Rock from a hard place

From The Guardian:

Lennon Norman is the first Lennon biographer to be granted access to the private papers of Lennon’s celebrated Aunt Mimi, who took the troubled youngster in when his parents’ ill-fated marriage finally imploded. He has also made good use of the notebooks the singer filled with his often scabrous musings and the cassettes on to which Lennon fitfully recorded his random thoughts, opinions and memories. The tabloids have already provided some invaluable pre-publicity for Norman’s book by homing in on the ‘revelation’ that John may have harboured secret homosexual longings for Paul. Imagine! Macca, though, is having none of it. ‘John never tried anything on,’ he said recently. ‘I slept with him a million times.’ Lest there be any doubt about their laddishness, he added that had Lennon had ‘a little gay tendency’, he would ‘have caught him out’.

There has been much conjecture about Lennon’s sexuality in the past, most of it centred on his intense love-hate relationship with the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein. Norman refutes the oft-repeated rumour that the two slept together during a holiday in Spain in the summer of 1963. He concludes that Lennon’s ‘gay tendency’ was aesthetic rather than carnal, and ‘based on the principle that bohemians should try everything’.

The book’s other big revelation, this time culled from a 1979 audio confession, is that, when he was a hormonally charged 14-year-old, Lennon harboured incestuous desires for his mother Julia. Her death in a car accident, when John was 17, was to haunt him for the rest of his life. Likewise, it would seem, the heightened moment in his adolescence when he lay down beside her and accidentally touched her breast. ‘I was wondering if I should do anything else,’ he mused later in a bout of post-therapy soul-baring. ‘I always think I should have done it. Presumably she would have allowed it.’

Though Norman does not pick up on it, it’s the word ‘presumably’ that intrigues here. Did Lennon assume his mother had no moral scruples and would have reciprocated his advances? Or that her love for him was as fearsomely all-consuming as his for her? Or was it the case that he had transformed this fleeting moment of intimacy between them into something more transgressive in the emotional upheaval that followed her sudden death? Either way, Julia is an abiding presence in this book, just as she was in her son’s life, having, in his eyes, abandoned him when she gave him up to the care of her childless sister Mimi and then died on him while he was still trying to come to terms with that first perceived betrayal.

Though he always insisted that ‘Help’ was ‘the only honest song I wrote’, it is still deeply affecting to listen to the Freudian cri de coeur that is ‘Mother’ on his first solo album. It begins with the line: ‘Mother, you had me, but I never had you’ and is as naked an expression of hurt and longing as anything in popular music.

More here.