I thought it only fitting that approaching the 32nd anniversary of John Winston Ono Lennon’s death I should give a review of one of the latest in a new crop of biographies to appear about the Toppermost of the Poppermost.
Oh who am I kidding – I will pretty much use any occasion to write about Lennon, but admittedly this one is at least worthy in the eyes of the world.
And thankfully, so is this biography. Tim Riley, in your The Man, The Myth, The Music: Lennon – The Definitive Life – you have definitely – and pretty much definitively – got it right.
For me, the non plus ultra in terms of Beatles tomes – and in particular John Lennon, who has always floated my boat in the McCartney/Lennon partnership – has always been The Love You Make, by Peter Brown (memorably mentioned in The Ballad of John and Yoko, for facilitating their Gibraltar wedding). He was there from the very beginning, the right hand man to Brian Epstein, and he was there pretty much until the end and beyond. It is an unsentimental yet incredibly moving retelling of the Beatles without candyfloss and without sugarcoating. It pulls no punches and it isn’t pretty – but boy it is beautiful.
Obviously Riley doesn’t have that inside running, but he makes up for it in a myriad of ways, not least of which is incredibly detailed research and an eye for bullshit. But the real strength of this biography lies in a single point – he loves John Lennon. He loves the man – but with a true critic’s eye; and he worships his music.
Anyone looking for a salacious bundle of ‘he said this’ and ‘then they were all over each other and this happened’ won’t find that here. Lennon was by no stretch of the imagination a god. In many ways he was a very bad man. But what Riley has done is find the reasons behind his actions. And the truth of the matter is, that at the time of his death, this was a man who was finally finding happiness for perhaps the first time in a very embattled life.
From his abandonment as a child (one only has to listen to the songs ‘Julia’ and ‘Mother’ to know of his issues with Mama), his uneasy love for his Aunt Mimi, to his early marriage to Cynthia, from his symbiotic relationship with Paul, his beloved Stu Sutcliffe, the tortured Eppy – his drug use, his writing, his art, his love for his children, especially Sean – all is thoroughly examined. And it is looked at with curiosity, sure; but also with empathy and care, and a fair degree of caution and respect.
As for Yoko – well, here I congratulate Mr Riley on being far nicer than I ever would be. He is obviously a true biographer – able to put aside personal perspective and focus in on the thoughts and feelings of the subject – whereas I still think of her as a really, really strange woman who stole John Lennon from me!
Seriously though, this is a dream of a bio to read. Even if you aren’t a fan of the Beatles in terms of their music (heathen), read this for a portrait of an artist as a young man – because he was a young man. And he died far too soon.
He may not have been the god that some would like to think of him as, but for me he wrote heavenly music – and I thank Tim Riley for exposing, in the nicest way, a bit more of the bittersweet fallen angel that I see John Lennon as.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Kate Stone is the owner of Wardrobe Witch, and is addicted to four things in life; books, writing, fashion and social media. Her love for shoes has bypassed addiction and is now a subject of a clinical psychological study. She will happily rant about just about anything - read her thoughts at www.40isthenew30.me and tweet to her @oskythespy, or let her cast a fashion spell at www.wardrobe-witch.com.View all Kate Stone posts.