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Far From Flatbush

#179 Interview

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. Read More 
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Everywhere E-Books Are Sold

If you haven't had a chance to download the Nowhere Man e-book, I'm happy to report that it's now available everywhere e-books are sold.

Below are links to Nowhere Man on the main online booksellers. Please note that if you've already bought the print edition on Amazon, you can download the updated e-book for 99 cents.

AMAZON

BARNES & NOBLE

iTUNES

KOBO

SCRIBD

SMASHWORDS

And if you don't want to pay for it, ask for the Nowhere Man e-book at your local library. They’ll pay for it. Read More 

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Res Ipsa Loquitur

For those of you not fluent in Latin or legalese, res ipsa loquitur means "the thing speaks for itself." And the following review of Nowhere Man, which I found today on Goodreads, does just that.

I received a copy of the galley to this book several years ago, before it was published. I could not put it down! Robert Rosen effectively delves into John Lennon’s dark side, but from a wholly analytical, non-judgmental perspective. Rather, Rosen affords an in-depth exploration of the complexities of Lennon's often-tortured psyche, with the insight and precision that only a seasoned journalist can provide. His writing is stark, intelligent and authoritative. I highly recommend this book. —Alissa Wolf

Having just released an updated 15th anniversary e-book edition of Nowhere Man, now available on Amazon (for the unbeatable “matchbook” price of 99 cents) and Smashwords, this review, to say the least, reminded me why the book has endured for those 15 years.

Thank you, Alissa Wolf! Read More 

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Stand By Me

Never have so many people, in so many places, done so much, for so long, to keep one book alive and relevant. Most of these people I've never met in person.

If the original publication of Nowhere Man was "like the end of the Vietnam war and I'm the Vietcong" (as I told M. A. Cassata when she interviewed me for Goldmine magazine in 2000), then the release of the e-book edition has been like a Ho Chi Minh Day parade celebrating 15 years of postwar survival.

A core group of supporters have been doing all they can to help me introduce the digital edition of Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon to a new generation of readers.

Louie Free, the book-loving host of The Louie Free Radio Show: Brainfood from the Heartland, remains a rare independent voice carrying on the nearly forgotten tradition of free-form radio. In early 2000, during our first interview, a scheduled 15-minute chat turned into a four-hour Nowhere Man talkathon. Since then, from his base in Youngstown, Ohio, Louie has interviewed me dozens of times, most recently on October 9, for Lennon’s 75th birthday. I’ll be back December 8, and you can listen live here. And be sure to tune in for the holidays, when Louie will be playing Mary Lyn Maiscott’s “Christmas classic” (his words) “Blue Lights.”

M. A. Cassata and I once worked for the same publishing company. She edited and wrote for rock magazines; I edited men’s mags. Now she runs The MacWire, where she’s posted an interview and an article about the e-book.

The passion of the Spanish-speaking world for Nowhere Man took me by surprise when the book was first published in that language, in 2003. Nowhere is that passion more evident than on 10, Mathew Street, a Beatles Website based in Madrid. To celebrate John Lennon’s 75th birthday and the release of the e-book, they’ve run an interview with me in English and Spanish.

Fifteen years after Lady Jean Teeters and I first spoke about John Lennon for her Absolute Elsewhere site, I’ve come to regard the interview as a classic—an empathetic conversation that took place just as my life was undergoing a radical transition. For the e-book edition, Jean has posted promos on AE and on History Unlimited, another site she runs. You can also connect with her on Facebook’s The Spirit of John Lennon page.

Daniel Zuckerman’s The Time Warped Hour podcast and Bryan Schuessler’s Shu-Izmz site and podcast are two recent arrivals to the circle of support. Stay tuned for links to their upcoming John Lennon shows.

And a special thanks to Chris Reeves who designed the cover, an homage to the original design by Celia Wiley; to Ann Schneider who helped me secure the rights to the cover photo; and to everybody else who’s stood by me over the years. You know who you are. If you don’t, you should look hereRead More 

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(Just Like) Starting Over

The new introduction to the 15th anniversary e-book edition of Nowhere Man, on sale tomorrow, in commemoration of John Lennon's 75th birthday, is titled "(Just Like) Starting Over." It's one of the many updated and revised sections of the book, which Amazon is offering for 99 cents to anybody who's bought the print edition on the site.

In the intro, I look back over the past 15 years, to the multitude of things that have changed in the world, in book publishing, and in my own life since Soft Skull Press released the original hardcover.

I also address the book’s critics, some of whom were driven into what I describe as “a state of spluttering apoplexy” by my “controversial” author’s note: “Nowhere Man is a work of investigative journalism and imagination.” I go into more detail about what, exactly, that sentence means.

Tomorrow, you can read the complete intro on Amazon. It begins like this:

What you’re now reading on your “device” is the latest incarnation of a book that was rejected by everybody before Soft Skull Press, a tiny independent operating out of a tenement basement on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, published it in July 2000.

New York that summer was a place where it was still possible for an underground entity like Soft Skull to exist. The city itself had not yet become a real-estate playpen for anonymous oligarchs who sheltered their fortunes in $100 million apartments in thousand-foot-tall glass towers. The Twin Towers and the economy had not yet collapsed. George W. Bush was not yet president. The U.S. had not yet invaded Iraq. People did not yet assume that every word they launched into the electronic ether was stored and possibly analyzed by the NSA. And the publishing industry had not yet been turned upside-down by e-books, piracy, and the Internet. There was no Twitter, no Facebook; there were no smartphones. I didn’t know what a blog was. It was, in short, the final moment before the Old World gave way to iWorld—and an obscure, middle-aged writer could publish a book exclusively as hardcover with a gritty indie who, through a combination of old-fashioned PR skills and relentless audacity, could ignite a conflagration of media attention that would send that book rocketing up best-seller lists in multiple countries and in multiple languages.
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The Censored Cover

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. Read More 
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The Pirates, the Price, and the Book of Numbers

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. Read More 
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Nowhere Man: the 15th Anniversary E-book

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. Read More 
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Throwback Thursday

Joyce Snyder, whose book, Mistress Pussycat, will be published imminently, was looking for some photos for her own Website when she uncovered these shots from a 1986 Swank Publications Christmas party at the home of our publisher, Chip Goodman. That's me in the yellow sweater. Two other people in this photo are pseudonymous "characters" in Beaver Street. (Hint: the face of one of them is obscured.)

I’ll send a PDF of the photo section that appeared in the first U.K. edition of Beaver Street to anybody who can identify those characters by their real names or pseudonyms. (Former employees of Swank Publications are not eligible to participate. The decision of the judges is final.)

Over in Facebook Land this is Throwback Thursday. So why not on the Sporadic Beaver, too? Read More 
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Because They Can

From The Wake Forest Journal of Business and Intellectual Property Law.
"It's a terrible thing," photographer Terry Bisbee wrote to me after she read my post on the book-pirating pandemic. "I find it hard to wrap my head around someone who would forsake the pleasure of ordering, buying & receiving a real book with its nice new book smell, cover art, and most important the author's CONTENT that they can curl up & read."

Previously unaware of the extent of the problem, she wondered what could be done.

Novelist Thomas Kennedy had been unaware of the pandemic, as well. After searching for his name and “free download,” he was surprised to find pirated copies of his books available online. He, too, wondered what could be done.

“Not much,” I told them. The Authors Guild, numerous high-profile authors, and publishers both corporate and independent have been wrestling with piracy for years. But the problem just keeps getting worse.

Meanwhile, the conglomerates that make money off piracy—the search engine companies with their ads and the monopolistic Internet providers with their breathtaking monthly bills (not to mention the major advertisers, like Citibank, Sprint, and Office Depot, that support sites like Mobilism)—have done nothing to stop it. They say that piracy is beyond their control, even though search engines are able to bury, and IPs are able to block, certain “adult” sites when they choose to.

We live in an age when anything available in a digital format—books, movies, music, video games—can be downloaded for free, and millions of people do so every day. It’s gotten to the point that the 32-million illegal downloads of Game of Thrones Season Five are looked upon as a measure of the show’s success.

Yes, occasionally someone on the Internet mentions a legitimate or quasi-legitimate reason for pirating books, such as: paperbacks are too expensive and college textbooks are grotesquely overpriced; you can only rent and not actually buy e-books from the major vendors, and they can repossess them if they want to; it only hurts the “evil” publishers if you pirate from dead authors; you buy more books than you steal, or download books that you wouldn’t normally buy; e-books are unavailable in your country; or you live on disability, cannot hold a physical book, and can barely afford to pay for medical care.

But for the most part, the Internet is full of absurd excuses and rationalizations for why people pirate books. Below is a compilation of those reasons, followed in most cases by my own comments, in italics. (Interestingly, people seem to have stopped posting this kind of stuff about two years ago. Maybe it’s all been said. Or maybe, in 2015, piracy has become so culturally ingrained, the need to justify it has become as unnecessary as the need to justify breathing.)

***

“Books have always been free to those who don’t want to pay for them. Since as far back as the 17th century, people too poor, or too cheap, to buy a book could walk into a public library and borrow it…. Pirate ebooks are just the 21st century equivalent of the lending library or of real-world book sharing, and—in all but the most egregious cases—can be safely ignored.” —Techcrunch.com

Libraries pay for books and replace them when they’re worn out. Authors, myself included, are thrilled to have their books in libraries. Maybe piracy could be ignored in 2011, when this piece was posted, but it can’t be ignored any longer. Piracy is one of the primary culprits among a multitude of perpetrators that are driving authors out of business.

“If your books are being pirated, then they’ve got something good going for them. Nobody shares stuff they don’t like. Don’t forget that the users doing the sharing are usually your biggest fans, too…. It’s not theft…. Most piracy is a minor civil crime… and it’s counted as infringement…. Everyone commits some level of piracy every day…. These days, copyright is so narrowly defined that just about anything a person does with a media file is infringement.” —Raynfall.com

Are you suggesting that passing a photocopied Dilbert cartoon around the office is comparable to downloading pirated editions of every book you want to read but don’t want to pay for?

“For some, it’s the only practical way they can access content, either because the item is not available any other way, or it costs far more than they can afford. And for others, it’s a protest against the evil hegemony of the film, music and book industries.” —Forbes.com

I’m sadly aware that the unavailability of an e-book edition of Nowhere Man has contributed to its piracy. But I was shocked (shocked!) to learn that the book’s California-based indie publisher, Quick American Archives, and Beaver Street’s London-based indie publisher, Headpress, are members of an evil hegemony.

“Publishing houses are greedy…. Sharing a book is great publicity for the author…. People who travel a lot like the convenience of ebooks, and if they already own the book in physical form they feel justified in getting a free copy…. Free sharing allows people to sample books.” —The Guardian

Book pirates are greedy. Pirating is not “great publicity for the author.” The exact opposite is true. Publicity leads to piracy. I do agree, however, that if you buy a new print edition of a book, you should, under most circumstances, be allowed to download the e-book edition for free or for a minimal price. Amazon already does this, offering $1.99 e-books to people who buy the print edition of certain books. Is it really necessary to point out that Amazon, Google, and many other “legitimate” sites allow people to sample books before they buy them?

“A lot of the reasons for book piracy amount to: ‘Because I want it.’… Obscurity is a fate worse than piracy.” —Terribleminds.com

Obscurity might be a fate worse than piracy for the tens of thousands of authors who give away their self-published e-books on Amazon and elsewhere, thereby negating the need for piracy. But the most-pirated authors are well known to begin with.

“I like to collect stuff…. I’ll never pay for an e-book.” —Teleread.com

The following series of comments were culled from a discussion on Reddit:

“I’m poor and I like to read, but I can’t pirate food, so I pirate everything else.”

Apparently you’re not too poor to pay for Internet access, a computer, and probably a smartphone, too. Have you considered the library?

“I don’t justify it. It’s wrong and I will keep doing it. If I really like a book though I will buy it.”

The percentage of people who buy books that they’ve already pirated is miniscule. You are the exception that proves the rule.

“I pirate stuff because I’m cheap.”

Which explains most piracy.

“The free flow of information, especially when it relates to books and other forms of learning, is a necessary step in the history of mankind. The future is here motherfuckers, knowledge is free on the internet, TAKE IT.”

Knowledge is not free. Authors pay for the knowledge you gain with the time they spend making it accessible and understandable. And entertainment isn’t free, either. I doubt anybody reads two of the most pirated authors—J. K. Rowling and Stephen King—for “knowledge.”

Bottom line: Downloading pirated books is a crime of opportunity. The opportunities to do so are limitless and the chances of being punished are nil. People download pirated books because they can. Read More 
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The Book-Piracy Pandemic

In 2013, best-selling author and then president of The Authors Guild Scott Turow published a major op-ed in The New York Times titled "The Slow Death of the American Author." In it, he said that on the three most popular search engines, of the first 28 listings in a search for "Scott Turow free e-books," 24 of them were pirate sites, all with paid ads appearing in the margins.

He compared this to a man standing on a street corner telling people where to buy stolen goods and collecting a small fee for his services, and also noted that piracy had virtually destroyed book publishing in Russia, where it "goes almost completely unpoliced."

In the two years since Turow’s essay appeared, the situation has grown significantly worse—it’s an epidemic that’s become a pandemic. I became aware of this about two months ago, when a flurry of publicity about Beaver Street led not to a modest uptick in sales (as might have been the case a year ago) but to an avalanche of e-mail “alerts” for sites offering free downloads of my books, one of which, Nowhere Man, isn’t even available as a legitimate e-book. At least one new pirate site sprang up every day—sometimes two-dozen new ones appeared in a single week.

Often, I’d click on a site just to see what it looked like, and many of them looked as slick as Amazon. One site, based in Russia, offered a forum where people could request pirated editions of specific titles, some of which they were willing to pay for! And though I am curious to see how good the pirated editions of my books are, I’ve never downloaded one, as this seems like an excellent way to get a computer virus.

In fact, I no longer click on the alerts, as the last time I did so, the link brought me to an attack site that uploaded malware to my computer.

As if book publishing weren’t discouraging enough on its own demerits, the piracy pandemic and the associated erosion of income has left me wondering why I should spend years writing another book, when, even if I’m lucky enough to get it published, it’ll be pirated—instantaneously if it’s popular enough.

What’s especially infuriating is that while U.K. Internet providers have blocked all “adult” sites, most of which are completely legal (you have to ask your IP to give you access), and search engine companies have made it harder to find certain adult sites, they claim there’s nothing they can do about piracy—that it’s a “whack-a-mole” proposition.

Which is true. But pirate sites are easy to recognize. They always contain such terms as “download,” “free,” “e-book,” and “pdf,” and often have “ru” (Russia) in the URL. Why a search engine can’t block these sites is beyond my comprehension. I can only assume they have no interest in doing so—because they continue to make money, unlike the authors whom they’re slowly driving out of business, just as Turow predicted. Read More 
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A Film We Made in 1971


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

It sounded like fun and I agreed to do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps some of you will now emerge from the mists of time to fill me in on what’s been happening for the past 40-plus years. I’m all ears. Read More 
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On Newsworthy Books, Richard Nixon, and John Lennon

Before Ozy called to talk about the history of pornography in America, I'd never heard of them. But that's not surprising. So fragmented and expansive is the media today, even a high-profile news site can slip beneath my radar.

In any case, adhering to my philosophy of treating like Oprah everybody who wants to talk about my books, I spoke at length to Ozy, and when they ran the story, "How Nixon Shaped Porn in America," about the connection between Watergate and Nixon's efforts to ban the film Deep Throat, I was amazed by the results.

Not only was Beaver Street prominently featured, but the story was shared a respectable 1,760 times (and counting) on Facebook; was published in the popular German tabloid Bild as “Mister President wollte eigentlich das Gegenteil ... Wie Nixon dem Porno zum Durchbruch verhalf” (roughly translated as “Mr. President wanted the opposite of it... how Nixon helped porn to its breakthrough”); and was cited in the Washington Post and Baltimore City Paper.

That Beaver Street has remained in the news for more than four years in an environment where just about everything is forgotten within 24 hours is nothing short of miraculous. But apparently, that’s how long it’s taken the media to catch on to one of the book’s central themes: The biggest crooks—notably Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Edwin Meese, and Charles Keating—cry “Ban pornography!” the loudest.

And speaking of books that people keep talking about long after publication, on Tuesday, July 21, at 10 P.M eastern time, and Saturday July 25, at 2:30 P.M. eastern time, the Reelz channel will broadcast the John Lennon episode of Hollywood Scandals, in which I discuss my Lennon bio, Nowhere Man. Click here to find the show on your cable or satellite system. Read More 
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Cold Case

Bill Bottiggi with porn star Colleen Brennan, circa 1985.
In Beaver Street I write about the unsolved murder of Bill Bottiggi, an editor who briefly worked at Swank Publications. At the time I wrote the book, nobody was certain why, exactly, Bottiggi had been killed. But there were a number of theories in circulation and I detailed one of them:

The probable motive for the murder, the police deduced, had to do with sex letters Bottiggi had solicited from hundreds of prisoners, most of whose names he’d gleaned from the Stag correspondence files. He’d promised these prisoners that he’d split with them whatever money he made selling their letters to an array of straight and gay porn mags that he contributed to regularly. But instead, Bottiggi kept all the money for himself—approximately $25,000. Apparently, one of these men, upon being paroled, tracked Bottiggi down to demand his payment—probably not more than a couple of hundred bucks—and when Bottiggi balked, proceeded to carve him up with a steak knife.

If this is, in fact, true will soon become known. Nearly a quarter century after committing the crime, the murderer has been caught. Though the information I have is vague and incomplete, this much I do know: The murderer was already in prison for an unrelated crime, and his DNA matched the DNA found on clothing he’d left at the scene of the murder.

As more information becomes available, I’ll post it here. Read More 
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I Buried Paul

If you get the reference in the title, then you're probably of a certain age--an age of turntables, vinyl LPs, and the Beatles as an ongoing musical enterprise.

If you're not of a certain age, you've still probably heard about a rumor that began in 1969. Some people believed that Paul McCartney was dead and the Beatles had replaced him with a look-alike so the fans wouldn't get upset. But because they were the Beatles, and couldn't resist playing Beatle games, they'd also left clues to his demise on their albums, both in the music and on the album covers.

One of the most famous clues can be found on the fadeout of John Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields Forever.” It sounds as if Lennon is saying, “I buried Paul.” (“I’m very bored,” is what he claims to have said.)


I mention this now because a site called Ranker is asking people to vote for the “most outlandish conspiracy theory” about the Beatles, and “Paul Is Dead” is among the 22 theories they’ve listed.

But so am I!

A Holocaust-denying conspiracy theorist has been insisting for years that I’m the CIA spymaster who ordered a hit on Lennon—or at least that’s what he seems to be saying if you delve deeply into his insane ramblings. It’s as if a conspiracy theorist is having my (Evil) Walter Mitty fantasies for me.

Ranker calls this theory “Robert Rosen, Author or Assassin?” And I have indeed buried Paul under a landslide of votes.

Yes, I am the #1 most outlandish Beatles conspiracy theory and Dead Paul is #2. This is like Bernie Sanders getting the nomination over Hillary Clinton.

So, I’d like to thank all the people who voted for me, and my campaign manager, Mary Lyn Maiscott. But keep in mind that this is only a fast start, and as long as Ranker exists, people can keep voting. Which means if Live Paul ever rallies his base for Dead Paul, “Robert Rosen: Author or Assassin?” will go the way of Michael Dukakis.

In the meantime, call me Jackal. Read More 
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A Taste of Publicity

Despite a lack of Harry Potter-like sales and the absence of my name on celebrity A-lists, I've still managed to publish two critically acclaimed books.

That's yesterday’s news.

In 2015, in order for me to get another deal, an agent must submit my book pre-reviewed and pre-publicized.

Recently, filmmaker Michael Nirenberg, best known for his Hustler magazine documentary, Back Issues, asked if he could read my just-completed novel, Bobby in Naziland. The book is about growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 60s, in the aftermath of World War II and in the shadow of the Holocaust.

Nirenberg liked it enough to interview me for The Huffington Post. It’s Bobby in Naziland’s first taste of publicity.

Thus begins the long journey to publication. Glad you’re along for the ride. Read More 
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15 Years Ago Today...

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. Read More 
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The Key to John Lennon's Consciousness

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. Read More 
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Let Us Now Praise Passionate Amateurs

It's not coverage in The New York Times that keeps books like Beaver Street alive and vital four years after publication. It's the passionate amateurs, writing about what they love, who spread the word. One such writer recently posted about Swank magazine on his site, Pulp Informer, and raised a number of questions about Beaver Street.

I contacted the writer, suggested he read the book, and told him that he was well qualified to receive a review copy. He reached out to Headpress and they sent him one.

His unabashed review, illustrated with a number of photos I’d never seen (like the two above), expresses his profound appreciation of Beaver Street.

If the publishing industry is to survive as a viable, profit-making institution, it’s the multitude of sites like Pulp Informer that they can thank. Read More 
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Some Days I Think About Word Counts

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea: 24,191 words

Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany's: 26,433 words

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: 27,622 words

Thomas Mann, Death in Venice: 28,770 words

Joan Didion, Play it as it Lays: 32,482 words

Albert Camus, The Stranger: 36,451 words (Translated from French to English by Stuart Gilbert)

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness: 37,746 words

Saul Bellow, Seize the Day: 38,816 words

Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John: 41,909 words

Robert Rosen, Bobby in Naziland: 44,527 words

Lorrie Moore, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?: 45,361 words

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea: 45,499 words

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby: 47,104 words

Paula Fox, Desperate Characters: 47,739 words Read More 
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Mistress Pussycat

If you read Beaver Street, then you probably took note of a character I called "Pam Katz," whom I've often written about on this blog. (I used pseudonyms for all the non-public figures in the book.) Now Pam Katz, who is really Joyce Snyder, has written her own book, Mistress Pussycat: Adventures With Submissive Men In The World of Femdom, which Headpress is publishing on September 7. You can preorder the book on Amazon. (The cover you see here will be the actual cover.) And you can get more information about it on her under-construction but still-worth-checking-out Website.

I worked with Joyce for 15 years at Swank Publications. She was one of the rare people at that company who was a total professional and always conducted herself with the utmost integrity. So when she asked me to review Mistress Pussycat, which you’ll be hearing a lot about here and elsewhere in the months to come, I was happy to do so. This is what I had to say:

Mistress Pussycat is a disturbingly honest, highly arousing, laugh-out-loud-funny memoir by cat-loving career pornographer Joyce Snyder. At age 60, after half a lifetime spent cranking out low-rent stroke books and X-rated films, she embarks on a madcap journey of erotic self-discovery and learns the true nature of her own sexuality—she’s a “femdom,” a woman who wants to enslave men. Her quest for the perfect, obediently worshipful male is an eye-opening tour through the demented demimonde of BDSM, a secret world barred to the “vanilla”—anybody not into BDSM—featuring “adult babies,” “pony parties,” “pain sluts,” “pay pigs,” human furniture, masochists begging to be publicly humiliated, dominatrices expert in the art of testicular torture, and men who want only to suffer forevermore as naked “slave beasts,” their penises caged in diabolical chastity devices. Snyder’s sharply drawn portraits of the more than a dozen torment-craving “subs” who audition for her ministrations are frighteningly real, well written, and well researched, and because she experienced or witnessed everything she so skillfully describes, it’s hotter than Fifty Shades of Grey. Reading Mistress Pussycat is a literary pussy-whipping… and you’ll learn a lot about cats, too. Read More 
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Pinellas Prison Blues (and Oranges)

Gene Gergorits is not Nelson Mandela, and even his staunchest supporters say that it's "pretty much impossible to spin in any positive way" the charge against him--unlawful sexual activity with a minor--under which he's currently being held in Florida's Pinellas County jail, awaiting trial.

Florida, the land of Stand Your Ground, a law most rational people recognize as legalizing murder, is a state that boasts the fourth-highest number of executions in the United States. It’s also a state run by a climate-change-denying governor, Rick Scott, who, in his previous gig as chief executive of Columbia/HCA, a healthcare mega-giant, oversaw the largest Medicare fraud in history. The company (though not Scott himself), admitted to 14 felonies and was fined $1.7 billion, the largest such fine ever levied in the U.S.

So, let’s call Florida what it is: a vengeful, bloodthirsty state run by a chief executive who’s lucky that he’s not doing hard time in a Federal penitentiary, and a state where such notions as the “rule of law,” “justice,” and even “science” mean what those in power want them to mean.

In short, when you’re talking about the Sunshine State, it would be unwise to make any assumptions about the guilt or innocence of those who occupy a prison cell and those who occupy the executive mansion. Or, if you must make an assumption, stick to a safe one: The occupant of the executive mansion has more money than the occupant of the prison cell—because it’s been well-established that Florida is at the forefront of the American ideal of justice for the rich. Therefore, I would not dismiss the theory currently circulating among those paying attention to The State of Florida vs. Gene Gregorits that prosecutors railroaded Gene as an “undesirable,” somebody not welcome in their God-fearing fiefdom, parts of which will soon be underwater. (Visit Miami Beach while you still can.)

Gene chose Florida as a place to live in bohemian semi-poverty because he likes the beach, he detests cold weather, and the cost of living is significantly cheaper than, say, in L.A. But lack of money is only one contributing cause of Gene’s current nightmare. Anybody who followed his pre-incarceration Facebook feed, a litany of impotent rage, threats of self-mutilation, and reports about his ailing cat, Sam, would have seen the obvious: These were the desperate words of a man headed for an insane asylum, prison, and/or early death.

Desperation, of course, is endemic to writing. Ernest Hemingway and Hunter Thompson blew their brains out—and they’d achieved a level of commercial and critical success that’s probably no longer attainable. That’s what the book business can do to people, especially to writers like Gene who are not “brand names,” who dare to cultivate a distinctive voice, and who refuse to write plot-driven genre fiction or nonfiction that defies easy pigeonholing in a commercial category.

Gene, having aggressively rejected all the conventions of mainstream publishing, instead took a uniquely American path: He formed his own imprint, Monastrell, exclusively for his own books. And though Monastrell has put out 18 books and Gene has met with some success, including an interview on Vice.com that briefly sent Dog Days: Volume One rocketing up the Amazon charts, this venture has simply not generated enough cash for Gene to buy himself some Florida Justice.

So, he sits in his Pinellas County prison cell, doing what he can to hang on to what remains of his sanity—he writes books, and Monastrell, currently being run by his supporters, publishes them. Since he’s been in jail, he’s written Stretch Marks, a full-length memoir. This, in itself, is an extraordinary achievement. The Orange Woman: Volume I ($6.99) is a 27-page excerpt from Stretch Marks.

In The Orange Woman, Gene flashes back and forth between the early 1980s and the recent past. But he primarily focuses on the “vicious” winter of 1983, when he was a “sexually perverse child of seven” living in financial and cultural poverty, in rural Pennsylvania, with his emotionally unstable mother, Kathleen, who works a low-paying job at an IBM plant, and his sketchily described younger brother, Matt.

The orange woman is Naomi Fairbanks, so-called because of an artificial tanning product that has turned her skin “the somber orange of baked carrots.” She’s an inbred local “creature,” living in a trailer park, whom Kathleen hires to provide childcare—it’s all she can afford.

Naomi’s dialogue is rendered phonetically—Yer warnt serm cawfee?—and this is among the multitude of vividly conjured sounds, sights, tastes, smells, and sensations of a distant time and place that gives the reader a clear sense of the fucked-up situation Gene escaped from, and explains to some degree why he now finds himself in a Pinellas County prison cell.

The Orange Woman is an hors d’oeuvre that leaves the reader hungry for the full meal, and I can only hope that no matter what happens, Gene continues writing and publishing. For his is a voice that is, indeed, worth preserving. Read More 
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How I Spent the Winter

One of the problems with writing a book and then preparing it for submission to publishers is that it's an extraordinarily time-consuming process. Take into account that I also have a demanding freelance gig, and there are simply not enough hours in the week to tend to blogging, Facebooking, and tweeting, at least if I want to have something resembling a life. Which is why it's been two months since I've posted anything new on this blog. But I am still here and I know some people have missed me.

So, aside from the book, what’s been happening since January 12? Here are a half-dozen highlights:

Like everybody else in the northeast, I’ve been getting through the winter, which can’t end soon enough, though I’ve not been letting the cold or the snow interfere with my daily walks by the Hudson River, which on some days might be mistaken for the Northwest Passage.

My wife and I spent a week in Florida, visiting my mother and being tourists in Miami. It was warmer there, I went swimming every day, and at no point was I forced to stand my ground.

For a brief moment, Beaver Street was the #1 porn book on Amazon Germany and Nowhere Man was the #1 Beatles book on Amazon Canada. Is it too soon to declare them both cult classics?

Quadrant, a conservative Australian literary journal, cited Nowhere Man in an essay comparing John Lennon to Russell Brand. The conservative media’s 15-year embrace of my work, using it to prove whatever point they’re trying to prove, continues to be a source of astonishment.

In my blog post about Charlie Hebdo, I wrote about the artist who, in the 1970s, had drawn a pornographic cartoon as a way of expressing his discontent with the Catholic Church. I’d published the drawing in Observation Post, the City College newspaper I was editing at the time. Major controversy ensued. Well, the artist read the post, and contacted me. We got together for the first time since 1974. He’s still an artist. And he’s still crazy after all these years. But so am I.

I woke up one morning to find that the porn star Stoya, whom the Village Voice had described on their cover as “The Prettiest Girl in New York,” had mentioned Beaver Street in a blog post. If I could have picked three people on planet Earth to read and appreciate Beaver Street, Stoya would have been among them, alongside Philip Roth and Joan Didion. So, I tweeted her a thank you and she tweeted back, “Thank you for writing it. Amazing glimpse into the adult industry.” Say what you will about Stoya, but I’ll say this much: The girl gives good blurb. Read More 
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An Open Letter to G. Barry Golson: Take 3

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 Read More 

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J'aurais Pu Être Charlie (I Coulda Been Charlie)

Had I gone to college in France, I'd say the odds are pretty good that I'd have ended up working for Charlie Hebdo. It would have been a natural progression.

Instead, I went to the City College of New York and joined Observation Post, or OP, as this student newspaper was known. Founded in 1947 by returning World War II veterans, OP by the 1960s had evolved into the "alternative" paper, a radical journal of anti-war politics and rock 'n' roll, kind of a Rolling Stone-like option for those who found the "responsible" New York Times-like Campus to be exceedingly dull.

By the time I’d joined the staff, in 1971, one year after Charlie Hebdo was founded, OP, as I describe it in Beaver Street, “had mutated into a blunt instrument primarily used to test the limits of the First Amendment…. a student-funded incubator for an emerging punk sensibility soon to burst into full flower; it was an anarchist commune whose members performed improvisational experiments with potent images and symbols designed to provoke, or to ‘shock the bourgeoisie.’”

In short, we could have flown our freak flag under the Charlie Hebdo slogan, journal irresponsible (irresponsible newspaper).

In 1974, the staff elected me editor-in-chief. Early in my tenure, an artist who was raised Roman Catholic submitted his latest drawing, a reaction, he said, to his primary school education at the hands of “sadistic nuns.” It was an artfully crude cartoon of a nun masturbating with a crucifix.

Obviously, it was intended to provoke, but I also thought it was a legitimate artistic statement. Though many on the staff were less than thrilled by the cartoon, the only people who voiced objections to its publication said that the image was self-indulgent and clichéd, a rip off of the crucifix-defiling scene in The Exorcist, a popular film at the time. The possibility that somebody might want to do us physical harm should we publish such a drawing was not even considered.

So I ran the nun as a stand-alone cartoon, my sole motivation being to allow an artist whose work I liked to express his well-earned anger towards The Church, which I had no strong feelings about one way or the other.

And of course we got a reaction, though it wasn’t the usual irate letters from radical feminists accusing OP of exploiting women, as had happened when, in an earlier issue, my predecessor published a cover photo of a couple copulating on the couch in the OP office. Rather, the masturbating nun cartoon provoked Senator James Buckley of New York to denounce it as “a vicious and incredibly offensive anti-religious drawing” and demand the expulsion of the students responsible for it, the censoring of every college newspaper in America, and a Justice Department investigation of OP to “protect the civil liberties of all students who are offended by pornography.” This, in turn, provoked the Times to run an editorial defending OP in the name of the First Amendment, which put an end to the crisis.

In other words, a religiously “offensive” cartoon did what it was intended to do: spark a passionate debate.

Five years later, the cartoon inspired another OP editor to don a nun’s habit and have herself photographed masturbating with a crucifix as a tribute to the original drawing. Then, in a gratuitous act of pure punk provocation, she ran those photos in OP. In Beaver Street, I describe what happened next:

“[A] jeering mob of students affiliated with the Reverend Sun Myung Moon burned 10,000 copies of OP in a South Campus bonfire;… the City University chancellor publicly apologized to Cardinal Cooke for the photos; the Board of Higher Education demanded the criminal prosecution of OP’s editors on obscenity charges; the New York City Council threatened to gut the budget of the entire City University system unless something was done about OP; [and] the City College student body voted to kill off OP once and for all.”

The point I’m making here is that despite two attempts to provoke a reaction with crude and pornographic religious imagery—the second attempt more shocking and gratuitous than the first—there was no physical violence directed at the OP staff and there were no threats of physical violence. Though I’m sure many people wished those responsible for the cartoon and photos dead, the people who hated the images responded with words, political acts, and their own symbolism—burning the newspaper.

So, what does it mean that students in the 1970s could publish outrageous religious and political satire and not have to worry about being assassinated by a fundamentalist death squad? I suppose it means that I came of age as a writer and editor in a more tolerant and possibly more civilized time.

Unfortunately, there was no American equivalent of Charlie Hebdo for me to graduate to. Yet, in my books and other writings, I continue to nurture the spirit that OP infused in me, the spirit that very much lives on at Charlie.

I also do freelance work in the production department of a magazine that occasionally indulges in satire and has just moved into the gleaming 21st-century tower known as the World Trade Center. Though these things are certainly a matter of concern, I refuse to live in fear, and that’s the best tribute I can pay to the staff of Charlie. Read More 
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'Twas the Day After Christmas

I'm not in the habit of discussing here, at least on a daily basis, the book I'm currently working on. But there are references to Bobby in Naziland on this blog dating back to October 2011, so it's hardly a secret that I've been writing a novel. And if you were one of the people who attended Bloomsday on Beaver Street II, in 2013, then you heard me read the opening pages of the book and have a sense of what it's about: a child's view of Brooklyn in the 1950s and '60s.

I haven’t posted here in nearly four weeks because I’ve been working on revisions for Bobby in Naziland, and it’s taken up what little free time I’ve had. Also, in the middle of doing those revisions, the British government passed a new censorship law, and The Independent, apparently fans of Beaver Street, asked me to write about it. The piece I wrote, “No Female Ejaculation, Please, We’re British,” went viral and was then picked up by Dagospia, an Italian political-gossip site. This was one of my two major-media highlights of 2014. (The other was an appearance on the John Lennon episode of Hollywood Scandals, which ran multiple times on the Reelz Channel.)

So, here it is, Boxing Day, Henry Miller’s birthday, and the day after Christmas—the traditional time to reflect on the year gone by. Judging by the horror that smacks me in the face every morning when I foolishly pick up the newspaper because it’s lying outside my door, 2014 seems to have been little more than a series of catastrophies. No need to innumerate them here; we both know what they are. Which is why I’m going to take a moment to feel especially grateful that I’ve gotten through this year relatively unscathed. Also, I’m going to put aside my cynicism for a day or two and look to 2015 with a sense of hope.

Call me crazy.

In the meantime, happy holidays to all, and I’ll see you next year, if not sooner! Read More 
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Lennon Tripleheader

As always happens around the anniversary of John Lennon's murder, which occurred 34 years ago on December 8, people want to talk to me about my Lennon bio, Nowhere Man. This year, three interviews are on tap.

The first one, tomorrow, Wednesday, December 3, at 7 PM ET, will be a live interview on The Time Warped Hour, Daniel Zuckerman’s radio show broadcast out of Purchase College. You can listen live here, listen to a podcast here, or get more information about the show on its Facebook page.

Also on December 3, at 11 PM ET, the Reelz Channel (128 TWC and 233 Verizon, in Manhattan) will rebroadcast the Lennon episode of Hollywood Scandals. Look for me in the opening minutes of the show and again in the final part, when I discuss Lennon’s years of seclusion in the Dakota, and his killer, Mark David Chapman. Hollywood Scandals is available coast-to-coast in the U.S. at 10 PM CT, 9 PM MT, and 8 PM PT. Click here to find the Reelz Channel on your local cable or satellite system, and remember to set your DVRs, as the show is not available on demand.

Finally, on Sunday, December 14, at 6 PM ET, I’ll be appearing live on Octavio Cavalli’s recently launched Internet radio show, Lennoncast. Broadcasting out of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Cavalli, author of the comprehensive Spanish-language Lennon bio Bendito Lennon, will be interviewing me in English and simultaneously translating our conversation into Spanish, which is a pretty good trick. You can listen live here, or download the podcast here.

Hope you can tune in to one or all of these shows. Read More 
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The Mike Nichols Reference in Beaver Street

Mike Nichols, circa 1970, the year he directed Catch-22.
Mike Nichols, best known as the director of such films as The Graduate, Catch-22, and Carnal Knowledge, died yesterday, at 83. Below, I give you the scene from Beaver Street, set in New York City's Hellfire Club during a Screw magazine Halloween party, in 1985, that references Nichols.

I wandered into a back room and saw Buck Henry, the frequent Saturday Night Live guest host, standing by himself and observing with clinical detachment a bleached-blond dominatrix walloping a naked man with a riding crop.

“Come here often?” I asked Henry.

“I’m Buck,” he said, shaking my hand in a firm, businesslike manner. “Yeah, I’ve been to Hellfire once before. But I was expecting a classier crowd tonight—since Al invited me.” He gestured towards the man writhing on the floor. “Is this the kind of stuff that usually goes on here?”

“I wouldn’t know,” I said. “I’ve only been here once before myself, and very briefly at that. But I hear in the old days before AIDS, you could walk in any night and find a half-dozen piss drinking orgies—stuff like that. I can’t believe people are dying now for a little fun they had ten years ago.”

“The statute of limitation for these things should be five years,” Henry said, just as the dominatrix whacked her slave’s penis with a wicked shot that made us both wince.

“Absolutely,” I agreed, unable to take my eyes off the S&M show. “But you’ve got to admit, this is something you don’t see every day. It’s like a scene from Tropic of Cancer.

He nodded and said, “I met Henry Miller once at a Hollywood party. He was there with Mike Nichols. All he wanted to talk about was The Graduate. All I wanted to talk about was Quiet Days in Clichy.

I knew that Henry had written the screenplay for The Graduate, which Nichols had directed, as well as creating with Mel Brooks the classic sitcom Get Smart. “What are you doing now?” I asked. “Writing for Screw?”

“I’m waiting for my mother to die first,” he said. Read More 
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We Will Fight Them on the Web

I've had my issues with censorship in the past, though never with the U.K. England has always been a good place for me professionally--both in pornography and literature. It was British photographers, like Donald Milne, Steve Colby, and John Lee-Graham, who provided me with the material that transformed D-Cup into a cash cow (so to speak), thus igniting my career as an editor of "adult" magazines. And it was the BBC and British publications, like the Times of London, Uncut, and Mojo, that embraced Nowhere Man as serious literature and were instrumental in sending the book rocketing up best-seller lists. And it was Headpress, the London-based indie, that took on Beaver Street (where you can read about Milne, Colby, and Lee-Graham) after every publisher in the U.S. had deemed the book unworthy of publication.

So I was surprised last year when England became a new front in an ongoing Beaver Street censorship battle. The problem wasn’t with the book itself, but rather with this Website.

CNBC adult-entertainment-industry reporter Chris Morris explains what happened in his piece “No Porn Please, We’re British.”

The article describes how British Prime Minister David Cameron had announced that the four largest Internet service providers in the U.K. were, by the end of 2013, going to begin blocking all porn sites. If a costumer wanted to look at smut, then he’d have to request that the filters be disabled.

“Obviously people are not going to want to do that,” I told Morris. “People just don’t want to come out in public and say ‘I want to look at porn.’ A lot of people who do look at porn are inhibited, shy people.”

In response to Cameron’s statement that access to online porn is “corroding childhood,” I told Morris that kids have always found a way to circumvent rules meant for their protection and if they “want to look at pornography, they usually figure out how to do it."

When the porno filters were turned on, towards the end of 2013, the impact on this Website was immediate: traffic from the U.K. dropped off by 80 percent.

Even though this is not a porn site, and sites in the U.K. with far more explicit material were not being blocked, I thought there was nothing I could do about it. So I ignored what was happening and quietly hoped that the Brits would come to their senses.

Then, two weeks ago, I received several messages from readers in the U.K. telling me that they were unable to connect with this site. Something had changed and I decided to investigate.

Using the Website Blocked, I was able to determine that five major U.K. ISPs were blocking me. Blocked also provided contact information for the appropriate administrators of these ISPs, and I wrote to them.

“Robertrosennyc.com is a site dedicated to literature, publishing, and current affairs,” I said, “and you are improperly blocking me.”

Unlike their U.S. corporate counterparts—such as a certain mega-conglomerate that made the print edition of Beaver Street unavailable and initially stonewalled all attempts to communicate with them—these major U.K. corporations were responsive.

“Are there any words etc. on the Website which may be deemed sensitive to a young audience, Robert?” one of them inquired.

“No,” I replied. (Though I was tempted to say, “Yeah, Margaret Thatcher.”)

They were also reasonable. Within a week, every site but one—Talk Talk Kidsafe (yeah, I get it)—had removed their block.

England, I forgive you. Read More 
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If He Were 64



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. Read More 
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