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Being John Lennon – a restless life by Ray Connolly

Peta Stavelli is blown away by this fly on the wall account of the life of one of the most influential singer-songwriters of our times.

John Lennon was always my favourite Beatle. I loved his humour and his nonchalance. And I especially loved his off-beat looks. Unlike Paul – who was way too boyish and charming for my tastes - John was always slightly rakish in his appearance. A bit of a bad boy.

Like many of my generation, the music of The Beatles is somewhat of a score to my life, beginning in 1963 when I first heard them on the radio. I can recall this moment with absolute clarity, as I can still remember the excitement and wonder of being allowed to catch a bus to the picture theatre to see A Hard Day’s Night with my sister. We were at the time just 10 and nine years of age, and yet neither of these events has faded into obscurity for me.

Then there was the red and white portable record player and The Beatles EP of Hey Jude with Mary Hopkin’s Turn, turn, turn on the flip side. And even later in my teens, I remember a New Year’s Eve listening over and over to George Harrison’s While my Guitar Gently Weeps. The You Tube clip of Dhani Harrison playing this as a tribute to his late father onstage beside Prince, Tom Petty and Geoff Lyn remains one of my favourites.

I recently purchased Seargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and this is a go-to on days when I need a bit of cheering up. As a corollary, I hope that when I die friends and family will not be too upset by my ultimate tribute to them. In My Life is by far my favourite Beatles song.

It was not surprising to find that this beautiful, poignant song was penned by John Lennon. Much has been written over the years about the Lennon/McCartney song writing partnership which was one of the most prolific in musical history. Yet, like many others who have had a nearly life-long interest in their music, I did not know much about the background to this collaboration. Sure, there’s plenty of information out there for those who care to find it. And there’s plenty of misinformation, too.

That’s one of the reasons this epic biography is so brilliantly realised: Ray Connolly was an eye witness to many of the events in the book. Connolly worked for London’s Evening Standard newspaper during the heady early days of rock ‘n’ roll when the stars of some of our cultural icons were still nascent. These were the pre-paparazzi days when journalists were part of the wallpaper and welcomed into the homes of the rich and famous. They were trusted insiders, who sat on information and stories until the time came when they could give a fly on the wall account of what went on behind closed doors. Often they were there to set the story straight when rumour and speculation arose in the tabloids.

On the eve of John Lennon’s assassination on the steps of the Dakota Building in New York, Ray Connolly was called by Yoko Ono to ask why he was not in New York to cover the launch of their latest albulm, Double Fantasy. Connolly was subsequently booked to fly out the following morning when the call came in the early hours that John Lennon was dead. He cancelled his flight and stayed home to write an obituary.

Connolly does not give a starry eyed account of the life of the man he knew well. This is Lennon as he was; and will forever be. And this is one of the best rock’n’ roll biographies you are ever likely to read.

Reviewer: Peta Stavelli

Hachette $37.99


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