John Lennon: Life Is What Happens—Music, Memories & Memorabilia. By John M. Borack. Krause Publications. $26.99.
The Wit and Wisdom of Ozzy Osbourne. By Dave Thompson. Krause Publications. $12.99.
Rock stars are among the royalty that most Americans admire – almost among the gods that Americans worship. In a nation without a hereditary aristocracy, performers (in movies, on TV, in sports, or on concert stages) become the focus of shared experience in a way that royalty does in other countries. So books about these “royals” are perpetually popular. Oh – and it helps a lot if the “royals” are British, since Americans have an ongoing love affair with our cousins across the pond (where, in contrast, the actual royal family is seen with something of a jaundiced eye these days). So here we have two books about British entertainers, each of them focusing on its subject as a thinker and an artist, inflating the person into something approaching divinity through a hagiographic approach that makes John Lennon and Ozzy Osbourne out to be far more than “mere” entertainers.
This works better for Lennon. There is ample evidence that Lennon was a deeper thinker than most pop-music performers, even if his thoughts were scarcely profound in a philosophical sense and were very much of their time (the drug-fueled 1960s). John M. Borack’s book about Lennon has the look of a scrapbook, filled with illustrations and memorabilia, with minimal text running around the pictured material and appearing as captions. That is a particularly effective approach for telling about Lennon’s life. There are Lennon quotations sprinkled everywhere: “Part of me suspects that I’m a loser and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.” “Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives.” “Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” And, on the end of the Beatles: “It’s only a rock group that split up, it’s nothing important.” But of course, this book and many like it – and the continuing adoration of Beatles fans throughout the world – say that everything about the Beatles and about Lennon is important. And not just about the Beatles: there is plenty here about Lennon and Yoko Ono; there are the inevitable pages about Lennon’s murder by Mark David Chapman; and there is the equally inevitable (and rather overdone) end-of-book proclamation by Borack that Lennon was “a complex human being,” “a man who stood proudly for what he believed in,” and someone whose “importance and influence on music and society cannot be overstated.” Well, yeah, they can be, and often are – including here. Certainly Lennon’s contributions as an entertainer, as a musician, were huge, although many of today’s young music fans know neither his name nor that of the Beatles (popular music was never really intended to stand the test of time). As Beatles fans age and die, Lennon’s importance is guaranteed to diminish; but it is those very fans who will most enjoy this compendium of Beatles thoughts and artifacts. The pictures really are the most attractive elements of the book – including photos of memorabilia with their approximate current value listed. A Lennon Halloween costume, including mask, for example, sold recently for $334.60; a die-cast Yellow Submarine by Corgi went for more than $100; a poster for the movie “How I Won the War” (starring Lennon and Michael Crawford) fetched $34 in 2009. And then there are the many, many photos of Lennon, the Beatles and those in Lennon’s orbit: album covers, press-conference pictures, Lennon’s psychedelically painted Rolls-Royce, a pair of Lennon’s eyeglasses, a Beatles button vending machine, a check signed by Lennon – the book is a feast for the eye and will be a delight for fans of Lennon and/or the Beatles, even if it never attains the level of seriousness or profundity toward which Borack seems to strive.
There is much less to Ozzy Osbourne than there was to Lennon, but to his credit, Osbourne does not have grandiose views of himself or his music. He knows he is an entertainer – although he probably would not say “merely” an entertainer – and his comments on his life and music reflect that. Dave Thompson’s book is almost all Osbourne quotations: Thompson himself provides a general introduction and short intros to the individual chapters. Thompson’s writing, while serviceable, is not the reason anyone will buy the book. Osbourne’s fans will want it strictly for the comments: “My mother was an amateur singer, my father was an amateur drunk.” “My idea of heaven is feeling good. A place where people are all right to each other. This world scares the shit out of me.” “I once tried transcendental meditation, but I got fed up and smoked a joint.” “I would never urinate at the Alamo at nine o’clock in the morning dressed in a woman’s evening dress sober.” “If I had done everything they said I’ve done, I’d be dead.” It is hard to know how many things Osbourne says are sincere and how many are designed to pump up his self-proclaimed image (which has changed somewhat over time, but not all that much). It won’t matter much to buyers of the book, anyway. The lists of Osbourne accomplishments – discography, “Greatest Riffs on Earth,” platinum-selling albums, and so on – will be a bonus. And the photos will be an additional draw: lots of devilish-looking stuff, some shots of Osbourne making music, a few family and TV pictures, etc. The Wit and Wisdom of Ozzy Osbourne does have some flashes of wit, although saying that anything in it is “wisdom” would be more than a bit of a stretch. But fans won’t mind; nor, it seems certain, will Osbourne, whose final quotation here says, in part, “Everything that I have ever wanted to have has come from rock and roll.” This may not be wise, but it is reasonably self-aware.