The Sporadic Beaver

Upon Looking Into an Old OP

February 15, 2017

Tags: Observation Post, City College of New York, Pentagon, Fred Seaman, The Campus, 1970s

For the past few years I've been immersing myself in the 1970s, trying to reconstruct what it was like to live and go to school in New York City at that chaotic time, as the student left was giving way to punk. Lately (in an effort to think about something other than Trump), I've been re-reading old newspapers that were published at City College, like The Campus, The Paper, and Observation Post (OP), which I edited.

In 1975, when I was in grad school, the Pentagon invited me to be a speechwriter for Air Force secretary John McLucas. Despite strong anti-war and anti-military sentiments, I accepted the offer. It was a paid writing gig, an “internship,” the Pentagon called it—the Air Force hoped that upon completing my degree, I’d make the military my career. Gerald Ford was president, the Vietnam War had just ended, and I was an ambitious, rebellious 22-year-old, hungry for experience.

Upon returning to City College for the fall semester, I sat down with three OP editors—Herb Fox, Mark Lipitz, and Fred Seaman—to discuss my stint at the Pentagon. They published their interview with me in the November 5, 1975, issue. Reading it now, more than 40 years later, my unguarded anger and the way I shot off my mouth startles me. I’d apparently not yet developed a filter and did not fully understand the effect my words might have on a wider audience, especially my former Pentagon coworkers. The interview, however, does serve as a window into my unruly consciousness and the mindset of the military in the immediate aftermath of having lost a war for the first time since 1812.

Here are some excerpts from the interview, with the names of my former coworkers redacted.

OP: What was your first day at the Pentagon like?

Bob Rosen: I couldn’t sleep the night before. I didn’t know what I was getting into. In the morning I had to wait at the main information desk with about 20 other interns. After an hour, some Air Force people took us to be “processed in,” which was filling out tax forms, taking loyalty oaths, and having your arms checked for needle marks. Then I went up to the speechwriting office and met the people I was going to be working with. I was terrified. It was the first time I ever came in contact with the military. There were three lieutenant colonels and a captain. Lieutenant Colonel A_____, the chief, asked me to come into his office and said: “Well, Bob, you’ve got to hang loose. This is a very loose place.”

OP: What did he mean by that?

Rosen: He meant speechwriting was a very frustrating job. It takes about ten days to write a speech. It’s a very long process, involving a lot of research and interviewing. You spend entire days talking to people on the phone, running around the Pentagon tracking down “experts,” going through microfilm files, and reading up on relevant material. Then you write a rough draft and finally hand in a polished speech. But McLucas is a callous pig. He looks at a lot of speeches and says: “I don't like this. Do it over!” Then you’d have to do the whole fucking thing over. When he actually gives a speech, he usually reads the first paragraph, throws the rest away, and spins off on his own. It killed everyone in office. It wouldn’t have bothered me if he was a good impromptu speaker, but he was terrible at it. He’d go off on all kinds of boring tangents that put people to sleep. He did it to gratify his ego, to prove to himself he was more witty and more articulate than his speechwriters. He treated us like garbage. A couple of times he said things that got him in trouble. For instance, during a speech to a group of scientists in San Francisco he started to ad-lib and called the Vietnam War a “debacle.” That made banner headlines in the San Francisco Chronicle. It got people in the Pentagon really pissed at him.

OP: You said that at first you tried to be as “truthful” as possible [when writing a speech]. What do you mean by that?

Rosen: Okay. Let me use my first major speech as an example. McLucas had to speak to a group of ROTC cadets who were graduating from college this year and expected to join the Air Force right away. Now these cadets had entered college during the Vietnam War, when the ROTC program was going full force. However, since the end of the war, the size of the Air Force has been reduced by about 30 percent, and there’s going to be no room for these cadets. McLucas had to explain to them they had to wait up to two years before they could join the Air Force, and he had to come up with something to tell them to do during these two years. So I wrote a speech suggesting these cadets should run off and become hippies, and then when the time came they would be able to go into the Air Force with a completely new perspective on life.

OP: I suppose they killed the speech right away.

Rosen: No, they didn’t kill it that fast, which surprised me. Each speech, before it gets to the Secretary, has to go through a chain of about 15 experts. My supervisor, Lieutenant Colonel A_____, actually liked it, so I figured that there really was a chance it might get through. It passed three people before someone realized I was subtly suggesting these cadets go off and become hippies. I got an angry memo from the Pentagon Commandant of ROTC saying: “I don’t think the Secretary of the Air Force should suggest our future pilots become hippies.”

Another weird thing happened to me with that speech. After I had finished writing it, I typed a separate paragraph they wanted to include, mentioning there had been a 69 percent increase of women in the Air Force since 1969. I showed the paragraph to one of the officers there, Lieutenant Colonel B_____, and he said: “You can't use this 69 percent.”

“Why not?” I asked. “I triple-checked it. There’s a 69 percent increase.”

“Well, you see,” he said, “you’re going to be speaking to a group of ROTC cadets and they’re all males. Here you are talking about women. You just can’t use 69 percent when you’re talking about women to an all-male group. Some of their minds might not be in the right place. You have to change that.”

I thought he was joking and started to laugh. When I looked around I saw nobody else was laughing. It wasn’t a joke. I had to change the 69 percent to something else.

OP: Are there many religious people at the Pentagon?

Rosen: That’s another incredibly weird aspect of the Pentagon—the way people there are into religion. This one speechwriter, Captain G_____, tried to convert me to Christianity. He was a Charismatic Christian. He’d tell me how he talks to Jesus every night when he drives home in his car. There’s something very frightening about an officer in a high government position telling you how he talks to Jesus every day. He also gave me religious books to read that painted horrible fire and brimstone visions of hell. These passages would always be followed by a paragraph that said, “But, if you accept Christ you don’t have to go there.”

He told me I was in the Pentagon because God wanted me there.

“Why would God possibly want me in the Pentagon?” I asked, and he said: “Well, when the Messiah comes maybe He’ll want you to be His speechwriter. He has you here to learn about speechwriting and to learn about Him.”

OP: Tell us about your trip to Florida.

Rosen: I’d written a speech for a graduation exercise at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, and I got to fly down there with McLucas, his military aide, and Lieutenant Colonel A_____. [In Florida, A_____ and I shared a hotel room. It] was the first time I’d ever roomed with a lieutenant colonel.

He liked to talk to me about my politics and drugs. A_____ had been in the military for 19 years and he only came into contact with other people in the military. I’d say, “I take drugs and opposed the war.” He’d say, “Gee, I never met anybody who admitted he took drugs. I don’t know people who opposed the war.”

I told him there were a lot of people like me. He had only seen them on TV and read about them in the newspaper, and now he’s suddenly rooming with one. He used to ask me a lot of questions whose answers seemed obvious, like: “How come you didn’t like the war?” I’d give him a pretty standard answer about the United States having no right to destroy a country halfway around the world for its own selfish interests. Then I’d ask: “How come you did like the war?” He’d tell me he’s a patriot and the Communists were the aggressors, the usual story. He’d keep on saying we didn't bomb civilian targets. It was the most “surgical” bombing job in the history of the Air Force. He’d use expressions like, “We didn’t want to destroy the whole country, we just wanted to twist the Communists’ arms till they saw things our way.”

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And the Mersey Beat Goes On/Y el Mersey Beat sigue

August 18, 2016

Tags: Bill Harry, Mersey Beat, Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Los últimos días de John Lennon, Beatles, Yoko Ono, Fred Seaman, diaries, interviews, Liverpool

In the 1960s, the burgeoning Merseyside music scene gave rise to scores of prominent bands. Though the Beatles, of course, were the most famous group to emerge from the area in and around Liverpool, other recording artists who achieved international acclaim at the time include Gerry and the Pacemakers ("How Do You Do It?"), The Searchers ("Needles and Pins"), The Swinging Blue Jeans ("Hippie Hippie Shake"), and Cilla Black ("Anyone Who Had a Heart").

Mersey Beat, published from 1961–1965, was the newspaper that covered it all. Its founding editor, Bill Harry, had met John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe at the Liverpool College of Art. Early on, he commissioned Lennon to write a story explaining how his quartet came to be. “Being a Short Diversion on the Dubious Origins of Beatles” is one of the many articles, as well as Lennon’s poetry, in the Mersey Beat archives.

Several months ago, Harry, who’s written or co-written more than two dozen books, notably The Beatles Encyclopedia and The John Lennon Encyclopedia, requested a copy of Nowhere Man. I sent him one and was thrilled to hear that he enjoyed reading it. He then asked me a number of probing yet empathetic questions about the book and how it came to be. I’ve done hundreds of interviews since Nowhere Man was published, in 2000, but this is the first time somebody who knew Lennon back in Liverpool has interviewed me.

Harry not only “got” the book but called my answers “insightful and an inspiring depiction” of Nowhere Man’s “long journey” to publication.

The interview appears below, in English and Spanish, as well as on Harry’s Facebook page. Here’s a link to part 1.

Bill Harry: Having access to John’s diaries and other relevant material, did you come to any personal conclusions about John, which were different from your previous opinions?

Robert Rosen: Before Fred Seaman gave me John’s diaries, in May 1981, he’d been telling me about John—since the day he started working for him, in February 1979. The picture he originally painted was what I described in the opening paragraph of Nowhere Man: a dysfunctional, “tormented superstar, a prisoner of his fame, locked in his bedroom, raving about Jesus Christ while a retinue of servants tended to his every need.” Seaman told me that he thought John was washed up, that he’d never make music again. He thought that Lennon was tired of living and said that he wouldn’t be surprised if he committed suicide. All this changed in the summer of 1980, when Seaman was in Bermuda with John, and John started writing and recording the material for Double Fantasy. When I started transcribing John’s diaries, much of what Seaman had told me was borne out—especially in John’s diary entries from early 1980, when he did seem scattered, unfocused, and confused about what to do next.

Still, a number of things surprised me, like how much time and energy John spent writing in his diaries—the diaries were his primary creative activity during his years of seclusion. Though I knew about his interest in numerology, astrology, tarot, etc., I was surprised by how seriously he took these things, especially tarot. And though, of course, I knew about John’s rivalry with Paul—in 1979, Seaman started referring to Paul as “the enemy”—I was surprised by how obsessed John was with Paul, how he thought about him virtually every day, and how much pleasure he took when Paul was busted in Japan for marijuana possession. So, if my opinion changed about John, it had to do with how obsessively petty and uncharitable he could be towards Paul.

BH: When you completed the book did you need Yoko’s approval before finding a publisher?

RR: No, I did not need or ask for Yoko’s approval; she did not approve the book; and she did not try to stop me from publishing it after I got a publishing deal. Her lawyers, however, did ask to vet the book. My lawyer refused. He’d already vetted Nowhere Man and felt confident that it did not violate any of Ono’s rights.

BH: In the course of your research you obviously read Albert Goldman’s book. How accurate did you consider it?

RR: Maybe 20 percent of Albert Goldman’s book can be taken at face value. The Lives of John Lennon is composed of little nuggets of truth wrapped in layers and layers of bullshit. Every story he tells is grossly exaggerated to paint John and Yoko in the worst possible light.

BH: On reading diaries with such detail in them, did you ever consider John was obsessive about the occult, horoscopes and other borderline psychic studies?

RR: There’s no question that John was obsessed with the occult: tarot, numerology, magic, and astrology. John and Yoko had a fulltime tarot card reader, whom they called “Charlie Swan.” (His real name was John Green.) Yoko met with or spoke to him daily. John usually met with him several times a week, though for an extended period of time, he had Charlie read daily on gold futures. It was Yoko who introduced John to numerology and turned him on to Cheiro’s Book of Numbers, which became one of John’s “bibles.” (John’s fascination with number 9 is well known.) When Paul was arrested in Japan for marijuana possession, John attributed the arrest to Yoko’s magic, which she’d learned from Lena the Colombian Witch—she’d gone to Colombia with Charlie Swan and paid Lena $60,000 to teach her how to cast magic spells. (Swan, using his real name, writes in detail about Lena in his book, Dakota Days.) And every month, John clipped the Patric Walker horoscopes—Libra for himself, Aquarius for Yoko—from Town and Country magazine, pasted them in his diary, and kept track of how accurate they were. He usually found them extremely accurate.

BH: John was a voracious reader. Can you remember any of the books which impressed him in the diaries?

RR: There were a number of books that John mentioned in his diaries that impressed him for a variety of reasons. He was very much into “lucid dreaming,” or programming dreams (they were often sex dreams about May Pang), which he then would record in his diary. He referred to programming dreams as “dream power.” When I was writing Nowhere Man, I didn’t realize that Dream Power was the title of a book that taught him how to program dreams. Obviously this book had a powerful influence upon him.

John hated wearing glasses and became obsessed with a book about improving his vision through eye exercises. I don’t recall the title, but John did do the recommended exercises in spurts, though it didn’t improve his vision.

He very much enjoyed Black Spring, by Henry Miller, which reminded John of when the Beatles were playing strip joints in Hamburg. He was so impressed by Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter Thompson, he considered playing Thompson in a movie version of the book. And Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi, about the Manson murders, scared the shit out of John.

BH: Do you have an opinion on why John constantly referred to his wife as “mother”?

RR: At the risk of sounding like a 10-cent psychoanalyst, I think it’s obvious that he looked upon Yoko as a substitute for his real mother. I also think it was a way for John to express his joy that Yoko had given him Sean and that he finally had a real family. It’s worth noting that in his diaries, he did not call Yoko “Mother.”

BH: During the final five-year period of John’s life, which you studied, what were the aspects of John which impressed you, and how different a man was he from his Beatles days?

RR: What impressed me most about John was his fanatical discipline when it came to writing in his diary—the way he got it all down, day after day. As I said in Nowhere Man, he recorded “every detail, every dream, every conversation, every morsel of food he put in his mouth, the perpetual stream of consciousness.” I found this inspiring and tried to emulate that kind of discipline in my own writing.

I also found it extremely interesting that despite his $150 million and his global renown, his day-to-day life didn’t seem all that different from my own. We were both sitting in a room in Manhattan, writing in notebooks and smoking weed. Of course, when he was talking about household expenses, his numbers had an extra couple of zeros at the end.

Obviously, during his Beatle days, when he was recording and touring, he wasn’t spending as much time in solitude and isolation. And though he had a wife, Cynthia, and a son, Julian, he was not acting like a real husband or father. This is something he felt guilty about for the rest of his life, especially his relationship, or, rather, lack of one, with Julian. John considered Sean a miracle and saw him as an opportunity to repent for the sins against family that he’d committed when he was a Beatle. In other words, he did his best to be a real father to Sean.

BH: Was John accepting of Yoko’s companionship with people like Sam Havadtoy and was such a relationship platonic or more intimate?

RR: Though Fred Seaman has insisted that Yoko was having an affair with Sam Havadtoy, John did not explicitly state in his diaries that he thought this was the case. He might have suspected something was going on—he’d overhear little snippets of chatter among the servants. But there’s nothing definitive and no indication that John ever tried to stop Yoko from spending time with her interior decorators, the “Sams,” Havadtoy and Green.

BH: Were John’s final years happy ones or was he tormented or unhappy?

RR: Sean’s birth and the opportunity to be a father and have a real family brought John a huge amount of joy. And towards the end, when songs like “Woman” came to him whole, he was delighted. But his jealousy towards Paul, his sexual frustration and inability to spend time with May Pang, his constant worry over Apple records trying to rip him off, and his fear that he would lose Sean’s love were all ongoing sources of torment. As I said in Nowhere Man: “John’s reality was boredom and pain punctuated by microseconds of ecstasy.”

BH: During your long period of research did you become interested in John’s passion for the occult and did you personally try the I Ching, read horoscopes and practice numerology?

RR: It was only after I started reading up on the occult that many of the references in John’s diaries began to make sense. And yes, I did start reading the horoscopes in Town and Country and I did start paying attention to things like Mercury Retrograde, and I did kind of get hooked on Cheiro’s Book of Numbers. That’s because numerology was the easiest occult practice to understand and it could be applied to so many situations.

BH: Just how difficult was the book to write considering the circumstances?

RR: I started writing the book a couple of weeks after Seaman had ransacked my apartment and taken everything I’d been working on. That was when I realized that I had large portions of John’s diaries memorized, and I began writing down everything I could remember. The more I wrote, the more I remembered. To me, writing is a painful process, and writing Nowhere Man was no more or less difficult than it was to write any other book I’ve written. I had the bulk of Nowhere Man written by the end of 1982—though at the time I called it “John Lennon’s Diaries.” What now appears in the published edition is not all that different from the original manuscript. But because it took me 18 years to find a publisher, I was able to spend that time refining the book, adding more to it as information became available. As I explain in the introduction, new information that I recognized from the diaries was constantly appearing in newspapers, magazines, other books, and especially on the Internet. I assembled all these fragments into a coherent whole, and I had those 18 years to get it right. Though for copyright reasons I was unable to quote from the diaries, I was somehow able to infuse Nowhere Man with the energy, feeling, and tone of the diaries—and that’s the magic of the book. At times it felt as if John were dictating to me, as if I’d plugged into his spirit.

BH: Did you at any time find that his entries in the diary indicated he was at times involved in a life beset with periods of trivia?

RR: I don’t know if I’d call it trivia. John had wide-ranging interests and he read a lot of newspapers, everything from The New York Times to the gossip rags. He thought stories about scientists’ finding new ways to estimate the age of the universe and about Marlon Brando’s gaining weight were equally compelling. He also believed that tabloids like The National Enquirer were more credible than the Times, who he thought got everything wrong.

BH: Since he was intrigued by dreams and kept a dream diary, did he come to any conclusions about dreaming? I.e. was it prophetic, did it provide any answers, etc.?

RR: He didn’t think his dreams were prophetic. (It was the possibility that he might be able to see into the future that was behind his interest in tarot and also, in part, yoga.) But he was fascinated by the symbols in dreams, their relationship to reality, and what they revealed about his psyche. He also thought they might provide him with insight into his relationship with Yoko. (When he programmed dreams, it was only the first dream he was able to program. After that, he might dream about anything.) In one dream a man turned into a wolf, and John saw that as a symbol of his anger. A sex dream he had about George Harrison left him feeling confused—he couldn’t understand why he’d have such a dream.

BH: The last five years were generally reclusive. Was this because of John’s own decisions or because of circumstances?

RR: John was sick of the music business and when his contract with Capitol Records—“Capitol Punishment,” he called it—lapsed he was determined to get away from it. Sean was born around that time and, as I said, John was also determined to be a real father to Sean. So, it appears to be true that it was a mutual decision between John and Yoko that he’d drop out for five years and spend that time raising Sean. Of course, he left the hard parts to Helen Seaman, the governess, while he spent a lot of time in his rooms in the Dakota, Cold Spring Harbor, Palm Beach, and hotel rooms in Japan sleeping, dreaming, smoking weed, watching TV, and writing in his diary. Then, when the five years passed, he made a conscious decision to return to the world, recapture his muse, and make music again. It was a difficult and painful transition that resulted in Double Fantasy.

BH: Describe some of the difficulties that you personally, as an author, suffered while writing the book, and the length of time which passed between the onset of your writing and the final publication?

RR: It’s not as if I worked on the book non-stop for 18 years. I’d put it aside for years at a time, but the story of John’s diaries haunted me. It was a story that demanded to be told and would not leave me alone.

I thought it was absurd that nobody was willing to publish Nowhere Man. There were so many other books about Lennon and the Beatles that were constantly being published and which were flat-out hackwork and cut-and-paste jobs. But publishers told me that Ono would sue (when in fact Ono has never sued a writer for something he’s written). They also said that there was not enough interest in Lennon, and that I couldn’t prove what I’d written was true or that the diaries even existed.

In 1982, I brought the story to Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone. He said he believed me but couldn’t publish it. Instead, he advised me to “save my karma” and tell the story to Yoko, which I did. Ono claimed she didn’t know that John kept a diary. She then asked to read my personal diaries—she wanted to know exactly what Seaman had been doing since she hired him. I gave them to her. First she used the information in my diaries to force Seaman to return John’s diaries. She then gave my diaries to the Manhattan district attorney, who told me that I’d be arrested for criminal conspiracy, based on what I’d written, unless I signed a document waiving my First Amendment rights to tell the story of John’s diaries. (I didn’t sign the document and I wasn’t arrested.) Ono also gave my diaries to Playboy. From the approximately 500,000 words in the diaries, Playboy excerpted the 200 most damning ones (when taken out of context), including my comment about Ono’s skillful exploitation of the Lennon legacy: “Dead Lennons=BIG $$$$$.” In an article designed to destroy my reputation and insure that I’d never be able to publish a book about Lennon, the writer used that quote as an illustration of how I felt about Lennon’s death and depicted me as a criminal conspirator drooling over his corpse. Then in the following issue, the magazine ran a letter to the editor saying that what I had done was worse than what Mark David Chapman had done. This article is the source of many of the conspiracy theories that have been floating around for years. Some of the theories insinuate that I’m a Zionist-funded CIA spymaster who ordered a hit on Lennon. (I’ve added an additional chapter that tells this story in the revised edition of Nowhere Man, published as an e-book in 2015.)

Ono held my diaries for 18 years, until Nowhere Man was going to press. Then she returned them.

BH: What was the most surprising piece of information you discovered while studying the diaries and researching the book?

RR: The single most surprising thing in the diaries was Lennon’s expression of utter joy when McCartney was busted in Japan for marijuana.

BH: If John had been your idol prior to the involvement in the writing, did the completion of the book prove cathartic?

RR: I was a Beatles fan. The first record album I ever bought, in 1964, right after I saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show, was Meet the Beatles. I played that album enough to memorize every word of every song on it. But I also lost track of the Beatles for years at a time and barely followed them after they broke up. I was more into sports—I wanted to be a sports writer. But even the years when I wasn’t paying attention, information was getting through to me subliminally—it was in the air. When John hired Fred, he knew very little about the Beatles—one of the reasons he got the job was because he wasn’t a Beatles freak. Fred started asking me a lot of questions about John and the Beatles, and I was surprised by how much I knew about the music and the lore: Who’s the Walrus? What’s this about Paul being dead? What happens when you play “Revolution 9” backwards? Stuff like that.

All I’m saying is that I did not idolize John or any other Beatle, but I knew a lot about them, more than I’d realized. So, it wasn’t the completion of the book that was cathartic. It was what happened after it was published: After 18 years of being ripped off, ignored, rejected, threatened, called a liar, and subjected to character assassination, I had a critically acclaimed best-seller in multiple countries and multiple languages.

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Y el Mersey Beat sigue

En los 60s, la floreciente escena musical Merseyside dio ascenso a decenas de bandas prominentes. Aunque los Beatles, por supuesto, eran el grupo más famoso que emergiera del área y alrededor de Liverpool, otros de los artistas musicales, que alcanzaron una aclamación internacional por ese tiempo, incluyen a Gerry and the Pacemakers (“How Do You Do It?”), The Searchers (“Needles and Pins”), The Swinging Blue Jeans (“Hippie Hippie Shake”), y Cilla Black (“Anyone Who Had a Heart”).

Mersey Beat, publicado de 1961 a 1965, fue el periódico que lo cubrió todo. Su director fundador, Bill Harry, había conocido a John Lennon y a Stuart Sutcliffe en el Colegio de Artes de Liverpool. Desde temprano, éste encargó a Lennon escribir una historia, explicando cómo su cuarteto llegó a ser. “Siendo una breve digresión sobre los dudosos orígenes de los Beatles” es uno de los muchos artículos, así como la poesía de Lennon en los archivos de Mersey Beat.

Varios meses atrás Harry, quien ha escrito o co-escrito más de dos decenas de libros, notablemente La Enciclopedia de los Beatles y La Enciclopedia de John Lennon, me solicitó un ejemplar de Nowhere Man. Yo le envié uno y me emocionó oír que había disfrutado leerlo. Él luego me hizo una serie de tanteadoras aunque empáticas preguntas sobre el libro, y de cómo éste llegó a ser. Yo he dado cientos de entrevistas desde que Nowhere Man fue publicado, en el 2000, pero ésta es la primera vez que alguien, quien conoció a Lennon de antes en Liverpool, me ha entrevistado.

Harry no sólo “captó” el libro, sino calificó mis respuestas como “una penetrante e inspiradora descripción” del “largo viaje” de Nowhere Man hacia la publicación.

La entrevista aparece en la página de Facebook de Harry.

Bill Harry: Teniendo acceso a los diarios de John y otros materiales relevantes, ¿tú llegaste a algunas conclusiones personales sobre John, que fueran diferentes a tus opiniones anteriores?

Robert Rosen: Antes de que Fred Seaman me diera los diarios de John, en mayo de 1981, él me había estado contando sobre John, desde el día en que empezó a trabajar para él, en febrero de 1979. La imagen que pintó originalmente, fue la que yo describí en el párrafo inicial de Nowhere Man: la de una disfuncional “super-estrella atormentada, un prisionero de su fama, encerrado en su dormitorio, desvariando sobre Jesucristo, mientras una comitiva de sirvientes atendía cada necesidad suya.” Seaman me contó que él pensaba que John estaba acabado, que nunca haría música de nuevo. Él pensaba que Lennon estaba cansado de vivir, y dijo que no se sorprendería si cometía un suicidio. Todo eso cambió en el verano de 1980, cuando Seaman estaba en las Bermudas con John, y John empezó a escribir y grabar el material para el Double Fantasy. Cuando yo empecé a transcribir los diarios de John, mucho de lo que Seaman me había contado se confirmó, especialmente en los apuntes del diario de John desde principios de 1980, cuando él pareció disperso, desenfocado y confundido sobre qué hacer en lo venidero.

Aún así, una serie de cosas me sorprendió, como cuán mucho tiempo y energía gastaba John escribiendo en sus diarios; los diarios fueron su actividad creativa primaria durante sus años de seclusión. Aunque yo sabía sobre su interés en la numerología, la astrología, el tarot, etc., me sorprendió cuán seriamente él tomaba esas cosas, especialmente el tarot. Y aunque yo, por supuesto, sabía de la rivalidad de John con Paul —en 1979 Seaman empezó a referirse a Paul como “el enemigo”—, me sorprendió cuán obsesionado estaba John con Paul, como pensaba en él virtualmente todos los días, y cuán mucho placer le dio cuando Paul fue detenido en Japón por posesión de marihuana. Así, si mi opinión sobre John cambió, eso tuvo que ver, con cuán obsesivamente mezquino y no caritativo él pudiera ser con Paul.

BH: ¿Cuando tú terminaste el libro, necesitaste la aprobación de Yoko antes de encontrar a un editor?

RR: No, yo no necesité ni pedí la aprobación de Yoko, ella no aprobó el libro, y no trató de impedir que lo publicara después que yo conseguí un contrato de publicación. Sus abogados, sin embargo, pidieron que revisara el libro. Mi abogado se rehusó. Él ya había revisado Nowhere Man y se sentía confiado en que éste no violaba ninguno de los derechos de Ono.

BH: En el curso de tu investigación, obviamente, tú leíste el libro de Albert Goldman. ¿Cuán preciso lo consideraste?

RR: Quizás un 20 por ciento del libro de Albert Goldman, pueda ser tomado como de valor serio. Las vidas de John Lennon está compuesto de pequeñas pepitas de verdad, envueltas en capas y capas de basura. Cada historia que cuenta está grosamente exagerada, para pintar a John y Yoko bajo la peor luz posible.

BH: Al leer los diarios con tal detalle, ¿tú consideraste alguna vez que John fuera obsesivo con lo oculto, los horóscopos y otros estudios psíquicos límites?

RR: No hay duda de que John estaba obsesionado con lo oculto: el tarot, la numerología, la magia y la astrología. John y Yoko tenían un lector de cartas de tarot de tiempo completo, a quien llamaban “Charlie Swan.” (Su verdadero nombre era John Green.) Yoko se reunía con él o le hablaba diariamente. John se reunía con él usualmente varias veces a la semana, aunque por un extenso período de tiempo, él tuvo a Charlie leyendo diariamente sobre los oros futuros. Fue Yoko quien introdujo a John en la numerología y lo encaminó al Libro de los Números de Cheiro, cual se convirtió en una de las “biblias” de John. (La fascinación de John con el número 9 es bien conocida.) Cuando Paul fue arrestado en Japón por posesión de marihuana, John atribuyó el arresto a la magia de Yoko, cual ella había aprendido de Lena la bruja colombiana; ella había ido a Colombia con Charlie Swan y pagado a Lena $60,000 dólares, para que le enseñara a lanzar hechizos mágicos. (Swan, usando su nombre verdadero, escribe con detalle sobre Lena en su libro, Los días del Dakota.) Y cada mes, John recortaba los horóscopos de Patric Walker —Libra para sí mismo, Acuario para Yoko— de la revista Town and Country, los pegaba en su diario y guardaba una pista de cuán precisos éstos fueran. Él usualmente los hallaba sumamente precisos.

BH: John era un lector voraz. ¿Puedes recordar alguno de los libros que le impresionaron en los diarios?

RR: Hubo una serie de libros que John mencionó en sus diarios, que le impresionaron por una variedad de razones. Él estaba muy metido en el “sueño lúcido”, o en la programación de sueños (éstos eran a menudo sueños sexuales con May Pang), cuales luego registraba en su diario. Se refería a la programación de sueños como el “poder del sueño.” Cuando yo estaba escribiendo Nowhere Man, no advertí que El poder del sueño era el título de un libro, que le había enseñado a programar sueños. Obviamente, ese libro tuvo una influencia poderosa sobre él.

John odiaba usar lentes, y se obsesionó con un libro sobre la mejoría de la visión, a través de los ejercicios con los ojos. Yo no recuerdo el título, pero John hacía los ejercicios recomendados por rachas, aunque eso no mejoró su visión.

Él disfrutó mucho la Primavera negra, de Henry Miller, que le recordó a John, de cuando los Beatles estuvieron tocando en locales de striptease en Hamburgo. Estaba tan impresionado por Miedo y asco en Las Vegas, de Hunter Thompson, que consideró interpretar a Thompson en una versión cinematográfica del libro. Y Helter Skelter, de Vincent Bugliosi, sobre los asesinatos de Manson, asustó hasta la mierda a John.

BH: ¿Tú tienes una opinión sobre por qué John se refería constantemente a su esposa como “madre”?

RR: A riesgo de sonar como un psicoanalista de 10 centavos, yo pienso es obvio que él consideraba a Yoko como un sustituto de su madre verdadera. Asimismo pienso que era una manera de John, de expresar su alegría por que Yoko le había dado a Sean, y por que finalmente tenía una familia verdadera. Vale señalar que en sus diarios, él no llamaba a Yoko “Madre”.

BH: Durante el período último de cinco años en la vida de John, que tú estudiaste, ¿cuáles fueron los aspectos de John que te impresionaron, y cuán hombre diferente era él desde sus días con los Beatles?

RR: Lo que más me impresionó sobre John fue su disciplina fanática, cuando se trataba de escribir en su diario, la manera en que lo apuntaba todo, día tras día. Como yo dije en Nowhere Man, él registraba “cada detalle, cada sueño, cada conversación, cada bocado de comida que se ponía en la boca, el flujo perpetuo de la conciencia”. Yo encontré eso inspirador, y traté de emular ese tipo de disciplina en mi propia escritura.

Asimismo encontré sumamente interesante que, a pesar de sus $150 millones y su renombre global, su vida de día a día no parecía toda tan diferente de la mía. Ambos estábamos sentados en una habitación en Manhattan, escribiendo en cuadernos y fumando hierba. Por supuesto, cuando él estaba hablando de los gastos de la casa, sus números tenían un par de ceros extra al final.

Obviamente, durante sus días con los Beatles, cuando estaba grabando y de gira, no estaba pasando tan mucho tiempo en soledad y aislamiento. Y aunque tenía una esposa, Cynthia, y un hijo, Julian, no estaba actuando como un marido o padre verdadero. Eso es algo por lo que se sintió culpable por el resto de su vida, especialmente por su relación, o más bien por la falta de una con Julian. John consideraba a Sean un milagro, y lo veía como una oportunidad para arrepentirse de los pecados contra la familia, que él había cometido cuando era un Beatle. En otras palabras, él hizo lo mejor que pudo para ser un verdadero padre para Sean.

BH: ¿Estaba John aceptando como compañía de Yoko a personas como Sam Havadtoy, y fue esa una relación platónica o más íntima?

RR: Aunque Fred Seaman ha insistido, en que Yoko estaba teniendo un affair con Sam Havadtoy, John no indicó explícitamente en sus diarios que él pensaba ese era el caso. Él podría haber sospechado que algo estaba pasando, había oído de pasada pequeños retazos de la charla entre los sirvientes. Pero no hay nada definitivo, y no hay indicios de que John tratara alguna vez, de impedir a Yoko pasar tiempo con sus decoradores de interiores, los “Sams” Havadtoy y Green.

BH: ¿Fueron los últimos años de John felices, o él estaba atormentado o infeliz?

RR: El nacimiento de Sean y la oportunidad de ser un padre y tener una familia verdadera, brindaron a John una enorme cantidad de alegría. Y hacia el final, cuando canciones como “Woman” le vinieron del todo, estaba encantado. Pero sus celos hacia Paul, su frustración sexual e incapacidad para pasar tiempo con May Pang, su constante preocupación por Apple records, que trataba de estafarlo, y su temor de que iba a perder el amor de Sean, fueron todas continuas fuentes de tormento. Como yo dije en Nowhere Man: “la realidad de John era el aburrimiento y el dolor puntuados por micro segundos de éxtasis”.

BH: Durante tu largo período de investigación, ¿llegaste a interesarte en la pasión de John por lo oculto, y probaste personalmente con el I Ching, leíste horóscopos y practicaste la numerología?

RR: Fue sólo después que yo empecé a leer sobre lo oculto, que muchas de las referencias en los diarios de John comenzaron a tener sentido. Y sí, yo empecé a leer los horóscopos de Town and Country, y empecé a prestar atención a cosas como el Mercurio retrógrado, y estuve a punto de quedarme enganchado con en el Libro de los Números de Cheiro. Eso fue por que la numerología era la práctica ocultista más fácil de entender, y podía ser aplicada a muchas situaciones.

BH: ¿Cuán difícil justo fue escribir el libro, considerando las circunstancias?

RR: Yo empecé a escribir el libro un par de semanas después, que Seaman hubiera saqueado mi apartamento y tomado todo, en lo que había estado trabajando. Fue entonces cuando advertí que tenía grandes porciones de los diarios de John memorizadas, y comencé a escribir todo lo que podía recordar. Mientras más escribía, más recordaba. Para mí escribir es un proceso doloroso, y escribir Nowhere Man fue no más o menos difícil, de lo que fue escribir cualquier otro libro que he escrito. Yo tenía la mayoría de Nowhere Man escrita a finales de 1982, aunque por ese tiempo la llamé “Los diarios de John Lennon.” Lo que ahora aparece en la edición publicada, no es del todo diferente al manuscrito original. Pero debido a que me tomó 18 años encontrar a un editor, fui capaz de pasar ese tiempo refinando el libro, agregando más a éste mientras la información se hacía disponible. Como yo explico en la introducción, nueva información que yo reconocía era de los diarios, aparecía constantemente en los periódicos, las revistas, otros libros, y especialmente en la internet. Yo ensamblé todos esos fragmentos en un todo coherente, y tuve esos 18 años para hacerlo bien. Aunque por razones de derechos de autor yo no podía citar de los diarios, fui capaz de algún modo de infundir en Nowhere Man la energía, el sentimiento y el tono de los diarios, y esa es la magia del libro. A veces se sentía como si John me estuviera dictando, como si yo estuviera conectado con su espíritu.

BH: ¿Tú encuentras en cualquier momento que sus apuntes en el diario, indicaran que él estaba por momentos implicado en una vida plagada de períodos de trivialidad?

RR: Yo no sé si lo llamaría trivialidad. John tenía intereses de amplio alcance y leía un montón de periódicos, todas las cosas de The New York Times hasta los trapos sucios de los chismes. Él pensaba que las historias sobre los científicos, que buscaban nuevas maneras de estimar la edad del universo, y sobre el aumento de peso de Marlon Brando eran igualmente cautivadoras. Él asimismo creía que tabloides como The National Enquirer eran más creíbles que el Times, cual pensaba que lo tomaba todo mal.

BH: Desde que estuvo intrigado por los sueños y llevó un diario de sueños, ¿llegó él a alguna conclusión sobre el sueño?, es decir, ¿era éste profético, le brindaba algunas respuestas, etc.?

RR: Él no pensaba que sus sueños fueran proféticos. (Era la posibilidad, de que él pudiera ser capaz de ver el futuro, la que estaba detrás de su interés en el tarot, y asimismo en parte en el yoga.) Pero él estaba fascinado con los símbolos de los sueños, su relación con la realidad, y lo que éstos revelaban sobre su psique. Él asimismo pensaba que éstos podrían brindarle una percepción de su relación con Yoko. (Cuando él programaba sueños, era sólo el primer sueño el que era capaz de programar. Después de eso, él podía soñar con cualquier cosa.) En un sueño un hombre se convertía en un lobo, y John vio eso como un símbolo de su furia. Un sueño sexual que tuvo con George Harrison, lo dejó sintiéndose confundido, no podía entender por qué él habría tenido tal sueño.

BH: Los últimos cinco años fueron generalmente de reclusión. ¿Fue eso debido a las propias decisiones de John o debido a las circunstancias?

RR: John estaba hastiado del negocio de la música, y cuando su contrato con la Capitol Records —el “Castigo de la Capitol” lo llamaba— caducó, estaba decidido a alejarse de ésta. Sean nació alrededor de ese tiempo y, como yo dije, John estaba asimismo decidido a ser un padre verdadero para Sean. Así, parece ser verdad que fue una decisión mutua entre John y Yoko, que él se retirara por cinco años y pasara ese tiempo criando a Sean. Por supuesto, él le dejó las partes difíciles a Helen Seaman, la institutriz, mientras él pasaba mucho tiempo en sus habitaciones en el Dakota, en Cold Spring Harbor, Palm Beach, y en las habitaciones de hotel en Japón durmiendo, soñando, fumando hierba, mirando la tv y escribiendo en su diario. Entonces, cuando los cinco años pasaron, él tomó la decisión consciente de regresar al mundo, recuperar su musa y hacer música de nuevo. Fue una transición difícil y dolorosa que resultó en el Double Fantasy.

BH: Describe algunas de las dificultades que tú personalmente, como autor, sufriste mientras escribías el libro, y la longitud de tiempo que pasó entre el comienzo de tu escritura y la publicación final.

RR: No es como si yo hubiera trabajado en el libro sin parar durante 18 años. Yo lo he puesto a un lado a la vez durante años, pero la historia de los diarios de John me perseguía. Era una historia que exigía ser contada y no me dejaba en paz.

Yo pensaba que era absurdo que nadie estuviera dispuesto a publicar Nowhere Man. Había tantos otros libros sobre Lennon y los Beatles que se estaban publicando constantemente, y que eran trabajos de plantilla a toda máquina y labores de cortar-y-pegar. Pero los editores me decían que Ono los demandaría (cuando de hecho Ono nunca ha demandado a un escritor por algo que éste haya escrito). Asimismo me decían que no había suficiente interés en Lennon, y que yo no podría probar que, lo que había escrito, era verdad o que incluso los diarios existían.

En 1982, yo le llevé la historia a Jann Wenner en la Rolling Stone. Él dijo que me creía, pero que no la podía publicar. En lugar de eso, me aconsejó que “salvara mi karma” y le contara la historia a Yoko, lo cual hice. Ono afirmó que no sabía que John llevara un diario. Luego me pidió leer mis diarios personales, ella quería saber exactamente qué había estado haciendo Seaman, desde que lo contratara. Yo se los di a ella. Primero ella utilizó la información de mis diarios, para obligar a Seaman a devolverle los diarios de John. Luego le dio mis diarios al fiscal del distrito de Manhattan, quien me dijo que yo sería arrestado por conspiración criminal, basado en lo que había escrito, a menos que firmara un documento renunciando a mis derechos de la Primera Enmienda, de contar la historia de los diarios de John. (Yo no firmé el documento y no fui arrestado.) Ono asimismo le dio mis diarios a Playboy. De las aproximadas 500, 000 palabras de los diarios, Playboy extrajo las 200 más incriminatorias (cuando se toman fuera de contexto), incluyendo mi comentario sobre la hábil explotación de Ono del legado de Lennon: “Lennon muerto=Grandes $$$$$”. En un artículo diseñado para destruir mi reputación, y asegurar que yo nunca fuera capaz de publicar un libro sobre Lennon, el escritor utilizó esa cita como una ilustración, de cómo yo sentía la muerte de Lennon, y me dibujó como un conspirador criminal que se babeaba sobre su cadáver. Luego, en el número siguiente, la revista publicó una carta al director, diciendo que lo que yo había hecho, era peor que lo que Mark David Chapman había hecho. Ese artículo es la fuente de muchas de las teorías de conspiración, que han estado flotando alrededor por años. Algunas de las teorías insinúan que yo soy el jefe-espía sionista financiado por la CIA, que ordenó el golpe contra Lennon. (Yo he agregado un capítulo adicional que cuenta esa historia, en la edición revisada de Nowhere Man, publicada como e-book en el 2015.)

Ono retuvo mis diarios durante 18 años, hasta que Nowhere Man estaba yendo a la prensa. Entonces me los devolvió.

BH: ¿Cuál fue la más sorprendente pieza de información que descubriste, mientras estudiabas los diarios e investigabas para el libro?

RR: La única cosa más sorprendente en los diarios, fue la expresión de Lennon de alegría absoluta, cuando McCartney fue detenido en Japón por la marihuana.

BH: Si John ha sido tu ídolo antes de enfrascarte en la escritura, ¿la terminación del libro resultó catártica?

RR: Yo era un fan de los Beatles. El primer álbum musical que yo alguna vez compré, en 1964, justo después que los vi en El show de Ed Sullivan, fue Meet the Beatles. Yo puse ese álbum lo suficiente, como para memorizar cada palabra de cada canción de éste. Pero asimismo perdí a la vez la pista de los Beatles durante años, y apenas los seguí después que se separaron. Yo estaba más en el deporte, quería ser un escritor de deportes. Pero incluso en los años cuando no estaba prestando atención, la información me estaba llegando de modo subliminal, estaba en el aire. Cuando John contrató a Fred, él sabía muy poco sobre los Beatles; una de las razones por las que consiguió el empleo, fue porque no era un freak de los Beatles. Fred empezó a hacerme un montón de preguntas sobre John y los Beatles, y yo me sorprendí por lo mucho que sabía sobre la música y la tradición: ¿Quién es la morsa? ¿Qué es eso sobre que Paul está muerto? ¿Qué pasa cuando pones "Revolution 9" hacia atrás? Cosas como esas.

Todo lo que yo estoy diciendo, es que no idolatré a John o a cualquier otro Beatle, pero sabía mucho sobre ellos, más de lo que hubiera advertido. Así, no fue la terminación del libro lo que fue catártico. Fue lo que sucedió después que se publicó: después de 18 años de haber sido estafado, ignorado, rechazado, amenazado, llamado un mentiroso y sometido a un asesinato de carácter, yo tenía un best-seller aclamado por la crítica en múltiples países y múltiples lenguas.—Traducción de René Portas

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Forbidden Opinions: John Lennon Edition

January 5, 2016

Tags: Huffington Post, Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Beatles, Fred Seaman, Yoko Ono

It shouldn't take any courage to compile a list of "Great Books" about John Lennon. But the American rock establishment live in mortal dread of offending the wrong rock star (What if they never grant me another interview?), record company (What if they never give me another backstage pass?), or magazine (What if they never give me another assignment?), so that, for professional rock 'n' roll scribblers (and those who hope to be), it requires a great deal of courage to publish a wide range of "forbidden" opinions about the extensive body of John Lennon literature.

Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon has been included on its share of “best” lists. Among them are: Christianity Today’s “10 Best Books of 2000” (which also includes The Human Stain, by Philip Roth); iLeon’s “10 Essential Music Biographies of All Time”; “The Top 20 Beatle Books,” a chapter in The Beatles: Having Read the Book, by Greg Sterlace; and The Examiner’s “Top 3 Conspiracy Theories Revolving Around the Death of John Lennon” (a bizarre list that I share with J. D. Salinger and Stephen King).

Obviously, none of these publications and Websites can be considered mainstream sources of rock-establishment opinion, and, it’s safe to say, none of the writers who assembled these lists harbor any ambitions of working for Rolling Stone or interviewing Yoko Ono.

That’s why I was astonished to wake up one morning last month and find Nowhere Man on The Huffington Post’s list of “12 Great Books About John Lennon.” Dennis Miller (the author, not the right-wing comedian) wrote the piece, in which he calls Nowhere Man a “cult classic.” Though Miller is not a card-carrying member of the rock establishment, The Huffington Post is well within the mainstream.

Miller’s list contains several of the usual suspects, like John Lennon: The Life, by Philip Norman; Tune In: The Beatles, by Mark Lewisohn; and The Love You Make, by Peter Brown and Steven Gaines. But, in addition to Nowhere Man, Miller includes what is arguably the most radioactive book in the Lennon canon: The Last Days of John Lennon, by Frederic Seaman.

Suffice it to say that Seaman, Lennon’s former personal assistant, gave me Lennon’s diaries, which enabled me to write Nowhere Man. (I tell the story of our relationship in the intro.) And Yoko Ono so hated The Last Days of John Lennon, she was finally able to force Seaman to withdraw the book a decade after it was published, thus making it the only banned book on the list. (Copies are still available on the Internet.)

Though I’m no fan of Seaman’s book, I was still happy to see it on the Huffington Post list—because I hate the idea of anybody having the power to repress any book. The Last Days of John Lennon is a fascinating combination of flattering and unflattering truths about Lennon, unflattering truths about Ono, and a liberal smattering of overt lies about everybody involved, including me. It’s also a book that’s well worth reading, especially if you read it alongside Nowhere Man.

So, I’d like to commend Dennis Miller for putting together this unorthodox list, though I may never know if it was a product of bravery in the face of the rock establishment, charming naïveté, or simply a dozen books that he happened to like very much.

15 Years Ago Today...

May 27, 2015

Tags: The Times of London, Nigel Williamson, Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Uncut, Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney, Fred Seaman, Rolling Stone, Jan Wenner, Mark David Chapman, The Dakota, diaries

The author in his Washington Heights apartment, sitting in front of the IBM Selectric he used to transcribe John Lennon’s dairies. Photo by David Corio.
When Nigel Williamson interviewed me, in February 2000, he was preparing articles for both Uncut magazine and The Times of London. Though Nowhere Man had been garnering media attention for several months at this point, it was the one-two punch of these widely read British publications that set the book on a lunar trajectory; it would soon land on bestseller lists in the U.S. and U.K.

Fifteen years ago today, on May 27, 2000, this article ran in the Metro section of The Times. It marked a long-awaited turning point in my career, the moment when all the emotion and frustration I'd been carrying with me for 18 years had at last found an outlet. This was one of the first
Nowhere Man interviews I'd ever done, and I had a lot to say. Like many newspaper articles published in the early 21st century (or late 20th century, if you want to be technical), "Lennon Juice" is not available online. I’ve reproduced it word-for-word below.

The Times | May 27, 2000

BOOKS


Lennon juice

____________________________________________________
After John Lennon’s murder in 1980, Robert Rosen took brief possession of Lennon’s stolen diaries. Twenty years on, he has decided to publish a controversial new account of the legend’s final years. Nigel Williamson reports

Every fan knows the story of the last chapter of John Lennon’s life. The contented, if eccentric, days he spent in the apartment he and Yoko shared in New York’s Dakota building have become part of rock ’n’ roll legend.

While Yoko looked after business, Lennon was the happy househusband, baking bread and bringing up their son Sean. It was, Ono recalled, interviewed in Metro two years ago, “the happiest time” in their entire relationship.

At least that is the official version. As we approach the twentieth anniversary of Lennon’s death, New York journalist Robert Rosen is telling a far darker tale, an account of Lennon’s Dakota days based loosely on the intimate diaries the former Beatle kept between 1974 and 1980.

There are a series of leather-bound New Yorker desk diaries, in which Lennon recorded his every action, every private thought, every dream, even his every meal. And Rosen is one of the few people alive to have read them.

Sitting over breakfast in an East London café, Rosen admits the book is certain to cause major controversy among Lennon fans. He describes the character who emerges as “a dysfunctional, tormented superstar, disintegrating under the effects of fame and living in a high-rent purgatory of superstition and fear.”

Far from being lived in domestic bliss, Lennon’s last years, waited on by a retinue of servants whose appointments had been vetted by a tarot card reader, were characterized by “boredom and pain punctuated by microseconds of ecstasy,” he says. Rosen details a myriad of slavishly followed obsessions, from numerology to vows of silence to Billy Graham. In this account, Lennon is even responsible for Paul McCartney’s 1980 incarceration for drug possession in Tokyo, having asked Yoko to put a curse on his former partner.

Past biographies have either been uncritical eulogies (Ray Coleman’s 1984 Lennon) or have magnified Lennon’s weaknesses (Albert Goldman’s 1992 Sound Bites), Rosen states. Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon is, he says, simply the truth.

“It’s a three-dimensional portrait of John that’s as honest as I could possibly make it. I hope it tells you what the neurotic experience of being John Lennon was like. It’s a journey through his consciousness, the story of the last years of his life, as seen through his eyes.” But is it? Many, including Ono and Sean Lennon, would probably strongly dispute the accuracy of the portrait and questions Rosen’s powers of accurate recall.

They will point out that the author, by his own admission, has not read the lost diaries since 1982 and that even the notes he made at the time are no longer in his possession. For legal reasons, he is forced to declare in the preface to the book: “I have used no material from the diaries. I have used my memory of Lennon’s diaries as a roadmap to the truth.”

“I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel guilt. When I met Yoko my heart totally went out to her. But I’ve got a story and I’m going to tell it.”

Yet there is no dispute that the lost Lennon journals exist and that for several months in 1981 they were in Rosen’s possession. And he insists his memory is perfect. “I spent 16 hours a day for weeks on end transcribing them, and I realized that I had huge chunks of the diaries memorized. I had worked so hard on them and run them through my typewriter so many times, I had them all in my head.”

At the time of Lennon’s death at the hands of obsessive fan Mark David Chapman in December 1980, Rosen was a 28-year-old cab driver with a master’s degree in journalism. He had never met the former Beatle, but he did know Fred Seaman, the singer’s personal assistant, from college. “Twenty-four hours after Lennon’s murder, Seaman told me that while they were in Bermuda together that summer, Lennon had asked him to write the true story of his Dakota days,” Rosen recalls. “It was to be the ultimate Lennon biography and he told me, ‘It’s what John wants.’”

Six months later, in May 1981, Seaman delivered Rosen the crown jewels of the Lennon archive—six volumes of stolen personal diaries. The would-be author began transcribing them. “I’d never seen anything like it. He got it all down—every detail, every dream, every conversation, every morsel of food he put in his mouth was recorded in a perpetual stream of consciousness. I thought the story was rock ’n’ roll’s Watergate.”

When he finished, Rosen sent a detailed story based on the diaries to various publishers, including Jann Wenner, the founding editor of Rolling Stone.

Wenner alerted Yoko, who was still unaware that the diaries had been stolen. After a court case they were eventually returned to her and Seaman was convicted of grand larceny. At the same time, Ono also persuaded Rosen to join her payroll and while he was in her employment he handed over 16 of his own notebooks based on the Lennon journals. They remain in Ono’s possession to this day.

Why he has waited so many years to write the book is not entirely clear. There were legal ramifications under American copyright law, further complicated by the fact that the diaries had been stolen. “Legally, I can’t say what I would like to say,” he says. “It took me all these years to put the book together in a form that I was happy with, but I’m not allowed to say it is based upon the journals. It is a work of investigative journalism, intuition and imagination. That’s the line.”

Rosen admits to having feelings of guilt about the book and he has never taken legal steps to recover his own journals from Yoko. “I did something that wasn’t 100 per cent kosher, even though my intentions were entirely honourable. Because the diaries were stolen, I feel that I owe her something. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel guilt.

“When I met Yoko my heart totally went out to her. But I’ve got a story and I’m a professional journalist. So I’m going to tell it. This is a great story that deserves to be told.”

Ask him if he thinks Lennon ever meant the diaries for public consumption and he hesitates. “I don’t know. I think it was the basis of something he wanted out. I think his diaries were a very early rough draft of what could have been the great memoir.”

What made Lennon such a compelling subject was less his money and fame and more the contradictions within his character, Rosen says. “Every facet of his life was a paradox. Part of him aspired to follow the way—Jesus, Gandhi and whoever. The other part of him just wanted sex and drugs. Part of him wanted a perfect macrobiotic diet. Another part of him wanted chocolate chip cookies.”

Gossip and cheap innuendo or the most complete and honest portrait of Lennon yet written.

Unless Yoko decides to publish the original diaries herself, perhaps we will never really know. But fiction or non-fiction, Nowhere Man is a gripping read that no Lennon fan will be able to resist.

Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon is published by Soft Skull Press on June 1, price £14.99/£11.99.

The Key to John Lennon's Consciousness

May 9, 2015

Tags: Uncut, Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Nigel Williamson, Yoko Ono, Fred Seaman, Rolling Stone, Jan Wenner, The Dakota, diaries

Fifteen years ago this month, in the May 2000 issue, Uncut magazine ran as its cover story a 5,000-word excerpt from Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon. The following interview, conducted by Nigel Williamson in an East London café, served as part of an elaborate introduction to the excerpt. It has never appeared online. Here it is, exactly as it ran in the magazine.

Robert Rosen is a freelance journalist living in New York. He has written for a number of US newspapers and magazines, and studied fiction writing with Joseph Heller and James Toback. He won a Hugo Boss poetry award in 1996

UNCUT: What did John Lennon mean to you personally?

ROBERT ROSEN:
I was a fan but not a hardcore fanatic. I bought Sgt Pepper, the White Album and Abbey Road. When they broke up, I didn’t follow their solo careers closely. Then John Lennon moved to New York, which made me sit up and take notice. It’s my town.

What was your initial connection to John and Yoko?

I was at college with a guy called Fred Seaman. In January 1979, he got a job as John’s personal assistant. The very first day on the job, he said to me we should collaborate on a book. He’d call me every day from wherever they were and tell me all the gossip. He also had access to Lennon’s Mercedes and we’d go out in the car and hang out. I was having a total blast. Fred would score dope for John and take a cut and we’d joyride in the Mercedes and smoke John’s best weed.

So what kind of gossip were you hearing?

Fred described this guy who was locked in his bedroom all day raving about Jesus, who was out of his mind and totally dysfunctional. I took notes on everything he told me and that’s all in the book. Then in June 1980, Fred went with John to Bermuda. He claimed that while they were there John had told him that if anything should happen to him, it was Fred’s job to tell the true story of his life.

How did Seaman react when John died?

He showed up at my apartment within 24 hours. That’s really when the book begins. Fred knew John’s life wasn’t what people thought it was. The portrait they were painting in the media wasn’t true. He said, “Now’s the time to do the book.”

So at this stage you were going to collaborate on it?

Yes. I had an informal contract drawn up. He started feeding me material—not the diaries at first, but slides, pictures, snapshots. One of the first things he gave me was the Double Fantasy demo tapes.

At what point did you become aware of the diaries?

He gave me the diaries in May 1981 and I was just blown away. He was still saying “This is what John wants.” And I believed that John wanted it all to come out because that’s what I wanted to believe.

How had Seaman acquired the diaries?

They were there and he took them. After John died, he was taking box loads of stuff out of the Dakota every week. But I knew the diaries were the key to John’s consciousness.

So did you transcribe them?

I spent about five months reading and dipping into them, and then I transcribed them. His handwriting was really difficult to read and a lot of it was in code. I spent eight weeks, 16 hours a day, transcribing them. I got inside John’s head and saw the light and the truth as he saw it.

What did you feel when you first read them?

It was profound. He was isolated. If you think becoming rich and famous is going to solve your problems, it isn’t. All it does is exacerbate them. Everything that was wrong before he became a Beatle was magnified. That was the message of the diaries for me.

Did Seaman carry on working for Yoko after John died?

Until one day when he crashed the Mercedes and Yoko fired him. But he said we were still doing the project. Then I took a vacation in Jamaica and when I got back everything connected with the Lennon project was gone. Fred had the keys to my apartment.

So he took the original diaries?

They were kept in a safe deposit box to which we both had the key, so he had those. But I had transcripts and photocopies and he took all that. But then I realized that big sections of the diaries were running through my brain. I had the diaries memorized. I had run them through my typewriter so many times that I literally had them all in my head. So I wrote it all down again.

Then you went to work for Yoko. How did that happen?

I thought I had a story that was rock ’n’ roll’s equivalent of Watergate, so I went to Jan Wenner at Rolling Stone. He checked it out with Yoko. She didn’t even know about the stolen diaries until he told her. He said there was no way he could publish it, but he said he wanted to save my karma. He said the only thing I could do was tell her the story.

So you did?

I had a meeting with the attorneys from the Lennon estate at the Dakota in August 1982. I told them the whole story. They were stunned and astonished and freaked out. There was high-grade paranoia going on. They thought that maybe Fred Seaman had hired Mark Chapman to set this whole thing up. That turned out not to be true, but that was the mind-set they were in. They even thought maybe Fred would try to kill me, so they put me in a New York hotel under an assumed name and I sat there watching TV for several weeks.

So when did you meet Yoko?

I walked out one morning to buy a newspaper and Yoko’s bodyguards were waiting on the corner. They said Yoko needed to talk to me and it was an emergency. I said, “OK, but no lawyers.” I met with her at the Dakota and she asked to read my diaries. She said there was stuff in there that even she didn’t understand. She told me John’s journals were sacred. It was calculated to play on my guilt. I had read the forbidden sacred books.

And she offered to put you on the payroll?

We negotiated a token salary in the bathroom, standing on opposite sides of the toilet. They were very into the metaphor of money being shit. I went back the next day with 16 volumes of my diaries and transcripts. We spent several weeks reading them, everybody picking my brains and putting the story together. She still has them.

Did she also get the original diaries back from Seaman?

They used the information I gave them to have Fred arrested. Which was fine by me, because I was furious at him. He was convicted of grand larceny and got five years probation or something. He’s still out there posting stuff on the web claiming Yoko hired Chapman and nonsense like that.

And Yoko still has the diaries?

As far as I know. There is some suggestion that the 1980 diary might be missing. It could be sitting around in some dusty box in the Dakota.

What does your book tell us about Lennon that we didn’t know before?

It’s a three-dimensional portrait that takes you inside his head. I hope it tells you what it was like to be John Lennon, which was a really neurotic experience. There is a lot more detail about what was going on in his head than has ever appeared before. It is the accumulation of small details, the tone and the perspective.

Have you been hassled by Yoko’s people?

No, but our lawyers are in touch with her lawyers. She wanted to see the manuscript before it was printed, but that was out of the question. I have nothing against Yoko and I’d like nothing more than to be at peace with her.

An Open Letter to G. Barry Golson: Take 3

February 21, 2015

Tags: G. Barry Golson, Playboy, The Betrayal of John Lennon, Nowhere Man, Yoko Ono, Fred Seaman, David Sheff, Elliot Mintz, David Lewis, diaries, Mexico, Proceso, Steven Gutstein

It's been almost six years since anybody has used the absurd distortions, half-truths, and outright lies in a story published by Playboy magazine, in 1984, as irrefutable proof that I'm a very bad person. I thought that posting the open letter, below, on two other Websites, had taken care of this matter once and for all. But apparently it hasn't. Like a cancer that can be controlled but not cured, the Playboy article has flared up again. Sadly, it's time for another round of treatment. So, for the third time, here's the letter, originally written in May 2009.

Dear Barry,

I’m sorry to interrupt your Mexican retirement, but we need to discuss a bit of unfinished business—something I’ve wanted to get off my chest for 25 years. I know that’s a long time, but there’s no past in cyberspace. There’s only what’s out there now. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Internet, it’s that if you put out information people want, they’ll find it. Take my word for it. Internet killed the magazine star.

Imagine if there were a blogosphere in 1984.

The funny thing is, over the past nine years, as I traveled around the U.S., Europe, and Latin America promoting my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man, conducting some 300 no-holds-barred interviews and press conferences, nobody has ever asked me about the Playboy article. It’s almost as if it’s ceased to exist.

But the story is still out there, buried in the dark crevices of cyberspace, like an unexploded bomb left over from an ancient war. And it’s accessible to those who want to find it—like the Zionist-conspiracy theorists who’ve embraced it as irrefutable proof that the Jews murdered Lennon (with a little help from the CIA).

I can no longer pretend that the article doesn’t exist, especially now that every day another story from that long-gone era seems to resurrect itself online, and especially now that the exhibition on Lennon’s New York City years at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex has put the past so prominently back in the news. Yes, Barry, I think it’s time to drag the article out into the open and expose it to a bit of sunlight.

The story, as you may recall, was no small matter. It was about 6,000 words and written by a journalist of some repute, David Sheff. It received a great deal of media attention when it was published. But what really gets me is that Playboy still had a reputation for journalistic integrity at the time and at least some people really did buy it for the articles. I was one of them. I believed in Playboy’s journalism. That’s why I sent you my manuscript—the manuscript that would become Nowhere Man. You were the executive editor in charge of interviews and articles.

I remember very well the day we met in your New York office: July 27, 1982—my 30th birthday. You had some nice things to say about my writing; you especially liked my chapter about Lennon’s relationship with Paul McCartney (“His Finest Hour” in Nowhere Man).

We spoke for quite some time, and I told you how after Lennon was murdered, his personal assistant, Fred Seaman, said it was time for us to begin work on the Lennon biography John had asked him to write in the event of his death, using any source material he needed to complete the project. I told you how Seaman gave me Lennon’s diaries, how I transcribed and edited them, and how Seaman then sent me out of town, ransacked my apartment, and took everything I’d been working on. I told you how I had re-created from memory portions of Lennon’s diaries. In short, I told you the entire Nowhere Man backstory—a story that I thought was the equivalent of a rock ’n’ roll Watergate. I also told you that I was in dire financial straits and needed a break.

You then strung me along for the rest of the summer, assuring me that you hadn’t forgotten about the story and that my name was in your Rolodex. But you never gave me an assignment.

So I sent the manuscript to Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone, and met with him, too. At least he was up-front with me. He told me that he couldn’t publish the story and that the only way I could “save” my “karma” was to tell Yoko Ono herself what had happened. I met with her in the Dakota in September and told her the story. She then asked to read my personal diaries, and I gave them to her—16 volumes covering more than three years.

You finally called me in April 1983 to say that you’d assigned the Lennon diaries story to Sheff, and you asked me to cooperate with him—neglecting to mention something I didn’t find out until I saw the article in print: Ono had given you and Sheff (who was collaborating with his wife at the time, Victoria Sheff) access to my diaries. Because I thought that this was the only way I’d be able to tell the story, I allowed David Sheff to come to my house and interview me for two hours.

You had my trust, my cooperation, my manuscript, and my diaries, the intimate details of my life. And what did you do? You ran a story in the March 1984 Playboy, “The Betrayal of John Lennon,” that had one purpose only: to silence me by destroying my credibility, my reputation, my career, and my life. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that of the countless articles and reviews that have since been written about Nowhere Man—most of which, I might add, are positive—none of them, not even those written by anonymous character assassins, comes close to the sustained maliciousness and contempt of the Playboy story. It is indeed in a class by itself.

And now, 25 years later, I think it’s time for you to answer a couple of questions.

Let’s begin with my diaries. You had at your disposal approximately 500,000 words that I’d written in the heat of the moment. From them, you extracted about 200 words, including 5 that seem to be the only thing most people remember about the story—the takeaway, so to speak, the line the conspiracy theorists quote over and over. I can assure you that I’d prefer not to repeat my comment about what I saw as Ono’s skillful exploitation of the Lennon legacy: “Dead Lennons=BIG $$$$$.” But I’m not the one who made it public. And it certainly wasn’t my idea to depict the comment as an indictment of my own behavior, portraying myself as a criminal conspirator drooling over Lennon’s corpse.

That was quite an image, Barry. But don’t you think it would have been appropriate to help yourselves to a few more of the remaining 499,800 words and give your readers a more accurate picture? For example, you could have quoted—as I did in the first chapter of the paperback edition of Nowhere Man—from the passage that describes my state of mind the night Lennon was murdered, words about shedding tears in front of the Dakota and thanking John for touching my life. Or you could have quoted the part in which Seaman tells me, two days later, that he’s quitting his job at the end of the week to begin writing a book: “‘It’s what John wants,’ he said. ‘He knew he was going to die and he poured his heart out to me. He knew I was working on a book.’”

I suppose it’s possible that you excerpted only 200 words because you didn’t want to infringe my copyright any more than necessary to tell the version of the story that Ono had dictated to you through her spokesman, Elliot Mintz. But couldn’t you have avoided any additional infringement by using more than 22 words from my two-hour conversation with Sheff—the only direct quote that you allowed me in the story because those were the only 22 words that fit your story line?

Or couldn’t you have simply described my diaries? Nowhere in the article did you mention that the portion of my diaries from which you took most of your quotes was typed on teletype paper—hundreds of attached sheets, like a Kerouacian scroll. But apparently any images of serious literary endeavor were to be avoided at all costs. That would have interfered with the real conspiracy—the one you, Ono, and the Manhattan district attorney had cooked up.

I trust you remember what happened the day the article was published: First I was fired from my job at High Society magazine, where I was an editor. They didn’t want a “criminal” on the premises. Then the DA’s office told me I’d be arrested on criminal conspiracy charges if I didn’t sign a document forfeiting my First Amendment rights to tell the story of John Lennon’s diaries. Ono, as I’m sure you know, had by this time given my diaries to the DA—to use as “evidence” against me.

The DA, however, didn’t know that I’d managed to retain a top-notch criminal attorney, willing to defend me pro bono. His name was David Lewis and, as crazy as this must sound to you, he believed that the Constitution applied equally to everybody.

So, there I was, sitting in Lewis’s office, listening to him talk to an assistant DA, Steven Gutstein, on the speakerphone about my diaries, which had apparently provided Gutstein with hours of reading pleasure: His opening parry was a series of one-liners about how often I masturbated—a preview, I presume, of the evidence he was planning to present to the jury. Then Gutstein started talking about the “charges” against me, and I can still recall Lewis’s exact words: “You’re in gross violation of my client’s constitutional rights.”

And you know what? That was the end of it. Lewis called the DA’s bluff and it was shocking how fast he folded. I didn’t sign the document and nobody arrested me. In fact I never heard from the DA again. The case was a total fabrication that would never have stood up to scrutiny in open court. The whole thing was dependent on my not having competent legal counsel. What were you telling people at editorial meetings? “Rosen’s going to be arrested the day the article comes out. What’s he going to do, sue us?”

Not a bad idea, actually. But, as I understand it, your story elevated me to limited-purpose-public-figure status, meaning that if I’d wanted to sue the powerful Playboy corporation, I’d have had to prove that you not only libeled me, but that you did so knowingly and maliciously. Which, of course, you did. But proving it in a court of law was not really feasible on a pro-bono budget.

And it also appeared that the story wasn’t exactly having its intended effect. My friends and neighbors, for example, saw it for the textbook hatchet job that it was. Everybody in my building was wondering why Playboy was going to such extraordinary lengths to destroy the unassuming guy on the fifth floor. That story made me the talk of Washington Heights—a real International Man of Mystery.

And then there was the job offer. I assume you knew, or knew of, Chip Goodman. He was Martin Goodman’s son, and Martin Goodman, as I’m sure you know, is credited with inventing the modern men’s mag, or men’s adventure mags, as they were called at the time. You must have heard the story about how Hugh Hefner wanted to call Playboy “Stag Party,” but Martin Goodman was already publishing Stag magazine, so Hefner couldn’t use the title.

I can’t say that Chip hired me as managing editor of Stag because of the Playboy article. But Chip was no fan of Yoko Ono’s, and he did say that he’d read the article. Our conversation, in fact, left me with the distinct impression that the article was a contributing factor in his hiring decision—the cherry on top of my considerable editorial experience. And yes, I know, Playboy’s a much classier porn rag than Stag could ever dream of being, but at least Stag didn’t pretend to have journalistic integrity. We were an honest stroke book. And it was a pretty good gig for 16 years.

But you weren’t finished with me yet, were you? You had to go ahead and run that letter to the editor—the one suggesting that reading a man’s diaries was a crime as heinous as murder. Do you think John Lennon would have agreed with that analysis? Or maybe you think such notions only apply when “little people” read the diaries of the wealthy and powerful, not when members of the media elite read and publish without authorization the diaries of little people. Yes, that must be it—the Playboy Philosophy in the Age of Ronald Reagan.

Now I ask you, 25 years after the fact: Do you believe that the story has any journalistic merit whatsoever? I.e.: Is it something more than a press release Ono might have written herself if she hadn’t had you and the Sheffs to do it for her? I hope she at least thanked you for a job well done. And what did you hope to get out of it other than the grim satisfaction of currying favor with a rich and powerful woman? Was the article designed to do anything more than repress the story that Lennon told in his diaries and that I told in Nowhere Man? Is there something I’m missing here?

I will offer you a bit of friendly advice: Next time you try to whack somebody, make sure they’re dead before you walk away.

So, Barry, I do hope you’re enjoying your Mexican retirement. It’s a wonderful country you’ve chosen to live in—such warm and gracious people, in my experience. But I must admit, I am wondering if you ever read Proceso, the Mexican newsweekly, though I’d guess the answer is no. It’s not exactly a magazine for “gringo retirees”, is it? The Proceso editors and writers are into speaking truth to power, a concept that doesn’t appear to sit well with you at all. And they did give Nowhere Man the most amazing coverage when it was published there. As you probably noticed, they were hardly the only ones—even Playboy’s Mexican edition gave the book a good review. Jesus, with all those articles and the stuff on TV, you must have thought you were in Bizarro World and that I’d written Harry Potter or something. Too bad I didn’t know 25 years ago how receptive the Mexican media would be to Nowhere Man. I wouldn’t have bothered you with my query letter.

Anyway, that’s my side of the story.

Maybe we’ll talk again someday, perhaps the next time I’m in Mexico on a book tour.

Sincerely,
Robert Rosen

John Lennon's Final Voyage

January 27, 2014

Tags: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Milk and Honey, NME, Nowhere Man, Paul McCartney, May Pang, Fred Seaman

Thirty years ago today, on January 27, 1984, Yoko Ono released Milk and Honey, the album she and John Lennon were working on the night of December 8, 1980, hours before Lennon was murdered. In commemoration of this anniversary, NME, the venerable British music mag, has run a cover story about Lennon and the LP.

Because I read, transcribed, edited, and wrote about Lennon's diaries in my book Nowhere Man, I was one of the people they interviewed for the article.

They also spoke with my former writing partner and Lennon's personal assistant Fred Seaman, photographer Bob Gruen, and three musicians who played on Milk and Honey: guitarist Earl Slick, arranger Tony Devillo, and keyboard player George Small.

Written by Barry Nicolson, “The Final Voyage” is notable for its even-handedness. Nicolson takes pains to get beyond the myth of Lennon as a content, bread-baking househusband, and instead portrays him as a contradictory, deeply flawed, three-dimensional human being—which is probably why Ono refused to talk to him.

Nicolson balances my take on Lennon’s relationships with Ono, Paul McCartney, and May Pang, and his obsession with the occult, with Gruen’s attempts to perpetuate the myth, and Seaman’s efforts to characterize Lennon as a Republican and a supporter of Ronald Reagan. (The only thing Lennon said in his diaries about Reagan was that they’d shoot him and we’d get a CIA government. He was right on both counts... eventually.)

My only complaint about the piece is that the photo identified as “Robert Rosen” isn’t me, and I’d suggest that a correction is in order.

“The Final Voyage” is a rare example of rock journalism that neither places Lennon on a pedestal (like Ray Coleman) nor tears him down to size (like Albert Goldman). Click here to read the complete story.

The Never Ending "Nowhere Man" Controversy

March 7, 2012

Tags: Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Tumblr, Neil Aspinall, Fred Seaman

The other day on Tumblr somebody posted an excerpt from my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man. The passage, from a chapter titled "Lennon's Complaint," was a description of a scene backstage just before a Beatles concert in 1963, when John had sex with a groupie. The posting went viral; dozens of people reblogged it and at last count, 144 people posted comments. Though most of these comments were positive, there was the usual amount of negativity and skepticism.

“Robert Rosen never knew or even met John Lennon,” somebody who calls themselves mclennon-forever wrote. “This quote is dubious.”

I’m going to respond to this comment because it’s so typical of the type of negativity I’ve been hearing about Nowhere Man since it was published in 2000.

First of all, the suggestion that it’s wrong to write a biography of somebody I never met is absurd on its face. Should contemporary biographers not write books about Mozart or George Washington, for example, because they never met them?

And the source of this “dubious” quote, I might add, is the late Neil Aspinall himself. In 1963, Aspinall was the Beatles’ road manager, and he was the one who procured the groupie for John. When I met Aspinall, in London, in September 1981, he was managing director of Apple. Fred Seaman, my writing partner at the time and Lennon’s former personal assistant, introduced me to him. The three of us went out to a pub near Apple, and over many pints of beer Aspinall told me the story.

The revelation of the source, of course, will not end the controversy engulfing Nowhere Man. But as always, I welcome the opportunity to answer any questions about the book. You know where to find me.

Hey Hey, My My (The Lennon Controversy Will Never Die)

July 13, 2011

Tags: Nowhere Man, John Lennon, Steve Hoffman Music Forums, Fred Seaman, Paul McCartney, diaries

That people continue to argue about whether or not I’m telling the truth in my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, 11 years after it was published, can only be seen as a good thing. Obviously, readers care about the book, even the ones who don’t believe me, and that, I dare say, is testament to Nowhere Man’s power. And even if I were to again state unequivocally that yes, I’m telling the truth—according to what I remember from reading Lennon’s diaries—it wouldn’t end the controversy.

In fact, I noticed the other day that a new online debate has erupted on the Steve Hoffman Music Forums. Between June 24 and June 29, there were 217 posts discussing the perennial question: Which book is more truthful, Nowhere Man or The Last Days of John Lennon, written by my former collaborator Fred Seaman, Lennon’s personal assistant at the time of his death?

I no longer participate in these debates because, as has been demonstrated every time I have taken part in one, even when people don’t know what they’re talking about, they believe what they want to believe, and nothing I can say will change their minds. Also, I’ve found that the most ignorant people are invariably the most abusive.

However, in this particular debate, a poster who calls himself “Matthew B” raised two interesting points that I will respond to… here, on my home turf. And in the service of freedom of expression, I invite him (or anybody else) to post their comments… here.

Referring to an old interview in which I said that in Nowhere Man, I couldn’t tell the story of Paul McCartney’s 1980 Japanese marijuana bust the way I wanted to for legal reasons, Matthew wrote, “If there’s any legal barrier to Rosen’s repeating the drug-bust rumor, it’s more likely fear of a libel suit.” (See posting 194.)

It had nothing to do with libel, Matthew. I would have liked to quote verbatim the four euphoric sentences John wrote in his diary when he learned McCartney was busted in Japan. But as I explain in the book, I don’t quote directly from the diary for copyright reasons.

And finally, Matthew raises a point that I’ve never seen mentioned anywhere else. “Rosen’s court testimony [in the Seaman trial],” he writes, “should not be looked at uncritically, but unlike Rosen’s and Seaman’s books, it was given under oath.” (See posting 206.)

Yes, Matthew, my court testimony was, indeed, given under oath. And if you were familiar with my testimony beyond what you might have read in the papers or seen online, that testimony was, pretty much, the first chapter of Nowhere Man, “John Lennon’s Diaries.”

I hope that settles it.