“All I want is truth. Just gimme some truth,” John Lennon sang on his 1971 hit album Imagine. Years after the former Beatle’s assassination on December 8, 1980, biographers, music critics, and fans are still searching for the truth about this enigmatic, complicated man. When Lennon enjoyed worldwide fame as a member of the Beatles (the pioneering British rock group popular in the mid- to late 1960’s) and later as a solo artist, his life was scrutinized—and at times, roundly criticized—by the media. He and his wife, artist Yoko Ono, grabbed their share of headlines when they appeared nude on the cover of their Two Virgins album released in 1968. They also caused a stir in the spring of 1969 when they conducted a series of “bed-ins” protesting the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. Their high-profile activism and escapades came to an end in 1976, however, when Lennon slipped into seclusion behind the walls of his home in the Dakota, the posh New York City apartment building where he, his family, and a retinue of servants lived. He claimed that he wanted to devote his time to his wife and their new son, Sean. For the next five years, Lennon maintained his low profile, rarely performing or recording. Lennon and Ono, both masters at manipulating their public personas, crafted an image of Lennon as a happy househusband who padded around their apartment baking bread and raising Sean while Ono ran the Lennon empire.
This myth of domestic bliss is called into question by Robert Rosen’s controversial biography. Rosen characterizes Lennon as a prisoner of his own fame, struggling with drug addiction, bulimia, his resentment against his former partner Paul McCartney, his tumultuous marriage, and his lack of spiritual and emotional discipline. It is a sad portrait of an artist who has lost his creative drive and, as a result, his direction in life.
Rosen claims that his portrayal of Lennon’s last years is in part based on the musician’s own diaries, which came into Rosen’s possession under bizarre circumstances. Shortly after Lennon’s death, Fred Seaman, Ono’s personal assistant and Rosen’s friend, approached the author about writing an unauthorized biography of Lennon. Seaman leaked confidential information to Rosen, which the author carefully recorded in his notes. In May of 1981, Seaman stole Lennon’s original journals from the Dakota apartment and gave them to Rosen. Rosen says he worked for months transcribing every detail. Needing a break from his exhausting work, he left on a vacation to Jamaica. When he returned, his apartment had been ransacked and the diaries and his notes were gone. It was later determined that Seaman had stolen the journals back from Rosen after Ono had fired him. Rosen then began the arduous process of reconstructing the lost material entirely from memory.
That reconstruction forms the nucleus of Nowhere Man—a book Rosen describes in his introduction as a “work of both investigative journalism and imagination.” He further states, “I have used my memory of Lennon’s diaries as a roadmap to the truth. But I have used no material from the diaries.” His disclaimer no doubt is meant to deflect any legal action on the part of the Lennon estate. The diaries were returned to Ono, and she has said that she will not allow them to be released to the public until the principal players are deceased.
Rosen mentions that his sources include interviews with people who were close to Lennon; the former Beatle’s music and published books; information gleaned by traveling to places Lennon lived or vacationed; and books, magazines, and newspaper articles—all legitimate sources for any biographer. However, his warning that imagination played an important role in his portrait of Lennon prepares the reader for the interweaving of fact and fiction that is to come. Thus, his book is not a true biography, but an interpretive re-creation of Lennon’s life.
The imaginative aspect of Rosen’s book will disappoint readers who desire a more factual treatment of one of the most influential rock and roll musicians of the twentieth century. One creative device Rosen uses is to begin and end the book with “fantasies,” an apparent pun on the title of Lennon’s Double Fantasy album released in 1980. These inventions are seemingly meant to reveal the true nature of Lennon’s psyche. The first represents Lennon as a contemporary imitator of Christ, walking the streets of modern-day Jerusalem; the second finds him alive a month after his supposed...
(The entire section is 1863 words.)