In His own Write

by John Lennon
(1964)
   At the very breaking point of worldwide Beatlemania, john lennon, who was directly afterward dubbed the “clever” Beatle, added to his notorious pop-chart success with a literary best seller, bearing a name donated by Paul McCartney, In His Own Write. (Apocryphal or not, the story goes that it was originally to be called “In His Own Write and Draw”—except at the last minute the multiple puns seemed unnecessarily awkward.) Published by Jonathan Cape in the United Kingdom and by Simon and Schuster in the United States, it was an instant international success and won the Foyles Literary Prize. Said the Times Literary Supplement, “Worth the attention of anyone who fears for the impoverishment of the English language and the British imagination.” Lennon was hailed as a new literary voice, while similar accolades were bestowed upon bob dylan as a serious balladeer and spokesman for his generation. Amid the bombast, a quiet rivalry between the two was established. Lennon’s poems, word play, and comical drawings were the accumulated satirical jabs and musings of a young man on the road, a young man capable of much more than just constructing pop songs or sending shivers up teenage girls’ spines with his dynamic vocals. A slim volume, In His Own Write is the essence of what it is to be all things Liverpudlian—inordinately irreverent, riotously yet subtly funny, fiercely individualistic, and naturally theatrical. With his gift of cutting dialogue, Lennon mocks hypocrites, mediocrity, the banal, and the sanctimonious, and he does it with savagely wicked glee. Critics and fans alike were quick to point out his obvious influences—James Joyce (Lennon said that he had never heard of him), Edward Lear (him either), Chaucer (said that he had never read him). He did admit to being partial to Lewis Carroll and even later wrote his “I Am the Walrus” as a response to Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”
   Foyles Bookstore held a literary luncheon in Lennon’s honor at the Dorchester Hotel in April 1964. Not since George Bernard Shaw had been similarly honored had so many requests for invitations been received. When the young author, hung-over from his own previous night of revelry, was called to make a speech, he stood, mumbled something incoherent, and sat back down. Explanations of what he actually said conflict with one another. It could have been, “God bless you,” “It’s been a pleasure,” or “You’ve got a lucky face”—this last an expression of gratitude made by Liverpool panhandlers after having received a handout.
   So popular was Lennon’s maiden literary voyage that he was asked for more, and in 1965 A Spaniard in the Works was published. This undertaking required more immediate attention, as there were no verses or drawings left, and Lennon was required to start his writing anew. Once again the results were well received and publicized (in the movie Help! Lennon appears in one vignette shamelessly kissing a copy of the book), and by the end of the decade American writer Adrienne Kennedy had adapted both Lennon works as a play, In His Own Write, directed by Lennon’s close friend, actor Victor Spinetti, at the Old Vic Theatre. Lennon takes aim at mainstream life and values in his two collections and often the attacks are not only uproariously funny but vitriolic as well, perhaps even mean spirited. He ranks with the best of his American precursors of the Beat Generation, those who had had enough of being marginalized or ignored or ridiculed simply because they were different or because they held different views and a hope for a more inclusive society.
 Bibliography
■ Brown, Peter, and Steven Gaines. The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of The Beatles. New York: Signet, 1983.
■ Coleman, Ray. Lennon. New York: McGraw Hill, 1984.
■ ———. A Spaniard in the Works. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1964.
■ ———. Skywriting by Word of Mouth. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
   Greg Herriges

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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