By Octavio Cavalli
Saturday, February 15, 2014: Meeting Robert Rosen in New York City
Maybe it's because I'm a novice when it comes to researching the life of John Lennon and promoting a book based on that research. But I didn't remember until I was in the midst of publicizing my Lennon biography, Bendito Lennon, that one of my Facebook friends was New York writer Robert Rosen, author of the best-selling Lennon bio Nowhere Man. Rosen's book is based on his knowledge of Lennon's diaries, which were given to him by his friend Fred Seaman, John's personal assistant from 1979-1980.
Robert commented on a post I made about my book, which led to a conversation that we conducted mainly through audio files, which we sent back and forth, between Buenos Aires and New York. I'd ask him questions about John's diaries and he'd respond in detail.
Since mid-2013 I’ve been correcting and revising Bendito Lennon, primarily adding new information and fresh material from all phases of John’s life. Among the new things I wrote about are John’s feelings as a Beatle, in 1963, when the group was being hailed as heroes in the U.K., but hadn’t yet conquered the world, and also his way of telling stories through his poems, tales, and songs. Robert Rosen was supportive of my endeavor to revise Bendito Lennon, and especially helpful regarding the last six years of John’s life. And I was very pleased to share my new information with him, and grateful that he’d agreed to meet me and talk about Lennon when I told him I was coming to New York.
On the afternoon of February 15, in the middle of a blizzard, with the temperature plunging well below 0º C, I met Robert in the neighborhood where he lives and where John also lived for a couple of years when he first moved to Manhattan: Greenwich Village. At Cafe Reggio, 119 MacDougal Street, we drank coffee and cappuccino as Robert accepted a paperback edition of Bendito Lennon and autographed my Spanish edition of Nowhere Man.
We talked about Lennon’s life, and Robert was humbled and impressed by how much I knew about John, especially his childhood. I, of course, couldn’t help but be aware that he was one of the few people who had access to John’s diaries, which covered much of his daily activities and feelings from 1975-1980. He told me what it meant to him to have Lennon’s diaries for more than six months, and he described the long task of transcribing them and deciphering every drawing, word, and letter. It was obvious, he said, that John was writing for himself, and that the diaries were not meant to be read by others, though they could have been a first draft of the memoir he never got to write.
He also told me about his shock and horror when all the material that Fred Seaman had given him, and that he’d studied and transcribed, was taken from his apartment... by Seaman. Later, Robert said, when Yoko Ono found out that Seaman, in despair after John’s death, had stolen all kinds of things from her Dakota apartments, she had Seaman arrested for grand larceny. When Robert met with Yoko to discuss what had happened, she asked him to give her his own diaries, so she could use them as evidence against Seaman. He did so, and she held them for 18 years.
Robert then told me how he wrote Nowhere Man, elaborating on what he remembered from Lennon’s diaries, incorporating notes from his own diaries, and spending years doing additional research. He concluded by talking about his impressions of John’s last years.
After Cafe Reggio, Robert and I walked in the Village, through the driving snow, to 105 Bank Street. He asked me if I knew which apartment John lived in. I wasn’t sure, and we agreed that researching John Lennon’s life is a difficult task for all writers, even ones who'd met him, and even if, like us, they'd had the opportunity to speak to members of his family, former assistants, and friends. Those closest to John are usually reluctant to talk about him to anybody who's writing a book.
Other people, thankfully, will trust an author to use their information responsibly, and will share their knowledge and opinions.
As of today, Bendito Lennon has sold out in Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Chile, and Mexico, but is still available as an e-book in Canada, the U.S., and Spain. The new edition, due to be published sometime in 2014, will be completely revised and will include all the information from my conversations with Rosen.
Even though I’d intended to be finished by now, my research continues—though I realize I have to set a limit on how much time I can spend learning the details of Lennon’s life. Because if I don’t, the work will be endless. There will always be new pieces of information, new sources, and new people to interview, and I’ll always want to rewrite some portion of the manuscript in order for the biography to be accurate and up to date. This, then, is the compromise I must make to complete the book, which has attracted readers around the world who want to know in detail the story of one of the greatest musicians and social leaders of 20th century.
By Octavio Cavalli