John Lennon: The Life

Philip Norman

As a Stones fan in 1963, I was obliged to revile The Beatles. My sister took me to see A Hard Day’s Night. I cringed at the on- and off-screen screaming, yet was surprised at the Fab’s dour intellect and modal chord changes. After smoking hash, I was coerced into listening to Sgt. Pepper.

I was converted. I re-discovered Lennon’s surreal psychedelia on Revolver, the aching melancholic entreaties of Rubber Soul, and the singles of the period—I became a songwriter. I waited for this Dickensian saga by the author of Shout, The Beatles’ definitive bio. Three years of research and extensive interviews went into this meticulously detailed tome, with fresh revelations that put the old anecdotes into perspective. Lennon’s genius, ambition, fatalistic tragedy and outrageous fortune colluded with human chemistry to transform our age. Fleshed out by fascinating peripheral characters like Alf and Julia (his parents), Stu Sutcliffe, Brian Epstein and Yoko, the book ventures across Lennon’s universe. Norman’s presumptive all-seeing disembodied consciousness is in every re-enactment. His effete, know-it-all tone and speculation stemming from Lennon’s dark side combine for a literary two-edged sword, like Lennon himself. In a bio, this schism of subject is more relevant than Lennon’s status as cultural/political guru and greatest pop singer/songwriter of his time.