More than just Lennon's words

It was an e-mail every John Lennon fan must dream of receiving, and it landed in John M. Borack's inbox a few weeks ago:

"Yoko Ono confirmed you as a friend on Facebook."

Borack, a longtime music journalist, got an invitation last year from his publisher to write a book in honor of what would have been the late Beatle's 70th birthday. After the Fountain Valley resident completed his opus, he hit upon an idea: Why not look up Lennon's equally famous widow on Facebook and add her as a friend?

When she accepted, he was pleasantly surprised. Considering that Ono has the maximum 5,000 friends on the site, though, Borack guessed that she didn't know who he was — and he understood when he sent her a message telling her about the book and didn't get a reply.

"I don't presume my neighbors know who I am, let alone Yoko Ono," said Borack, whose "John Lennon: Life Is What Happens" had its launch party in Huntington Beach on Friday.

Even if Borack doesn't get a thumbs-up from Ono, he's still proud of his volume, which combines text with a slew of photos, record covers and quotes. Moreover, he was proud to get an invitation from his publisher to write another book on Lennon, who, 30 years after his death and 40 years after the Beatles' breakup, still has no shortage of words being written about him.

The last half-decade alone has brought Bob Spitz's nearly 1,000-page "The Beatles: The Biography," advertised as the definitive account of the Fab Four's career; Philip Norman's "John Lennon: The Life," which is nearly as long; first wife Cynthia Lennon's tell-all memoir "John"; and even Peter Doggett's "You Never Give Me Your Money: the Beatles after the Breakup," which details the ex-Beatles' lives after 1970. And then there's the movie "Nowhere Boy," now in theaters, which portrays the group's formative days in Liverpool.

Given all that, what revelations about Lennon — who once dismissed the Beatles as "just a band that made it very, very big" — were left to discover?

Text-wise, maybe not many. But when Mark Moran, Borack's editor at Krause Publications, had the idea for the book last year, he aimed to publish a volume that not only told Lennon's story through words, but also embellished it through art. His company bought historic photos from the Associated Press and Getty Images and consulted records from auction houses that have sold rare Lennon and Beatles memorabilia over the years.

It was one sobering image, however, that particularly inspired Moran to pursue the book. On Dec. 9, 1980, while working for a newspaper in Minnesota, he received a report that Lennon had been shot dead by a stalker the night before outside his New York apartment. The original hard-copy report from the AP appears on one page of "Life Is What Happens."

"I could feel myself shaking a little bit," Moran said, recalling his first reaction. "It really hit me. And then, later, I saw the confirmation of his death, and that was a very profound and shocking moment for me. I saved those pieces of hard copy over the years, actually had them framed. It was a bittersweet memory to have, but I saved them all this time."

When Moran sought an author for the book, he immediately contacted Borack, who has written for Goldmine, a rock magazine owned by Krause, for more than two decades. Borack, the owner of a vast collection of Beatle books, CDs and even bootlegs, blazed through the manuscript in four months.

While Borack is quick to admit that Lennon fell short of sainthood, he tried to avoid the muckraking approach other biographies have taken. Ultimately, he said, he wanted to celebrate Lennon's music and legacy rather than dredge up his flaws.

"A lot of the themes of the songs still ring true — 'All You Need Is Love,' 'Give Peace a Chance,'" he said. "You still hear people expressing those kinds of sentiments. I think the reason John Lennon continues to be a popular name 30 years after his death is that people still believe in the change he was trying to effect."

How to Get It

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