Interview to Robert Rosen

By Numero9 On marzo 18th, 2010

After we published the post Nowhere Man: The Final Days Of John Lennon the author of the book wrote a Comment expressing his gratitude for the review and invited us to contact him. We discovered a very spiritual, nice and cordial person. He offered to grant us a small interview for 10, Mathew Street and here is the result. Thank you very much again, Robert. It is always a pleasure to know people like you.

Robert Rosen

10, Mathew Street.- WHO IS ROBERT ROSEN?

Robert Rosen.- I’m a writer living in New York City with my wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott, who’s also a writer, as well as a musician and singer. I consider myself an entertainer. By that I mean, if you want people to read what you write, it better be entertaining. (And if you write nonfiction, then it better be accurate, too.)

I work very hard at what I do. I’m also an editor—I spent 16 years editing magazines of all kinds. Recently, I’ve become a writing coach, though I have only one student at the moment. And I should add that I’ve been developing a bit of a reputation as a cook, primarily for my pasta primavera and oat bran muffins. I’ve not considered turning pro, but maybe I should. In the current economy, which is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, you’ve got to be versatile to survive.

And I’m a walker. I walk all over NYC every day when I’m finished working. That’s how I relax and meditate. Walking frees my mind. And I’m always stopping to write things down. If you see me on the street scribbling on a piece of paper, don’t interrupt. I’m having a brainstorm.

10MSt.- ROBERT, ARE YOU A BEATLES FAN?

R.R..- Do you think I could have written a book like Nowhere Man if I weren’t? Yes, I’m a Beatles fan. I have been since 1964, when, like everybody else in the world, I saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show. The next day I went around the corner and bought my first record album, Meet the Beatles. It was three dollars, and that was a lot of money for me. I still have it, and it’s in excellent condition.

10MSt.- DID YOU MEET JOHN LENNON BEFORE WRITING THE BOOK?

R.R..- Much to my regret, I never met John. I think if he’d lived I eventually would have. Fred Seaman, Lennon’s personal assistant, often talked about bringing me into the fold. Perhaps he would have. Who knows?

10MSt.- IN YOUR BOOK YOU TELL US THAT 24 HOURS AFTER JOHN LENNON’S DEATH, FRED SEAMAN ( LENNON’S PERSONAL ASSISTANT ) CALLED YOU TO TALK ABOUT WRITING NOWHERE MAN: THE FINAL DAYS OF JOHN LENNON. WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST THOUGHTS?

R.R..- I discuss that in detail in the first chapter of the most recent English-language edition of the book, from Quick American Archives. Seaman told me that John knew he was going to die, that John knew Seaman was working on a book, and that he’d poured his heart out to him. This was the book that Seaman and I had been talking about writing since he’d first begun working for John and Yoko in February 1979. Obviously, I was shocked and horrified by John’s murder. But I was also aware that I was a journalist, and that I was an eyewitness to history. I wanted very much to begin working on the book. I felt that I could write such a book in a spirit true to John’s memory. And incidentally, I didn’t start calling the book Nowhere Man until 1999.

10MSt.- JOHN LENNON SAID TO SEAMAN IF SOMETHING HAPPENED TO HIM HE WOULD LIKE PEOPLE TO KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT HIS LIFE DURING HIS LAST YEARS. DID YOKO ONO KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT LENNON PROJECT? DO YOU KNOW WHY JOHN WANTED SEAMAN TO DO THIS?

R.R..- Ono didn’t know about the project until I came forward and told her about it. She also says she didn’t even know about John’s diaries, but I think she did. As for why John wanted people to know what his years of seclusion were really like, I think that was just the nature of his personality. He was a compulsive truth teller. And his diaries bear that out. He held nothing back.

Paperback book

10MSt.- AS YOU WERE WRITING THE BOOK, WHAT WERE YOUR FEELINGS?

R.R..- Writing a book is just hard work, and in the case of Nowhere Man, I was writing it and rewriting it, on and off, for 18 years. What I think you’re asking about is what I was feeling as I was transcribing John’s diaries, and that was a magical feeling, just like the song says. When I finally figured out how to decode John’s scrawls and codes and symbols, I read his words out loud as I was typing them, and it felt as if John’s energy were flowing through me. I saw what his life was really like, and it was a revelation.

10MSt.- DID YOU CHANGE YOUR LIFESTYLE TO UNDERSTAND LENNON’S LIFE? HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO DO THAT? WHAT WAS THE RESULT OF THAT?

R.R..- That’s something that I’ve been ridiculed for—for wearing John’s clothes, and eating the foods he ate, and experimenting with fasting, and trying to get down to his weight of 130 pounds. But that was all part of my research. It was the equivalent of method acting—another way to get inside John’s head. As far as I’m concerned, the lifestyle experiments are no different from reading books about tarot, magic, numerology, astrology, and yoga. It was all part of what I felt I had to do to fully understand John, and to understand what he was writing about in his diary. I’d call my experiment a success.

10MSt.- YOU TELL US ABOUT THE INTIMATE LIFE OF JOHN AND ALL OF US HAVE READ ABOUT A JOHN THAT NOBODY COULD IMAGINE. WERE YOU CONCIOUS YOU WERE DEMYTHOLOGIZING JOHN?

R.R..- I wasn’t thinking as I was writing the book that I was demythologizing John. I wanted to present John as a three-dimensional human being—a man in full. When you see somebody as human, it’s hard to also see them as an idol, an icon, or a god.

10MSt.- DID YOU RECEIVE COMMENTS FROM BEATLES OR JOHN LENNON FANS AFTER PUBLISHING THE BOOK? IF YOU DID, WHAT KIND OF COMMENTS WERE THEY?

R.R..- Take a look at the Amazon reviews. There are a lot of them, and they’re a pretty accurate reflection of the feedback I’ve gotten overall. Most people really like the book, and after reading it they feel that they’ve gotten to know John intimately, as a human being. I’ve gotten letters that say, “Reading Nowhere Man made me want to be a better father.” Then there are the people who have trouble with the concept of my using my imagination to write a work of nonfiction. That’s a legitimate concern, and I’ve gone to great lengths in the book to explain how I used my imagination to illuminate rather than to distort the truth, and to go places in John’s consciousness that would have been unreachable by traditional journalistic technique. Finally, there’s a tiny but vocal minority who despise the book and call it a pack of lies. There’s obviously nothing I can say to them that would change their minds. But I should point out that the most vicious reviews of Nowhere Man were written by people who say they haven’t read the book and have no intention of reading it because, they say, they already know what’s in it. These are bitter, ignorant, close-minded people. If I were a saint, I’d pray for them: May they be enlightened.

10MSt.- AND FROM YOKO OR RELATIVES?

R.R..- Yoko has not personally commented on the book. All official comment from her camp has come from her PR flack, Elliot Mintz, who says the book is nothing more than a work of imagination. But he’s never pointed to a particular passage in the book and said, “That’s not true.” That’s because they know it is true. And that’s why Yoko asked me to testify on her behalf at Seaman’s copyright infringement trial in 2002. My testimony, essentially, was the first chapter of Nowhere Man, “John Lennon’s Dairies.” She won her case.

10MSt.- WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE STILL NOT READ YOUR BOOK?

R.R..- Read it and make up your own mind.

10MSt.- WHAT IS THERE AFTER YOUR BOOK “NOWHERE MAN – THE FINAL DAYS OF JOHN LENNON”? DID YOUR LIFE CHANGE AFTER “NOWHERE MAN” WAS PUBLISHED?

R.R..- Before Nowhere Man was published, I was an obscure freelance writer and magazine editor working at a job I loathed. Nowhere Man launched my career as a writer of books. I was thrilled and amazed when it became a bestseller and was translated into all these different languages. A new edition is coming out this year in Italian, from Coniglio. It just goes on and on, and I am forever grateful. But it was when I went to Mexico City in 2003, just before the publication of the second Spanish-language edition, that I think it finally sunk in how much things had changed. The press treated me as if I’d written Harry Potter. I felt as if I’d entered an alternate universe where everything I’d been working for, for the past 25 years, had come to pass in a language I didn’t understand. That’s why I’ve been struggling ever since to learn Spanish. If people are going to be that enthusiastic about my work, I want to be able to communicate with them without a translator.

Beaver Street's provisional front page.

10MSt.- HAVE YOU WRITTEN ANY OTHER BOOKS? TELL US ABOUT IT.

R.R..- My new book, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, is being published in the UK, in October, by Headpress, a very cool independent publisher. It’s an investigative memoir about the fusion of erotica and computers—kind of like a Tropic of Capricorn for the digital age. It’s set in a corporation in New York, during a worldwide economic catastrophe, just as Capricorn was, and, of course, it’s about sex. I think it’s a book John Lennon would have liked. John was a big fan of Henry Miller’s, and not only is Beaver Street very much in the Miller tradition, but more important, John despised hypocrites, as he made clear in his song “Just Gimme Some Truth.” And Beaver Street, among other things, reveals how the “morality warriors”—like Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and former attorneys general Edwin Meese and Alberto Gonzales—declared war on the porn industry to deflect attention from their own criminal acts, which included bribery, extortion, and income tax evasion. This was, of course, before they were driven from office in disgrace, to avoid impeachment or prosecution. With any luck at all the book will soon be available in Spanish.

I’ve also written a screenplay with my translator, Julio Malone. It’s completely fictional, and it’s called The Diaries of Juan Dolio. A rock icon is murdered, and his personal assistant flees to Mexico with his secret diaries. It’s like A Hard Day’s Night meets The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (as they say in Hollywood). Realistically, I’d say it will probably be published as a book before it’s made into a movie. But stay tuned.

10MSt.- ROBERT, WE HOPE YOUR BOOK IS THE WHOLE SUCCESS. THANK YOU VERY MUCH. NICE TO MEET YOU.

R.R..- ¡Muchas gracias! Un placer conocerte también. Espero verte en Madrid. Tal vez voy a cocinar un poco de pasta primavera. Por favor, traiga el vino.

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