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The Weekly Blague

In My Own Write

This is the introduction to the new edition of Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon.


Forty years ago, when I sat down to write this book, I could not have imagined that it would take 18 years to find a publisher. But it did. I filled a filing cabinet with rejections, all of them expressing fear—of lawsuits, of the reading public's having little interest in John Lennon, and of my inability to provide documented proof that what I'd written was true.


Then… something happened. Maybe the stars and planets finally lined up—that's what Lennon and Yoko Ono would have said.


Soft Skull Press, a tiny independent operating out of a tenement basement on New York's Lower East Side, made an offer for Nowhere Man. They loved that the book was "controversial"; they understood that it was more than a standard Lennon biography; and they played the media with an impressive combination of skill and audacity. Nowhere Man became an object of global fascination, and when Soft Skull published it in the summer of 2000, I found myself transformed from an obscure middle-aged writer to an author with an international bestseller in multiple languages. Those were the days.


Nowhere Man exists because five months after Lennon was murdered, his personal assistant Fred Seaman handed me the diaries the ex-Beatle had been keeping for the last six years of his life and told me to turn it into a book—it's what John had told him to do, he said.


So there it was, 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, and I went forward without doubt or hesitation. 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.


Today I think Lennon's diaries were a rough draft of the memoir he never had a chance to complete.


Today I think Lennon's diaries were a rough draft of the memoir he 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 it was up to me to turn this disjointed mass of raw material into a coherent narrative. I was inspired. But before I could finish—and this is the story behind the book, which I detail in the next chapter—everything I was working on was taken from me.


Nowhere Man has provoked a number of people to ask what right I had to reveal the personal information in a man's private diaries. I've often asked myself the same question. Many times over the 18 years that the book remained in limbo I tried to walk away from it, to forget it, to get on with my life. But the story in John's diaries kept calling me back—it demanded to be told. So, when Lennon's spirit moved me, I worked on the book, matching fragments of information that turned up on the public record with what I knew to be true from the diaries. I was constantly adding to the manuscript, refining it, and somehow infusing it with the energy Lennon transmitted in his daily scribblings.


But there were crucial facts that I was unable to confirm from the public record or from speaking with people who knew John. That's where an aspect of this book that has sent certain readers into a state of spluttering apoplexy comes into play: I wrote in the author's note, "Nowhere Man is a work of investigative journalism and imagination."


I want to emphasize that I used my imagination not to simply make things up, but as a fictional technique that allowed me to get closer to the truth than if I'd written a conventional biography. I applied this technique most frequently in the "Dream Power" chapter, about Lennon's efforts to "program" his dreams. Details of many of those dreams have never appeared anywhere outside his diaries. In those cases I used my imagination to create parallel dreams that approximated the feeling of his real dreams—though in this  edition, the Barbara Walters dream is essentially real, a partial description having turned up on the Internet several years ago.


Nowhere Man, then, is a journey through Lennon's consciousness, a view of the world through his eyes.


But did I have the right to tell this story?


But did I have the 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, you may want to put this book down and pick up one of the multitude of authorized Lennon biographies. But if you prefer a book written by one of the few people outside John's inner circle to have read his diaries, you can stay with this revised, expanded, and updated Nowhere Man. I've done my best to give you the truth as I know it.


Buy Nowhere Man on Amazon or Bookshop. If you'd like a signed copy, e-mail me here for details.


A Brooklyn Memoir is available on Amazon, Bookshop, all other online booksellers, and at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


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