EXCERPT: 'The John Lennon Letters'

John Lennon performs at New York's Madison John Lennon performs at New York's Madison Square Garden in 1972. Photo Credit: AP

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Today, John's writings -- not just his song lyrics but his poems and stories -- are being studied at universities all round the world. At the Jacobs Music School at the University of Indiana, the biggest music school in the USA, there are about three hundred students a year working on the Beatles -- their music and their words.

"I have always loved Lennon's writing, in his public books and private letters," says Professor Glenn Gass, who has taught courses on the Beatles at Indiana since 1982. "They seem of a piece with the rest of his creative work: playful and funny and full of bits of inspired lunacy and then, when you least expect it, moments of heart-rending emotion and honesty. John seemed to be continually exploring himself -- searching for himself -- in his writings."

I have tried to use the letters to tell the story of John's life, as a narrative, but never jumping ahead to future events, even when most of us alive today know what the future held for him. I have also tried to describe, where possible, the recipient, and his or her story.

"Letters," wrote E.M. Forster, "have to pass two tests before they can be classed as good: they must express the personality of both the writer and the recipient." John always did tailor his letters to the person he was writing to.

I have arranged them more or less chronologically, fitting them into Parts, each new Part having its own short introduction. Sometimes there is a running theme in each Part, or more often it encompasses the same year. On one occasion, the Part consists of letters all to the same person, Derek Taylor, in which case the chronology does slightly overlap.

In order to keep the narrative flowing, my editorial explanations and comments come before each letter, not afterwards or at the bottom of the page. I did not want numbers and asterisks and notes cluttering up the pages like sticky buds.

In almost every case I have included an image of the letter, as well as giving a transcript (unless the letter has been typed so clearly there is no need for a transcript), so you can see what it looked like, even if often it has become stained or faded. John could type. In his late teens, while still living with his aunt Mimi, he had acquired a manual typewriter, an Imperial, on which he used to bash out some of his poems, very badly. (Mimi later donated this typewriter to charity and it was sold at auction.) In America, he had a more up-to-date machine and did take some typing lessons, but mostly he handwrote everything.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

 

From the Introduction to "The John Lennon Letters" by Hunter Davies. Copyright (c) 2012 by Hunter Davies. Published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group.

You also may be interested in: