The Artist as a Dissipated Man: Fred Seaman’s “The Last Days of John Lennon”

John at Thanksgiving, 1979

Belatedly for someone as into the Beatles as I, I’ve been reading Fred Seaman’s The Last Days of John Lennon. It’s a very quick read, but not a particularly pleasant one. Seaman, John’s personal assistant for the last two or so years, depicts a rock star in his late thirties who may as well be in his late eighties for the way in which his happiness seems to be confined to rare moments when he reminisces about something he did in his early twenties. If there’s a spectrum of Dakota-era John Lennons stretching from Goldman’s smack-addled burnout on the far left to the drug-free, happy, bread-baking househusband on the right, Seaman’s is somewhere believably to the right of Goldman’s: functional enough to put on some clothes, walk down the block, and turn on the Lennon charm when he’s in the mood to do so, but stifled and depressed enough to retreat to his room for hours or days on end, where he does drugs, looks at Playboys or the TV, doesn’t write music, listens to Muzak versions of his own songs, and reads about psychology or the occult.

That the Dakota years were less rosy than the Ballad claims is not really up for debate anymore amongst anyone even semi-serious about the Beatles as people, not legends, but it’s still stunning to see what that looks like up close.

Weird beliefs. John appears to believe earnestly in what seem to be some pretty odd things. He is certain that Sean will inherit his soul when he, John, dies, because they were born on the same day. He believes that because Yoko was able to accomplish this feat, she has magical powers of some sort. He also believes that he is living on borrowed time and that he is headed for a violent end because he was a violent man. He is very interested in what it’s like to be shot and thinks a fair amount about assassination, which he believes is modern crucifixion. Most of us on this site don’t think about these things, but understanding the isolated, paranoid Lennon of the late Seventies probably depends on putting ourselves in the shoes of someone who did.

Exhaustion. One of the central impressions I get from Seaman’s book is exhaustion. I see someone who had given all he could give by 1966, and who knows it. Lennon’s encagement in the Dakota is enforced by “Mother” to degrees great and small, but until maybe the last six months of 1980, there’s a pervasive sense that John is choosing this. He’s exercising agency by not exercising agency. I think there are many reasons for this, some of which Seaman didn’t see (i.e., John’s about to buy a place with May Pang, swings by the Dakota for a stop-smoking cure, emerges three days later unsure of what day it is, complains of having thrown up endlessly, and ends the relationship), but that volitional laziness is present as early as January 1966, when Paul uses his break from recording/touring/filming to study piano and music theory; George, to learn the sitar, and John, to hang out at Weybridge and do LSD.

Unlike Paul, who came into his own during the Sixties, John hit the world stage shot out of a cannon. It took enormous energy to build up the charge to be shot out of that cannon, and that energy was almost entirely self-generated. Something like that cannot be sustained. Do you think that when it was gone, John knew it? I can’t imagine he didn’t. Do you think he sought protection because its absence left him feeling vulnerable? I could see that. Do you think without the animus to be bigger than Elvis, he needed something else to motivate him? Like being a guru? After the Beatles reached the “top of the mountain,” John doesn’t seem interested in pursuing his other artistic interests. He seems to be trying to figure out what’s above the mountain, and from there leads LSD immersion, compulsive meditation, the diminished ability to tell friend from foe Michael Gerber has discussed here, and various efforts to be bigger than John Lennon, Beatle.

John, the hipster IT guy at your local startup.

Yoko. It bums me out to detail what the Lennons’ relationship really seems to have been like, not because I want to believe in the Ballad of John And Yoko (I don’t, codependency with a superiority complex weirds me out), but because their marriage looks so toxic for everyone involved. Yoko appears to control most aspects of John’s life, sending him to different locales, requiring him to take vows of silence, and so on, while she conducts affairs and spends an odd amount of time on the phone making business deals of some sort. (Exactly what she is doing, or why it takes 20 hours a day to do it, is beyond Seaman’s purview.) When sessions for Double Fantasy start, John retaliates in some minor ways by being a tough critic, telling her when her performances need work, insulting her in front of the studio musicians and staff, and generally behaving like someone who’s finally got fire in the belly and an axe to grind. Seaman does not really see Yoko exact any measure of retribution for this, but given everything we do see of the couple’s arguments, distance, and compulsions, it’s impossible to think she did not do so at some point.

Double Fantasy Sessions

Loneliness. John seems to need the 22-year-old Seaman as a friend and as an assistant/employee, an uncomfortable blurring of boundaries that’s both doomed not to provide him with the companionship he really needs, and an encapsulation of what’s so sad about his life in the late Seventies. If even a quarter of Seaman’s recollections are accurate, John is simply alone. Unwilling or unable to accept calls from peers who might be able to relate to him, find a supportive romantic companion, or commit consistently to the type of other-directedness that would allow him to be a real parent, two of John Lennon’s closest and most healthy relationships in the Seventies appear to be with servants whom his wife paid to be his friends—May Pang and Fred Seaman. This is put into relief by the ways in which the lawyers, widow, and David Geffen attend to business necessities after Lennon’s death, Geffen apparently not too grief-stricken to exult openly about how much money he stands to make.

When I look back at all this, I think the inflection point occurs before India, before Two Virgins, before Allen Klein. I personally think the problem begins when John gets back from filming How I Won the War and Brian Epstein is too fucked up with his own addiction and depression issues to co-lead and manage the Beatles anymore. John Lennon had enormous potential at the end of 1966, but he needed someone who, like Epstein or George Martin, wanted to help him. McCartney tried to fill that role, but they were also friends, brothers, partners, competitors. And unlike 1961—the last time they were managerless—John didn’t have a cannonball charge in him. Unwilling to defer to Paul’s leadership, but too tired to lead, John was prey for those who would manipulate his need to be bigger than [Elvis/the Beatles/Jesus Christ] while using his directionlessness for their ends.

Who WAS John in ’66?

The book leaves me wondering what it was like to be John Lennon in 1967, a gauzy year when Lennon determination was being replaced with Lennon lassitude, but access to his subconscious, and his genius, appears to have been at an all-time peak. With worse luck—no Marharishi and too many hangers-on—the story ends in someone like Brian Jones’ flat in 1968, or something. With better luck, who knows—no one would have predicted 1961 John would become 1964 John, either. With the circumstances we got, and absent some affirmative effort from him, it feels like it inexorably leads to somewhere very like the Dakota circa 1979, looking out at Central Park, and writing funny shopping lists for your personal assistant.

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33 Comments

  1. Avatar Kristy wrote:

    I started this book a month or so ago but haven’t finished. It’s interesting to read your thoughts regarding John’s slow downward spiral into nonfunctionality; I was struck in the book by how petty things became so inflated on a daily level, simply because there was nothing else going on. All the niggling anxieties might have been overcome if he’d had something concrete to do. Also, based on the cover copy of my hardcover, which promised “John’s thoughts about his rivalry with Paul McCartney” or something similar, Seaman wrote with the intent to, or the book was edited with the intent to, promote John’s negative thoughts regarding his old friends. There are a couple of more tender moments, though, which the writer doesn’t point at and call out in particular, and I wonder if those made it past the editors, like when they’re outside looking at the night sky and John says “Venus and Mars.”

    (I always wonder what role either pre-or post-manuscript editorializing takes in all these books I’ve read, as a matter of fact.)

  2. Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

    Michael, I think your analysis is spot-on. That point about Lennon’s self-generated cannon charge is so important. He burned up a lot of fuel very early getting the Beatles off the ground, and when it dissipated he must have felt truly exhausted.
    .
    The John/Yoko relationship has always seemed to me like almost a folie a deux. It was a complicated emotional dance they were doing, and they had both been greatly damaged as children. I think they were mostly trying to do their best by each other but lacked the tools to get better at that — and the drugs didn’t help.
    .
    If Lennon hadn’t been killed in 1980, I can well believe he’d have emerged from this funk and gone on to better energy. This looks like a phase he was perhaps pulling out of.

  3. Avatar Tasmin wrote:

    Enjoyed this Michael, even though it’s depressing to read about John in this state.

    I’m curious what you think about this interview with Jack Douglas, (producer of Double Fantasy)?

    https://www.heydullblog.com/double-fantasy/jack-douglas-in-beatlefan-1999/

    He was one of the last people to see John, and seems to think he was feeling positive, and looking forward to promoting Double Fantasy.
    He also says John was looking forward to getting together with Paul.

    I’m just wondering if John was starting to pull himself out of his depression. I certainly hope so.

    • Michael Bleicher Michael Bleicher wrote:

      Thanks, @Tasmin!

      Something really does seem to have changed for John in Bermuda. It seems like he realizes he takes more pleasure in doing something—making albums—than in protecting himself from everything. He also seems to gain strength as he goes. Both times this happens to him-1974 and 1980-collaborating with Paul immediately appears on the horizon. As do indications that he and Yoko might split permanently.

      I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that John intended 1981 or 1982 to include collaborations with Paul and a split from Yoko. I think a lot of the spiel in those last interviews was an attempt to set Yoko up in the public and critical eye so that she’d have a rock career—what she apparently always wanted—of her own, so that John could ease out of the relationship. That’s just my read.

  4. @Nancy, re: “I think they were mostly trying to do their best by each other but lacked the tools to get better at that — and the drugs didn’t help.”

    I hope—for their sakes—that this is accurate. From Seaman’s book, I certainly get the impression it was true of John. For most of book, John relates to Yoko almost pathetically, desperate for her attention like a needy child seeking a distracted parent’s approval. But of course, we’ve also heard that he could be pretty awful to Yoko, verbally as well as physically, so it’s likely that this is only one side of the story, based on (a) what Fred saw and (b) John being particularly weak in the late Seventies.

    Going outside the four corners of the Seaman book, it is harder for me to feel confident that the same is true of Yoko. After she meets John, if we’re going by actions and not words, John gets less healthy, more angry, and more disconnected from things that make him happy.

    John’s new partner apparently encourages him to start taking heroin. She encourages him to sign with Allen Klein. She encourages him to end his partnership, and then his friendship, with Paul McCartney. She requires him to quit primal scream therapy, something that appears to be helping her husband calm down and work on his core traumas. She requires him to forego contact with his son. She requires him to move to New York. She requires him to move to Los Angeles with an employee she has selected while she conducts affairs in New York. When he begins to reconnect with old friends, his son, and his muse as a result of this arrangement, she requires him to return to her apartment. Three days later, he emerges, unsure of what day or year it is. He complains of having spent three days “puking his guts out.” He immediately breaks off his relationship with the employee, who was encouraging him to collaborate with Paul McCartney and returns to her apartment. In short order, he announces that he is retiring from the music business. According to multiple accounts, he begins to use heroin again, something that he may or may not continue to do for the next four or five years. After giving birth to a son—who may himself have been born addicted to heroin—she withdraws to a separate apartment. Her husband spends his time largely alone in his bedroom, a knife above his bed—a present from his wife, who has encouraged him to cut all ties with his past. She instructs his personal assistants—the only people with whom her husband is permitted regular contact—not to allow calls from his friends, family, and former collaborators to be put through. Her husband begins to show signs of serious depression and, possibly, addiction. She requires that he sign power of attorney over to her. Her husband is not permitted to travel to England, even after he obtains his green card, but the family do spend several extended stays in Japan visiting hers. Finally, after several years of this, her husband decides he would like to begin recording music again, something that makes him happy. He collaborates on several demos with his personal assistant, a 23 year old who plays percussion on his recordings, instead of with friends like Paul McCartney, Elton John, David Bowie, or Mick Jagger. She requires that she have equal space on this new album, which is to be about the couple’s marriage. However, she refuses to spend time with him that summer, encouraging or requiring him to spend time elsewhere while she carries on an affair in New York with a younger man. She asks attorneys about whether she might obtain more than half of her husband’s wealth in a divorce and is told that this will not be possible. Her husband begins working again, showing the first signs of happiness, focus, and enthusiasm in years. Shortly after the record is released, her husband is shot dead in front of her apartment. In the next few days—some say as soon as the next day—the man with whom she has been having an affair moves into her apartment and begins wearing her late husband’s clothes. She does not move out of the apartment, choosing instead to remain for the ensuing 39 years at the scene of her husband’s brutal—a site she must pass to enter or exit her home. She reluctantly permits her late husband’s first son to travel to New York after his murder, but does not allow his ex-wife to join the boy. Later, the boy must work with Paul McCartney to buy back items belonging to his late father that were apparently intended for him to receive in the event of his father’s death.

    I think Yoko’s feelings for John were complex and also not complex, if that makes any sense: I think at root, Yoko is driven by a fear of being poor and of not being in control of a situation.

    • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

      It’s a disturbing pattern, definitely. I think much hinges on how much agency Lennon was able to exercise at different points and how much awareness Ono had at various points. It seems clear they were both suffering from under diagnosed and undertreated trauma from their childhoods, so what either was able to do, or understand, is in question during their relationship, at least to me.
      .
      So I give them each some benefit of the doubt and hope that it’s accurate.

      • Michael Bleicher Michael Bleicher wrote:

        @Nancy, I think that’s a very healthy view.
        .
        As for the question of agency, I agree. At some level, John chose all of this. Even at his worst, he was John Beatle. If he wanted to leave, he could have left, right? I think there are some depressing rabbit holes if one thinks about things like the stop smoking incident and wonders whether it wasn’t that simple. But I don’t think there’s much to be gained from going there.

        • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

          The possibility of mental illness is what really complicates things, I think. It seems likely to me that in the 70s Lennon was wrestling with depression and anxiety, at least intermittently. And if he was, his healthy agency was compromised.
          .
          With Ono I genuinely don’t know. She seems more opaque to me. But to survive her childhood she seems to have developed a persona focused on power and control. And that was attractive to Lennon at least in part due to the exhaustion you mention.
          .
          It’s all complicated and we’re at such a remove that it’s very hard to say anything definitive. I do hope they genuinely meant to do well by each other.

          • Michael bleicher Michael bleicher wrote:

            @Nancy, I agree that at a minimum, John was suffering from those two. I think understanding him in the seventies also means considering borderline personality disorder as well as various byproducts of all that LSD, amphetamine, cocaine and heroin use. Due to the stigma around these things, biographies skate around these issues as though John’s story can be explained without considering them, but that’s really not possible. And any one of those would help explain things that are so mysterious otherwise. For example, Google borderline personality disorder and abandonment (I’m on my phone or I’d share a link), and compare it to John between 1968 and 1970.

          • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

            Yep, bipolar is a strong possibility. And LSD wasn’t good for Lennon, long term. All in all it makes it hard to determine how much understanding and/or wherewithal he had at any given time.

    • Avatar Tasmin wrote:

      And people serious gave Mccartney shit for holding a grudge? Yoko was toxic to the core!

  5. Avatar Marlo wrote:

    Wow, what a great article.
    I’m very taken with the concept of Lennon’s creativity being a cannon that launched itself and was then left exhausted.
    It makes so much sense. He was always searching for a way to re-charge the cannon- LSD drugs, Maharishi spirituality, Politics being relevant and cool, and Yoko filled that space for him. Seemed to fill a negative though.
    Not Yoko bashing here, but a relationship is a jigsaw, and some people fill the bad spaces in the jigsaw and some people fill the positive. Unfortunately John was lead into the negative jigsaw I think and he so needed the positive and couldn’t discern the difference.
    Or maybe he could, and preferred it that way.

  6. I have definite thoughts about all this, @Michael, as I’ve shared with you privately. I will keep those thoughts private, mainly because they are just too depressing to share widely.
    .
    Simply from his behavior and statements, the Lennon of 1965 and the Lennon of 1968 were very different. Young Lennon is witty, quick, often witheringly critical of society but perceptive of it and desiring to conquer it. He’s really on fire to create work and prove himself — to “show ’em” — and thus runs into a double-whammy in late ’66. One, he HAD showed ’em; and two, he didn’t know what he wanted to do next.
    .
    What do revolutionaries do after they win? Mao made more revolution, much to everyone’s pain, and John did his own version of that until the Beatles broke up. He knew he didn’t want to be Fat Elvis, but that’s not a career. Avoiding irrelevancy and self-parody isn’t a life.
    .
    Actually, there’s something more here that’s worth mentioning: the new rules of Sixties stardom, which The Beatles were primary authors of, insisted that celebrities remain relevant to the times. Because the times are changing faster and faster, this requires either a rejection of relevance in favor of authenticity (like Paul or George), or a chameleon-like, neurotic reinvention of oneself (like Bowie or Lou Reed or Madonna or, to a lesser degree, Prince).
    .
    Both Paul and George had, by 1975, solidified into the people they’d first grown into around 1968, and neither was overbothered if a fan didn’t like who they were or what they were into. Ravi’s playing an hour of ragas for the first set, and fuck you if you don’t like it. Linda’s singing on my records and we’re bringing the kids on tour, sorry if that’s not hip enough for you.
    .
    John never really got to that stage, and I think it’s not wrong if it feels like…immaturity? on his part. Twelve-Step culture says your emotional development stops the age your addiction begins and, particularly as I’ve gotten older myself, John Lennon has increasingly felt like he missed some developmental stages. Maybe or maybe not, but first John tried the reinvention game — as a guru politician, then as a confessional everyman — but found his limits rather quickly. John got bored; he didn’t like to play dress-up; he wasn’t even much of an extrovert (that’s why your cannon metaphor is so apt, Michael). Lennon’s gift wasn’t as a performer, it was a certain immediacy and sincerity. And I think his anger at fans during the Seventies was at their ability to consume an artist and — if not attracted by a new persona — move on. I think by 1975 Lennon was feeling a kind of rejection from fans that he hadn’t felt before, and he didn’t like it. Ironically, the DF-era Lennon is an attempt to mix reinvention (“I was a rocker, now I’m a rockin’ dad!”) with the kind of personality that recognizes finitude as the price of authenticity.
    .
    But it didn’t really work, did it? That’s why I’ve always felt that if Lennon had lived, The Beatles would’ve anchored Live Aid. Of the two of them, it’s Yoko who can show you endless glimpses without showing you the real her; this is why Yoko has always moved so easily in the post-Warholian art world. She is artificial in the time-honored way of the aristocrat. John wasn’t like that, couldn’t do that. Even when he bought his manor, it was in an apartment building around the corner from a drugstore.

    • Michael Bleicher Michael Bleicher wrote:

      @Michael, great points. Your points about Lennon not growing into an adult self reminds me of Hunter Davies book, where he notes that Cynthia tells John, “you seem to need the other more than they need you.” The closest we get to John’s best self seems to be who he is in 1965. In fact, he’d been preparing for that since 1956. Problem was, like the other three Beatles, he discovered he needed some space from his Beatle self. But unlike Paul and George, who had saved something of themselves for themselves, John had poured everything into becoming a Beatle–so the remainder of his life is him trying to figure out what else he could be that (a) would be fulfilling and (b) not rejected by others.
      .
      I think much was happening in 1980, but I get the distinct impression that John decided he wanted to a little more wholesome, charming, and Beatle-y again, because he realized he was happier when he had a clean, no-warts public self that was easy for fans to like, even if (or perhaps because) it was a big con and not Authentic. He even wore a moptop haircut again.
      .
      I agree about Lennon’s development stopping somewhere in his teen years, as far as available evidence goes. Even Lennon in 1980 reminds me of me at 16 or 17: smart enough to have figured out intellectually what sounds right, but developmentally too young to actually feel those things to be true, and act accordingly. I do get the sense he was trying, but unless/until his surroundings changed, I think the deck was stacked against him. And I don’t get the impression he was sure he wanted to change if it was going to be hard, because I get the impression–confirmed in Seaman’s book–that John felt he’d done all the hard things he could. There’s something familiarly adolescent about how John compulsively tries on identities, hairstyles, fashions, political beliefs from 1968 onward. Yet Young John doesn’t do this; he’s basically consistent from 1962 through early 1966. That looks like regression to me.
      .
      One other thing, had Lennon lived and been determined to survive: I don’t think the chameleon-like personality revamps every 18 months would have changed. I think they would have gotten weirder and more extreme. John’s talk about touring, and the route his contemporaries took, makes it easy to imagine him as another elder statesman of rock, touring his back catalogue with a band of season pros (and some stupid tour names–McCartney’s tour is called “Freshen Up,” the Stones have had a “Zip Code” tour and a “No Filter” tour), showing up on Fallon to promote his new solo album etc. I don’t think he would have condescended to do that. I think he would have seen that as being a performing flea. I see him ending up much more like George–an eccentric torn between his need to protect himself with his money from people who scared, disturbed, and sought to use him, and someone who bemoaned the distance his money created. That’s the difference between New Celebrity, which John and the Beatles invented, and Old Celebrity. I think–pardon the expression–John would have rather died, so to speak than become part of Old Celebrity.

      • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

        Michael B., good point about John’s aversion to “Old Celebrity.” I thought about Lennon’s reaction to fame when I read this passage in the new novel Opiod, Indiana by Brian Allen Carr (which I recommend):
        .
        “I feel like there are two types of misery in this word. There’s not getting what you want and being angry. And there’s getting what you want and being sad.
        .
        If you’re either one of those–if you’re miserable–you don’t know what will fix it. You go back and forth forever. Wanting a thing. Pursuing a thing. Getting a thing. Not wanting it. And you start all over again.”
        .
        To me, that gets at something important in Lennon’s experience. He got to the toppermost of the poppermost, got the money and the critical adulation, got all the women and drugs and cars and houses, and was still sad.
        .
        I wonder if part of the deep root of Lennon’s animosity toward McCartney is that McCartney wasn’t sad in this way. He went through some bad emotional times, especially around the breakup, but fame and getting to perform made (and makes) him essentially happy. He just doesn’t take on board as much of the angst as Lennon did.
        .
        Totally agree with you about the dopey tour names. “Freshen Up,” really? Can no one near McCartney tell him straight up that that sounds like a personal hygiene product? I have great affection for him but he definitely causes me to facepalm sometimes.

        • Michael Bleicher Michael Bleicher wrote:

          @Nancy, that’s a great quote and one that I think applies very much to Lennon. In fact, if I were to write a short summary of his life, it would be “gifted boy abandoned by his parents seeks to become the most famous person in the world to make up for it. He does and finds he is still not happy. He tries to find something that will make him happy.”

          And I think the reason 62-66 Lennon is so compelling is that that he hasn’t yet realized that all this won’t make him happy. He’s focused and intent on achieving a goal, and that’s a sight to behold.

          • @Michael, to me early Lennon isn’t compelling because, as you wrote, “he hasn’t yet realized that all this won’t make him happy.” He’s compelling to me because, in this regard, he’s still living a life that is similar to most people’s, in kind if not degree. You get born, realize the flaws of this existence, and then attempt to create meaning anyway, usually through work. Wealth and acclaim either come or don’t, but as the years pass you realize that they have nothing to do with why you’re doing what you’re doing.
            .
            Lennon is compelling when he is a functioning artist making things that he (and others) love. The moment he stops doing that — either for politics, or for his marriage, or because of depression — he becomes mostly boring, and more a cautionary tale than a story of success.

      • I think this is correct. Old Celebrity is what John meant by “playing Vegas.”
        .
        I strongly agree that the Lennon we met from 1962-66 is consistent, and that’s in part why he’s so appealing. Lennon after 1967 is, to be honest, an extremely interesting high school student. He shows no real adult competencies, seems obsessed with external beliefs and fashions to give himself coherency and meaning, and is primarily defined in relation to others—-positively or negatively.
        .
        To be frank, I find post-Yoko Lennon incredibly boring, without the context of the Beatles. And I think that’s because he himself was bored and depressed; some part of that was what Nancy quoted —- getting everything you ever wanted and finding that your problems still remain —- and some was clearly neurological changes brought on or exacerbated by drugs, as well as some sort of untreated illness.
        .
        Wealth and fame is like a radiation. Long term exposure seems to be very bad for people, and occasionally the damage is so vast that we on the outside can see it.

  7. Oh please, Michael, let me hear them!

    As for you, Michael-who-wrote-the-article, my instinct says, like Donald Sutherland’s Mr. X in Oliver Stone’s JFK, “You’re close, you’re closer than you think…”

    • Michael bleicher Michael bleicher wrote:

      @notorious, I think if you’re interested in this stuff (and as Michael Gerber has warned, it’s not exactly pleasant), it’s where Goldman’s book is useful. Not for what it says but for what it comes close to saying, but does not say. And I think this, as much as protecting the Lennon brand against the various revelations that turned out to be basically true, is why the Estate and Rolling Stone worked so quickly to discredit it. Goldman got details wrong but he seems to have had a nose for sniffing out themes or arcs that were true: John hit, he was bicurious, drugs took something out of him, etc. As I mentioned in the post, I find Seaman to be a less tabloidy, more believable source, but they and other unofficial sources all point in the same directions.

    • @g_i_b, I really don’t think it’s ethical for me to share those surmises, first because they are just surmises —- by now they could not be confirmed. Second, because I really don’t want them confirmed —- they have already muted my pleasure in this topic, and that is not something I wish any other beatlefan to suffer. And third, they wouldn’t change anything. It’s all history now, and better to have the story we have, as sad as parts of it are. Plus —- and this is not nothing —- my surmises would likely sadden and infuriate many fellow fans, and as a somewhat public person I would like to be able to work in media, go to conventions, etc, without being That Jerk Who Thinks XYZ. Because I’m not really sure I think xyz, anyway.
      .
      But I thank you for asking. I’m not being coy as much as kind. If a person comes to similar conclusions, as @Michael seems to have, I will share the sources I collated, so they can decide for themselves…if they seem to have a very firm and functional mental state, as @Michael seems to. But even then, I feel great qualms about it. It’s probably best that I simply remain silent on this topic, though the blog forces me to dance around it constantly.
      .
      Have a good day; thanks for reading!

  8. Avatar Tasmin wrote:

    Great discussion. I just wanted to say that I appreciate this from Michael G:

    “@g_i_b, I really don’t think it’s ethical for me to share those surmises, first because they are just surmises —- by now they could not be confirmed. Second, because I really don’t want them confirmed —- they have already muted my pleasure in this topic, and that is not something I wish any other beatlefan to suffer.”

    I read Goldman’s book many years ago, and it disturbed me. I don’t want to be naive about the reality of who John really was, but I also don’t want to know the ugliness. I think we all get that John probably had mental illness, as well as addiction issues. But the disturbing details, I don’t need to know.

    I like remembering John in the period before Yoko. He looked great, was productive, and was still friends with his fellow band mates. He was funny and happy and wrote fantastic music. That’s the way I want to remember him.

    • @Tasmin, thank you. But I am talking about things much more disturbing (to me at least) than a depressed rock star.
      .
      That having been said, I think it’s really important to keep one’s passions as nourishing things, and not another species of dashed hopes and expectations unfulfilled. So your comment resonates with me, too.

  9. […] The Artist as a Dissipated Man: Fred Seaman’s “The Last Days of John Lennon” February 15, 2020 […]

  10. Avatar Tasmin wrote:

    In reading this again, I’m struck by this:

    “He also believes that he is living on borrowed time and that he is headed for a violent end because he was a violent man. He is very interested in what it’s like to be shot and thinks a fair amount about assassination, which he believes is modern crucifixion.”

    This is very spooky. There are schools of thought that say you bring about things in your life by thinking about them. Like the power of positive thinking.
    I’m not saying I believe that, but it is strange John was obsessed with dying a violent death, and about assassination, and that’s how he dies.

    Was he thinking this because of the assassinations of the Kennedys, and Martin Luther King? Or was he having a premonition?
    Also, why if he was concerned about this, why was he walking around so openly in New York?

    Sorry, I guess I don’t remember coming across this before in my reading about the Beatles, and/or John.
    It really is creepy.

    • @Tasmin, John was a product of his time, and that generation was absolutely fascinated with the assassinations of the Sixties, not just as murder mysteries, but as a kind of mass emotional phenomenon; imagine the death of Princess Diana times a hundred, three times in the span of less than five years. In John’s day, if you were an important liberal political leader, you were assassinated. When he started espousing political beliefs, he naturally would’ve thought a lot about the possibility of violence. I do not think he was strange in this regard; compare someone like Harvey Milk.

      • Avatar Tasmin wrote:

        Michael, the death of Princess Diana is a good analogy. I remember watching the news for hours after she was in the car accident. It was so tragic.

        I figured the assassinations of the 60’s were a factor in Johns thinking.

  11. Michael Bleicher Michael Bleicher wrote:

    @Tasmin, it’s really creepy. It’s something I’ve read in a couple other books (not many), so I’m inclined to give it at least some credence, albeit with the necessary grains of salt when talking about people’s recollections of a murdered rock star who loved make myths, and whose post-death earning potential depends on all sorts of myths. Anyway.

    I think Lennon’s thinking about Stu Sutcliffe and Bob Wooler; Cynthia and other women (he implied there were more in the Playboy interview, I think); possibly that sailor in Hamburg he may have mugged; maybe others in Liverpool. John Lennon pre-1964 or so is both very driven and has the capacity to be very dangerous. Paul Sutcliffe, Stu Sutcliffe’s sister, is on the record saying that John kicked Stu in the head with cowboy boots and that’s what led to Stu’s death. Whether or not that’s actually the cause of death, if Pauline is telling the truth–and going on the record in the early 80s saying John Lennon basically murdered his best friend was not something you’d do lightly–it’s more than possible John blamed himself for what happened to Stu. That alone would haunt him. Then you have the Wooler incident. Etc., etc.

    I strongly suspect Lennon confronted/revisited a lot of this stuff during his LSD phase. I imagine it profoundly disturbed him–how could it not? And he seems to have genuinely but superficially believed in the ideas of karma and reincarnation. Not like George, but in the way that a lot of people from his generation were exposed to and vaguely incorporated those ideas into their lives. I can see John feeling deeply guilty about being alive to enjoy the success of the Beatles while Stu was dead. I can see John dealing with this by deciding that if he too met a violent, premature end himself, it would balance out–so that next time around, he was reborn better. And Lennon’s attitude toward death, after living with the very real possibility of assassination since 1966 AND probably some pretty scary hallucinations on LSD with Stu/Julia/George/Brian popping up from his subconscious, was probably very different from the average person’s. Didn’t he say he wasn’t afraid because it was just like getting out of one car and into another? I’m not sure I believe he wasn’t afraid, but I can sure believe he felt differently about it than the average person.

    Last, I think John saw what happened to JFK/RFK after their assassinations: they became secular saints. He couldn’t miss the parallels between how the culture deified JFK, and Jesus Christ given his obsession with messianic figures. And as someone who had basically been trying to become a guru or Avant Garde Jesus since 1968, I can see him being somewhat sanguine about what would happen to his legacy afterward. He probably compared that to how Elvis passed away, too. With all of that burbling around in his mind in the Dakota years, no longer asserting relevance by making music, wasting away on drugs and weird diets, I can see how he would end up spouting something like that off to a personal assistant after a few joints in Bermuda.

    • Avatar Tasmin wrote:

      Thank you Michael B for your great reply.

      It’s clear there were many different factors which led to this thinking by John. It makes more sense to me now.

      I still find it strange that’s how he died.

      • Michael bleicher Michael bleicher wrote:

        It’s definitely weird and unusual. He seems to have been thinking about it since the peace campaign in 1969, when he almost gloats, “they’re gonna crucify me!” in the Ballad of J&Y. If there was a way to achieve martyrdom without having to actually become a martyr, John would’ve been all over it.

  12. Avatar Major Wootton wrote:

    Folks here may know more about Lennon than I do. My impression is that from late in the Beatles period on, Lennon was running out of creativity. There were moments when politics or New Age spirituality or his life experiences gave him a little material, but basically, as he said, he dug rock and roll, he didn’t dig much else. And what was there left to do with rock? I could easily see Lennon going on to participate in some overproduced super-group one-offs, perhaps alternating with bouts of sparse-production recordings of oldies and the like, but none of this really very good. So much of what he’d done had been means to the end of getting rich and famous and he’d done that, so why keep on? I just don’t have the sese that he really enjoyed making music the way McCartney seems always to have. He had used people a lot and naturally he felt he couldn’t trust them, except perhaps for Yoko in a strange dependent way.

  13. Avatar Andrew Roblin wrote:

    Lennon created almost all of his best music with the support of an exceptional team: McCartney, Harrison, Starr and Martin. Having deprived himself of them and the lacking the discipline of the Beatles’ recording schedule, he struggled musically and personally.
    Lennon tried to replace his creative team with Yoko, Phil Spector, Allen Klein, Harry Nilsson and others. But they tended to be enablers–and often simply malevolent. Still, blinded by his mental illness, Lennon himself chose them.
    His mental illness and behavior–which had given him and those around him severe problems since his adolescence–grew worse. Lennon’s unbounded wealth and privilege prevented him from hitting bottom in his drug dependence , so he never sought competent care even as his depression and personality disorder became disabling.
    Despite his fear of turning into Elvis, Lennon wound up much the same. Living in a goldfish bowl, addled, out of shape, clinging to odd beliefs, a vestige of his younger self.

    • This is very good.
      .
      Further, you could see his rejection of his earlier support team as a marker of worsening illness. He had to choose between his addictions and everything else, and he chose addiction. And then he surrounded himself with enablers and fellow addicts of the most egregious sort, simultaneously building a whole myth around it, claiming that it was precisely the reverse of what it was.
      .
      This is typical for someone with his disease.

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