(Image Credit: http://www.imaginedthings.co.uk)
Allow yourself the liberty and license to engage in an electrifying thought experiment. You are a party of five sailing on a forty-five foot private sailboat, to Bermuda. The party includes John Lennon, who also happens to be the owner of the sleek conveyance. A raging storm imperils the boat as well the passengers on board. The five of you take turns to crest, best and frustrate mammoth waves that threaten to cleave the boat in half. But John Lennon not only stays insanely calm, but steers the boat for seven straight hours, and to safety (replacing an incredibly fatigued professional captain), all the while beating out the “foulest, filthiest, manliest sea shanty”.
Tom Barbash imagines this very cataclysmic scenario, but unlike yours truly, pulls it off with aplomb. ‘Dakota Winters” is a memorable fictional tale of two individuals trying to get to grips with their complicated lives. It is also an unabashed homage to the viscerally enigmatic and cerebral character that is John Lennon. Twenty-three year old Anton Winters, after a thirteen month stint with the Peace Corps in Gabon, and a near death experience courtesy a virulent bout of malaria, arrives in Manhattan unsure of his future. Exacerbating his dilemma is Buddy Winters, his illustrious father and a former talk show host who is left to battle his own demons after suffering a public meltdown in the middle of one of his shows on national TV.
The Winters are residents of Dakota, the legendary Gothic apartment adorning the upper westside in Manhattan. The exclusive preserve of celebrities, the Winters call John Lennon and Yoko Ono, neighbours. A love of sailing unites Anton and John and the Bermuda sailing escapade alluded to at the beginning of this piece encompasses one of their maritime excursion that turns into an experience.
Lennon has his own gremlins to slay as the famed quartet of The Beatles are no longer together and John does not know when or from where his next burst of inspiration will materialize. As Anton gamely works with Buddy to bring the latter’s career back on track, he is also forced to think about his own future. Will he be doomed to remain permanently in the illustrious shadow of his mercurial father, or will he carve out his own inimitable niche in the world of production?
Barbash, in a spectacularly unpretentious manner coalesces the complexities of glitz and glamour with the serenity of ordinariness and the result is a breathtaking cocktail of emotions. Illustrious characters effortlessly waft in and out of Chapters with the grace of exquisitely choreographed characters in a Shakespearean play. Ted and Joan Kennedy (for whom Anton’s mother campaigns in the run up to the elections which Reagan ultimately wins), regale the reader with their refreshing shenanigans as the couple alternatively dazzle and embarrass themselves during the campaign trail.
The undercurrents characterizing the relationship between Anton and Buddy simmer and sizzle, but never impend a breakdown. The son is both preceptor and protégé. Anton’s love for Buddy is unhindered by either bias or illusion. It is genuine filial affection tempered with cold and calculated logic. Buddy, similarly, is a storied professional who perfectly understands his fragilities, yet abstains from using his reliable son as a perennial crutch.
But “Dakota Winters” is John Lennon. The reader gets this surreptitious feeling that Barbash’s predilection towards this famous “Beatle” transcends fanboy obsession. One can sniff the joint that Lennon snorts and feel the droplets of water that sprays his bespectacled face as he vainly steers his boat through some of the roughest waters. When he engages Anton in informed conversation over wine, lobsters, and beer, the reader is not just a fly on the wall but the occupant at the table next to the one at which the intense chatter is happening. Lennon is a combination of vice and vulnerability, a fusion of calm and chaos and an amalgam of mischief, melody and melancholy. Barbash’s Lennon, simply put, is all that Lennon was and Lennon should be.