Sunday, June 08, 2008

Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon

by Robert Rosen

"John had no illusions in 1980 about what his life had become. One good day per week was the most he dared to hope for. . ."

The "official" version of John's five-year tenure as househusband was one of domestic bliss. In reality, Lennon's daily life at the Dakota Apartments drifted between contradictory desires and minor obsessions--all magnified by the tedium of isolation.

Nowhere Man is an intimate journey through Lennon's last years, carrying us from his self-imposed seclusion to his re-entry into public life with the making of Double Fantasy. Rosen does not let us go until we've faced the abrupt and tragic fate of one of the most creative minds of our times.

"Entertainingly salacious." --Booklist

"Nowhere Man is a gripping read that no Lennon fan will be able to resist." --The Times (London)

"Controversial ... intriguing ... surprising." --Court TV

About the Author

Robert Rosen was born in Brooklyn and lives in New York City. Over the course of a diverse career, he has written speeches for the Secretary of the Air Force, erotica for men's magazines, and personal essays for such publications as Mother Jones and The Soho Weekly News. He won a Hugo Boss poetry award in 1996. Nowhere Man is his first book.

Excerpt: John Lennon's Diaries

Five days after John Lennon was murdered, his personal assistant, Fred Seaman, a close friend, came to my apartment. He was visibly shaken, his eyes bloodshot, tears streaming down his face. There was work to be done, he said. The previous summer, during an extended stay in Bermuda, John had told him that if anything should happen to him, it was Seaman's job to write the true story of his final years. It would not be the official tale of a happy, eccentric househusband raising Sean and baking bread while Yoko ran the family business. Instead, it would be the story of a tormented superstar, a prisoner of his fame, locked in his bedroom raving about Jesus Christ, while a retinue of servants tended to his every need.

"It'll be the ultimate John Lennon biography," Seaman told me. "It's what John wants. It's our job to carry out his will."

I chose to believe him. I had no reason not to. I was a 28-year-old unemployed writer, with a master's degree in journalism, whose last occupation was cab driver. I'd known Seaman since college; I'd been his editor at the school newspaper.

Fred started working for Lennon in February 1979. After one day on the job he told me, "We must collaborate on a book."

I said yes and began taking extensive notes in my diary.

For two years we were on a magical mystery tour. When Seaman was in town, we cruised all over New York and beyond, once going as far as Montreal, in Lennon's brand-new apple-green Mercedes Benz, smoking fat spliffs of John's potent marijuana and blasting rock 'n' roll on the customized Blaupunkt sound system.

When Seaman was traveling with the Lennons or unable to get away, he called me every week from wherever he was staying--the Dakota, Cold Spring Harbor, Palm Beach, Bermuda--and told me, in explicit detail, what was going on. It was a routine that continued for those two years.

Then, the unthinkable, recorded in my diary:

12/9/80 John Lennon was killed last night. At around 7:00 I'd smoked the last bit of dope Fred had given me, my "Lennon Dope." I looked at those crumbs in the bag and said, "What the fuck am I saving this for, sentimental reasons? This stuff is for getting stoned." It was Jim Morrison's birthday and I was listening to a Doors special on WPLJ. When news of the murder came over the radio, all I felt was a chill. Around 2 A.M. I went down to the Dakota. I felt it was important to observe the scene. I shed a few tears, I couldn't help it. God help you, John Lennon. Thank you for touching my life. At 5 A.M., when I got home, I tried to call Fred at the Dakota. I got the accountant. He said Fred wasn't available. I said, "Tell him I called and that I'm sorry." There was nothing to say then and there's nothing to say now. There is only sickness in a sick world.

Yet, as I absorbed the unfolding events, I couldn't help but consider my own role in them.

12/10/80 I'm an eyewitness to history. I would not be human if I were not fascinated by Lennon's death. My perfectly human desire is to want to be part of the scene, to be part of history. There is a possibility Fred will ask me to begin work on the book. He called this morning to say he's quitting his job at the end of the week to begin writing it. "It's what John wants," he said. "John knew he was going to die and he poured his heart out to me. He knew I was working on a book." I'm not going to ask to participate in this project. If I'm not part of it, my life will go on as it has. But if Fred does ask me, there's no way I can say no. I believe I can execute such a project in a spirit true to John Lennon's memory.

Seaman didn't quit his job. Instead, Ono promoted him to executive assistant and gave him the run of the Dakota. After deciding that my involvement was essential, he began feeding me the raw material I needed to write the bio: unreleased audiotapes and videotapes Lennon had recorded; photographs and slides Seaman had taken over the course of the last two years; and notes Lennon had written describing Seaman's daily errands and chores.

In May 1981 Seaman gave me John Lennon's journals. He assured me that John had told him that in the event of his--John Lennon's--death, Seaman was to use any materials he needed to tell the full story of his life. It was obvious that these leather-bound New Yorker magazine desk diaries were the key to the project Seaman envisioned.

Still, not until Wednesday, October 21, after a number of false starts, did I begin the process of transcribing Lennon's diaries. It was exhausting work that continued unabated until the end of November. No matter how much I transcribed, there was always more; the task seemed endless. I forced myself into a routine that rarely varied: I woke up at 5 A.M., rolled out of bed and tore into the journals. Then, for the next 16 hours, fueled by coffee and amphetamines, I wrestled with Lennon's scrawls and codes and symbols. As I transcribed his words on my IBM Selectric, I said them out loud like an incantation, and I began to feel what seemed to be Lennon's energy flowing through me.

For the first time I saw what his life was really like. I was in awe of his fanatical discipline, his total commitment to the self-imposed slavery of diary keeping. I'd never seen anything like it. He got it all down--every detail, every dream, every conversation, every morsel of food he put in his mouth, the perpetual stream of consciousness. And it was all an enormous contradiction. Here was a man who aspired to be like Jesus and Gandhi as much as he craved money and carnal pleasures.

For Lennon, his journals were his religion.

The work was slow and excruciating. It felt as if I were translating a foreign language written in a different alphabet. I put so much energy into deciphering each word, and in some cases each letter, that I had no idea what he'd written until I read back the entire passage; then I was able to fill in the missing words and phrases by context.

For six weeks I lived like a monk, confronting on a daily basis The Gospel According to John. To get a visceral sense of Lennon's life, I ate the foods that he ate. I fasted, starving off 12 pounds to achieve a weight of 138, close to Lennon's 135. I lived as he would have lived, but without Yoko, without Sean, without a staff of maids, cooks, governesses, chauffeurs, and other assorted servants, seers and personal assistants. I lived as he would have lived without his Beatle past, without his superstar present, without his $150,000,000. His words my only companion, I existed in virtual isolation.

Then, on January 4, 1982, Ono fired Seaman. He assured me that the project would continue; he'd given John Lennon his word that he'd tell the true story. And he now had an "angel" to finance the book. All our expenses would be taken care of. Also, he said, since I'd been working so hard, it was time I took a vacation.

On February 9, 1982, I flew to Jamaica. When I returned to New York on February 27, my apartment had been ransacked. Everything I'd been working on--Lennon's diaries, the photocopies of Lennon's diaries, the transcripts of Lennon's diaries, the manuscript, the tapes, the photos--had been taken. There was no sign of forced entry. It was Seaman; he had the keys. It was only then that I realized that virtually everything Seaman had told me about why we were doing the project was a lie.

I sank into a state of near-paralysis but managed to file a complaint with the police. A detective said there was nothing that could be done. I couldn't prove that a crime had been committed.

Lennon's diaries haunted me. I'd wake up in the morning and details would come flooding back. I began taking notes on everything I could remember. By mid-April I'd put together a manuscript that included information from the diaries and everything that had happened since the day Lennon was murdered. I thought I had the scoop of the century, a rock 'n' roll Watergate. As a journalist, I felt it was my obligation to tell the story. One of the people I sent the manuscript to was Jann Wenner, editor and publisher of Rolling Stone. We met in early July. He said that he believed me, but that he could do nothing with my manuscript because I had no proof. He needed time to think. We met again later in the week. He'd spoken with Ono. She was unaware that any diaries were missing. I had only one choice, said Wenner: "Tell your story to Yoko Ono. I want to save your karma."

On August 16 I went to the Dakota to meet with Ono's companion, Sam Havadtoy, and Ono's lawyers. I told them everything I knew, and that I feared for my life. They put me in a hotel under an assumed name.

A month later I met with Ono herself.

9/13/82 4:13 P.M. We were in Studio One, sitting on her couch, beneath the ceiling painted like the sky. I was leaning against an embroidered pillow that said, "A woman's place is in the House and Senate." She was taking notes.

"We need to clear this up before Mercury Retrograde begins," I told her.

She agreed, and asked me when that was.

"September 19th."

"Then we have to work fast," she replied, and asked me if I knew about any other deals Seaman had been making.

I said no.

She squeezed my arm. "He was working for the financier for a year before you knew about it, darling. John wanted to fire Fred for using the Mercedes. He knew about cars. He kept track of the mileage, you know."

I told her everything that had happened since 1979, when they hired Seaman. It just poured out of me, as it always does.

When I finished, she said, "We're in this together, you know. I want you to cooperate with us in an investigation."

"I am cooperating. That's why I'm here."

She asked to read my personal diaries, which Seaman had not taken. "There may be things in there that not even you understand."

I said okay. "It's only fair. After all, I read John's diaries."

"You shouldn't have read them." She looked at me harshly. "John's diaries are so sacred I don't even want to read them."

"Why don't you just hire me and let me help you from the inside."

She cracked a smile. "We'll call it an 'advance' on your book."

I went into the bathroom with Sam. We stood on opposite sides of the toilet, negotiating. He agreed to give me $200 per week plus an additional $300 on the first of each month. He then pulled a wad of bills from his pocket and peeled off two crisp hundreds.

The next day I loaned Ono 16 volumes of my journals, about a half-million words. They covered more than three years, from the day Seaman was hired through the day I left for Jamaica. We sat together in her kitchen--me, Ono, Havadtoy--reading the diaries together. Ono used the information in them to have Seaman arrested and to get back her possessions. Seaman pleaded guilty to grand larceny and was sentenced to five years' probation.

For 18 years I was unable to get my diaries back; I thought I'd never see them again. I was in no position to fight. I wanted peace, and I took advice of John's songs--I surrendered, I let it go. Then, just as the first edition of Nowhere Man was going to press, Ono returned my diaries.

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