In 'The Lives of John Lennon,' author Albert Goldman feigns objectivity by citing scores of sources compiled over six years of research. But very little new information of importance about Lennon's life is presented here. Most of the damaging observations have already been made public in kiss-and-tell accounts by disgruntled former employees and associates.
What is new about 'The Lives of John Lennon' (Morrow, 700 pp. $22.95) is the astonishingly deep contempt Goldman expresses, not just for Lennon, but Lennon's family, the other Beatles, Beatle fans, Yoko Ono, rock music in general and even many of his own sources.
The tone is clear at the outset.
On the first page Yoko appears as a drug addict. The word Goldman uses to describe her is 'hideous.' Lennon, who appears next, is 'feeble.' Their son, Sean, is 'feral.'
The schoolyard name-calling continues relentlessly throughout the book. Lennon's mother, Julia, is dismissed as a 'frivolous little flirt;' Beatles manager Brian Epstein as 'a know-nothing snob.' He describes the Beatles' performance by referring to them as sexual devices; George Harrison as 'a lap dog burying its mess,' Paul McCartney as 'an ecstatic little puppy dog.'
Goldman characterizes the classic soul of Motown records, which posed the most serious competition to the Beatles in the early 1960s, as 'Berry Gordy's second-generation assembly-line blacks.'
Of course most of Goldman's venom is reserved for Lennon, who is painted as a weak, drug-addicted, murdering pervert who steals other people's material routinely and is obsessed with homosexuality.
Goldman had to go to such lengths to tar Lennon's image because the ex-Beatle willfully presented himself as a bad guy after leaving the Fab Four. Lennon made little secret of his heroin use and often acted rudely in dramatic fashion, almost as if he wanted to shatter the public's illusions of the Beatles.
Lennon didn't provide the easy target Elvis Presley afforded Goldman in his last book, 'Elvis.' Presley tried to disguise his faults, allowing Goldman to shatter the public perception of the King.
To sensationalize Lennon, Goldman had to resort to the sleaziest methods, quoting the notoriously unreliable English scandal sheets and making accusations based on the thinnest evidence, contradictory testimony and innuendo.
Without the use of any significant evidence, Goldman suggests that Lennon may have committed not one, but two murders.
Goldman repeatedly ridicules Lennon's songwriting and musical ability, but his preposterous stabs at music criticism make such arguments laughable. In fact, the book is riddled with factual errors about the Beatles' recording history.
By abandoning any sense of critical balance from the very beginning of the book, Goldman fails miserably as a biographer.
In the end, this bloated exercise in scorn reveals little about John Lennon but plenty about Goldman.
Goldman's fascination with Lennon's sex life is the most bizarre aspect of the book. He claims to know the number of times Lennon and Yoko had sexual intercourse during parts of their relationship.
He quotes wildly contradictory sources to 'prove' the long-standing rumor that Lennon and Epstein were homosexual lovers, going as far as to imply that Epstein committed suicide because Lennon ended the relationship. Without offering any evidence, Goldman repeatedly writes that Lennon enjoyed sex with young boys.
Goldman is also vicious in his hyperbolic attacks on Yoko. He claims that she arranged to have McCartney busted for drugs in Japan by using her family influence. He cites as his sources two of her former employees who Goldman himself describes as scam artists and con men.
If Yoko had done such a thing to McCartney, why did he turn around and cooperate with her in calling for a boycott of this book?