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John Lennon: The Life Paperback – September 8, 2009
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Critics generally praised John Lennon: The Life, though they often seemed shocked at how much hate and violence could be found in one of the 20th century's most famous proponents of peace and love. Some were also taken aback by the book's length—over 800 pages for a figure who famously lived only to age 40. But most reviewers concluded that the bulk of this biography was appropriate, not only because Norman is the first author to investigate Lennon in such detail but because his sense for which details are interesting (a well-developed portrayal of the young Lennon's Liverpool) and which are not (Beatles ephemera) keeps the book moving at a steady pace.
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“[A] haunting, mammoth, terrific piece of work.” (New York Times Book Review)
“It’s this level of detail that makes Norman’s 822 pages such compulsive reading.” (Bloomberg News)
“[Norman] sharpens what we know about Lennon at just about every turn…devotees will relish the new information, while casual readers will find a familiar story told more truly than ever before.” (Rolling Stone)
“[Norman’s] definitive biography draws impressively on exclusive and extensive interviews with Yoko Ono and, for the first time on the record, their son Sean…densely detailed, intricately woven and elegantly told, John Lennon: The Life neither condemns nor condones, nor does it consecrate its subject. (USA Today)
“The bad news is that John Lennon: The Life is so rich and enveloping that it demands to be read…it’s a clear-eyed and compassionate study of a man...Grade: A-.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“Powerful and heartfelt.” (Washington Post Book World)
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Top Customer Reviews
Philip Norman has tackled one of the most difficult subjects for a biography because Lennon's life was well covered by the press and fostered a lot of myths himself. With access to Yoko Ono, Freddie Lennon's biography (and unpublished papers), Sean Lennon, Paul McCartney (via email) and others, Norman has prepared a biography that is fair balanced and presents his contradictory character thorughout his life--his bravado as well as his insecurities (of which there were many).
Fans that have read other Beatles books or Lennon biographies should be aware that the bulk of the book covers Lennon's pre-Beatles life and his time in the band throughout most of the 800 plus pages of the book. Norman does revisit familiar ground simply because they are essential events and there are those that haven't read ANY books on Lennon but he also introduces a lot of new information as well.
There are a few flaws because we are, after all, only human. There's no bibliography or discography for Lennon (although fans may be aware of the latter the former is important)although he usually cites his sources in the book. Nevertheless, Norman has written a nearly perfect (there are a few minor flaws that crept past those that reviewed the text)biography on Lennon in terms of the facts and the various opinions that knew him best. The book devotes too little in terms of Lennon's post-Beatles career and "The Lost Weekend" that he experienced when he broke up with Yoko. It also skimps over the recording sessions for "Double Fantasy" (where Yoko reportedly fought so much with Lennon during the sessions that co-producer Jack Douglas often scheduled them to work on their tracks at different times). Norman has his opinions as well and doesn't hesitate to let the reader know them. You may disagree with his opinions(I did on some) but he at least provides us with why be believes them.
But fortunately, Philip Norman is making a valiant effort to show, if not all of John Lennon's facets, then as many of them as possible. Having explored the Beatles and their impact on a generation, Norman narrows his focus down to "John Lennon: The Life" -- and he does a superb job unearthing the many details, relationships and differing faces of this much-lamented rock star. We'll never get a John Lennon autobiography, but Norman does a pretty good job of getting inside his shaggy head.
John Lennon was born into an incredibly stormy marriage (which broke up soon after) and raised by his loving, strict Aunt Mimi, though he was something of a hellraising trickster as a child. The one blot: the tragic, shocking death of his mother Julia.
Of course, everyone knows what happened later -- after a brief stint at art school, Lennon became part of a band with an ever-shifting name, and started working on pop songs alongside Paul McCartney. Though briefly devastated by the death of a bandmate, Lennon quickly rose to fame and fortune when the renamed Beatles became not just a hit band, but a new way of life for the youth of Britain, and then the entire world. Hit album after hit album poured from the Beatles, along with the usual rock-star intake of drugs, sex and occasional PR disasters.
But Lennon's interests began to stray in more spiritual directions, and as his marriage to the sweet-natured Cynthia fell apart, he met and fell in love with eccentric Japanese artist Yoko Ono. Suddenly he was devoting himself not to pop hits, but to experimental numbers, "bed-ins" and sitting in bags, and using his world-wide celebrity for the furtherance of peace. While this lifestyle didn't quite tame Lennon's wild side, it led to new focuses in his life -- until it was tragically cut short.
You have to hand it to Philip Norman. While most biographers tend to portray Lennon as a hippie saint or a hopeless jerk, he tries very hard to find a happy medium that encompasses all of Lennon's personality: a flawed man who had a boatload of issues and could be both cruel and kind. While he gets a bit worshipy in the latter parts of Lennon's life, Norman does a pretty good portraying both the musician and those around him in a realistic, compelling light.
Additionally, Norman gives as much careful attention to Lennon's youth as he does to the Beatlemania and John/Yoko years -- in particular, his relationships to his mother, Aunt Mimi, Paul McCartney and the delicate artist Stu, as well as the months and years as a struggling young musician. There's lots of pop psychology, but it works.
In he meantime, Lennon's life is carefully framed in the political and social climes of the time -- the post-war fifties, colourful psychedelic chaos of the 1960s, and the later, grimmer times of the Vietnam War. Politicians, pop art, Liverpudlian slang and changing societies are all explored in detail, and Norman has the perspectives of a lot of people who actually lived in the time and knew Lennon -- his wives, his sons, his bandmates, and even his Aunt Mimi (and she gets a LOT of words in).
He also injects a wry sense of humour into the story (Lennon's aunts turning up at a Beatles performance) as well as a steady, sometimes evocative writing style ("The room reeked of stale beer and wine, and was lined in dusty velvet drapes..."). At the same time, there's some pretty shocking allegations here, such as the claim that Lennon may have been inadvertently involved in the death of his bandmate, but Norman avoids tabloid journalism by explaining why he doubts Lennon actually did any of that.
Lennon himself is a colourful mosaic of seemingly contradictory qualities -- he could be mean-spirited (mocking the disabled), wild, kindly, romantic, neglectful, vibrant, brilliantly unconventional and craving a spirituality that's hard to get when you're filthy rich. As seen by Norman, much of his personality seems to be based on the fear of loved ones dying and leaving him, but we get glimpses of dozens of different sides to his psyche.
"John Lennon: The Life" attempts to accurately portray one of the twentieth century's most unconventional and beloved pop stars, and for the most part, Philip Norman does a brilliant job.