Friday, July 25, 2008

The Lives of John Lennon

by Albert Goldman

"Compulsively readable."
- Time

"When Goldman's biographies were originally published, they were sensational scandals that made him famous. With the perspective of time, and with a plethora of rock biographies in their wake, it is clear that no other rock writer has come close to Goldman's achievement or possessed Goldman's erudition, skill, work ethic, and willingness to always go one step further. . . . His book on Lennon remains so superior to anything written about Lennon in some five hundred books on the Beatles, 'It is too starv'd a subject for my sword.'"
- Victor Bockris, author of Keith Richards and Warhol

Genius, rebel, masochist, saint . . . This book reveals the whole truth behind the legend!

The result of six years of research and some twelve hundred interviews, this book takes you deep into John Lennon's secretive world, from his traumatic childhood to his golden days with the Beatles to his hidden life with Yoko Ono. What emerges is a fascinating portrait of an endlessly complex personality. While the Lennon of legend enjoyed a gifted and inspired life, the private Lennon lived in torment. Even as millions idolized him, he poisoned himself with drugs and self-hatred. When he was assassinated in 1980, the world mourned him as a martyred saint, the standard-bearer of a cultural revolution, and a musical genius.

The Lives of John Lennon exposed for the first time all of Lennon's various lives. It is a lasting tribute to his brilliant achievements and a revelation of the price he paid for them.

Albert Goldman wrote the bestsellers Ladies and Gentlemen - Lenny Bruce!!! and Elvis. His other books include Freakshow, Disco, Grass Roots, Sound Bites, and Elvis: The Last 24 Hours.


W A K E - U P T A S T E

Like a Zen arrow flying through the night, Kit Carter comes winging up Central Park West in the predawn darkness of a December morning in 1979. When he reaches the intersection with 72nd Street, he glances up at the Dakota, glimmering dimly in the light of a solitary streetlamp, like a ghostly German castle. Darting across the street to the iron portcullis guarding the tunnel-like carriage entrance, he gives the night bell a short, sharp jab. Shuffling restlessly in the chill wind off the park, he waits for the doorman to emerge from the wood-and-glass windbreak surrounding the building's recessed entrance. As soon as the gate lock is snapped. Kit slips through and bounds up the steps to the concierge's office, where he exchanges a perfunctory nod with the night man before plunging into the maze of passageways that leads to the tall oak door of Studio One, the office of Yoko Ono.

Lightly he raps. Instantly he is answered by the metallic snap of the dead bolt. As the towering wooden leaf swings open, there stands little Yoko, her face masked by black wraparound shades. While Kit notes how ill she looks - and that she's dressed in the same black shirt and jeans that she's worn all week - she reaches up like a cat and snatches out of his hand a packet of tinfoil. Ducking into her private bathroom, she slams the door and turns on the faucets full blast. As Kit removes his shoes, preparatory to entering the back office, he hears above the rush of water a series of loud snorts, followed by the hideous noise of retching.

Yoko's retreat is sumptuous and eerie. Concealed lights shine up from the thick white carpet, casting shadows on the cloud-bedecked ceiling and reflections on the smoked-glass mirrors that rise from the waist-high oak wainscoting. An immense Egyptian revival desk stands catercorner to the shaded windows on the courtyard, its gleaming mahogany sides inlaid with large ivory reliefs of the ibis-headed Thoth, god of scribes, and the winged disk-and-cobra symbol of the sun. Yoko's commanding seat is an exact replica of the throne found in King Tutankhamen's tomb.

As Kit sinks into the creamy white leather couch, he stares at the objects that give the room its magical air: the gray little skull between the two white Princess phones, the Egyptian baby's gold breastplate, the bronze snake slithering along the crossbar of the coffee table by Giacometti. This is the sixth week since he began making these deliveries, but he still thinks about the first time.

He had been so frightened that he had brought the heroin in a hollowed-out book wrapped in brown paper. Yoko he found sitting behind the accountant Richie DePalma's desk in the outer office, talking on the phone in Japanese. For five long minutes she continued to jabber away, as unconcerned as if she were holding a delivery boy from the pharmacy. Finally, she hung up and said nonchalantly: "Oh, hi! You're Kit!" Extending her hand, she took his package, dismissing him without another word or look. Later he learned that she had been intensely curious about him, but it was her practice in such situations to feign indifference.

Initially, he made his deliveries once or twice a week. The night before he would pick up the stuff from a 57th Street jeweler, who was the connection. At first a gram of H cost $500, but as soon as Yoko started running up her habit, the price increased. Now Kit is paying $750 for that same little gram, which means that Yoko has got herself a $5,000-a-week habit. A street junkie could score that much smack for a quarter of what Yoko is paying, but she doesn't care. Why should she? John Lennon is a rich man.

By the time Yoko rejoins Kit, she's walking like La Sonnambula, trying to appear cool and casual, but betrayed by the faint traces of white powder about her nostrils. She's bearing, as usual, a tray with two turquoise cups in which Lipton's teabags are steeping. Kit was puzzled at first by Yoko's insistence on serving tea every time he made a drop. Then he realized that a highborn Japanese lady can't score her wake-up taste like a common junkie. She has to save face by masking the sordid transaction with a gracious ceremony.

"How are you today?" inquires Yoko politely, as if she were laying eyes on Kit for the first time that morning. "I can see you're miserable," she continues before he can answer. She lights and puffs once on a brown Nat Sherman, before waving it from her mouth with a theatrical gesture. "We're all miserable!" she intones in her drowsy, singsong voice, adding, as if offering the clincher, "I'm miserable!" Then, without a trace of irony, she quotes Woody Allen as if he were Confucius: "There are two states in which we live - miserable and horrible." A long silence signals that the topic is closed.

As Yoko and Kit take their tea, the plant lights, controlled by an unpredictable timer, suddenly brighten. Instinctively Kit flinches, expecting to hear a tough voice bark, "Freeze! This is a bust!"

Once the demands of Oriental decorum have been satisfied, Yoko rises deliberately and sleepwalks to her massive desk, banging it in passing with her hip. She opens a drawer and removes her antique bag. Snapping its top, she hauls out a huge wad of $100 bills. Counting off eight mint-fresh notes, she hands them wordlessly to Kit. (He always receives a $50 tip.) Before he can turn to leave, Yoko seats herself upon her throne. Fixing him with an imperious look cast through her dark Porsche goggles, she warns, "John must never know."

John Lennon comes to consciousness before dawn in a pool of light cast by two spots above the polished dark wood of his church-pew headboard. These lights are never extinguished because John has a horror of waking in a dark bedroom. Darkness to him is death. The first thing he looks for with his feeble eyes are the fuzzy red reflections in the big oval mirror above his bed. These smudges assure him that his life-support system is working, for night and day he lives buffered by its soothing sounds and flickering images, like a patient in a quiet room.

So faintly does the rhythm of the day beat in this secluded chamber that only John's internal clock can wake him. No sounds from the streets below penetrate the enormously thick walls of this century-old building, whose floors are packed with tons of soil from the excavation of Central Park. Daylight is barred by the dark wooden shutters and clumsily hung fabric that seal the big window looking down seven stories to 72nd Street and across the park to the towers of midtown Manhattan. As shadowy as an attic, the room is filled with lumber: an old wicker chair, an Art Deco vanity, cardboard cartons, stacks of discarded newspapers and magazines, an upright piano with its lid closed. Even the futuristic red guitar suspended above the bed testifies dustily to desuetude. If it were not for the sighing sounds of the speakers over John's head and the colored flickering of the two big TV sets at his feet, this dark chamber with its narrow spill of artificial light could be a tomb.

Lennon has confined himself to this room for the past three years. Save for summer holidays in Japan, he rarely leaves his queen-size bed, to which he clings like a sailor aboard a life raft. Much of the time he sleeps, perhaps half the day, in two- to four-hour spells. The balance of the day he spends sitting in the lotus position, his head enveloped in a cloud of tobacco or marijuana smoke, reading, meditating, or listening to tapes, including self-hypnosis cassettes with titles like I Love My Body or There's No Need to Be Angry. Sometimes he makes an entry in his log, a New Yorker diary with a cartoon on every page, which he may redraw or retitle. Everything he prizes most - his drugs, his manuscripts, girlie mags, his British harmonica - he keeps at the foot of the bed in a little domed chest blazoned LIVERPOOL. His raft is rigged with excellent communications gear, all the controls lying convenient to his right hand in a white Formica cabinet. With an endless supply of books and cassettes, records and videotapes, he has everything he requires for journeys that take him not only to the ends of the earth but back through the roll call of civilizations and forward through space into the world of the future.

Though he is lying in the bosom of his family, John could not be much more removed from them even if he spent his life out on the road. The only times he sees them are for an hour or two in the morning and during supper and a little thereafter, when Daddy, as he likes to call himself, watches TV with his little boy, Sean. All the rest of the day Lennon is back here in his room, alone and silent.

Lennon's only companions aboard his raft are his three cats, Sasha, Misha, and Charo, owl-faced, yellow-eyed, black-haired Persians. When he makes out his list of chores every morning, the needs of the cats stand first. If one of them appears to be missing, John will sound an alarm on the intercom to the kitchen, and the maids will start scouring the halls, even knocking on the neighbors' doors. Though averse to any kind of physical effort, John loves to cut into tiny morsels the cats' prime beef and costly liver and to groom their gleaming coats with his array of combs, brushes, and clippers. The other members of the household dislike these animals because they foul the rooms with their hair and excrement, but John insists that his pets be treated as if they lived in ancient Egypt.

To satisfy his need to play a part in the family's life, John has cast himself in the role of "househusband." He and Yoko have exchanged sexual stereotypes, with her becoming the breadwinner and he the bread baker. Yoko has sustained her part with grim determination, spending her whole life pent up in her office. John's role is largely fantasy. He did try his hand once at baking bread, but what he really wanted to pop out of the oven was a tray of hash brownies. Given his druthers, John would pig out on junk food - Burger King Whoppers; gooey, tangy slices of pizza; huge, one-pound Hershey bars. But what he's done for most of his adult life is starve himself to perfection. Far from being a bread baker or even a hearty eater, John Lennon is a hunger artist.

The onset of his anorexia can be traced back to the year 1965, when some fool described him in print as the "fat Beatle." That phrase struck such a blow to his fragile ego that the wound has never healed. Now, at thirty-nine, his supreme goal in life is to recover the body image he presented at nineteen. Volumes could be filled with the history of his punishing diets, dangerous fasts, and self-lacerating attacks of guilt over that extra cup of coffee or slice of toast. He's forever reading the kind of book that admonishes: "Success is ours when we can smilingly make a meal off ten carefully counted beans flavored with slices of preserved radish." An instinctive ascetic, John can deny the flesh anything but coffee and cigarettes. His addiction to these legal substances has cost him far more worry than his habitual use of virtually every drug listed in Schedule I. Nowadays, to be sure, he has relented a bit in his war on food. He will take a couple of bites of fish or chicken with his brown rice and boiled vegetables. But he still runs a string around his waist every morning on arising, and if he sins by eating something forbidden, he will duck into the bathroom and stick a finger down his throat.

As he slips out of bed now to perform his yoga limbering exercises, he displays the bag-of-bones body of an Indian fakir. His arms are clay pipe stems, not just skinny but so devoid of muscle that when he picks up a hollow-bodied guitar, he complains of its weight. You could pour a cup of water into the hollows of his collarbones. His once-shapely legs resemble the stalks of wading birds. He's pale, naturally, because he never goes out in the sun, but what is strange about his skin is the way it glows. This unnatural sheen is produced by bathing a dozen times a day and washing his face and hands twice as often.

He shrinks from contact with either flesh or fabric, rarely wearing clothing, apart from a pair of backless slippers. If he spies a few of his wife's long, coarse black hairs on the pure white carpeting that covers the entire flat, he will summon the maid to remove the offensive threads. Sometimes in Yoko's presence, he will tilt up his nose, sniff delicately, and then, registering an expression of disgust on his face, turn and leave the room. As a rule he avoids touching anyone. If in a rare access of parental affection he takes Sean on his knee, John will make sure to seat the child facing away from him so that the boy will not have the opportunity to plant a wet, smacky kiss on his father's face.

As John ducks into his surgically clean bathroom, whose big old-fashioned tub only he is permitted to scrub, the image he presents to the mirror is startling. No wonder that on those infrequent occasions when he slips out the side of the building and walks down 72nd Street to buy a paper, nobody ever recognizes him. John Lennon no longer resembles himself. His trademark granny glasses have long since disappeared, replaced by ordinary plastic specs with blue-tinted lenses to shield his weak, hooded eyes, so sensitive to light that he complains of the glare from the tiny bulbs on the Christmas tree. The famous Lennon nose is still prominent, but it has caved in so badly along the sides that it resembles now the proboscis of a strange bird. The rest of his face is concealed by an ugly, scraggly, untrimmed beard and a wispy mustache. His hair has grown so long that he wears it in a ponytail that he secures with a barrette embellished by a tiny Barbie or Ken doll. John claims that he resembles Prince Myshkin in The Idiot, the Christ-like epileptic hero who screams so violently when he throws a fit that his would-be assassin drops his knife and flees in terror. In truth, Lennon looks less like a prince than an old beachcomber.

As soon as John has satisfied himself that he is perfectly clean, he clacks through the curtain of white beads, made by the ancient Tairona Indians of Colombia, that Yoko purchased for $65,000 to guard the bedroom against the intrusion of evil spirits. Turning a corner, he opens the door that leads from his room into the long, tunnel-like central corridor. Striding along with his jerky, pigeon-toed gait, he passes a series of lofty white chambers that offer panoramic views of Central Park: past the White Room, furnished with white overstuffed furniture and the white piano from Imagine; past the Pyramid Room, filled with Egyptian antiquities, including a gilded sarcophagus containing a 3,000-year-old mummy; past the Black Room, with its ebony-finished furnishings, where John was quarantined for six months after l'affaire Pang; past the Library, which offers an amusing confrontation between Yoko's black lacquer Shinto altar and John's collection of girlie mags and pornographic books; past the Playroom, facing the rear courtyard, whose ambiance is signaled by yards of butcher paper affixed to the hallway walls, bearing the exuberant crayon and watercolor daubings of Sean and his playmates, until at last he reaches the northernmost room, the Nursery, where Sean (if he has not crept into bed with Daddy) will still be sound asleep in the arms of his nanny, Yoko having spent the night in her office, calling overseas or catnapping on her mink-upholstered Napoleonic camp bed.

Turning sharply to the left, John flips on the tracklights of the kitchen, illuminating a space as large as a loft, divided into separate areas for work and recreation: first, a home entertainment center, stacked with the latest audio-visual gear and stocked with thousands of LPs massed on fifteen-foot shelves; then a lounge, with a pair of sofas facing across a cocktail table and a desk set against the opposite wall for Yoko beside a door that opens upon a full bath; and finally, the kitchen proper, lined along both sides with appliances and white Formica counters and shelves. Filling the kettle and settling it on the hooded restaurant range, John struggles to catch the pilot light, a trick he has never quite mastered. As the water heats, he examines carefully the open shelves, searching for foods that are on his index expurgatorius, which includes the vast majority of things that people eat. If he discovers a substance that is forbidden, he will hurl it into the garbage can . . .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree the best book ever written on Lennon