The Sporadic Beaver

(Justo como) empezar de nuevo otra vez/(Just Like) Starting Over Again

September 18, 2017

Tags: Nowhere Man, Los últimos días de John Lennon, Amazon, 10 Mathew Street, René Portas, Yoko Ono

Una nueva edición impresa en lengua española de Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon, se está abriendo paso lentamente hacia las plataformas de venta de libros por todo el mundo.

Aunque la fecha oficial de publicación es el 9 de octubre, el cumpleaños de Lennon, Nowhere Man ya está a la venta en Amazon España, Amazon US y Barnes & Noble. Amazon México lanzará la edición impresa el 9 de octubre. Búscala ahí, vinculada a la edición Kindle.

Las copias de reseña están ahora disponibles y el aviso de publicación ha empezado a difundirse. El sitio de los Beatles, 10, Mathew Street, con sede en Madrid, ha posteado un artículo sobre el libro y mi próximo viaje a Buenos Aires para el lanzamiento. Ese viaje debe tener lugar a finales de noviembre-principios de diciembre. Tan pronto como los detalles se finalicen, yo voy, por supuesto, a postear sobre eso aquí.

La nueva edición, re-traducida por René Portas, quien hizo la traducción original para Random House Mondadori (ahora Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial), presenta una foto de cubierta del difunto Jack Mitchell, quien retrató a Lennon y Yoko Ono el 2 de noviembre de 1980 , un mes antes de que un fan trastornado asesinara al ex Beatle frente al Dakota.

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(Just Like) Starting Over Again

A new Spanish-language print edition of Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon is slowly making its way onto book-selling platforms throughout the world.

Though the official publication date is October 9, Lennon’s birthday, Nowhere Man is already for sale on Amazon Spain, Amazon US, and Barnes & Noble. Amazon Mexico will release the print edition on October 9. Look for it here, linked to the Kindle edition.

Review copies are now available and word of publication has begun to spread. The Beatles site, 10, Mathew Street, based in Madrid, has posted an article about the book and my upcoming trip to Buenos Aires for the launch. This journey should take place in late November–early December. As soon as the details are finalized, I will, of course, post about it here.

The new edition, re-translated by René Portas, who did the original translation for Random House Mondadori (now Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial), features a cover photo by the late Jack Mitchell, who shot Lennon and Yoko Ono on November 2, 1980, one month before a deranged fan murdered the ex-Beatle in front of the Dakota.

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Don Vicious

December 8, 2016

Tags: Donald Trump, Sex Pistols, Johnny Rotten, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Pussy Riot, Twitter

Illustration from Creative Commons.
(Updated Jan. 22.) I didn't write "Don Vicious." My inner 20-year-old punk-self wrote it, roused from suspended animation two weeks ago, after Donald J. Trump whined on Twitter that the cast of Hamilton should "immediately apologize to Mike Pence for their terrible behavior."

The cast had asked Pence, after he attended the show, to “uphold our American values” and “work on behalf of all of us.”

“Don Vicious” (with apologies to Sid) came to me whole as I was walking on the High Line. I imagine it performed in the style and spirit of Pussy Riot or of Sex Pistols front man Johnny Rotten singing “God Save the Queen/A fascist regime...”

I’m dedicating the song to John Lennon, who in his heart was a punk till the end (listen to “Serve Yourself”), who’s been gone 36 years today, and who would have appreciated Yoko Ono’s post-election Twitter howl—a howl that I’d suggest speaks for most of us.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “Don Vicious”...

We know you’re a total disgrace
Anyplace you show your face
We’ll fuck you up
We’ll put you down
Because you’re a malignant clown

Hey, hey Donald J.
How many girls did you grope today?
With your tiny hands
With your tiny hands

You’re a racist Nazi
Ignorant man
You steal from people
Your life’s a scam
You're like the spawn of Son of Sam

Hey, hey Donald J.
How many girls did you grope today?
With your tiny hands
With your tiny hands

You hate Muslims
You hate Jews
Women, black skin
Brown skin too

Hey, hey Donald J.
How many girls did you grope today?
With your tiny hands
With your tiny hands




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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

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

"Cuando yo cumplo 74"/"When I’m 74"

June 18, 2016

Tags: Nowhere Man, Los últimos días de John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, diarios, e-books

Cuando los periodistas me preguntan si alguno de los Beatles ha leído alguna vez Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon, mi respuesta es un inequívoco: “Sí, absolutamente... aunque ellos nunca lo han admitido en público.”

¿Cómo puedo yo estar tan seguro? Es fácil. Es un hecho bien establecido que yo tuve acceso a los diarios de John Lennon, y lo que he comunicado en Nowhere Man es la esencia de lo que había en esos cuadernos. Hasta que los diarios sean publicados, lo cual no sucederá en nuestro tiempo de vida, Nowhere Man es lo más cerca que puedes llegar a la autobiografía de Lennon.

Si tú fueras un Beatle, especialmente si fueras Paul McCartney, ¿no querrías saber lo que Lennon escribió sobre ti en sus diarios?

La respuesta es por sí misma evidente.

Lo que McCartney descubrió tras la lectura de Nowhere Man, fue lo que Lennon pensaba de él todo el tiempo, y que estaba locamente celoso por el éxito incesante de Paul. El espíritu de McCartney embrujaba realmente a Lennon. Él oía la música de McCartney en su cabeza cuando Paul estaba en la ciudad. Él escuchó la música de McCartney, cuando trató de salir de su mala racha creativa y compuso las canciones para el Double Fantasy. La “I Don’t Want to Face It” de Lennon —grabada para el Double Fantasy, pero lanzada en el Milk and Honey—, fue una respuesta directa a la “Coming Up” de McCartney. Además Lennon, disgustado por las demandas de McCartney sobre una reunión de los Beatles, se refirió a él como McOjodeculo, y se regocijó cuando Paul fue detenido en Japón por posesión de marihuana, dándole el crédito a Yoko Ono por causar el arresto al lanzarle un hechizo mágico. “Yo quiero a Paul como a un hermano”, escribió Lennon. “Sólo que él no me gusta.”

Hoy, el 74 cumpleaños de Paul McCartney, quedan nueve días hasta el lanzamiento mundial del e-book Nowhere Man 15 aniversario ampliado y recién traducido. Tú puedes pre-ordenar el e-book en Amazon, iTunes y Barnes & Noble. Entonces, el 27 de junio, podrás conocer aún más sobre la tormentosa relación Lennon-McCartney.

Mientras tanto, vamos todos a desearle a Paul un 74 cumpleaños feliz y saludable. Que él siga brillando.

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

And for the English speakers:

“When I’m 74”

When journalists ask me if any of the Beatles have ever read Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, my answer is an unequivocal: “Yes, absolutely… though they’d never admit it publicly.”

How can I be so sure? Easy. It’s a well-established fact that I had access to John Lennon’s diaries, and what I’ve communicated in Nowhere Man is the essence of what was in those notebooks. Until the diaries are published, which will not happen in our lifetimes, Nowhere Man is as close as you can get to Lennon’s autobiography.

If you were a Beatle, especially if you were Paul McCartney, wouldn’t you want to know what Lennon wrote about you in his journals?

The answer is self-evident.

What McCartney discovered upon reading Nowhere Man was that Lennon thought about him all the time and that he was insanely jealous of Paul’s unabated success. McCartney’s spirit veritably haunted Lennon. He heard McCartney’s music in his head when Paul has in town. He listened to McCartney’s music as he tried to break out of his creative slump and compose the songs for Double Fantasy. Lennon’s “I Don’t Want to Face It”—recorded for Double Fantasy but released on Milk and Honey—was a direct response to McCartney’s “Coming Up.” Yet Lennon, repulsed by McCartney’s demands for a Beatles reunion, referred to him as McAsshole, and rejoiced when Paul was busted in Japan for marijuana possession, crediting Yoko Ono with bringing about the arrest by casting a magic spell. “I love Paul like a brother,” Lennon wrote. “I just don’t like him.”

Today, on Paul McCartney’s 74th birthday, nine days remain until the worldwide release of the expanded and newly translated 15th Anniversary Nowhere Man e-book. You can pre-order the book on Amazon, iTunes and Barnes & Noble. Then, on June 27, you can learn even more about the stormy Lennon-McCartney relationship.

In the meantime, let’s all wish Paul a happy and healthy 74th birthday. May he continue to shine on.

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

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.

Marky Got His Gun (So Did Everybody Else Who Wanted One)

December 8, 2015

Tags: John Lennon, Mark David Chapman, Nowhere Man, Yoko Ono, Congress, NRA, politics

On this 35th anniversary of John Lennon's assassination, I'm finding it difficult not to think about guns. But it seems that anything I could say about them has already been said repeatedly by people far more conversant with the issue than I am.

Is there anything to be gained by expressing my disgust with the NRA, who apparently believe that everybody over the age of three should be armed; the Congress, who are on the take from the NRA; and the menagerie of candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination, one of whom, a medical doctor, has said, “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away”?

I doubt it.

In Nowhere Man, I explain that Mark David Chapman acquired the handgun he used to murder Lennon by telling a lie on his pistol-permit application. He said he’d never been institutionalized for mental illness, when, in fact, he had. But nobody did a background check, and Marky got his gun.

Of Chapman’s delusional act, I wrote, “Nobody has ever assassinated a popular entertainer before. This is completely different, a new kind of madness. It’s very scary shit.”

Thirty-five years later, this “very scary shit” has gone well beyond assassinating popular entertainers. I now live in a country that’s in the throes of a guerrilla war being waged by terrorists and unaffiliated crazies of all stripes and their supporters in the NRA, Congress, and on the campaign trail.

The other night, my wife and I were eating dinner in a crowded restaurant that we’ve been going to for years. And though I didn’t say a word about it at the time because I didn’t want to ruin the meal, I kept glancing out the window and thinking that this is probably not a good place to eat anymore. The restaurant, situated on a wide avenue that branches off into a warren of streets and provides easy access to bridges and tunnels, is a good target for somebody who wants to do a mass shooting and escape. It’s better to eat in a restaurant on a narrow side street prone to traffic jams—I thought that would be a less inviting target.

This is what it’s come to in the land of the free and the home of the brave—everybody walking around thinking about how to avoid being shot and how to protect yourself when the shooting starts. And though it would be nice if Yoko Ono’s “Imagine Peace” were something more than a cliché as absurd as the Republicans’ offering “thoughts and prayers” to victims of the latest massacre, it’s not.

It’s going to take a lot more than imagination and prayer to solve the problems of a country where at last count there were more guns (357 million) than people (317 million).

In 2015, we are all at least as vulnerable as John Lennon was, and he was more vulnerable than he ever imagined.

Lennon: Naked, Flawed, Mean, and Beautiful

November 30, 2015

Tags: Huffington Post, Michael Lee Nirenberg, Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Yoko Ono, reviews

There’s nothing more I can add to Michael Nirenberg's essay, "Rock n Roll Watergate," that ran on The Huffington Post last week. Nirenberg, a filmmaker, best known for his Hustler magazine documentary, Back Issues, simply expressed the passion he felt for Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, which was released last month as a 15th anniversary e-book edition.

Nirenberg said that the book made him feel as if he were “inside the Dakota with John Lennon and Yoko Ono,” and that Lennon came across as “naked—flawed, mean, and beautiful.”

So, yes, all these years after publication, the book continues to affect people and inspire them to communicate their feelings about what they’ve read. This is what every writer wants his or her books to do.

To me, this is especially satisfying because for 18 years nobody would publish Nowhere Man—editors had deemed it “unpublishable.”

I think it’s now safe to say that they were wrong. Nowhere Man is the book that refused to die. And in this season of thanksgiving I can only give thanks to all the people who’ve read Nowhere Man and made up their own minds about it.

#179 Interview

October 27, 2015

Tags: Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, The Time Warped Hour, Yoko Ono, e-books

THE TIME WARPED HOUR 10/23/15; ROBERT ROSEN & THE RE-RELEASE OF "NOWHERE MAN" by Daniel Zuckerman on Mixcloud


In 2002, when the paperback edition of Nowhere Man was published, I started keeping track of interviews. I'd already been doing a lot of talking about the book for the two years since the hardcover had come out, and I knew that I was going to be doing a lot more. Also, having developed an abiding interest in numerology, I found numbers... significant.

Since the release of the 15th anniversary Nowhere Man e-book on October 9, I find myself in the midst of another interview frenzy. My chat with Daniel Zuckerman on his Time Warped Hour podcast—my second appearance on the show—is #179 since the publication of the paperback 13 years ago.

Zuckerman and I cover a lot of ground, discussing everything from conspiracy theories to John Lennon’s eating habits to (naturally) his music.

Over the course of the interview, Zuckerman, a Beatles aficionado, plays a lot of good Lennon tunes, including some obscure cuts that I’d never heard before. Perhaps the most surprising track is Elvis Costello’s cover of Yoko Ono’s “Walking on Thin Ice,” the song she and Lennon were working on the night he was assassinated.

So turn off your mind, relax, click on the player, and float through 86 minutes of provocative music and conversation.

The Censored Cover

October 7, 2015

Tags: Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Soft Skull Press, Yoko Ono, e-books

Book publishers can be a timid lot. The mere threat of a lawsuit, even a baseless one, is often enough to get them to cancel a book contract. Deep-pocketed entities with tightly held secrets (like Yoko Ono and the Church of Scientology) understand this all too well and employ the tactic routinely.

Soft Skull Press, Nowhere Man's original publisher, was a notable exception. In 2000, a young man with a George W. Bush "Bring it on!" complex was running the company, and he was fearless when it came to lawsuits. That's why Soft Skull published Nowhere Man when virtually every other publisher had turned it down.

Soft Skull acted as though lawsuits were a good way to get publicity and sell books, an attitude that almost destroyed them, as the documentary Horns and Halos—about Fortunate Son, a George W. Bush biography they published that detailed Bush’s cocaine habit—vividly demonstrates.

For Nowhere Man, Soft Skull used the back cover photo from Lennon and Ono’s Two Virgins LP for the cover of the galley, which they sent out to the media for review. The cover served one purpose only: to provoke Ono.

“You’re crazy!” I told the publisher. “It’s her photo! She’s going to sue you!”

Sure enough, within hours of Soft Skull’s releasing the galley, Ono’s attorneys demanded that they cease and desist, and in an uncharacteristic act of sanity, they withdrew the galley and reprinted it with a plain white cover.

Now, more than 15 years later, as I prepare to launch the Nowhere Man e-book, its cover an homage to the cover Soft Skull ultimately used for the best-selling hardback, the galley—there might be about a hundred in circulation—has become a newsworthy artifact, though I’d never sell it on eBay.

Instead, I should hang it on my wall as a symbol of all the insanity Nowhere Man has survived.

The Pirates, the Price, and the Book of Numbers

October 5, 2015

Tags: Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Yoko Ono, book piracy, e-books, Cheiro, numerology, book piracy, Amazon

The book piracy pandemic was one of the primary reasons that I decided to make Nowhere Man--a book that's been pirated to death for almost 10 years--available as an e-book.

I wanted to give readers an alternative to downloading pirated editions, and I especially wanted to give people who've bought the print edition from Amazon, either in paperback or hardcover, the opportunity to buy the updated and expanded e-book (with a new introduction and five bonus chapters rather than the bonus malware you often receive when you download pirated books) for the extraordinary price of 99 cents--Amazon's “matchbook” price. The book will be exclusively available on the site on October 9, Lennon's 75th birthday. Also, Nowhere Man is not DRM-protected, so you can share it, unlike with many e-books.

Pre-order now and receive Nowhere Man at midnight Eastern Time on October 9.

The 99-cent matchbook price, the $9.99 regular price, and the release date are not random numbers. As I detail in Nowhere Man, notably in a chapter titled “The Book of Numbers,” number 9, as well as its multiples 18 and 27, were numbers that played a significant role throughout Lennon’s life and death.

Lennon and his son Sean were born October 9; Yoko Ono was born February 18; Paul McCartney was born June 18; Lennon received his green card on July 27; and when Mark Chapman murdered Lennon (December 8 in New York but already December 9 in England), he believed that he was writing Chapter 27 of The Catcher in the Rye—a book that has only 26 chapters—in Lennon’s blood.

And that’s just scratching the surface of what Nowhere Man says about 9, 18, and 27.

Following the rules of Cheiro’s Book of Numbers, a volume that Lennon and Ono considered one of their bibles, I wanted the prices, a double 9 (or 18) and a triple 9 (or 27), and the release date to, as John would have thought, vibrate harmoniously with his life.

I do hope you’ll buy my book, especially if you’ve already enjoyed reading a pirated edition.

Nowhere Man: the 15th Anniversary E-book

September 27, 2015

Tags: Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Yoko Ono, e-books, Amazon

The long-awaited e-book edition of Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon is at last available for pre-order, exclusively on Amazon.

The new introduction talks about all that's happened to me and to the book since Soft Skull Press published the original hardcover edition in 2000. The cover is a 15th anniversary homage to the Soft Skull cover.

There are also five bonus chapters and additional revelations about Lennon and Yoko Ono that I was unable to include in previous editions. I’ll discuss this in more detail in future posts.

The release date is October 9, Lennon’s 75th birthday.

Anybody who’s bought any edition of Nowhere Man on Amazon can download the e-book for 99 cents. (The regular price is $9.99.)

So please, click here to pre-order the e-book, and click here to like Nowhere Man on Facebook.

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

If He Were 64

October 18, 2014

Tags: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney, May Pang, Nowhere Man, Mark David Chapman



I'm probably not the best audience for Lennon: Through a Glass Onion, the jukebox musical that opened this week at the Union Square Theatre, in New York. But the fault isn't with the show; it's with me, and it's strictly a case of having been marinated in Beatles music, lore, and literature for more than a half-century and having written a John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, after transcribing and editing the personal diaries that Lennon kept from 1975 until his death in 1980. The problem is that I've heard it all before, and what I want from a show like this is to hear something new and unexpected.

John R. Waters, an Australian film and TV star, is not (thank God) a Lennon impersonator. Rather than wearing a wig and the trademark glasses, he portrays the ex-Beatle as he might have been had he lived and, at age 64 or so, decided to perform in intimate venues, singing his classic songs and explaining the inspiration behind them. Waters and Stewart D’Arrietta, whose piano playing is the musical driving force behind this stripped-down production, have been doing the show for 22 years, and, not surprisingly, they’ve got it down cold (turkey).

In this alternate Glass Onion reality, the AARP-ified Walrus—clad in a black leather jacket and black jeans, and enveloped in a mist that perhaps suggests the limbo between life and death—shares his thoughts on Mark David Chapman, his would-be assassin, suggesting that he must have listened to a lot of Beatles music, which, in fact, he did.

As Waters strums an acoustic guitar and D’Arrietta pounds on the piano (and occasionally harmonizes), the duo work their way through either snippets or complete renditions of more than 30 selections from the Lennon-solo and Lennon-McCartney songbooks, including such favorites as “A Day in the Life,” “Help,” “Imagine,” and “Watching the Wheels.”

Waters intersperses the music with wittily told stories and quips (mostly lifted from interviews, though sometimes made up) about Lennon’s rivalry with Paul McCartney, the bigger-than-Jesus blowup, his relationship with Yoko Ono, meditating with the Maharishi, the birth of his son Sean, and the so-called househusband years. And he indeed gives a good sense of what it might have been like to listen to Lennon. His performance demonstrates the absurdity of Ono’s contention that her third husband was so complex, no one actor could portray him—a notion she brought to life in the 2005 Broadway catastrophe Lennon, in which nine actors, both men and women, took turns playing Lennon and ultimately communicated no sense of who he was or what his life was like.

Just once, however, I’d like to see Lennon portrayed in a way that goes beyond retelling the most famous stories and does not totally buy into the bread-baking househusband myth. Show him in his final years as the tormented, secluded, confused, and jealous man that he was. Show him continuing his affair with May Pang after he went home to Yoko, and carrying a torch for May until the day he died. Show him as a contradictory man who longed to follow the path of Jesus but also dabbled in the occult, loved money, smoked a lot of weed, lost his muse, and then regained it after an epic creative struggle.

It would have been great to hear Waters sing some of the lesser-known Lennon songs that illuminate this reality, like “Serve Yourself,” complete with the spoken-word primal meltdown of “Youse fuckin’ kids all the fuckin’ same...” which was directed at his older son, Julian.

Apparently, though, this isn’t what most Lennon fans want. They want to hear the most famous songs, and judging by the audience reaction, Waters and D’Arrietta gave the people exactly what they wanted, straight up and with fresh energy.

Even so, it’s hard not to see Lennon: Through a Glass Onion as a poignantly sad reminder of what can never be again and what so many people, myself included, have tried so hard to keep alive throughout these ever more dispiriting times.

Must-See TV

August 21, 2014

Tags: Hollywood Scandals, Reelz, John Lennon, Nowhere Man, Yoko Ono, May Pang, Mark David Chapman

Should you find yourself in front of a TV tonight, Thursday, August 21, you might want to check out the Reelz channel at 9 P.M. ET or 8 P.M. CT. I'm going to be on a show called Hollywood Scandals, talking about John Lennon and his killer, Mark David Chapman.

I pop up eight times altogether, three times quickly in the opening minutes and five more times, somewhat more substantially, towards the end.

The episode is an accurate and surprisingly evenhanded rundown of Lennon’s life and death. But as the name of the show implies, they don’t hesitate to highlight the numerous “scandals” that punctuated his life—the “bigger than Jesus” controversy; leaving his first wife, Cynthia, for Yoko Ono; and his affair with May Pang, for example.

There is, however, nothing salacious about the presentation. Like Detective Joe Friday on Dragnet, which was also set in L.A., Hollywood Scandals wants “just the facts,” wherever they may lead.

It’s rare that I’m given the opportunity to talk about Lennon on national TV, and it’s extraordinary that they’ve allowed me to mention his diaries or any of the details of his final years, before he emerged from seclusion to record Double Fantasy. So this is must-see TV for Lennon fans, and especially for the ever-growing community of Nowhere Man readers.

Using the hashtag #HWDScandals, I’ll be making every effort to live-tweet the show.

In New York City, Reelz is 128 on Time Warner cable; you can click here to find it on your cable or satellite system.

The Lennon episode will also air on the following days:

Sunday, August 24 at 12 P.M. ET
Monday, August 25 at 2 A.M. ET
Thursday, August 28 at 8 P.M. ET


Hope you can all come together and watch this one.

A Question of Conspiracy

August 13, 2014

Tags: John Lennon, Nowhere Man, Proceso, Roberto Ponce, Octavio Cavalli, Bendito Lennon, Yoko Ono, conspiracy theories, Mark David Chapman, Hollywood Scandals, Playboy

Last December, Roberto Ponce, an editor at the Mexico City newsweekly Proceso, sent me four questions about the numerous conspiracy theories surrounding John Lennon's murder. A comprehensive Spanish-language Lennon biography, Bendito Lennon, by Octavio Cavalli, had recently been published and the book gave credence to one of the theories. My answers to Ponce's questions ran as a column, titled "Sólo creo en una conspiración: la de Yoko Ono en mi contra" (I just believe in one conspiracy: Yoko Ono's against me), in a special Lennon section in their December 8, 2013 issue.

My blog posting yesterday, "Imagine Yoko Watching," about an upcoming Lennon episode of
Hollywood Scandals that I’ll be appearing in provoked a flurry of questions on Facebook about the conspiracy theories.

Here are Ponce's questions and my answers in the original English.


1) Octavio Cavalli, author of the biography Bendito Lennon, told me that one of his important sources of information about John Lennon’s murder is an article by Salvador Astucia, “José Joaquín Sanjeanis Perdomo: John Lennon’s true assassin?” In another one of his articles, Astucia has accused you, Mr. Robert Rosen, of being involved in the killing of John Lennon. What can you say about this?

I’m aware that Octavio Cavalli has thoroughly researched every aspect of John Lennon’s murder and for a variety of reasons doesn’t believe that Mark Chapman was the lone gunman. Among the issues Cavalli raises is the presence at the murder scene of Dakota doorman José Joaquín Sanjeanis Perdomo, a Cuban exile and former CIA agent, according to “Salvador Astucia,” which is the pseudonym of a Holocaust-denying conspiracy theorist. Astucia says, among other things too numerous to recount here, that I’m the Zionist-funded CIA spymaster who gave the order to kill Lennon, after which, in order to disgrace his memory (as well as the entire antiwar movement), the CIA then paid me to write Nowhere Man. He also says that I, along with another Jew, Edward Teller, the “Father of the H-bomb,” and Ronald Reagan, felt that Lennon had to die (and his memory besmirched) so America could go forward with its “Star Wars” missile-defense initiative.

The mere fact that Astucia is still alive is proof enough that his theories are absurd. Because if anything he said were true, a real spymaster would have silenced him 10 years ago, when he started posting this stuff online.

I don’t know if Astucia says these things because he believes them, or to provoke and to get attention. My inclination is to dismiss outright everything he or any other Holocaust denier says about anything. That Cavalli was able to find one shred of truth in Astucia’s insane ravings is a tribute to Cavalli’s tenaciousness, and his abilities as a researcher.

Though I must give Astucia full credit for my inclusion as number two, alongside J. D. Salinger and Stephen King, on a list titled “Top Three Conspiracy Theories Revolving Around the Death of John Lennon.”

And I’m sure that he’d be pleased to know that I briefly considered dedicating to him the novel I just finished writing, Bobby in Naziland, about a kid growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and early-60s, alongside Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans who’d fought the Nazis. That dedication would have read: “For ______, my Personal Nazi, who reminded me I was a Jew and taught me anew the meaning of anti-Semitism.”

2) What do you think of the conspiracy theories that accuse the CIA, FBI, various ex-presidents of the U.S., Operation 40, and even the Jewish people of being behind Lennon’s murder?

I don’t completely reject all conspiracy theories. I’ve had 50 years to think about JFK, and the official explanation still strikes me as less than satisfying. But I don’t think Lennon was the victim of a conspiracy. I think Chapman was a lone nut, and I think if Yoko Ono believed that Lennon’s murderer, or an accomplice to the murder was still at large, she’d have conducted a private investigation—for her own safety. She’s done nothing of the sort.

I think most conspiracy theories—Manchurian Candidates, for example—are based on scenarios so complex, they’d be nearly impossible to execute. My understanding of the psychology behind conspiracy theories is that certain people cannot accept the fact that horrendous events, like murder, can be totally random and can happen to anybody. So they need to invent fairy tales, impervious to rational evidence, that give them a sense of control and show that it can’t happen to them. That’s why Astucia is the only so-called “journalist” I’ve ever refused to speak to. Because no matter what I told him, he’d use it as further “proof” that I work for the CIA and that I did order Lennon’s murder.

There is, however, one Lennon-related conspiracy I am aware of: The unsuccessful attempt by Ono, the New York District Attorney’s office, and G. Barry Golson, a former Playboy editor, to have me arrested on criminal conspiracy charges unless I signed a document forfeiting my First Amendment rights to write about Lennon’s diaries. The libelous article that Golson ran in the March 1984 Playboy is the root of all Lennon conspiracy theories about me. He took a comment from my diary (which Ono had given to him), about what I saw as Ono’s skillful exploitation of the Lennon legacy, and depicted that comment, “Dead Lennons=BIG $$$$$,” as my indictment of my own behavior, portraying me as a criminal conspirator drooling over Lennon’s corpse.

3) In your book Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon you created an interesting profile of Mark Chapman’s mind. How has your vision of the killer changed since then? Why did he kill John Lennon? Did he commit the crime alone or maybe not?

My vision of Mark Chapman has not changed since I wrote Nowhere Man. I still think he was a mentally unstable and possibly psychotic individual who acted alone and was motivated by envy and a desire to be famous, and believed that by shooting Lennon, whom he considered a hypocrite, he’d literally vanish into the pages of The Catcher in the Rye and become The Catcher in the Rye for his generation. I await definitive proof that this is not the case.

4) After your experience with the Lennon diaries, what ideas would you suggest to the new generation of Latin American students about how they can be more effective in their work and lives?

In 1982, I was an obscure freelance writer who’d uncovered a story that was the equivalent of Rock ’n’ Roll Watergate. That’s why it took me 18 years to publish what I knew about Lennon’s diaries. In the eyes of the mainstream media, in any country, it’s simply unacceptable for an unknown journalist to come out of nowhere and break the story of the decade. Also, what I learned from the diaries went against the myth that Ono remains determined to perpetuate—that in his final years, John Lennon was a content, bread-baking househusband. That’s why she used all the political and media influence at her disposal to try and stop me. So, I’d say to any journalism students that it’s not enough to uncover a great story, especially one that goes against powerful people or institutions (as great stories often do). You must be prepared to fight for years, if not decades, to get your story out to a mass audience. I’d also say that anybody who’s considering investigating conspiracy theories should be aware that you’re walking into a swamp that you may never come out of. Or if you do make it out, you’ll emerge with a bag of half-answers, shadows, suspicions, and more questions than you took in there with you.

House of Secrets

April 18, 2014

Tags: El Solano, Hustler, Larry Flynt, Florida, Palm Beach, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Nowhere Man, Addison Mizner, Cheiro, numerology

El Solano, in Palm Beach, designed by Addison Mizner, and home, at one time or another, to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and Larry Flynt. Photograph courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach.
"House of Secrets" was originally published, under a different title, on a Florida-based design website that no longer exists. Some of the information in this article is drawn from my book Nowhere Man, in which I write in detail about John Lennon and Yoko Ono's stay in this Palm Beach mansion. In the book, I misspell "El Solano," calling it "El Salano." Should there be future editions, this will be corrected.

On March 6, 1978, a white-supremacist serial killer, outraged by an interracial photo spread in Hustler, pumped a .44-caliber bullet into Larry Flynt near the Georgia courthouse where the magazine publisher, on trial for obscenity, had just testified in his own defense. One year later Flynt, paralyzed from the waist down because of his injuries, rented the house at 720 South Ocean Boulevard--or S.O.B., as the locals call it--in Palm Beach. His landlady, socialite Brownie McLean, would have much preferred to sell the 10,000-square-foot white elephant known as El Solano. But in those grim days of hyperinflation and gas lines, there were no takers, not even the recession-proof Flynt. So McLean, who had once refused the Hope Diamond as a wedding gift from her husband because she believed the jewel was cursed, didn't hesitate to accept a much-needed cash infusion from the man who introduced "split beaver" to a mass audience.

Most of Flynt’s neighbors took the porn publisher’s presence in stride—even though it was common knowledge that he employed a team of photographers to shoot X-rated pictorials throughout the Spanish-style mansion’s six bedrooms, five servant rooms, ballroom, and sauna, as well as by the square “morning pool” and rectangular “afternoon pool.”

Through a spokesperson, Flynt has declined to offer any more information about his season in El Solano.

The current owners of El Solano also prefer not to discuss their winter residence—though they do say, through a spokesperson, that it’s “public knowledge” that they own it, and that it’s permissible to publish their names. Apparently, this wasn’t the case in 1993 when the extensive renovations of architect Darby Curtis, working with designer Robert Metzger, were documented in Architectural Digest—the most detailed and elaborate El Solano pictorial on record. The owners were quoted anonymously, and the story failed to mention that they were the architect’s parents: Alan Curtis, an investment banker, and Christine Curtis, a freelance writer, who had bought the house in January 1990 for $4,315,000, though it’s not publicly known from whom. More surprising than this was Darby Curtis’s reaction when asked if she might shed some additional light on her work at the historic abode: “I have nothing to say.”

Perhaps Curtis’s reticence is best explained by others who’ve worked in the house, some of whom were willing to speak (anonymously) of the fact that in a small community like Palm Beach, those whose livelihoods depend on access to the super-rich—and occasionally super-famous—would be foolish to make unwanted revelations about their employers (or parents). But in the same breath these people also speak of the house’s strangeness, of their belief that things have happened in El Solano that those who have lived there simply don’t want to talk about.

In a way, El Solano exists in the realm of the mystical, a piece of unreal estate—a mansion with a long history of secrets, celebrated owners, and at least one profound occurrence that changed the course of rock ’n’ roll.

The first person to live in El Solano was the man who built it in 1919, controversial “society” architect—many considered his designs hideous—Addison Mizner, who named it both for the hot Mediterranean winds that blow through Spain, and El Solano County, California, where he was born in 1872. A mythical figure whose 11-foot-tall statue now stands in Boca Raton, a city he helped develop, and whose Mediterranean Revival style came to define the look of Worth Avenue, the six-foot-two, 250-pound Mizner settled in Palm Beach apparently for health reasons.

(Stephen Sondheim has chronicled the Florida misadventures of Mizner and his flimflamming business-partner brother, Wilson, in his musical Road Show, which portrays both Mizners as incestuous, Addison as homosexual, and in the end, according to The New York Times, reduces the brothers to “cocaine-snorting wrecks.”)

Though Mizner’s Villa Flora, which he built for J.P. Morgan, and La Guerida, which became John F. Kennedy’s “Winter White House,” may be better known than El Solano, the latter is regarded as the purest expression of Mizner’s chaotic vision—a “stream of consciousness” consisting of idiosyncratically connected spaces, as designer Michael Christiano, who also worked on the 1993 renovations, described the house to Architectural Digest.

The house so intrigued next-door neighbor Harold Vanderbilt, grandson of railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, that he bought it from Mizner and added on—as did many of the successive celebrity owners, such as actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who briefly settled into El Solano in 1973 with his second wife, Mary Lee Hartford, heir to the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company fortune.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, too, were taken by the house, and on the advice of their tarot card reader, whom they called Charlie Swan, Patric Walker’s Town & Country horoscope, and Cheiro’s Book of Numbers, bought it—on January 27, 1980, for a million dollars, a price they considered a steal. (“John made the tea, while Yoko hammered out the negotiations,” real estate broker Ben Johnson told The Palm Beach Post.)

In years to come, many stories about the ex-Beatle’s El Solano activities would filter into the public domain—a rare breaching of the house’s shield of secrecy. Most of them were inconsequential, such as details about Lennon’s ongoing feud with Paul McCartney, reports of an ugly incident that occurred when the actor Peter Boyle and his wife came to visit, and tales of locals stopping Lennon on the beach, without realizing who he was, to talk about the historically cold weather that February. But one story of significance would emerge as well: After five years of musical silence, it was in El Solano that Lennon reconnected with his muse, which many in his inner circle had given up for dead.

On February 27, 1980, Lennon and Ono were watching the Grammy Awards in the den when Bob Dylan came on to sing his latest hit, “Serve Someone,” which says it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re going to have to serve either Satan or God. The song provoked from Lennon a spontaneous musical explosion called “Serve Yourself.” Accompanying himself on guitar, Lennon lashed out at everything and everybody: Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, Krishna, his sons, his mother—the world, the universe. And this song soon primed a flood of new material that seven months later appeared on Lennon and Ono’s album Double Fantasy. (“Serve Yourself,” which Ono considered too raw, obscene, and off-message for public consumption, wouldn’t be released for another 19 years.)

On December 8, 1980, Double Fantasy was riding high on the charts. That night, John Lennon, aged 40, was shot to death by a deranged fan in front of the Dakota, his apartment building on West 72nd Street in New York City. Among the candlelight vigils held throughout the world, one took place outside El Solano, which Ono kept until 1986, adding on to its chaotic sprawl and then selling it for a numerologically harmonious $3.15 million to a Bostonian family that preferred to remain anonymous.

John Lennon Through His Journals

March 4, 2014

Tags: Octavio Cavalli, Bendito Lennon, Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Yoko Ono, New York, Robert Rosen, diaries

By Octavio Cavalli

Saturday, February 15, 2014: Meeting Robert Rosen in New York City

Maybe it's because I'm a novice when it comes to researching the life of John Lennon and promoting a book based on that research. But I didn't remember until I was in the midst of publicizing my Lennon biography, Bendito Lennon, that one of my Facebook friends was New York writer Robert Rosen, author of the best-selling Lennon bio Nowhere Man. Rosen's book is based on his knowledge of Lennon's diaries, which were given to him by his friend Fred Seaman, John's personal assistant from 1979-1980.

Robert commented on a post I made about my book, which led to a conversation that we conducted mainly through audio files, which we sent back and forth, between Buenos Aires and New York. I'd ask him questions about John's diaries and he'd respond in detail.

Since mid-2013 I’ve been correcting and revising Bendito Lennon, primarily adding new information and fresh material from all phases of John’s life. Among the new things I wrote about are John’s feelings as a Beatle, in 1963, when the group was being hailed as heroes in the U.K., but hadn’t yet conquered the world, and also his way of telling stories through his poems, tales, and songs. Robert Rosen was supportive of my endeavor to revise Bendito Lennon, and especially helpful regarding the last six years of John’s life. And I was very pleased to share my new information with him, and grateful that he’d agreed to meet me and talk about Lennon when I told him I was coming to New York.

On the afternoon of February 15, in the middle of a blizzard, with the temperature plunging well below 0º C, I met Robert in the neighborhood where he lives and where John also lived for a couple of years when he first moved to Manhattan: Greenwich Village. At Cafe Reggio, 119 MacDougal Street, we drank coffee and cappuccino as Robert accepted a paperback edition of Bendito Lennon and autographed my Spanish edition of Nowhere Man.

We talked about Lennon’s life, and Robert was humbled and impressed by how much I knew about John, especially his childhood. I, of course, couldn’t help but be aware that he was one of the few people who had access to John’s diaries, which covered much of his daily activities and feelings from 1975-1980. He told me what it meant to him to have Lennon’s diaries for more than six months, and he described the long task of transcribing them and deciphering every drawing, word, and letter. It was obvious, he said, that John was writing for himself, and that the diaries were not meant to be read by others, though they could have been a first draft of the memoir he never got to write.

He also told me about his shock and horror when all the material that Fred Seaman had given him, and that he’d studied and transcribed, was taken from his apartment... by Seaman. Later, Robert said, when Yoko Ono found out that Seaman, in despair after John’s death, had stolen all kinds of things from her Dakota apartments, she had Seaman arrested for grand larceny. When Robert met with Yoko to discuss what had happened, she asked him to give her his own diaries, so she could use them as evidence against Seaman. He did so, and she held them for 18 years.

Robert then told me how he wrote Nowhere Man, elaborating on what he remembered from Lennon’s diaries, incorporating notes from his own diaries, and spending years doing additional research. He concluded by talking about his impressions of John’s last years.

After Cafe Reggio, Robert and I walked in the Village, through the driving snow, to 105 Bank Street. He asked me if I knew which apartment John lived in. I wasn’t sure, and we agreed that researching John Lennon’s life is a difficult task for all writers, even ones who'd met him, and even if, like us, they'd had the opportunity to speak to members of his family, former assistants, and friends. Those closest to John are usually reluctant to talk about him to anybody who's writing a book.

Other people, thankfully, will trust an author to use their information responsibly, and will share their knowledge and opinions.

As of today, Bendito Lennon has sold out in Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Chile, and Mexico, but is still available as an e-book in Canada, the U.S., and Spain. The new edition, due to be published sometime in 2014, will be completely revised and will include all the information from my conversations with Rosen.

Even though I’d intended to be finished by now, my research continues—though I realize I have to set a limit on how much time I can spend learning the details of Lennon’s life. Because if I don’t, the work will be endless. There will always be new pieces of information, new sources, and new people to interview, and I’ll always want to rewrite some portion of the manuscript in order for the biography to be accurate and up to date. This, then, is the compromise I must make to complete the book, which has attracted readers around the world who want to know in detail the story of one of the greatest musicians and social leaders of 20th century.

18 Across the Board

February 18, 2014

Tags: Yoko Ono, Cheiro, numerology, Nowhere Man

Today, February 18, 2014 (2/18/2014), is Yoko Ono's 81st birthday. Ono, a devotee of numerology and of Cheiro's Book of Numbers--read all about it in Nowhere Man--is aware that numerologically, this is a day that will never happen again, even if she lives forever. Because today, not only is Ono's age the reverse of her birth number, 18 (18 and 81 have equal value, Cheiro says), but she's looking at 18s across the board.

Here's how today works out according to Cheiro's formula, which says that all numbers should be added together, like this:

2 + 1 + 8 + 2 + 0 +1 + 4 = 18

The symbol for 18, according to Cheiro, is “a rayed moon from which drops of blood are falling; a wolf and hungry dog are seen below catching the falling drops of blood in their open mouths, while still lower, a crab is hastening to join them. It is symbolic of materialism striving to destroy the spiritual side of the nature. It generally associates a person with bitter quarrels, even family ones, war, social upheavals, revolutions; and in some cases it indicates making money and position through wars. It is a warning of treachery, deception by others, also danger from explosions. When this ‘compound’ number appears in working out dates in advance, such a date should be taken with a great amount of care, caution and circumspection.”

If you reduce 18 to a single digit, 1 + 8, you get 9. (The single numbers 1 to 9, Cheiro says, represent “the physical or material side of things” and compound numbers from 10 on represent the “occult or spiritual side of life.”)

Cheiro has a lot to say about 9:

“Number 9 persons are fighters in all they attempt in life. They usually have difficult times in their early years but generally are in the end successful by their grit, strong will and determination. They are hasty in temper, impulsive, independent and desire to be their own masters.”

“When number 9 is noticed to be more than usually dominant in the dates and events of their lives, they will be found to make great enemies, to cause strife and opposition wherever they may be and are often wounded or killed either in warfare or in the battle of life.”

“They have great courage and make excellent leaders in any cause they espouse. Their greatest dangers arise from foolhardiness and impulsiveness in word and actions. They generally have quarrels and strife in their home life. They strongly resent criticism. They like to be ‘looked up to’ and recognized as ‘head of the house.’ For affection and sympathy they will do almost anything, and men of this number can be made the greatest fools of if some woman gets to pulling at their heart strings.”

“This number 9 is the only number that when multiplied by any number always reproduces itself. The number 9 is an emblem of matter that can never be destroyed. At the 9th hour the savior died on the cross. All ancient races encouraged a fear of the number 9. The number 9 is considered a fortunate number to be born under, provided the man or woman does not ask for a peaceful or monotonous life and can control their nature by not making enemies.”

Happy birthday Yoko!

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.

Tierra del Lennon

December 8, 2013

Tags: John Lennon, Nowhere Man, Proceso, Roberto Ponce, Octavio Cavalli, Bendito Lennon, Yoko Ono, conspiracy theories, Mark David Chapman, iLeón

If Nowhere Man is destined to become a genuine classic, a book that readers will continue to talk about for decades to come, I can thank the Latin American media.

Since it was originally published, in English, in 2000, the press in countries like Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia (as well as Spain), have given Nowhere Man more serious, thoughtful coverage than any of the scandal-splattered stories that have occasionally roiled U.S. tabloids, like the New York Daily News, to name one.

The Latin American trend continues with two articles commemorating today’s anniversary of John Lennon’s murder that ran in the current issue of Proceso, which is, more or less, a progressive Spanish-language version of Newsweek in its heyday.

In the more than ten years since Random House Mondadori brought out a Spanish edition of Nowhere Man, this Mexico City-based journal of politics and culture has provided frequent, in-depth features about the book and its myriad literary and historical implications.

The two articles that ran in the December 8 issue are “Lennon, una biografía total” (Lennon, a full biography), by Roberto Ponce, and the provocatively titled “Sólo creo en una conspiración: la de Yoko Ono en mi contra” (I just believe in one conspiracy: Yoko Ono’s against me), which I wrote.

Ponce’s piece is about a massive Lennon bio, Bendito Lennon, by Octavio Cavalli, a Buenos Aires attorney who has obsessively researched every aspect of the ex-Beatle’s life. Prosa Amerian Editores is bringing out a revised edition next year, and it will feature new information about Lennon’s diaries, which I’ve been discussing with Cavalli.

The article analyzes Cavalli’s belief that Lennon was the victim of a conspiracy, that Mark David Chapman did not act alone, and that Dakota doorman José Perdomo, who was on duty the night of the murder, was a former CIA agent.

My piece is about “Salvador Astucia,” a pseudonymous Holocaust-denying conspiracy theorist who has accused me of being the CIA spymaster who ordered Lennon’s murder. As it turned out, Cavalli has uncovered what may be the only scrap of truth in “Astucia’s” insane online ravings: José Perdomo may very well be a former CIA agent.

The conspiracy in the headline is a reference to the unsuccessful efforts of Yoko Ono, former Playboy editor G. Barry Golson, and the New York district attorney to have me arrested unless I agreed never to tell the story of Lennon’s diaries. (Click here to see both articles.)

I cannot imagine the mainstream media in the U.S. ever publishing such a story, which I will soon post here, it its original English.

Hey hey, my my, conspiracy theories will never die.

Imagine if I were fluent in Spanish.

Lennonight

October 2, 2013

Tags: John Lennon, Nowhere Man, Yoko Ono, Eric Danville, Lainie Speiser, Mary Lyn Maiscott, Chapter 27, J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Mark David Chapman, May Pang, Bloomsday on Beaver Street, Lexi Love, Title TK

They were into wordplay, John and Yoko, especially when it came to their names, which lent themselves to a variety of combinations, like Lenono Music and Discono, a title John suggested for one of Yoko's LPs. In that spirit, I'm calling this post "Lennonight," which will take place at 8:00 PM, on Tuesday, October 15, in the upstairs lounge of the 2A bar in the East Village.

This is number four in the Tuesday night reading series that Eric Danville, Lainie Speiser, and I have been producing. We've christened our spoken-word collective Title TK, and Listen to This Reading is our celebration of John Lennon's birthday--he would have been 73 on October 9.

I’m going to read from my Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, specifically the opening chapter, “Being Rich,” the closing chapter, “Dakota Fantasy,” and “Chapter 27,” which is a reference to the nonexistent chapter of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the novel that drove Mark David Chapman to murder.

Mary Lyn Maiscott, who’s more accustomed to performing with a guitar in hand, will read from “Birth of a Song,” the Nowhere Man chapter that explores the inspiration behind Lennon’s “I’m Losing You,” which Mary Lyn covered at the first Bloomsday on Beaver Street.

Lainie will read from May Pang’s memoir, Loving John.

Other readers include actor David Healy, adult actress Alia Janine, actor James Sasser, and radio personality Ralph Sutton.

As always, admission is free and there’s no cover.

In other Title TK news, Lexi Love has created a long-awaited Bloomsday on Beaver Street page on her Website. The page features some very cool photos and the complete audio of her reading that night. Check it out for a taste of the unexpected drama you can expect on October 15, at 2A

Scenes from a Bookexpo: Robertson Gets the Rights; Romney Writes a Cookbook

June 3, 2013

Tags: BEA, Robbie Robertson, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Nowhere Man, Ann Romney

"We got the rights to Beatles music and nobody gets the rights to Beatles music," said Robbie Robertson, who will turn 70 in July, and looks extraordinary for his age. "But everybody recognized how important this book is."

The former lead guitarist and lyricist for the seminal rock group The Band, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1994, was talking about his forthcoming children's book, Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music that Changed the World, co-written with his son Sebastian Robertson, who was with his father on the BEA Downtown Author Stage Saturday morning, along with journalist Alan Light, who asked them questions.

Tundra Books will release Legends, Icons & Rebels in October, and it will contain a double-CD featuring the music of all 27 musicians and groups covered in the book. They include The Beatles (of course), the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Louis Jordan (but not the Rolling Stones or The Band).

Though other children’s books, such as The Book of Rock Stars: 24 Musical Icons That Shine Through History, by Kathleen Krull, and The Blues Singers: Ten Who Rocked the World, by Julius Lester, cover much of the same territory as Legends, Icons & Rebels, they don’t contain CDs (and didn’t sell especially well, either). So, when Robertson said, “There’s no other book like this,” he apparently meant that there’s no other children’s book about musicians, written by a rock star, that contains a CD with previously unattainable Beatles music.

The unattainability of Beatles music is something that’s driven home every week to anybody who watches Mad Men, as Don Draper and company live out the 1960s to a Beatles-free soundtrack. That a show this successful can’t get those rights speaks volumes. So, one can only imagine what hoops Robertson had to jump through, what rings he had to kiss, and how much money he had to spend to get the rights to those sacred songs.

I’ve no doubt that the final Beatles text had to be personally approved by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, and Olivia Harrison. And I think it’s safe to assume that the John Lennon section of this completely inoffensive, non-iconoclastic book will, according to the rules of Ono, praise her as a positive influence, and contain no mention of numerology, tarot, astrology, or Colombian witches. And though the book will say that Lennon was shot by a disturbed fan, it will not mention his name.

So, what we have in Legends, Icons & Rebels is a book that parents will buy for their kids, and with any luck at all, the kids, ages 8-13, will read the book, listen to the CDs, and be turned on to some great old music.

Then, when the kids get a little older, and they’re ready for some unvarnished truth about their legends, icons, and rebels, there are books like Nowhere Man that they can grow into. Makes me glad I wrote it.

***

I was coming from the booth of my distributor, SCB, where I’d picked up a copy of their erotic books catalogue, Revel, where Beaver Street is prominently featured on the same spread as Robin Bougie’s Cinema Sewer. The catalogue was tucked under my arm when I spotted, a couple of booths down, Ann Romney, wife of Mitt, signing advance copies of her book, The Romney Family Table, from Shadow Mountain, due out in October.

I got in line.

“Can you make it out to Bob Rosen,” I said to Romney, handing her the book. (Actually, it’s more of a brochure.)

“Is that R-o-s-e-n?” she asked.

“Very good,” I replied. “I know it’s such a weird and difficult name.”

“I always won the spelling bee,” she said, laughing as she signed book.

As we shook hands and I thanked her, I discreetly admired her beautiful and tasteful ring, sapphire if I’m not mistaken, and, shamefully, I was feeling a dusting of the Ann Romney charm—the charm that had been utilized in an attempt to “humanize” Mitt in his presidential campaign.

Ann Romney, I must admit, had a good vibe. I got the sense that, despite my scruffy and possibly progressive appearance, she genuinely enjoyed our little exchange. Still, there’s no way I’d ever vote for her husband, even if she gave me that sapphire ring.

***

On the way home from the BEA, I passed, on 10th Avenue near 17th Street, Yoko Ono, dressed in a sharp white blazer, talking to a couple of people on the sidewalk. It was an omen, I thought as I walked by, though an omen of what I have no idea.

Police Story

March 27, 2013

Tags: writing, police, Nowhere Man, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, diaries, Paniko, Javier Foxon

There's one more story about the police that's worth telling, and I've told it only once before--to the Chilean Website Paniko, when Nowhere Man was published in that country, in 2004. The writer, Javier Foxon, had asked me if Yoko Ono had returned my personal diaries--the ones I'd naively given to her, in 1982, when she asked to read them. Since Chile was 5,000 miles away, the interview was running in Spanish, and Paniko was not widely read by members of the NYPD, I figured I'd tell the truth.

I told Foxon that as the first edition of Nowhere Man was going to press, in 2000, Ono had returned my diaries--except for two small notebooks covering the summer of 1979. Foxon's inevitable follow-up question: What happened to the two volumes?

“Well,” I said, “I’m not really sure, but I don’t think their disappearance had anything to do with Ono.”

I explained that after I’d given my diaries to Ono, she turned them over to the police (and other legal and media entities), who combed though the half-million words I’d written, looking for evidence they could use to charge me with a crime, any crime, and use that as leverage to prevent me from ever writing about John Lennon’s diaries. (You can read about that fiasco here.)

But what the police found in the two volumes that had vanished were detailed notes about the gig I had in the summer of 1979, ghostwriting a novel for a former New York City cop. Those notes contained the names of cops I was taking drugs with, the dates we took the drugs, and the places we took them. In one notable passage, I described smoking a joint with a uniformed, on-duty cop in his patrol car.

“So,” I said to Foxon, “I figured the cops freaked out when they read that, and they wanted that information to disappear. I guess the two missing volumes ended up in a shredder.”

And unless I get arrested today, that’s the last police story I’m going to tell for a while.

War

January 8, 2013

Tags: Beaver Street, Nowhere Man, Yoko Ono

From Paths of Glory, courtesy The Criterion Collection.
Why is it, you may wonder, that a peace-loving person such as myself uses the imagery of war--Autumn Offensive, Winter Assault, Spring Siege--to describe the ongoing Beaver Street promotional campaign? Because for as long as I've been involved with book publishing, I feel as if I've been at war with an industry that's at best indifferent and at worst overtly hostile to the idea that I might survive as a writer.

Anybody who goes into the book-writing biz for the money is either ignorant, delusional, or has a close relative in a powerful position at a major publishing house. Most people who become writers do it because they have to, because they can't stop themselves, because they hear that voice in their head and they feel a primal need to communicate. That’s why I've been doing it for 38 years

It was in the process of attempting to sell my first published book, Nowhere Man, that it occurred to me that I was at war—an ongoing war of attrition against two powerful forces.

The publishing industry, driven by wilful ignorance and irrational fear, spent 18 years rejecting Nowhere Man because, they said, there’s not enough interest in John Lennon, and Yoko Ono will sue.

Yoko Ono, it’s worth noting, has never sued a writer, not even writers who have, essentially, begged her to sue them in an effort to bring more attention to their book. However, in an effort to stop me from publishing Nowhere Man, she did try to pressure the New York District Attorney’s office to arrest me for criminal conspiracy, a farce I’ve written about elsewhere. When Nowhere Man was finally published in 2000, I felt as if I’d overrun Saigon and my personal Vietnam had come to an end.

As for Beaver Street, if you’ve been following this blog, then you know about my battles with Amazon and Google, two forces arguably more powerful than Yoko Ono. But I’ve said little about why every publisher in the US passed on Beaver Street before, without the assistance of an agent, I was able to find a home for it with Headpress, a London-based indie.

Publishing houses passed, they said, because:

1) Nobody wants to read a non-academic book about pornography that wasn’t written by a porn star.
2) Beaver Street is neither memoir nor history.
3) Beaver Street is neither pro-porn nor anti-porn.
4) We don’t know how to publish it.

All of which also goes a long way towards explaining why Amazon is eating the publishing industry’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, and between-meal snacks, thereby replacing an awful system with a more awful system.

There’s a war out there, baby, and it’s every writer, agent, and publisher for him (or her) self.

Translator Rising

September 19, 2011

Tags: Nowhere Man, Gli ultimi giorni di John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Paolo Palmieri, Il Tirreno, Coniglio, Piombino

As Yoko Ono would be inclined to point out, yesterday, on the 18th day of the 9th month, the first article about the impending publication of Nowhere Man: Gli ultimi giorni di John Lennon (Coniglio) appeared in the Italian press. And what's extraordinary about this story, that ran in Il Tirreno, is that the book's translator (and my Italian Avatar), Paolo Palmieri, is mentioned in the headline, which roughly translates as "John Lennon's Diaries Translated by Palmieri."

Never before have I seen a translator featured so prominently in an article about Nowhere Man. But in this case the credit is well deserved—without Paolo, there would be no Italian edition.

This is really a story about a local boy who’s made good. The article says that Paolo’s translation of this international bestseller, born of Lennon’s personal diaries, has brought merit to his hometown of Piombino.

Paolo says his translation is “an act of love for a musician who I’ve always loved,” and that he’d dreamed of going to New York to meet the ex-Beatle, but Lennon was murdered before he could make the trip.

Already on sale in some bookstores, Nowhere Man’s “official” publication day is September 22.

Venezuelan Interview

February 12, 2010

Tags: Yo Soy John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Mark David Chapman, E.A. Moreno-Uribe, Paúl Salazar Rivas

Yesterday, the Venezuelan arts journalist E.A. Moreno-Uribe posted an interview with me on his site, El Espectador Venezolano. I talk about Yoko Ono's sterilized perpetuation of the John Lennon myth, Lennon's assassin, Mark David Chapman, and a new Venezuelan play by Paúl Salazar Rivas, Yo Soy John Lennon (I Am John Lennon).