76 of 79 people found the following review helpful
I have loved the Beatles since I was 3 and have been a rabid, inveterate fan and Beatle expert since I was 11. It is not surprising that I have an extensive Beatles' library and have read many books about the Beatles, individually and as a group for many years.
John Lennon, aka the Chief Beatle, was a prominent figure in every sense of the word. He left an indelible stamp on history, music and other aspects of culture and remains a fascinating person to this day.
Of the many Lennon biographies I have read, I liked this one best. This is not to discount the stellar works by Alan Clayson and Ray Coleman, whose objective, scholarly treatment of Lennon remain biographical bars that have been raised.
Cynthia's first book, "A Twist of Lennon" was written when John was still living. In that first book, which could be thought of as a volume one to this work, one gets the impression that Cynthia was too close to the memories and that it was hard for her to write objectively. That would certainly be understandable. Since she was writing about her life and experiences as she knew them, objectivity was not required; however, one gets the sense that Cynthia was still as freshly hurt as she was when the incidents took place.
In "John," readers get a more rounded picture of Cynthia, John, the other Beatles and their wives as well as others who were close to the Beatles, such as their manager, the late Brian Epstein. Readers get a "feel for" or a sense of each person mentioned in the book, including family members such as the previously little mentioned people in Cynthia's family. Readers come to see the forces, people and influences that shaped Cynthia, and by extension John Lennon as well.
I think this is a stellar book; it presents a John Lennon as only one person could have possibly known him. John is not placed on a pedastal, but on his feet of clay, warts and all so that readers keep in mind that John, George, Cynthia, et al. are REAL PEOPLE and not impersonal, out of reach icons. From all accounts, Cynthia's included, John did not want to be idolized or viewed as anything other than a human being, warts and all. His early post Beatle classic, "Working Class Hero" reflects this sentiment as well.
John's indomitable Aunt Mimi is described in fuller detail; readers learn of her relationship with her niece-in-law, Cynthia and how the two often locked horns. Cynthia appears to feel John's aunt was quite a force to be reckoned with until her death in 1991. Although the wrapping paper and bow are taken off of John's aunt and her human foibles and short comings are portrayed, it is done with respect and as only a person who knew her could say.
I loved the parts about Cynthia's ride on the train with John during their school years and, later the birth of their son, Julian in April of 1963. At that time, John's fame with the Beatles was just starting to sky rocket, so it was suggested that Cynthia remain relegated to the background with their child. While nobody could or would doubt John loved their son, he had trouble communicating with him during their lives together and later, after he and Cynthia were divorced in 1968. John is shown at his most vulnerable; from what he called his "fat Elvis" stage in 1965 to the long periods he and Julian were apart. His music reflects a lot of that sadness; the loss of John's mother Julia is immorialized in song. "Julia" and "Mother" are nods to the mother John had an intermittent relationship with until her untimely death in 1957.
You want to grab your hat and glasses for the bumpy ride as you feel and read about John's downward spiral; the deterioration of his marriage to Cynthia; his drug usage; his 1965 classic "Norwegian Wood," which was a cryptic piece about an extramarital affair John had. Sadness from Cynthia and John are painted in bold strokes and bright colors; you can feel sadness emanating from them both and get a good understanding of the issues that led to this feeling.
Althought written from Cynthia's perspective, she strives to explain John's also and understands they were both vastly different in many areas. It showed to me that she still loves John to this day. Since this is Cynthia's account, one believes her; she was the only person who lived these experiences and had the unique perspective that being the first Beatle Wife had. John's seemingly callous ending of their marriage was painful to read as one felt Cynthia's pain as she recounts this very difficult point in her life. She and Julian say that John in effect cut them out of his life and they all suffered as a consequence. Cynthia in effect calls John on his hypocricy of singing about peace in public, while not extending that olive branch to their child.
Cynthia does an admirable job of presenting the "real" John Lennon, not the idealized icon people have idolized for decades. She stands him up on his feet of clay and reminds all that John, as everybody else has those feet of clay and not to be disappointed to see that he was far from perfect. In fact, John would have admitted that himself according to Cynthia and others who were close to him.
Despite the hardships and rough spots in their own Long & Winding Roads and many a Hard Day's Night, John appeared to be turning things around towards the latter part of his life. He was happier; had a good marriage to Yoko; a second son, Sean, whom he obviously adored. (Sean was born on John's 35th birthday in 1975). John was moving closer towards Julian and it was Julian who, with Yoko comforted Sean when their father was killed in 1980. John's music during the latter part of his life reflects that of his song, "Starting Over." It was very sad that this complex, brilliant man of many contradictions was killed in the prime of his life. Julian, Cynthia, Yoko and Sean were deprived of a vital human being in their lives and are undoubtedly left with many sad, open-ended questions.
Still, this is an excellent book. It offers a deeper, more probing and insightful look into John's life. This is a book that not only Beatle fans will treasure, but everyone will. Julian's introduction makes a good book even better still. I love this book!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 18 July 2006
Having not been alive during the beatlemania and knowing very little about the band I love so much this book was a heaven sent. I did not put it down from the moment it came through my door. By the time I had finished I was extremly grateful to Cynthia for writing her tale as it cleared so many things about John that had been smothered in rumour and I learnt so much about the man I admire. Although some of it is hard to read as she reveals the less well known often disparaging side of John, but she writes with such strength of character and I have nothing but admiration for her. I feel such sadness that we will never hear John's side of the story, and as probably predicted Cynthia's story may well be in some parts one sided. But we must understand that in any situation a divorce is hard but what she went through with Julian in those circumstances is admirable to say the least. But, without a doubt this is an amzing read for any John Lennon fan and as one of the younger ones I may say that is a great way to finmd out more.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 11 June 2006
When I first read about this book, I dismissed it assuming Cynthia was "cashing in". However, the book was recommended to me and once I picked it up I could not put it down. Cynthia has produced a fascinating glimpse into the life of an icon. She manages to remain balanced, and yet her descriptions of his behaviour show that he was complex, flawed and often cruel. His treatment of his older son Julian is nothing short of disgraceful. As a long time Lennon fan, I am sorry to say that he was not a nice person and Cynthia would have been better off without him, which is precisely her own conclusion at the end of the book. Read it! It is excellent.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 2010
As a died-in-the-wool Beatles fan, I have read many Beatles-related books down the years. I highly recommend Cynthia's book, as it is the only account, I feel, that really sheds light on the real John. That he was a troubled soul, and latterly a lousy father to Julian, is obvious, and confirms what we always suspected. Cynthia and her son were badly treated, unforgiveable, when considering John's own experiences in family breakdowns and relationships. She always remained loyal. He cruelly betrayed her. Did he never really care that he was perpetuating his own hang-ups, through his treatment of his wife and son? To sacrifice them on the altar of 'personal artistic expression', like he did, was morally repugnant, but there again, I wasn't married to Cynthia, and as we know, one story is good, until another is told. He was in an emotional rut, and in Life, sometimes one has to take a drastic course. Reading this book, made me realise just how psychologically scarred many talented, and charismatic people are, and it is accounts like this that make reading them, a must, for students of personality types, as well as music.
One last word. It left me with a great deal of respect for Cynthia, but the greatest thing of all, John's musical genius, remains undimmed.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2005
Before John Lennon cheated on his first wife Cynthia and left her and their son Julian, they had what seems to have been a generally loving marriage. This book demythologizes John, and his first marriage.
"John" by Cynthia Lennon is the story about who they were before they met, about Cynthia's marriage to the famous Beatle, how John ran off with Yoko, and how she managed after his rejection to resolve things amicably. We see John the person, and not as much of John the musician.
History knows most of what happened during John's short life. Few details have been left uncovered. Most of what is known about the former Cynthia Powell is in the shadow of John Lennon. What she does here is shine the light on the John Lennon she knew, revealing John's own shadows and dark side.
The bulk of the book is candid.
She remarks how John, the world peacemaker, said, "Give peace a chance," as he lay in bed with Yoko. Young son Julian watched at home, asking his mother why his father was with another woman. John, she asserts, was very good to his fans, even at the height of the Beatles' popularity.
There are plenty of Beatle stories here, retold from the vantage of an active participant. Some of it is familiar territory to any fan of the Fab Four. Because of the Beatles' well-documented history, the context is easy to follow. From John's first time hitting on Cynthia while she was still engaged to someone else, to her description of how she processed John's death and George's deadly cancer, and what happened to all those who were part of the John Lennon story.
"John" is not in the least sentimental. John's drug use is mentioned matter-of-factly. The slow realization that John was methodically cheating on her with Yoko is covered, as is his casual admission that he had otherwise been frequently unfaithful with many other women.
This is not a John Lennon the seer love fest. Somehow, though, despite John's selfish arrogance during their marriage and later rejection, she seems to have loved him throughout.
How much of this is true? After all, wasn't she the one he left? Isn't she bitter that John did not love her as much as he once claimed? Doesn't that anger filter her choice of stories and wording? Cynthia herself ran through three husbands before settling on her fourth and current spouse. She was not then, is not now naive, and surely understands the ramifications of "John" on John Lennon lore.
I fully recommend "John" by Cynthia Lennon. It may not be the whole, unadulterated truth, but it should help hardcore fans sort through the mass of rumor, hogwash and facts residing about Lennon in popular culture.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 24 June 2006
How much do we really know about the real person behind the celebrities we admire and in some cases hero-worship? The truth is, very little. What is more our view of these individuals has often been distorted by the media who have an interest in emphasising the purient without ever considering the character of the people they place on a pedestal or pillory, in the pursuit of creating sales.
Cynthia Lennon has provided us with an honest, sympathetic and respectful appraisal of her role as wife to John and mother of his first son, Julian. She does this with fairness to all concerned and without blame or bitterness.
There are perhaps only a few individuals who can fairly claim to know the real John Lennon and you feel as you read this book that Cynthia Lennon is one of them. Of course, it would be great to read a book by Paul McCartney about the life and times of the Beatles. Howver, I doubt such a book would reach the same depth in describing John Lennon as a person, as Cynthia Lennon has achieved here.
Cynthia Lennon's style is very easy to read and you find yourself drawn into the extended and complicated family life of Lennon and the Beatles. Her explanation of the role of Yoko Ono in the break up of her mariage and the Beatles does little to dispel the image of a stalker intent on capturing her prize. Is this unfair? Read the book and decide for yourself. However, it is much to the credit and credibility of the account that again, Ms Lennon, explains the events without censure or condemnation.
I'm no expert on Lennon biographies. In fact, I have avoided ever reading them because I have a cynical view that most are exercises in wealth creation for the writer with very little consideration for preserving truth and historical accuracy.
I am left with the feeling that this is as close as you are going to get to a truthful, honest and accurate account of John Lennon. It is a marvellous read, a significant contribution to the subject and very highly recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 18 January 2006
I read this book after many a year of loving the Beatles expecting something very personal, in depth and great. That is exactly what I found. Cynthia gives a marvellous account of her time with John and towards the end, when John left her for Yoko, her accounts are not bitter. It has been many years for her to try to forgive and understand him, which I suspect makes for such a fabulous read. Although the story is only one sided and sadly the truth from John will never be known, it is really a great book and I spent every waking hour reading! I really would recommend it to anyone remotely interested in the Beatles or John Lennon.
Fantastic book and well worth a read!
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 7 June 2006
I found this book so honest,I coudn't put it down.It's about high time Cynthia and Julian were given more public recognition.They were John's first family and more about what John was, not the falseness when he was with Yoko Ono.I recommend it not only to every Beatle fan but people who enjoy biographies.What amazed me was how down to earth and honest Cynthia is, she's not at all big headed.Throughout the pages you'll find that you feel close to the author.A fab read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 9 January 2010
John Lennon is as fascinating as a human being as he is a legend. A revealing view of the women in his life gives depth to the teen mag mop-top that we all grew up with. This was one of the most famous and influential men of the last century. And a partial view of what he was like behind the scenes, as it were, only adds to his mystique. It was about time that someone who really knew him set us straight. It must have been excruciating for these people to live in his shadow. Cynthia and Julian are two of the bravest people I know.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 12 December 2010
This proves an interesting read for John Lennon-ophiles. However, Cynthia Lennon comes across as something of a unreliable narrator who does not have the facility to understand the complex man John was, nor have any idea what he was really up to.
In 'John' Cynthia unwittingly paints a picture of herself as a naive young lass sat at home with the baby, believing her touring husband was faithful and as obsessed with her as she was with him. He wasn't. In fact, Cynthia's general world view appears equally blinkered. John, the great experimenter, could not have had gay tendencies, she muses, as he had regular sex with her, his wife, a woman - case closed. John himself admitted to a number of friends (Shotton, Davies) that he'd had a dalliance with Epstein in Spain. And his relationship with Sutcliff had homoerotic undertones. Moreover, there are those who believe that his feelings for Paul also strayed into gay territory. Whatever the truth about these specific rumours, it cannot be denied that John tried everything and it is highly likely that he tried homosexual sex at some stage. Cynthia however dismisses all such suggestions as nonsense arguing that as John was married to her there couldn't be any blurring of the sexual boundries, could there?...
There is also some revisionism in 'John' - one of the most quoted Cynthia stories used to be the episode on the plane back from India when John, drunk on brandy alexanders, confessed to sleeping with a multitude of other women - leaving Cynthia to arrive in the UK in tears. She was no longer able to ignore the painfully obvious fact that her husband was one of the most promiscuous men on the London scene. Cynthia has told this story on record herself in the past, but in 'John' she omits it completely and rather has John approach her while she was doing the washing up at home, to embrace her and tell her that there had been 'some' other women but she was always the 'only one' for him. This version smacks of wishful thinking on Cynthia's part. Also, in this book, Cynthia states that having walked in on John and Yoko in Kenwood in 1968, she fled to the home of friends and when there, John's friend 'Magic Alex' attempted to seduce her. In 'John', Cynthia claims she pushed Alex away. However, again, Cynthia has admitted in the past that she did sleep with Alex on that occasion, drunk on wine and shell-shocked after the day's events but in 'John' Cynthia insists she was the ever faithful wife.
In truth, Cynthia probably did sleep with Alex in the misguided and drunk notion that it would rouse John's old jealousies - in fact, it later transpired that John had encouraged Alex to seduce his wife in order to strengthen his divorce case. Cynthia also relates a new story of how John's jealousies returned for a moment during one of her last meetings with him during divorce discussions. Yoko had left the room to get a glass of water, she says, when John launched into an attack saying Cynthia was no innocent flower and accused her of having an affair with a young American at the Ashram in India - John, says Cynthia, told her that George had passed him a love note the American had left for Cynthia and that John was furious. It is interesting that Yoko is 'out of the room' for this incident, and John and George are no longer around to beg to differ. Something just does not ring true here - and conveniently no one can say it did not happen. In fact, John had suspected Cynthia of having an affair with Roberto Bassinini, an Italian hotel owner. In light of the fact that Cynthia later married Roberto, this does not seem wholly improbable. And really, if she didn't, she should have. Still, Cynthia is determined to portray herself as the loyal doormat.
Cynthia has form in regard to inventing or leaving out facts that might detract from her image of her relationship with John. In her first book, 'A Twist of Lennon' Cynthia omitted the fact that Julian was conceived outside wedlock (an important fact as her pregnancy was the reason Lennon proposed). She received a lot of flack for that, and this has been corrected in 'John' as is the fact that she was a not a virgin when she got together with John (as she claimed in 'A Twist of Lennon' - presumably because John was still alive when she wrote it and he'd believed her to have been a virgin). Other aspects of her revised story still do not ring true, however, and it is hard to trust her. In fact, there is more than a hint of the passive aggressive manipulator about Cynthia Powell Lennon.
There can be little doubt that she was treated abominably by Lennon, right back to their early days together in Liverpool - when Lennon had girls lined up for sex after he saw Cynthia home. One has to ask how complicit Cynthia was in creating this abusive relationship, however. With shocking submissiveness, Cynthia seemed more than willing to put up with his cheating and selfishness. Cynthia apparently never confronted John. One has to ask, why? What was the pay off? Why would a woman stand for such endless disrespect? The answer seems to be unhealthy obsession on her part and perhaps she enjoyed the status of being Lennon's 'bird'. True, Lennon was a mere art student when she met him - but he was a big fish in a small pond. Lennon was the Art College's hard chaw, the rebel, the clown, the rocker and even the Art College's star pupil, Stu Sutcliff gravitated towards his charisma and aura. Dating Lennon gave Cynthia Powell a lot more street cred and status than dating the window cleaner's son from Hoylake whom she had been sleeping with (which in itself was a pretty racy thing to be doing in 1950s Liverpool - further proof that Cynthia was never quite what she seemed). It is often said that Cynthia fell for John when he was a nobody, but Lennon was never a nobody, Cynthia fell for an art school legend, who went on to become a Liverpool Mersey beat legend and finally a world legend. Lennon was always a catch and it is easy to believe that Cynthia felt he was out of her league from the beginning.
Cynthia's Liverpool friends made sure she was aware of John's consistent cheating, but she chose to ignore their warnings. She did not want to loose John - which was likely to happen if she confronted him. It seems Cynthia was a slave to her own dysfunctional obsession with Lennon - and their marriage clearly settled into passive aggressive manipulation on her part and misogyny, psychological abuse and serial infidelity on his.
When John met Yoko, he met a woman with whom he could engage intellectually and who would challenge and stimulate him creatively. Moreover,Yoko was a woman who demanded to be treated equally and with respect. With rare insight, Cynthia draws parallels between Mimi and Yoko. That John saw aspects of both his mother (eccentricity) and Mimi (strong-will) in Yoko, is easy to believe. Yoko was, in many ways, more typical of the females John had been surrounded with during his formative years. In fact, the book leads one to wonder what John ever saw in the insipid, conventional Cynthia. And it is for this reason that I happen to think that his relationship with the first Mrs Lennon is far more surprising and in some ways, interesting, than his later partnership with Yoko Ono. Strangely, his relationship with Cynthia is one of the least investigated and/or addressed areas of Lennon's complex life. Dismissing Cynthia as the girl who got pregnant and trapped Lennon into an early marriage is all too facile. John had got other girls pregnant in his youth(a German barmaid)and pushed for an abortion. This was never suggested to Cyn, the moment she told him she was pregnant it was to be marriage and nothing else. Even John's sister remembers his Auntie Mimi telling him he did not have to do this but John was adamant, he wanted to marry Cyn because he 'loved' her. Moreover, he had been with Cyn for four years already by the time she got pregnant (albeit with a host of affairs on the side). He dated her despite Mimi's disapproval, despite snide remarks from friends(George thought she looked like a horse). Cynthia had been introduced to all his family and encouraged to live with Mimi while he was in Hamburg. And even when the Beatles went to New York, John broke the 'no wives or girlfriends' rule and insisted on bringing Cynthia along. Cynthia clearly catered to and for some need in John. Perhaps it was that Cynthia the limpet was a safe bet who would never leave him no matter how cruel and nasty he could be. Whatever it was, it is an area of Lennon's life that deserves further scrutiny, he liked having this very different (from him) woman around. Having said that, it is difficult to buy the premise of this book, ie that John Lennon was madly in love with Cynthia Powell. In fact, his behaviour towards Cynthia rather proves he was not, at least, not really. So, why did he want and need her enough to stay with her for ten years - about the same length of time he spent with Yoko, if you subtract the 'lost weekend' from the Ono/Lennon years. This issue has never been properly addressed by biographers, possibly because it is so surprising and perplexing. And Cynthia Lennon herself does not have the facility or objectivity to analyze the matter so the answer does not lie between the pages of 'John'.
Sadly for Cynthia, she never got over her Lennon obsession and it is her greatest tragedy that the man who consumed her as a young woman is now an icon and she has no hope of ever breaking free/forgetting him - indeed she makes her living from books and interviews about him and who can blame her as John Lennon ruined her life in so many other ways, he owes her this financial opportunity, at least.
One feels sorry for Julian, who wrote the slightly bitter forward, as he did not ask to be born into this dysfunction and his father was undeniably lacking in parental skills.
Still, Julian has had material compensations that he would not have had had John never made it big. If the Beatles had failed and the Lennons had settled into life in Liverpool, sooner or later John would have legged it, leaving Cyn and Julian in a council house to fend for themselves. Julian should count his blessings that his father's fame at least has presented him with some compensations - even if he had to fight hard to get them from Yoko.