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John
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78 of 81 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!
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8 of 8 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.
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20 of 21 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.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
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.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
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.
Anthony Trendl
editor, HungarianBookstore.com
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5 of 5 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!
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24 of 26 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.
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4 of 4 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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This book could just as accurately be titled 'Cynthia' as it is the autobiography of John Lennon's first wife. But that wouldn't have sold so well, and, to be realistic, the reason people will buy this book is for the insights it gives to John Lennon and his life.

The book is an easy read: a detailed account of Cynthia and John's early life, how they came to be married and the early tensions caused when their relationship had to be kept secret so as not to disappoint the fans. I gained the impression that it was such an awful start to their married life that forming a permanent bond must have been well-nigh impossible.

There are useful insights into the phenomenon that became Beatlemania. Cynthia shared in the joy of their success and was clearly proud of her husband's achievements, even though the constant attention curtailed their freedom to move about. But then came anguish as their marriage spiralled downwards. Cynthia attributes the start of the decline to Lennon's drug-taking, especially the LSD. Then, of course, he met Yoko Ono.

To see the story told from the perspective of a devoted first wife is both interesting and immensely sad. Cynthia was dealt an impossible hand to play. Just how hard it was comes out in this book.

On the cover notes Cynthia writes about the price she paid for having been John's wife. I think that is an accurate description of the theme of this book, and a justified one. She was wrestling not only with the difficulties of having her famous husband leave her, but also the responsibilities of having to bring up their son, Julian. He appears to have been the focus of many of her decisions. OK, we are reading one person's view, but it is a view that to me seems credible, accurate and in accord with the other histories I have read of the Beatles.

It's not a major literary work. neither is it simply a book of praise to the Beatles, neither is it a whinge about how badly life treated her. It's a subjective but believable account of a very difficult life and it makes interesting reading not just for Beatles' fans but also at a personal level. Well worth four stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 13 September 2013
I've been a fan of the Beatles' music since Love Me Do. I'm way past the stage of thinking them wonderful human beings, but they are/were tremendously charismatic. I don't really have any time for people who take a John or Paul stance....take away any of the four & you lose the balance.

I was torn between anything for 2 & 5 stars for this, but gave it 5 stars because I thought you had to look through the eyes of someone who was coming to the subject with little prior knowledge. To be honest, apart from one or two small details, which don't affect the whole, there was nothing I hadn't known before. You also can't say the writing is great (tho equally it's not awful). The basic thing is that John was a swine in his marriage & he & Yoko hardly lived up to their peace & love image in their private lives (it wasn't just here....they were at their worst too, with young staff at Apple when promoting their Give Peace A Chance campaign). On the other hand, Cynthia & Julian are people you'd love as friends.

What did come through to me, & what I was surprised by, is that Cynthia still seems blinded. She maintains John wrote All My Loving for her. If a song ever screamed McCartney, it's this one. This was the only Beatles track in the early days that your parents liked. Does she still really believe this ? I'd like to ask her....I did feel irritated when I read it, as though I'd like to shake her. I think John dreamed he'd like the family life she offered, just as Paul thought he'd like to have a way of life like Jane Asher's family, but, in the end, there was something missing in both matches & that came to a head when Lennon & McCartney could no longer supply one another with that. Cynthia thinks drugs changed John & led to the downfall of the marriage. Paul has said that he realised they'd have big problems when John moved to Weybridge in the mid 60s & Cynthia confided in Paul that she was going to try & get him to join the golf club. The drugs came because of John's desire to experiment & try to find a way out of a life where he felt like a round peg in a square hole (though this doesn't excuse his cowardly & abusive behaviour). Whether the relationship with Yoko would have lasted the long term is another matter.

Even if you've never had any interest in the Beatles, you should read this book for a terrific portrait of an abusive relationship.

So St John never existed (like a lot of people who have public images as "do gooders"). But he had amazing talent & you can't help liking (most) of his public side. Sad but true. So what do you do....throw all your Beatle music away ?. No, in the end, all you can do with your entertainers or artists is enjoy their work but realise that what you like about the sides of their personalities they promote in public says more about you than it does about them. Of course it matters if, for example, a politician has & lives out the values he claims he has. But it's more important that we are attracted by those people
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