In 2016, at the age of 63, Jerry Stahl, a writer best known for his addiction memoir Permanent Midnight and his work on TV sitcoms like Alf, was contemplating suicide. His marriage and career had fallen apart; he'd been diagnosed with hepatitis C; doctors had found a suspicious mass on one of his kidneys; and a botched surgery had left him "wearing a bag" for what he thought would be the rest of his life. But instead of jumping off a bridge, as he was planning to do, he chose to find a reason to continue living. Stahl decided to go to "Naziland" to take a guided tour of concentration camps in Germany and Poland. He wanted to come "face to face with the Giant Maw of Hell" and experience up close "the darkest stain on humanity." This, he thought, would allow him to put his own problems in perspective.
He then wrote a book about it.
In 1956, at the age of four, I became aware I was living in a place where people who'd survived the concentration camps of Germany and Poland were everywhere—in the stores, in the streets, on the subway. Some of my neighbors were mutilated, and so many others, more than I could count, had those blue numbers tattooed on their forearms. Between the concentration camp survivors and the army veterans like my father, who'd fought the Nazis, not a day passed when I didn't hear somebody talking about Hitler and Germany. It was as if World War II hung like a mass hallucination over Flatbush and other large swaths of Brooklyn. William Styron, who spent a few months in Flatbush in 1949, noticed it too and set his autobiographical Holocaust novel, Sophie's Choice, in a rooming house where he and the title character both lived, across the street from my grade school.
In an effort to make sense of what I'd experienced as a child but had blotted from my memory for most of my life, at the age of 63 I began writing a book about Flatbush, a neighborhood I'd come to think of as "Naziland."
A Brooklyn Memoir is a journey back to a metaphorical Naziland.
That Stahl's Nein, Nein, Nein! (Akashic Books, Brooklyn) and my book, A Brooklyn Memoir (Oil on Water Press, London), are being published two days apart, on July 5 and 7, by different publishers in different countries, is hardly a coincidence. With the youngest surviving World War II veterans in their 90s, and the youngest surviving concentration camp inmates in their 80s (two people born in Auschwitz are known to be alive), these two books, mirror images of each other, are part of a sudden outpouring of literature, film, and journalism about the Holocaust and the war while they remain in living memory.
The most recent example, the HBO movie The Survivor, directed by Barry Levinson, is based on the true story of Harry Haft, played by Ben Foster, an Auschwitz inmate who survives by performing in to-the-death boxing matches with other prisoners for the amusement of his Nazi captors. After the war, Haft resettles in Brooklyn, among a multitude of fellow survivors, and becomes a professional boxer with a bad case of PTSD.
Films such as Dara of Jasenovac, from Serbia, about the Jasenovac concentration camp; The Auschwitz Report, from Slovakia, about an escape from Auschwitz; and L'equilibrista con la stella (The tightrope walker with the star), from Italy, about a circus performer who hides a Jewish girl from the Nazis, were released in 2021.
A casual perusal of any news site confirms that this global outpouring is a trend that's gathering momentum. The periodicals of April (coincidentally the month of Hitler's birth) and early May (coincidentally the month of Germany's surrender) contained the following headlines:
"Harald Jähner: The German author on struggling to forgive his parents' generation" —The Guardian, April 9
"They Are the Heirs of Nazi Fortunes, and They Aren't Apologizing" —The New York Times, April 19
"Adolf Hitler 'had Jewish origins', claims Russian minister Sergei Lavrov in rant" —Sky News, May 1
"My Great-Uncle, The Holocaust's First Jewish Victim" —The Atlantic, May 5
The war in Ukraine and a rising tide of neo-Nazism, Trumpism, and Holocaust denial seems to have inspired a need to produce accounts of 80-year-old atrocities while eyewitnesses still walk the earth. In Nein, Nein, Nein! and A Brooklyn Memoir, Stahl and I—Jewish writers born one year apart—have immersed ourselves in the details of those atrocities.
One of the eeriest resemblances between the books involves our descriptions of the freezing/thawing "medical" experiments the Nazis were so fond of conducting.
One of the eeriest resemblances between the books involves our descriptions of the freezing/thawing "medical" experiments the Nazis were so fond of conducting. The ostensible purpose of "The Treatment of Shock From Prolonged Exposure to Cold, Especially in Water," as the experiments were bureaucratically known, was to determine how long it took a man to die in freezing water. The answer according to Dr. Sigmund Rascher, who was in charge of the experiments and guarded his turf jealously: 80 minutes to 6 hours if the subject was naked; 6 to 7 hours if he was clothed.
From Nein, Nein, Nein!, when Stahl is touring Dachau:
Another of Rascher's ideas was to enlist the aid of prostitutes, often Romani ladies plucked from the women's concentration camp at Ravensbrück. The doctor's idea was to press the poor, unconscious individual's body between the females for a slow "body massage." This last, for reasons we can probably surmise, was so appealing to Rascher, he brought in Himmler to observe the proceedings.
From A Brooklyn Memoir, when I'm describing the Eros/Thanatos thrill of reading, at age eight, William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich:
Naked men were put outside in sub-zero temperatures and doused with cold water every hour until they stopped screaming. Then, on the verge of death, they were brought inside so Nazi doctors could conduct "warming experiments"—from which they concluded that the best way to thaw out a frozen man was to put him in bed with one or more naked women, and let the women's body heat warm him as they had "intercourse." The doctors also determined through repeated testing that one naked woman unthawed a man faster than two, because, they deduced, a "chilled man" and one woman were both less inhibited and clung more closely to each other during the sexual act.
Similar descriptions, often laced with dark humor, occur throughout both books and demonstrate one effect the Holocaust had on an overlooked segment of the post–World War II generation. While literature about the trauma of children born to Holocaust survivors, like Art Spielgelman's Maus, proliferates, Nein, Nein, Nein! and A Brooklyn Memoir (originally titled Bobby in Naziland) are the only books I'm aware of about those of us born in the late 1940s and early 1950s who had no family connection to Holocaust survivors yet were unable to escape the trauma. Because if you grew up Jewish in a Jewish neighborhood in those early postwar years, the Holocaust was an unavoidable reality that you were veritably marinated in—I've known what Auschwitz meant for almost as long as I've understood language.
Stahl and I both became obsessed with the mechanics of the Final Solution—the trains, the gas chambers, the crematoria.
He grew up in Pittsburgh and writes about how his father, who died by suicide when Stahl was a teenager, had escaped from Lithuania at age 10, after his own father was killed in a pogrom, but never spoke of his "missing years"—which led to Stahl's feeling a "nameless guilt" because he had it so easy while his father had it so hard.
My father, an infantry veteran who'd participated in the liberation of a slave labor camp, never spoke to me in detail about what he'd experienced, despite my persistent questions. But beyond my proximity to a bitter man haunted by what he'd witnessed were the stories my mother told me. Obsessed with the need for Adolf Eichmann, organizer of the Final Solution, to pay the ultimate price for his crimes against humanity, she was more than willing to discuss the things my father refused to talk about—like the slave labor camp he liberated and how the gas chambers worked.
Because so many Flatbushians were either war veterans or Holocaust survivors, a significant portion of the population—as Levinson shows in The Survivor—were suffering from some form of PTSD (as it was not yet called). And that trauma inevitably filtered down to those of us who'd not experienced the traumatizing events firsthand. The PTSD showed itself in the rabid hatred and bigotry of both adults and children towards anybody outside their tribe. And it showed itself in the perpetual violence among the kids, who routinely beat the shit out of each other for no discernible reason.
The two books often alight upon the same Holocaust-adjacent cultural touchstones—the Three Stooges, for example.
The two books often alight upon the same Holocaust-adjacent cultural touchstones—the Three Stooges, for example.
In A Brooklyn Memoir, I cite the Stooges' Jewishness, mention that Moe Howard went to my high school, Erasmus (he dropped out), and describe the live appearance the threesome made at a local movie theatre packed with Stooge-crazy kids to promote their 1962 film The Three Stooges in Orbit.
In Nein, Nein, Nein!, Stahl cites a 1940 Stooges short, You Nazty Spy. Moe plays Hitler, Larry plays propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, and Curly plays Gestapo head Hermann Goring (Field Marshall Gallstone in the movie). The Stooges considered it one of their finest films—certainly superior to The Three Stooges in Orbit—and it was the first film to satirize Hitler, released nine months before Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator.
Then there's Donald Trump—because these days you can hardly write a book about Nazis without referencing him. In his cameo appearance in A Brooklyn Memoir, I say that the twice-impeached president grew up in Queens, where he was exposed to an even more virulent strain of bigotry than I was exposed to in Flatbush. Trump's feral genius is his Hitler-like ability to transform that hatred into political power.
Stahl describes Trump as "an anti-Semitic sleazeball" and blames him for "fucking up" his book. When he began writing Nein, Nein, Nein!, in 2016, Trump was not yet president. By the time Stahl had finished writing it, in 2021, he says, his Trump vs. Hitler comparisons felt dated and played out. He also notes that the Trump-loving Proud Boys and other neo-Nazis and white supremacists are but pale imitations of the real thing—though he sees no difference between the forced hysterectomies ICE, under Trump, performed on migrant women and the Nazis' forced hysterectomies performed in concentration camps.
Stahl and I took different roads for different reasons to arrive at the same destination: Naziland. His visit to the real thing left him feeling only "an overwhelming emptiness." When I returned to my own metaphorical Naziland, I felt sadness, but it was tinged with nostalgia for the streets of my youth.
A Brooklyn Memoir is available for pre-order on Amazon and all other online booksellers.
A Brooklyn Memoir Interview
In the final part of my interview with author Marshall Terrill, we discuss A Brooklyn Memoir, my unsentimental journey through 1950s and 60s Flatbush, to be published by Oil on Water Press, July 7. We also talk about the as-yet-untitled book I'm currently working on, about America in the 1970s. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Marshall Terrill: Let's move to your new book, A Brooklyn Memoir, which is your most personal work to date. It captures so beautifully a special moment in time and a special place in America. What was the inspiration to write this particular book?
Robert Rosen: The opening pages of Beaver Street take place in my father's candy store in 1961. I knew I'd just scratched the surface with those few paragraphs, and I wanted to explore this time and place in more depth. There was something happening in that Brooklyn neighborhood—Flatbush—in the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s that was worth writing about. So I spent a couple of years writing down everything I could remember.
The more I remembered, the more I remembered. I wrote 400 single-spaced pages of notes, fragments, and anecdotes. I went through it looking for common themes and Nazis jumped out—they were everywhere. That's why the original title was Bobby in Naziland. I thought it was perfect—Mel Brooks meets Alice in Wonderland. So I was surprised when people came up to me at readings and said, "Loved the book. Hated the title." Then the pandemic hit. I had to stop doing events. Sales crashed. Bobby in Naziland wasn't a good title for a time when a virus was killing thousands of people every day. I thought that was the end of the book. I was surprised that the publisher wanted to re-release it under a new title. That's how Bobby in Naziland became A Brooklyn Memoir. They're going to do an audio book, too. I'm hopeful the book will find its audience this time.
MT: This is a book that almost every Boomer can relate to because there are so many milestones that everybody experienced together in America at that time. This memoir also has a New York twist in that it chronicles the neighborhood you grew up in, which was pretty tough. So with that said, was it a hard childhood or are you nostalgic about it now? How do you feel about it?
RR: I have mixed feelings. You say it was a tough neighborhood, and it definitely had that element. But if you compare it to Harlem or Bedford-Stuyvesant at the time, it wasn't so tough. I never heard about people in Flatbush shooting or stabbing each other. The main form of violence was fistfights. We had those every day. We were a bunch of kids running around beating the shit out of each other.
"I grew up in a neighborhood where a huge percentage of the people must have had PTSD."
I didn't realize until I started writing the book that between the Holocaust survivors and the World War II veterans, I grew up in a neighborhood where a huge percentage of the people must have had PTSD. How else can you explain this mindless violence? Sometimes you just passed somebody on the street you didn't like and started throwing punches. I probably beat up more people than beat me up. I guess I was a kind of bully, but everybody picked on weaker people. It makes no sense, but that's what we did. Am I nostalgic for it? When I go back to Flatbush, I do feel a certain nostalgia—for the streets, for the buildings, for the parks. But it was also claustrophobic. East 17th Street between Church and Caton Avenues, and Church Avenue between East 17th and 18th, were my whole world. It was a very limited world and I was happy to get out of there.
MT: Kicking ass and getting your ass kicked seems like a great way to steel yourself for this world.
RR: We were definitely free-range kids. My parents were the opposite of helicopter parents. As long as I didn't come home with torn pants after a street fight, they didn't seem that concerned with what I was doing. But I was constantly getting into fights and my father, if anything, encouraged it. He felt the best way to handle a bully was to punch him in the face. And I did do that. But I can assure you I'm a nonviolent person now.
MT: What does your old neighborhood look like today given that Brooklyn has gone through major gentrification?
RR: The block I lived on was pretty shabby and it seems to be the block that gentrification forgot. When I was writing the book, I went back there to check it out and refresh my memory. I walked into my building, and aside from the new doors on the apartments, nothing had really changed. I was on the staircase, taking pictures, when I saw a young Hispanic man walk into my old apartment. I tried to explain to him in my fractured Spanish that I lived there 50 years ago, and would he mind if I took a look at the apartment. He was not into that at all.
Around the corner, the place that used to be my father's candy store had been torn down and now it's part of the subway station. Though most of the buildings are the same, every store on Church and Flatbush Avenues had changed. I couldn't find one that was the same as when I was living there. Erasmus Hall High School still looks the same, and the original building, from the 1700s, is still standing. The Dutch Reform Church and its graveyard, across the street from Erasmus, is still the same. Flatbush itself has gone from being a predominantly Jewish neighborhood to a Caribbean neighborhood with a lot of Haitian people. Part of Church Avenue has been renamed Bob Marley Boulevard.
MT: One of the running themes of your book seems to be your fascination with the Holocaust survivors in your area and the national figures that emerged during that era. Can you explain that fascination and why and how it started?
RR: The part of the book about my father liberating a slave labor camp and seeing the piles of bodies—I heard about that from my mother. My father never said a word about any of that stuff. He never spoke in detail about his war experiences. He'd talk to me about the war in the most general way, though I'd occasionally overhear a thing or two—like bodies stacked like cordwood after the Battle of the Bulge, which I mentioned in the opening pages of Beaver Street. I used to ask him questions like, "Dad, how many Nazis did you kill?" and he'd always say, "Nobody." It wasn't until the end of his life, when he was in the hospital, that out of the blue, he told me the story about guarding German POWs after the war, and that he was prepared to kill them if they tried to escape. I took that to mean that he'd probably killed lots of Nazis—that's what you did when you were in the infantry, on the front lines.
My mother told me most of what I knew about the war and my father. She'd call me into the living room when there was something on TV about concentration camps. She knew I was interested. When The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was published, I was in second or third grade. I was still reading Dick and Jane. Then I saw that book on the bookshelf with the swastika. I'd go through it and read the parts about concentration camps and gas chambers and medical experiments. I learned a lot from that book.
"They wanted to put Adolf Eichmann in a cage so people could walk by and spit on him."
My mother was obsessed with Adolf Eichmann, and she was thrilled when the Israelis captured him. She wanted to see Eichmann hang. Everybody wanted to see him hang. There was blood lust in the air. People in the candy store wanted to put him in a cage so people could walk by and spit on him. That's how I learned about the war—from watching TV, talking to my mother, and hanging around the candy store.
MT: Your father is pretty much the center of this book, and reading it, you couldn't help but feel his inner pain and frustration, although it seemed like he did a good job of hiding it from you. Do you believe he suffered from PTSD?
RR: Nobody knew what PTSD was. But in retrospect, yes. It goes a long way towards explaining his hatred of pretty much everybody who wasn't part of his tribe. He was constantly spouting bigotry and racism, and you have to wonder: Where did it come from? I think the war filled my father with a lot of hate because he experienced some genuinely traumatic things, like what he saw in the slave labor camp, or on the front lines, which he never spoke about.
MT: In the book you write about a war buddy of your father's visiting your apartment. Do you think part of his PTSD or frustration was that his missed his band of brothers and a sense of mission only to come back to Brooklyn and work in a candy store?
"It was quite a change for my father to go from saving the world from Nazis to working in a candy store."
RR: It was quite a change for him to go from saving the world from Nazis to working in a candy store. But I don't know if he had a sense of mission to lose. I think his mission was to stay alive.
The only person I ever met who was my father's buddy during the war was the guy with the artificial finger. I remember the night he came to the house. It was the late 1950s. They were sitting around the kitchen table, drinking coffee and talking about how cold it was at the Battle of the Bulge.
I know the war was traumatic for him because he refused his medals. Why would somebody refuse medals? I couldn't understand that when I was a kid. Something pretty bad must have happened, but again, he never, ever spoke about it.
MT: Speaking of horrors, that Brighton Beach passage you wrote about watching the Holocaust survivors in the locker room was haunting to read. What do you think that encounter did to you?
RR: It was the summer of 1962; I was nine, almost ten. In the locker room at Brighton Beach Baths I saw a bunch of old men standing around, speaking Yiddish. They had numbers on their arms, and their dicks and balls were missing. Whatever happened to them I figured must have happened in a concentration camp. I was horrified and it haunted me. I couldn't stop thinking about it for a long time. And yeah, it was traumatic.
MT: Did any of your dad's World War II medals and memorabilia survive and how do you feel about those possessions now?
RR: He had a canvas bag full of Nazi medals and bayonets and stuff like that. I detail the contents in the book. I don't know what happened to it and don't remember the last time I saw it. He probably sold it to a collector.
MT: We spoke of your fascination with Adolf Eichmann. But you also had a fascination with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted of espionage and executed by the government in 1953. Again, what was your fascination with their story?
RR: My mother brought the Rosenbergs to my attention because they were famous Jews who were in the newspapers every day. They looked like they could have been members of my own family, and their name was so similar. My grandfather was Julius Rosen. They had a kid named Robert, just a little older than me. I became fascinated by the idea that this husband and wife who looked like my cousins in the Bronx were sent to the electric chair. I had a morbid imagination. I became obsessed with the whole process of execution and sought out every bit of information about the Rosenbergs and capital punishment I could find.
MT: In the book you paint a picture of a time and place essentially that no longer exists: Coney Island, the local baker, the corner grocery, egg creams, street bullies, Boo Radley types, and that strange home in the neighborhood that every kid had a sixth sense about and learned to avoid. Looking back, how did these things shape you?
RR: Coney Island's still there. You can still find egg creams, but you have to seek them out. There are still bakeries. Corner grocery stores are called bodegas or delis. I don't know, specifically, how Flatbush shaped me. But much of what I experienced at the time I put into A Brooklyn Memoir. I wanted to share with people what it was like to be alive then so they could experience it in their imaginations.
MT: One of the two Holocaust survivors that I befriended told me that when he came to America, he was hosted by a family member and told that he shouldn't talk about what he had experienced because "nobody wants to hear it."
"I was a shy kid. I didn't go up to people and say, 'Tell me what happened to you in the concentration camp.'"
RR: I knew Holocaust survivors, but like the World War II vets, they didn't talk to me about their experiences. I would've liked to hear about it, I suppose, but I was a shy kid. I didn't go up to people and say, "Tell me what happened to you in the concentration camp." I'm not sure what they would have done if I'd said that. When Sophie's Choice came out, in 1979, I read it and was stunned that it was set in my old neighborhood. The house where Stingo and Sophie lived was across the street from my grade school. I walked past that house twice a day going to and from school. It was just a weird house. I didn't even know it was a rooming house.
MT: Your dad's candy store loomed large in your childhood. And while something like that sounded cool, you called it a tragedy. Why do you say that?
RR: Because my mother hated the candy store, and she told me every day how much she hated it. She'd talk about the store as if it were the worst thing that could have ever happened to us. She was a very intelligent woman who felt that she should be married to a professional anything, not a soda jerk. My father didn't complain about it the way my mother did, but he was unhappy working there. There were constant financial worries, though we never went hungry or couldn't pay the rent or anything like that. My mother's refrain was that money was only for necessities. I was always hearing, "We can't do that… we can't afford that." My father was never able to take a real vacation. It was just this constant, low-grade horror of being trapped forever in a candy store.
The store itself was a tiny, claustrophobic, filthy place. Of course teenagers came in and bought comic books and drank egg creams, but most of the people hanging out there were my father's cronies. They smoked cigarettes and talked about dirty books and magazines.
MT: Your memoir also touches on racism, but racism back then seemed to be equally spread out among all the ethnic groups. It seemed certainly a lot more tribal; there were Jewish neighborhoods, there were Italian neighborhoods, Irish neighborhoods. What was the difference between racism and bigotry in the 50s and 60s and racism and bigotry now?
"I heard the N-word 50 times a day."
RR: In the 50s and 60s, you could say anything you wanted—there was nothing hidden about the racism. It was something that you were exposed to all the time. I heard the N-word 50 times a day when I was a kid. It just flowed from everybody's lips. My father used it and a lot of people in my class used it, which was strange because there were virtually no Black people around. There were two Black kids in my grade school. Everybody else was white.
If you enlarge the photo, you can see my father's candy store with its Coke sign, at far left, with my father, wearing sunglasses, leaning out the window on the right side of the store.
There's a picture of Lyndon Johnson and Bobby Kennedy coming down Church Avenue in an open limousine, in October 1964, when Johnson was running for president and Kennedy was running for the Senate in New York. There's a massive crowd on both sides of the street. But there's not one dark face. That's how segregated the neighborhood was. What's also amazing about that picture is that I'd been studying it for years before I realized my father was in it, leaning out the window of the candy store. It just hit me one day. "Oh my God, that's my father!"
To answer your question, today, in most cases, you can no longer say the N-word. The racism is coded. People, especially politicians, talk in dog whistles, but it still means the same thing. Even white-power people and neo-Nazis don't use the N-word.
MT: When you turned 20, you took a life-changing trip to Israel and worked on a kibbutz. How did that trip connect you to your roots and give you a better understanding of your upbringing in Brooklyn?
RR: I don't know if it was really a life-changing trip but it was the first time I'd been that far from home. Before that, I'd gotten as far as eastern Canada—I'd hitchhiked to Nova Scotia in 1970.
In the epilogue of A Brooklyn Memoir, I'm on a beach in Israel about 14 miles from the Saudi Arabian border, and the Red Sea is in front of me. I'd finally made it out of Flatbush, and that was amazing to me. I was there with my girlfriend, whose family was wiped out in the Holocaust, everybody except her father and grandmother. I didn't know that Naomi, as I call her in the book, spoke fluent Yiddish, which a lot of people spoke in Israel. She had to learn Yiddish because it was the only language her grandmother spoke. The trip made me more aware that I was Jewish, which, after I finished Hebrew school, was something I didn't want any part of. I was a completely secular, assimilated Jew, and Judaism did not interest me. The trip to Israel made me realize that being Jewish is something you can't run away from. There's an old saying: If you forget you're Jewish, somebody will always remind you.
MT: Tell me what you're working on these days?
RR: I'm working on a book about the 1970s. It's set at a radical student newspaper at the City College of New York and focuses on the period when the student left gave way to punk. You can read an excerpt in The Village Voice, about the Weathermen, their Greenwich Village bomb factory, and their connection to the newspaper, Observation Post.
When the draft ended in 1973 and there was no longer a threat of being sent to Vietnam, the student left's energy drained away and flowed into punk. OP was a reflection of the chaos of the time. Once it was a voice of the antiwar movement, but by the late 1970s a topless dancer was the editor. OP became a scandal sheet, almost like Screw. She published her sex memoirs and sent correspondents to underground sex clubs, like the Mine Shaft and Hellfire. OP became the embodiment of the punk sensibility—outrage for the sake of outrage. I was living with the editor and I became kind of a ghost editor.
There's also a section about hitchhiking cross-country in the summer of 1974—with Patty Hearst, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the Nixon impeachment playing out in the background and foreground. It's a snapshot of an America that no longer exists. Hitchhiking across America for "kicks" and "experience," as Jack Kerouac put it, is something sane people no longer do.
MT: That rebellion and the political activism of the 1960s and 1970s seem to resonate in today's society. Do you see that correlation as well?
RR: When Donald Trump became president, my wife and I took part in that huge demonstration after he was inaugurated. So I'd say yes, there's definitely activism now. People feel threatened by climate change. States like Arizona and California are running out of water and are having devastating fires. And a lot of people, myself included, do not want a fascist minority government to be in charge of the country. People are threatened by these things, and when people feel threatened, it leads to activism. That's what happened in the 1960s and early 70s, when people were threatened by the draft and Vietnam. People are again feeling threatened by more things than they can keep track of.
My latest book, A Brooklyn Memoir, is available for pre-order on Amazon and all other online booksellers.
The Beaver Street Interview
In the second part of my interview with author Marshall Terrill, we talk about Beaver Street, my book about the pornography industry. The conversation has been edited for clarity. Our discussion of A Brooklyn Memoir, scheduled for publication in July, will follow in part three.
Marshall Terrill: Your second book, Beaver Street, chronicled your years in the porn business. What was the impetus for that memoir?
Robert Rosen: I'd spent 16 years working in the adult entertainment industry, as it's politely known. I was the editor of a bunch of porn magazines. Between 1983 and 1999, I had a ringside seat to a lot of things that nobody had written about. Virtually all the books about the porn business were either porn-star memoirs or unreadable academic dissertations. So I thought that a mainstream book about porn was the thing to do. Beaver Street is a history of late-20th-century culture, technology, economics, and politics as seen through a pornographic lens. It's a serious history that reads like a comic novel. And like Nowhere Man, I ran into a brick wall as far as getting it published. Editors said it wasn't a history, it wasn't a memoir, it wasn't an academic book, and it was neither pro- nor anti-porn. It was an unusual book that didn't fit neatly into any category. Headpress finally published it in 2011, first in the UK, then here.
MT: One of the more ironic things that struck me in reading Beaver Street was the workers were smoking pot during the day while putting together an issue on deadline. Yet there was a rigidity that I can't quite put my finger on because of the fact that the publishers were afraid of criminal prosecution. Did you find that ironic as well?
RR: I worked for three publishers. The first was Carl Ruderman, who published High Society, the magaine that invented free phone-sex, the first fusion of erotica and computers. Ruderman was very controlling, a very ugly personality. He was schizophrenic in the sense that he wanted to be Hugh Hefner and he wanted High Society to be as famous as Playboy, but he also wanted to be anonymous. He didn't want anybody to know that he was publishing porn magazines, so his name wasn't in the masthead. But everybody who worked for him had to use their real name in the masthead. He was worried about the consequences of doing porn, and after I left the company, sure enough, federal marshals extradited him to Utah to stand trial on phone-sex charges—underage people were calling the phone-sex lines. He managed to get off on that particular charge, but that's the kind of thing porn publishers were worried about.
"After Ruderman got out of porn, he went into the securities business, and his company, 1 Global Capital, defrauded their clients out of $320 million."
After Ruderman got out of porn, he went into the securities business, and his company, 1 Global Capital, defrauded their clients out of $320 million. It was a Ponzi scheme; he was like mini–Bernie Madoff. Though some of the company's executives went to jail, he didn't, but he was responsible for personally paying back more than $49 million.
After High Society, I moved to Swank, published by the late Chip Goodman. Chip was more liberal than Ruderman. For the first couple of years, Swank was kind of a loose, fun place to work. As long as the magazines came out and Chip continued to make money, he didn't care what we did. We'd get stoned at lunch. Then we'd come back to the office, look at dirty pictures, and pick out the best ones. It wasn't difficult to do this when you were stoned. It might have even helped. But then the Traci Lords thing happened and the atmosphere changed. Lords was the most popular porn star of her generation—until the FBI found out she was underage. There was at least one picture of her in every magazine we published for about three years—I'm talking about hundreds of issues and scores of titles. They all had to be destroyed. And that's when Chip decided he wanted to get out of porn. In 1992 he sold all his porn magazines to Lou Perretta, and the staff went to work for Perretta.
Perretta was a printer who started buying up porn magazines as fodder to keep his presses running 24/7. It was like working on an assembly line in a Chinese dildo factory. At one point Perretta owned everything except Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler. He was an awful guy to work for. He was a bigot. I'd never worked in a place where there was anti-Semitism, but it was there. He eventually got sued for age and sex discrimination, and the whole porn-magazine business went down the tubes.
These three men were as wealthy as Bob Guccione, Larry Flynt, or Hugh Hefner. But nobody outside the business knew who they were because they went to extreme lengths to portray themselves as legitimate businessmen.
"It's not like I was doing a large-breast magazine and I suddenly developed a fetish for big silicon breasts."
MT: The other thing that struck me about the book was the porn industry seemed to take all the sizzle out of sex. Did working in the industry impact you in some way?
RR: Well, it didn't impact me personally in the way I think you're suggesting. It's not like I was doing a large-breast magazine and I suddenly developed a fetish for big silicon breasts, or I was doing a shaved magazine and I developed a fetish for shaved heads and genitalia. It was work. And the main effect it had on me after 16 years was that by the time I finally left the business, I couldn't stand looking at pornography. And I didn't look at it for the next five years. I was sick of it.
"Porn is not about sex. It's about using sex to separate people from their money."
MT: The book seems to underscore the fact that the porn industry is a business built solely on money, and caters to people who have issues with intimacy.
RR: The people who were the best porn editors were the ones who created the magazines for themselves. They put together the kind of magazines they bought before they became professional pornographers. Before going to work at High Society, I was familiar with Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler. I really did buy Playboy for the articles, and my roommate in graduate school subscribed to Penthouse. We both liked the Penthouse Forum letters. I didn't realize how many niche porn magazines there were until I started working for one. I'd never heard of High Society, but I needed a job, I applied for the High Society job, they hired me, and I was able to do it. And you are correct. Porn is not about sex. It's about using sex to separate people from their money.
MT: What's the state of the porn-magazine business today given that everything seems to be going towards streaming?
RR: It's pretty much over. I think Penthouse, Playboy and Hustler still publish a print magazine. The other ones, as far as I know, are gone. It's completely Internet-oriented now.
My latest book, A Brooklyn Memoir, is available for pre-order on Amazon and all other online booksellers.
The Nowhere Man Interview
I met the prolific Marshall Terrill when he was writing The Jesus Music, a book about rock stars who found redemption in Christianity. We spoke about my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, and the brief "born again" period in the ex-Beatle's life. Over the course of our conversation, Terrill became intrigued by my other two books, Beaver Street and A Brooklyn Memoir, which will be published in July. Terrill is one of the few journalists who have read all three books, and we later spoke in depth about them. He provided me with a transcript of our conversation about Nowhere Man, which I've edited for clarity. Our discussion of Beaver Street and A Brooklyn Memoir will follow in parts two and three.
Marshall Terrill: You've had a most unusual writing career, and I say that with great respect. You've written about John Lennon (Nowhere Man), your years in the porn magazine business (Beaver Street), and your childhood growing up in Flatbush (A Brooklyn Memoir). Everything you write is so personal, much like Lennon's songs. Now that you know my take, what's your take on your career?
Robert Rosen: My career has been absurd. It's absurd that it took me 18 years to find a publisher for Nowhere Man. It's absurd that I don't have a U.S. publisher. My last two books were published by Headpress and their new imprint, Oil on Water Press, in London. Thank God for Headpress.
All three of my books have received very good reviews. Nobody's lost money on them. Nowhere Man was a bestseller in multiple languages and countries. And yet I find it extremely difficult to get anything published. I'm sure that has to do with the personal nature of the things I write about and the fact that I'm not a major celebrity nor do I have my own TV show and a billion Twitter followers. But the resistance I continue to run into after all these years still surprises me.
So I write to keep myself entertained; I write what I'd want to read. The result is the three books that you've read.
"It's absurd that it took me 18 years to find a publisher for Nowhere Man."
MT: Given what you've just told me, it makes me respect you even more. The fact that you're willing to fight—in many cases for years—for your books to get published is a testament to your resolve.
RR: I appreciate your saying that. I've always wanted to be a writer and I've always felt I could do better than most of the junk that gets published. I turned professional in 1974, after I finished college. I had friends who were editors at newspapers and magazines, and it wasn't that hard to get published and make some money doing it. I'm talking about articles, not books. But as time went on, all the people I knew who were in the business dropped out and went on to more lucrative careers. Instead of it getting easier as I went along, it got more difficult because I didn't know anyone in the business anymore.
MT: I want to go back to something you said earlier about Nowhere Man being in limbo for 18 years. What were some of the behind-the-scenes machinations to getting it published?
RR: It's not like I was working on the book nonstop for 18 years. I'd put it aside for years at the time, but something always drew me back. It just seemed amazing that nobody wanted to publish Nowhere Man. Editors told me things like, "Ono sues everybody," which is totally false. She threatens to sue but never actually sues writers for something they've written. I talked about this in the Village Voice article I wrote about Lennon's gardener, Michael Medeiros, and how nobody will publish his memoir. Editors also told me things like, "Nobody's interested in Lennon's last years," and "You can't prove what you wrote is true."
In 1998, I met Darius James, a writer known for his book Negrophobia. Darius had been living in Berlin and had just returned to the States. He was in New York and had no place to live. I happened to have a spare apartment at the time that I was using as an office. I let him stay there for several months. To thank me he introduced me to his agent, the late Jim Fitzgerald, who couldn't believe Nowhere Man hadn't been published. He was able to place it with Soft Skull Press.
Soft Skull's publisher at the time, Sander Hicks, had absolutely no fear of being sued—and he ended up getting sued for a book he published about George W. Bush, Fortunate Son; the author, J. H. Hatfield, later died by suicide. Anyway, as Soft Skull was going forward with Nowhere Man, Fred Seaman, Lennon's former personal assistant, the guy I used to work for, sued or threatened to sue Ono and Capitol Records for copyright infringement for a photo that he'd taken and that she'd used on the John Lennon anthology CD. She countersued, and her lawyers needed me as a witness at the trial. I think it was understood that if Ono's lawyers gave me a hard time with Nowhere Man, I wasn't going to cooperate with them on the Seaman case. Actually, I didn't have much choice. They were going to subpoena me; they did subpoena me; and I was a cooperative witness. They deposed me. I answered all their questions. I testified in court, they won their case, and they didn't hassle me. Those were the behind-the-scenes machinations.
"I started writing the book that became Nowhere Man a few weeks after I came home from vacation and found my apartment had been ransacked."
MT: What I find amazing as you're telling me this story is how you were able to retain all that information in your head given that you were working on Nowhere Man for all those years. You must have a great memory.
RR: I started writing the book that became Nowhere Man a few weeks after I came home from vacation and found my apartment had been ransacked. Everything I was working on for the Lennon book I was doing with Seaman had been taken. This was a book based on Lennon's diaries that Seaman had given me. I went into a state of shock. I was paralyzed for two weeks. I couldn't believe what had happened. And then at a certain point I realized that I had portions of Lennon's diaries memorized. I started writing down everything from the diaries I could remember. The more I remembered, the more I remembered. I wrote the bulk of Nowhere Man in 1982, and in the ensuing 18 years, I was able to refine it. It was published in 2000. The only thing I wrote after I got the book deal was the section about Mark David Chapman, which Soft Skull asked me to write.
MT: What I love about Nowhere Man is the writing itself because you were able to pack in so much information in a fairly thin book. Was that simply your writing style and was it something that you were conscious of?
RR: It's something I was conscious of. That's how I was taught to write. Joseph Heller was one of my writing teachers in college, and he taught me to condense, to say as much as possible in as few words as possible. Make every word count. That's the way I try to write every single sentence.
MT: One last question about Nowhere Man. What was your biggest takeaway regarding John Lennon's life after being one of the few people to have read his diary in its entirety from 1975 to 1980?
RR: There were a couple of things that really surprised me. One was the extent of his pettiness, especially towards Paul McCartney, and how much pleasure he took in McCartney's arrest in Japan for marijuana. Another was how much he thought about McCartney, which was virtually every single day. The third big thing was how deeply he was into the occult—tarot, astrology, numerology, magic. Those were my three major takeaways.
My latest book, A Brooklyn Memoir is available for pre-order on Amazon and all other online booksellers.
It's been a while since I've posted but yes, I'm still here, preparing for the July 7 publication of A Brooklyn Memoir: My Life as a Boy, now available for preorder on Amazon. (A huge thanks to everybody who already preordered!)
This isn't the final version of the cover that Amazon's displaying, though they'll have one soon enough.
I should also add that A Brooklyn Memoir will be available as an audio book—the first one of my books in that format.
I've been busy with things, too, though (as Bartleby might say) I'd prefer not to talk about them… yet.
So that's the news from here, such as it is. Wishing you all a very belated and Covid-free happy new year!
A Brooklyn Memoir is available for pre-order on Amazon and all other online booksellers.
One thing I'm celebrating this holiday season is the impending re-release, on July 7, 2022, of my latest book, now titled A Brooklyn Memoir. Originally called Bobby in Naziland, it was first published in the "before times," in late 2019. Sales were brisk, reviews appreciative—"[Rosen] reminded me of Philip Roth in Portnoy's Complaint," said the Erotic Review—and events well attended. (Thank you, Subterranean Books in St. Louis!) Then came Covid and that was the end of that. My last public event, February 1, 2020, at Books and Books, in Coral Gables, Florida, seems like it took place in another life.
In the midst of the pandemic, I was ready to forget about Bobby in Naziland. But the publisher, Headpress, had other ideas. They felt the title, which we originally saw as a darkly amusing tip of the hat to Mel Brooks and Alice in Wonderland, wasn't playing well while a virus was killing thousands of people every day. But they thought the book was too good to abandon, so they decided to try again with the new title.
I love the colorized cover. That's me, my father, and a neighbor's dog, around 1957, on Church Avenue in Brooklyn, down the block from my father's candy store, where much of the action takes place.
A Brooklyn Memoir is available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and from independent bookstores. Or if you need a Christmas gift now, Bobby in Naziland, destined to be a collector's item, remains in stock.
Speaking of second chances, The Village Voice, which had been around since 1955 but had ceased publication in 2018, was resurrected this year. I was happy to become a contributor. My story, "Mike Tree in John Lennon's Nutopia," started out on this blog as "Catch and Kill, Ono-Style?" That it found its way, after some revisions and additions, into a venerable publication is one more thing to celebrate.
Happy holidays to one and all!
A Brooklyn Memoir is available for pre-order on Amazon and all other online booksellers.
With the passage of time, I've come to think of my three published books as an interconnected trilogy. Though the subjects appear to be unrelated—John Lennon, pornography, Brooklyn—they're bound together by voice, tone, style, and sensibility. To me the books are a natural progression.
The seeds of Bobby in Naziland, to be re-released in 2022 as A Brooklyn Memoir, can be found in the opening pages of Beaver Street, where I describe the scene in my father's candy store in 1961. And I wrote much of the John Lennon biography Nowhere Man while working in the purgatory of "adult entertainment," living the material that would become Beaver Street.
I've been appearing on a number of podcasts lately, and the hosts all recognized the thematic connections between my books. On each podcast I spoke at length about all three of them.
In my latest interview, on Politically Entertaining with Evolving Randomness, the host, Elias, from the Bronx, expressed boundless curiosity about everything I brought up, even Brooklyn. The interview begins at 1:34:11 and runs for an hour. (If you click on the above link, you can fast-forward on the podcast site.)
My latest book, Bobby in Naziland, to be re-released in 2022 as A Brooklyn Memoir, is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.
Matthew Nathaniel, host of the L.A.-based podcast Evolved Idiots, wanted to talk about John Lennon and my book Nowhere Man. "Perfect," I said, as Saturday, October 9, would have been the ex-Beatle's 81st birthday—a number 9 (8+1) that Lennon would have found significant. So Nathaniel and I took a deep dive into all things John Winston Ono Lennon, covering such subjects as his private diaries, his relationship with Yoko Ono, his rivalry with Paul McCartney, his involvement with the occult, and his desire to put the Beatles in the past and move forward with an identity that transcended "ex-Beatle."
And that was just the beginning of our wide-ranging conversation. We also talked about the porn industry and my book Beaver Street; Brooklyn in the aftermath of World War II and my book Bobby in Naziland (which Headpress is re-releasing next year with a new title, A Brooklyn Memoir); and the as yet untitled book I'm currently working on, about the 1970s, the underground college press, and hitchhiking.
Finally, Nathaniel asked me about my work habits. How did I go about writing these books? "Do you wait for inspiration?" he inquired. I'd suggest that my answer, whether you're a writer or not, is worth listening to.
My latest book, Bobby in Naziland (to be re-released in 2022 as A Brooklyn Memoir), is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.
A window briefly opened in May and June. It seemed as if the pandemic were ending and life as we knew it might return. For the first time in more than a year, I walked Manhattan streets without a mask. I flew to Florida and visited my mother. I visited friends in their apartments. I went to a party and conversed maskless with maskless (and fully vaccinated) strangers. And I rescheduled an event at Subterranean Books, in St. Louis, which had been cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
The original event was to be a celebration of John Lennon's 80th birthday. I was going to read from and discuss my Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, and the Beatles section of my most recent book, Bobby in Naziland (which Headpress is going to re-release next year with a new title, A Brooklyn Memoir). The new event, a celebration of the end of the pandemic and Lennon's 81st birthday, was scheduled to take place October 7.
But almost as soon as the arrangements were made, the pandemic began going in the wrong direction. Suddenly the news was full of breakthrough infections in vaccinated people, highly contagious Delta variants, millions of people who refused to be vaccinated, Covid wards filled to capacity, and too many people dying.
Could I really go forward with a live indoor event even if everybody was required to wear a mask? Would more than a handful of people show up? Was I willing to risk my health to sell books?
People I spoke with in New York were unanimous: Don't do it. I called people in St. Louis and asked them what they thought. Some told me they'd been avoiding indoor events and would be hesitant to come. Two people said they'd probably come. And a former bookstore owner told me it would be "foolhardy" to go through with it.
I've been doing book events for more than 21 years and have never cancelled. St. Louis, where I've done five well-attended events, has been amazingly supportive of my work, no venue more so than Subterranean Books. It was with great sadness that I cancelled the event.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had this to say about the return of live book events in the city.
So, now I've got the "Talking St. Louie Covid Blues" again. But someday the pandemic will end and I shall return.
My latest book, Bobby in Naziland (to be re-released in 2022 as A Brooklyn Memoir), is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.
I've made it a point, over the past two decades, to speak to anybody who wants to interview me about any of my books. It's a simple philosophy: If I'm going to spend years writing a book and placing it with a publisher, then I'm going to do everything I can to get people to read it. So it was an easy decision to go on the right-wing Electile Dysfunction Podcast. The host, Ashton Cohen, an attorney, wanted to speak to me about Beaver Street, which examines 20th-century history, politics, and technology through a pornographic lens. I wrote the book after spending 16 years working as an editor of "adult" magazines, and I describe Beaver Street as an investigative memoir.
Cohen and I covered a lot of ground, including free speech, the First Amendment, and cancel culture; how computerized phone sex revolutionized the porn industry; my X-rated experiment in participatory journalism; and the connection between porn and Marvel Comics. Then we somehow transitioned to John Lennon's final years and my book Nowhere Man. So we got into Beatles, drugs, and music. (He likes them.)
Cohen is a Trump supporter and we disagree on just about everything political. But our conversation serves as a demonstration that people at opposite ends of the spectrum can have a rational, respectful, entertaining discussion. That in itself may be the most notable takeaway.
You can watch the interview on Youtube, above, or listen on Apple Podcasts.
My latest book, Bobby in Naziland (to be re-released in 2022 as A Brooklyn Memoir), is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.
Matt Nappo, host of the Minddog TV podcast, invited me to come on his show and talk about my three books, Nowhere Man, Beaver Street, and Bobby in Naziland. Our spirited, wide-ranging discussion covered John Lennon's final years, the porn industry's plunge into the cultural abyss, and growing up in Brooklyn in the aftermath of World War II. (Matt grew up there, too.)
If you didn't catch the show live, you can still listen to the podcast, above, or watch it on YouTube, below.
I don't know what a Minddog is, but if Matt invites me back, I'll find out.
(An updated version of this article appears in The Village Voice.)
In March 1977, Michael Barbosa Medeiros, a freelance houseplant doctor, was at a party chatting with John Green, a professional tarot-card reader, also known as "Charlie Swan." Green told Medeiros about a possible job opening. A few days later he called Medeiros with the details: Go to apartment 72 in the Dakota, on West 72nd Street, in New York City.
Medeiros waited outside the apartment, puzzled by a brass plaque on the door that said "Nutopian Embassy." He'd never heard of that country. The door opened and a pony-tailed man holding a baby and dressed in cut-off jeans greeted Medeiros. "Hi, I'm John," he said. "You must be the tree man." He led Medeiros through a sprawling apartment to a sunny room with a few plants and trees. Then the man spoke at length about wanting to fill the room with more greenery. Medeiros recognized the voice. His potential employer was John Lennon. Though he found the ex-Beatle unpretentious and down to earth, he was stunned and awed to be in his presence. Later that day he met with Yoko Ono. She hired him.
Thus began Medeiros's stint as John and Yoko's houseplant doctor. Yoko soon gave him the additional responsibility of personal assistant.
John couldn't remember Michael's last name and began calling him "Mike Tree." At first they rarely spoke and Michael quietly went about his tasks. He built a terrarium. John liked it. Then, apparently intrigued by Michael's silence, John began asking him about his family and upbringing, especially his relationship with his father. He asked if he'd ever wanted to play music.
Michael told John that he'd always wanted to play the banjo. John gave him an old banjo that was lying around the Dakota.
A bond began to form between the Beatle and the houseplant doctor. Yoko didn't like it and threatened to fire Michael for talking to John, but she didn't.
John and Michael were both Libras, which John found significant. Michael was one year older, and John seemed to appreciate having an assistant who was close in age. (Most of the assistants were considerably younger.)
Michael's duties expanded to include setting up Yoko's recording equipment and organizing tapes of everything from John Green's daily tarot-card readings to, eventually, the recordings of the Double Fantasy sessions (microphones were left open at all times to capture everything spoken, sung, or played).
One day John telephoned Michael at home. He wanted to come by and see the abstract paintings Michael had told him he'd been working on. So John came to Michael's apartment and stayed for about an hour. Michael began to consider John a friend.
John was in Bermuda during the summer of 1980, composing songs for Double Fantasy. Michael joined him there. He found a small, disassembled sailboat in a shed on the property. He assembled it. The houseplant doctor and the ex-Beatle went sailing.
On December 8, 1980, John was murdered. Michael was one of the people who stood suicide watch over Yoko in the days that followed. In January 1981, she asked Michael, who'd remained freelance, to go on staff. Michael had refused numerous requests to do so, but this time he agreed. He resigned in June 1982, due, in part, to friction with Yoko's new partner, Sam Havadtoy. Yoko accused Michael of stealing the banjo John had given him.
Later that month, Michael, who'd never thought of himself as a writer, began jotting down his memories of John on a yellow legal pad—disorganized fragments and anecdotes. "Writing about John helped me grieve for him," he told me. "He was one cool guy. He did not take himself seriously. That somebody could be so wealthy and so smart and accomplished… it didn't mean shit to him. He didn't care."
Cover design by Sarah Phelps.
It wasn't until 2000, after taking a memoir-writing class, that Michael considered turning his notes into a book. It took him 15 more years to finish it. He called it Barefoot in Nutopia.
In May 2016, Jawbone Press, a small British publisher specializing in music books, expressed interest in Barefoot in Nutopia. Negotiations dragged on until finally a contract stipulating a $3,000 advance and publication in 2018 was drafted on November 1. But Jawbone soon backed out of the deal, claiming their distributor said the book wasn't a good fit with Jawbone's format—an odd decision considering books written by former Lennono employees have sold well. (See The Last Days of John Lennon by Fred Seaman, Dakota Days by John Green, and Loving John by May Pang.)
More likely, either Jawbone or the distributor had received a threatening letter from Ono's attorneys, who routinely send such letters to anybody planning to bring out an unauthorized or unflattering book. (It should be noted that Ono has never sued a writer for something they've written. It would be almost impossible for a public figure like Ono to win such a suit and the suit would bring more attention to the book in question.)
I've detailed the story behind Medeiros's memoir because it raises questions about what really happened with Jawbone Press. After backing out of a contract for a straightforward, uncontroversial memoir about one man's personal relationship with Lennon and Ono, why did Jawbone then acquire Peter Doggett's highly controversial book, Prisoner of Love, based on Doggett's reading of Lennon's stolen diaries? And why did Jawbone then cancel publication of that book just before it was scheduled to go to press?
Medeiros thinks Jawbone and Ono are involved in a catch-and-kill or catch-and-delay scheme. Catch and kill, a tactic Donald Trump and the National Enquirer made infamous, involves a media organization buying exclusive rights to a damaging story about a celebrity with the intention of never publishing it.
It's also possible that Jawbone is planning to publish Prisoner of Love after Ono's death.
Tom Seabrook, managing editor at Jawbone, wouldn't comment on Doggett's book but said that Jawbone neither acquired nor canceled Medeiros's book and reiterated what he told Medeiros's agent in 2016: "We withdrew our interest after consulting with our distributor, who felt the book would be a tough sell for a publisher of our size."
Doggett and Lennono-estate spokesman Elliot Mintz did not respond to requests for comment.
Medeiros, meanwhile, made a deal with Diversion Books to publish his memoir, now titled In Lennon's Garden, in May 2020. Though they'd paid him a $6,000 advance, Diversion, after receiving a threatening letter from Ono's attorneys, told Medeiros that they would not honor the original date but would instead publish the book at an unspecified future time. Medeiros asked Diversion to amend the contract to include a new publication date. Diversion refused and Medeiros has since requested the contract be terminated. The publisher has not responded.
Mike Tree remains in Limbono.
My latest book, Bobby in Naziland (soon to be re-titled A Brooklyn Memoir), is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.
¿CATCH AND KILL, ESTILO ONO?
(Este artículo también aparece en Proceso.)
En marzo de 1977, Michael Barbosa Medeiros, un médico de plantas caseras independiente, estaba en una fiesta charlando con John Green, un lector profesional de cartas del tarot, también conocido como 'Charlie Swan'. Green le contó a Medeiros sobre una posible vacante laboral. Unos días después llamó a Medeiros con los detalles: Vaya al apartamento 72 en el Dakota, en West 72nd Street, en la ciudad de Nueva York.
Medeiros aguardaba en el exterior del apartamento, desconcertado por una placa de bronce en la puerta que decía 'Embajada de Nutopia'. Nunca había oído hablar de ese país. La puerta se abrió y un hombre con cola de caballo que sostenía a un bebé y vestido con pantalones cortos recortados saludó a Medeiros. «Hola, soy John», le dijo. «Tú debes ser el hombre árbol». Condujo a Medeiros a través de un amplio apartamento hasta una habitación soleada llena de plantas y árboles. Entonces el hombre habló extensamente y Medeiros reconoció la voz. Su empleador potencial era John Lennon. Aunque encontró al ex Beatle sin pretensiones y con los pies en la tierra, estaba aturdido y asombrado de estar en su presencia. Más tarde ese mismo día se reunió con Yoko Ono. Ella lo contrató.
Así comenzó el período de Medeiros como médico de plantas caseras de John y Yoko. Yoko pronto le dio la responsabilidad adicional de desempeñarse como asistente personal.
John no podía recordar el apellido de Michael y comenzó a llamarlo 'Mike Tree'. Al principio, rara vez hablaban y Michael se dedicó en silencio a sus tareas. Construyó un terrario. A John le gustó. Luego, aparentemente intrigado por el silencio de Michael, John comenzó a preguntarle sobre su familia y su educación, especialmente acerca de su relación con su padre. Preguntó si alguna vez había querido tocar un instrumento musical.
Michael le dijo a John que siempre había querido tocar el banjo. John le dio un viejo banjo que estaba tirado en el interior del Dakota.
Comenzó a formarse un vínculo entre el Beatle y el médico de plantas de interior. A Yoko no le gustó y amenazó con despedir a Michael por hablar con John, pero no lo hizo.
John y Michael eran ambos Libra, lo que a John le pareció significativo. Michael era un año mayor y John parecía apreciar tener un asistente de edad similar. (La mayoría de los asistentes eran considerablemente más jóvenes.)
Los deberes de Michael se ampliaron para incluir la instalación del equipo de grabación de Yoko y la organización de cintas de todo, desde las lecturas diarias de las cartas del tarot de John Green hasta, eventualmente, las grabaciones de las sesiones de Double Fantasy (los micrófonos se dejaron prendidos en todo momento para capturar todo lo hablado, cantado o tocado).
Un día, John telefoneó a Michael a su casa. Quería pasar y ver las pinturas abstractas en las que Michael le había dicho que había estado trabajando. Así que John vino al apartamento de Michael y se quedó durante una hora. Michael comenzó a considerar a John como un amigo.
John estuvo en las Bermudas durante el verano de 1980, componiendo canciones para Double Fantasy. Michael se unió a él allí. Encontró un pequeño velero desmontado en un cobertizo de la propiedad. Él lo ensambló. El doctor de plantas de interior y el ex Beatle se fueron a navegar.
El 8 de diciembre de 1980, John fue asesinado. Michael fue una de las personas que vigiló que Yoko no intentara suicidio en los días siguientes. En enero de 1981, le pidió a Michael, que seguía siendo autónomo, que se incorporara al personal. Michael había rechazado numerosas solicitudes para hacerlo, pero esta vez estuvo de acuerdo. Renunció en junio de 1982, debido, en parte, a fricciones con el nuevo socio de Yoko, Sam Havadtoy. Yoko acusó a Michael de robar el banjo que John le había dado.
Más tarde ese mes, Michael, que nunca se había considerado un escritor, comenzó a anotar sus recuerdos de John en un block de notas amarillo: fragmentos desorganizados y anécdotas. «Escribir sobre John me ayudó a expresar mi pena por él», me dijo. «Era un tipo genial. No se tomaba a sí mismo en serio. Que alguien pudiera ser tan rico, tan inteligente y logrado … no significaba una mierda para él. No le importaba». No fue hasta el 2000, después de tomar una clase de escritura de memorias, que Michael consideró convertir sus notas en un libro. Le tomó 15 años más terminarlo. Lo llamó Barefoot In Nutopia (Descalzo en Nutopia).
En mayo del 2016, Jawbone Press, una pequeña editorial británica especializada en libros de música, expresó interés en Barefoot in Nutopia. Las negociaciones se prolongaron hasta que finalmente el 1 de noviembre se redactó un contrato que estipulaba un anticipo de $ 3,000 y se pactó la publicación en el 2018. Pero Jawbone pronto se retiró del trato, alegando que su distribuidor dijo que el libro no encajaba bien con el formato de Jawbone, una decisión extraña considerando los libros escritos por ex empleados de Lennono se han vendido bien (basta ver los casos de The Last Days Of John Lennon de Fred Seaman, Dakota Days de John Green y Loving John de May Pang).
Lo más probable es que Jawbone o el distribuidor hayan recibido una carta amenazadora de los abogados de Ono, que envían habitualmente cartas de este tipo a cualquiera que planee sacar un libro no autorizado o poco halagador. (Cabe señalar que Ono nunca ha demandado a un escritor por algo que ha escrito. Sería casi imposible que una figura pública como Ono ganara una demanda así y la demanda llamaría más la atención sobre el libro en cuestión.)
He detallado la historia detrás de las memorias de Medeiros porque plantea preguntas sobre lo que realmente sucedió con Jawbone Press. Después de cancelar un contrato por unas memorias sencillas y sin controversias sobre la relación personal de un hombre con Lennon y Ono, ¿Por qué Jawbone adquirió el controvertido libro de Peter Doggett, Prisoner of Love, basado en la lectura de Doggett de los diarios robados de Lennon? ¿Y por qué Jawbone canceló la publicación de ese libro justo antes de la fecha prevista para su publicación?
Medeiros cree que Jawbone y Ono están involucrados en un plan de 'Catch- and-Kill' (capturar y matar [la historia]) o 'Catch-and-delay' (capturar y retrasar [publicación de la historia]. 'Catch and Kill' , una táctica que Donald Trump y el National Enquirer hicieron infame, involucra a una organización de medios que compra los derechos exclusivos de una historia dañina sobre una celebridad con la intención de nunca publicarla. También es posible que Jawbone esté planeando publicar Prisoner of Love después de la muerte de Ono.
Tom Seabrook, editor gerente de Jawbone, no quiso comentar sobre el libro de Doggett, pero dijo que Jawbone ni adquirió ni canceló el libro de Medeiros y reiteró lo que le señaló al agente de Medeiros en 2016: «Retiramos nuestro interés después de consultar con nuestro distribuidor, quien tuvo la impresión que el libro sería difícil de vender para una editorial de nuestro tamaño».
Doggett y el portavoz de Lennono, Elliot Mintz, no respondieron a las solicitudes de comentarios.
Mientras tanto, Medeiros hizo un trato con Diversion Books para publicar sus memorias, ahora tituladas In Lennon's Garden (En el Jardín de Lennon), en mayo del 2020. Aunque le habían pagado un anticipo de $ 6,000, Diversion, después de recibir una carta amenazante de los abogados de Ono, le dijo a Medeiros que ellos no honrarían la fecha original sino que publicarían el libro en un tiempo futuro no especificado. Medeiros pidió a Diversion que modificara el contrato para incluir una nueva fecha de publicación. Este pedido se negó y desde entonces Medeiros solicitó la rescisión del contrato. El editor no ha respondido.
'Mike Tree' permanece en el Limbo de Ono [Limbono].
Traducción y edición a cargo de Mundo Beatle para TodoBeatles.com, EGB Radio, BFC, Beatles & Solistas: Fans Perú, Club de los Beatles Todos Juntos Ahora y Facebook Fanpages amigas.
Robert Rosen es autor del libro Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon que se puede adquirir en Amazon tanto en edición en inglés como en español. También está disponible su más reciente libro Bobby In Naziland (que pronto será relanzado con el título A Brooklyn Memoir.
This past April, I was texting with Carlos Enrique Larriega Ayala, a journalist with the Peruvian-based Internet radio station Todo Beatles. Ayala had translated into Spanish a story I'd posted on this blog, "The Book That Cannot Be," about why Prisoner of Love, by Peter Doggett, based on Doggett's reading of John Lennon's diaries, had been canceled just before publication. Ayala had some questions about my own experience with Lennon's diaries, which I transcribed in 1981 and were the inspiration for my book Nowhere Man.
Our text exchange on Facebook Messenger, edited for clarity, is below.
There's another book about Lennon that could not be printed, John Lennon's Garden, by Michael Barbosa Medeiros, the gardener from the Dakota. It seems that was thanks to Ono's lawyers. It was interesting to hear Fred Seaman's comments in the interview with the Australian DJ. But now that interview was deleted from YouTube and from that DJ's Facebook. I suppose it was because of the legal actions against Seaman.
Yes, the gardener, Mike Tree, as he's known. I heard about his book some time ago. Fred's interview with the DJ seemed harmless. But that's what got him sued again. It's very treacherous territory.
Yes, it's harmless. I translated the interview and put it in my radio program days after it was published in Plastic EP's Facebook. I saw the news in the Daily Mail about Seaman's legal trouble with Yoko. I told that to Plastic EP but I had no comment from him. I suppose he was afraid of the legal repercussions. I had read most of the legal papers. Again Project Walrus is named. It's curious that the legal proceedings could be used to make up fantasy stories.
Calling my work with Seaman "Project Walrus" was an inside joke that set off the conspiracy theorists who concluded that I must be with the CIA. It was insane. The first time I saw something like that my shock was profound, to say the least.
I know you prefer not to talk about that because you haven't done a serious interview about that.
It was more than 21 years ago that Nowhere Man came out and I started doing interviews. Nobody ever asked, specifically, about why Seaman and I called what we were doing Project Walrus. There's a piece I wrote several years ago for Proceso, the Mexican magazine, where I discuss the absurdity of the conspiracy theories. It's one of the bonus chapters in the e-book edition. You can also read it on my blog.
Thank you, Robert. You believed the trouble with Fred Seaman, as producer Jack Douglas said in an interview, was that John never gave him a document to prove that he'd given Fred some of the things that Yoko accused him of stealing.
I think it's true, though I never said it.
Jack Douglas thought Fred Seaman told the truth about that but could not prove it because he didn't have a document from John. For me it's important because that proves that your book had valid sources. But I don't know if Douglas would talk about that topic again after he settled his demand for money with Yoko.
You're probably right about Douglas. By "valid sources" I think you mean it's not a question if I had access to the diaries; it's a question if John gave Fred permission to show them to me to use as a source for a book. I don't think that can ever be proven one way or the other. Not now, anyway.
You are right. I'm sure you and Fred had access to the diaries. But the question that can't be solved is if John gave Fred permission to work with them to tell the true story. But many Lennon fans think that Lennon was trapped in the Dakota and it would not be strange if he planned to become independent or leave Yoko.
Well, I believed at the time that Seaman was telling the truth. When they asked me in court, at his copyright-infringement trial, in 2002, if I still believed it, I said yes. Do I believe it now, today, this minute? Maybe. It could be true. I'd like it to be true. But I can't prove it. The real question is: Should the true story of Lennon's final years, according to his diaries, be told? And my answer to that, is: Yes, absolutely. It's history and it's important.
I have only a slight objection to working with the diary of such a complex person as John Lennon. Great care must be taken in knowing how to interpret what the writing really means. One who has kept a personal diary knows that there are many things that are not within the realm of formal writing. There is a lot of material that can be misinterpreted by the public.
I can't argue with that. Keep in mind I had 18 years to think about what I was doing, to do additional research, and to put everything in context. That whole time I was determined to tell the story as truthfully as I could. Now it's up to readers to make up their minds if I succeeded or not. I stand by my work.
Yes, I understand that, Robert. I congratulate you with your work. It has provided us with very valuable information. It is up to us to expand or analyze.
My latest book, Bobby in Naziland (soon to be re-titled A Brooklyn Memoir), is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.
AQUÍ UNA PISTA MÁS PARA TODOS USTEDES ...
En abril pasado, estaba intercambiando mensajes de texto con Carlos Enrique Larriega Ayala, un periodista de la estación de radio por Internet TodoBeatles.com con sede en Perú. Larriega Ayala había traducido al español una historia que había publicado en este blog, 'The Book That Cannot Be' (El libro que no puede ser), sobre por qué el libro Prisoner of Love, de Peter Doggett, basado en la lectura de Doggett de los diarios de John Lennon, había sido cancelado justo antes de su publicación. Larriega Ayala tenía algunas preguntas sobre mi propia experiencia con los diarios de Lennon, que transcribí en 1981 y fueron la inspiración para mi libro Nowhere Man.
Nuestro intercambio de texto en Facebook Messenger, editado para mayor claridad, se encuentra a continuación.
CLA: Hay otro libro sobre Lennon que no se pudo imprimir, John Lennon's Garden, de Michael Barbosa Medeiros, el jardinero del Dakota. Parece que fue gracias a los abogados de Ono. Fue interesante escuchar los comentarios de Fred Seaman en la entrevista con el DJ australiano. Pero ahora esa entrevista con ese DJ fue eliminada de YouTube y del Facebook por el propio entrevistador. Supongo que fue por las acciones legales contra Seaman.
RR: Sí, el jardinero, Mike Tree, como se le conoce. Escuché sobre su libro hace algún tiempo. La entrevista de Fred con el DJ parecía inofensiva. Pero eso fue lo que hizo que lo volvieran a demandar. Es un territorio muy traicionero.
Sí, es inofensivo. Traduje la entrevista y la puse en mi programa de radio días después de que se publicara en el Facebook de Plastic EP. Vi la noticia en el Daily Mail sobre los problemas legales de Seaman con Yoko. Se lo dije a Plastic EP pero no tuve ningún comentario de él. Supongo que tenía miedo de las repercusiones legales. He leído la mayoría de los documentos legales. Nuevamente se nombra el Projecto Walrus. Es curioso que en los procedimientos legales se puedan utilizar como soportes historias que a todas luces parecen de fantasía.
Llamar a mi trabajo con Seaman "Proyecto Morsa" fue una broma interna que hizo que los teóricos de la conspiración llegaran a la conclusión de que yo debía estar con la CIA. Fue una locura. La primera vez que vi algo así, mi conmoción fue profunda, por decir lo menos.
Sé que prefiere no hablar de eso porque no le han hecho una entrevista seria al respecto.
Hace más de 21 años que salió Nowhere Man y comencé a conceder entrevistas. Nadie preguntó nunca, específicamente, por qué Seaman y yo llamábamos Proyecto Walrus a lo que estábamos haciendo. Hay un artículo que escribí hace varios años para Proceso, la revista mexicana, donde hablo de lo absurdo de las teorías de la conspiración. Es uno de los capítulos adicionales de la edición del libro electrónico. También puedes leerlo en mi blog.
Gracias, Robert. Te parece que el problema con Fred Seaman, como el productor Jack Douglas lo ha dicho en una entrevista, fue que John nunca le dio un documento para probar que él le había dado a Fred algunas de las cosas que Yoko le acusaba de haberle robado.
Me parece que es cierto, aunque nunca lo dije.
Jack Douglas pensaba que Fred Seaman dijo la verdad sobre eso, pero que no pudo probarlo porque no tenía un documento de John. Para mí es importante porque eso prueba que su libro tiene fuentes válidas. Pero no sé si Douglas volvería a hablar sobre ese tema después de que resolvió su demanda de dinero con Yoko.
Probablemente tengas razón sobre Douglas. Por "fuentes válidas" creo que te refieres a que no está en cuestionamiento si yo tuve acceso a los diarios; lo que se cuestiona es si John le dio permiso a Fred para mostrármelos para usarlos como fuente para un libro. No creo que eso se pueda probar de una forma u otra. Al menos ahora no.
Tiene razón. Estoy seguro de que Fred y Ud. tuvieron acceso a los diarios. Pero la pregunta que no se puede resolver es si John le dio permiso a Fred para trabajar con ellos para contar la historia real. Muchos fanáticos de John piensan que Lennon estaba atrapado en Dakota y no sería extraño que planeara independizarse o dejar a Yoko.
Bueno, en ese momento creí que Seaman estaba diciendo la verdad. Cuando me preguntaron en el tribunal, en su juicio por infracción de los derechos de autor en el 2002, si todavía lo creía, dije que sí. ¿Lo creo ahora, hoy, en este minuto? Quizás. Podría ser cierto. Me gustaría que fuera verdad. Pero no puedo probarlo. La verdadera pregunta es: ¿Debería contarse la verdadera historia de los últimos años de Lennon, según sus diarios? Y mi respuesta a eso es: Sí, absolutamente. Es historia y es importante.
Solo tengo una pequeña objeción en cuanto a trabajar con el diario de una persona tan compleja como John Lennon. Hay que tener mucho cuidado con el saber interpretar lo que realmente significa el escrito. Quien ha llevado un diario personal sabe que hay muchas cosas que no pertenecen al ámbito de la escritura formal. Hay mucho material que el público puede malinterpretar.
No puedo discutir con eso. Ten en cuenta que tuve 18 años para pensar en lo que estaba haciendo, hacer investigaciones adicionales y poner todo en contexto. Todo ese tiempo estuve decidido a contar la historia con la mayor sinceridad posible. Ahora depende de los lectores decidir si lo logré o no. Me respalda mi trabajo.
Sí, lo comprendo, Robert. Te felicito por tu trabajo. No has proporcionado muy valiosa información. Depende de nosotros ampliarla o analizarla.
El más reciente libro de Robert Rosen, Bobby in Naziland (que pronto tendrá un nuevo título A Brooklyn Memoir), está disponible en Amazon y en todos los otros establecimientos de ventas de libros online.
Traducido y editado por Mundo Beatle para TodoBeatles.com, EGB Radio, BFC, Beatles & Solistas: Fans Perú, Club Todos Juntos Ahora y grupos Facebook Beatles amigos.
Victor Wong, a PhD candidate studying public policy at the University of Western Australia, is working on a thesis that he describes as an attempt to connect the policies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to the current state of Democratic politics.
He contacted me because he'd read my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, and thought I might be able to answer some questions related to his thesis. I told him I'd try. As it turned out, only one question was about Lennon; two touched on material I'd covered in Bobby in Naziland; and the rest were about the politics of the 1970s. The latter, in part, is what I've been exploring in the still-untitled book I'm currently working on, some of which is set at a politically radical and pornographic student newspaper at the City College of New York.
Answering Wong's questions (off the top of my head) was challenging, kind of a mental warm-up to get in gear for another day of re-creating the atmosphere of the 1970s, a time when the student left was giving way to the encroaching forces of what was not yet called punk.
Below are Wong's 16 questions and my answers.
What exactly were the motives ascribed to the Johnson administration regarding its acceleration of the war in Vietnam? Was it the domino theory pertaining to Communism, as some have suggested, or was there talk of some other underlying, more complicated motive such as imperialistic excess, for example?
The "domino theory" is what they taught us in school—junior high and high school at the time. My understanding now is that the U.S. was fighting in Vietnam because of all the American corporations that did business there. As with everything, the war was about money. We had to keep Vietnam safe for capitalism. There's a documentary, Millhouse (1971), about Nixon. If I'm not mistaken, the end credits include a list of every U.S. corporation doing business in Vietnam. And, of course, there was the "We've invested so much blood and treasure, we can't leave now" excuse. And nobody wanted to be the president who lost a war for the first time since 1812, even though they knew the war was unwinnable.
Was the U.S.'s youth particularly partial to leftist ideologies such as Trotskyism—or Leninism—or were most of them distracted by other things in their lives?
In the early 1970s, at the City College of New York, only a tiny minority of students were hardcore communists or involved with Trotskyist or Leninist organizations. Most students were simply opposed to a war they thought was pointless, illegal, and never-ending. Then, in 1973, the draft ended (though the war continued), and the remaining energy animating the student left began to dissipate. And yes, there was a multitude of distractions—drugs, music, and sex among them.
What were John Lennon's true feelings regarding the war? Did he ever express his thoughts regarding the war in his diaries?
Though Lennon never mentioned the war in his diaries, I think he was genuinely opposed to it. His antiwar activism was more than an act.
Often, in my experience, the military—or some of its members—are quick to lay blame for America's defeat or withdrawal on the media for its depictions of the war on TV. Do you think this is a fair assessment?
Vietnam was the first televised war, beamed into your living room every night. People were appalled by what they saw on TV and read in many of the mainstream newspapers and magazines and the underground press. Then there was the moment Walter Cronkite, whom everybody listened to, turned against the war. So, yes, I think the media played a role in ending the war. But to blame the media for America losing the war is absurd. As the Pentagon Papers make clear, the war was unwinnable.
Is there any comparison whatsoever between the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq?
Both wars lasted seemingly forever (Iraq continues); both were unwinnable; and both were based on lies.
Ultimately, did the Vietnam War have a deleterious effect on American politics on the domestic front?
Yes, it taught us to hate the government and to assume that everything the government told us was lies and propaganda. And it gave rise to groups like the Weathermen, who literally declared war on America and, in order to end the war, were prepared to kill people with massive dynamite-and-nail bombs.
Why did the U.S.'s youth view World War II as an existential struggle in comparison with the war in Vietnam, which they regarded with contempt?
Our fathers were World War II veterans who fought the Nazis and Japanese. They brought us up to believe in the righteousness and necessity of that war, and to hate the Nazis and Japanese. This is exactly what my book Bobby in Naziland is about—growing up in the aftermath of World War II among Holocaust survivors and World War II vets, and the war lingering "like a mass hallucination." Though I was politically naïve and ignorant in the late 60s and early 70s, as I approached draft age (I turned 18 in 1970), it was clear to me that the war was pointless. I was prepared to do anything necessary to not be drafted and sent to Vietnam. Most people I knew felt the same way. Fortunately, all I had to do was go to college and get a 2S student deferment.
Was there really widespread opposition to the war, or was it more of a niche movement?
The opposition in New York City was widespread. Nobody wanted to get drafted and sent to Vietnam to die in the jungle for Richard Nixon. And many of our parents didn't want to see that happen, either.
Was Nazism viewed as more of a threat to U.S. interests than Communism as it was being practiced by Vietnam, China, and the USSR?
If you're talking about Nazism in the 1940s, I'd say yes. They were overrunning the world, committing genocide, bombing major cities of our European allies, working on an atomic bomb, and trying to figure out how to invade the U.S. It was a very dark time when we thought we might lose the war. The main horror of Communism during the 60s and 70s was the threat of nuclear war. But with the exception of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it seemed more like a background threat, not something you worried about every single day. I don't think anybody outside the John Birch Society believed the Russians or Chinese were going to overrun America. The U.S. fought Communism far away, in Korea and Vietnam (to protect corporate interests). And that's where they stayed. "We fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here," the saying went. As far as Joe McCarthy, I doubt he believed communism was the threat he made it out to be. He was a lowlife politician trying to score political points. In the 1960s and 70s, you never heard about the threat of Nazism. The Nazis were over, defeated, and buried… except for the fugitive war criminals smoked out in the U.S. or on the loose in South America who might be kidnapped, brought back to Israel, tried, and hanged.
Would the generation that fought the Korean War have reacted to Vietnam the same way the baby boomers did?
I think anybody with a functional brain, unless they were willfully blind, eventually recognized the futility of Vietnam. The longer the war went on, the more obvious the futility became. I don't see why the generation that fought the Korean War would have reacted any differently than the baby boomers.
Did those on top such as McNamara truly make bad decisions, or were they put in an impossible situation?
The Pentagon Papers make it clear that the war was unwinnable and the Johnson and Nixon administrations knew it. So, yes, I'd attribute it to bad decision-making.
Why did LBJ, who accomplished much on the domestic front (at least when it came to civil rights), fail so profoundly when it came to Vietnam?
The war was unwinnable; he knew the war was unwinnable; he got bad advice from his cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff; he continued to bomb the country; he continued to send more troops; Americans were dying in large numbers; atrocities were committed; people saw it every night on TV; they were horrified; and the public eventually turned against him and the war.
Why does Vietnam continue to captivate the American public's imagination, in your view?
I'm not so sure Vietnam still captivates the American public's imagination. People are too caught up with the pandemic and the current political and economic nightmares.
Was the '60s truly a time of optimism and opportunity, or, as writers such as Stephen King, in Hearts in Atlantis, have suggested, was it a more chaotic time?
The 1960s were a time of war, riots, massive antiwar demonstrations, domestic bombings, and assassinations. That is chaos. But there was also more opportunity, which I'd attribute to the state of the economy. It was much easier to find a job that paid a living wage, college was affordable or free, and, especially in New York City, it was much easier to find affordable housing.
Do you think the younger generation today has the potential to have as big an impact politically—if not culturally—as yours did?
I sure hope so. Greta Thunberg and the Parkland high school kids come to mind.
Given your time in government, do you have any insight as to how the U.S. government/bureaucracy currently views Vietnam? How organic are protest movements in general? Is the view of the government sometimes that these moments of spontaneity are a way of tamping down the political climate?
I briefly worked as a speechwriter for the Secretary of the Air Force, in 1975, in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War and the evacuation of Saigon. The Pentagon was in a state of shock. It's a different world now. But the attitude still remains that the Pentagon always needs more money to build more and better weapons. I also think that it's generally accepted in the government and military that Vietnam was a cataclysmic mistake that was badly handled from beginning to end. And yes, I do think that protest movements today are organic. My wife and I enthusiastically demonstrated when Bush invaded Iraq and when Trump was elected. And finally, I'd be willing to entertain the possibility that the government sees some demonstrations as a way of allowing people to let off steam and lower the temperature.
My latest book, Bobby in Naziland, is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.
Prisoner of Love: Inside The Dakota With John Lennon, by Peter Doggett, who has written extensively about the Beatles, was scheduled to be published April 13. The book was based on Doggett's reading of the private diaries Lennon kept during his five years of seclusion in the Dakota, before he reentered public life with the release of Double Fantasy, the last album he completed before his murder on December 8, 1980.
If this description sounds familiar, it's because it's almost identical to that of my book Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, published 21 years ago.
While Nowhere Man was in part based on what I remembered from Lennon's diaries after I transcribed them, in 1981, Dogget had more recent access to the diaries and was apparently able to take detailed notes on their contents. (I say "apparently" because his exact methods are unclear.)
A few weeks ago, I contacted Doggett's publisher, Jawbone Press, to request a review copy of Prisoner of Love (a title that struck me as more reminiscent of a song in Mel Brooks's The Producers than Lennon's relationship with Yoko Ono). Jawbone informed me that the book had been canceled; they wouldn't explain why. I then contacted Doggett directly but he, too, refused to comment on the matter (though he did say he enjoyed Nowhere Man).
I was interested in Doggett's book because if what he wrote about the diaries is accurate (and I have no reason to believe it isn't), then it would confirm large portions of Nowhere Man.
In order to tell the story of Lennon's diaries, I used what I described in the introduction to Nowhere Man as a fictional technique to communicate a small amount of vital information that I couldn't confirm from sources other than the diaries themselves. (I explain the fictional technique in more detail in the e-book edition, published in 2015.) In 2000, soon after the book was first published, the Lennon estate and numerous journalists and readers attempted to discredit Nowhere Man as a work of complete fiction. Some of them suggested that the diaries didn't exist.
Much of what I wrote in Nowhere Man has since been confirmed, notably in my sworn testimony at the 2002 copyright-infringement trial of Lennon's former personal assistant Fred Seaman. (The trial involved work-for-hire photographs Seaman had taken.) Over the years, most people have come to accept Nowhere Man as accurate. But a small minority of true believers in the Myth of Lennon the Happy Househusband continue to doubt the book's credibility. Prisoner of Love, I thought, might dispel some of that remaining doubt.
So I was surprised and disappointed that the book was canceled. Though we may never learn exactly what happened, and how Doggett was able to read Lennon's diaries, below are my speculative answers to some of what I hoped to learn from interviewing Doggett and reading Prisoner of Love.
Berlin police provided this photo of John Lennon's diaries.
How and where was Doggett able to read Lennon's diaries?
In 2006, Ono's chauffeur Koral Karsan was accused of stealing Lennon's diaries and other personal effects. In November 2017, the diaries and dozens of those personal items, including Lennon's eyeglasses, were recovered in the Berlin auction house Auctionata. A 59-year-old German man whom police identified only as "Erhan G." had sold the diaries to Auctionata for 785,000 euros. "Several years ago," states the Prisoner of Love synopsis, "a mysterious set of circumstances led [Doggett] to a room where he was able to read several of the ex-Beatle's private diaries." Doggett must have read the diaries when they were in the possession of Erhan G. or Auctionata.
Why was Prisoner of Love canceled?
Ono's lawyers routinely send threatening letters to any publisher who intends to publish an unflattering or unauthorized book about Lennon. Even the remote possibility of a lawsuit is usually enough to dissuade publishers from putting out such a book. It should be noted that Ono has never gone forward with a lawsuit against a writer for something they have written, not even Albert Goldman for The Lives of John Lennon, which described the ex-Beatle as a murderer and homosexual who could barely play the guitar. Winning such a suit would be almost impossible for a public figure like Ono and would bring more attention to the book in question. Copyright infringement is a different story, and it's possible that Doggett quoted directly from the diaries, which would be an infringement.
Why go after the book if the story's already been told?
Forty years ago, Fred Seaman gave me Lennon's diaries to use as the basis for a book Seaman said Lennon had authorized him to write. Ono has never forgiven Seaman for this and is currently suing him for a recent interview he gave that she claims violates the provisions of the settlement of his 2002 copyright infringement-trial. Doggett's book is yet another reminder of what Seaman did in 1981 (and what Karsan did in 2006). Ono simply does not want to see another book by a credible journalist that goes against the Lennon Myth and validates what's in Nowhere Man.
Will Prisoner of Love ever be published?
I think a heavily revised version of the book will eventually be published. It took me 18 years to find a way to publish Nowhere Man. Perhaps Doggett can find a quicker path to publication.
My latest book, Bobby in Naziland, is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers.
EL LIBRO QUE NO PUEDE SER
'Prisoner of Love: Inside The Dakota With John Lennon' (Prisionero de Amor: En el Interior del Dakota con John Lennon), de Peter Doggett, quien ha escrito extensamente sobre los Beatles, estaba programado para ser publicado el 13 de abril. El libro se basaba en la lectura que hizo Doggett de los diarios privados que Lennon tuvo durante sus cinco años de reclusión en el Dakota, antes de volver a ingresar en la vida pública con el lanzamiento de 'Double Fantasy,' el último álbum que completó antes de su asesinato el 8 de diciembre de 1980.
Si esta descripción suena familiar, es porque es casi idéntica a la de mi libro 'Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon', publicado hace 21 años. Si bien 'Nowhere Man' se basó en parte en lo que recordaba de los diarios de Lennon después de que los transcribí, en 1981, Dogget tuvo un acceso más reciente a los diarios y aparentemente pudo tomar notas detalladas sobre su contenido. (Digo "aparentemente" porque sus métodos exactos no están claros).
Hace unas semanas, me comuniqué con la editora de Doggett, Jawbone Press, para solicitar una copia de la reseña de 'Prisoner of Love' (un título que me pareció más parecido a una canción de 'The Producers' de Mel Brooks que a la relación de Lennon con Yoko Ono). Jawbone me informó que el libro había sido cancelado; ellos no explicaron por qué. Luego me comuniqué directamente con Doggett, pero él también se negó a comentar sobre el asunto (aunque dijo que disfrutaba de 'Nowhere Man').
Estaba interesado en el libro de Doggett porque si lo que escribió sobre los diarios es correcto (y no tengo ninguna razón para creer que no lo es), confirmaría grandes porciones de 'Nowhere Man'.
Para contar la historia de los diarios de Lennon, utilicé lo que describí en la introducción a 'Nowhere Man' como una técnica ficticia para comunicar una pequeña cantidad de información vital que no pude confirmar de fuentes distintas de los propios diarios. (Explico la técnica ficticia con más detalle en la edición del libro electrónico, publicada en el 2015). En el 2000, poco después de la primera publicación del libro, los herederos de Lennon y numerosos periodistas y lectores intentaron desacreditar a 'Nowhere Man' como una obra de ficción pura. Algunos de ellos sugirieron que los diarios no existían.
Mucho de lo que escribí en 'Nowhere Man' ha sido confirmado desde entonces, en particular en mi testimonio jurado en el juicio por infracción de derechos de autor del 2002 del ex asistente personal de Lennon, Fred Seaman. (El juicio involucró fotografías de trabajo por encargo que Seaman había tomado). A lo largo de los años, la mayoría de la gente ha llegado a aceptar a 'Nowhere Man' como algo exacto. Pero una pequeña minoría de verdaderos creyentes en el mito de Lennon El Feliz Amo de Casa continúa dudando de la credibilidad del libro. 'Prisoner of Love', pensé, podría disipar algunas de las dudas restantes.
Así que me sorprendió y decepcionó que el libro fuera cancelado. Aunque es posible que nunca sepamos exactamente qué sucedió y cómo Doggett pudo leer los diarios de Lennon, a continuación se encuentran mis respuestas especulativas a algo de lo que esperaba aprender al entrevistar a Doggett y leer 'Prisoner of Love'.
¿Cómo y dónde pudo Doggett leer los diarios de Lennon?
En el 2006, el chófer de Yoko Ono, Koral Karsan, fue acusado de robar los diarios de Lennon y otros efectos personales. En noviembre del 2017, los diarios y docenas de esos artículos personales, incluidos los anteojos de Lennon, fueron recuperados en la casa de subastas de Berlín Auctionata. Un alemán de 59 años a quien la policía identificó solo como 'Erhan G' había vendido los diarios a Auctionata por 785.000 euros. "Hace varios años", afirmaba la sinopsis de 'Prisoner of Love', "un misterioso conjunto de circunstancias llevaron a Doggett a una habitación donde pudo leer varios de los diarios privados del ex Beatle". Doggett debe haber leído los diarios cuando estaban en posesión de Erhan G. o de Auctionata.
¿Por qué se canceló 'Prisoner of Love'?
Los abogados de Ono envían cartas amenazadoras a cualquier editor que pretenda publicar un libro poco halagador o no autorizado sobre Lennon. Incluso la remota posibilidad de una demanda suele ser suficiente para disuadir a los editores de publicar un libro de este tipo. Cabe señalar que Ono nunca ha presentado una demanda contra un escritor por algo que han escrito, ni siquiera Albert Goldman por 'The Lives of John Lennon', que describió al ex Beatle como un asesino y homosexual que apenas podía tocar la guitarra. Ganar un caso así sería casi imposible para una figura pública como Ono y llamaría más la atención sobre el libro en cuestión. La infracción de derechos de autor es una historia diferente, y es posible que Doggett haya citado directamente de los diarios, lo que sería una infracción.
¿Por qué ir tras el libro si la historia ya está contada?
Hace cuarenta años, Fred Seaman me dio los diarios de Lennon para usarlos como base para un libro que Seaman dijo que Lennon le había autorizado a escribir. Yoko Ono nunca ha perdonado a Seaman por esto y actualmente lo está demandando por una entrevista reciente que dio en la que ella afirma que viola las disposiciones del acuerdo de su juicio por infracción de derechos de autor del 2002. El libro de Doggett es otro recordatorio de lo que hizo Seaman en 1981 (y lo que hizo Karsan en el 2006). Ono simplemente no quiere ver otro libro de un periodista creíble que va en contra del mito de Lennon y valida lo que hay en 'Nowhere Man'.
¿Se publicará 'Prisoner of Love'?
Creo que eventualmente se publicará una versión muy revisada del libro. Me tomó 18 años encontrar la manera de publicar 'Nowhere Man'. Quizás Doggett pueda encontrar un camino más rápido para la publicación.
Traducido y editado por Mundo Beatle para TodoBeatles.com, EGB Radio, BFC, Beatles & Solistas: Fans Perú, Club Todos Juntos Ahora Oficial y Grupos Facebook.
On Friday, March 12, my wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott, and I received our second Covid vaccinations at a Duane Reade a few blocks from where we live—Moderna for those keeping score.
Exactly one year after New York City went into lockdown we walked out of the drugstore feeling elated, facing the world as fully vaccinated people, awaiting a return to something approaching normalcy. To celebrate, we bought bread and little pizzas at the Sullivan Street Bakery.
People told us we were lucky to get vaccinated so quickly. I've no doubt. I know people in Florida and Missouri who drove hundreds of miles to be vaccinated. We've certainly been luckier than the nearly 540,000 Americans (more than 30,000 in New York City alone) who've died from Covid-19 and continue to die at a rate of about 1,400 per day. That only one person in my family, my 81-year-old uncle, succumbed to the disease is both tragic and miraculous. My mother, 94 and in an assisted-living facility in Florida, continues to endure, though I haven't seen her in more than a year.
I've spent that year mostly within the confines of my apartment with Mary Lyn and our cat, Oiseau, who seems to appreciate having us here 24/7 and will soon be in for a rude shock. The days have been a blur of routine and routine horror. April, the "cruelest month" as T.S. Elliot called it in "The Wasteland," more than lived up to its reputation in 2020.
- It was the month almost a thousand people a day in New York City died from Covid.
- It was the month the sound of ambulance sirens were heard round the clock and the sound of vuvuzelas and people banging on pots and pans to salute "essential workers" filled the air every evening at seven.
- It was the month most of our building cleared out and we were the only ones left on the seventh floor.
- It was the month that one morning, before dawn, clad in latex gloves and a $3 face mask and armed with a small bottle of hard-to-find hand sanitizer, I ventured into a supermarket. On the checkout line, I saw, social-distancing behind me, a man wearing a gas mask, with the rest of his body, down to his shoes, wrapped in plastic garbage bags, his cart overflowing with carrots, potatoes, and onions. I felt as if I were in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie.
- It was the month we stopped going to supermarkets.
- It was the month we began washing our groceries with disinfectant.
- It was the month I began studying a Covid map of the USA. A small corner of Montana had no cases. I wanted to be there.
- It was the month we stopped taking the subway.
- It was the month Mary Lyn began working from home, turning our couch and coffee table into her office.
- It was the month I lived in a state of terror and didn't leave the house for days at a time.
- It was the month that when I did emerge from my apartment, always early in the morning or late at night, when there were fewer people in the street, I felt enraged every time a maskless person came too close to me.
- It was the month, while passing through Times Square, I saw only two people: the Naked Cowboy and a solitary tourist listening to him.
- It was the month that every time my throat felt scratchy I thought it was the beginning of the end.
- It was the month I became aware of the mobile morgues—refrigerated trucks and trailers—parked outside every hospital and couldn't walk past one without imagining the overflow of bodies inside.
- It was the month my post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie became more of an Edgar Allan Poe story.
And that was only April.
As the months passed and the body count grew, every day I binge-watched the news, though it sometimes made me feel physically ill. I could barely believe I was living in a country that elected Donald Trump. For all the good it did (none), I began rage-tweeting at Trump in response to his endless flow of toxic inanities.
By May, as restaurants struggled to survive, our entire neighborhood, Soho, was transformed into one big outdoor café. It would have been nice to sit in one of those cafés and have a glass of wine if being around people didn't seem like such a bad idea.
Post-riot graffiti as literary criticism. Photo © Robert Rosen.
On a Saturday night at the end of May, after the murder of George Floyd, Soho was trashed and looted. The luxury stores and quaint restaurants were reduced to a jumble of smashed windows and boarded-up storefronts, some covered with graffiti, others with street art.
The pandemic played havoc with what I loosely call "my writing business." The European and West Coast events I was planning for Bobby in Naziland went by the wayside. My participation in a documentary, Did America Kill John Lennon?, and an event celebrating Lennon's 80th birthday, at Subterranean Books in St. Louis, were postponed indefinitely.
But some good news did emerge from our household: Being in lockdown gave me time to make progress on a new book, as yet untitled, about the 1970s. You can read a description here. And Mary Lyn released some new music, including a pandemic-inspired song, "I Can't Touch You (Supermoon)."
Then came the election. We lived through that, too.
Now I'm wondering if the widespread availability of vaccinations is the light at the end of the tunnel or just another oncoming train.
I'm betting on light. In a rare act of faith and optimism, I've rescheduled my Lennon event at Subterranean Books for October 7, 2021. I hope to see some of you there, well vaccinated and probably still masked.
"Cleveland Indians third baseman Al Rosen, the second in a very short line of 'Hebrew Hammers' (and the best Jewish slugger since the original Hebrew Hammer, Hank Greenberg), was leading the A.L. with 18 home runs, 4 more than Mickey Mantle of the Yankees." —from Bobby in Naziland
Peter Miller's Egg Cream, a documentary about the chocolate beverage that contains neither egg nor cream, led me to another Miller film, Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, from 2010, which also coincides with a theme I touched on in Bobby in Naziland.
Bobby references three Jewish major league ballplayers: Brooklyn-born Sandy Koufax, pitcher for the Brooklyn and L.A. Dodgers; Detroit Tigers first-baseman and outfielder Hank Greenberg; and Cleveland Indians third-baseman Al Rosen.
In the book, I talk about how Koufax, on his way to the Hall of Fame, learned to throw his unhittable curve ball on the "sacred, scruffy sandlots" of Brooklyn's Parade Grounds and was crowned King of the Jews when he sat out a World Series game on Yom Kipper.
I also mention how Greenberg, in 1938, blasted 58 home runs, the closest anybody came to breaking Babe Ruth's record before Roger Maris did it, in 1961. Though he missed three prime years to serve in the army during World War II and was subjected to rabid anti-Semitism from fans and opposing players, over the course of his 13-year career Greenberg hit 331 homers with a .313 lifetime batting average—amazing statistics for a player of any religion.
But I didn't know till I saw Jews and Baseball that Greenberg, too, was celebrated for refusing to play a World Series game on Yom Kipper.
In this impressively comprehensive documentary, Miller, an Emmy- and Peabody-award–winning director, doesn't cover all 160 Jews who played the game going back to the dawn of professional baseball. But he covers a lot of them, lavishing most of his attention on Koufax and Greenberg, the game's two greatest Jewish stars, but also giving Rosen—somewhat obscure because he played only seven full seasons, outside a major media market—his due.
I've been following baseball since I was old enough to understand what baseball was. And I was brought up in a household where any Jew who'd ever achieved anything of significance was brought to my attention. Yet I didn't discover Rosen until I was about nine and started reading books like Who's Who in Baseball. I was amazed that I'd never heard of a player who'd hit so many homers—43 in 1953 alone, when he was the American League MVP—and who shared my last name.
He wasn't the only Rosen who played professional baseball. Also mentioned in the film is Goody Rosen, a Brooklyn Dodger and New York Giant center fielder who, in his best season, 1945, hit .325 with a dozen home runs. I remember people in my father's candy store talking about him long after he'd retired—probably because, like Y.A. Tittle, they liked saying his name.
Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, Jews and Baseball features extensive archival footage, interviews with fans like Larry King and Ron Howard and, of course, interviews with Koufax, Greenberg, and Al Rosen.
Though the film will obviously hold the strongest appeal to Jewish baseball fans (and those old enough to remember the Brooklyn Dodgers), I'd recommend Jews and Baseball to all fans, regardless of religion, race, or country of national origin. It's streaming on Amazon.
"The most valuable skill I learned at the candy store was how to mix the perfect egg cream. It was kind of like drawing a perfect pint of Guinness: You had to use just the right amounts of chocolate syrup and milk, and you had to squirt the seltzer against the side of the glass at just the right angle and with just the right force, so the head was neither too foamy nor not foamy enough. (A master egg-cream maker, like my father, could divert the seltzer with a spoon into a second and third glass and still achieve a perfect head.)" —from Bobby in Naziland
The egg cream is a subject that comes up time and again in Bobby in Naziland. It was one of the most popular items my father sold in his Brooklyn candy store, and the above excerpt, in part, explains why.
So I was surprised when a critic complained that I didn't explain where the name "egg cream" comes from, as the drink contains neither egg nor cream. He also suggested that perhaps I should have included a bit of the iconic beverage's history.
I didn't include this information because, in my approximately six years (ages 7–12) of making egg creams professionally, nobody ever asked me about such things. A customer would come into the store, order an egg cream, lay a dime on the counter, and drink it. If he or she said anything, it was usually something along the lines of "Delicious!"
That was it, and this was the experience I described in the book: the making, serving, and imbibing of the glorious egg cream.
I was even more surprised to receive an email from a reader expressing outrage that my father didn't use Fox's U-Bet to make his egg creams. Rather, he used chocolate syrup that came in unlabeled gallon jugs (or maybe it was five-gallon jugs).
I didn't realize that there are egg-cream aficionados out there who have an almost religious devotion to Fox's U-Bet. And I didn't expect to find myself defending my father, 54 years after he sold the candy store, for not using Fox's.
I bring this up now because, for those of you who need to know the complete history of the egg cream (it's biblical!) or can handle the truth about Fox's U-Bet (it's Mafia!), there's a 15-minute film, Egg Cream, by Nora Claire Miller, Peter Miller, and Amy Linton, that will tell you everything, including things you might have been afraid to ask.
You can rent Egg Cream here for $1.99, which is a penny less than the price of an authentic New York City egg cream, which I'd urge you to try if you've never had one. It pairs well with the movie.
I walked by the Killarney Rose, on Beaver Street, the other morning. The windows were boarded up and the menu holders affixed to the outside were empty. By all appearances, the bar was permanently closed, another victim of Covid. It must have just happened, I thought, feeling a wave of sadness. I'd passed by Christmas Day and the lights were still on. Before breaking out the black crepe, I wrote to the Killarney Rose, not really expecting an answer. But I got one: The Killarney Rose will reopen as soon as the city lets them.
Why all this feeling for a dive bar on an out-of-the-way street in a neighborhood I rarely spend time in? A bit of background:
I stumbled upon the Killarney Rose about a dozen years ago, when I was wandering through the Wall Street area, thinking how I needed a catchier title than "A History of Modern Pornography" for the book I was working on. I looked up and saw I was on the corner of Beaver and Broad. It was like a sign from on high—a literal one. That's it, I thought. That's the title: Beaver Street.
Though it would be years before the book was published, I knew then I had to have the launch party on Beaver Street. I walked the length of the street, from Broadway to the intersection of Wall and Pearl streets. The Killarney Rose was the only possible venue. I walked in. The bar had two floors, and the upstairs room had the look and feel of a private club. It was perfect.
The owner agreed to let me to use the room free of charge, as long as I could bring in enough paying customers to make it worth his while.
"Not a problem," I said.
MC Byron Nilsson delivers the opening monologue at "Bloomsday on Beaver Street," June 16, 2012.
On the night of June 16, 2012, Bloomsday—the day that James Joyce's Ulysses takes place—I launched Beaver Street at the Killarney Rose. Hosted by the indomitable Byron Nilsson, "Bloomsday on Beaver Street" was a celebration of literature that had been branded pornography. Before a packed house of hungry and thirsty supporters, musicians (including my wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott) played rock 'n' roll, actors read from Ulysses—Laralu Smith's reading of the Molly Bloom passage was a highlight—and I read from Beaver Street. The presence of "Subway Vigilante" Bernie Goetz, who had an abiding interest in the subject matter, added a surreal touch to the evening's festivities.
Lexi Love reads at "Bloomsday on Beaver Street II," June 16, 2013. Photo © Michael Paul.
The celebrations continued, in 2013, with "Bloomsday on Beaver Street II," another night of music, theatre, and literature. One memorable moment was adult actress Lexi Love's highly emotional reading from her favorite book, Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black, by Cookie Mueller.
Then, on December 14, 2019, the Killarney Rose was the scene of "Bobby on Beaver Street," the launch event for my latest book, Bobby in Naziland, featuring myself and six actors, many of whom you may have seen on stage, TV, and/or in the movies, reading choice passages from the book.
Susan Barrett, at "Bobby on Beaver Street," December 14, 2019, reads about her brother, a character in Bobby in Naziland.
Finally, on January 25, 2020, Mary Lyn Maiscott celebrated her birthday and the release of her song "Middle Child" at the Killarney Rose.
Less than two months later, life as we knew it ended. But the Killarney Rose, despite all outward signs, did not. All we can do in this still-new year is wait for its resurrection. It can't come soon enough.
I come here to neither bury nor praise James Patterson. I've not read his latest book, The Last Days of John Lennon, nor do I intend to. I don't read books written by elves who toil in Patterson's word factory, no matter how closely he oversees their work. Patterson is more brand name than author, and the elves in this case are named Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge. I assume they researched and wrote the book based on Patterson's outline and guidance.
My only interest in Patterson's (for simplicity's sake I'll refer to the three authors by their brand name) heavily promoted "true-crime story," as he calls The Last Days, is that my book Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon is cited in the notes. Naturally I was curious to see what scrap of information Patterson gleaned from my book.
The note section of Patterson's book is extensive. Virtually every fragment of information throughout The Last Days is attributed to a source. The Nowhere Man note is from Chapter 43. It says:
Playboy magazine: Robert Rosen, Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon (New York, Soft Skull Press, 2000), 180.
This isn't quite correct. Playboy magazine is mentioned on page 180 of the Quick American Archives edition, not the Soft Skull Press edition—a sloppy, though hardly tragic, mistake.
But sloppy research may also be apparent in the full-page back-cover ad for the book that recently appeared in The New York Times Book Review. In the ad, Patterson writes that the day after Lennon's murder, "I was in the huge, sad crowd gathered in Central Park." He seems to be referring to the vigil that took place December 14, six days after the murder.
I'm not usually a nitpicker when it comes to this kind of thing. And having made my share of factual mistakes in my own books, each one invariably pointed out by concerned readers, I understand just how easy (and human) it is to err. But considering that the two things I looked at—an endnote and a prominent newspaper ad—contained factual mistakes, I think it's an indication that the sloppy research is widespread, and that Patterson needs to hire a few more elves to do his fact checking.
The scrap of information he gleaned from Nowhere Man is straightforward: Lennon's assassin, Mark David Chapman, bought, at the Sheraton Center Hotel on Seventh Avenue, a copy of Playboy featuring an interview with John Lennon.
The scene is more or less mirrored in Chapter 43 of The Last Days, describing how Chapman gets into a cab, goes to the Sheraton Center, and buys Playboy and a copy of The Catcher in the Rye at a bookstore near the hotel.
Curiously, Patterson adds a fictional B-movie element to the scene: He has the cabdriver say to Chapman, "Get in, bud."
The book begins on December 6, 1980, with Chapman flying to New York from Hawaii. Patterson also adds some fictional elements to this scene. He has Chapman sitting in a cloud of cigarette smoke looking at his handgun permit.
I assume such fictional elements are pervasive, and I'll leave it to others to decide if Patterson achieved his goal of telling "a story that's almost impossible to stop reading," as he says in the ad. I was able to put the book down where I found it in the bookstore. I know the story well—too well. It's been told in about 400 other Lennon biographies, many of which I read when I was writing Nowhere Man. I feel no need to hear it again, as told by hired elves.
John Lennon left us 40 years ago, on December 8. We're fast approaching the day, sometime in February 2021, when he'll have been gone longer than he was with us. As time continues to pass at an ever-accelerating pace, I find myself looking back, as I often do at this time of year, on the night when the unthinkable happened.
Like John, I was a compulsive diary keeper. Below are two excerpts from my diary from the days immediately after John's murder. Both excerpts appear in Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon. The "Fred" I refer to is Fred Seaman, John's personal assistant. The book I mention would, 18 years later, become Nowhere Man.
I post these excerpts now to share with you a sense of what it was like at a time when the world changed and my own life would never be the same.
12/9/80 John Lennon was killed last night. At around 7:00 I'd smoked the last bit of dope Fred had given me, my "Lennon Dope." I looked at those crumbs in the bag and said, "What the fuck am I saving this for, sentimental reasons? This stuff is for getting stoned." It was Jim Morrison's birthday and I was listening to a Doors special on WPLJ. When news of the murder came over the radio, all I felt was a chill. Around 2 A.M. I went down to the Dakota. I felt it was important to observe the scene. I shed a few tears, I couldn't help it. God help you, John Lennon. Thank you for touching my life. At 5 A.M, when I got home, I tried to call Fred at the Dakota. I got the accountant. He said Fred wasn't available. I said, "Tell him I called and that I'm sorry." There was nothing to say then and there's nothing to say now. There is only sickness in a sick world.
Yet as I absorbed the unfolding events, I couldn't help but consider my own role in them.
12/10/80 I'm an eyewitness to history. I would not be human if I were not fascinated by Lennon's death. My perfectly human desire is to want to be part of the scene, to be part of history. There is a possibility Fred will ask me to begin work on the book. He called this morning to say he's quitting his job at the end of the week to begin writing it. "It's what John wants," he said. "John knew he was going to die and he poured his heart out to me. He knew I was working on a book." I'm not going to ask to participate in this project. If I'm not part of it, my life will go on as it has. But if Fred does ask me, there's no way I can say no. I believe I can execute such a project in a spirit true to John Lennon's memory.
I hope that Nowhere Man is sufficient proof that the last sentence is correct.
In the midst of this never-ending pandemic, despite overdosing on news, I've found time to read for pleasure—usually books that have been sitting on my shelves for years that suddenly catch my eye, or more recent books that somehow have landed on my coffee table. It's all pretty random. In any case, here are capsule critiques of the last three books I enjoyed.
Miami Noir: The Classics, edited by Les Standiford, Akashic Books
I'm not a big fan of detective stories or pulp fiction, but this volume, the latest in Akashic's series of "noir" stories set in cities, from Addis Ababa to Zagreb, caught my interest. I've always found Miami—from the Art Deco and beautiful-body trendiness of South Beach to the funky Cuban vibe of Little Havana's Calle Ocho—to be an intriguing place. It was also the last city I visited before the onset of the pandemic confined me to New York.
Aside from Damon Runyon and Elmore Leonard, I was unfamiliar with the contributors, though their stories, covering 1925 to 2006, are generally entertaining and many do convey Miami's distinct atmosphere. Like most anthologies, the book varies in quality, ranging from literary, like Preston L. Allen's "Superheroes" (2006), about a boy taking well-deserved revenge on his stepfather, to genre pulp, like Carolina Garcia-Aguilera's "Washington Avenue" (2001), about a serial killer who's murdering gay men, which kept me turning the pages but was ultimately dissatisfying.
Two of the stories that stayed with me for reasons good and bad are Brett Halliday's "A Taste for Cognac" (1944), a genuine hard-boiled detective classic, and Charles Willeford's "Saturday Night Special" (1988). The latter starts out as a realistic tale about four gainfully employed, middle-class guys in their early 30s, living in a swinging singles apartment complex in Dade County. Then the story goes off the rails as they react in a way that makes no sense given the situation they find themselves in. SPOILER ALERT: An underage girl one of the men picked up at a drive-in movie dies from an apparent drug overdose in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. Instead of calling an ambulance, they take the body back to their apartment complex. Then they kidnap the guy who gave her the drugs, murder him by accident, and dump both bodies in a canal. There are no repercussions, either psychological or legal. The implication is they live happily ever after. Even by the standards of "Florida Man," this is insane.
Why Do Birds, by Rob Hoerburger, 71 Songs
I paid no attention to Karen Carpenter when she was alive. Her songs, especially "Close to You," I thought were sappy, the antithesis of cool, the exact kind of thing I did not want to listen to. Why Do Birds, a book that found its way into my hands because my wife knows the author, is about Karen Carpenter (though she's never named) and the effect she and her music have on the lives of the other characters. Set in Manhattan and Queens in the early 1980s, Hoerburger's novel made me care about a young music-loving woman, her gay brother, an undercover cop, and, of course, Carpenter. In addition to giving me a deeper understanding of anorexia, the disease that killed Carpenter at the age of 32, the book motivated me to give her songs another listen. I still think "Close to You" is sappy, but "Superstar," written by Leon Russell, is beautiful. The girl had a voice.
Lives of the Poets, by E.L. Doctorow, Avon
E.L. Doctorow, who died in 2015, does not need my criticism to secure his reputation. But having not read any of his books since Ragtime, when it came out in 1975, I found myself plucking off the shelf an old paperback edition of Lives of the Poets. Suffice it to say this collection of six short stories and the title novella is excellent. The mordantly funny "Lives of the Poets," presumably autobiographical, is set in my Soho neighborhood and can be taken as a cautionary tale about the dark side of literary success.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic cut short my Bobby in Naziland promotional tour, all has been quiet on the media front. But today and yesterday, things came to life.
This morning, my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, was referenced in The Wall Street Journal in an article about the sale, for $36 million, of El Solano, the mansion in Palm Beach that John Lennon and Yoko Ono bought in 1980. El Solano is where John, after five years of musical silence, reconnected with his muse several months before his murder, on December 8, 1980. You can read all about it in Nowhere Man.
Then yesterday, my appearance on Sharifah Hardie's Round Table Talk Show with four other inspiring guests was not only fun but gave me the opportunity to talk about all my books, including Beaver Street. So thank you, Sharifah!
I will now return to my regularly scheduled day of writing another book and enjoying the walls closing in on Donald Trump.
My husband, Robert Rosen, and I were supposed to be in St. Louis this month. We'd gone in October last year so that Bob could do a reading from his memoir, Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush, at Subterranean Books, an indie store on a popular strip called the Loop, near Washington University. Bob had a great turnout, including relatives and friends of ours—I grew up in the area, and my two siblings, Cecilia and John, and my nephew Sean live in the city.
After the event, the bookstore manager told Bob they'd love for him to come back, and so a date was set—October 9, 2020, John Lennon's 80th birthday; Bob was going to read from his 2000 cult classic, Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon. With that settled, a group of us walked across Delmar Boulevard to celebrate at a Thai restaurant and, later, the club Blueberry Hill (famous for the numerous performances in its Duck Room by favorite son Chuck Berry).
Of course, the October 2020 Lennon reading evaporated in the wake of the coronavirus. But the event that transpired last year remains a wonderful memory, and Bob and I are both grateful to Subterranean and all of those who came out that night—a spirited Q&A followed the reading—as well as those who attended another reading, at the spacious, art-filled home of Bob's childhood friend Ernie Abramson, who had, coincidentally, moved to St. Louis long ago to study dentistry.
Soon after we got back to New York, we found out that Bobby in Naziland had made a bestseller list in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch! And now Subterranean has set a date for next spring for the Nowhere Man event.
In the meantime, Bob is working on a book about the 1970s, and I have a single coming out inspired by feelings of missing people, especially my family, during this time: "I Can't Touch You (Supermoon)." It's a true quarantine production, and I'll be writing more about it before its release November 20!
I'm sure some of you were expecting to find my weekly blog post here. You might have even been looking forward to it. Since early 2019, I've been keeping readers apprised of all phases in Bobby in Naziland's life cycle: proofreading, fact checking, printing, a lost shipment of books(!), launch events, reviews, an appearance on the St. Louis Post Dispatch bestseller list, and, sadly, the "characters" who've died since the book was published.
Then the world as we knew it came to a standstill; my planned one-year promotional tour was cut short (I didn't get to the West Coast or Europe); and "Flatbush Flashback," became an illustrated addendum to the book itself.
There's no question that the pandemic had a shattering effect on small publishers and authors with new books. Bobby in Naziland was no exception. I prefer not to dwell on all that's happened since mid-March, not just to book publishing but to the life I used to know (and hope to know again).
I'm happy to say that a substantial number of "Flatbush Flashback" readers have bought Bobby in Naziland. Many of you bought multiple copies to share with your friends and family. Some of you posted reviews and wrote newspaper articles. A few of you organized readings. Many of you came to my events (and it was a trip to see people I hadn't seen since high school). A half dozen of the professional actors among you participated in the New York launch at the Killarney Rose, on Beaver Street, and later recorded videos reading from the book. Many heartfelt thanks for your support!
This post marks the beginning of an interlude, not the end of Bobby in Naziland's life cycle. I'll continue to update "Flatbush Flashback." I'm just not going to do it every week. Blogging is time consuming, and at the moment I need to focus more energy on the book I'm currently writing.
I should add that September 23 would have been my father's 97 birthday. He's one of the main characters in Bobby in Naziland. That's Irwin Rosen on the left.
Should this pandemic ever end, Mary Lyn Maiscott and I plan to celebrate with a combination concert (her) and reading (me). For now, if anybody (or a group of people) would like to discuss Bobby in Naziland or any of my other books, e-mail me. We'll set something up, perhaps a Facebook Live event.
I'll leave you with a simple request: If you read Bobby in Naziland and enjoyed it, please spread the word, especially to former and current Flatbushians. And if you haven't read the book, I hope you will!
Stay well and be safe.
"This and more the Czech girl carried with her, quietly for the most part. And it carried us through the Promised Land, from the Golan Heights to the Gulf of Aqaba, where we sat one morning after breakfast, 14 miles from the Saudi Arabian border, on the beach in Eilat, looking out at the Red Sea. I knew then that I was finally far from Flapbush." —from Bobby in Naziland
In Bobby in Naziland's epilogue, "Far From Flapbush," I tell the story of meeting up with my girlfriend—I call her "Naomi"—in Israel in the summer of 1972. She was the daughter of a man who, along with his mother, fled Czechoslovakia as the Nazis overran the country. The rest of her father's family was wiped out in the Holocaust.
Naomi spoke fluent Yiddish, which she'd learned to communicate with her grandmother, who spoke only Yiddish. In the book, she serves as a living symbol of the Holocaust's inescapable shadow. Though a generation removed, she was obligated to carry its memory, and it was a heavy burden. But she was also a guitar-strumming hippie, a young American woman determined to enjoy her life as she balanced the horrors of the past with the pleasures of the present.
For me, that trip, my first time abroad, was an extraordinary odyssey through Europe and Israel. I flew and hitchhiked more than 6,000 miles to rendezvous with Naomi. But my camera broke before I got there, and I had no photos of my time in Israel.
Several months ago, in what turned out to be one of my last social engagements before the onset of the pandemic, I had dinner with an old friend whom I'd first met that summer in Israel. He gave me the above photo, which he'd taken in early August, soon after I turned 20. That's me on the left.
That day, I was on a glass-bottom boat in the Red Sea with Naomi and a group of people she was touring the country with. (They'd let me join them on their tour bus.) The fellow standing next to me is one of the tour leaders, Avnir, an Israeli. (My friend the artist Daniel Jay said we look like Peter Frampton and Elvis Costello.) That's "Naomi" on my right, her face outside the frame.
So now I have one photo to remind me of my time in Israel—and how amazing it was to be young, to feel immortal, to look (a little) like Peter Frampton, and to always remember the reason that that country, the land of survivors, exists.
"I was 97 days old when a one-footed Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, Edward Teller, the real Dr. Strangelove, more commonly known as "the father of the H-bomb," introduced Planet Earth to this brand-new way to exterminate the human race." —from Bobby in Naziland
In 1975, I briefly worked in the Pentagon as a speechwriter for the secretary of the air force. Gerald Ford was president; the Vietnam War had just ended—the first war the United States had lost since 1812—and though there was a so-called moment of "détente" between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the Cold War and the arms race were ongoing.
Justifying the need for more money to build more nuclear weapons was the central theme of many of the speeches I wrote. The secretary, John McLucas, would put forth two arguments: You need the right-size weapon for the job at hand. You can't stomp ants with elephants. And, more importantly: Nuclear weapons are not for killing people. They're to deter killing. The more nuclear weapons there are, the more deterrence there is.
This is known as "Mutual Assured Destruction" or MAD, and it's a strategy that's been in effect since the Russians developed their own nuclear weapon, in 1949. In its insane way MAD has (thus far) prevented a nuclear war.
The failure of MAD is the plot device at the heart of Dr. Strangelove: a lunatic general orders a nuclear strike. I first saw the film when I was 11 and have seen it about 25 times since then. It left a deep impression, whetting my taste for black humor and instilling in me a fascination with the power of the hydrogen bomb. So I was amazed to find myself, all those years ago, toiling in the Pentagon—the ultimate Strangelovian setting.
I mentioned the Pentagon only in passing in the afterword of Bobby in Naziland. But what I witnessed there was very much on my mind as I examined the threat of nuclear annihilation that hung over my childhood.
While doing research for a chapter called "Speak, Memory," I learned that the first hydrogen bomb was detonated November 1, 1952, when I was 97 days old. I then wondered if it was possible for an adult to retain not an actual memory, but something memory-like from his infancy if an event occurred that "tore asunder the very fabric of reality," as did the hydrogen bomb. I described that memory-like sensation as "a tiny quivering in the recesses" of the brain.
That train of thought resulted in the sentence excerpted at the beginning of this post. It may also partially explain my attraction to dark topics and my tendency to find humor even in a one-footed Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who developed a brand-new way to exterminate the human race.
Cracks me up every time.
"An astronaut, Navy Commander Alan B. Shepard, was sitting atop a Redstone rocket in his Mercury space capsule, Freedom 7, the announcer said, and was about to be the first American launched into outer space. No, he wasn't going to orbit the earth, at 17,500 miles per hour, as Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space (a Communist!), had done less than a month earlier—thus asserting the technical superiority of our arch-enemy, the Soviet Union, and making an entire freedom-loving nation feel distinctly inferior, both intellectually and militarily. Shepard was going to ride this rocket a mere 115 miles into space, on a 15-minute, 300-mile sub-orbital flight, at 4,500 miles per hour." —from Bobby in Naziland
Two things obsessed me in the early 1960s: the New York Yankees and the space race, and it's hard to say which one I found more exciting. In any given year, I could have named all 25 Yankee players and cited most of their batting and pitching statistics. I also could have named all seven Project Mercury astronauts, given you a capsule (so to speak) biography of each one, and told you the names of their space capsules and exactly what each mission entailed. My favorite book was We Seven, "by The Astronauts themselves." I read it more times than I can remember and I still have it on my shelf.
The above excerpt is from a scene that takes place in Brooklyn's PS 249 gymnasium. Grades three through six were assembled there to listen to the launch of Freedom 7 on a big transistor radio set up in front of the gym. Like most of my classmates, I was wondering if the rocket was going to explode. That kind of thing happened a lot in those days, and it made for almost unbearable drama. People could hardly believe that America was finally sending a man into outer space.
Between the anti-Russian Cold War propaganda drummed into our heads in school (the Communists are godless, immoral warmongers who want to enslave you) and the "public service" TV commercials we watched on Saturday mornings ("We will bury you!" Khrushchev threatened), we took the space race to heart.
Alan Shepard's entire flight, from liftoff to splashdown, was a goose bump–raising patriotic rush. When frogmen recovered him and Freedom 7 safe and sound in the Atlantic Ocean, everybody in the gym let loose with an enormous cheer. Then the teachers marched us into the auditorium for Friday morning assembly, where we pledged allegiance to the flag and sang with feeling "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "This is my country, grandest on earth."
Because we were proud American kids in America, in 1961, who really did believe we lived in the greatest country in the world—a country where anything was possible, where there were no limits to what you could accomplish if you worked hard and played by the rules, and where anybody could grow up to be president.
Boy, did we have a lot to learn.