Larry Kane’s claim to Fab Four fame is being the only American journalist to travel with the band in a official capacity on its historic 1964 and 1965 US tours. He’s already published an account of those experiences, Ticket to Ride, so why he’s waited until the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination to unveil Lennon Revealed is anyone’s… wait a minute. 25th anniversary, eh?
While the timing may seem a little opportunistic, it does make some sense given that Lennon Revealed opens with a harrowing, minute-by-minute reflection on the night of December 8, 1980. Some of the very last people to see John Lennon alive, including New York TV producer Alan Weiss, radio producer Dave Sholin, and photographer Bob Gruen, recount the grizzly, surreal events in first person. A quarter century later, the profound effect of that night on all involved remains chilling, saddening, and rage-provoking. Of course, that’s because of the effect that John Lennon had while he was alive, and Kane is only the latest to try to interpret and make sense out of that effect.
In a way that befits Lennon himself, Lennon Revealed succeeds because of, not in spite of, the very shortcomings that should sink it. First, Kane is, to put it frankly, a bit of a braggart. He clearly regards himself as having special insight on Lennon and the Beatles, especially in their Beatlemania days. He’s all-too-willing to mention his “unusual rapport” with the band, and how he and Lennon “hit it off”. When he claims that Brian Epstein “disclosed his [homosexuality] to only a few people, and to only one member of the media that I know if, namely, myself”, he sounds like a gloating kid.
In addition to his immodesty, Kane’s fond memories are sometimes a bit too fond, his admiration for Lennon occasionally stretching to hyperbolic lengths. Kane readily admits that he “fundamentally and honestly really liked the man”—no problem there. But then he goes on to claim, “In his own way, John Lennon was a courageous and extraordinary investigative journalist.” He makes sweeping statements like “...perhaps no human being in the contemporary culture has been written and talked about more than John Lennon,” and, “...he trailblazed a creative path than no one could have imagined before him, but that thousands have traveled after him,” perhaps forgetting the other three Beatles and Lennon’s own idol, Elvis Presley. Kane’s bottom line is that Lennon was “real”, a true man of the people who wanted nothing more than to be on the level. Surely this was a big factor of Lennon’s personality, but Kane makes no mention of Lennon’s heroin abuse or the fact that he sang “Imagine no possessions” at a time when he lived in a mansion and owned a fully-loaded Rolls Royce.
To his credit, Kane fully acknowledges the sometimes baffling contradictions in Lennon’s psyche and pulls few punches when it comes to Lennon’s womanizing and violent streak. And Kane’s obvious pride in having known his subject, and occasional cheerleading on Lennon’s behalf, are ultimately sincere and endearing. Kane comes across as a protective, often awed little brother—and this is one of the few perspectives from which Lennon hasn’t really been considered. This makes even more sense when you consider that Kane was only 21—several years Lennon’s junior—when he met Lennon and the Beatles.
In terms of “bombshells” and his overall treatment of Lennon’s life and music, Kane has precious little to add to the canon. He does give more weight to “lost weekend” escort/lover May Pang’s effect on Lennon, and devotes text to lesser-known associates like Geraldo Rivera, actor Peter Boyle, and latter-day errand boy Mario Casciano. Kane recycles some Ticket to Ride material, sometimes awkwardly trying to connect it to subsequent times; but, ironically, the most touching moments come during reflections on Lennon’s more reflective, almost pastoral final five years. In perhaps the book’s most interesting passage, NYC associate Michael Allison offers some poignant musings on how Lennon might have reacted to 9/11.
New interviews with Yoko Ono, Pang, and Stuart Sutcliffe’s sister offer few new insights. Ono even puts over a story she told in her liner notes for the 1998 Lennon Anthology box set as a revelation she’s making to Kane for the first time. Furthermore, Kane’s writing is often downright bad. He peppers the book with groaners like, “There is no more compartmentalized, intimate experience than the glorious entrapment of air travel,” and, “...the beginning of the end was near.” A “bonus” DVD offers little more than Kane’s 1968 interview with Lennon and McCartney, in which both Beatles show how fame has turned their charming wit into condescending petulance.
Still, against the odds, Lennon Revealed is a brisk, enjoyable read. As Lennon proved, true passion can cover a multitude of sins, and so it goes with Kane.