Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon Now Available Everywhere E-Books Are Sold!
Something About the Beatles
My guest today is best known in Beatles world for having published Nowhere Man (originally in 2000 but since revised in 2015), a book in part drawn from Rosen's exclusive access to John Lennon's diaries. He is also the author of the newly published memoir, Bobby in Naziland, a telling of his coming of age in Flatbush during the late 50s and early 60s. Rosen's work captures the essence of time and place, with an eye for detail and an ear for the rhythm; true for both of the aforementioned titles.
Nowhere Man is a fascinating synthesis, based on interviews and original research as well as a reconstruction of the Lennon diaries. Rosen fleshes out a unique perspective on who John was during his last five years, drawn from John's own privately expressed words. You won't want to miss this illuminating discussion. —Robert Rodriguez
Author Robert Rosen joins me to talk about his 2000 book on the last years of John Lennon's life, as told through the diaries that Robert transcribed in the early 80s, as well as his new book, Bobby In Naziland, which details his early life growing up in a neighbourhood of Brooklyn still living under the shadow of World War II. —Antony Rotunno
Written by one of the few people outside John Lennon's inner circle to have read his personal diaries, Nowhere Man reveals an emotional truth about the ex-Beatle that can't be found in any of the approximately 400 other Lennon biographies currently in print. Fifteen years after its publication, the book is an acknowledged cult classic in the U.S. and U.K. It has been translated into six languages, and the Spanish Web magazine iLeon has chosen it as one of the "10 essential music biographies of all time."
The "official" version of Lennon's five-year tenure as househusband was one of domestic bliss. In reality, his daily life at the Dakota drifted between contradictory desires and minor obsessions—all magnified by the tedium of isolation.
Nowhere Man is an intimate journey through Lennon's last years, carrying us from his self-imposed seclusion to his re-entry into public life with the making of Double Fantasy. Each chapter offers a glimpse into a different aspect of Lennon's life, including his relationship with Yoko Ono, parenthood, drug use, and his pseudoscientific, esoteric, and religious forays. The portrait that emerges is a life during a time of turmoil that is just reaching creative renewal, only to be cut short by an act of delusional violence.
Nowhere Man reveals a very human side of a beloved cultural icon, giving the reader a compelling account of John's solitary struggle to create a meaningful life in the glaring spotlight of fame. Robert Rosen does not let us go until we've faced the abrupt and tragic fate of one of the most creative minds of our time.
"The manuscript is so personal that one would think John Lennon himself was telling Rosen exactly what to write." —Shu-Izmz Reviews Nowhere Man
Links to Interviews with Robert Rosen
A Conversation with Robert Rosen
Sydney L. Murray: What was the prevalent emotion Lennon recorded in his diaries?
Robert Rosen: What came across in the diaries was a combination of boredom, pain, isolation and confusion. What astonished me about the diaries is here's an ex-Beatle, who has 150 million dollars, who is living in the Dakota, downtown from where I was living in Washington Heights at the time, and you would think that somebody in this position would have a life which is completely different from mine. At the time I was a starving artist living in a garret. Yet, his diaries seemed to be so strikingly similar to my own sense of being isolated and adrift in New York City. He had all these things and yet it didn't seem to make much of a difference. He had a few more zeroes at the end of his monthly living expenses, but in terms of what he was doing hour-to-hour, day-to-day it was not terribly different from what I was doing, which was essentially sitting alone in my room writing in a notebook.
SLM: Was Lennon a spiritual man?
RR: Part of what made him such a compelling personality was the conflict in his life between the material and the spiritual. As I said in my book, part of him longed to follow the path of Ghandi and Jesus. He would meditate for hours and try to follow the way. And yet the other part of him longed for carnal pleasures and more wealth and just liked to sit around smoking dope. So the answer is yes. Part of him was very spiritual, but he had so much power, and so much fame and wealth that it made it really difficult to be a full time spiritual person and that was the heart of his struggle: to overcome the corruption that power and wealth brought.
SLM: Did Lennon seek help to combat his psychological demons?
RR: His whole life seems to have been about dealing with the abandonment by his father and the death of his mother when he was 17. He tried through the Primal Therapy with Dr. Arthur Janoff; meditation with the Maharishi; taking LSD; his relationship with Yoko Ono; and the acquisition of great fame and wealth. Yet, each thing he tried didn't work. He came to the conclusion he would never be "cured." He accepted his problems and I don't think he believed in the last five years (of his life) that going to a psychiatrist, psychologist or a guru could possibly help. He believed he had tried it all, nothing worked and the closest thing he found to someone who could really help him was Yoko Ono. That's what he had and that's what he was staying with.
SLM: How would you describe his relationship with Yoko Ono?
RR: They had been married 11 years at his death. She was the mother of his child and he certainly believed in Yoko's powers whatever they might be. I think in part he felt cut off from Yoko; he didn't see her as much as he wanted. He was upstairs in his bedroom watching TV, smoking weed, or programming dreams and she was downstairs in Studio One conducting business. Or he was in Bermuda, working on the demo tape for Double Fantasy and she was in New York doing what she wanted. Lennon spent a lot of time longing for the simple pleasure of spending time with his wife. They were having marital problems-their sex life was not what he wanted it to be and he was frustrated by that too.
SLM: Why did Lennon and Ono go to such extremes to convince the world of their love?
RR: The idea of projecting this image was important to them. They wanted the world to think that they were the ideal, happy couple. Part of it was a propaganda war against Paul McCartney. It was very important to Lennon that he was doing better than McCartney, that he was happier than McCartney. I went into great detail in the book about how he was extremely jealous of McCartney, who was constantly putting out hit after hit while Lennon was isolated in the Dakota doing nothing. McCartney was happily married to Linda, had a big happy family and that drove Lennon nuts, he was very jealous. Lennon wanted to be the one who was happier, had more money, had more hit records. So Lennon and Yoko were projecting this happy image to the media. This was part of their magic. According to magical theory, if they were projecting this image in the media, and the world perceived it this way, then it was true. The idea of them being an eccentric, but happily married couple was not entirely false. There was a grain of truth in the myth. They were just amplifying it.
SLM: Yoko's influence over Lennon in the mystical arts was very strong.
RR: There is absolutely no question that Yoko got him into all of the occult stuff because she was very into it. She believed in numerology and astrology in part because these are Japanese traditions. In 1977, Ono went to Colombia, in South America, to meet with a witch, whom she paid $60,000 to teach her to cast magical spells. A lot of this interest in the occult was driven by the fact that they felt powerless, there were always legal battles and the perpetual money squabbles with Apple Records. They were trying to find some way to fight the lawyers and the people at Apple with something that was guaranteed to work. They were seeking security in an insecure world. Part of what makes magic work is the belief that it works. Also behind their magic was their incredible wealth which allowed them to influence people. So perhaps there was something to their magic.
SLM: What inspiration would Lennon want to pass on to his fans?
RR: Part of John's message going back to 1965, was that he didn't want people to follow him or see him as a Christ-like figure, guru or someone with all of the answers. He wanted people to seek the answers in themselves. To think for themselves just like the song says. To not accept things at face value, to look at things as they are and to think about them. And to understand that no matter how much wealth, fame and power you have there are still many things in your life that you can't control. What Lennon really wanted to do was to lead a pure life. That was his constant struggle and I think if he was trying to pass a message on it would be to try and follow "the way" as he tried to. Sometimes he succeeded and sometimes he failed, but he did try. He could have just said, "Forget it, I'm going to enjoy all my money, houses and travel." But he had all of these things and still struggled to stay on the path and follow the way, which was very inspiring. He fought against corruption, the corruption of himself.
SLM: Why do Lennon and the Beatles still hold such amazing fascination and devotion for so many people?
RR: For one thing it's really good music. The Beatles appeared on the scene right after Kennedy was killed and there was this profound depression hanging over the United States. The Beatles arrived from England and they were joyous. They turned around the entire energy of the time. They were very talented musicians and all four of them were smart and clever people. Lennon in particular became this Christ-like figure because part of the message he was putting out was very Christ-like about the word being love. They were preaching love. Between the four of them they had the power to change the consciousness of a generation. Culturally it's one of the most significant things that happened in the 20th century. It's a fascinating story which is almost biblical in its power.
SLM: How has this connection to Lennon affected your life?
RR: This is something that goes back 20 years, to 1980 when I first started working on this project with my former friend and college newspaper editor Fred Seaman. This is an incredibly powerful story that I've been carrying for 20 years, and I'd been trying for 20 years to find a way to tell it. It's been a psychic burden because people had been telling me, "You can't tell this story, it's too dangerous, it will never be published." There have been times over the last 20 years when I've said, "Maybe they're right. Maybe I should just try and move beyond this and get on with my life and career." But the story itself was so powerful I couldn't do that. Whatever I tried doing, the story would always come back to haunt me and demand to be told. And finally after 20 years, I don't know what happened—the stars lined up, divine intervention, who knows? All of a sudden everything came together and my world exploded in a very positive way. I always felt it was my obligation as a writer to tell this story. It amazed me that no one would allow it to be told in a public forum. People told me that it was the most incredible story they had ever heard. I'm very relieved that after all this time I've been able to tell it. I tried to tell this story honestly and objectively without an ax to grind. I tried with my book to tell the truth as John Lennon saw it. I hope that I succeeded and with the way the book is being received I think people are picking up on it.
Links to Articles by Robert Rosen
Links to articles about Robert Rosen and to Nowhere Man Reviews
“An obsessive, corrosive, unforgettable account of Lennon and his menage at the Dakota. Even readers who never bought the air-brushed image of Lennon the benign father and house-husband are likely to experience powerful cognitive dissonance as they read Rosen’s chronicle of weirdness, in which the tragic and the absurd are inextricably mixed.” —John Wilson, Christianity Today
"One of the most fascinating insights in Robert Rosen's book is that John knew that he, in the last half of the Seventies, exercised his greatest power to the extent that he wasn't seen; he was beyond success; he had achieved such fame that his five-year silence hummed more loudly than, say, any of Paul McCartney's appearances in People magazine." —Brian Murphy, Oakland University Journal