Even though they haven’t functioned as a musical unit for more than 45 years, there’s never been a shortage of material on the Beatles. In fact, you could easily fill a major library with all of the books that ruthlessly dissect every corner of the band’s career—from their songwriting and their instruments, to private letters and romantic relationships. Surely there’s nothing new to say on the subject of Beatleology, right?
Chip Madinger, along with co-author Scott Raile, has just released Strange Days Indeed – A Scrapbook of Madness, the first installment in his multi-volume LENNONOLOGY series. The book is a day-by-day diary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s life together, from the moment they met in November 1966, to Lennon’s tragic death in December 1980. The product of 15 years research, the book is the most comprehensive history of John and Yoko’s personal and creative existence ever compiled.
There are few people more qualified to literally write the book of Lennonology. Madinger has worked on numerous projects for the Beatles’ Apple Records, including The Capitol Albums Volume 1 package, Magical Mystery Tour BluRay release, and the sleeve notes for the reissue of Paul McCartney and George Martin’s The Family Way soundtrack. He also served as a consultant on the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band episode of VH1’s Classic Albums series, as well the PBS American Masters LENNONYC program. And of course, he’s penned several other books, including 2000’s Eight Arms To Hold You: The Solo Beatles Compendium.
But Strange Days Indeed – A Scrapbook of Madness is his most ambitious work to date. “I wanted it to be a rock-solid timeline of their life and artistic career together,” he tells us. “So I basically started from scratch.” In 2000, he began an exhaustive process of tracking down primary source documents and members of the Lennons’ inner circle “to add context and color.”
“During the first five years of the project, I spent about a month and a half in the UK, working in the British Library, searching through newspaper archives, and tracking down former employees and people who were associated with [John and Yoko]. “ His search uncovered diaries, photographs, and a vast array documentation, including thousands of pages from Lennon’s immigration case in the early 1970s.
And then came the hard part: trying to fit it all together. “It was like a huge jigsaw puzzle. You might not be able to determine a true sequence of events until you pulled a bit of information from many disparate sources. When you took a little bit from each one, the picture would get clearer and clearer as to what actually happened.”
The end result is a stunning work of over 575 pages—plus 180 pages of digital-only footnotes, if you’re so inclined. But the meticulous facts are just embroidery. Not only is Strange Days Indeed – A Scrapbook Of Madness extremely readable, it’s a gripping page-turner. Madinger is a skilled writer, and he has one of the greatest narratives in pop culture at his disposal. “With the amount of interview material available, we were able to turn it into an oral history of John and Yoko’s life together.”
Simply put, this is the book of record for anyone who loves John and Yoko. Myths are debunked and facts set straight, including the actual date that rock’s most famous couple first came together.
While often outshone by John and his Beatle accomplishments, Madinger makes sure to give equal time to Yoko and her prolific artistic legacy. “Yoko’s role and history have never been covered in this much detail before. She had a tough time living in John’s shadow, but she’s been treated very fairly in this book, and her contribution to his art is acknowledged throughout. I don’t think people realize what a muse she was for him.”
Strange Days Indeed – A Scrapbook Of Madness was released on October 9th, what would have been John’s 75th birthday. “I wish I could take credit for planning that 15 years ago, but that wasn’t the deal,” Madinger laughs. Though it may have been an unintentional, it’s extremely fitting. The book is not only a tribute to the late creative genius, but it also serves as a gift for him.
The truth is in the title, a rather sweet reference to a quote Lennon gave when asked what he and Yoko would be doing at that all-important age of 64. “I hope we’re a nice old couple living off the coast of Ireland or something like that —looking at our scrapbook of madness.”
Although he never reached 64, John now has his scrapbook at long last.