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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
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on 6 July 2011
The overreaching concern of Robert Rosen's "Nowhere Man" is to let the reader experience "what it was like to be John Lennon" during his career hiatus of 1975-1980. Challenging the "official" notion of this period as a blissful time of house husbandry and bread baking, "Nowhere Man" posits that the once inseperable JohnandYoko had become almost completely estranged; Yoko a "New Age Capitalist Monster", Lennon a lonely and tormented prisoner of his incredible wealth and fame.

Rosen strikes an engagingly Lennonesque balance between poeticism and unswerving directness throughout the book, and is largely sympathetic towards his protagonist, "doing time in a gilded prison". The chapter chronicling the descent into madness of Lennon's assassin is particularly powerful.

Yet the underlying problem with "Nowhere Man" is the other book born out of its controversial genesis: Fred Seaman's The Last Days of John Lennon. Lennon's former personal assistant published his memoir in 1991 after "Project Walrus", the biography he and Rosen were collaborating on using Lennon's stolen journals, collapsed in a maelstrom of acrimony and double-dealings. In Rosen's bitter introduction, he begs the reader's sympathy for the mental anguish he endured after Seaman "robbed" Lennon's journals back from him- a mind-boggling conceit considering Rosen's complicity in their theft.

"Nowhere Man" is essentially a Cliffsnotes version of Seaman's book, which tells exactly the same story in considerably more detail and with none of Rosen's brouhaha about "channelling Lennon's spirit". Rosen simply rushes through identical events in condensed form, with "imagination" (i.e.- fiction) substituting for insight.

For a genuinely definitive take on this angle of the Lennon story I'd recommend picking up a used copy of the Seaman book. It is flawed, biased, and can never truly escape its controversial origins. For all of that, it is also a genuine insider account of the period. Most of all, it largely forsakes the presumptiousness of "Nowhere Man", which claims to hold the key to Lennon's thoughts despite its author being the only person involved in the whole sorry mess who was left locked outside the imposing steel gates of the Dakota.
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on 22 August 2009
Lennon is portrayed here as an addict, a neurotic, unstable and in the author's own words a compulsive 'wanker'. Rosen felt a duty to portray the side of Lennon we did not see, but like other books on the subject this does not prepare us for the creative rebirth John had in 1980. While largely ignored at the time 'Watching The Wheels' is now seen as a classic and 'Starting Over' plus 'Beautiful Boy' have both become familiar and popular standards. 'Walking on Thin Ice' on which he played and produced is also seen as an avant garde classic. All this churned out in the space of three to four months. Rosen's portrayal of Lennon as a deluded screw-up sits uncomfortably with this lucid, creative vision.
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on 8 May 2009
I bought Nowhere Man some time ago and I must say it is a beautifully written book where the author goes through the final days of Lennon. He uses his memories and imagination to show how Lennon lived at the end of his life. Rosen himself warns in the author's note that "Nowhere Man" is a work of investigative journalism and imagination", so he's not cheating anyone. He had the real diaries with him until some dark figure betrayed him, so he had a privileged knowledge into Lennon's final days and thoughts. He was in contact with key figures at the time so I do think it is worth reading. You won't feel you've wasted your money.
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on 13 July 2008
According to Elliot Mintz, Rosen was one of the witting conspirators in 'Project Walrus', in which John Lennon's personal journals were stolen from the Dakota shortly after his death. According to Rosen, he was set up by others; and has paid a high price. Whatever the facts, his book, 'Nowhere Man' demonstrates that these documents did come into his possession; and accordingly, along with Guiliano's 'Lennon In America', presents one of the most accurate portrayals of Lennon's last years available. But the diaries are far from his only source of information. During eighteen years of research, Rosen interviewed many of the key people in Lennon's household, including Yoko Ono and John's two children. The result is a beautifully-presented work which deserves to be read by anybody interested in the truth behind the Beatles.
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on 2 May 2016
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Rosen charts the last 5 years of this musical genius and more particularly the last year of his life. The story of his quest is quite dramatic, as all the direct research material that he acquired initially was stolen and he had to start again from scratch without the direct source material. The book is thus based on public writings and interviews, the historical record, the music and conversations with staff, business associates, family, friends and lovers of Lennon, including Yoko, Sean and Julian.
He retraces Lennon's steps through Liverpool, London, New York and Bermuda and tries to paint a picture of daily life in the Dakota building overlooking Central Park. It is interesting to know that John read the 3 New York Dailies but also loved the supermarket tabloids like the National Enquirer, Midnight Globe and the National Star. The book is quite detailed on the recording process of the Double Fantasy album.
The last chapters narrate the murder of Lennon by Mark Chapman and the trial, at which Chapman quoted from Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye.
It is an interesting book but it must be noted that lots of it is based on the author's imagination and shouldn't be taken as fact. A gripping read, nevertheless, and the text is made accessible to students of Lennon's life by a thorough index.
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on 11 January 2016
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on 18 October 2000
This book is ... written by a New York cabbie who moonlights as a writer. No illustrations. Author admits he made much of it up. Bad news all the way round. If you like Lennon read Geoffrey Giuliano's masterful LENNON IN AMERICA.
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