Monday, October 15, 2018

Dakota Days

Dakota Days, by John Green
No month stated, 1983  St. Martin’s Press

Wrapping up my impromptu “Lennon trilogy,” Dakota Days is an overlong, too-chatty book by John and Yoko’s tarot card reader. Seriously! And it gets even goofier – the book is published under his real name, John Green, but John and Yoko knew him as “Charles Swan” due to convoluted reasons provided here. But I’ve read elsewhere it was really because John Lennon was superstitious about having another “John” in the Dakota. 

Whatever – this book is sunk from the get-go. In a brief Introduction Green states that he’s chosen “several literary devices” in his telling of the six years he served the Lennons; what he means is that he’s chosen, for some inexplicable reason, to relay at least 80% of the narrative in dialog. This means each page is filled with huge chunks of expository dialog, and the helluva it is – none of the dialog by John actually “sounds” like John Lennon. Anyone who has ever listened to an interview with John will instantly detect something off in the way Green presents his dialog…he tries to catch the turns of phrase and play on words John Lennon was known for, but it’s such a huge miss you could be reading about some other person.

And Yoko, who takes up more of the narrative, comes off even worse. Gone is the “mysterious” persona of interviews; here she’s like some chatty housewife who spends all day worrying over everything. And I mean everything. Frederic Seaman’s The Last Days Of John Lennon stated that Yoko spent the majority of each day on the phone; Dakota Days implies that none other than John Green was on the other end, fielding Yoko’s incessant stream of “disasters,” ie the innumerable mundane things she worried over. And Green’s job was to read the cards for her and provide advice.

Here’s the other huge failing of Dakota Days, perhaps an even greater one – John Green provides zero background on who he is, how he got into the occut, or even how he reads the tarot. This was such a monumental blunder I could barely believe it. Honestly, when I discovered this book existed I couldn’t read it soon enough. I imagined a book detailing John and Yoko’s vast occult interests, perhaps written in its own sort of occult style, using the tarot as a theme – Yoko the High Priestess, John the Magus, whatever. But good golly. Green not only gives no information on what the tarot is, he’s even apologetic about it; “a fistful of cardboard” being his dismissive description of it to John early in the book.

He doesn’t tell us what tarot deck he uses (Rider-Waite? Crowley’s Thoth? Or my favorite, the psychedelicized Albano-Waite?). He doesn’t tell us what kind of spreads he reads from. In fact, he doesn’t tell us much about the tarot at all. Instead, the book is mostly filled with chatty dialog with Yoko or John worrying over something, and then Green will briefly state something like “I checked the cards. Everything looked good.” And that’s it. Actual “occult” content is an out-of-nowhere supercool part where Green accompanies Yoko to Colombia where they spend a week in “Dan G’s” villa (aka Yoko’s BFF Sam Green, one of the two “Sams” Fred Seaman claimed Yoko was having an affair with). There they visit with a native witch. This whole part is like a minor grade Carlos Castaneda and I thought it was cool. (Robert Rosen briefly mentions this in Nowhere Man, but somehow as shown in my review I was under the impression John spent time with a native witch!) 

Midway through we at least learn that Green came into Yoko’s orbit late in ’74, when she was seeking counsel on how to win back John from May Pang. Otherwise Green just tells us he’s tall and obese; that’s about it for background or setup. The book starts with Green first meeting a just-returned John, in early 1975; John just back from his famous “lost weekend” with May. There’s goofy stuff here, like Yoko afraid that John’s been poisoned by May, in revenge for having left her, but Green instantly detects that this is a bullshit story John’s come up with so as to get some sympathy from Yoko. There’s also a “magic wedding” John and Yoko demand Green officiate for them, after which they begin sleeping together again.

When Yoko gets pregnant there are even more incessant worries for Green to read the cards over – more goofy stuff, like Yoko being certain that the unborn child is, despite what the doctors say, sick in some fashion. But she wants the baby to be sick or retarded, and she also wants it to be a girl, so as to be the perfect messiah for the new age or somesuch. The baby of course turned out to be a boy, Sean, and Green does relay some stuff that makes John come off worse than he did in either Seman or Rosen’s books – like the part where Yoko relays a story to Green that, during a “meditation circle” in which a nude John, Yoko, and baby Sean sat and meditated in silence, John got pissed when Sean started crying and got up and kicked him.

Instead of calling the cops, Yoko locked herself in a room with Sean…then the next day let John take the baby with him to their lakeside mansion in Long Island. You can tell this book was written in a different era, because Green, instead of being outraged, wonders if Yoko’s even telling the truth! Hell, today a woman could get a Congressional hearing on even shakier ground than Yoko’s story – I mean Yoko not only knows where and when it happened, she even has witnesses. Imagine that! But Green basically brushes it all off, instead wondering over how wise it was to let John take the baby with him. Yoko says no problem – Sean’s nanny Masako is there to protect him. I don’t believe Masako is mentioned in Seaman’s book; when he started as John’s assistant in ’79, Seaman’s aunt Helen was Sean’s nanny.

But then, John comes off as annoyingly self-involved in Dakota Days, as does Yoko. They’re both more like temper-tantruming children than millionaire rockstars, so I wouldn’t put it past John to kick a baby. Sean Lennon himself has told a story of how his dad once taught him how to eat steak with a fork, and when Sean acted “cheeky,” John started screaming in Sean’s ear so loudly that Sean had to go to the doctor. Dude, if your kid has to go to the doctor due to your screaming at him, you might just have anger control issues. Just maybe. Otherwise it’s a shame that this is one of the few memories Sean has of his dad.

Really though, John and Yoko are more annoying than offensive. For example a trip to Japan is akin to a space shuttle launch, with Yoko badgering Green for endless readings on what to expect, how to prepare, even down to what clothes to pack. Somehow Green ends up staying in the Dakota apartments while the family is gone, something he doesn’t elaborate much on; the impression is he’s there to answer Yoko’s constant phone calls. Here we also get more wrong-sounding “dialog” from John complaining about Japan, even expositing on how he does indeed like Asian women, but it’s just not the same when you’re in a country filled with them(!).

But there are interesting differences here, and I wonder if it’s a reflection of the truth or Green trying to protect his old clients. Most notably in John’s feelings toward Paul McCartney. In Seaman and Rosen’s books there’s no mistake – John hates Paul, a hatred that’s really just a mask for jealousy. Both books have John chortling over Paul’s infamous arrest in Japan, even claiming Yoko’s “magic” had something to do with it. None of that’s reflected here. Rather, John in Dakota Days feels sorry for Paul and worries over him – with a constant refrain of “Not that I care, you understand.” There’s no mention of Yoko having anything to do with the arrest. I have a suspicion this book’s the false one and Rosen and Seaman’s are more accurate, in particular Rosen’s comments in interviews of a few particular words John marked in his journal in regards to Paul’s arrest. But who knows – maybe John acted one way to Green, but felt another way in his thoughts, and the latter obviously is what his journals would reflect.

John becomes increasingly insular as the ‘70s come to a close, spending per Green the majority of 1978 in his room, rarely coming out or talking to anyone. Green must come to him to give readings. John’s interest in everything has waned, even in Sean; whereas he was deadset against Sean ever going to school, by now he basically says to hell with it, that it would be good for Sean, now 3, to get out of this crazy house. Yoko for her part is becoming more self-involved; Green finds himself more and more frustrated with her constant “what does so and so think of me” questions for the cards. This book, of all the ones I’ve read, gives I think the best indication of what John and Yoko’s relationship was really like: both were infinitely self-involved, with only infrequent periods of care for others, and thus were really only happy when they were apart.

As for John’s creative rebirth after a 1980 trip to Bermuda, it’s almost hastily recounted, as Green wasn’t there – he was with Yoko, answering her self-involved questions. Both Rosen and Seaman recount how an excited John called Yoko with his latest compositions, only to get a sort of disinterested reaction; Green relays that he was actually with Yoko on the other end, and she was more focused on her latest reading than hearing John’s music over the phone. There’s also a lot of exposition from Yoko on how she was initially attracted to Paul and how she’s sure he has always found her sexy – she asks Green to do a reading to see if this is still the case, but Green hides the fact that the cards say Paul feels the exact opposite about her!

Indeed, John’s final months are quickly passed over, and this is because Green admits he wasn’t really part of the fold anymore. With John and Yoko busy recording and then promoting their album, Green takes advantage of the down time. He does engage in a rather questionable bit where he has John paying him an unexpected visit one “chilly October evening in 1980” – the first time John’s ever visited Green, and of course just two months before he would be murdered. As the Church Lady would say, “How conveeenient.” I reckon this part is pure fiction as John exposits on how Green came into his life and helped him do various things, and how John’s been creatively reborn and now he and Yoko are happy again, and Sean’s happy, and he’s working on his relationship with estranged older son Julian, and etc, etc. It’s basically a goodbye speech, and it’s hard to believe it really happened.

Green ends the tale with a brief recounting of how John bumps into a former fan at the studio who is now an assistant engineer, then abruptly cuts to the chase with the jarring final line: “A half-hour later, John Lennon was dead.” He doesn’t detail the murder at all – in fact, the ending is so unexpected that it catches you off guard. Green doesn’t tell us what Yoko was like afterwards, or what further readings he did for her, etc. A bit of research proves why – Yoko apparently fired John Green for not having “predicted” John’s murder, thus the cushy room and board Yoko was giving him were taken away. Green doesn’t mention any of this, so it’s to his credit he doesn’t come off like he has an axe to grind, as Seaman did in his book. But it would’ve been nice for at least a postscript. After some research I’ve learned that Green wrote some tarot stuff for a magazine, but other than that all I know is he passed away some time ago.

All told, Dakota Days was the least engaging of the Lennon books I’ve read. It could’ve been much better if Green had stuck with the same sort of memoir format as Seaman. But his choice to render everything via dialog automatically results in a book of questionable veracity. Also, the book really should’ve been titled “Dakota Daze.”


Matthew said...

It's interesting how many rock stars were into the occult.

Even though I've never been a Beatles fan (give me the Stones or the Who any day) I've enjoyed these reviews.

allan said...

He doesn’t tell us what tarot deck he uses ... He doesn’t tell us what kind of spreads he reads from. ... [T]he book is mostly filled with chatty dialog with Yoko or John worrying over something, and then Green will briefly state something like “I checked the cards. Everything looked good.” And that’s it.


Grant said...

I know almost nothing about the Taro, but once again you describe an occult subject in a very balanced way. One of my pet peeves about those subjects is that you get as many big cliches from listening to disbelievers as you ever get from believers! So I always notice it when a disbeliever or an "agnostic" doesn't do that.