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Who was John Lennon? Interview with biographer Tim Riley
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3 October 2011
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The Christian Science Monitor
September 22, 2011
Who was
John Lennon? Interview with biographer Tim Riley

Lennon biographer Tim Riley talks about John, his relationships with Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney, and the mystique that surrounds them all. Tim Riley has been a music critic for nearly three decades now. His first book, "Tell Me Why" examines the music of the Beatles, song by song. This month his latest book, Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music – the Definitive Life, a 700-plus page biography of John Lennon, is being released. I recently had a chance to talk to Riley about his book and his lifelong fascination with the Beatles. Here are excerpts of our conversation:


Life is what happens when your busy making other plans.  John Lennon
7 October 2011
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Can anyone explain this to me?

Is that part of the Lennon mystique?
It’s a big part of the Lennon mystique. He plays it every which way. But it’s also true that Liverpool is a very parochial town. One of the British critics that I engaged with pointed out how important this was when he meets Yoko Ono. [John] meets Yoko Ono at this art show and he thinks that she is just the grooviest, funniest, spaciest thing he’s ever met. He can’t imagine anyone more spaced out than Yoko Ono. And then he falls for her. Well, that just shows his parochialism. He hadn’t been around the block. He hasn’t hung out in New York. He hasn’t interacted with other modern, wacky artists. To him it’s just this great new world that she opens up to him.

He’s really kind of like an American stuck in a British body. He was the most American member of the band.

Now, I've been to Liverpool and it's a pretty big place. Lennon knew artists and musicians, he'd first played in Hamburg at the age of 19, he'd travelled the world with The Beatles by the age of 23. The Beatles were hardly stuck in the corner. In what way was he parochial? I know he felt hemmed in by domestic life in Weybridge, but it's not as though The Beatles never went anywhere or did anything. They were in the crow's nest throughout the 1960s.

And that last bit really is baffling. I'm a Brit, but I don't think deep down we're all that different from anyone else, beyond superficial mannerisms etc. I know Riley is American, so can someone explain to me what he might be thinking?

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