Memories of John Lennon, Edited and introduced by Yoko Ono, HarperEntertainment, 310 pp., illustrated, $24.95
Say what you will about Yoko Ono, but she has done a remarkable job in keeping John Lennon's legacy alive. Today marks the 25th anniversary of his death, but instead of leaving his fans grief-stricken, she released this uplifting book of insights about him from such artists as Mick Jagger, Elton John, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Carly Simon, Bono, and Pete Townshend, along with record-industry giants and journalists and photographers who covered Lennon during the early years.
Lennon in all of his multiple personalities -- Beatles songwriter, political activist, family man, and prankster -- is revealed in generally flattering terms, but throughout he is very human. Jagger reveals how they used to get drunk and go sailing off Montauk, Long Island, while Charles recalls how the Beatles were just regular guys who opened for him in Hamburg and Stuttgart, Germany, in the early 1960s.
''Backstage afterward, we would sit . . . and say we loved each other's music -- the typical thing that people in our musical brotherhood do," Charles notes. ''See, we were just common people, working together."
Singer Jackie DeShannon remembers opening for the Beatles in their first extensive tour of the United States. ''We played jokes on each other and had countless pillow fights," she says of Lennon. And Ronnie Hawkins, whose group later became known as the Band, talks of how John and Yoko stayed at his house in Toronto -- they ate macrobiotic food, but he caught them down at his fridge in the middle of the night sneaking bologna.
Some artists contribute drawings to express their feelings. Bono sends a caricature of a wire-rimmed Lennon with the caption: ''For the first time in my life I could see." And Joan Baez adds a strange pencil drawing showing Lennon exulting with a free soft drink he got out of a hotel vending machine in New York.
Lennon's playfulness resonates frequently. Lewis reminisces about Lennon kissing his boots after a gig at the Roxy in Los Angeles. ''Thanks, Killer, for showin' me how to rock 'n' roll," Lennon tells him. Iggy Pop recalls going to a topless bar with him. And Brit folkie Donovan remembers that he and Lennon stayed at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in India and went up to the roof of their bungalow to swap acoustic-guitar licks, and that Lennon was eager to have Donovan teach him to finger-pick.
Of course, there are heavy moments as well. California state senator Tom Hayden recalls FBI agents roaming the crowd at Lennon's benefit for jailed marijuana user John Sinclair. And a neighbor at the Dakota, in Manhattan, chillingly reveals how, for days after Lennon's death, crowds gathered around the building to sing ''Give Peace a Chance."
But most of this book, which is divided by chapters from the various participants, deals with the joyous side of the man. Townshend of the Who talks of opening for the Beatles in England and having Lennon happily join the band for a song, though he hid behind a curtain so the audience wouldn't see him. And close adviser Elliot Mintz offers this eloquent assessment: ''It really didn't matter if you thought of [Lennon] as saint or sinner, mediocre or brilliant, heroic or naive, a working-class hero or an isolated dreamer . . . everybody had an opinion. He touched you."