The Book of Lennon

The Book of Lennon by Bill Harry came out in 1984, so I must have been at least eighteen years old when I bought it. I was at an age when I bought every book about the Beatles out there, however I would be a richer person today if I was more discriminatory in my purchases. I didn’t like Bill Harry’s earlier The Beatles Who’s Who and The Book of Lennon is no different. Still the exact same spelling errors and factual errors, showing that nothing was corrected in the two years between these two books. When you’re writing a small encyclopedia with short entries about specific people or things, a mistake seems all the more glaring as it is all you can focus on within the entry.

The Book was divided into chapters, dealing with People first, then Places, Performances, Records, Films and so on. I questioned why Harry even bothered to include some people in the encyclopedia. Those who had the most fleeting peripheral brush with Lennon were immortalized in this book while others who played a greater part in John’s life were ignored (like the names of the other Beatles). Why include Carol White, a British actress who ran into John and Yoko at a women’s clothing boutique and later wrote about her chance encounter with them in her own autobiography, and Frank Sinatra, who was only included in the Book because of the statement he issued to the press after John died?

I find encyclopedic reads like this to be profoundly boring. What might be considered a fast read–short biographies or paragraphs about people and things that one can pick up and read during any spare moment–I on the other hand found hard to get into. I realize the intent of a book such as this might not be for it to be read cover-to-cover. One might pick it up for short doses or to thumb through, not to fall asleep through during a lunch hour or transit ride home. That so many facts were wrong lessened my desire to continue reading. You damn well know that I am going to list some of these fake facts here.

Despite stating “You will not find details of Lennon’s assassin here” he nonetheless does mention him by name at least four times in as many different entries, on one of which he devoted far too much time to an artist’s justification for including the assassin’s likeness on a collage of Beatles fans for an album cover.

A particular annoyance throughout the text was Harry’s tendency to spell out ‘fifties, ‘sixties and ‘seventies with the preceding apostrophe.

Harry had a serious bone to pick with Cynthia Lennon, whose first memoir about her life with John, entitled A Twist of Lennon, he thoroughly slammed. In spite of Cynthia’s talent as an artist (seeing as she was good enough to be accepted into the Liverpool College of Art) Harry wrote:

“The book is illustrated with a series of her drawings which reveal no intrinsic artistic value.”

Gee–what did Cynthia do–or write in her book–to tick off Bill Harry? Was it her lack of knowledge about the early Liverpool music scene–and Harry’s part in it–that got under Harry’s skin? He wrote:

“Cynthia had very little to do with the musical side of their career and betrays remarkable ignorance of the Mersey beat scene and how it arose, attributing it almost solely to the efforts of a small coffee bar owner.”

The entire passage on Cynthia’s memoir, which was longer than his typical encyclopedic entries, was spiteful and seemed to serve solely to hurt Cynthia.

As an avowed Beatles insider, Harry embarrassingly got a whole lot of facts wrong. Some were painfully laughable; others careless. I do not list all of his inaccuracies here–I have shown restraint in leaving many of his errors on my notepad and out of this review–but reveal the doozies here:

Misspelling Marianne Faithfull; alternating between Klaus Voorman and Vorrman (both are wrong; it’s Voormann); alternating between Astrid Kirchnerr and Kirchherr (the latter is correct); alternating between Ann Arbor and Ann Arbour (Harry as a Brit must reflexively prefer the British spelling); alternating between Sometime in New York City and Some Time in New York City (an album by John and Yoko; the latter is correct).

Chuck Berry was born in 1926, not 1931 (p. 14).

Marshall McLuhan did not die “in the ‘seventies”. He died on the very last day of 1980 (p. 56).

Two of the songs Harry listed as on David Peel’s album The Pope Smokes Dope are not in fact even on the album (p. 66).

Yoko’s song “AOS” does not feature John at all and does not even feature rhythm guitar (p. 136).

In the entry for Yoko’s album Approximately Infinite Universe, Harry described a totally different album cover, and not one that I even recognize from any that Yoko has released (p. 136).

John did not take his young son Sean on a holiday to Bermuda in 1969. Sean wasn’t born until 1975 (p. 142).

The song “I’m Happy Just to Dance with You” is featured in the movie “A Hard Day’s Night”, not “Help!” (p. 149).

Harry assigned the details for the song “Cambridge 1969” to “No Bed for Beatle John”. This seems all the more egregious when you realize just how dissimilar these two songs are. You really could never, ever confuse these two if you considered yourself a fan of John and Yoko (p. 155).

I will not be keeping this book. It offered no new (for 1984) information about any part of John’s life. In fact, the chapter on Publications was the most boring to read. How can one write a whole chapter on books about John Lennon and keep it interesting when each entry was only a short paragraph long (and so many of the books had similar titles)? Without any cover images, the entries became tedious, and meaningless, to read since the descriptions of the books were almost identical. Even in 1984, there were better books to read about John Lennon. I still have all of the good ones–and refer to them constantly–so I should write a blog entry on the best Beatles books out there.

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