Best was replaced by Ringo Star, the trips to Germany, the achievement of Sgt. Pepper, the day John met Yoko, the recording of the White Album, the rooftop concert and, the worst day of all, when Lennon was murdered.
This bio does add detail to those moments but it’s not enough. Yes, it is interesting that Connolly was set to interview Lennon a day or two after the murder but only for a moment.
At this point—more than 50 years since the boys appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show—the best books about the Beatles come from interesting analyses like Dreaming the Beatles by Rob Sheffield or straight up fiction. The best of the recent fiction about Lennon in particular comes from Tom Barbash who wrote the recently published The Dakota Winters that tells the story of a family who lived in The Dakota apartments in the months leading up to Lennon’s murder. An earlier novel titled Get Back, Imagine Saving John Lennon by Donovan Day also had its fun moments.
This is not to say that Connelly’s book is anything less than comprehensive. It is but, in writing about Lennon’s life, it’s not enough to go through all the obvious signposts. Lennon was an amazing songwriter and singer, probably an average musician, but his legend needs a breather. We loved him but his life story may be as played out as the 10,000th playing of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
Sometimes, one needs to listen to new music and find fresh legends.
(Originally published in The New York Journal of Book. )
Somewhere in the middle of this revelatory and emotionally powerful memoir by Sally Field, she unpacks a story that is a case study in what Hollywood’s casting couch was like, even for an actress who had already starred in two network series—Gidget and The Flying Nun.
Field’s career was in a lull after those two shows so she was incredulous and delighted to find herself auditioning (it was her first audition ever) for the part of a sexpot in Bob Rafelson’s film Stay Hungry. At that point, director Rafelson was a hot ’70s new wave director, and his resume included the landmark film Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicolson.
Field got the audition for Stay Hungry because of a female casting director who believed in her, but Rafelson wanted no part of her. Still, he had to admit that she read for the part better than anyone else. As Field writes, “He had a hard time owning the idea that he’d be hiring the Flying Nun . . . and it was driving him crazy.”
Rafelson asked for one more meeting at his house. A housekeeper led Sally to his bedroom and was dismissed. He sat on the bed and “he told me to take my top off so he could see my breasts, saying since there was a nude scene in the film, he needed to figure out how to shoot me.”
After reading this memoir about life with her famous father Steve Jobs, one comes away feeling that author Lisa Brennan-Jobs must be the most even-tempered woman on earth. That’s what a bastard Jobs is, and that word does not begin to describe him.
But Brennan-Jobs is nothing if not understanding. Even in the title, she takes it easy on Jobs. She could easily have called this “The Cruelest Man in the World” and it’s doubtful anyone would have argued.
Steve Jobs may have been a visionary but, as has been well-documented elsewhere, he could be a son of a bitch and was an eccentric of the first order. And his first child Lisa seems to have taken the brunt of it. The story is different and powerful when it’s from the point of view of a child.
There’s nothing like primary sources. For all the books written about Jobs, this one means more because it’s so intimate. Brennan-Jobs lived in Job’s house and got nearly a daily primer on how cruel and nutty he could be—although there were moments of humor and love sprinkled here and there.
As the book makes clear, there were special moments and eventual love between father and daughter. Jobs wasn’t a total jerk 100% of the time but he was capable of so many emotionally cruel moments that there are almost too many to catalog. [Continue reading….]
[Note: A few years back, Ted Sturtz, a former investment banker and lover of books, was dismayed by all the newspapers dropping their book review sections. Feeling there was a place online for thoughtful book reviews, he created the website New York Journal of Books and somewhere along the line asked me to participate which I was happy to do. Here’s my latest review for them. I hope you take a look at the website; there are a lot of great reviews and books featured. Thanks!]
This memoir is filled with the type of jaw-dropping anecdotes one might expect from a purebred reporter such as Sy Hersh but one story stands out, precisely because it demonstrates how deeply society has changed over the past 40 years.
The year was 1974 and Richard Nixon had just resigned the presidency. Seymour Hersh, then working for the New York Times, got a tip that Nixon’s wife Pat had been taken to an emergency room with serious injuries. A tipster connected with the hospital called Hersh—who was known to do anything to run down a good story—and told him that Pat had informed the ER doctor that Nixon had hit her.
“I had no idea what to do with this information, if anything,” writes Hersh in his autobiography, “but I went along with the old adage from the City News Bureau, ‘If your mother says she loves you, check it out.’”
Hersh called John Erlichman, who had been one of Nixon’s most trusted lieutenants. Erlichman matter-of-factly told Hersh that he knew of two other incidents when Nixon beat his wife, once when he was president. [continue reading]