Larry Kane, Lennon Revealed (Running Press, 2005)
Yoko Ono, Memories of John Lennon (HarperCollins, 2005)
As an American Baby Boomer, my life has been bracketed by assassinations. John Kennedy's, when I was 8, was perplexing. Bobby Kennedy's and the Rev. Martin Luther King's, the year I became a teenager, were frightening, coming as they did in a time of race riots, campus demonstrations and nightly body counts from Southeast Asia on the TV news. John Lennon's, on my elder daughter's first birthday, affected me most deeply. These two books, dedicated to his memory by people who knew him, are published around the 25th anniversary of Lennon's murder, and recall the joys the man brought to the many lives he touched, and the pain and loss still felt a quarter-century after his death.
Larry Kane is a broadcast journalist who covered The Beatles' 1964 and '65 tours of the U.S., documented in his 2003 book Ticket To Ride. In Lennon Revealed he focuses on John's life, death and legacy.
John Lennon, of course, has been the subject of previous biographies, most notably Albert Goldman's controversial The Lives of John Lennon. Kane wisely doesn't attempt to tackle the task of a full bio, instead concentrating on what he personally knew about John, and setting his personal knowledge against some of the myths. He's an unabashed fan, but one who has no qualms about taking an honest, "warts and all" look at Lennon. He goes to some pains to dispel what he sees as some damaging untruths about Lennon's life, and talks to some ordinary folks who happened to get close to Lennon's inner circle at various times in his life.
So most of the high and low points of Lennon's life are here, if sometimes in abbreviated form. Which is fine; we don't need another tome at this point. Kane does a good job of depicting John the person, never glossing over his often wild or crude behavior while on tour with The Beatles, or carousing with Harry Nilsson during his "lost weekend" in Los Angeles, but also paying tribute to his humanity. Most revealing are episodes in which he befriends ordinary folks, like the young fan who penetrates his secret New York lair and who ends up being a messenger boy for him.
The book begins with the day of Lennon's assassination and describes its effects on those who knew him at the time, as well as his fans around the world. Then he backtracks through the pre-Beatles years, Beatlemania, and the post-Beatle era. Although sometimes repetitive, the organization scheme generally works well. The final chapter is comprised of e-mails solicited by the author from listeners of the "Beatle Brunch" radio show in 2004. Many are sincere but unremarkable, garden-variety "his music changed my life" missives, but a few stand out. One such is from a young Southerner who eventually realized he had to give up the racism with which he was raised if he wanted to keep being a true Lennon fan. Another is a tale of an encounter in a beachside bar that turned into an impromptu jam session: "John Lennon played my guitar!"
Kane still writes like a Sixties radio guy talks, and it's awkward at times, but it's real. The book includes a DVD with Kane's final interview with Lennon and Paul McCartney in 1968, which wasn't included with the review copy.
Lennon Revealed is a good place to start for those who've not read one of the longer biographies, and a worthy addition to the libraries of collectors.
Larry Kane also contributes to Memories of John Lennon, Ono's collection of memorial tributes to John, and it's one of the best in the book. In a few tightly written but heartfelt paragraphs, Kane zeroes in on the one aspect of his relationship with John that stood out the most for him: Lennon's personal thoughtfulness. Kane, then 21 years old, had just lost his mother to multiple sclerosis when he first met Lennon on The Beatles' 1964 U.S. tour, and John, who had lost his mother as a teenager, sympathasized. And 11 years later, he still remembered and made it a point to appear in a charity fund-raiser for multiple sclerosis at Kane's television station, a story covered in depth in Kane's book.
Memories of John Lennon contains tributes from dozens of people, mostly celebrities. They include Annie Liebovitz's famous contact sheet of photos she took of John, and of John and Yoko, a few hours before his death, and reminiscences from a host of other artists, musicians and singers. Highlights include Christine Lavin's memories of writing a song inspired by his death; Elton John's brief tribute to a mentor and collaborator; and Billy J. Kramer's heartfelt salute. But perhaps the best, and most surprising, is from Mike Cadwallader, one of John's cousins, who throws light on never previously revealed aspects of Lennon's family life growing up. Contributions from early companions such as Klaus Voorman and Astrid Kirchherr also are particularly heartfelt and welcome.
Memories is a book to keep at the bedside and dip into, or to keep by the stereo to peruse when you're feeling nostalgic and listening to The Beatles or Lennon's solo music.