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BOOK REVIEW: In His Own Write by John Lennon

| 6 February 2015 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: In His Own Write by John Lennon
A&U Canongate, 1 December, 2014 – rrp$24.99
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar

John Lennon - In His Own Write cover

When the initial surge of Beatlemania hit the world was in shock – only Elvis Presley before them had provoked the sort of mass hysteria seen in response to pop music, and that hysteria extended to the cash registers of stores around the world, with everything from records to posters to Beatles wigs, lunchboxes and thousands of other products produced to rake in a buck.

In 1964 John Lennon was asked to publish this book of scribblings (it would be followed by A Spaniard In The Works the following year) – presumably because the publishers thought they could make a buck from it, but what a shock it must have been for the average teenage Beatles fan to thumb through this collection of subversive, sometimes racist and sexist, prose and noodlings!

The prose isn’t completely offensive by today’s standards, but it certainly isn’t politically correct – though thankfully Canongate have left it as written fifty years ago, when talk of “the coloured conductor” making one “leap off the bus like a burning spastic” was more run of the mill. A grain of salt is obviously required to read such things nowadays, just as the Gollywogs who populate Toyland were a product of the prevailing thinking of the time.

Lennon’s prose is almost stream of conscious in parts, spiced up with witty and clever wordplay showcasing his love of the language which, obviously, he put to great use in his songs. A group of sailors becomes “old saviours whom have soled the several seas,” for instance, and there’s a fiercely dark wit at play which has common threads with what The Goons and later Monty Python would stake reputations on.

The Famous Five become “Tom, Stan, Dave, Nigel, Berniss, Arthur, Harry, Wee Jockey, Matoombo and Craig?”, deliberate typos are employed for no reason other than giddy, anarchic fun – “foing the dirty worj” substitutes adjacent letters on the typewriter, for instance, and all the while through you get the sense of Lennon amusing himself no end.

It’s absurdist, for the most part, but as Paul McCartney writes in a short, sharp introduction, “he was cleverer than he pretended,” which is born out in these one- and two-page little skits, which McCartney also wonders about, “is he deep? Is he arty, with it or cultured?” before admitting, “there are bound to be thickheads who will wonder why some of it doesn’t make sense and others who will search for hidden meanings… None of it has to make sense and it it seems funny then that’s enough.”

And that might be all that needs to be said about the book at all.

Category: Book Reviews

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