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No rock act has generated more literary attention than the Beatles. And no Beatle has drawn more intense scrutiny than John Lennon, who would have turned 65 this week.
The late star's often turbulent life has been chronicled, analyzed, glorified and lambasted over the years by countless figures. Most have approached the story from the outside; in recent years, few have offered new insight. If there remained anyone capable of lending a fresh, authoritative voice to Beatles mythology, it would be Cynthia Lennon, the oft-overlooked first wife of the pop icon.
Cynthia Lennon begins her new memoir, "John," by recounting the night 25 years ago when she was awakened by a phone call from a crying Ringo Starr: Her ex-husband had been murdered. The stark depiction of her grief and confusion upon his death - more than a decade after their divorce - sets an early tone for the book, in which the memories are equal parts loving and conflicted.
This isn't Cynthia Lennon's first look back; her "Twist of Lennon" (now out of print) was published in 1980. But unlike that lightweight volume, written before John Lennon's death, the new book is painted with an expanded emotional palette. Its addition to the Beatles canon does little to shift the story as we already know it - rather, "John" adds a few more nuances of color to the familiar tale.
She doesn't couch her bitter frustration of the mid-1960s, when she watched her husband remake himself with psychedelic drugs while latching onto Yoko Ono, for whom Cynthia Lennon clearly harbors a lingering resentment. When recalling John Lennon's penchant for possessiveness and verbal abuse, she's upfront about her own timid accommodation to his control, and willingness to let him use their home as a sanctuary from public life - at her expense.
Well-read Beatles fans will find few revelations here; at times the book lapses into stock Beatles-bio material. And as it establishes early, "John" is as much about Julian Lennon's vexing relationship with his father as about Cynthia Lennon's interaction with her husband, a man she says she pegged as a "lost soul" from the start of their romance as teen art-school students.
But it's the perspective that ultimately counts here. Her portrayal of the early Beatlemania days, for instance, is refreshing: Told from the calm vantage point of domestic life, it's a welcome window into a period that's typically narrated at breakneck pace, and provides a gentle reminder that John Lennon was a human being - one who liked milk with his supper - before he was a piece of history.
(c) 2005, Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.