Top critical review
8 people found this helpful
One to avoid
on 29 October 2009
I've been reading quite a lot about John Lennon recently (the new Philip Norman biography, Ray Coleman's Lennon, the two memoirs by his first wife, Cynthia, and Pauline Lennon's Daddy Come Home: The True Story) but this book is the poorest of the lot - it's probably even worse than Geoffrey Ellis's I Should Have Known Better, which is saying something.
Robert Rosen was a 28 year-old New York cabbie and graduate of journalism school when Lennon's personal assistant, Fred Seaman (later fired by Yoko and given five years probation for theft), approached him to collaborate on a book about Lennon. Seaman and Rosen briefly had in their possession the personal diaries of Lennon, but Rosen's notes and the diaries themselves were stolen. Hence, Rosen does not base his account on anything more than his memory of the journals he claims to have read, hearsay, and imagination. Nowhere Man is much more a work of imagination than "investigate journalism" - much more so than Rosen is willing to admit in the opening pages, although he does concede that "I have used no material from the diaries". Since what he writes should not be taken as fact, it is fundamentally misleading of him and his publishers to subtitle the book 'The Final Days of John Lennon'.
Rosen tells us of his attempt to get inside Lennon's mind and lifestyle, which turns out to be unintentionally funny: "I ate the foods that he ate. I fasted. [...] I lived as he would have lived, but without Yoko, without Sean, without a staff of maids, cooks, governesses, chauffeurs, and their assorted servant seers and personal assistants. I lived as he would have lived, but without his Beatle past, without his superstar present, without his $150,000,000". Well, I'm sorry, but then he wasn't living remotely like Lennon was! He was living as Rob Rosen, and just eating more rice than usual! And that's not going to deliver very many insights into Lennon's character.
Sean Lennon is presented as a junk-food scoffing cry-baby and Lennon himself is portrayed one-sidedly as spontaneously aggressive, "forever complaining about the disobedience of [housemaid] Uda-San and their servants". For Rosen, Lennon experienced his "existence" in the Dakota as a "living death" and wanted to get away from Yoko, but "there really was no choice". The book ends with a distasteful invitation to get inside the mind of the man who murdered him: "Imagine Mark David Chapman in Honolulu, Hawaii...".
I'd strongly recommend skipping this book and trying one of the below instead>
* Philip Norman, John Lennon: The Life (2008) - strong on Lennon's childhood and time in Hamburg, but weaker on the Dakota years
* Ray Coleman, Lennon: The Definitive Biography (1984) - well-written, but too idolatry in places
* Sam Taylor-Wood's film Nowhere Boy - which premieres tonight at the London Film Festival and is on UK release as of 25 December 2009