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Pop Beat : Lennon Bio Stays Out Of The Closets

May 18, 1985|DENNIS HUNT | Times Staff Writer

Sensation-seekers beware. "Lennon" is not for you.

This 640-page biography (McGraw Hill, $19.95) of John Lennon is described by its author, English journalist Ray Coleman, as "affectionate." It probes no new territory, offers no scandalous revelations and tells you all you ever wanted to know about the early life of the revered rock singer-songwriter and former Beatle who was murdered in December, 1980.

Coleman, the former editor of the British music journal Melody Maker, is currently on a brief American promotional tour with Cynthia Lennon, the late singer's first wife and mother of John's son Julian, a hot new rock star.

"The book is a celebration of John," said Coleman, who is scholarly, mild-mannered and very soft-spoken. "I knew him well, particularly back in his Beatles' days. I've been in and out of his life all these years. I knew him too well to go digging for skeletons. My purpose was to have people remember John for what he was--a genius, a great man. The good in him far outweighed the bad."

Coleman deals only briefly with the scandalous aspects of Lennon's life, such as his drug abuse and his alleged affair with Beatles' manager Brian Epstein, who died in 1967.

"I didn't go into drugs in great depth," Coleman explained. "We all knew he took drugs but I think his drug intake was exaggerated. John didn't go on the record very much about drugs and I didn't want to print half truths.

"That's also why I didn't dwell on the rumors about John's involvement with Brian. By all the evidence, nothing like that ever happened. No one could confirm it so why dwell on it?"

What's also missing from "Lennon" is the point of view of Paul McCartney, Lennon's writing partner, who refused to be interviewed.

"He was reeling from all the books and didn't want to get involved in another one," Coleman explained. "Now, I'm glad he said no. If he had participated it would have been a very different book. I had formed an opinion of John and Paul's relationship and possibly Paul would have refuted it."

Cynthia Lennon added: "John wasn't that close to Paul. John was closer to Ringo than anyone else in the group. Ringo didn't cause him mental hassles like everyone else did."

Coleman started the book in 1981 but couldn't really work earnestly on it until late 1982. The problem was that it took him nearly 18 months to convince the three principal women in Lennon's life to participate in the project. But Coleman finally got the cooperation of Cynthia, Lennon's widow Yoko Ono and his aunt Mimi Smith, who raised him.

Cynthia admitted she wasn't an easy convert.

"I was still reeling from John's death," she recalled. "I had read things in other books about John that I couldn't believe. I was with him for 10 years. I know what's true about him. All these exaggerations and figments of people's imaginations were eating away at John's memory and eating away at my flesh as well. After years of being portrayed as something I'm not I thought it was time for me to have a platform.

"I didn't know Ray very well. We had quite a few battles at first. It's amazing we get along so well now. But I trusted his integrity. I was finally convinced that he wasn't looking for scandal."

With old wounds constantly being picked at in interviews, this promotional tour has been quite agonizing for her.

"It's been very painful," she said. "When I agreed to do this promotion with Ray I didn't expect to feel this way. I agreed to do the tour because I believe in Ray and the book. But I'm reliving this thing with John over and over because I get the same questions over and over about the same painful things. It's like I have a knife in me and people keep twisting it."

LIVE ACTION: Tickets go on sale Sunday for five Universal Amphitheatre engagements: Luther Vandross (July 4-6), Culture Club (Aug. 20-21), the Wailers (June 21), Tom Jones (Aug. 8-10) and Roger Whittaker (July 13). . . . Culture Club will also be at the Pacific Amphitheatre on Aug. 17. Tickets go on sale today. Also due at the Pacific are Robert Plant on June 18 and Tears for Fears on July 10. Tickets for those shows will be available Monday.

Tickets go on sale Monday for concerts by John Prine on June 15 and Rare Silk on June 20, both at the Beverly Theatre. . . . The Wiltern Theatre pop and jazz lineup includes Leonard Cohen (June 9), Paco de Lucia (June 19) and Grover Washington, Jr. (July 25). . . . Coming to the Palace: Stan Getz (June 20) and Katrina & the Waves (June 21).

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