Albert Goldman created a scandal when he published The Lives of John Lennon in 1988. In it the author attempted to destroy Lennon and everything he stood for, and at 704 pages that’s a lot of character assassination. It is not my wish to refute Goldman’s claims or to try to resurrect John’s reputation when this biography is so baseless. This book is tabloid trash talk where facts are an afterthought.
By 1988 I was in university enrolled in literature courses and had no time to read anything else during semesters. At that time I was also not as obsessed about acquiring every book with the Beatles’ (or John Lennon’s) name on it. Thus I ignored this biography–which retailed for $29.95–when it came out. I was nonetheless curious enough to buy it (as opposed to simply borrow it from the library where I worked) for a remaindered price of $5.99 some time later. And so for roughly the past thirty years I have kept this disgraceful book sealed in its cellophane wrap, too ashamed to read it but I suppose not ashamed enough to display it on my bookshelf. I guess if anyone ratted me out for owning it I could point out that it still being sealed meant that I hadn’t read it. However it was now time to read it once and for all and relieve my shelves of 5 cm of valuably needed space.
Most book reviews at the time focussed on the book’s first chapter, which portrayed John as an anorexic catatonic imbecile living a Howard Hughes existence glued to his TV set. The characterizations are laughable because they are so over-the-top. The author mixed all the colours from his palette to paint John as a murderer and a man obsessed with his own death. Not only that, but John, who made no secret about his extramarital affairs, apparently slept around with so many women to cover up his closeted homosexuality. When I heard all these claims in 1988 I came up with the decision to refer to the book from then on as The Lies of John Lennon.
Yoko is treated just as scathingly and once she is introduced into John’s life Goldman seems to write two biographies instead of one. I have never believed that Yoko, who grew up within a wealthy banking family and educated at private American schools, would have trashed her smarts for the crackpot advice of charlatans such as psychics and tarot readers. During the late seventies Yoko used her financial expertise to expand the Lennon coffers with wise investments. People don’t get rich using hokum as financial advice.
In preparation for this read I packed the book with plenty of notepaper, however I surprised myself by my minimal notations. Most of my notes were reminders to verify information Goldman presented as facts. His claims were easily verifiable, and certainly would have been even if I had read this in 1988. Details such as street names, record releases, song titles and years when material was released were not researched. How hard would it be to verify that the song “Help!” was released in 1965 and not 1966? Or that the Cavern was located on Mathew Street and not Matthew? If a biographer cannot get details like this correct then what credibility does he have with shady reminiscences from Lennon bone-pickers from 1960?
In spite of the way I feel about Goldman as a researcher, I do have to commend him as a writer. He can tell a good story which I enjoyed reading–his treatment of the subject matter notwithstanding–yet his professional reputation 32 years later continues to waft with noxious miasma. It is easy to denounce those who attack our heroes yet I wonder what we would be thinking of Goldman had he devoted his talent to nobler pursuits than trashing John Lennon and Elvis Presley (in an earlier biography). Is fame a double-edged sword? Would we have even noticed the author unless he ripped John and Elvis to shreds?
There are good Lennon biographies by Ray Coleman and Philip Norman that are worth your time.