Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I’ve recently been listening to The Lost Lennon Tapes, a 200-odd hour long documentary on the life and music of John Lennon that was broadcast on the Westwood One Radio Network in the late-1980s.
I’ve known of the series for a long time, but I’d never heard it, though I did hear, on occasion, some of its successor series, The Beatle Years in the early- to mid-90s.
The Lost Lennon Years is hosted by Elliot Mintz. Mintz was a Los Angeles disc jockey in the 1970s, and he became a personal assistant and spokesman for Yoko Ono. (I believe that he’s currently Paris Hilton’s press flack, and I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever mentioned Paris Hilton in any capacity in this blog.). Looking at the time The Lost Lennon Tapes first aired, Albert Goldman’s The Lives of John Lennon had just been published, which painted John in a vastly negative light. Projects like The Lost Lennon Tapes or the Imagine: John Lennon film documentary were likely produced as a corrective to Goldman’s biography.
In each hour-long episode, Mintz presents some biographical information about Lennon and/or the Beatles, plays some of the official discography (at least through the late-80s) of both Lennon and the Beatles, and then dips into things like Lennon’s demo tapes or session outtakes, Lennon’s interviews or appearances on television or radio, or new interviews with people that Lennon loved or worked with.
As a host, Mintz suffices. To some extent, I expect Mintz to show a bias toward the Lennon mythology that Yoko Ono has spent the past thirty years promoting. I expect Mintz to take potshots at Paul McCartney, I expect Mintz to paint certain events surrounding the Beatles’ final years in a negative and sensationalistic light. To my surprise, Mintz is more even-handed that I would expect; the show has featured interviews with May Pang, John’s girlfriend and lover during the “Lost Weekend,” when other projects, like Imagine: John Lennon, have tried to pretend that she never existed. Based on what I’ve heard thus far (just five percent of the series), I’d venture to say that someone coming to this series in the late-1980s would have gotten quite a bit out of each episode.
This isn’t to say that The Lost Lennon Tapes presents an unbaised viewpoint on Lennon’s career, because it doesn’t. Mintz relies heavily on Jann Wenner’s interview with Lennon in 1970, which found John at his angriest and most anti-Beatles. Mintz also presents an odd view of the Beatles’ break-up that places the blame on McCartney for keeping the band going as early as Sgt Pepper which stifled Lennon’s creative energies. In Mintz’s defense, he lacks the past twenty years of Beatles scholarship to draw upon. Someone listening to these now would find Mintz’s assertions occasionally baffling as a result.
As for the episodes themselves, I’ve found them scattershot. Mintz may begin with an interview from 1973, then play a Beatles track from the Please Please Me sessions, then an outtake from Walls and Bridges (John’s 1974 solo album). There’s no sense of how things fit together, and I can’t help but think that this is a deliberate editorial choice. (To get an idea of how random the series can be, look at this episode guide.) A more focused presentation, such as focusing on a single song and following its development for an hour, would make more sense, and it’s unfortunate that the episodes are as random as they are. The idea of the series is to provide a look into Lennon’s life and work and not a comprehensive audio biography.
I’m glad to have found this series in the wild mists of the ‘net, though I doubt I’ll ever listen to all 200-odd hours of The Lost Lennon Tapes.