on 4 February 2002
Ray Coleman's book, while full of interesting details, is sadly written from the perspective of a John Lennon fan as opposed to a Beatles fan. He clearly does not have much time for Paul McCartney and so tries to convince the reader that John Lennon WAS the Beatles. Anything that went wrong was all McCartney's idea and he was the only one who was keen to do it, while anything that was a success was all down to John. Coleman uses any number of John Lennon quotes to back his arguments. As many of you will know, John Lennon was very bitter and talked a load of rubbish after the Beatles split up, so if you're looking for quotes of him slagging off Paul, Magical Mystery Tour, Apple etc. it's not difficult to find them. But they often do not reflect what Lennon really thought. For instance, in the song 'How do you Sleep', Lennon says that Yesterday was the only good song McCartney wrote. So you could quite easily write in a book something like: 'John never rated Paul as a songwriter. Indeed, he once said that Yesterday was the only good song that Paul ever wrote'. And while the quote would be true, that was not what John thought. That is a favourite tactic of Coleman's. Elsewhere his bias is obvious in his analysis of Revolver where he only describes the Lennon songs, giving the impression that John was the main contributor (Hello!! Taxman, Eleanor Rigby, Here, There and Everywhere, For No One?!) and his description of the Lennon-McCartney co-write 'A Day in the Life' as a 'Lennon song'. He is keen to point out John's strengths as a person, yet describes without judgement the heartless way in which he dumped Cynthia (he got someone else to tell her he wanted a divorce). That said, it's a fascinating book to read and is certainly good value for money and if you share Coleman's apparent view that John was a genius and Paul a superficial idiot then you will probably find it very enjoyable to read. I'm just fed up with the way that books like this are attempting to re-write the Beatles' history.
on 5 September 2006
As a lifelong Beatles fan, it had taken me years to finally get around to reading Ray Coleman's book about John Lennon. I call it 'a book about John Lennon' because it hardly deserved to be called a biography at all, let alone a 'definitive biography'.
For a start, there's the confused and confusing structure of the book. Coleman constantly presents events out of the order in which they happened, and then re-presents them all over again when the main thrust of his narrative actually reaches that point in Lennon's life; the first chapter of this book flashes forward to depict Lennon at art school, but then several chapters in, there's another chapter which has him at art school all over again; why? I think he was trying to be literary, but his style is so bland and cliché-sodden that the effect is numbingly repetitious.
Then there's the hero-worship of Lennon, which is simultaneously blatant and naive. Coleman doesn't seem to realise just what a complex and in some ways unsympathetic person Lennon seems to have been, even by his (Coleman's) account; for example, he tells us about the rather fatuous Bed-Ins and Bag-Ins, with Lennon being at his most pious and sanctimonious, as if they were evidence of what a saintly guy Lennon was. Coleman clearly didn't have much time for Paul McCartney (although that didn't stop him going on to write a biography of McCartney as well), and he persistently depicts McCartney as a showy, glib, lightweight, insincere popular entertainer, as opposed to Lennon the sincere, honest, deep, tortured artist. He never points out that McCartney was the first to bring avant-garde elements into the Beatles' music, he's unable to accept that McCartney may have felt as deeply as Lennon about his own work, fails to tell us anything about what the two men brought to their creative relationship (you'd think from this book that they never even really liked each other) and his artistic judgment is clearly compromised by his abject devotion to Lennon - nothing else can explain why Coleman might agree that 'Hey Jude' ought have been the B-side to 'Revolution', a no-brainer if ever there was one. He seems to have no sense of the Beatles as a unit, which is odd since a lot of people who met them were struck by the extent to which they were a coherent unit, especially in their early years (cf. George Harrison being asked if he believed in God and answering 'We haven't decided yet'.) Coleman's Beatles are four individuals who happen to be in a band together, of whom John was infinitely the most talented one. If that were the case, then surely his solo work should have been better than the stuff he did with the Beatles; once he didn't have to compromise, he should have started making his finest work. But he didn't. Only a Lennon nut would claim that John's solo stuff is better than his Beatles work, but Coleman cannot see this, or else he has a tin ear.
If you just hate McCartney and uncritically adore everything Lennon did, then that last point won't bother you. What should bother you are the errors of fact. It's been established that the Beatles never smoked a joint in Buckingham Palace when they went to collect their MBEs, a legend that Coleman should have been more sceptical of (they did share a quick cigarette in the toilets).
There are some valuable things in here, chiefly recollections of Lennon by people who'd known him early on (such as his Aunt Mimi and his college friends). Coleman's research may one day be valuable to a biographer interested in reasonable standards of truth and objectivity. But this is the Life of a Saint, not an honest, reliable biography of a very cool, deeply fascinating, extremely complex and sometimes rather spiteful, shallow and silly human being. That book has yet to be written.
on 1 December 2007
was this book about Lennon, really? 2 months since i've read it, the impression left in my memory is like it was more of Yoko!..
the book is plenty of interesting and touching details about John, which i (and i assume most of other readers) appreciate, especially on his childhood, on his relationships with his Mum, Aunt Mimi, Cynthia, Stew (whom Coleman names as John's one and only close friend), and overall it's a positive reading by all means...
nevertheless, to a long-life beatles fan, as I am, the book does not add much, unfortunately. i understand that Ray tries to be delicate about things, as he probably must be, but in my opinion the book lacks the edge...
or, lets put it this way, the edge, the case he presents and defends here is really disappointing (and quite often annoying) to a beatles MUSIC fan, to a person for whom the angle at which he/she sees the beatles and their lives (before and after the break-up) is the magic of their music, not anything else. the magic of the music which they happenned to write and play TOGETHER, the witchery which somehow vanished (or at least lost its unbeatable strength, its momentum, impact) once their partnership has fallen apart... again, i can understand and justify this for Coleman, he attemted to write a biography of a person, not a songbook, after all, not a biography of the beatles (which he wrote either), and he tries to find roots of John's music, to picture him a separate, a stand-alone distinctive self-sufficient person who happenned to be in that partnership for a while and leading it (maybe), and found its own way then as an independent artist, who, in Coleman's apparent view, would be doing fine without beatles in fact, etc... i understand the reasoning of Coleman's view, but the fact is that having read this book about Lennon i felt that i do NOT want to buy and read Coleman's biography of the beatles, despite the fact that all the right words on this partnership must be most probably there, i just don't want to know his insight into the beatles story, they must be either obvious or wrong or boring...
lexo1941 put it here correctly before me: you can't underestimate the role and the impact of any beatle into the story, left alone unmatchable Lennon-McCartney songwriting duet and their MUTUAL cross-influence. you can't simply address all the wins to John and underrate Paul's capabilities page by page. McCartney was not a puppet, Mr. Coleman, he WAS there side by side with Lennon, he posessed precisely (or at least closely) as unrepeatable personality as John's, and they BOTH sparked what became the greatest musical project in history.
i mean, i was never really into a battle between beatles' fans as to "who's better musician" or "who's buries the beatles" whatsoever, but Coleman's book made me, unexpectedly, a big fan of McCartney!
i simply couldn't stand that Coleman's total ignorance of Paul, of his input into the beatles story which, i believe, was as precious and unexchangeable as Lennon's in fact. even more importantly for this book, NEITHER CAN YOU DENY McCartney's INPUT into JOHN LENNON (success) story, indeed. why making this part distanced from John's life, development as a person?
and, while trying to make beatles and Paul far distant from Lennon, i couldn't stand that Coleman's stance on Lennon as of the sole, the explicit and the most genuine beatle... why?
the book hardly dedicates half a page to Lennon-McCartney exchange, their collaboration and cross-penetration... whereas, in my view, you can't ignore this, something so screamingly, exposedly unique and never ever repeated in pop/rock music history, speaking about either Lennon, or McCartney, or Harrison, or Starkey (the latter two, by the way, are hardly mentioned in the book at all)... Coleman, in fact, minimises that part of John's life to almost zero, makes it negligible, invisible at all.
in this book, McCartney is rather John's random and occasional contact than his closest ally (!!!), who apart from many other good things actually helped John to prove himself a talented musician...
again, maybe this is how Coleman tries to differentiate himself: maybe he purposedly wants John exposed out of the beatles, out of anything... just pure John. maybe, he thinks, there's too much about beatles by now, who cares, lets just take what is outside... maybe its just my own impression... who would have read Coleman's (and even John's!) book had beatles never existed? and, whether we want it or not, beatles and Paul is the bigger part of John's story.
and who's there in this book in Paul's stead? oh, yes - it's Yoko, who gave Ray a blessing on this book. he paid back generously, i must say: SHE takes those two-thirds of the text which originally belonged (or must have belonged) to McCartney and Co.
why? i guess, because Yoko is the perfect character in John's life to defend Coleman's take on John: of a strong, sharp, disturbed, unsettled, socially/politically unrest, but inside soft and caring person who is just fine with no music.
well, that's ok if someone takes her seriously. i can buy this point when John in Coleman's book says he's not a wim to take a dumb partner into his life and get along with her for many years. i am fine with it. what made me particularly sick of his book, is that Coleman repeatedly, consistently tries to represent John and Yoko's union as the logical partnership of the two levelled high-flying artists, and give it a credit instead of Lennon-McCartney thing which in its turn is much much more valuable to the world. Coleman finds a million details to substantiate this point, and, again, i agree that Yoko is very important part of his life, at least not at last by the mere 14 years they spent in and out with each other, but listen, Yoko would not be 10 miles close to there had there not been Paul McCartney and beatles story before. you have to give it a right stress, you know what i mean? Yoko is NOT and never has been a somewhat significant/influential/gifted/extraordinary artist somewhat close compared to or levelled with John by teir performances, results of activity, etc. she failed to became a great artist even having John backing her up with all his authority...
again and again, i understand how delicate Coleman must have been about many things writing this book, and especially to Yoko and to John himself, but buying this book i expected to find highlights of controversial points in John's life detailed and truthfully told from different angles, rather than have it smoothed, jaded, one-sided, simplified...
that poisons all of the Coleman's book. i used to be pretty sceptical of Yoko before, never sure on to whether she played positive or negative role in John's and beatles story, i was indifferent on her and her involvement i would say, whatever... now, having read this book, full of hidden and explicit appraisals to Yoko, i am now sure there was to much of her in John's life, and there remains too much of her unhealthy influence on anything connected to the memory of this outstanding person.