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Albert Goldman - The appeal hearing,
This review is from: The Lives of John Lennon (Paperback)
It is with some irony that this biography of John Lennon, when it was published in 1988, created such unease, it led to death threats to the author and its ritual burning at Beatles conventions. The book's subject, had he still been living may have sympathised. He had provoked similar displays of hatred from Christian groups after his comments to an American journalist in 1966, that the Beatles were now more popular than Jesus Christ.
Such was the hatred for Goldman following its publication that he was virtually excommunicated from the music and publishing world...
Fourteen years on, maybe it is time for a reappraisal of this Satanic Verses of rock biography. Criticisms of the book have been well documented and are not without substance. It is often factually incorrect, the authoratorial tone appears excessively one-sided in his portrayal of both John and Yoko. Sometimes it is not clear if it is supposed to be read as a black comedy (although if it is, it succeeds; some of the passages are hilarious) and it is hard to imagine two living people that are alternatively, so twisted and so Maciavellian as the John and Yoko that are portrayed here.
However, there are many reasons why this book should be read. Unlike, say Ray Coleman s semi-official biography of Lennon, Goldman did not just take what John and Yoko said in public at face value. Nor did he rely on the co-operation and support of those who had a vested in keeping the Lennon image in the saintly realms (partly because he was denied access by those people). Instead, he drew on 1,200 interviews of various friends, helpers, musicians and aids who had known Lennon at certain stages of his life. Most of what is said in the book is attributed to one of these sources.
The book deals with huge chunks of Lennon s life that have otherwise been left uninvestigated (or conveniently ignored, as they deal with the less than godlike side of Lennon and Ono ) by biographers; the attempts to retrieve Kyoko, his meetings with Jerry Rubin, the lost weekend and Yoko s growing infatuation with numerology and acquisition of wealth.
On the music, Goldman is keen to give Lennon his praise where he feels it is due. For example, of Working Class Hero he writes, "What makes the song so radical is not its politics but rather the singer's determination to smash through politics in order to come to grips with the unchanging human condition".
Elsewhere he is sometimes rather too intent on dissecting in order to make a point. Nevertheless he is also often poignantly accurate. Goldman wrote of the pre-video film sequence to Imagine;
"..there is one momentary gaffe when John, seated in his lavish mansion, sings the joy of owning nothing, but as the room grows brighter and brighter, the effect of emergence from the gloom of the present into the light of a utopian future is gracefully conveyed".
By far the most exploratory (and entertaining) work on Lennon, The Lives Of John Lennon is a devils advocate of a book. John was not around to defend himself over its allegations and neither is Goldman here to answer any more of his hate-mail. Before his death he replied to a damning review in the New York Times and its assertion that he had deliberately set out to give Lennon a literary second assignation.
He fiercely condemned this, stressing that when he started he was a Lennon fan but when he started delving, he became appalled by what he was finding.
After Goldman filed his prosecution papers he was soon to be the one to stand on trial in the defence box. Now it is time for the case to be reopened. Let the debate continue.