In the spring of 2005, as I was finishing up the manuscript of The Art And Music Of John Lennon, I stumbled across the name of Bruce Bierman (also known as Brulen). He was, I discovered, making an astonishing claim: he had taken over from Paul McCartney as John Lennon's songwriting partner.
It was easy to prove that Lennon and Bierman knew each other, because at the age of 17 Bierman had been one of the musicians on The Pope Smokes Dope, an album of 'street music' produced by John & Yoko and issued on Apple in 1972. The album was the work of David Peel & the Lower East Side, and Peel (whom I interviewed for You Never Give Me Your Money) was in fairly constant contact with the Lennons in 1971/72. But Bierman? His role on The Pope Smokes Dope aside, his name was absent from almost every chronicle of Lennon's life and career.
So I tracked Bierman down, and listened to his story. He told me that he and Lennon had bumped into each other in Manhattan several times in the months after the Apple recording sessions, and that Lennon had interpreted this as a cosmic sign that the two men should become friends. It was only natural, Bierman said, that the they should start writing together - and over the next eight years they composed around twenty complete songs, and fragments of as many more again.
As an example, Bierman cited a song called 'Central Park'. "We were watching an old black-and-white movie called Million Dollar Baby," he told me, "in which Ronald Reagan supposedly 'composed' a song about Central Park. John said, 'That's awful, we can do better than that'. He asked me if I had a piano, and I said, 'No, but I knew where we could get access to one, at my old school, Vanderchild High School in the Bronx. So we snuck in there, where there one or two grand pianos in an otherwise empty music room, and we wrote a song of our own. John began banging out chords on the piano, and we came up with the chorus line, 'Meet me in Central Park', because that's where we often used to meet."
Bierman steered me towards his website, www.brucebierman.com, where he listed more than a dozen songs he claimed to have written with Lennon, and had also posted samples of his own recordings of several of them, including 'Central Park'. "There will be an album soon", he told me, adding that he owned many tapes of his writing sessions with Lennon, and hoped that Yoko Ono would allow them to be released.
A few months later, Newsweek magazine picked up on the story, but since then? Nothing. So today I checked Bierman's website, and was redirected to www.newlennon.com - where I discovered that Bierman had indeed recorded an album of his Lennon collaborations, Message, but that Ono had apparently blocked its release. There are still samples of ten songs to stream on the site, however, which strangely include Bierman's covers of Lennon's 'Love' and Elvis Presley's 'Can't Help Falling In Love'. Surely he wasn't claiming he'd co-written those?
So where does that leave us? With a disappearing album, Bierman/Lennon collaborations that aren't, and a shifting list of songs that supposedly came from their writing sessions (ten of the songs that Bierman listed in 2005 aren't mentioned on the site anymore, while two new suggestions, 'One Lonely Tear' and 'It's Been A Journey', feature among the song samples).
Most importantly, do I think the story is true? Well, having spoken to Bierman for about an hour, I didn't think he sounded like a madman or a fantasist. I was expecting a tale that fell to pieces in seconds, but nothing he said was obviously wrong or inaccurate. The first question most people would ask is: how come we've never heard of you before? To which Bierman answered, quite sensibly: "There was no quicker way to end a friendship with John than advertising it to the outside world".
What is impossible to prove (at least without hearing Bierman's tapes of Lennon) is how much Lennon contributed to the creation of these songs. From what you can hear on the newlennon.com website, the songs are Lennonesque, but then so are thousands of pop songs that have been written since the 1960s. In my judgement, however, there is nothing in the music or (especially) the lyrics that is so distinctively Lennon-like that it must have been written by him, rather than somebody trying to sound like him; and some of the lyrics are so clumsy that he would surely never have let them stand. Unless, of course, he was trying to encourage a young friend, and never thought for a second that anyone else would ever hear the results . . .
For the moment I'll let my cynicism win out, and refrain from giving the Doggett Seal of Approval to Bierman's recordings. But I still want to hear his Lennon tapes, though Yoko Ono doesn't seem to want me to. Is that because she doesn't think they're authentic, or because they reveal something she doesn't want us to know? Sadly, my guess is that we'll never find out.