Ono, Offal, and the Electric Chair 

This month's East Bay book news.

Paperback writer: In his book about John Lennon's final years, Nowhere Man ($13.95) -- published by Oakland's Quick American Archives -- Robert Rosen presents the ex-Beatle as a bored, blocked, bitter, superstitious, paranoid, constipated, compulsive masturbator.

"I was trying to give a complete three-dimensional portrait of John as a human being. That John had a powerful sex drive is well-documented," says Rosen, who was -- but no longer is -- a close friend of Lennon's last personal assistant, Fred Seaman, who pled guilty in 1983 to second-degree larceny for having stolen Lennon's diaries. "That John and Yoko had stopped having sex is ... suggested on Yoko's album Season of Glass: 'I see broken glass when we do it,' she sings in 'No No No.' So what sexual outlet did that leave John? Actually, there's a lot more detail about his sexual habits that I left out."

As the 23rd anniversary of Lennon's murder approaches on December 8, we meet in Nowhere Man a friendless multimillionaire who mourned the mediocrity of his own post-Beatles music.

"John found the quality of some of Paul [McCartney]'s work appalling, which is one of the reasons he went into seclusion," Rosen says. "He didn't want to be a hack like Paul."

The Beat goes on: Music producer Jim Sampas was only four when his uncle died, but that uncle was Jack Kerouac. Thirty years later, while managing the author's estate, Sampas discovered an unpublished screenplay -- an adaptation of the 1959 novel Doctor Sax, in which otherworldly villains dog a boy bearing a resemblance to the author. Newly released as a book/CD set, Doctor Sax and the Great World Snake (Gallery Six, $24.95) takes liberties which will irritate loyal fans. (Winsome drawings by Berkeley graphic novelist Richard Sala make up for a lot.) But Sampras urges us to follow as "it moves back and forth between reality and fantasy. These dreams and visions are laid out so eloquently in freeform -- in what Kerouac called his 'middle style' -- and within the words are little asides and hidden meanings" that demand repeated readings and listenings.

"Kerouac's dislike of punctuation streamlines his work and helps us get a closer, more immediate, view of his characters," Sampas explains. Having previously produced a Kerouac tribute album featuring Michael Stipe, Eddie Vedder, Patti Smith, Johnny Depp, and Matt Dillon, he lined up Jim Carroll, Graham Parker, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti for the Doctor Sax CD.

Sampas remembers Kerouac's funeral as "truly mesmerizing with Beatniks and loud chatter, strange clothing, bizarre smells. ... I went straight up to Allen Ginsberg and drew his portrait, which I had a great laugh looking at recently."

Fry, fry again: So much easier to order the food at Oliveto than cook it, but -- for brave boilers only -- the Oakland restaurant's award-winning chef and co-owner Paul Bertolli offers his personal, cerebral, rigorous Cooking by Hand (Potter, $40). Squid-ink pasta, pigeon livers, hog bungs ... hungry? Eloquently, he pleads head cheese's case. In César (Ten Speed, $29.95), restaurateur Olivier Said -- with Spanish-cuisine maven James Mellgren and chef Maggie Pond, who'll be at Diesel December 14 -- offers edgy Iberian recipes. In the foreword, pal Jackson Browne confides his wish that "California would be made into Spain" and recalls how, upon learning that Said and company were launching the titular tapas bar, "I realized that if anyone could do it, these particular Berkeley crazies could." Another Gourmet Ghetto effort, The Cheese Board Collective Works (Ten Speed, $21.95), makes yeast appealing.

Red heir: Only six when his parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, were executed in 1953 for providing nuclear secrets to the Soviets, Robert Meeropol was swiftly adopted by the songwriter who wrote Billie Holiday's big hit "Strange Fruit." Alternately dodging and pursuing his dead parents' long shadows, Meeropol became an activist -- albeit a self-described "mush-headed" one -- who did a stint during the '80s as managing editor of Berkeley's Socialist Review. In An Execution in the Family (St. Martin's, $25.95), he recounts his tireless efforts to clear his parents' names. Faced with long-secret Russian transcripts released in 1995 containing what many saw as damning evidence against the Rosenbergs, Meeropol reeled, eventually concluding that Julius "might have helped pass secrets to the Russians" during WWII, but not nuclear secrets. "Ethel," her son declares, "was not a spy."

They had the Gaul: Critics slammed this summer's Kate Hudson film Le Divorce, calling it "turgid," "listless," "hopeless," and "inert." Pity director James Ivory didn't do better with ex-Berkeleyite Diane Johnson's novel on which it was based (Plume, $14). These days Johnson -- who also wrote the screenplay for Stanley Kubrick's The Shining -- lives part of every year in Paris, where "I work in the mornings ... and then do my errands or go to expositions or art events or see friends in the afternoon. Just like real life -- only in Paris!"

The movie was filmed near her apartment "and also near where [producer Ismail] Merchant and Ivory live, so I could hang out on the set. I got to give my opinion on issues of casting etc. -- but I can't say that I had much effect." Other cast members included Leslie Caron, Matthew Modine, and Naomi Watts. "Of course I approved ... they were marvelous."


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