As a longtime Oxfordian it has been an interesting experience to watch the build up to the Roland Emmerich film Anonymous. For the past year amid Oxfordian circles the greatest concern about this film has been that a major part of the plot would be focusing on the sexual escapades of Edward de Vere as Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth as his putative mother and lover. In other words, incest.

Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth and Rhys Ifans
as Edward de Vere (aka “Shake-speare”) in Anonymous


Now that the film is out and the reviews are flooding in we can see that this concern was really misplaced. The greater shock remains that the authorship debate exists at all. If anyone doubts that, check out the review and the articles and op eds at the New York Times (Brantley, Shapiro, Marche). Outrage that this film was made at all is paramount. Outrage over incest barely makes a peep.

I have seen the film twice in the past month and it is a good film. I’ve had my own reservations about a director such as Roland Emmerich making this film, because I love going to films, and I have seen all his previous efforts. He is mostly a B-list director. He does not get great performances out of his actors. But as we Oxfordians have learned from our perspective about Shakespeare, when an artist becomes passionate about something in his life, his art reflects it. So it is with Anonymous. Most critics, even those who hate the authorship issue, acknowledge that this may be Emmerich’s best film. It’s too bad most of the negative reviews are reviewing the authorship debate and not the film.

Which brings me to the title of this post: the Nowhere Boy and the Never Writer. Last weekend I was watching a 2010 movie on cable TV — Nowhere Boy — a biopic about John Lennon. As someone who came of age in the 1960s I have vivid recollections of the impact of the Beatles on the popular culture scene. It transformed rock ‘n roll from outsider status to the cultural mainstream. And anyone who knows the history of the Beatles knows it was John Lennon who made it all happen. But what few people know is how John Lennon became John Lennon. This is what Nowhere Boy is all about, and it’s a revelation for anyone who loves the Beatles but wasn’t aware of John Lennon’s childhood and upbringing.

Let me quote from one of the reviews of Nowhere Boy to get an idea of what the story is all about:

“Because of his accomplishments as a musician and a peace activist and his senseless death, it’s easy to put John Lennon on a pedestal. The
truth is that Lennon couldn’t have written or co-written such captivating songs if his personal life wasn’t occasionally torrid. Opening on the 70th anniversary of the singer’s birth and the 30th anniversary of his murder, Nowhere Boy proves the flesh-and-blood Lennon is infinitely more fascinating than the saint.” (review by Dan Lybarger on Reel Reviews)


Ah, yes, the flesh and blood Lennon is infinitely more fascinating than the saint. Well, doesn’t that resonate with comments we have heard in the Shakespeare authorship debate lately? Leave our saint alone! And even more emphatically, leave our Virgin Queen alone!!

But the story that Nowhere Boy tells us is that it it was Lennon’s relationship with his birth mother, a woman he had been estranged from for almost 10 years and reconnected with as a teenager, that is at the heart of his story. John Lennon was raised by his mother’s sister, Aunt  Mimi, and so did not know his mother as the woman who raised him in his formative years. What the film shows, and his friends and biographers have confirmed over the years, is that Lennon’s teenage relationship with his mother Julia sometimes bordered on the relationship of lovers, not parent and child. That is what drew my attention as I watched Nowhere Boy —how this relationship was portrayed in the movie. More than once I said to myself, “Well, Julia can’t be his mother … look at how they’re carrying on.”

Aaron Johnson as John Lennon and Anne-Marie Duff
as his mother Julia in Nowhere Boy


But Julia was his mother, and she is the one who turned him on to rock ‘n roll. And she is the one who taught him to play the guitar. And as some of John’s friends, such as Peter Shotten, have recollected, Julia would often hang out with John and his friends like she was one of the boys.

There are some comments from fans of Lennon and the movie at Yahoo Answers under the heading “Do you think John Lennon was in love with his mother?” that give an intriguing sense of what this was all about:

QUESTION: John Lennon was many things. He had an affair with Brian Epstein. He would hang out at the transvestite bars in Hamburg. And he was in love with his own mother.
What?

Do you think that John Lennon was in love with his mother? Did John Lennon have an Oedipus Complex?

FIRST COMMENT:

It does happen, you know. He was raised by his mother’s older sister, his Aunt Mimi. Julia had abandoned John in the care of her sister when John was very young and married another man. His father had been a cook on a merchant ship and abandoned his young son John and his wife Julia. When John was a teenager, he reconnected with his mother. She was not that much older than John and had him quite young. The other boys, including Paul McCartney, remarked about how attractive John’s mother was. And she was very casual with the boys, very sexual and flirtatious, including her own son. She would smoke and drink with John and encourage his wild behavior.

I even heard a story in which Julia arranged for John to have his first sexual experience with a girl that she picked out for him and John and the girl made love in a spare room while the mother watched on from another room. After John and the girl finished making love, they all got drunk and she called people to come over to announce that John had earned his manhood. This scene was not shown in the movie “Nowhere Boy.”

However, in that movie, and in some of the books I have read about the Beatles, John and Julia were as close as a young man and an older woman can get. It was almost like a cougar-cub relationship.

By contrast, his adult guardian Mimi, was very strict. She was a traditional British matron who didn’t even allow John to cry in the house when his mother died. Mimi was very much the British lady who reserved her emotions. Her younger sister, John’s mother, Julia was known to drink at the pubs and would be the life of the party.

SECOND COMMENT:

I read in a book, I believe it was in a book written by Pete Shotten, who was an original member of the Quarrymen and a close friend of John Lennon, that his mother Julia arranged for him to have his first sexual experience with a girl. She watched him do it and then got drunk and celebrated her son’s loss of virginity with a neighborhood party. Julia and Mimi fought over John but the deflowering of John arranged by Julia was the last straw for Mimi who forbade John from seeing his mother after that. There was some legal thing because John was a minor that Mimi threatened to report Julia to the police about it. She didn’t but she threatened her sister with it.

There is no proof that Julia actually made love with John but she frequently hugged and kissed him much like an older woman lover. Some women who do not raise their sons do have affairs with the sons. It is not uncommon. John may have reminded Julia of Freddie when he was younger.

THIRD COMMENT

In the movie “Nowhere Boy” John and Julia are lying on the couch together, holding hands and touching each other. It definitely was not a parental sort of love going on.

I have heard stories about this from books and interviews. What is the source for John saying that he touched his mother in a sexual way? Was it Rolling Stone or Playboy?

Now all that I’m saying here is that this is mighty interesting for Oxfordians who have been dealing with the debate over whether the Virgin Queen Elizabeth was in fact Edward de Vere’s mother, and even more, whether she had a child with him. It is shocking. There is no doubt about it. But is it unthinkable? Well, given the history of the human race here on planet Earth, I’d say no. Statements about what is or isn’t “unthinkable” usually, in my estimation, just tell us something about the speaker’s own thinking, but nothing about life in the real world.

What Nowhere Boy accomplishes is to tell us something about how John Lennon became John Lennon. It resonated with me because after thirty years on the Shakespeare authorship beat I have come to realize that the authorship debate is all about understanding how Shakespeare became Shakespeare. That phrase is the subtitle of Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World. But of course Will in the World in the end tells us nothing to answer that question because, you know, he’s got the wrong guy. But the question itself is important. How and why does an artist become an artist? What makes him or her tick?

Charles Beauclerk tries to answer this question about how Shakespeare became Shakespeare in his 2010 book Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom. His point of view throughout is that Queen Elizabeth was Edward de Vere’s mother, and that the bizarre life-long circumstances of their relationship was at the center of both the Elizabethan Age and Shakespeare’s greatness. Centuries later it can never be proved, so we are left in limbo with a theory that makes sense of a lot of things about Shakespeare, yet is in itself shocking. However, if it is true, then little wonder that the mother of all cover-ups was called for to hide this mother-son saga.

Nowhere Boy ends with one of Lennon’s songs, Mother, playing as he slowly walks down a sidewalk, on his way to Hamburg, and then onto fame and fortune.  “You had me,” he sings, “But I never had you.” We have all the Beatle’s songs, and all the songs Lennon wrote after the breakup. And you can enjoy all these songs without knowing the circumstances of Lennon’s upbringing. No doubt about it. But knowing is so much better. It leads to understanding.

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