Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper  Mersey Beat

Nowhere Man Robert Rosen interview



Having access to John's diaries and other relevant material, did you come to any personal conclusions about John which were different from your previous opinions?

Before Fred Seaman gave me John's diaries, in May 1981, he'd been telling me about John-since the day he started working for him, in February 1979. The picture he originally painted was what I described in the opening paragraph of Nowhere Man: a dysfunctional, "tormented superstar, a prisoner of his fame, locked in his bedroom, raving about Jesus Christ while a retinue of servants tended to his every need." Seaman told me that he thought John was washed up, that he'd never make music again. He thought that Lennon was tired of living and said that he wouldn't be surprised if he committed suicide. All this changed in the summer of 1980, when Seaman was in Bermuda with John, and John started writing and recording the material for Double Fantasy.

When I started transcribing John's diaries, much of what Seaman had told me was borne out-especially in John's diary entries from early 1980, when he did seem scattered, unfocused, and confused about what to do next. Still, a number of things surprised me, like how much time and energy John spent writing in his diaries-the diaries were his primary creative activity during his years of seclusion. Though I knew about his interest in numerology, astrology, tarot, etc., I was surprised by how seriously he took these things, especially tarot. And though, of course, I knew about John's rivalry with Paul-in 1979, Seaman started referring to Paul as "the enemy"-I was surprised by how obsessed John was with Paul, how he thought about him virtually every day, and how much pleasure he took when Paul was busted in Japan for marijuana possession. So, if my opinion changed about John, it had to do with how obsessively petty and uncharitable he could be towards Paul.

When you completed the book did you need Yoko's approval before finding a publisher?

No, I did not need or ask for Yoko's approval; she did not approve the book; and she did not try to stop me from publishing it after I got a publishing deal. Her lawyers, however, did ask to vet the book. My lawyer refused. He'd already vetted Nowhere Man and felt confident that it did not violate any of Ono's rights.


In the course of your research you obviously read Albert Goldman's book. How accurate did you consider it?

Maybe 20 percent of Albert Goldman's book can be taken at face value. The Lives of John Lennon is composed of little nuggets of truth wrapped in layers and layers of bullshit. Every story he tells is grossly exaggerated to paint John and Yoko in the worst possible light.

On reading diaries with such detail in them, did you ever consider John was obsessive about the occult, horoscopes and other borderline psychic studies?

There's no question that John was obsessed with the occult: tarot, numerology, magic, and astrology. John and Yoko had a fulltime tarot card reader, whom they called "Charlie Swan." (His real name was John Green.) Yoko met with or spoke to him daily. John usually met with him several times a week, though for an extended period of time, he had Charlie read daily on gold futures. It was Yoko who introduced John to numerology and turned him on to Cheiro's Book of Numbers, which became one of John's "bibles." (John's fascination with number 9 is well known.) When Paul was arrested in Japan for marijuana possession, John attributed the arrest to Yoko's magic, which she'd learned from Lena the Colombian Witch-she'd gone to Colombia with Charlie Swan and paid Lena $60,000 to teach her how to cast magic spells. (Swan, using his real name, writes in detail about Lena in his book, Dakota Days.) And every month, John clipped the Patric Walker horoscopes-Libra for himself, Aquarius for Yoko-from Town and Country magazine, pasted them in his diary, and kept track of how accurate they were. He usually found them extremely accurate.


John was a voracious reader. Can you remember any of the books which impressed him in the diaries?

There were a number of books that John mentioned in his diaries that impressed him for a variety of reasons. He was very much into "lucid dreaming," or programming dreams (they were often sex dreams about May Pang), which he then would record in his diary. He referred to programming dreams as "dream power." When I was writing Nowhere Man, I didn't realize that Dream Power was the title of a book that taught him how to program dreams. Obviously this book had a powerful influence upon him. John hated wearing glasses and became obsessed with a book about improving his vision through eye exercises. I don't recall the title, but John did do the recommended exercises in spurts, though it didn't improve his vision. He very much enjoyed Black Spring, by Henry Miller, which reminded John of when the Beatles were playing strip joints in Hamburg. He was so impressed by Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter Thompson, he considered playing Thompson in a movie version of the book. And Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi, about the Manson murders, scared the shit out of John.


During your long period of research did you become interested in Johns passion for the occult and did you personally try the I Ching, read horoscopes and practice numerology?


It was only after I started reading up on the occult that many of the references in John's diaries began to make sense. And yes, I did start reading the horoscopes in Town and Country and I did start paying attention to things like Mercury Retrograde, and I did kind of get hooked on Cheiro's Book of Numbers. That's because numerology was the easiest occult practice to understand and it could be applied to so many situations.

Just how difficult was the book to write considering the circumstances?

I started writing the book a couple of weeks after Seaman had ransacked my apartment and taken everything I'd been working on. That was when I realized that I had large portions of John's diaries memorized, and I began writing down everything I could remember. The more I wrote, the more I remembered. To me, writing is a painful process, and writing Nowhere Man was no more or less difficult than it was to write any other book I've written. I had the bulk of Nowhere Man written by the end of 1982-though at the time I called it "John Lennon's Diaries." What now appears in the published edition is not all that different from the original manuscript. But because it took me 18 years to find a publisher, I was able to spend that time refining the book, adding more to it as information became available. As I explain in the introduction, new information that I recognized from the diaries was constantly appearing in newspapers, magazines, other books, and especially on the Internet. I assembled all these fragments into a coherent whole, and I had those 18 years to get it right. Though for copyright reasons I was unable to quote from the diaries, I was somehow able to infuse Nowhere Man with the energy, feeling, and tone of the diaries-and that's the magic of the book. At times it felt as if John were dictating to me, as if I'd plugged into his spirit.
Nowhere Man Robert Rosen interview


Nowhere Man Robert Rosen interview

Did you at any time find that his entries in the diary indicated he was at times involved in a life beset with periods of trivia?

I don't know if I'd call it trivia. John had wide-ranging interests and he read a lot of newspapers, everything from The New York Times to the gossip rags. He thought stories about scientists' finding new ways to estimate the age of the universe and about Marlon Brando's gaining weight were equally compelling. He also believed that tabloids like The National Enquirer were more credible than the Times, who he thought got everything wrong.

Since he was intrigued by dreams and kept a dream diary, did he come to any conclusions about dreaming? i.e. was it prophetic, did it provide any answers, etc?

He didn't think his dreams were prophetic. (It was the possibility that he might be able to see into the future that was behind his interest in tarot and also, in part, yoga.) But he was fascinated by the symbols in dreams, their relationship to reality, and what they revealed about his psyche. He also thought they might provide him with insight into his relationship with Yoko. (When he programmed dreams, it was only the first dream he was able to program. After that, he might dream about anything.) In one dream a man turned into a wolf, and John saw that as a symbol of his anger. A sex dream he had about George Harrison left him feeling confused-he couldn't understand why he'd have such a dream.

The last five years were generally reclusive. Was this because of John's own decisions or because of circumstances?

John was sick of the music business and when his contract with Capitol Records-"Capitol Punishment," he called it-lapsed he was determined to get away from it. Sean was born around that time and, as I said, John was also determined to be a real father to Sean. So, it appears to be true that it was a mutual decision between John and Yoko that he'd drop out for five years and spend that time raising Sean. Of course, he left the hard parts to Helen Seaman, the governess, while he spent a lot of time in his rooms in the Dakota, Cold Spring Harbor, Palm Beach, and hotel rooms in Japan sleeping, dreaming, smoking weed, watching TV, and writing in his diary. Then, when the five years passed, he made a conscious decision to return to the world, recapture his muse, and make music again. It was a difficult and painful transition that resulted in Double Fantasy.

Describe some of the difficulties that you personally, as an author, suffered while writing the book and the length of time which passed between the onset of your writing and the final publication?

It's not as if I worked on the book non-stop for 18 years. I'd put it aside for years at a time, but the story of John's diaries haunted me. It was a story that demanded to be told and would not leave me alone. I thought it was absurd that nobody was willing to publish Nowhere Man. There were so many other books about Lennon and the Beatles that were constantly being published and which were flat-out hackwork and cut-and-past jobs. But publishers told me that Ono would sue (when in fact Ono has never sued a writer for something he's written). They also said that there was not enough interest in Lennon, and that I couldn't prove what I'd written was true or that the diaries even existed. In 1982, I brought the story to Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone. He said he believed me but couldn't publish it. Instead, he advised me to "save my karma" and tell the story to Yoko, which I did. Ono claimed she didn't know that John kept a diary. She then asked to read my personal diaries-she wanted to know exactly what Seaman had been doing since she hired him. I gave them to her.

First she used the information in my diaries to force Seaman to return John's diaries. She then gave my diaries to the Manhattan district attorney, who told me that I'd be arrested for criminal conspiracy, based on what I'd written, unless I signed a document waiving my First Amendment rights to tell the story of John's diaries. (I didn't sign the document and I wasn't arrested.) Ono also gave my diaries to Playboy. From the approximately 500,000 words in the diaries, Playboy excerpted the 200 most damning ones (when taken out of context), including my comment about Ono's skillful exploitation of the Lennon legacy: "Dead Lennons=BIG $$$$$." In an article designed to destroy my reputation and insure that I'd never be able to publish a book about Lennon, the writer used that quote as an illustration of how I felt about Lennon's death and depicted me as a criminal conspirator drooling over his corpse. Then in the following issue, the magazine ran a letter to the editor saying that what I had done was worse than what Mark David Chapman had done. This article is the source of many of the conspiracy theories that have been floating around for years.

Some of the theories insinuate that I'm a Zionist-funded CIA spymaster who ordered a hit on Lennon. (I've added an additional chapter that tells this story in the revised edition of Nowhere Man, published as an e-book in 2015.) Ono held my diaries for 18 years, until Nowhere Man was going to press. Then she returned them.


What was the most surprising piece of information you discovered while studying the diaries and researching the book?
     The single most surprising thing in the diaries was Lennon's expression of utter joy when McCartney was busted in Japan for marijuana.


Nowhere Man Robert Rosen interview
If John had been your idol prior to the involvement in the writing, did the completion of the book prove cathartic?

I was a Beatles fan. The first record album I ever bought, in 1964, right after I saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show, was Meet the Beatles. I played that album enough to memorize every word of every song on it. But I also lost track of the Beatles for years at a time and barely followed them after they broke up. I was more into sports-I wanted to be a sports writer.

But even the years when I wasn't paying attention, information was getting through to me subliminally-it was in the air. When John hired Fred, he knew very little about the Beatles-one of the reasons he got the job was because he wasn't a Beatles freak. Fred started asking me a lot of questions about John and the Beatles, and I was surprised by how much I knew about the music and the lore: Who's the Walrus? What's this about Paul being dead? What happens when you play "Revolution 9" backwards? Stuff like that.

All I'm saying is that I did not idolize John or any other Beatle, but I knew a lot about them, more than I'd realized. So, it wasn't the completion of the book that was cathartic. It was what happened after it was published: After 18 years of being ripped off, ignored, rejected, threatened, called a liar, and subjected to character assassination, I had a critically acclaimed best-seller in multiple countries and multiple languages.

Do you have an opinion on why John constantly referred to his wife as 'mother'?

At the risk of sounding like a 10-cent psychoanalyst, I think it's obvious that he looked upon Yoko as a substitute for his real mother. I also think it was a way for John to express his joy that Yoko had given him Sean and that he finally had a real family. It's worth noting that in his diaries, he did not call Yoko "Mother."


During the final five year period of John's life which you studied, what were the aspects of John which impressed you and how different a man was he from his Beatles days?


What impressed me most about John was his fanatical discipline when it came to writing in his diary-the way he got it all down, day after day. As I said in Nowhere Man, he recorded "every detail, every dream, every conversation, every morsel of food he put in his mouth, the perpetual stream of consciousness." I found this inspiring and tried to emulate that kind of discipline in my own writing. I also found it extremely interesting that despite his $150 million and his global renown, his day-to-day life didn't seem all that different from my own.

We were both sitting in a room in Manhattan, writing in notebooks and smoking weed. Of course, when he was talking about household expenses, his numbers had an extra couple of zeros at the end. Obviously, during his Beatle days, when he was recording and touring, he wasn't spending as much time in solitude and isolation. And though he had a wife, Cynthia, and a son, Julian, he was not acting like a real husband or father. This is something he felt guilty about for the rest of his life, especially his relationship, or, rather, lack of one, with Julian. John considered Sean a miracle and saw him as an opportunity to repent for the sins against family that he'd committed when he was a Beatle. In other words, he did his best to be a real father to Sean.

Was John accepting of Yoko's companionship with people like Sam Havadtoy and was such a relationship platonic or more intimate?

Though Fred Seaman has insisted that Yoko was having an affair with Sam Havadtoy, John did not explicitly state in his diaries that he thought this was the case. He might have suspected something was going on-he'd overhear little snippets of chatter among the servants. But there's nothing definitive and no indication that John ever tried to stop Yoko from spending time with her interior decorators, the "Sams," Havadtoy and Green.

Were John's final years happy ones or was he tormented or unhappy?

Sean's birth and the opportunity to be a father and have a real family brought John a huge amount of joy. And towards the end, when songs like "Woman" came to him whole, he was delighted. But his jealousy towards Paul, his sexual frustration and inability to spend time with May Pang, his constant worry over Apple records trying to rip him off, and his fear that he would lose Sean's love were all ongoing sources of torment. As I said in Nowhere Man: "John's reality was boredom and pain punctuated by microseconds of ecstasy."





Mersey Beat Magazine Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.


Article Bill Harry 2017               Original Graphics SixtiesCity 2017

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