Kevin Barry’s Beatlebone is a intense trip through the mind of John Lennon circa 1978 who, seeking inspiration for his dried up songwriting, flees from New York City to the west coast of Ireland to find the island of Dorinish. (Lennon did really buy this island in 1967, but spent very little time there.) His desire is simple: just to spend three days alone on his island away from the traumas of his world.
The book is refreshing as it’s essentially a stream of Lennon’s own inner consciousness. Although difficult to follow from the start, the directness of the text becomes apparent very quickly and it is a short read at just 263 pages.
Lennon is exhausted of fame, a nervous reck with mood swings which are as violent as they are sudden. He is obsessed with the idea of love, perhaps a lost love and even given his artistic status acutely aware of how others, particularly the press, could negatively interpret his next album. His inner thoughts reflect the speech patterns of his and the times remarkably well, with the author largely basing his interpretation on hours of YouTube footage. There are also plenty of wonderful English and Irish colloquialisms and lots of swearing.
There are many subtle references to Beatles history and lyrics, including a Blackbird singing, the city of Hamburg and ‘being so tired, but not having slept a wink’. I’m sure there are plenty of others which went above my head but it is admittedly enjoyable when a slight reference is recognised.
On the subject of unknowns one of the central themes is Lennon’s association with the primal therapy of screaming, something I was not aware of before reading. The practice, emerging from the thought of the Californian psychologist Arthur Janov, involved communal ‘screams’ or rants to let out deeply repressed traumas from childhood and relieve the baggage of built up stress.
Whilst fleeing the pursing press Lennon holes up in the Amethyst Hotel which is run by a particularly unpleasant manager who also happens to scream. He, along with a youthful couple of lost souls who also scream, eventually coax Lennon into taking part in what must be the books funniest and most intense section of an actual screaming session.
Lennon is only persuaded after he finally seems to have mustered the self confidence to dismiss the hotel’s inhabitants and give little care in doing so. However due to the absence of his almost paternal driver Cornelius, whose excellent character deserves much more mention than I have given here, he relapses into his introvert world of self doubt and psychedelic happenings.
This constant anxiety drives the rest of the book, including a trip in a cave on his island, based on the author’s own pilgrimage and experiences there as detailed in section six, and ends with an album, to be called Beatlebone after Lennon’s realisations in the cave, struggling to emerge during recording in London.
Intense, unique in style and with what seems to be a very credible take of the prickly Lennon Barry’s book is a delight and as funny as it is strange through out.