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Being John Lennon Hardcover – 4 Oct 2018
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Connolly, the author of Being Elvis, takes a sensible route down the path dividing the saint and the monster in
this careful, thoughtful biography. It's a well-told story, but Connolly has a substantial advantage: as a journalist for the Evening Standard and the Sunday Times, he came to know Lennon well enough to be invited repeatedly to his Berkshire house, Tittenhurst Park ... Yet Connolly wears his acquaintance lightly, never forcing himself into the narrative or sinking into the hideous mateyness that can blight rock biographies ... For Connolly, it is Lennon's insecurities that are ultimately most revealing, rooted in an unsettled childhood in Liverpool's postwar suburbs ... Connolly does all this with quiet expertise, an understated writer who collates all the details into a vivid whole ... [N]either hatchet job nor hagiography, Being John Lennon swerves dead-hero worship. What survives is the complicated, enduringly fascinating man
Connolly perfectly captures the shabby conformism and deference of post-war Britain that the Beatles would help to overturn. He handles their much-told tale with welcome concision ... He deals with the difficult subject of Yoko deftly ... there was never a Saint John - the man in Ray Connolly's account is much more human, and much more lovable (Observer)
'[John Lennon] would probably enjoy this very fair biography... Connolly's book presents him as neither saint nor sinner but captures with honesty a complex and fascinating character. Lennon's is an oft-told story but Connolly still unearths nuggets about the insecurities that shaped his life, and the collaboration and rivalry with Macca that created magic (The Sun)
An intimate biography that finds much to say that is new about the head Beatle (Choice Magazine)
Connolly draws on his archive conversations with the Beatles to give a superb portrait of a dissatisfied star who couldn't stop reinventing himself (Daily Telegraph)
Excellent (Helen Brown Daily Telegraph Music Books of the Year)
An intimate yet unsparing biography of one of the greatest and most mythologised musicians of the twentieth century.See all Product description
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Over the years, Ray Connolly has written several books about the Beatles. To summarise, this biography, it is a competent, well written, account of Lennon’s life. It is ideal for those who have not read a biography of Lennon before, as Connolly briefly recounts his life. By chapter seven, George Harrison has already appeared and by chapter twelve, the group are already backing Johnny Gentle in Scotland. In other words, this is a pretty brisk trot through Lennon’s childhood and adolescence, with the author, possibly, thinking that most readers will be familiar with his early life.
The issue with such a brief, factual accounting of events, is that, invariably, stories get repeated. For example, Connolly asserts that John names The Beatles – when it is pretty certain that Stuart Sutcliffe, at the very least, was very involved with naming the band. He mentions casually that John and Paul stayed at a pub, belonging to a ‘friend,’ when it was run by McCartney’s relatives, Mike and Bett Robbins (the Fox and Hounds in Caversham, to be exact, and Robbins, who had worked as a Redcoat, and also played in a band, was very supportive of their early musical ambitions). He also states, as though it is fact, exactly what Bob Wooler said at Paul’s 21st birthday party, which led to John beating him up (Wooler never admitted to what he actually said, even in his biography by Spencer Leigh, “The Best of Fellas”). Well, you may think it is pedantic, but this IS the most documented band of all time and fans will spot these inaccuracies and rushed statements. Indeed, whole books have been written dealing with minor events – not to mention endless fan podcasts.
These minor grievances aside, it is obvious that Connolly has written this biography for the casual, or new, fan and that is fine. He takes us through Lennon’s life and, interestingly, like Philip Norman, he seems to be keen, possibly to avoid criticism, to both highlight John’s faults and side-step the usual criticism of McCartney. He constantly asks why John was casually cruel, petty or jealous – highlighting his gullibility, the fact he was naïve and his bad judgement of people. However, if Paul is not the victim of criticism in this biography, then Yoko certainly is. In fact, nobody related to this biography seems to have a good word to say about her – she is shown as imperious, critical, bossy and manipulative.
Of course, I am not denying that Yoko is controlling and I have always suspected that it was her who stopped John going to New Orleans to meet up with Paul and, possibly, record together. If so, I only hope she realises what a real tragedy that was. However, there is much input in this biography from May Pang and, obviously, that is one side of the story, but we never hear from Yoko directly. In the same way, in the Philip Norman biography of Paul, you hear much from a girl that had an affair with Paul in the Sixties, but nothing from Jane Asher, so you have a skewed version of events. Connolly has a real understanding of the Beatles, so it is a shame to hear him not give both sides of the argument and add a little depth at certain parts of the book.
Although Connolly has to address the relationship between John and Paul, there is very little about John and George; whose relationship was possibly even more fractured at the end of John’s life. Connolly does mention certain events – John’s sending a white balloon to the meeting to disband the Beatles, resulting in George’s literal explosion, probably made me smile the most. Like always, John was never good at facing things he was uncomfortable with.
Overall, then, this is a reasonable, if brief, account of John’s life. I must say that one thing I really disliked was the potted biography of Lennon’s killer at the end of the book, which I felt was really unnecessary. The only thing we need to know about him, is that he is in prison, where he belongs and that he will stay there. If you have read a number of books about the Beatles, or John, already, then you may find this a rather frustrating read. It is a straight re-telling of his life and there is nothing that I have not read before. If, however, you have never read a biography about John, then this is a good, factual account of the major events. Still, I was disappointed, as I expected more from Ray Connolly, who writes well and who, I have always felt, really understood the dynamics of the band, and of the individual members. Sometimes, he had a real flash of understanding, so I will leave the last word about John to Connolly himself: “A natural leader, who could easily be led.”
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