Friday, December 09, 2005

John Lennon: All I Want Is The Truth

John Lennon: All I Want Is The Truth by Elizabeth Partridge.

Elizabeth Partridge is a brilliant non-fiction writer. Her most recent book is about John Lennon. I feel almost silly explaining who John Lennon was; but, on the other hand, this is a book written for teens born after Lennon was killed. "He was in a band called the Beatles with Stella McCartney's father." And as I try to write down something about Lennon in a sentence or two, I realize just how difficult it must be to take all that he was, and did, all that he represented, and sum it up in a sentence or two.

What is great about JL:AIWITT is that it shows the man behind the myth, warts and all. John Lennon was both a myth and a man. As a man, he was very human, with contradictions, times of brilliance, weaknesses, strengths. He wasn't perfect. For one son, he was an absentee father; for another, a stay at home father. He championed feminism in song and reality; yet he treated his first wife horribly.

As myth, tho, he is sometimes presented as perfect: JOHNLENNON, a seer, a saint, a martyr. Partridge gets behind the myth, and shows how he came to represent the times in which he lived : peace, activism, politics, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, drugs, art, music, parenthood.

I've always preferred biographies that include the feet of clay.. It makes the subjects more real. When a book is about someone who achieved such great things as Lennon did, I think including the bad with the good help readers realize that if that person, with flaws, can do it -- I can do it, also.

It probably helped my reading that I am old enough to know who Lennon is, to have listened to most of his music, to remember where I was when I heard he had been murdered. Some of the information in the book is new, some old, but it gives a well-rounded portrait of a complex man, never excusing his behavior yet also not being judgmental or critical. I'm also young enough that I've never been OHMIGODJOHNLENNON; I didn't get upset about what I read. I could approach the book as neither stranger nor groupie.

Lennon was a brilliant musician and I enjoyed reading the stories behind the songs. I'm familiar with all of them; but it's a shame that Partridge was unable to get permission to quote lyrics. (For the record: I have no idea why Partridge did not include quotes, so I'm assuming that she was unable to get permission.)

JL:AIWITT is described as a "photographic biography." The photos are wonderful, showing all times and areas of Lennon's life. It's such a beautiful book, and the photos are so perfect, that I didn't realize until later that they are all black and white. For some reason, the use of black and white and omission of color seems very appropriate -- maybe because black and white means "old"? Or is it that those 60s fashions don't hold up in color photos?

Also by Partridge: This Land Was Made for You and Me : The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie. An interview with her is at

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