This is an interview with John M. Borack, author of John Lennon: Life Is What Happens: Music, Memories & Memorabilia (Krause Publications; $26.99; 256 pages). The book was released in late October of this year.
1. Tell us a bit about your own background and what led you to write a book about John Lennon.
I’ve been a Beatles fan since the tender age of five, when my dad bought me my first Beatles record (the “All You Need is Love”/”Baby, You’re a Rich Man” 45). Their output is what helped to shape my musical tastes, and when I first began writing about music in 1985 (for Goldmine Magazine), I was somewhat fixated on songs and artists that took their cues from the sound and spirit of the Fab Four.
Fast forward 25 years, and I received a call from the former editor of Goldmine, Peter Lindblad, asking if I’d be interested in being considered to write a book on John Lennon for Krause Publications, which is the same company that publishes Goldmine. I practically jumped through the phone, I was so excited. A few weeks later, Krause made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and the rest is history!
2. What will readers find in John Lennon: Life Is What Happens that they haven’t seen in the myriad of other tomes about Lennon?
Well, the account of rare/previously unpublished photos in the book is pretty impressive, for starters. Also, I tried to keep the focus of the book on John and his music, and tell a relatively straightforward story of a complicated mans’ life, steering clear of most of the unnecessary drama that surrounded him. To me, it’s a very nice-looking, coffee-table-style book, and one that can serve as not only a biography but also a critical look at Lennon’s music. And did I mention that the photos are pretty cool, too?
3. The amount of memorabilia and photos in this book is staggering. Any personal faves?
As far as memorabilia, I love the shot of the Beatles pinball machine from 1966. I’ve loved to play pinball since I was a kid, so this is one item I wish I had in my rec room – if I had a rec room. I also like the personal letters and notes from Lennon that we included; I think they give an insight into John as a person and also showcase his awesome sense of humor.
4. There was a photo of John and George Harrison on the banks of the Ganges in 1968 that stood out for me. It’s so personal… and tranquil.
That’s one of my favorites, too; I had never seen that one before. I think it captures the two of them at a moment in time when they were coming out of the psychedelic scene and searching for something more in their lives. It’s really a beautiful shot.
5. What are some of the kookier things you came across?
I think the wax heads of John and Paul (from The Beatles Story Museum in Liverpool) are pretty wacky, as is the John Lennon Halloween mask from 1964. It’s still fun to look at, though.
6. As you accumulated the mass of material in this book, what did you learn about the man? Did your research alter your impression of Lennon in any way?
What impressed me most during my research was the reinforcement of the fact that John Lennon was a true renaissance man. Singer, songwriter, rhythm guitarist, poet, peacenik, author, social activist, husband, father – John was all of those and more. He packed a lot of life into his 40 years, and he poured his whole heart and soul into everything he did.
7. There’s a quote in Life Is What Happens taken from The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1980 where Lennon says, “I really thought that love would save us all.” For a guy so famously cynical, that seems rather beautifully naive. I don’t mean that in a bad sense of the word. But do you think he really believed it?
John was a paradox; one minute he was singing about “Revolution” and “Power to the People,” and the next he was proclaiming, “All You Need is Love,” and imploring us to “Give Peace a Chance.” I think John really believed in what he was singing (and saying) at the time he was singing (and saying) it. The contradictions were part of who he was, but he wasn’t the type to say things he didn’t mean.
8. This year has marked the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death. What are your reflections on the man and his career?
John Lennon was a true original, the likes of which we’ll probably never see again. The rock music world, and the world in general, is a bit less interesting without him. Like many others, I really wish he was still here to lead us in new directions, flash his rapier wit and sing us some new songs. Imagine…
Copyright 2010 John M. Borack, author of John Lennon: Life is What Happens. John M. Borack is a Beatles collector and a Southern California-based music journalist whose reviews, columns and feature articles have appeared in periodicals such as Goldmine and Amplifier. Courtesy of FSB Media.