John Lennon was shot and killed 40 years ago today out in front of his home at the Dakota Apartments. That fact you probably know.
Many aspects of his later years — but most especially his death — have been replayed and mythologized upon the streets of New York City, the unique result of a historical figure who had an extraordinary affect on music history.
The Search For John Lennon
The Life, Loves and Death of a Rock Star
In The Search For John Lennon, English biographer Lesley-Ann Jones takes the unique approach of reorienting the musician’s career with the Beatles as a lead-up to his years with Yoko Ono in New York, and not the other way around.
For nine years, Lennon made New York City his home, and during those years, he became many different men — extravagant changes, from risk-taking activist to responsible neighbor. Still revered but free from the international spotlight, Lennon rebelled and experimented and finally settled down. (But was he ever that free?)
And he was set to make another transformation in the fall of 1980 — with Ono at his side.
The Search for John Lennon is a discovery and even a celebration of the women who shaped his path, particularly Ono who he first met in London in 1966. The vulgar ways in which past biographers have demonized Ono tended to slander Lennon as well, diminishing their partnership as a sort of vampirism.
For Jones, the pair only brought out the best in each other:
“[E]verything they did, didn’t good, bad, ugly, beautiful, boring, fascinating, indifferent, ill-advised, cock-eyed or just plain daft, was a multilingual headline and happening. Imagine living like that. I know I couldn’t. They endured it together, building a relationship of equals, perfectly in tune, that would see John slaughter his inborn misogynist to embrace and even start promoting feminism. What? It’s what Yoko wanted. It was what she demanded of him.”
As you can judge from that passage, Jones has a lavish, sometimes ridiculous writing style that is absolutely perfect for this material and a delight to read. It jostles with flair between awestruck and tawdry. She assumes you know the general outline of Lennon’s life so that she can go down rarely visited paths of his biography.
For instance, there’s an entire chapter about Ono’s daughter Kyoko from her marriage with producer Anthony Cox that has perhaps more surprising twists than anything that ever happened directly to Lennon himself.
(But to refresh your memory, there is a ‘selective’ timeline of Lennon’s life in the back — about fifty pages long. Some lives, it seems, are hard to summarize.)
And yet I don’t feel like Jones’ ultimate objective here is to find some undiscovered morsels about who he was, but to figure out who he would have been had he lived past the evening of December 8, 1980.
“What if he were here today? What sense might the octogenarian ex-Beatle be making of our glacier-melting, eco-damned, COVID-clobbered, politically condemned world? What, if anything, would he be doing about all this? Would he matter now? Would he be relevant? Would be still mean something?”
TOP IMAGE BY BOB GRUEN