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.
Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) in On the Road. Courtesy IFC Films.
We saw On the Road last night, the faithful adaptation of Jack Kerouac's blockbusting 1957 novel/memoir. The film, starring Sam Riley as Sal Paradise/Kerouac and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassady was flawed, no question about it. Neither Riley nor Hedlund seemed to have what it takes to fully embody these two mythical characters who are credited with having launched the Beat Generation. But their acting was good enough, and I enjoyed the movie, mostly because it communicated a realistic sense of place and time--America in the late 1940s--and of Kerouac's struggle to become a writer.
Some interviewers have asked me about my influences as a writer, and I usually tell them Hunter Thompson, Henry Miller, and Philip Roth, a "holy trinity" who have profoundly influenced my writing style. But I tend not to mention Kerouac, even though, as readers of Beaver Street know, my nom de porn was Bobby Paradise, a name I chose as a tribute to Kerouac because I saw myself as kind of an X-rated Sal Paradise. Which is to say, the influence Kerouac had upon me was more lifestyle than writing style: When I discovered On the Road in the summer of 1970, I wanted to be Kerouac, and soon embarked on a hitchhiking odyssey that went on for seven years and took me through eastern Canada, Western Europe, all over the USA, and that I employed to get around Brooklyn because it was easier to hitch a ride than it was to wait for a bus or train.
And then there was the scroll, a Kerouacian method I embraced in the heat of transcribing John Lennon’s diaries. Aware that this was going to be a life-changing experience, I wanted to get it all down in my own diaries as I’d never done before. Using an IBM Selectric and a box of teletype paper, I pounded out thousands of words per day for over a year, an endless stream of single-spaced consciousness, some of which a guitarist I was friendly with at the time set to music: Before Lennon seeped into my brain, I wanted to be Kerouac…
Which is why watching On the Road last night set off a nostalgic Kerouacian reverie. We listened to Aztec Two-Step performing The Persecution and Restoration of Dean Moriarty, and I dug out my copy of Allen Ginsberg’s (Carlo Marx in the book and film) The Fall of America, and read from the section titled “Eligies for Neal Cassady 1968.” Ginsberg wrote:
Are you reincarnate? Can ya hear me talkin?/If anyone had the strength to hear the invisible,/And drive thru Maya Wall/you had it —
I wanted to be Neal, too, but that was too dangerous.
First of all, Happy New Year! I've been in St. Louis for an extended Christmas break. While there, I didn't write a word and I ate too much, which is what I usually do in St. Louis when I'm visiting my wife's family. Now it's time to get back into a New York state of mind.
The image to the left is a scan of the cover and cover flap of the diary volume I finished the other day. As regular readers know, I've been a compulsive diarist since 1977. My two books, Beaver Street and Nowhere Man, were both based, in part, on those diaries. To remind me what's in a particular diary, I paste images on the cover that relate to significant or memorable events that happened over the course of that volume. So, 20 years from now, when I look at Volume 51, I'll know that I spent much of 2012 promoting Beaver Street, and that I went to the new Yankee Stadium on August 4. (No, I didn’t pay $175 to watch the Yanks lose to Seattle. It was a corporate freebie courtesy of the legal firm my friend works for. And that little strip of text to the left of Roger Maris is the invitation to Bloomsday on Beaver Street.)
I’m writing about diaries now because for Christmas, my wife gave me a 2013 New Yorker desk diary, which I’ve christened Volume 52. In Nowhere Man, I write at length about how John Lennon kept his journals in New Yorker diaries. Though it seems as if this is something I might have done at least once over the past 33 years, I never have kept my journal in a New Yorker diary—for various reasons. I’ve always preferred to write in blank spiral notebooks because the New Yorker diaries offer only a limited amount of space for each day. (Lennon overcame this problem by pasting into his diary additional sheets of paper.) Also, while I was writing Nowhere Man, a process that went on for 18 years, I spent too much time in Lennon’s head and I didn’t especially want to go back there.
So, there you have it. I’ll be keeping my 2013 journal Lennon Style. It was bound to happen some year, I suppose. Why not this one?
This is the cover of Volume 50 of my diary, which I began on August 15, 2010 and completed November 9, 2011. The images and text on the cover are there to remind me of the significant events that occurred over the span of the volume. When I'm looking for something twenty years from now, I'll know that in this volume, two of my books were published, the Italian edition of Nowhere Man and the UK edition of Beaver Street. On one flap is some Italian Nowhere Man promotional copy. On the other flap is the badly stained Beaver Street cover. The stains are the work of my cat, who apparently freelances as a book critic. We often disagree.
That people continue to argue about whether or not I’m telling the truth in my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, 11 years after it was published, can only be seen as a good thing. Obviously, readers care about the book, even the ones who don’t believe me, and that, I dare say, is testament to Nowhere Man’s power. And even if I were to again state unequivocally that yes, I’m telling the truth—according to what I remember from reading Lennon’s diaries—it wouldn’t end the controversy.
In fact, I noticed the other day that a new online debate has erupted on the Steve Hoffman Music Forums. Between June 24 and June 29, there were 217 posts discussing the perennial question: Which book is more truthful, Nowhere Man or The Last Days of John Lennon, written by my former collaborator Fred Seaman, Lennon’s personal assistant at the time of his death?
I no longer participate in these debates because, as has been demonstrated every time I have taken part in one, even when people don’t know what they’re talking about, they believe what they want to believe, and nothing I can say will change their minds. Also, I’ve found that the most ignorant people are invariably the most abusive.
However, in this particular debate, a poster who calls himself “Matthew B” raised two interesting points that I will respond to… here, on my home turf. And in the service of freedom of expression, I invite him (or anybody else) to post their comments… here.
Referring to an old interview in which I said that in Nowhere Man, I couldn’t tell the story of Paul McCartney’s 1980 Japanese marijuana bust the way I wanted to for legal reasons, Matthew wrote, “If there’s any legal barrier to Rosen’s repeating the drug-bust rumor, it’s more likely fear of a libel suit.” (See posting 194.)
It had nothing to do with libel, Matthew. I would have liked to quote verbatim the four euphoric sentences John wrote in his diary when he learned McCartney was busted in Japan. But as I explain in the book, I don’t quote directly from the diary for copyright reasons.
And finally, Matthew raises a point that I’ve never seen mentioned anywhere else. “Rosen’s court testimony [in the Seaman trial],” he writes, “should not be looked at uncritically, but unlike Rosen’s and Seaman’s books, it was given under oath.” (See posting 206.)
Yes, Matthew, my court testimony was, indeed, given under oath. And if you were familiar with my testimony beyond what you might have read in the papers or seen online, that testimony was, pretty much, the first chapter of Nowhere Man, “John Lennon’s Diaries.”
An excerpt from my new piece on John Lennon's diaries, "Transcriptions from the Universe," has just been published in the online edition of Headpress 2.2. You can read it here. The complete 28-page article will soon be available in the printed edition of the journal. Stay tuned for more details.
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