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The Weekly Blague

The "Jeopardy!" Effect

Jeopardy! premiered March 30, 1964, on NBC and has run, on and off, ever since, with the current edition now in its 40th season. In New York City, the original show, hosted by Art Fleming (Don Pardo was the announcer), aired at 11:30 in the morning. My mother watched it and all the other morning game shows on a small TV in the kitchen as she did her housework. One day, probably in 1968, I was watching it with her and my uncle. I don't remember the category or clue, but the answer (always in the form of a question) was, "What is 'Penny Lane'?" My mother and uncle didn't know it, but I was a Beatles fan and I did, and it prompted my uncle to say, "He should do as well with his schoolwork as he does with Jeopardy!"


Flash forward to December 2003. I'm a professional writer enjoying success with my first published book, Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon. It's on best-seller lists. Excerpts are running in magazines. Foreign-language editions are appearing. It's getting reviewed. But my parents, retired and living in Florida, have not grasped how dramatically my life has changed.


One night my father calls. "Did you see Jeopardy!?" he asks.


"No," I say, aware that he and my mother are big fans of the show. "Why?"


"You were a question!"




All he remembers is that my name and Nowhere Man were mentioned. And this to him is proof at last that his son is "a famous writer." 


I obtain a videocassette of the show, from December 26. And sure enough, there I am in Double Jeopardy!, "Rock & Roll Bookstore" for $400: "'Nowhere Man' is Robert Rosen's take on 'the final days' of this Beatle."


Flash forward again, 20 years, to October 18, 2023. I'm scrolling through Facebook when my messages and notifications suddenly light up: I'm hearing that Bob Rosen was a clue on Jeopardy tonight!... You've hit the big time, my boy!... You were just on Jeopardy!!... Bob, did you know that you're a Jeopardy question??? I'm watching tonight's episode right now!


It's the same category, same question, and same $400 from 2003. Except this time half the world is watching, and at least three people managed to take a picture of the clue.


I later find out that Jeopardy! has been rerunning questions since the writers' strike. And they reran my question in the age of smartphones and social media.


From "Penny Lane" to Nowhere Man, Jeopardy! loves the Beatles.


My Jeopardy! moment 2023.


All my books are available on Amazon, all other online bookstores, and at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


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A Night in St. Louis


Zito's transcript of the first question and my answer, edited for clarity, is below. Photo © Mary Lyn Maiscott.


You said that John's diaries were taken away from you. Did you have enough material at that time to write Nowhere Man or did you eventually get the diaries back? What happened?


I was sent out of town. While I was gone my apartment was ransacked. Everything I'd been working on for like a year was taken from me. I was in a state of shock. I couldn't believe that's how the thing ended. I didn't know what to do. Two weeks passed and I started waking up in the morning and realized that passages from the diary were running through my head. I had passages memorized. A lot of the stuff John had written was just so vivid. I started writing down what I remembered, and the more I remembered the more I remembered. This went on for some time and eventually I had large portions of the diaries re-created. I turned that into a book proposal. That's when I started trying to publish the book. This was late 1982, early 1983, and I was met with a lot of rejection for the reasons I was talking about before—you can't prove that this is true; there's going to be lawsuits. When I finally got the deal 18 years later there were no lawsuits and the more time went on the more people realized that what I'd written was true. More information about John's life had begun coming out, and now, 23 years later, pretty much everything I said has been confirmed in one way or another. There was a copyright infringement trial in 2002 and I was subpoenaed to testify by Yoko Ono's lawyers. A lot of what I wrote in the book I eventually told under oath. That's what happened.


A short video clip of my reading from the "Money" chapter of Nowhere Man. Video © Laurel Zito.


All my books are available on Amazon, all other online bookstores, and at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on X (the site formerly known as Twitter) or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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John Lennon's Tell-All Memoir

I was thrilled to return to Subterranean Books, in St. Louis, for my first live event in four years. There's a complete audio recording of the reading and Q&A that followed, which I'll make available in weeks to come. In the meantime, here's a transcript of my opening remarks.


Hi everyone. Thank you all for coming. I know many of you were here in 2019 for my previous book, Bobby in Naziland, which was re-released as A Brooklyn Memoir. Nowhere Man is a very different book, and there's a new edition with 45 pages of supplementary material, a new introduction, and innumerable corrections, additions, and revisions.


I was supposed to do this three years ago. Unfortunately a pandemic got in the way. This is my first book event since the pandemic started, and I timed it to coincide with what would have been John Lennon's 83rd birthday on October 9.


Perhaps some of you have already read Nowhere Man, possibly when it was originally published more than 23 years ago. A lot's happened since then. Tonight I'm going to talk about how I wrote Nowhere Man and some of what's happened since 2000. Then I'm going to read three short passages to give you a sense of the book's flavor. I should warn you that one passage has some strong language, which is pretty much unavoidable when writing about Lennon. After I finish reading I'll throw it open to questions.


I began writing Nowhere Man more than 41 years ago, in early 1982. It took me 18 years to find a publisher. Everybody I sent the manuscript to was afraid to publish it. They were worried about lawsuits. They were worried that there wasn't enough interest in John Lennon. They were worried that I couldn't provide documented proof that what I'd written was true. I didn't work nonstop on the book for 18 years, but I never gave up on it because I knew it was a story that needed to be told. So I had 18 years to refine the book and get it right.


Then, a small indie publisher, Soft Skull Press, made an offer for Nowhere Man and published it in the summer of 2000. They were very good at promotion and after 18 years of rejection I had an international bestseller in multiple languages.


So what made the book so dangerous and controversial that nobody would touch it for all those years? Nowhere Man exists because five months after Lennon was murdered, his personal assistant Fred Seaman, an old college friend, gave me the diaries Lennon had been keeping for the last six years of his life and asked me to turn it into a book—it's what John had told him to do, he said.


In the new introduction I describe this as the old literary trope: an "ordinary man" in an "extraordinary situation." Did I take at face value what Seaman told me? Yes. Was this naïve? Obviously. Did I recognize the moment as a life-changing occasion? No, I saw it as a job. Of course I wanted to turn Lennon's diaries into a book. I was a writer looking for a story, and the story of the Beatles was the story of my generation.


But what exactly was in those diaries that made them such an extraordinary document? Well, they struck me as a rough draft of the tell-all memoir John never had a chance to complete. He put everything in there: the gossip, the fear, the rage, the insanity, the insecurity, the inspiration, the love, and the hate… all the emotions and contradictions that made Lennon who he was. And I had to turn this disjointed mass of raw material into a coherent narrative. Which I started doing. But before I could finish—and this is the story behind the book, which I detail in a chapter called "John Lennon's Diaries"—everything I was working on was taken from me.


All of this raises a question that I've been asked repeatedly for the past 23 years: What right did I have to reveal the personal information in a man's private diaries? In other words did I have a right to tell this story?


All I can say is that John Lennon was a historical figure, the information in his diaries was of historical value, and an extraordinary circumstance allowed me to be a conduit of that information. Had I chosen to not publish Nowhere Man, this story would not have been told in my lifetime, if ever. So I made a decision: I chose to put the story out there.


If you're uncomfortable with that (and I know some people are), there are plenty of authorized Lennon biographies. You don't have to read my book. But if you choose to read it, I will say that I've done my best to give you the truth as I know it.


The three selections I'm going to read are from a section called "Dakota 1980." They take place towards the end of John's five-year hiatus, before he returned to the studio to record his final album, Double Fantasy.


All my books are available on Amazon, all other online bookstores, and at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on X (the site formerly known as Twitter) or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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The Cross-Examination

Robert Rodriguez and I covered a lot of ground when we spoke recently on his podcast, Something About the Beatles. We talked in detail about the new edition of Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, which has 45 pages of supplementary material, a new introduction, and innumerable corrections, revisions, and additions. And we talked about the reading I'm doing tonight, October 4, at 6 p.m., at Subterranean Books in St. Louis, my first public event in almost four years, since the beginning of the pandemic. And we talked about the book I'm working on, tentatively titled No Future, which is set at a radical student newspaper at the City College of New York in the 1970s, as the student left is giving way to the forces of punk.


In the course of discussing the many dramas surrounding the publication of Nowhere Man, the subject of Yoko Ono's 2002 copyright infringement lawsuit against Fred Seaman came up. I was subpoenaed to testify at that trial as a witness for Ono, and I told Rodriguez about the bizarre cross-examination Seaman's lawyer subjected me to. Fresh out of law school, the attorney was up against Ono's high-priced, well-prepared legal team that had both the facts and the law on their side, in a high-profile trial that dominated the front page of the tabloids. For the young lawyer, it was a baptism of fire.


Ono's lawyer questioned me first, and I told a story that was, essentially, the same story I tell in the Nowhere Man chapter titled "John Lennon's Diaries." Except this time I told it under oath.


Then Seaman's attorney had at me. The first rule of cross-examination is: Never ask a question you don't know the answer to. This cross-examination was a series of shots in the dark, the attorney hoping to hit on something, anything, that would discredit me. His first question was (and I'm paraphrasing throughout): "Did you burglarize Fred Seaman's apartment?"


I looked at him like he was crazy. "No," I said, realizing that Seaman must have believed that Ono was somehow able to force me to do this.


"Is this the first time anybody asked you that question?"




I don't recall exactly where the cross-examination went from there, only that the attorney asked me a lot of questions that did his client no good whatsoever. But I do recall his last three questions:


"Did you believe John Lennon wanted you to have his diaries?"




"Do you still believe that?"


I thought about it for a few seconds, and I'm told it was a very dramatic moment. "Yes," I finally said.


"Did you pay taxes on the money Yoko Ono paid you?"


This was his last desperate attempt to discredit me, and it pissed me off. "I sure did," I said.


The lawyer turned and walked back to his seat.


Ono won her case.


Please join me for a discussion of Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon tonight, October 4, 6 p.m., at Subterranean Books in St. Louis.


All my books are available on Amazon, all other online bookstores, and at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on X (the site formerly known as Twitter) or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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