In The Cynical Idealist: A Spiritual Biography of John Lennon, author Gary Tillery brings readers the first spiritual and intellectual biography of this seminal musical and cultural figure. Much has been said about John Lennon the Beatle—his rock star evolution and tragic fate. More than a mundane, temporal biography covering Lennon’s life, music, and death, The Cynical Idealist is a soulful portrait of John Lennon’s very being, illuminating the spiritual transformation of a man who influenced the world in a way few others had during the course of the twentieth century. The world could not ignore something extraordinary in Lennon. What was it that set Lennon apart from his fellow bandmates, causing the media to label him the "intellectual" of the group?
At just 23 years old, at the height of Beatlemania, the brash and young Lennon was on top of the world, even declaring the band’s popularity had eclipsed that of Jesus Christ. Despite his fame, internally, Lennon was experiencing a dark night of the soul. The turning point came for Lennon, locked in a bathroom during the winter of 1966. As he knelt at the pinnacle of his self-alienation, held hostage by his own existential and emotional breakdown, Lennon pleaded with God to show him the way. Lennon’s unrequited appeal proved to be the catalyst for his emergence as an iconoclast, albeit, altruistic leader. Tillery walks us through Lennon’s personal spiritual journey; his experimentation with drugs; his encounters with the Maharishi; his undertaking of primal scream therapy; and his relationship with Yoko Ono.
John Lennon’s spiritual death and rebirth crystallized a global anthem of planetary peace and love that transcends labels, dogma, and social expectations, offering the gift of hope for the coming generation. Praised and ridiculed in equal measure, investigated by the FBI, hounded by the media and ultimately assassinated, Britain’s “Man of the Decade” ignited a revolution of our consciousness. This extraordinary figure deserves an extraordinary book and, in The Cynical Idealist, Tillery provides readers with a new and fascinating framework for assessing Lennon’s life and works.
In The Cynical Idealist Gary Tillery sheds a welcome new light on John Lennon as an artist, visionary and catalyst for positive change in the world. In writing "a spiritual biography," he's created a new art form and in doing so, he reveals Lennon's essence and core values as no other biographer has. He celebrates Lennon without idealizing him and reminds us why his music and message still matter—and will continue to matter for generations to come.
—Joe Raiola, MAD magazine senior editor and producer of Theatre Within's Annual John Lennon Tribute.
The closest thing to a post-mortem sofa session. Lennon is sympathetically sliced and projected in the context of his time, leading to a sharp image of a spiritual man who became larger than life while feeling very small. Oh, and readable too.
—Corjan de Raaf, Singer/Songwriter
Like most creative people, John Lennon was a complex character, part well-meaning, often starry-eyed idealist, part leather-jacketed teddy boy, with much else thrown in to boot. Whatever your take on him, the thinking-man's Beatle was the first in a cadre of rock stars who used their celebrity as a force for good, anticipating later figures like Bono and Bob Geldof by decades. Lennon's ambivalent relationship with a number of self help/spiritual fads mirrored the shifting moods of more than one generation, and for teenagers like myself coming of age in the 70’s, he was the conduit for a number of worthy causes: peace, women's rights, and the painful exploration of the self. Most books on Lennon focus on the skeletons in his closet. This one shows where his heart was.
—Gary Lachman, Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer, former bassist for Blondie, and author of Turn Off Your Mind
John Lennon will likely be remembered for two things: helping found the Beatles and writing the song “Imagine.” Those accomplishments, however, only scratch the surface of a complex and fascinating life. Writer and artist Tillery explores Lennon’s spirituality as it develops, beginning with childhood traumas, through his time with the Beatles, and finally, in his role as a social activist. Throughout his short life, Lennon fought many existential battles with himself and whatever he thought of as “God.” To interpret Lennon’s spiritual hunger, Tillery draws upon the work of Victor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and WWII death camp survivor who wrote volumes on the importance of people finding meaning in their lives by focusing outward. The author characterizes Lennon as a loving man who, in the latter part of his life, was able to find some semblance of peace and to encourage others to do the same. Lennon searched for and sang about the truth, discarding religious indoctrination and accepted norms when they proved unhelpful. If this is Lennon’s legacy, one could do a lot worse.
—Publishers Weekly Nov. 9, 2009