John Lennon: An Illustrated Biography

John Lennon: An Illustrated Biography by Richard Wootton was published in 1984. I remember buying this hardcover–price $9.95 still written in pencil on the inside–at This Ain’t the Rosedale Library in Toronto. I must have been eighteen when I got it. I have to ask myself why I felt the need to spend ten dollars on such a slim “young adult” biography, as I never even read it. At only 126 pages, what could this book possibly have contained that any of my other Lennon biographies didn’t? There is a theme among my Beatles book reviews of late: I bought a lot of garbage just because of the subject matter. As long as it said Beatles or John Lennon on the cover, I’d use up what little money I had to get it. And this book occupied a spot on my bookcase within three separate residences over the past thirty-five years. As I review my entire book collection I am doing something about my bookcase “wallpaper”: books are meant to be read, not for their spines to be on display. I do not need this book, and haven’t looked at it since the day I bought it. Time to free up some valuable bookshelf space by finally reading it and giving it away.

Wootton has told John Lennon’s life story in a flowing style that was hard to put down. Although as a young adult biography John’s remarkable life over his forty years had to be pared down to only 126 pages, it did not read as if gaping chunks were left out. Unfortunately the author did not check his sources, all of which were cited at the beginning and nine of the eleven books I have or had in my own collection. Wootton repeated the same errors I have encountered elsewhere:

misspelling Klaus Voorman for Voormann; mistaking Astrid Kirchherr for Kirchnerr; misidentifying drummer Alan White as Andy White; misspelling psychologist Arthur Janov‘s surname as Yanov (when he himself pronounced his name with a J-sound as in Jupiter); misidentifying guitarist Jesse Ed Davis as Jim Ed Davis; and the biggest gaffe of all, especially as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the event this week, writing about John and Yoko’s bed-in and live recording of “Give Peace a Chance” in their hotel room in Toronto. This momentous occasion took place in Montreal.

Knowing who the reading audience is, Wootton had to sanitize some aspects of John’s life. Thus while the author talked about John’s activist years and recording a song called “John Sinclair”, Wootton did not explain why Sinclair merited John’s attention. (Sinclair was jailed for ten years for marijuana possession in 1969, yet Wootton only referred to him as an “activist”.) Also, John’s “lost weekend” in Los Angeles where he separated from Yoko was whitewashed of his woman companion–his mistress May Pang–and Yoko’s involvement in setting the two of them up. To his credit, Wootton did talk about the first recording John and Yoko made together, the Unfinished Music No. 1. Two Virgins album, and its notorious nude cover, but did not include any cover art.

A speedy read which told John’s life story with respect, however I will not be keeping it.

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