There are four thousand holes in John Lennon: The Life, and the one in most dire need of fixing is the absence of illuminating discussion of the creative work that makes Lennon matter. Norman, who has done books on Buddy Holly and Elton John, in addition to his writing on the Beatles, is the rare biographer of musicians who has little evident interest in music itself. He concentrates on the events of his subjects' lives with an eye for personal details (John liked to conjure a romantic mood, lighting a candle by the bedside, before sex) but not much of an ear for the songs they devoted those lives to creating. When he does take up a specific work, Norman tends to characterize the song by the style or the quality of its lyrics. Thus he describes "If I Fell," the gorgeous Lennon ballad that the Beatles performed in their first film, A Hard Day's Night, tersely as "plaintive." Yes, the words are simple and direct; but the music is luxurious and complex, with harmony parts that purl around the melody. Song after song from record after record goes without much attention, as if John Lennon started a band called the Beatles just so he could imitate a paralyzed person on stage and kick a friend in the head after the show.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Tone Deaf Musical Discussion
In The New Republic Dave Hadju reviews the new Lennon biography, and in the process, takes on that strange creature that sometimes rears its head: The artist biography that is completely uninterested in the art.