Sunday, March 26, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: John (John Lennon)


To the casual observer, John Lennon's wife was Yoko Ono. However, those who know more about the Beatles' history and background know that before Yoko, John was married to Cynthia (nee Powell) and in fact had spent a decade of his life with her before cheating with Ono an leaving her. Always one to shy from the limelight of Beatlemania during the 1960s and content to be a housewife raising their young son Julian, Cynthia had arguably the best perspective on John's life during the most famous period of his life. While she had written a book about her first marriage in the late 1970s called A Twist of Lennon, it wasn't until the late 2000s that a more comprehensive and thorough look at her time was published: the current book titled simply John. Even though I read it when it came out, I've given it a fresh re-reading for this review.


The book begins with an interesting, heartfelt, and candid introduction from Julian Lennon describing the father who "let me down in so many ways." It's rather heartbreaking to read of Julian's love for his father, while he fully understood from a young age that while his dad sang to the world about love and peace, he gave little-to-none of either to the wife and child he abandoned in 1968. From here, Cynthia begins the book with details about her birth and childhood in Liverpool during WWII. Born in 1939 as the youngest of three children, Cynthia, like John, suffered the unexpected death of a parent while she was a teenager. In her case, it was her father and she handled it, at least from an emotional standpoint, better than John did the death of his mother. It was while a student at art school in Liverpool that she first met John in 1958. After being initially wary of him, they ended up falling in love and even though John's jealousy, insecurity, and aggression meant that their relationship was a bit stormy (including an incident Cynthia recounts where John smacked her in the face, knocking her to the ground), there was genuine love and affection for her on John's part. I'm not going to recount the Beatles' history during this period as it's been written about to death elsewhere and Cynthia does a good job summarizing it in the book as it goes along. What does stand out are the countless anecdotes about John where he is boorish, insensitive, uncaring, and just downright nasty. While she does balance these out with stories of his kindness and generosity (especially with his money, which is well-known), as the Beatles' career progressed and his drug use (which she states was the #1 contributor to the demise of their marriage) increased, these became fewer and further between. She suspected that there was something going on with Yoko from the first time she met her in 1967, but was still stunned when she walked in on John and Yoko in 1968. Amazingly, John went back to Cynthia for a very short time and played it off as a one-off fling until leaving for good and abandoning her and their son. The divorce was nasty although, as she fully admits, Cynthia accepted a ridiculously low settlement offer when she could've gotten so much more. What was surprising was that even in light of this treatment at John's hands, she never stopped loving him and spent the next dozen years up to John's murder wishing for them to be friends again, both for Julian's sake and for hers. Sadly, it never happened.


From here, the book details her life bringing up Julian on her own and how his father's abandonment affected him. Some of the stories are heartbreakingly cruel and it's hard not to feel anger at John when reading some of the things he said and did to his young son. Over the next couple of decades, Cynthia had two more failed marriages and another long term relationship that ended before she finally found the right match with her fourth (and final) husband, Noel Charles, in 2002. To her credit, she's very self-aware and reflective throughout the book, realizing that was much too accommodating and deferential to John, and not assertive enough in standing up to him during their marriage. She also admits to rushing into her post-John relationships despite having reservations about all three men. Her stories of Yoko's manipulations and harsh treatment of Julian, especially after John's death, are equally upsetting. Although Cynthia never comes across as being mean-spirited or out to tell salacious tales, it's hard not to be disgusted with the way John and (especially) Yoko treated them. Still, I don't doubt as to the veracity of the stories as not only have they been corroborated elsewhere, but none of them are anything other than entirely believable and in keeping with John and Yoko's behavior. Likewise, her candidness when discussing John's Aunt Mimi is refreshing. Her portrait of Mimi as emotionally cold, distant, and jealous of anyone else who got close to John, as well as Mimi being incredibly class conscious and snobby jibes with much of what's been written about her elsewhere. This is despite Mimi's attempts to soften her own image in later years with the numerous interviews she gave. I realize that we all have preconceived biases when we read something and that I'm perhaps tipping my hand as to how mine lean, but I didn't find anything in this book that ran against what I already thought about the main players in John's life.


The biggest thing that comes through in the book is how caring and supportive in general Cynthia was as a person. She has an especially close and loving relationship with Julian and everything she did to support him and make sure he became a fine grown man are testament to what kind of person she was. The book ended with a somewhat chilling admission that, while she never regrets having her son, had she known in 1958 what falling for John Lennon would do to her life, she would go back, turn around, and walk away from him. This is one of those books that will make you see John in a much less flattering light, especially if you held him in high regard beforehand. I've always been someone who admired his music and much of his life, but also knew about his many flaws and how poorly he could treat people. For me, it didn't change my opinion of him as much as it simply confirmed how I felt about his failings and shortcomings. As Cynthia rightly pointed out, he was a brilliantly creative genius who was also incredibly complex and flawed.  The overall tone of the book is somewhat bleak and downcast, but given John's treatment of her and how much of a struggle her life was after their marriage broke up, it's quite understandable. If you hero-worship John Lennon, then this probably isn't the book for you, but if you've got a more balanced and realistic view of the man, this book (despite its few flaws) will give you a fairly accurate portrait of the man from the woman who was by his side for the most famous decade of his life.

MY RATING: 8.5/10


12 comments:

  1. I read this book when it first came out and I wasn't and am not impressed,and Cynthia wrote in a very biased and in many ways inaccurate way about John,and John and Yoko and didn't say in this book what she had said years before.





    John Lennon is a great example of people can change and are not fixed to be a certain way as a man or a woman.Yoko changed John into a much better person as a pro-feminist man and the feminist changes *are* for the better, and many pro-feminist men have recognized this too! They say it has freed them and allowed them to develop and express more of all of the shared common *human* traits,emotions,behaviors,abilities and reduce and prevent male violence against women and children etc. Definitions of "masculine" and "feminine" differ across time periods, and in different societies.



    John Lennon is a great example of how feminism changing limited artificial gender definitions and roles,changed him for the much better. John as a child and teenager had a lot of traumas that permanently psychologically damaged him,but because of his and Yoko's beautiful loving relationship,and as he said she was a feminist before he met her,(and he said that because she was a feminist before he met her,they were going to have to have a 50/50 equal relationship which he never had before) he went in to primal scream therapy and Yoko went with him and he dealt with all of his pain and anger for the very first time at age 29.



    When John was a young guy,he was often drunk getting into fist fights with men,hitting women,and womanizing including cheating on his girlfriends and then his first wife Cynthia.Of course Paul,George and Ringo did the same with all of the groupies all 4 of them had while touring from 1963-1966. I hadn't watched these Mike Douglas shows in years until December 2010 when it was the 30th anniversary of John's tragic crazy murder.



    Out of the 5 Mike Douglas shows that John and Yoko co-hosted for a week that was taped in January 1972 and aired in February,a young criminal lawyer Rena Uviller(she went on to become a Supreme Court Judge) who worked with juveniles was on, and she,Mike Douglas,John and Yoko were discussing the then very recent women's liberation movement. George Carlin was on too.



    Rena said,she agrees with Yoko,that the idea of Women's lib is to liberate all of us,and she said ,I mean we could talk hours on the way men really suffer under the sex role definitions.Yoko agreed with what she said too. Rena said that men don't really realize they have only to gain from Women's Lib,and that she thinks that maybe with a little more propaganda we can convince them.



    John then said,yeah there is a lot to gain from it,just the fact that you can relax and not have to play that male role,he said we can do that,and he said that I can be weak,( but notice how then in a male dominated gender divided,gender stereotyped,sexist society,and even unfortunately still now in a lot of ways,the "female" role was defined as the weak one,and the male role as the strong one) I don't have to protect her all the time and play you know that super hero,I don't have to play that,she allows me to be weak sometimes and for me to cry,and for her to be the strong one,and for me to be the weak one. John then said,and it really is a great relief,after 28 years of trying to be tough,you know trying to show them,I don't give a da*n and I'm this and I'm that,to be able to relax.and just be able to say,OK I'm no tough guy forget it.


























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  2. Rena then said,I think in some funny way,I think girls even as children,have a greater lattitude because a little girl can be sort of frilly and feminine or she can be a tomboy and it's acceptable,but a little boy if he's not tossing that football,there's a lot of pressure on him.John said,there's a lot of pressure,not to show emotion,and he said that there was a lot of pressure on me not to be an artist,to be a chemist and he said he discussed this on another Mike Douglas episode.



    Rena said that unfortunately some of the leaders in the Women's Liberation movement fall victim to being spokesmen,for Women's Lib, and yet at least in public personality they seem to really have a certain amount of contempt for the hair curled housewife and there is a kind of sneering contempt,and she said I think it's a measure of their own lack of liberation.And Yoko said it's snobbery,and Rena said yeah,they really don't like other women,but I'm sympathetic,and Mike Douglas then said a sexist woman-hating statement,saying,well women don't like other women period.Rena said,no see that's very unliberated and Yoko said, in response to what Mike Douglas said,that's not true,that's not true.And John said,you see they are brought up to compete with men.



    Yoko said that even though in Japan they say they don't have much of a woman problem and women already had some liberation,there is still a long way to go that she really agrees with Rena that so many female liberation movement people basically hate women,and we have to first start to understand women and love them whether they are housewives or not,and she said that snobbery is very bad and we have to somehow find out a way to co-existing with men,and she asked Rena don't you think so and she said most definitely. George Carlin said,that actually many successful women are acting out male roles just like a lot of blacks think they escaped are acting out white roles.John also said that he thinks that women have to try twice as hard as to make it as men,and he said you know they have to be on their toes much more than a man.



    On another Mike Douglas episode from the same week,former actress and acclaimed film maker Barbara Loden was on and Yoko had requested her as a guest.John asked her ,Did you have any problems working with the men,you know like giving them instructions and things like that and Barbara said,I did, but I think it was because I was afraid that they would not accept what I said,and I wasn't quite that authoritative in my own self.John said it's certainly a brave thing to do,and Yoko said it is.



    Mike Douglas asked Yoko if John's attitude had changed much towards her since The Female Liberation Movement,and at first Yoko says John's attitude from the beginning was the same,and that they met on that level.John then says,twice, I was a male chauvinist and Yoko says,yes he was a male chauvinist but,and then John says,Can I say how you taught me,and Yoko says yes.John says,How I did it in my head was,would I ask Paul or George,or would I treat them the way I would treat a woman? John then said,it's a very simple thing maybe it's fetch that or do that ,and I started thinking if I said that to them,they'd say come on get it yourself,and if you put your wife or your girl friend in the position of your best friend,and say now would I say that to him,then you know when you're treading on some delicate feelings.













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  3. Mike Douglas said years later that after this week of John and Yoko co-hosting his show,many young people who had never watched his show before,(and his main audience was middle America and people older than their 20's and even mostly their 30's) told him they loved the show,and that it was great and his ratings went up high for those shows.Even if John didn't always live up to his feminist ideals and beliefs in his personal life,(although he did with Yoko because of her and this why and how he emotionally evolved into a caring,nurturing,house husband and father to Yoko and Sean),just the fact that he spoke out as a man in support of the feminist movement on a popular TV show back in early 1972 when most of the sexist male dominated woman-hating society looked down at it and considered it crazy which in some ways it's still unfortunately wrongly misunderstood(and it's really the male dominated,sexist,woman-hating society that has always been so wrong and crazy!),and the fact that John was (and still is) greatly admired and influential to many young people male and female,he did *a lot* to legitimize it and show it was rational,reasonable,needed and right!



    A few months later he was performing Woman Is The Ni**er Of The World on The Dick Cavett Show and then months after that live in Madison Square Garden.In his very last radio interview done by Dave Sholin etc from RKO Radio just hours before he was tragically shot and killed, John said I'm more feminist now than I was when I sang Woman Is The N**ger,I was intellectually feminist then but now I feel as though at least I've put not my own money,but my body where my mouth is and I'm living up to my own preachings as it were.



    He also said what is this BS men are this way, women are that way,we're all human.He had also said that he comes from the macho school of pretense of course *all* men really are they are just too conditioned all of their lives to realize and admit it.And he said that men are trained to be like they are in the army,and that it's more like that in England but he knows it's this way over here too,he said that they are taught as boys and men don't react,don't feel,don't cry,and he said he thinks that's what screwed us all up and that he thinks it's time for a change.



    Barbara Graystark of Newsweek interviewed John September 1980 and part of what she said to John is,You've come a long way from the man who wrote at 23,''Women should be obscene rather than heard.'' And she asks John how did this happen? And John said that he was a working-class macho guy who was used to being served and Yoko didn't buy that. John then said that from the day he met Yoko,she demanded equal time,equal space,equal rights. He said that he said to Yoko then,don't expect him to change in any way and don't impinge on his space. John said that Yoko said to him then she can't be here because there's no space where you are everything revolves around him and that she can't breath in that atmosphere. John then says in this interview that he's thankful to her for the(feminist) education.


    http://www.beatlesinterviews.org/db1980.0929.beatles.html





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  4. Mike Douglas also said to John and Yoko, You're both so different, you had such different childhoods. John said, it's incredible isn't it? Yoko said, Yes! Mike asked, What do you think has attracted you to each other? Yoko said, We're very similar. John then said, She came from a Japanese upper-middle class family. Her parents were bankers and all that jazz,very straight. He said they were trying to get her off with an ambassador when she was 18.You know, now is the time you marry the ambassador and we get all settled. I come from a an upper-working class family in Liverpool, the other end of the world. John then said, we met but our minds are so similar,our ideas are so similar. It was incredible that we could be so alike from different environments, and I don't know what it is, but we're very similar in our heads. And we look alike too!



    Mike also asked John about his painful childhood,and how his father left him when he was 5,and John said how he only came back into his life when he was successful and famous(20 years later!),and John said he knew that I was living all those years in the same house with my auntie,but he never visited him.He said when he came back into his life all those years later,he looked after his father for the same amount of time he looked after him,about 4 years.




    He also talked about how his beloved mother Julia,who encouraged his music by teaching him to play the banjo,got hit and killed by a car driven by an off duty drunk cop when John was only 17 and just getting to have a relationship with her after she had given him away to be raised by her older sister Mimi when he was 5.


    And John also said,And in spite of all that,I still don't have a hate-the-pigs attitude or hate-cops attitude.He then said, I think everybody's human you know,but it was very hard for me at that time,and I really had a chip on my shoulder,and it still comes out now and then,because it's a strange life to lead .He then said,But in general ah,I've got my own family now ...I got Yoko and she made up for all that pain.




    John's psychologist Dr. Arthur Janov told Mojo Magazine in 2000( parts of this interview is on a great UK John Lennon fan site,You Are The Plastic Ono Band) that John had as much pain as he had ever seen in his life,and he was a psychologist for at least 18 years when John and Yoko saw him in 1970! He said John was a very dedicated patient. He also said that John left therapy too early though and that they opened him up,but didn't get a chance to put him back together again and Dr. Janov told John he need to finish the therapy,he said because of the immigration services and he thought Nixon was after him,he said we have to get out of the country.John asked if he could send a therapist to Mexico with him,and Dr. Janov told him we can't do that because they had too many patients to take care of,and he said they cut the therapy off just as it started really,and we were just getting going.




    http://urthepob.byethost24.com/pob/pob00.html?ckattempt=1


    Also this great article by long time anti-sexist,anti-men's violence,anti-pornography former all star high school football player and author of the great,important 2006 book,The Macho Paradox:How Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help, Jackson Katz.John Lennon on Fatherhood,Feminism,and Phony Tough Guy Posturing http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jackson-katz/john-lennon-on-fatherhood_b_800333.html


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  5. Also Cynthia Lennon is quoted in the great John Lennon biography Lennon,by award winning music journalist and former editor of The Melody Maker Magazine and good friend of John's for 18 years,Ray Coleman as saying somethings like she knew as soon as she saw John and Yoko together she knew that she lost him,and that it was a meeting of the minds and that she knew that they were right for each other.She also said that she told John before he started his relationship with Yoko that she sees and incredible similarity between him and Yoko and said to him that there is something about her that is just like you.She told him that he may say that she's this crazy avant garde artist and that he's not interested in her,but that she can see more into John's future with Yoko then he can.Cynthia also had said that she was never on John's mental wavelength,but of course she didn't say and admit any of this in her book.

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  6. In this January 1971 interview with Red Mole John says that Yoko was well into liberation before he met her and that she had to fight her way through a man's world and he said the art world is completely dominated by men and said so Yoko was full of revolutionary zeal when they met. Then John said there was never any question about it that they had to have a 50-50 relationship or there was no relationship and he said he was quick to learn and he said that Yoko did an article in Nova more than two years back in which she said Woman is the Ni**er of the world. A year later he co-wrote with Yoko the song Woman Is The N*gger of The World,and bravely performed it live on The Dick Cavett show and at Madison Square Garden in 1972 and the song was banned off a lot of radio stations.


    John also says in this same interview that it's very subtle how you're taught male superiority.


    http://www.beatlesinterviews.org/db1971.0121.beatles.html

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  7. In this 2002 interview with John’s May Pang who was his girl friend during his separation from Yoko she was asked as the last question,what would she most like the world to know about John,and she said the fact that he was a kind sensitive man who was insecure in his personal life.The interviewer also says how John's guitar playing has always been underrated and May talks about this too.


    http://articles.absoluteelsewhere.net/Articles/may_pang_int.html

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  9. Musician and artist and long time good John Lennon friend, Klaus Voorman says that Yoko Ono made John Lennon a kinder,more gentle better person.


    http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-merseyside-37223991

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  10. John Lennon said in his very last radio interview (just hours before he was so cruelly, insanely shot and killed by a crazy,horrible piece of sh*t who used to be a big Beatles fan since he was a teenager, and John was his favorite Beatle) that like most young men he was more involved with his career than with his children,and he said he regretted not spending enough time with Julian. He also said that he and Julian would have a relationship in the future but sadly they both were deprived of this.



    And John didn't do the same horrible thing to Julian that his father did to him. John's father literally totally abandoned him and literally didn't see, or talk to John from the time he was 5,until he was a successful famous 24 year old.John did see Julian sometimes, and spoke with him on the phone and sent him post cards,birthday and Christmas cards and presents and he bought Julian a guitar when he was 11 as a Christmas present. John's father never did any of these things and John said it was like his father was dead.

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  11. And to debunk that Yoko was ever ''ugly'',


    Yoko, is very intelligent,and a nice person for the most part who changed John from a sexist psychologically messed up very young guy who was getting drunk,and into fist fights with men,and hitting women sometimes,into a feminist nurturing house husband and father and gave him happiness for the first time in his life. Even Paul has said that he thinks John meeting Yoko was the best thing to happen to him for his personal happiness.


    And I have seen many pictures and video interviews of Yoko when she was younger and she looked very attractive and with no make up on,and Scavullo who was one of the best fashion and celebrity photographers took a glamorous beautiful black and white portrait of Yoko with eye make up on and her hair done fancy and it's on her biography on The All Music Guide online. And Yoko looks more attractive at almost 83 than a lot of young people! And she's always been very intelligent too.


    She looks beautiful as a young woman here as quite a few people said with no make up on her Instagram page,https://instagram.com/p/zAeIgqjzuH/?taken-by=yokoonoofficia

    Also as quite a few people say here Yoko looked really beautiful here in 1981 accepting the grammy award for John and her album Double Fantasy [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?

    v=gpdRp0vVWK4]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpdRp0vVWK4[/url]


    Also I once spoke to a former radio DJ who was now a manager of a CD store,and he told me that he was the one who went to Yoko's New York apartment in 1983 to do a very long interview with her by another DJ who hosted a great popular 2 hour Breakfast With The Beatles Sunday radio show. I asked him what was Yoko like and he said that she was a very nice lady.

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  12. Wow, thanks for the comment bomb! I appreciate you taking the time to offer your opinions, for real. That's certainly a lot of information to digest, and I agree with a lot of it. Obviously, Cynthia's book is going to have her own personal bias injected as that's only human nature. However, she's always been very credible so I don't doubt what she wrote is true, although perhaps her interpretation of some of it could be up for debate.

    John is definitely a complicated and complex personality to study and as with all of us, he evolved throughout his life. However, as is usual with these sort of things, the truth lies somewhere in between the two extremes, which in this case would be the trashing of John by someone like Albert Goldman and the absolutely whitewashed hagiography perpetuated by Yoko since December 1980.

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