Sunday, 22 June 2008

'Imagine This'

There are a glut of Lennon biographies available to the ordinary reader, which range from the obsequious official narratives of Ray Coleman, to the barbed broadside of Albert Goldman. (Of those two, I far prefer the latter; which, whilst it fails to understand John Winston, nails John Ono.) I have read several; the most recent being 'Imagine This: Growing up with my brother John Lennon' by Julia Baird. This was a book for which I didn't entertain very high hopes. I had not long finished with Cynthia's anaemic tome, John, and expected something similar: doubts not dispelled by the existence of an earlier book by the same author, co-written by Geoffrey Guiliano. This, as some of you will be aware, is the notorious, semi-shady character who claims his Goldman-esque 'Lennon In America' was based on the 'lost Lennon diaries': the documents lifted from the Dakota by Fred Seaman (and accomplice/s) in 1980 and returned to Ono (for a price) shortly afterwards. Guiliano (and others, including author Robert Rosen) claim that a large proportion of these voluminous diaries were photocopied; Guiliano claims to have been given a copy by Harry Nilsson, Lennon's comrade during the 'Lost Weekend.' Needless to say, this is disputed not only by other Beatle researchers but by Nilsson's widow. Nilsson himself, conveniently, is now dead.

This second book, written without Guiliano's assistance, with a highly distinctive authorial voice of its own, dispels those doubts. It is unquestionably a most interesting contribution to a crowded field; not least for the questing- and subtlely clairvoyant- tone it adopts throughout. The author, Julia Baird, is Lennon's half-sister by the marriage of Julia Lennon to Bobby Dykins, John's stepfather. Perhaps the most interesting revelation, which all other biographers had failed to unearth, is the affair between John's stentorious Aunt Mimi, and a young lodger, Michael Fishwick; at that time a student at John Moores University, and a tenant in the family home at 251 Menlove Avenue. Most intriguing is the manner in which this information is received. Lengthy discussions with the ailing and elderly 'Nanny' (one of Mimi's younger sisters) disclose only the vague suspicion that Mimi may have had a lover, with whom she was planning to emigrate to New Zealand. Attempting to cast light on this family mystery, Julia Baird decides to contact Fishwick, who had lived at Mendips, as a tenant, for nine years. His proximity to Mimi during that time, she figures, would have afforded him a keen insight into what was going on behind the scenes...

Was this vital piece of information something 'intended' for Julia to discover; as part of her personal quest into her family history, and the trauma she has endured? Something about the 'ease' with which it materialised- having yet eluded the likes of Goldman, despite his teams of paid researchers- would suggest so. Interestingly, Baird evinces something close to a photographic memory of her childhood; even confessing to having lucid dreams in which her mother, Julia Lennon, appears to her. Every detail of these astral 'encounters' is lovingly recalled. Her keen interest in yoga, disclosed towards the end of the book, did not surprise me; more than most authors, she appreciates the magical currents (not all of them white) with which the Beatle myth is garlanded: an awareness which yoga (and meditation) would only deepen. She notes, for example, the 'almost identical' circumstances between the marriage of John and Cynthia in 1962, and Julia and Alfred, Lennon's father, twenty four years previously... and describes a very strange premonitory episode which preceded the tragic death of her mother.

Indeed, when at one point she describes herself and her younger sister, Jackie, as 'sisters who squabbled and made up as a way of life, who giggled uncontrollably, at the drop of a hat, like witches', you are tempted to take her literally. The authorial photograph- which reveals that enigmatic good looks were not John's sole preserve- depicts the author in a striking pose: clutching a small tabby.

In the final chapter, the book assumes the status of a psychic quest; as the courageous author scours a Liverpool cemetery in search of her mother's unmarked grave. Interestingly, 'there was no headstone, but someone had put a stone cat there as a marker'. The cat, venerated by the Egyptians and the Knight's Templar, is a Grail symbol; as seen, for example, on the Cat Monument in Shugborough Park in Staffordshire. From the sounds of things, the final resting place of Julia Lennon is now properly marked; and may well be a popular destination for the thousands of Beatles tourists who flock to nearby Woolton, where Lennon grew up. It would surely be no less than the 'Ocean Child' deserves.

1 comment:

Robert Rosen said...

Hi, Robert Rosen here. Just for the record you write: “Guiliano (and others, including author Robert Rosen) claim that a large proportion of these voluminous diaries were photocopied.”

The diaries (1975-1980) were photocopied; I photocopied them in July 1981. I also transcribed the diaries, just as I describe in the intro to “Nowhere Man.” I photocopied these transcripts, as well. It does appear that after Seaman removed these photocopies from my apartment, and from a safe-deposit box, Guiliano got his hands on parts of them. I think it’s safe to say that directly or indirectly the photocopies came from Seaman. I think it’s also safe to say that it’s absurd for Guiliano to suggest that the conveniently dead Harry Nilsson gave them to him.