'John Lennon: The Life' by Philip Norman

Beatle's story starts well, rushes to finish

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When "Shout: The Beatles in Their Generation" appeared in 1981, Philip Norman received widespread praise for his definitive biography of the famed Liverpool quartet. It is still considered one of the best Beatle biographies to date.


By Philip Norman
Ecco ($34.95)


Now Norman tackles the lead Beatle's difficult chidlhood, rise to superstardom (truly a rock'n'roll story if ever there was one), private post-Beatles life in New York and his murder at the hands of a deranged fan just as the 1980s were starting.

With multiple biographies published over the past two decades, some of which delved into the darker episodes of John's life, the biggest question is whether Norman's undertaking could bring something new to the party.

If previous bios showed Lennon's darkness, Norman's book will raise the eyebrows even higher, if one is to believe all of its revelations. He writes of Oedipal lust, violent mood swings directed at people he professed to love and colossal self-absorption.

A highlight is the way Norman weaves in the intricate compositions Lennon wrote with his partner of approximately 12 years, Paul McCartney.

From their beginnings bouncing ideas off each other in McCartney's living room for hours every day to their more sporadic input in each other's work as Beatle fame took its toll, Norman provides many titillating details of the most famous songwriting duo in pop history.

He writes an intimate look at the fine balance between creativity, friendship and competing ambitions that defined their relationship.

This book also draws on a great many sources, including the many people in John's life, from the famous, to the forgotten. The information gleaned from Lennon's many family members in Liverpool adds interesting elements as well to create a rich portrait of Lennon, (many) warts and all.

Norman covers Lennon's early years in painstaking detail, much of it regarding his parents and his complex upbringing amid bickering family members, some of whom loved the boy dearly and some who didn't seem to want him at all.

But while it goes into great detail with the beginnings of John's life, it breezes fairly quickly through the 1970s and into the last day of his life.

Norman does provide a glimpse of Lennon's house-husband period and day-to-day lifestyle during his five-year "retirement," but the run-up to his assassination seems to move all too quickly.

Overall, this a moving tale of the formation of a complicated personality who touched the world, lifted it up and made it better, all while being the dark personality who might never have been comfortable in his own skin.

Perry Munyon is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer.


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