The True Story Of John Lennon’s Final Years
Review by R.E. Prindle
Green, John: Dakota Days- The True Story Of John Lennon’s Final Years, St. Martin’s Press, 1983
The book should perhaps be subtitled: A True Story. John Green has crafted very nice portraits here of Yoko Ono and John Lennon, especially that of Yoko. She was very superstitious being dedicated to the occult from witchcraft to Japanese numerology to Tarot readings. It was the last that brought Green within her ken. She not only wanted a reading of the Tarot cards but she kept Green hopping day and night giving her readings on whatever little problem that pressed her mind. So for six years Green made a very good living reading for John and Yoko while developing a profound familiarity with their characters; in other words, he knows whereof he speaks.
Neither he nor the Japanese numerologist who he mever met were the only occultists Yoko was consulting but Green seems to have been unaware of the others. He is very careful and doesn’t overstep the bounds of what he knows first hand. There was a great deal that Green wasn’t privy to making this A rather than The true story.
While I know that many people know what the Tarot is I will give an explanation for those who don’t. While I don’t participate in Tarot myself I do have a deck of cards on hand to study for historical reasons.
The Tarot is a deck of 78 cards of some psychological subtlety. It arose as a means to preserve the Egyptian religion when after the various invasions of the first millennium BC the matrix of the religion was shattered. The Tarot was devised as a means of perpetuating the religion. The various spreads of cards provide means of interpreting responses to a problem.
Over the centuries many different decks have evolved representing various time periods. I have the Egyptian deck. It would be
interesting to know which deck Green used. He fails to tell us.
To be able to read well one must have an implicit understanding of each of the cards as well as being a subtle enough psychologist to apply the meanings to he or she for whom you read. Green apparently had both qualifications. Thus over thousands of readings over the six years he became very familiar with the characters and personalities of his subjects John and Yoko. Still, they seem to have been very successful in letting him know only what they wanted him to know.
As he apparently didn’t take notes, limiting in itself, he relies on his memory and familiarity with the Ono’s mental processes to reconstruct a continuum of the six years. While one may question the veracity of his method he seems to capture the mental and vocal traits of both John and Yoko. I have no trouble accepting the portraits while as the details can be corroborated elsewhere I see no reason to question Green’s general accuracy. Otherwise there is no one who doesn’t make mistakes in fact or interpretation.
His two portraits while revealing conflict with other accounts such as that of May Pang or Fred Seaman the obvious reason is that
the Onos are only letting him see what they want him to see. For instance, in their 1980 interview the Onos state that Yoko had brought the estate up to 150 million dollars yet Green has Yoko spending so fast that they are always on the brink of insolvency. At times expenditures seem to exceed cash on hand.
Green believes himself to be their only investment advisor but that isn’t the case. Just as Yoko had her Japanese numerologist who Green didn’t come into contact with and other occult advisors she must have had other financial advisors.
The picture Green paints of Yoko is far from pretty while he never openly denigrates her yet as he creates his layers of detail she not only becomes but goes beyond eccentric. Her dependence on the occult is such that when someone advised her of a ‘genuine’ witch in Colombia she dragged Green along on the trip to South America to visit the woman. Always lavish in her expenditures, she gave one medium a blank check for her to fill out, she gave this woman 60,000 dollars for her ministrations. When Green protested that the woman had meant pesetas rather than dollars Yoko was unfazed.
Thus while Yoko denied any dependence on John she only was able to realize her vision of herself through the former Beatle’s wealth and influence.
This was no more evident than in Yoko’s competition with her mother. For two successive summers John and Yoko visited Japan. According to Yoko the intent was to establish some rapport so that her son Sean wouldn’t be cut out of the family fortune that was considerable. The trips were conducted on such an extravagant scale that according to Green the Onos were cash poor as a result. Nevertheless Yoko went on spending so either they had funds of which Green knew nothing or they got money from somewhere.
The fact that they always seemed to have enough cash to do anything from spending a few millions on dairy farms and cows to Japanese vacations that it seems strange that when they received an extortion attempt for 200,000 dollars Yoko said they had no money. The extortion attempt seems to have been a protection racket- pay and live or go the police and die. As the extortioners told Yoko that if she went to the cops they would only protect her for a while. When they left whether a year or two later the extortioners would strike.
The Onos refused to comply calling in the FBI. The FBI advised them to substitute newspaper for money and they would arrest the pickup man. Strangely the pick up man was able to elude the FBI. And then two years or so later Lennon was hit by exploding bullets and killed on his doorstep. While one cannot say the two events are connected yet the assassination followed the extortionists plans. Chapman did make a stop to speak to an unidentified party before he pulled the trigger. But nothing is clear.
Yoko first contacted Green during Lennon’s ‘Lost Weekend.’ While Lennon believed, and it seems clear, that Yoko had informants watching John while he was in LA, Green has her denying this saying that it was his card readings that kept her informed of John’s doings. In all likelihood she checked her spies’ information against his readings.
From ’75 to ’80 Lennon was in a severe depression being unable or unwilling to function in a normal way. Of course there was no reason for him to act ‘normal’ as he was able to deal with his funk in his own way. Who is there to say that ‘normal’ was better? As he told Green his muse had left him leaving him unable to write. As he said, call it writer’s block or whatever, he couldn’t work. Enough reason for depression in an artist.
Then in 1980 when he came out of it being again able to write, Yoko in her desperate attempt to be his equal insisted on being part of the new record she called Double Fantasy. John adamantly refused to let her perform on his own tracks while she didn’t want her tracks all on one side for fear that no one would listen to side B, so they alternated tracks.
Thus, even though Yoko insisted that she was the most talented artistically and musically of the two she was forced to hitch her wagon to John’s star.
I found Green’s treatment of Lennon to be more sympathetic than his treatment of Yoko. The inevitable conclusion one comes to about Yoko is that at best she was a pathetic human being while at worst an obsessive-compulsive and a dangerous one at that.
The portrait he depicted of John is that of a man with a completely disintegrated personality entering the mid-life crisis. During this five year period he begins a process of reintegration. Actually his course is that of the mythological hero who experiences his ‘madness’ at this period of the mid-life crisis.
During this period Lennon is essentially egoless. Part of Timothy Leary’s LSD mantra was that one should abandon the ego. Of course to abandon the ego leaves one defenseless and a prey to sharpers who use their ego only too well, nevertheless Lennon bought in and abandoned his ego, or so he says. As he abdicated his identity to the use of Yoko Ono this was obviously the case.
So, he allowed himself to be manipulated by Yoko spending long periods of months over years ruminating naked in his bed, totally exposed as it were protected only by the good will of Yoko. Then, for whatever ulterior motive, Yoko sent John on a solo trip around the world. This was her mistake.
While in Macau, China Lennon had an epiphany in his hotel room. This is a fairly common one but self-revelatory. One might name it the peeling of the onion. In Lennon’s case he obviously felt that he had multiple personalities acquired through various traumatic events in his life.
As he described it to Green he was in his hotel room when he succeeded in peeling a layer of the onion, a personality, off which appeared as real and visible to him as shirt or a suit of clothes. He draped the personality over a chair then began to peel off layer after layer hanging them about the room or draping them over the furniture. When he awoke the next morning he could see them just where he put them. He then conceived the notion of leaving them there as he ran away from their influence.
This is a beautiful little fantasy. But then he turned the corner and there was oneof his selves waiting for him. Visualize the Rock And Roll cover and I think you begin to have it. He then realized he couldn’t escape in that fashion so he went back to his hotel and said ‘C’mon’ to his personalities and continued on his journey. However having identified his ‘problems’ by name, as it were, the seeds for resolving those problems had been sown.
He then returned to the Dakota and while he confined himself to his room rather than merely sinking into depression he began working through those layers of fixations or depression gradually recovering his muse and removing his writer’s block enabling him to compose again.
It would seem that Yoko preferred John psychologically incapacitated so that she could either control him or make herself believe that she was the more talented. Green notes that as John improved Yoko seemed to deteriorate. He quotes her as saying that she had heard some of John’s new songs and they were not very good while hers were.
Dissociated from reality as she was then she couldn’t let John record an LP of songs that might be a hit while anything she recorded on her own would be relegated to the garbage. She even refused to record one side all John and one side all her for fear that no one would listen to her side so she demanded they alternate tracks. I presume that is one reason the LP is entitled Double Fantasy.
While Yoko actually believed in the Tarot and her Japanese numerology, witchcraft and whatever John intelligently disregarded the occult aspects while he might have seen the utility of the Egyptian religous aspects to reveal character and motivation. In fact the innumerable readings of the Tarot might have led up to the revelatory epiphany in China and hence the lifting of his depression.
If that were the case then there would have been little difference between the Egyptian system of Tarot and psychoanalysis. But, as I say, I have no idea of which deck Green was using although the principle remains the same.
After having been on 24/7 call for six years as the Onos moved into what seems to have been a new phase Green lost his usefulness to Yoko sitting by a phone that never rang.
Green had succeeded too well. As he has John explain to him when Yoko first employed him she set him seven tasks. He had successfully completed all seven being now redundant. While John promised to look out for him, of course events eliminated any such possibility.
Regardless of whether the Ono Lennons were the subject of Green’s book I found the whole concept interesting. I like the way Green told his story, his tone and his outlook. His telling made me take an interest in himself. Unfortunately his name being so common makes it too difficult to search out anything of his subsequent career other than he moved to Washington DC.
Perhaps he could write a sequel to Dakota Days from another angle and with more detail. Pressing issues might not be so pressing now. I’d be interested.