Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Demons of John Lennon

Cat: You’ve mentioned that Lennon needed to exorcise his demons. How does one approach getting into the mind of John Lennon?

Hammett: You don't. It would be impossible. I found only two other novels, quite awful, that used Lennon as a character and attempted to imitate his habits and mannerisms, I suppose, for the sake of realism, while using every speech pattern on record. Big mistake. No one can get inside the head of John Lennon. Hell, even Lennon himself couldn’t do it. Plus there is disagreement over Lennon’s personality at the end of his life. He was indeed starting to call his son Julian and share tracks from Double Fantasy, but Julian himself, according to Cynthia Lennon's biography John, reported to his mother that Lennon was a reclusive man in his last days at the Dakota, staying in his room and watching TV. Julian, we are told, saw no sign of the devoted, bread-baking father we’ve all heard about. Julian said he saw a mostly-neglected Sean. It's a question of individual perception. The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. As for treating Lennon in fiction, I took some of his more obvious character traits, such as his insecurity, cockiness, fears, and caring, and worked with those. I didn’t try to do caricature or use a consistent Liverpudlian accent. Imitation can come off flat, as when Hollywood makes a film about my hometown of New Orleans. No one there has a southern drawl or a Cajun accent. The only accent is a Brooklyn accent in the suburbs. We look at the screen, laugh, and shrug our shoulders. Whatever Dennis Quaid said in The Big Easy was not intelligible to native New Orleanians. He tried to merge Cajun with a drawl. It doesn’t exist. Same thing would hold true for Lennon. Trying to reproduce his accent past a very limited point would be ludicrous. I think that’s why John Lennon and the Mercy Street Cafe works. It enables people to identify with him more. It’s the confused Lennon people can see and feel. And, of course, Lennon the clown. John Lennon was a lot of things to a lot of people. Painting him in broad strokes was the key. Indeed, he’s not even the narrator. One could say that the real protagonist is a very strong female narrator.

Cat: I noticed that. She’s very believable.

Hammett: That was a conscious decision. I think it gives the novel a strong, three-dimensional narrator who is ringmaster for the narrative, not Lennon. We see the ex-Beatle through her eyes.

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