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Flawed but interesting
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.