Written by one of the few people outside John Lennon’s inner circle to have read his personal diaries, Nowhere Man reveals an emotional truth about the ex-Beatle that can’t be found in any of the approximately 400 other Lennon biographies currently in print. Fifteen years after its publication, the book is an acknowledged cult classic in the U.S. and U.K. It has been translated into six languages, and the Spanish Web magazine iLeon has chosen it as one of the “10 essential music biographies of all time.”
The “official” version of Lennon’s five-year tenure as househusband was one of domestic bliss. In reality, his daily life at the Dakota drifted between contradictory desires and minor obsessions—all magnified by the tedium of isolation.
Nowhere Man is an intimate journey through Lennon’s last years, carrying us from his self-imposed seclusion to his re-entry into public life with the making of Double Fantasy. Each chapter offers a glimpse into a different aspect of Lennon’s life, including his relationship with Yoko Ono, parenthood, drug use, and his pseudoscientific, esoteric, and religious forays. The portrait that emerges is a life during a time of turmoil that is just reaching creative renewal, only to be cut short by an act of delusional violence.
Nowhere Man reveals a very human side of a beloved cultural icon, giving the reader a compelling account of John’s solitary struggle to create a meaningful life in the glaring spotlight of fame. Robert Rosen does not let us go until we’ve faced the abrupt and tragic fate of one of the most creative minds of our time.
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About the Author
Robert Rosen is the author of Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, an international bestseller that’s been translated into six languages. His investigative memoir, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, was published to critical acclaim across the cultural spectrum, from Vanity Fair to Adult Video News, in the U.S. and U.K. by Headpress. Over the course of a diverse career, he has edited pornographic magazines and an underground newspaper, written speeches for the Secretary of the Air Force, and been awarded a Hugo Boss poetry prize. Rosen’s work has appeared in publications all over the world, including The Independent (U.K.), Uncut (U.K.), Headpress journal (U.K.), Mother Jones, The Soho Weekly News, La Repubblica (Italy), Dagospia (Italy), VSD (France), Proceso (Mexico), Reforma (Mexico), and El Heraldo (Colombia). Born in Brooklyn, Rosen attended Erasmus Hall High School and the City College of New York, where he studied creative writing with Joseph Heller, James Toback, and Francine du Plessix Gray. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott, a writer, editor, and singer. They both do freelance editorial work for Vanity Fair magazine.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1, "Being Rich" "If I hadn't made money honestly, I'd have been a criminal. I was just born to be rich."
New York City, Wednesday, January 9, 12:06 P.M. The words astounded John Lennon as he stared at the caption beneath the old photograph of himself in The National Enquirer. He remembered thinking them but had no recollection of ever saying them out loud. Though he loved reading about himself in the tabloids, he hadn't spoken to a reporter in five years. He hated the motherf-----s. Since he'd gone into seclusion, virtually everything they wrote about him was libelous fantasy. But there was nothing he could do about it. He was fair game. It had been open season on Lennon for 18 years. Still, he had to admit, it was flattering that the press couldn't get along without him and Yoko.
At the advanced age of 39, he was mellowing, learning a bit of self-control. He no longer screamed primally when he came upon a fabricated "exclusive" written by a hack he'd never met, claiming that John Lennon had gone bald or completely insane.
But this nameless Enquirer reporter was clearly not a person to be trifled with. Does he have psychic powers? Can he read my mind? Is he with the CIA? Is my phone tapped again? Is there an internal security leak? Did Yoko tell him? Is it done by satellite? What else do they know? So taken by the quotation was Lennon that he clipped it and pasted it on the first page of his 1980 New Yorker magazine desk diary.
Something was terribly wrong with John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, as the new decade dawned on the Dakota. Their lives were falling apart. John's annual prayer for the continued enjoyment of his health and wealth had apparently fallen upon deaf ears. The situation had become so desperate that servants speculated among themselves about the possibility of a double suicide. But that was mostly wishful thinking. Suicide was out of the question. There was at least one thing John was sure of: he did not want his son Sean to grow up an orphan. And he believed deeply in the existence of God. If he killed himself, there'd be a terrible karmic price to pay. But mostly, a double suicide would make too many of the wrong people rich.
The strain of a life gone out of control showed in Yoko's face. One month short of 47, she was beginning to look like an old woman. Menopause loomed. Gofers were routinely dispatched to Europe to import large quantities of hormonal rejuvenation pills and creams unavailable in the United States. Stay young at any cost. Money is no object. Ignore the fact that the odds of ever being a rock star in your own right have gone from slim to nil.
Acute depression hung in the air and it showed in John's writing. Since retiring from the music business in late 1975, after Sean was born, he compulsively poured all his creative energies into keeping diaries.
His journals were his life. They gave him something constructive to do with his time; they kept him sane. They were his best friend, his only companion. The writing had always been fragmented, but now it bordered on the incoherent. These days, every word was agony. John knew his self-imposed five-year tenure as "househusband" was coming to an end. He no longer wanted to be like the New Yorker cartoon that showed a man with a guitar lying on the couch while in the next room his wife tells her friend, "He's being de-hyped." It was time to get back into gear--"centered," he called it. It was time to face the world again.
But there had not been a moment's peace since the new year began. The Dakota was a madhouse, overrun by staff, friends, family, and the workmen who were building a new playroom for Sean. One morning the superintendent was summoned to exterminate an enormous waterbug that John had found in the bathroom but refused to kill.
Yoko's mother, Isoko Ono, whom everyone called Baba, was in from Japan, and neither John nor Yoko wanted to deal with her. They foisted her off on a servant, who chauffeured her around town in a Mercedes-Benz station wagon. But Baba was having a great time. Her favorite activity: eating lunch at Howard Johnson's in Times Square.
For no good reason at all, John woke up one morning that first week in January feeling euphoric. Thinking about Yoko's mother gave him the urge to call his aunt, Mimi Smith. On impulse, he invited her to move to America and live at the Dakota. Mimi, who had taken John in when he was six months old, was living in the fishing village of Poole, in southwest England, in a house that John had bought for her in 1965, after Beatles fans had laid siege to Mendips, her old Liverpool home.
"John," she said, "I'm happy here. I don't like America."
"But you've never been to America, Mimi...and there's plenty of room here."
Moments after he hung up the telephone he wondered if he'd gone mad. He couldn't believe he'd just invited Mimi to move in. What if she changes her mind and says yes?
Lashing out at everybody around him, John felt his mood nose-dive into despair and self-reproach. He was certain that the problem was in the stars and turned to Patric Walker's horoscope in Town & Country magazine.
Since 1970, when the British astrologer had accurately predicted that John would soon leave England permanently, Lennon had been convinced that Walker's horoscopes were the most precise ones available anywhere. Every month he clipped Libra for himself and Aquarius for Yoko. Underlining significant passages, he correlated them with upcoming events, scribbling notes of warning or things to look forward to. At the end of the month, he reviewed his findings. Never did he declare the horoscope itself inaccurate. The only inaccuracies were in his interpretations. This month, as usual, Walker was dead on the money.
"Librans," he wrote, "don't seem to like January." (No f---ing s---!!!)
"And the astrological reason is that this is always a time when the Sun in Capricorn brings family disputes and difficulties to a head." But, with the sun "beautifully aspected by Jupiter, Mars and Saturn in Virgo," there was hope for the year. "A force within you enables you to remove any obstacles in your path."
John hoped Walker was right about the force within.
Yoko's horoscope pointed out that "friends have been responsible for a great many of your recent misfortunes."
Elliot Mintz had been staying at the Dakota since Christmas; it was the Lennons' holiday tradition to have him as a guest. The former radio DJ and TV news reporter was one of the few people both John and Yoko trusted implicitly. He'd grown friendly with Yoko in 1972, after conducting a remarkably positive television interview. Now he was a devoted friend and servant, a troubleshooter. Whatever needed to be done, Elliot did, professionally and without question.
John thought about Christmas Eve, which he'd spent with Mintz in their private English gentlemen's salon, "Club Dakota." John, dressed formally in tails and his old Quarry Bank brown and yellow school tie, played the Yamaha electric piano Yoko had given him and sang duets with Elliot. Then the two men danced around the room, playing rock 'n' roll records on Sean's antique Wurlitzer jukebox.
But by the end of the week John had had more than enough of Elliot and told him to go home. He hadn't even given him a Christmas present. Then things quieted down a bit, and Lennon was finally able to spend an entire day alone and undisturbed. He received a letter in the mail from Nicky Hopkins. Hopkins, who'd worked with John in 1968, playing electric piano on "Revolution," and later on the "Imagine" sessions, said that he needed work badly.
He can go f--- himself, John thought, tossing the letter in the trash. The last time they worked together Hopkins's ego was out of control. He was playing too many mind games.
Lennon's mood was momentarily boosted when he received an invitation for a party that Greta Garbo and the Sheik of Saudi Arabia were both scheduled to attend. But Yoko said they couldn't go--it was out of the question. The numbers and the stars weren't right, particularly for her. It was going to be a traumatic February because of an eclipsed moon in her birth sign.
Retreating to his bedroom on the seventh floor, John rolled a thick joint of potent Thai weed and lit it up. Thai one on, he thought as he sat in bed sulking. He stared at the faces on the silent TV, flipping through the channels with the remote control until he grew groggy and faded to sleep.
What People are Saying About This
Robert Rosen's gripping account of John Lennon's five-year seclusion in the
Dakota building makes it impossible any longer to agree with the cozy popular
image of him during this period as a devoted father and bread-baking,
domesticated househusband. This is a portrait of a life coming slowly apart,
of someone baffled by the world and their place in it. It is,
literally, the twilight of an idol."
(Alan Jones, Editor, Uncut magazine)
(Catherine Crier, Crier Today, Court TV)