The Sporadic Beaver

And On And On And On…/Y sigue y sigue y sigue…

September 14, 2016

Tags: Bill Harry, Mersey Beat, Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Los últimos días de John Lennon, Facebook, Proceso, 10 Mathew Street, The MacWire, René Portas

When the Mexico City newsweekly Proceso ran the Spanish translation of my interview with Bill Harry, the founding editor of Mersey Beat—they called it “Lennon al desnudo…” (“Lennon Naked”)—it put my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, back in the news. Not bad for a book that’s been in print for more than 16 years and was originally rejected by everybody.

That Nowhere Man became a cult classic, embraced by the Spanish-language media and reading public, is, in large part, due to Proceso’s ongoing coverage. They’ve been deconstructing and analyzing the book ever since Random House Mondadori (now Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial) first published the Spanish edition in 2003. (An updated e-book edition was published in June.)

Soon after Proceso ran Harry’s probing and empathetic interview, 10, Mathew Street, a Madrid-based site, and The MacWire, an American celebrity site, picked it up.

This sequence of events began when Harry posted part of the interview, amidst a flurry of comments, on his Facebook page, and I posted it here, titled “And the Mersey Beat Goes On/Y el Mersey Beat sigue” (translated by René Portas, who also translated Nowhere Man).

As Harry was the first person to interview me who knew Lennon from Liverpool, before the Beatles became a global phenomenon, I considered it significant—another step on the road to Nowhere Man’s increasing acceptance among those readers who want to know what was really going on in John Lennon’s head.

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

Y sigue y sigue y sigue…

Cuando el semanario Proceso de ciudad México, publicó la traducción al español de mi entrevista con Bill Harry, el director fundador del Mersey Beat —la llamaron “Lennon al desnudo…”—, puso mi biografía de John Lennon, Nowhere Man, de vuelta en las noticias. No está mal para un libro que ha estado en prensa por más de 16 años, y fue rechazado originalmente por todo el mundo.

El que Nowhere Man se convirtió en un clásico de culto, abrazado por los medios en lengua española y el público lector, es debido, en gran parte, a la cobertura continua de Proceso. Ellos han estado discutiendo y analizando el libro siempre, desde que Random House Mondadori (ahora Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial) publicó por primera vez la edición española en 2003. (Una edición en e-book actualizada fue publicada en junio).

Poco después que Proceso publicó la tanteadora y empática entrevista de Harry, 10, Mathew Street, un sitio con sede en Madrid, y The MacWire, un sitio célebre americano la recogieron.

Esta secuencia de eventos empezó cuando Harry posteó parte de la entrevista, en medio de un aluvión de comentarios, en su página de Facebook, y yo la posteé aquí, titulada “And the Mersey Beat Goes On/Y el Mersey Beat sigue” (traducida por René Portas, quien asimismo tradujo Nowhere Man).

Como Harry fue la primera persona que me entrevistó, quien conociera a Lennon de Liverpool, antes de que los Beatles se convirtieran en un fenómeno global, yo lo consideré significativo, otro paso en el camino de la creciente aceptación de Nowhere Man, entre esos lectores que quieren saber qué, realmente, estaba pasando en la cabeza de John Lennon.

Te invito a unirte a mí en Facebook o a seguirme en Twitter.

*“I read the news today, oh boy”, de “A day in the life”, canción de los Beatles.

A Film We Made in 1971

August 4, 2015

Tags: 1971, Brooklyn, City College of New York, Erasmus, Facebook, filmmaking, Watergate


In the spring of 1971, when I was a freshman at City College, my friend Jayson Wechter asked me if I'd like to play the lead role in a film he was making. He called it When Ya Gotta Go…, and it was about a guy who was trying to go to the bathroom but was constantly interrupted.

It sounded like fun and I agreed to do it.

Financed by a film cooperative, Jayson shot the movie at my house, in Brooklyn, where I was living with my parents, and cast it with an assortment of our friends and neighbors.

It’s a silent film, as sound syncing, in 1971, was a technological hurdle not easily overcome on a low budget. I’d also like to point out that I didn’t do nudity at the time, even if it was crucial to the plot, and that very brief glimpse of tuchas you’ll see was provided by a stand-in.

Over the ensuing decades, Jayson and I fell out of touch, and I pretty much forgot about the film. Then, through Facebook (naturally), I reconnected with Neil Zusman, the longhaired hippie on the left, in the above thumbnail. He had a digital copy of When Ya Gotta Go… and sent it to me.

How amazing it was to see myself in this time capsule, in my old apartment, with old friends and acquaintances, all of whom I’d lost touch with. If any of you happen to be reading this, here’s what I remember about you then and know about you now:

Jayson, who once made the news for pieing Watergate conspirator Charles Colson, is a private detective living in San Francisco.

The late Arthur Kirson, who plays the insurance salesman, was an English teacher at Erasmus Hall High School, in Brooklyn, and also faculty advisor to the student newspaper, The Dutchman.

Ethel Goodstein, the piano player, was my classmate at the City College of New York School of Architecture.

Neil, a classmate at Erasmus, is a Web designer, filmmaker, and teacher living in Ithica, New York.

Carey Silverstein, the other longhaired hippie, was a classmate at Erasmus and is now a rock musician living in Toronto.

Brian Rooney, the plainclothes narc, was my down-the-hall neighbor in Brooklyn.

Abby Bogomolny, who provided the music, was a classmate at Erasmus.

I don’t know who Mike Cramer (music) or S.K. Schwartzman (actor) are.

Perhaps some of you will now emerge from the mists of time to fill me in on what’s been happening for the past 40-plus years. I’m all ears.

In Denial

September 23, 2013

Tags: Bobby in Naziland, conspiracy theories, Facebook, Google, Nowhere Man, John Lennon, Shade Rupe

In the Adolf Eichmann chapter of Bobby in Naziland, the novel to which I'm currently applying some finishing touches, one of the things the Mistress of Syntax flagged was my reference to a bone-grinding machine used in death camps. She wanted to know if the machine had been built specifically for use in the camps. This was a good question, I thought, and turned to Google for an answer. The search terms I put in, as shown in the graphic, were: bone grinding machine Nazis. I was shocked and dismayed to see that the first three results were Holocaust denial sites. (In a search two days later, the denial sites placed two and four, and the order continues to change.)

One of the first things that popped into my head was the idea of a kid in grade school, who knows nothing about the Holocaust, being given an assignment to write a report about the Nazis. He goes to Google and the first thing he sees is that the Holocaust didn't happen, thereby handing a tremendous victory to the deniers.

I posted this on Facebook, and it led to a surprisingly large number of comments, notably from fellow Headpress writer Shade Rupe, who’s done a great deal of Holocaust research.

What I hadn’t mentioned on Facebook was that part of the inspiration for Bobby in Naziland was my own dealings with a Holocaust-denying conspiracy theorist who’d read Nowhere Man, and in Internet postings that described me as a “Jewish writer,” said that I was the Zionist-funded CIA spymaster who’d given the order to kill John Lennon. He also tried to goad me into an online debate about whether or not the Holocaust really happened.

In the book’s endnotes, I say of this (naturally) pseudonymous fellow, “That there are people like this lurking on the Internet should come as no surprise to anybody. That other people who call themselves journalists echo such theories in cyberspace and, on occasion, have published them in books, and in at least one legitimate newspaper, is an alarming truth that cannot be ignored.”

That’s just the way it is in the fact-free 21st century. Holocaust denial is spreading and Bobby in Naziland is, in part, my own small response to it, for whatever that may be worth.

And, yes, the bone-grinding machines were specifically built to grind human bones in Nazi death camps.

How to Kill a Book

January 22, 2013

Tags: Amazon, The New York Times, reviews, Twitter, Facebook

I feel for Randall Sullivan, author of Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson (Grove Press). What's happening to him could have happened to me--had my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, been published now rather than 13 years ago, before the age of social media and before Amazon completely took over the book biz.

In yet another demonstration that the mega-conglomerate is a company out of control, a company that feels no need to treat fairly or responsibly the authors whose books they sell, a company that feels no need to answer to anybody about anything, they have allowed Michael Jackson fans to destroy sales of Sullivan's book with a barrage of anonymous negative reviews.

According to an article published on the front page of The New York Times yesterday, “Swarming a Book Online,” Jackson fans have used Twitter and Facebook to solicit scores of one-star takedowns of Untouchable; to have numerous positive reviews deleted; and even to have Amazon briefly remove the book from their site by falsely claiming that copies were “defective.”

Untouchable, like Nowhere Man, is a largely sympathetic portrait of its subject that also includes certain negative assessments. In particular, information about Jackson’s plastic surgery and his two marriages enraged his fans. According to Sullivan, many of the one-star reviews were factually false and clearly written by people who hadn’t read the book—as I can attest is also the case with most of Nowhere Man’s one-star reviews.

Amazon, however, doesn’t consider this a problem, saying that the reviews don’t violate their ever-shifting guidelines. Amazon has also said that it’s unnecessary for a reviewer to “experience” a product before reviewing it.

In the past, the Times has written about authors paying reviewers to flood Amazon with five-star reviews, and of authors anonymously trashing competing books.

There’s no question that Amazon’s review system is broken, possibly beyond repair, and that it’s relatively easy to game the system. Nor is there a question that it’s almost impossible to police phony reviews on a site like Amazon. But the real injustice here is Amazon’s refusal to work with authors and publishers to solve any kind of problem or to make any effort to adequately explain why they do what they do.

Fortunately, Amazon is sensitive to negative publicity, and the fact that the Times put this story on the front page is a good thing.

What I Found in My "Other" Box

January 14, 2013

Tags: Mark David Chapman, John Lennon, Nowhere Man, Facebook

I learned this weekend that Facebook has a spam folder where messages go sent by people who aren't your Facebook friends. It's called the "Other" box, and apparently I'm not the only one who was unaware that it existed. It's questionable if even Mark Zuckerberg knew about the box before news broke that for a hundred bucks you could send him a message that wouldn't go into his spam folder.

But this isn't a post about Facebook's stupidity. It's a post about what I found in my Other box, most of which wasn't spam. The messages, dating back to early 2010, were from all kinds of people who wanted to get in touch with me about my writing. One of them played a major role in my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man.

Let me say right off that I’m not one hundred percent certain that the message is legitimate—that it’s from the person whose name is attached to it rather than an imposter. But after looking at his Facebook page—yes, even he appears to have one—I’m inclined to believe that it is legitimate. His minimalist status updates—“April 8, 2011: Time is dragging on lately… December 10, 2010: Franks and Beans tonight”—and one friend, Human Rights Watch, do not strike me as satire. Please look at the page and decide for yourself. (And yes, some prisoners do have Internet access.)

The prisoner in question is Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered John Lennon and who was in Attica Correctional Facility in New York State until last year, when he was transferred to Wende Correctional Facility, also in New York. His message, sent on October 20, 2010, says the following:

Hello Robert
’read your book. I liked it very much.
Happy Halloween,
Mark C


Though I’m always delighted to hear from people who like my books, this one creeped me out for obvious reasons. And I imagined how strange it must have been for Chapman—assuming it is Chapman—to have read a book that partially takes place inside his head.

I responded to the message and asked if it was really him. Then I sent an e-mail to my publisher at Headpress: “Do you think we can get him to blurb Beaver Street too?”

It’s probably necessary to say here that the e-mail was intended as a joke. Because I’ve often found that when things like this happen, the only thing you can do is laugh about them—as I’m still chuckling today about the existence of Facebook’s Other box and what I found in it.

Times to Google: "You're a Prude!"

November 19, 2012

Tags: Google, Amazon, Facebook, The New York Times

Before I flee New York this afternoon for my Thanksgiving break, I'd like to bring to your attention an article that ran in The New York Times yesterday.

But let me begin with an article that ran in the the Times in 2002, “A Demimonde in Twilight,” that was in part drawn from an embryonic Beaver Street manuscript. The "newspaper of record," having no taste for double entendres, refused to print the title Beaver Street. So yesterday, when the Times called Internet monoliths like Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon "prudish," they were really saying something.

The gist of the article, “You Can’t Say That on the Internet,” by Evgeny Motozov, is that Silicon Valley, supposedly a countercultural bastion of openness and tolerance, is actually a deeply conservative place that imposes its "outdated norms" on billions of people. Facebook and Apple do it though outright censorship. The former recently blocked The New Yorker's page after they posted an Adam and Eve cartoon that showed Eve's nipples, and the latter, until recently, wouldn't post in its iBooks store the title of Naomi Wolf's new book, Vagina: A New Biography.

But Google and Amazon are arguably the worst culprits, using their “dour” algorithms to insure that the autocomplete function does not lead us to morally impure sites or books that contain such words as “penis,” “vagina,” “bisexual,” “Lolita,” and “pornography.” (The potentially malignant nature of autocomplete popped up again last night on The Good Wife.)

As readers of this blog know, I’ve had my issues with these two Internet monoplies, and I’ve written about them at length. Though the Amazon problem appears to be settled for now, the Google issue has only gotten worse. To recap: Once Google sent a lot of traffic to this site. Then, a couple of weeks ago, they cut me off. Since the Google algorithms is as sacred to Google as it is secret, it’s impossible to say why. Though after reading this article I can only assume the magical algorithm has decreed my site morally unfit for public consumption.

Show a Little Beaver Love

April 17, 2011

Tags: Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, Facebook

Beaver Street is being published tomorrow in the UK. It's my first book in 11 years and who knows how long it's going to be till the next one. I've launched a Beaver Street page on Facebook. You know how it works. Click here and show a little Beaver love.