Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Mon 6 Feb 06 17:18
I'm delighted to introduce our next guest, Elizabeth Partridge, who joins us to talk about her latest work, "John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth," a photobiography of a rock icon who -- along with Paul, George and Ringo -- changed the face of popular music. Elizabeth is a San Francisco Bay Area native who grew up in a large, eccentric family that included five kids, a house full of dogs and cats, chameleons, fish, tortoises, (and even a pet tarantula). Her grandmother was photographer Imogen Cunningham, and her grandfather, Roi Partridge, was an etcher. In 1974, she graduated from UC Berkeley, and a year later went to Great Britain to study Chinese medicine, returning to the Bay Area to practice acupuncture and herbal medicine. In the early '90s she began writing books as well as practicing medicine. She says she love writing biographies on complicated, difficult, creative, socially involved artists. A few years ago, after more than twenty years as an acupuncturist, she closed her practice to write full time. Leading the conversation with Elizabeth is Evelyn Jean Pine, who cohosts the <beatles.> conference on The WELL. Evelyn was named one of the Top 25 Women on the Web in 2001 for her work nurturing nonprofit online communities. She was the Managing Director of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility in the late '90s. In 2005, she earned an Emerging Playwright Award for her short play, "Back." Her other plays include "Cleaning Out," which premiered in Charlottesville, VA in June 2005, and "Unit Cost," which will be produced in March as part of the Kansas City Women's Playwriting Festival. She lives in San Francisco with her husband Doug Peckler (aka Sluggo) and her 8-year-old son, Gabe. She is a dead ringer for Jane Asher. Welcome, (elizabeth) and (evy)!
Evelyn Pine (evy) Tue 7 Feb 06 10:21
Hey, Elizabeth. Welcome to the WELL! My response to your book is the same as my sister Janets when she first pulled the collage poster of the Beatles out of the _White Album_ in 1968: I just want to groove on it. As noted in the WELLs Beatles conference, on February 5 there was a wonderful interview with Paul McCartney in the _Los Angeles Times_. The interviewer, Robert Hilburn, describes Pauls office: The walls are lined with photographs from various points in his career, including one from the '60s of him and a grinning Lennon shaking hands. I cant help but wonder if this is the remarkable picture from your book (p. 129). Its at the press party for the release of _Sgt. Pepper_ at Brian Epsteins house. Paul has the album cover open with its picture of their four faces -- in his left hand. And John is firmly shaking his right. Theyre both laughing and have total eye contact (despite George and Ringo standing between them.) Its a remarkable picture of two guys who know each other really really well, who loom large in each others legends, and who, we know now, are beginning a long descent into disappointment, accusation, fury, and finally some kind of reconciliation. Do you think thats the picture on Pauls office wall? And what was it that inspired you to tell Johns story again? And to tell it through photographs?
Elizabeth Partridge (elizabeth) Wed 8 Feb 06 07:53
Hey everyone, Thanks to Cynthia for inviting me to talk about my book, John Lennon and the Beatles. And anything else related that people want to talk about.....and thanks to Evie for bringing her Beatle/Lennon smarts to the discussion. Why DID I write this book, when John's life has been gone over with a fine tooth comb, and people have written extensively about him? Couple reasons. He fascinated me. When I do a biography, I get to know someone really, really well, in a way I never would otherwise. I knew I could live with him for a few years, and never get bored. I also knew there were great photos of Lennon and his times. I LOVE photos -- they hit you in the gut -- very visceral. I put more than 150 photos in the book. They were an insanely hard job to track down and get the rights to, but totally worth it. I wouldn't be surprised if the photo I have on page 129 is the photo being referred to in the LA Times article on McCartney. I have mixed feelings about the image-- Lennon is so out of control at this point, so loaded on drugs, and his life is a mess. They've also just put out one of the fascinating albums of the decade. Another reason I did All I Want Is the Truth is I wanted to write a bio on someone who could hold all the contradiction and passion and idealism of the Sixties. I was a teenager in the Sixties, and I wanted to look back and see -- what were we trying to accomplish? What were we inspired by? Because Lennon was peacenik, and a feminist (thanks to Yoko), and a brilliant singer/songwriter, and a spokesperson for whatever cause he was on about, he could hold it all.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 8 Feb 06 11:53
(note: offsite readers with comments or questions can email them to <firstname.lastname@example.org> to have them added to this conversation)
kayili! (kayo) Wed 8 Feb 06 12:11
Hi, Elizabeth. I'm curious -- did you have any issues with Yoko while you were working on this?
Evelyn Pine (evy) Wed 8 Feb 06 13:34
Kayo is a co-host of the WELL Beatles Conference, btw. And a terrific photographer. That's a good question. Did you have any real strugggles for rights to photograph's -- from Yoko or anyone? Part of what I love about the photo of John and Paul shaking hands is precisely because he looks so skinny and tired and yet the one person who he can relax with in that moment is old Paul. You started the book with the bed-in -- which is great emphasizing your theme of the idealism of the 60's. It also puts Yoko and John's relationship front and center and made me think a lot about it. For the first time, I understood Yoko not as just the lost, playful mother, Julia, but also the stern Aunt Mimi. How do you think the bed-in and other John and Yoko peace-nik hi-jinks looks to people who didn't live through the sixties? Do you hear from young people who read your book about their take on those activities?
Elizabeth Partridge (elizabeth) Thu 9 Feb 06 07:26
Yoko is very careful about controlling John's image. She did read the manuscript as I was finishing it, and via her lawyer, asked me to take out around forty things I had said. I chose not to. She wanted to present her version of John, I felt it was important to present mine. Many people have strong feelings about Yoko, some of them astonishingly negative. I think her relationship with John was much more complex than being all good or all bad. He was really coming apart at the seams when he met her, and I think she held him together. When I look back at his life, I find that he always needed someone strong to set limits for him. He just wasn't capable of setting them himself. His Aunt Mimi, who raised him was first, then Paul, then Yoko. My book is an interesting new area of children's publishing. Young adult literature is exploding as a genre. I wrote this book for young adults, with cross over to the adult market in mind. Viking carried it in both their adult and young adult catalogs. It made for interesting issues as a writer. I had to present material to teenagers for whom it was ancient history (WWII, the Sixties) and yet fill in little known facts for adults who had grown up with the Beatles. It was a great challenge, and actually a lot of fun. For example, on page 151 I put in a photo that at first glance looks like the Beatles are just standing around outside. After a moment, as you stare at it, you realize that they're waiting to cross Abbey Road, and the next photo will be them on the cover of their album.
Vote or whine (divinea) Thu 9 Feb 06 09:34
Elizabeth, what surprised you most while you were researching this book?
Evelyn Pine (evy) Thu 9 Feb 06 09:54
Good question. I love the pre-Abbey Road photo on p. 51. Is it by Iain MacMillan who shot the cover or by sombody else?
(rosebud) Thu 9 Feb 06 10:01
I am sorry I didn't find out about this interview sooner (it pays to read inkvue) and found a copy of the book. Just last week my sister gave me the John Lennon Collection CD and he has been on my mind ever since. I am looking forward to reading this topic. Thanks!
Reva Basch (reva) Thu 9 Feb 06 12:32
Hi, Elizabeth. Another longtime Beatlemaniac here. I remember the day that John's first book, In His Own Write, was scheduled for delivery to bookstores on the East Coast. I camped outside my neighborhood bookstore in Philly; I was that eager to get my copy. I'm impressed by the amount of research, especially photographic research, you did for All I Want is the Truth. I was surprised by how many of the photos were new to me. I'm also encouraged by its positioning as a Young Adult title. Back when I was a librarian, most "biographies" aimed at kids were very heavily sanitized. You've done a very good job of presenting John's dark side without wallowing in _or_ glossing over it. Interesting point about straddling the YA/adult markets as you were writing the book; I wondered about that as I was reading it. If I hadn't known, going in, that the book was aimed primarily at kids, I don't think it would've occured to me that it was.
Elizabeth Partridge (elizabeth) Fri 10 Feb 06 06:11
Many things surprised me writing this book. I was amazed how many memories of the Sixties it brought up for me, and how much listening, really listening, to the Beatles music and later John's music was a constant deepening process. I was surprised how plaintive and touching John's voice is. He really has an unusual quality to his voice. Sit down and really listen to a few of his songs and you will see what I mean. I think what surprised me most about John was how emotional vulnerable he was. I really didn't understand that before doing the book. He talked in an interview about "trancing out" while he was still a young teenager -- well before he was into drugs and drinking. That vulnerability he was able to tap into to write and sing as he did. I was also amazed how very quickly the Beatles years went by. When I was a teenager waiting, waiting, waiting for the next album to be released, it seemed like such a long time between albums. But they were often released just six months apart! I was astonished how hard working they were.
Elizabeth Partridge (elizabeth) Fri 10 Feb 06 07:11
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 10 Feb 06 14:25
(post #12 hidden as it's a duplicate of #11) Elizabeth, I had similar thoughts about John's vulnerability and tenderness while reading your book. In the chapter where you're describing the beginning of his relationship with Cynthia Lennon, you quote a note he sent to her in which he wrote "I love you guitars." I _swooned_ when I read that! I swear, if I'd known he had that romantic side back in the spring of '64, I'd have picked him over George in a hot second. So... Was John your favorite Beatle?
Elizabeth Partridge (elizabeth) Sat 11 Feb 06 12:16
No, John wasn't my favorite Beatle. I was a little scared of him. That sharp tongue he had. There was an edgy badboy-ness to him that was compelling, but it was too much for me. I was all about George, his spirituality, his laconic smile, his lanky build. It sounds a bit weird, but I finally felt really ready for Doing a biography is a very powerful relationship -- trying to really get to know a person well. So John just kept unfolding for me -- more layers, more interesting. Of course, I had to read extensively about all the other Beatles (and everyone else in John's life) so I got to do quite a bit of research on George as well! I also love that "I love you guitars" quote. It really shows how fixated he was on music and the guitar and rock and roll. _That_ was his true love, and Cynthia had roused the same feelings in his heart. It's so fervent!!
Evelyn Pine (evy) Sat 11 Feb 06 18:33
There's a lot of talk (at least on the Beatles Conference on the WELL) about who is the "fifth beatle." Reading your book for the first time I had a strong hit that it was Astrid Kirchherr. Her pictures are really compelling -- capture them as scruffs and rockers but also seem to take them seriously for the first time. What's your take on her, her photos, her influence (and influences)?
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Sun 12 Feb 06 20:47
Hi Elizabeth (and everybody), I'm really happy to be joining this little shindig. (N.B. I'm old enough to remember having seen the Beatles perform on the ABC-TV show "Shindig"!) I'm especially pleased to be able to enter the dialogue with you, Elizabeth, as I'm not only an admirer of your work, but also a near-neighbor--and our sons were friends and schoolmates some years ago. Small world, ainnit? Anyhow, going through your book and recalling your earlier book on Woody Guthrie made me connect John and Woody in ways I never had before. I'm not sure that too much connection can be made between them--I don't even know that John was very familiar with Woody Guthrie's work, although it's hard to imagine he didn't know at least something about it--but they were both potent social critics, lightning rods for socio-political foment, and of course prolific, artful, powerful songwriters. I note from your introduction above that you "love writing biographies [of] complicated, difficult, creative, socially involved artists." Lennon and Guthrie can certainly both be described as such, but I'm wondering, how else might you compare them, since you've spent quite a lot of time and energy in recent years poring over their lives and careers?
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Mon 13 Feb 06 08:58
So George was your fave as a teen too, Elizabeth? The smile and the lanky build were big factors in what won me over also. Excuse the backtracking but I typo'd the Lennon quote. I left out the extremely important word, "Like." John wrote "I love you like guitars," which makes a lot more sense than `I love you guitars.' ack. sorry for the gaffe. You wrote that Chuck Berry was a big influence on Lennon. I'm intrigued by philcat's question re: Guthrie/Lennon similarities and am eager to see what you have to say about that. Do you think there were other public figures outside the world of rock 'n' roll who had a substantial influence on Lennon and his work?
Elizabeth Partridge (elizabeth) Mon 13 Feb 06 13:00
Yes! The quote is "I love you LIKE guitars." funny how the mind can just slip that extra word in, but for those people not familiar with the quote, seeing the whole thing makes a lot more sense! Guthrie and Lennon. They were similar, and quite different. They both wanted to create social change, and both loved music, writing songs, and performing. They were both blindly selfish until forced into better behavior by their second wives. Of course, the times that shaped them were different. I remember Pete Seeger telling me someone had asked him if Woody would have been involved in ecological issues if he had lived longer. Pete replied, "Of course!" I wasn't as sure as Pete that the cause would have taken root with Woody. John Lennon had some skills that Woody didn't have. Notable to me was the ability to deal with reporters and the media. John was master of the quick, funny, sharp quip, which the media loved. Woody seemed to me to drift along thru life a little more. Anyone else have thoughts on this? It's interesting to compare the two musicians, which I had never stood back to do.
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 13 Feb 06 14:06
My impression was that Woody traveled and created songs that were in many cases needed for organizing. His songs were premiered for and honed with live gatherings of people. On the other hand, John couldn't have done that because of the insulating and distancing side of international recording and global fame, even with similar core instincts. However, what he could do was to get things out more broadly and rapidly. Just a hunch, though.
Evelyn Pine (evy) Mon 13 Feb 06 14:20
I'm curious how John (and Woody) appear to young people in the post-bono- geldof era?
Elizabeth Partridge (elizabeth) Tue 14 Feb 06 07:37
You are right on, Gail about the difference you point out between John and Woody. I think Woody also was more patient about sticking around and supporting causes, and showing up repeatedly for something he believed in. John would show up for a concert, or a meeting, but then he was moving on to the next cause.
Elizabeth Partridge (elizabeth) Tue 14 Feb 06 07:43
The young people I meet are very aware of John Lennon's music, but usually don't know much about him as a person. Often they don't know the historical roots of rock and roll as it went from the field hollers and gospel and the blues into rock and roll. Skiffle -- the uniquely British version of young pre-rock bands -- is a mystery to the kids I talk to. There may be young people who find Lennon very passe, but I don't run into them!
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Tue 14 Feb 06 08:04
Interesting, because it's never been easier to find out about the history and roots of rock and roll, and to hear the actual music. It was a real pain back when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s. My 11-year-old daughter has heard music I wasn't able to track down until I was in my 30s.
Reva Basch (reva) Tue 14 Feb 06 12:55
It seems to me that Woody Guthrie approached politics and social change as an activist, and John as an artist. In fact, while reading your book, Elizabeth, I wondered if John would have developed any political consciousness at all had he not hooked up with Yoko. And I also wonder how deep that political consciousness actually ran in John.
Low and popular (rik) Tue 14 Feb 06 13:38
That question interests me as well. I know john knew about protest era Dylan, but the Dylan he met was already leaving that behind.
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