With all of the words that have been written about the Beatles, both collectively and individually, I usually find myself asking if there's really a need for yet another book about them. While there have been many excellent well researched and well written books on them, those are vastly outnumbered by others that are little more than cash-in hack jobs. However, from the minute I heard about Lennonology several years ago, I knew it would be in the former category. For years, Chip Madinger and Mark Easter's book Eight Arms to Hold You has been an indispensable volume in my Beatles library, so when I heard that Chip was working on a new book, it was at the top of my list for books worth checking out. As you'll gather from the following review, the book was more than worth the wait.
In a similar vein to excellent books like Mark Lewisohn's Complete Beatles Chronicle (which I will be reviewing at a later date), Doug Hinman's All Day and All of the Night, or Glenn Povey's Echoes, Lennonology is a day-by-day diary. However, for this book the authors have focused on John Lennon's life from the moment he met Yoko Ono in late 1966 until his murder in 1980. With their meticulous research, the authors have detailed just about every day in their lives during this fourteen year period. The entries for each day contain not only the big events that were happening in the lives of John and Yoko, but contemporary press accounts, media appearances, record releases, recording sessions, and even documents (notes, letters, memos, etc.) that they wrote, mailed, and published. There are even entries where the authors have determined the dates that John or Yoko wrote postcards, notes, and other scribbles. Through all of these entries, the evolution of John from latter-day Beatle to wannabe avant garde artist, solo musician, and political activist can be traced in real time as it happened.
This book took me a long to get through for the simple fact that there is so much information contained within that I read it very carefuly, going through it with a fine-toothed comb so as to not miss anything. At more than 500 pages, Lennonology is a staggering work of reference and information on John and Yoko's life and career. Going through the book, what struck me was the difference in contemporary public and media perception of John and Yoko versus how those events have been portrayed since his death. While the conventional wisdom since 1980 has been that John and Yoko's exploits were hugely influential and covered enthusiastically by a press that waited with bated breath for their every move, the contemporary information presented by the authors shows that after the initial confusion, interest, and ridicule their relationship garnered, by late 1969 most of the press and fans grew weary of their constant need for attention. Furthermore, their somewhat egotistical chronicling of the minutiae of every aspect of their life, whether via record, film, or interview seemed to wear thin fairly quickly. Even John's status as a Beatle couldn't shield him from the press and fellow figures in the music business taking swipes at him (most strikingly DJ John Peel, who rightly sneered at John and Yoko's call for peace and activism while they rode in limos, flew on private jets, and lived in an enormous mansion). Indeed, by the time the Beatles officially split up in 1970, the press (and many fans) were quite tired of John and Yoko's media oversaturation.
Lennonology also gives some fascinating insight and context into the end of the Beatles. While much of the information has been known for a long time, here it's presented in chronological order to the exact day. Furthermore, there are a lot of little nuggets of information that were new to me, most surprising that John and Paul were still working on songs together and bouncing ideas off of each other as late as the spring of 1969. In addition to the Allen Klein problem, it's also shocking just how much the lack of effective communication between the four of them was to blame for the disintegration in relations. Even though John stunned the other three by declaring that he was leaving the band in late 1969, the door didn't seem to be completely closed until Paul issued his statement in April 1970. While it surprised George and Ringo, it infuriated John and ensured that any chance at further band discussions were remote, if not impossible. The naivete and silliness of much of John and Yoko's politics is also on full display through contemporary media coverage, especially in their early-to-mid 1970s period. John was well-known for finding a new craze or idea, jumping wholeheartedly into it with all-consuming enthusiasm, and then quickly losing interest and moving on to the next thing. His activism was no exception and as a reader, I felt embarrassed for him...no doubt he would be as well were he still alive to read Lennonology. John's immigration battle to remain in the USA and gain permanent resident status was described in fine detail and sets the record straight on a lot of things regarding the motivations, political and otherwise, behind his nearly six year battle through the court system. As the 1970s progressed, it was interesting to track how John's life settled down after he spiralled out of control during his Lost Weekend of 1973-74. Once his son Sean was born in 1975, he took his hiatus from the music business, finally got his Green Card, and embraced getting older and being a father. However, it was also sad to read of the events in 1980, especially with how fulfilled and happy John seemed to be as he approached 40. Since we all know what happened on December 8th of that year, reading the events leading up to that moment have an almost fatalistic sense of doom that makes it very emotional and difficult to get through. The authors do a nice job of sticking to the facts and letting John and Yoko's words tell the story. The chronicle ends right as John steps out of his limo and onto the sidewalk outside the Dakota that evening, which is as tasteful (yet melancholy) a way to end the book as there could be. The final sections of the book consist of several appendices detailing John and Yoko's discographies as well as a plethora of information such as all of their residences, hotels, and the like during their time together. As an added bonus, there are more than 150 pages of electronic indices available at www.lennonology.com for further research and insight.
The long and short of it is that, if you're a serious fan of the Beatles and/or John Lennon, this is an essential and valuable book for studying their life and career together. The attention to detail is exceptional and while it's densely packed with information, it's very readable. In fact, I would recommend a thorough beginning-to-end reading of the book. Even though it can also be used as a reference book for looking up specific events and dates, the telling of their story and career predominantly in their own words is really enjoyable. There are many new tidbits of information throughout the book that, when read in their proper context, help certain events make more sense than they ever have. Simply put, this is an excellent book that no serious Lennon fan should be without. The true challenge is now waiting for volume two to be released in order to see what new information the authors have unearthed. Lennonology is an exceptional work on the life and career of one of music's true geniuses and his equally interesting (and misunderstood) partner.
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