When Nellie McKay set out to review Philip Norman’s “John Lennon: The Life” for the Book Review, she decided to follow the path marked by Lennon in “In His Own Write,” a quirky, funny collection of stories, poems and drawings. As he himself put it in 1964, “As far as I’m conceived this correction of short writty is the most wonderfoul larf I’ve ever ready.” For those who might like a hint or two: “Gary Oldman” is Albert Goldman, the author of a notorious biography of Lennon, and “Phyllis Diller” is Philip Norman. After that, you’re on your own.
Nobody can get to the heart of our Johnny, or ears. Gary Oldman lied but nobody licked him, being a journalist. Phyllis Diller’s “The Wife” is very impressive and lull that, but who’s got the money these days? (All the wrong pimple, that’s who — backoff scullards, go mount your monkey.) Nonetheless to fins this book is like Jo dine all over gin.
Phyllis fist takes us to Grandpater Lemon, a fumy man who envoyed making fum of balck pebbles in a goldmine minstrelle showe. His kid Palf had simular floundering ways and wandered his talent on wishwashing.
Besides all this he carried Jules Holland, and they trottled off to see a Dickey Mooney film. They bored a little pal who’d later fey, “You have to be a bastard to make it,” and set about makin it so. Jules clod him stovepipe dreams and wrought banjo gourds to his dingers, hastening to “My Son John” on the Vic Damone as he left. The Duchess of Malfi came and went but had never uneasy time with dese women. Mr. Nuffins writes county clare to leggins “too many people” wanted Johnny “too much.” Yet when J’s Muggy died, he dismembered in a stagnant whirlpool of grief. Also precariously he was forced to chase between his parents in a broom, running black and fort between dumb.
So anoddy at arts pool he was a contradictionary type, gouche ole misfit and one who always pound a gang, a genius whose girlfriend did his wark for him, the young sham thaking thun tuf criddles from a wilde who’d tallways play Indian — “That was typical John, to support the underdog,” sed Shimmy.
Ah yes Shimmy, Quicksilver’s aunt, who chucked dead bards oot Thin Thea and wouldn’t buy a piano cos she don’t want “none of that common singsong stuff in here” (still don’t, saul bellow). Supering Joan’s edshun and threwin out his fireworks for which he never forgave her none, walking past albert finney felds and keepin a quiet home nice for bats and young people. “Like an arrow from a bow,” he’d always sneak her approval and suppert.
Deforming a band took conservatives and phunning. Larfing with skittle and covers meant going unheard in a confession where the violence is everything. Timbers flewed in and stout based on the penance they played, their ingrationship with other cads, and hairpile. Very narsty was the Weasels’ dismissal of Mae West (no card or notting), and Jebbin may have killed Hugh Hut in a fit of needing to kick somebody’s head in (ay but who moon ous dent know that feel).
It may be knotted perhaps in passing all through this part of wort Dilbert minds derail and pigmentcy beautifilly and writing some wondrful lines, sashes for inkwell describbing a port dune of Jan by a fellow art solvent as “a figure coiled to spring, or maybe run for cover.” Questionijoodments — “the most private emotions are better made public . . . broken hearts heal quicker if worn on one’s sleeve” — are torn than smashed up for by amighty reserge, pithy sentences — Zimmergun’s swans were “phrased like biblical psalms and spat out with a heckler’s venom” — and revelatorus quotes by them like a sculpture tutor calling Our Hero “a fellow who seemed to have been born without brakes.”
Affer Reeferbong and wizzling on nuns the tours de boors made it to the BB King and to an audience finally heady for their lound n sooks. So they shote hit after hit till the populace n’ere rendered pan-shandal nor crass nor led Kennawees, and drew breath from this most delightful new rug, which remained sadictive through constrant elocution of new bibs an bobs. Boot bore this could foot happen Mr. Clean had to gelp make the toys “famous by compromise,” and there mines were falways ailed by competition an wareness.
Jol’d noted “America had teenagers. . . . Everywhere else just had people.” But fur next years come he entertained bothe brittle and bottle by making that intangible, arf which is both accessible and groundbucking. Bet of course there were problems in the New World — Nordberg shoes us Kubrick Kookz warnings, gravity-slushing touring and the Pope of Forthlin Road sawing (truly), “In America, they hold everything against you.”
Und then inamorata. In Coco Charo’s tiny frame were “all the audacity and imperviousness to criticism and mockery . . . that he himself so much longed” for. He felt he’d waited “an eternity.” From her came art in Earnest, political involvo and the reckoned chance so throog us get.
The Mopeds joved Lonny too, and to haraz im on beowolf of the wumbs/lurr class/dark filk he was defending. As Gee Conway Twitty put it: “You have to remember that John Lennon . . . was no ordinary singer. He had kind of a power and influence that no other singer had back then or has had since.” Nordberg dunt go into his pillar or catered investigation, understandably so-so. But it shide be knotted that Ted Sated Danson had dallied with Whirled Mission, which offen fonts four the by-the-way.
Overalls Cloris glibs a goaring vista of Jon-L’s life. Particulariously for those warlienots who sieved through the pixies, this crook’s an acid quip for fermented memories, boer every song has a trouble meaning, oon for the flash who smote them and oon for those who listed. This tomb’s enough shoals to swill Albert Small kitty times o’er, buttles perhaps a refreshing mange comprended to the nomad biographeres who’ll claim l’chaim dings not backed with any kind of kippur. His writs can be overcooked and repennytyve, but nobody cares how yar say some which mush be sad. Minions on songs ar argibabble — “Gimme Some Truth” has far marzi pan a “rancid center,” callin “Oh! Darling” “unmemorable” comes comatose to sacrilege, and such drooly honesty lovey works as “Intuition” and “Grow Old With Me” are never once moonshined. Norris sites, “The Second World War everyone agreed then, as now, had been a necessary and just one.” But over 60,000 couscous objectors in Bitbum abourne hardly inflies universal constant, and the fomming of Heroshimmy and Maserati, nevermin ye Humbug and FloJo, nevermin the cursed use of napalm and kernment camps, sugar this a rather glib point of view. And “adorable” is hardly the thirst adjunctive grubbin to mind when a fink thinks of Winston O’Boogie (named so on his fern Urkle’s alb).
But “The Wife” dint half be a music canoe, Glastonbury lesson or charter assessment. It shows Jo Venom, who destroyed the nice old houses, and John the Gent, willy more sentrimental than Healer Paul; a man whose instigation held friendless mirrors and who helped bring peace and joyce to a victious planet, a man stingy and cruel to those cossacks to him, mentally corchuring Cleo and offering to off his Chad, and one so medicated to being a good boy and father that he rushed each fight to put Sun to bed.
Philip Norman relates that a possible alternate title for “In His Own Write” was “Stop One and Buy Me.” It is an apt phrase for his own haunting, mammoth, terrific piece of work.
Nellie McKay’s most recent album is “Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day.”