The Rutles: All You Need is Cash, was a 1978 television mockumentary that parodied the Beatles, with John Lennon spoofed by the fictional Ron Nasty.
In John Lennon: The Life, biographer Philip Norman shows us the real Lennon, who could be quite nasty indeed.
We learn about the many instances, sometimes even on stage, in which Lennon ridiculed disabled people with his portrayals of ?cripples.?
During the Beatles? stretch in Hamburg’s infamous Reeperbahn, Lennon engaged in an ongoing orgy of casual sex, yet demanded unquestioning faithfulness from his then-girlfriend Cynthia Powell, back home in Liverpool.
It was also during the Beatles? stint in Hamburg that Lennon would suddenly stop playing, and call his young German audiences ?Fuckin? Nazis?.
Later, after photographer Bob Freeman found a London flat for him, Lennon, according to Norman, had an affair with Freeman’s wife and sang about it in “Norwegian Wood.”
Lennon also ridiculed the religion and sexual orientation of Beatles? manager Brian Epstein. The song “Baby You’re a Rich Man” includes the lyrics ?Baby, You’re a rich man, too? but which, during practice sessions Norman tells us, Lennon sang as ?Baby, You’re a rich fag, Jew.?
And though he was a critic of society, he was capable of his own stunning hypocrisies. At the same time that he was seeking a divorce from Cynthia on the grounds of alleged infidelity, his lover Yoko Ono was pregnant with his child.
In contrast to these nasty aspects of Lennon’s character, he was, nevertheless, a peace advocate and human rights supporter. His opposition to the US’s bloody and pointless Vietnam War, in fact, almost cost him the right to take up permanent residency in the States.
Through Norman’s in-depth examination of John Lennon’s early years, we can start to make sense of this talented, creative and socially conscious, yet insecure, vulnerable and controlling individual. The book includes extensive research into his parents? unstable relationship, his father’s long periods away at sea and his mother’s infidelities.
He was, in fact, raised by his aunt and (mistakenly) believed that he had been abandoned by his father. The young John Lennon was deeply affected by the deaths of his mother, his uncle George?a father figure in his young life?and art school friend Stuart Sutcliffe. These events, Norman suggests, had a profound influence upon Lennon’s character.
Lennon’s artistic influences, however, ranged from Alice in Wonderland to Elvis Presley, and Philip Norman’s writing is at its best when he describes the processes by which Lennon and the other Beatles brought their groundbreaking original music to life.
We see how producer George Martin helped combine diverse elements, brought in extra studio performers, experimented with the existing recording technology, and turned Lennon’s raw ideas into figurative and literal gold. The reader is swept along as Norman describes the creative ride behind selected tracks.
Most significantly, this book may change readers? assumptions about Yoko Ono and her relationship with Lennon. Ono is unfairly blamed, as the Barenaked Ladies remind us in their song “Be My Yoko Ono,” for “breaking up the Beatles.?
In Norman’s portrayal, she is herself a victim of Lennon’s possessiveness and jealousy, yet it is Lennon who is eventually transformed through his relationship with her. From uninvolved parent and misogynist, he became a devoted father to his second son, Sean, a prototypical househusband, and an advocate of women’s rights.
Though he was murdered in 1980, John Lennon’s life and music are still a source of intense interest. Norman, of course, will not have the last word on the subject. In fact, a film biography of Lennon’s teenage years, Nowhere Boy, is in the works.
Younger music fans, nevertheless, may not appreciate the tremendous influence that the Beatles have on today’s popular culture. While British rockers Oasis have performed Beatles? songs, included Beatles references in their lyrics, and acknowledged the influence that the iconic ?60s group have had upon their music, more subtle reverberations can be seen throughout the entertainment industry.
Innovations made by the Beatles and their contemporaries are still being used by artists in recording studios and on the dance floor. Though the methodology may have changed from analogue to digital, the sampling and continuous loops used to enhance the richness and variety of sounds in the Beatles? “Tomorrow Never Knows,” for example, are an important feature of today’s techno.
And although transistor radios may have given way to personal music devices playing Internet downloads, one can still hear provocative compositions, such as Green Day’s American Idiot, carrying the echoes of John Lennon’s social and political activism.
Diehard Beatle and John Lennon fans may be disappointed by John Lennon: The Life. It is not a flattering portrait. In spite of this, it is a well-researched, highly readable, entertaining, and informative book about an important and influential musical and cultural figure.
John Lennon: The Life is published by Doubleday. 851 Pages, ISBN: 978-0-385-66100-3