A few months ago, contributor Steve alerted me to the upcoming book by Peter Doggett, to be published in April:
Prisoner Of Love, Inside The Dakota with John Lennon by Peter Doggett | 9781911036692 | Booktopia
My plan had been to review it here on the blog after securing a copy. To be clear: I fully expected greater clarity from Doggett and the publisher regarding Doggett’s access to Lennon’s diaries than was provided in the publisher’s blurb. While I respect Doggett, and find both There’s a Riot Going On and You Never Give me Your Money to provide good methodology and some sound analysis, I would have considered a more detailed explanation regarding his access to and study of such hard-to-access primary source material a requisite part of the book. I would have expected an authorial attempt at proving authentication, presumably in the introduction, before regarding the evidence as credible.
Unfortunately, it appears as if the book is now on hiatus, with no explanation given, for reasons on which we can only speculate. And while Amazon is evidently still accepting orders, rumor are swirling the book has been canceled.
In my Fab4ConJam panel, I mentioned how each bit of Beatles history we get, regardless of how seemingly trivial, adds another layer or puzzle piece to the greater picture. That Doggett — a reputable Beatles author, and one willing to acknowledge both sides of a debate and the negative along with the positive — was on the cusp of seemingly providing his interpretation of the Lennon diaries, access to which has been severely limited, and possibly including direct quotes from said diaries, would have been far from trivial.
Would Doggett’s interpretation have been vastly different than that of Robert Rosen, who covered the subject and offered his own interpretation of the diaries retrospectively in Nowhere Man, or the recollections of Fred Seaman? I cannot say. Right now, my frustration is that we are not going to get the chance to even see Doggett’s interpretation.
One of obfuscating aspects of Beatles historiography is how crucial primary sources, such as Lennon’s diaries, are privately held, and therefore unavailable to the point of inaccessibility. This inaccessibility restricts new analysis and potentially differing interpretations and, incidentally, accountability among researchers. (In layman’s terms, it means no one is looking over your interpretive shoulder). This restriction, in part, incidentally grants enormous significance to those very rare interpretations of hard to access sources that do exist, regardless of the validity or accuracy of the interpretation. When a largely inaccessible primary source has been interpreted or evaluated only by one or two people, and their interpretation is often the only interpretation available, the reader is perpetually stuck in a singular interpretation of a secondary source. That is a situation that rarely benefits the reader or boosts the accuracy of a historical interpretation.
Lennon’s diaries are one example of virtually inaccessible sources, but others exist: We have only one discussion of McCartney’s Japanese prison memoir by one individual who read it. Among the most influential documents in Beatles historiography are the Abbey Road tapes; the primary sources from which Mark Lewisohn wrote The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. When I recounted the history of the tapes to another historian, my emphasis was on the tapes’ financial value and the security measures in place guarding them. Her take was the correct one: she was amazed and appalled that such crucial primary sources were so inaccessible to virtually all Beatles researchers, noting how, regardless of Lewisohn’s excellent reputation as a researcher, that aspect troubled her, in that it granted one man’s interpretation sole influence over our understanding of the tapes.
I don’t know whether Doggett’s interpretation would have confirmed or contradicted the very few and limited previous interpretations of John’s diaries. I know Beatles historiography, and readers, are poorer for not getting the chance to read what Doggett had to say.
Comments and questions are welcomed.
23 thoughts on “One Less Puzzle Piece”
Robert Rosen has put his view across below –
I was unaware the diaries had apparently been stolen again on 2006. I contacted the publisher about promo copies of the book and having Peter on my podcast – the reply I got from them was basic to say the least – no intention to publish this book whatsoever.
Doggett is clearly a major Beatle author (his CSNY book is also excellent) – I’m quite surprised he’s found himself in what appears to be a sticky situation.
That’s the worst-case scenario. It’s a shame it seems to be the most likely one now, too. Good to hear from you, Joe!
I find the timing interesting. I find it hard to believe that Doggett, who’s hardly a novice to publishing, would not have had to clear any issues years ago, starting with the book proposal and throughout the editing process. My admittedly limited experience in publishing was that material which could lead to lawsuits is very thoroughly vetted in the editing process. (For example, when I wanted to include a few lyrics in the HDYS/Too Many People debate, as so many other authors have done, my editor said hard pass: no lyrics. Period. Okay then).
Advance copies have to been sent out; printed, etc. Hundreds of hours of work have been presumably put into the book by the publisher. But they only realize with little over a week left that its too problematic to publish?
I would choose to hope that this is all part of some diabolical marketing campaign, making the book seem forbidden, then publishing later. But that’s too much to hope for.
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Well damn. Is this the result of the litigious Ono estate first allowing and then disallowing access to the diaries? I ask that because of Philip Norman’s experience with writing John’s bio, and Ono’s intense dislike of what Norman wrote in some sections to the point of hiring a posse of lawyers to scare him off.
Edited to Add: I wrote this before I read the link Joe provided. The point is well taken by Rosen that the Ono estate is all bark and no bite with respect to the threat of lawsuits–although Ono did rescind her permission to allow Norman to quote her (Norman simply paraphrased her instead.) Which brings me to this question: if copyright infringement is the issue, why didn’t Doggett simply do what Norman did–paraphrase rather than quote? It’s also interesting that Doggett is refusing to explain the book’s cancellation.
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Paraphrasing is the way to go: it’s how I dealt with the song lyric issue; how Norman addressed his issue with Ono, and how Sulpy and Schweghardt dealt with the legal issues regarding the LIB tapes. (Which, it has to be said, unfortunately weakened their work). Which makes it seem as if paraphrasing — direct quotation/copyright, etc — may not be the issue. Unfortunately, with no further information, we can only speculate on what the issue is.
This wonderful and incredibly detailed piece by Vicki Sheff tells slightly shambolic and to my mind quite sad story of Seaman and Rosen’s adventures.
Thanks for the link, Joe. Fingers crossed I get a chance to read it soon.
I’ve read Joe’s (Wisbey) comment and Erin’s reply. With such a paucity of information surrounding the cancellation/postponement of Doggett’s book, the rumour mill will produce vacuum occupying speculation; especially in this, a year of significant activity from official Lennon channels such as the lavishly produced POB releases.
Erin’s hope of a book that is well advanced in its production now being held back for marketing purposes holds a lot of water for me.
That’s a good point, Robert: One thing we’ve seen is a deliberate effort by both sides in Beatles historiography to counter new information with new events/products or offer new/opposing evidence when possible to blunt the momentum of an unfavored version that slowly gains ground. For example, in his essay, Michael Kinsey notes how the John Lennon: His Life and Work Exhibit at the Rock and Roll HOF in 2000 could be seen as Yoko’s counter to the bad publicity generated by Goldman/Seaman/Pang, etc., all of which chipped away at the Shout! version of the Beatles. The exhibit very much reiterated the Shout! version of John and the band, even as considerable evidence disproved that.
I think that’s a distinction that should be made: None of the Beatles, or Yoko, necessarily want us to have the most accurate version of events. They each have their preferred version of the band’s story, and there are strengths and weaknesses with each of those versions.
My reading is that Yoko’s preferred version appears to be the Shout! narrative: it’s the one she’s most consistently promoted and, unsurprisingly, the one which is most favorable to her. The reality that it has been widely debunked doesn’t matter: I imagine that’s where her main conflict with Norman was. Yoko wanted and expected a Shout! narrative John bio, whereas Norman was attempting to serve two masters: redeem, at least partially, his reputation as a Beatles writer by acknowledging negative areas he had completely ignored in the Shout! version, and keep Yoko happy enough to have her anoint his work the Authorized Bio. Elements that are going to further her preferred version will get promoted; ones that don’t will find a much tougher road.
And this isn’t to single out Yoko: All of the Beatles, as I mention, want to promote their preferred version. They do that by flooding the market with promotion that sells their views/products; staying on message; and hammering away at the core areas of their versions. George: John and I psychically bonded after our LSD use and for the rest of our lives had a spiritual connection that transcended any disagreements or negative words between use. Paul: The others bought into Klein hook, line and sinker, were utterly besotted with him, and I had to sue him to save all our money, and I was framed as the bad guy when Klein was the real bad guy.
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I first heard about a cancellation due to legal issues on February 11th. Someone on a Beatles Book page posted that info, saying it came from Dogget’s assistant. Couple of hours later that post had vanished.
Beautifully argued Erin. The de-sanctification of John, a rather flawed if hugely talented man is not something that Yoko will willingly participate in and, on a human level, I understand that. As time passes the memories of both John and George grow rosier and it is to Paul’s disadvantage (although he fights his own corner well and cleverly these days). Promoting the image of untouchability conferred by death impedes the wider search for the truth inasmuch as anyone’s “truth” is objective.
I’m pretty sure you’re on the right track when you speculate that Doggett’s book doesn’t fit well with the version of John (and, by association, Yoko) currently being promoted. Thanks for taking the time to write such an interesting, thoughtful reply!
You’re welcome, Robert. I do genuinely enjoy conversations, even if its about an unfortunate subject such as this.
That issue of the popular resistance to criticize, legitimately or not, in the posthumous depiction of a public figure is such an interesting, and applicable one, in Beatles historiography. And the younger the figure, and the more tragic and unexpected the death, the more visceral the resistance to criticism. I’ve seen it before in other areas: There’s probably no quicker way to incense a Kansas City Chiefs fan than to insult Derrick Thomas, the 90’s cornerstone of their franchise, who died tragically due to complications suffered in a car accident when he was still playing. (Wear your seatbelts, everyone). The gut reaction of many appears to be that criticism is suspect or unfair, because the dead individual is no longer around to defend themselves.
I think the manner of John’s death played a huge role in his posthumous depiction as well. I’m reminded of Robert Draper’s comment in The Unauthorized Bio of Rolling Stone, when discussing the job of writing John’s obituary: “This was not the time for objectivity … this was the time for begging forgiveness from the dead.” If John had died of a heart attack, or drug overdose, or in a car accident, I don’t believe the resistance to criticism of him would have been so overpowering or lasted so long. And Draper’s comment “This was not the time for objectivity” begs the question: When is the time for objectivity? A year? Six months?
I’m not asking the question to be difficult, but to get a legitimate answer. Certainly Norman’s obituary for George, which references his affairs with prostitutes and diminishes his generosity and talent is in poor taste, but how long should the veil of no criticism or lack of objectivity prevail? A significant problem with Norman’s obit for George is that his tone is Goldman-esque in recounting the negative parts, and he seemingly enjoys puncturing/taunting the audience, much as Goldman did/does: “You know this guy you’ve seen lauded and celebrated and gushed over? Here’s what he was really like. Here are the flaws no one else is mentioning.”
But to argue that death should confer seemingly a get-out-of-criticism-free card indefinitely, that the “this is not the time for objectivity” argument should prevail for eternity, is a poor one. (I’m not saying that’s your argument, Robert; merely typing out loud).
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A new biography of Yoko is coming out. It sounds like a doozy:
Quote from the author: “I’ll dispel the distortions, inventions and lies, and reveal, for the first time, her virtuosity, humour and joy, her resilience, compassion and wisdom, her triumphs and, ultimately, her genius”
@david_sheff’s @yokoono biography to @simonschusterUK: https://bit.ly/3fn2V45
Wow. That’s quite a blurb.
In all honesty, I’m looking forward to it, with serious reservations. It will, hopefully, provide new information and evidence we didn’t previously know. It will be another source to fit into the subject’s historiographical arc, and it will be fascinating to see where it slots: will it still single-mindedly promote the Shout! version, or will it acknowledge the shifts in Beatles historiography? Will previously disputed arguments and claims be presented for the fiftieth time with no new evidence to back them up, or will they implicitly distance themselves from previously disputed and discredited arguments without explicitly denouncing them? I will be very curious to see what is discussed, and what is not, and how. What if anything are we going to get on heroin? Klein? Election night 1972?
Sometimes what’s just as interesting as what is covered in a book is what is not covered.
That the author is Sheff doesn’t immediately fill me with a great hope that the work will be objective and document driven. Sheff presumably has improved over the decades, but his Playboy interview with John and Yoko is not a good example of interviewing; he comes off more as a wide-eyed transcriptionist than a critical or discerning interviewer. If you believe Goldman, John and Yoko were almost giddy when they say how young and presumably inexperienced Sheff was. And the same way the reputation of RS relies heavily on LR, Sheff’s interview with John and Yoko is, so far as I know, his most famous interview. The Yoko in the interview is the Yoko in the blurb. That reinforces Sheff’s skills as a journalist.
I imagine there will be some provocative information, even amid the propaganda. Is this going to be Yoko’s MYFN, and if so, what works and claims in Beatles historiography is Yoko/Sheff going to respond to? Is she going to counter and argue with MYFN, the same way Paul used it to counter LR/Shout!? The blurb discusses the element of racism and misogny in Yoko’s depiction and reception, an element which is all too real, but to argue that all criticism of her art/actions/behavior is motivated by racism and misogny and therefore invalid is a textbook slippery slope argument that then seemingly indicates that no criticism of her is valid, which is absurd. Are we going to get more information on her relationship with the press? A quick signal for me regarding the validity of the book will be whether it portrays Yoko as only the press’s unremitting victim and ignores her own considerable skill in using it to further her own, preferred version of events. Also, are they going to provide evidence? I want to see, in the discussion of Yoko’ press depiction, articles. Quotes. Don’t just tell me she was persecuted by the press. Show me the evidence. In the end, that’s always what I want.
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Interesting questions. I think the book will be a tribute, rather than an investigative piece.
Also, I can’t take credit for alerting you to Doggett’s book. I wouldn’t have known about it if commenter Steve hadn’t mentioned it first. All credit to Steve.
Oops. Sorry, Steve. I’ll fix that when I get a chance.
Yes, a tribute sounds more likely, but an investigative piece, or Yoko’s version of MYFN, has the chance to be much more interesting.
Forgive my cynicism, but a book about Yoko written with Yoko’s blessing doesn’t fill me with hope that any gritty new truths will be revealed.
I have to be honest and say that I haven’t, to my recollection, read anything by David Sheff, although his RnR writing credentials as described on his Wikipedia page are very sound, but would he win in an arm wrestle with Yoko over content or should we brace ourselves for another hagiography?
It sounds to me like another hagiography. I mean, look at his blurb:
“I’ll dispel the distortions, inventions and lies, and reveal, for the first time, her virtuosity, humour and joy, her resilience, compassion and wisdom, her triumphs and, ultimately, her genius”
Good lord. Did she dictate this book to him?
From all accounts, Sheff is a good man, a decent human being. But unfortunately decent people often don’t know when they’re being used by folks with an agenda, narrative or image to sell.
I’m inclined to believe its going to be heavily propagandized, plugging the Ballad and being unabashedly un-objective.
In that respect, if it does follow that pattern, it may be seen as a bookend to The Ballad of John and Yoko, published by Rolling Stone in the early 80s, which is hagiographic in parts and riddled with misinformation. But despite those flaws, I found The Ballad interesting, in respect to what it said (John is the only Beatle genius) didn’t say (George and Ringo who?) and misinformed (May Pang was John’s assistant. Full stop. Nothing else to see there). Even if this Yoko book is riddled with the same fundamental issues and misinformation, what I’m saying is that its still interesting to me to see how it’s presented, to see where it fits in Beatles historiography, if (as the blurb indicates) they will take refuge in audacity in relentlessly plugging only the good and ignoring/attempting to discredit the bad. Does that make sense?
Yep, it makes perfect sense (I would write that though, because your reply suits my confirmation bias 😁).
I wonder if I am the Steve who alerted you to the Doggett book. If so, I am honored to be remembered. I sure wish that book would come out. I love Doggett’s work and have a particular interest in the Dakota period.
What is the most trusted book on Lennon 1975-1980? I thought John Green’s book was reliable.
That’s funny. Are you aware that the fabulous time-suck website TV Tropes has a trope named “One-Steve Limit?” It discusses the trope of ensuring that multiple fictional characters don’t have the same name in a book, movie, etc. If it wasn’t you who alerted us, we seem to have exceeded our “One Steve-limit!”
Unfortunately it appears, the more I hear, including from people who have received direct responses, if brief ones, from Doggett, that the book is not coming. As a fan of Doggett’s work, it is highly disappointing.
I found Green’s the most reliable memoir of those years as well. He has his own issues: his chunks of verbatim dialogue are problematic, as are his hints that he steered John and Yoko towards seemingly every intelligent business decision they made during that time period. But being the most reliable memoir of that heavily contested time period is sort of like being the one eyed king in the land of the blind: memoirs are so subjective, and without documentation, flimsier primary source evidence. Doggett could have possibly given us some of that documentation.
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