I have heard it said that, if you have a hero, look again--you have diminished yourself in some way.
I was reminded of that quote last night as I finished John, the biography by Cynthia Lennon, John's first wife.
You could not have been a small child in the late '60s and early '70s--with four teenagers in the house--without becoming a Beatles fan. So it was with me. I recognized, even then, that there was something special about this band and how they covered so much ground in less than a decade. As I came of age, they became my heroes, even though the dirt on them wasn't quite hidden. I will always remember the morning I woke up and heard the news on the radio that John Lennon had been killed. I don't think there was anybody else in my school who was quite as affected by his death as I was.
I dismissed Albert Goldman's negative Lennon bio as garbage, even though I never read it and do not plan to. I have held to the romanticized ideas about the Beatles, especially John--the social activist who poured out his soul in his music.
It's obvious that any biography written by an ex-wife is going to be biased. At the same time, John shows another side of Lennon that you won't get from any Yoko-approved hagiography.
Things started out fairly well--boy meets girl in art school, boy travels to Hamburg with his band but keeps in touch, boy and girl sneak around for trysts when they can, boy gets girl pregnant while the band is on its way to superstardom, but appears ready to become a devoted husband and father. At the same time, there were flashes of jealousy and abuse, which Cynthia excused as stemming from John's abandonment by his father and the death of his mother.
Cynthia's inside view of Beatlemania was thrilling, but things began to unravel when John started using LSD, and came crashing down when he met ::sinister music:: YOKO ONO!
I have never held as much bile toward Yoko as many other Beatles fans. It's silly to singlehandedly blame her for the Beatles' breakup, as all four were going in different directions. Sure, her aesthetic sense is weird, but so what? John and Yoko always seemed like the quintessential rock 'n roll romance.
John shows the relationship as one-sided and dysfunctional. Again, you have to consider the source, but I've seen this view backed up by other sources as well. John's nickname for Yoko--"Mother"--says a lot.
The person who I felt the worst for in this book was Julian Lennon, who, in turn, wound up being abandoned by John and did not see him for several years. Feuds over money and visitation are recounted in painful detail. The most poignant quote in the book came from Julian as a child: "Why does Daddy tell people to love each other when he doesn't love me?"
John is slanted, but it represents a human reality of an artist who, I'm sure, was himself annoyed at (and ultimately died because of) his canonization. I imagine he's somewhere saying, "Well, Cyn, you got me."