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Lennon Revealedby Larry Kane
Who Was John Lennon and Why Do We Care?
Brash. Sensitive. Sexually empowered. A bad father and a good father. A dead poet whose language resonates with life. A rebel with more than a few causes. A rock star who entered new galaxies. Husband. Lover. Freedom fighter. Thinker, drinker, drug user and abuser. Guitarist, pianist, mouth organist. A singer of songs that haunt the mind and infuse the blood with tingles of joy and fear. A writer. A friend. A lost soul. A teacher and a student. A tiger with an intimidating roar and a cat with a soft, gentle purr. Legend in life. Icon in death. And to many, a puzzle. But was he really?
For years before and for a quarter of a century after his life, pundits and politicians, reporters and would-be-reporters have tried to determine:
Who was John Lennon? This project intends to do more?to reveal John Lennon as a man, not just a myth; to slice through the myriad legends that accompanied his magnificent and creative presence; and to discover the real person through the visions and memories of people who knew him. It is a complicated journalistic assignment, fraught with attempts by people to carefully protect their own memories and overwhelmed by people who still have agendas.
What you will find in this book is an unfettered report from all angles and every point of view about a man whose physical presence is gone, but whose talent and message still live into this century and beyond.
First, a few thoughts on how I got to this particular place.
Reporters are impressionists. Our works do not appear on canvasses, but reflect the imprints on our minds. And in 1964, my twenty-one-year-old mind held a very ambivalent impression of the assignment I had captured?to travel with and report on the Beatles throughout their first tour of North America. Trained as a hard-driving, aggressive gatherer of information, I viewed the coverage of the Beatles tour as a job for someone with a more narrow view of the world, maybe even someone with rhythm and knowledge of music?both of which were foreign to me. I did play the accordion as a child, but, well, it was the accordion, and I was not very good. Frankly, as a hard news radio reporter, I would rather have covered a bank robbery than travel with a band, any band.
Admittedly, the assignment was my fault. The radio station management had initially asked me to secure a short interview with the Beatles in what would be their closest tour stop to Miami, the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. My letter to Beatles manager Brian Epstein included a business card that listed all seven of my company's radio stations, six of them oriented to black audiences who were hardly Beatles fans. Epstein did not know I was so young, but he did believe, mistakenly, that I was some sort of radio mogul in control of multiple stations. When the invitation came to travel in their official press party on the entire tour of North America?thirty-two shows in twenty-five cities?I was flabbergasted. I was also immediately determined not to go. My negativity was informed not only by my lack of interest in the subject, but, more importantly, by the death of my mother that summer at the age of forty after a battle with multiple sclerosis. Her death was?and still is?the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Eleven years later, John Lennon would mark her life and death in a special way. In the meantime, I had to decide what to do. Fate does not wait for indecision; indecision is a fault line for great reporting careers.
Reluctantly, I went forward. With five years of radio news reporting and anchoring behind me, I tackled what I believed at the time to be a wasted and vacuous assignment, covering what would become known as the biggest tour in the history of music?the Beatles' "invasion" of America and Canada. It would be the first of their two tours that I would cover in full. In the end, I would watch sixty-three Beatles concerts, witness their work on a movie, engage in countless hours of conversation with the four lads who would make so much history, and see my life and my viewpoint of what is and isn't news change forever. In the ensuing years, I have covered:
Twenty-one political conventions, several superpower summits, seven different presidents, disastrous hurricanes and earthquakes, military combat, and the everyday ups and downs of ordinary people. Ultimately my career would take me to Philadelphia, where I anchored the TV news for thirty-seven years.
My book, Ticket to Ride: Inside the Beatles 1964 & 1965 Tours that Changed the World, was an insider's account of those tours and of my personal experiences with the Beatles. Many readers got the idea that I liked John Lennon. What was not to like? Here was a man with supreme talent, rage, individuality, frailties, charisma, and conviction who was looking desperately for places to deposit the waves of love roiling inside of him. My impressions of and reporting about the life of John Lennon in this book are based not only on my own extensive experiences, but rely heavily on the thoughts of other people who encountered John in many capacities throughout his life. I also performed exhaustive investigative research to help locate the pieces of his life that escaped me after two tours practically living with the boys, many phone conversations with John, and personal contact through special events that occurred over a period of seventeen years.
There is a subculture of Beatles journalism that seems to require authors to claim that they are the best and brightest on the subject. Despite this air of propriety over who has the real story, my circle of Beatles-connected friends is devoid of any such pettiness. But I bring up the subject of cooperation because I do not presume to be the only source of accurate information on the life of John Lennon. Each view of John's amazing life brings us something new. My reporting of Lennon and his adult life will no doubt vary from others, but it is mine.
August 18, 1964. John Lennon insulting my attire and hairstyle on our first meeting at the San Francisco Hilton.The man I met and traded insults with on that summer afternoon has been depicted as rude, abrasive, hostile and unpredictable by many writers and would-be experts over the years. My view is different, firmly rooted in the belief that John Lennon was all that and more, the "more" being an extremely centered and bright intellectual who gave so much more than he took back. Some people may wonder how a man who had gone to such extremes in his own life could affect others in such a profound and positive way. I believe it is all a case of mistaken identity. John is not the only thing we see in this book. We see ourselves?our potential for good and our propensity to screw things up. That is what living is all about. John's life, like all of our lives, was colored by serious and often debilitating flaws, some of which thwarted his creative process and threatened his very existence. And yet his talent and message prevailed.
If you're looking for a psychological profile?including facts like the baby formula he was fed or his achievements in grade school?perhaps you'll want to look elsewhere. And there are plenty of places to look.
What you'll find in this book is an honest and multi-layered portrayal of a man who affected us all in different ways, and who remains a cultural icon to millions. This work does not attempt to detail the week-to-week conflicts of John Lennon's psyche, but rather to find out how certain human frailties shaped a being that enriched so many others. It ultimately seeks to shed light on the truth, and sometimes to dispel long-standing myths about John?his loves, his sexuality, his rage, his alleged campaign against the United States, and more.
This is a true story; nothing is held back. Different points of view are not suppressed in the usual enthusiastic orgy of denial and memory lapse. It is my hope, through objective reporting, that in the pages of this book and in the enclosed DVD, John will come back to life for the reader, along with his expressions, sense of humor, and sheer honesty.
I do have to make one confession of a fact that made my job even harder. With all the brilliance, irreverence, craziness and confusion, the totality of his talent and the reality of his being, I fundamentally and honestly really liked the man. After all, more than just about anyone I've met, he taught me by example that bullshit and superficiality are a terrible waste of time. Yet, despite my respect and unfettered enthusiasm for John and what he left behind, there is no glossing over the truth of his life here. All the periods of John Lennon's life were marked by amazing candor. Truth, sometimes to his detriment, was his calling card?in his statements, music, and writing. This book lives up to his standards and legacy. It would be hypocritical to write the story of Lennon's adult life by glossing over the inadequacies and flaws that he refused to whitewash in his own lifetime. After all, as Yoko Ono told me as I interviewed her for this book, "He didn't want people to just adore him. He wanted people to know what he is made of."
This book is a celebration of his life, but in the spirit of Lennon, none of the challenges he tried to overcome will be ignored. He was, in spite of all his genius and accomplishment, a troubled man seeking his own truth. I have sought the truth here about John Lennon, with no apologies and no regrets, just wonderful and painful memories.
My story begins with the end, and reveals how that fateful night shaped some of the participants in this story. It ends with John's personal triumph, and then is poignantly accentuated in the beautiful writings of Lennon followers from across his universe.
John Lennon somewhere over Pennsylvania on the flight from Philadelphia to Indianapolis.I got the picture all right?a teenage prodigy, a man leading the greatest rock band of all time, a flawed human being desperately trying to find his way and?in the midst of a dark hole of despair?a human being who ultimately experienced the triumph of the human spirit.
The irony of it all is that John Lennon is bigger in death than he was in life. And believe me, he was big in life.
?Larry Kane, Philadelphia
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