Monday, 26 July 2010

John Lennon biography

ISBN 978-0007197415 (hc)/978-0007197422 (sc) Hardcover/softcover. 853 pages

Does the world need another Beatle book? Well, it needs this one, surely the most important since Ian MacDonald’s Revolution in the Head.

At the outset anyone but the most committed Lennon anorak fears information overload. The story begins with the moment of John’s conception "on the kitchen floor" at Newcastle Road, the detail barely relenting until the last five years of his life (skated over in a mere sixty pages). But then you realise Norman’s goal is a kind of real-time biography. By merging what will later be recognised as events of seismic importance in his subject’s life (first meetings with Paul, Brian Epstein, George Martin, Yoko) under a wealth of quotidian and possibly expendable detail, the effect is to reconstruct a life as it is lived, in all its messiness. Benefit of hindsight is applied only sparingly, but tellingly: John’s manic, audience-baiting acrobatics in Hamburg are rightly seen as ‘punk’ sixteen years ahead of the game.

Norman is a fluent writer. Despite its girth, this is an easy read. Avoiding the flashy overwriting so typical of rock biography, he sketches in, often with humour, the marginalia of Sixties showbiz – I love Larry Parnes’s stable of pseudonymous crooners, ‘Marty Wilde’, ‘Vince Eager’, ‘Billy Fury’ – while never losing sight of Lennon’s evolution from troubled child to angry young man to contented house-husband. Magisterial.

First published in R2 (Rock’n’Reel)

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