John Lennon was a hero to many people, as he still is to me. Ever since I started to listen to him belting out “Twist and Shout” on an old Beatlemania 45rpm vinyl record on our mono record player at home in Ballingate, I have been a huge fan of the Beatles and Lennon. I remember exactly where I was when I heard he had been shot – I was taking part in a Trinity College marine biology trip to Ballyvaughan, Co Clare. I was standing at a fireplace in a cottage waiting for breakfast when our bus driver Vinny, (who was first up ‘cos he wasn’t drinking the night before!) told me the news. For others, the deaths of Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Diana Spencer mark moments of shock in their lives - Lennon's senseless killing was the one for me.
Philip Norman has written a fantastic account of John Lennon’s life. He paints a picture of a man who led an extraordinary life from the violence of the Blitz during which he was born – to the violence of his death. Lennon was no saint or scholar when he was growing up, and there is lots of detail about his school days, his family problems, and the early music beginnings. I was interested to see that he was not good at school, failing his O-level exams. How could this be for such a musical genius? It seems that while he was very intelligent, he had no interest in learning and rejoiced in rebelling against “the system”. Only his Aunt Mimi seems to have any control over him. I wasn’t as familiar with his first 20 years as I was with his last 20 years – Norman’s book provides a superb background to the formation of Lennon as a musician. It is very well researched and written in a very easy to read style.
There are many explanations about the background to some of his songs. As a Beatles fan I knew a lot of this already, but there was plenty of new stuff for me. His many love affairs and promiscuity are also detailed – he certainly got laid a lot! The book ends with his death and there is virtually no comment on his legacy. There is (for me) a pointless section at the end of the book where Norman talks to Lennon‘s second son Sean. This adds nothing to the book as Sean was just a child when Lennon died and had very few memories – the interview simply repeats Norman’s description of John’s time looking after Sean in the Dakota apartment.
At the time of his death I recall reading an obituary in the Trinity News. The last line is still imprinted on my brain and expresses my thoughts about his death: Fuck you Mark Chapman, fuck you.
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