Thirty years on, we still love you, John Lennon, yeah, yeah, yeah
The cult of the mercurial Beatle lives on despite the star's contempt for critics' desire for 'dead heroes', writes Julia Molony
Published 26/12/2010 | 05:00
THEY battled fiercely to save him. In a new documentary about the day of his death, emergency room doctor Steven Lynn describes how he tried to revive John Lennon who had been shot four times. He even opened up the dying man's chest and held his heart in his hands, attempting cardiac massage.
"After trying for about 15, 20 minutes, it was clear that nothing could be done and John Lennon was pronounced dead," Dr Lynn told CNN.
Had John Lennon survived, he would have been 70 years of age. Earlier this month, on December 8, the world marked the 30th anniversary of his death at the hands of a psychologically disturbed stalker, Mark Chapman, who, having waited for hours outside his idol's apartment in New York with a copy of his record for him to sign, shot him dead, in order to "share" in his fame.
It says something about Lennon's enduring personal appeal that he had enormous cultural presence in the decades following his demise. Even the generation born after his death felt a sense of ownership over John Lennon.
On the morning that he died, he'd had his photograph taken with Yoko by Annie Leibovitz. Those iconic shots for Rolling Stone magazine, in which a naked Lennon embraces his wife, have become etched into popular culture. For Annie Leibovitz, it was a career-defining moment, and the legend himself told her "you've captured our relationship exactly".
The year Lennon turned 40 was something of a threshold one. It had been 10 years since the end of the Beatles. His marriage to Yoko had endured, despite the pressures on them from a public mourning the collapse of the band and suspicious of the woman who had been characterised by fans as an interloper. It had survived, too, the 18-month bender of drinking, drugs and womanising that Lennon would later refer to as his "lost weekend".
Things seemed to have calmed down a great deal for the couple, particularly since the birth of their son Sean. Lennon was settling into family life, and was about to re-launch his career, following a five-year hiatus which he devoted to giving Sean a normal childhood. His decision to focus on parenthood was fuelled in part by the struggle that he and Yoko had trying to start a family.
Some time ago, Rolling Stone journalist Jonathan Cott was clearing out some tapes and came across the final interview John Lennon ever gave, three days before he was assassinated. During a sprawling, nine-hour conversation, he talked about his life, his loves and his art publicly for what was to be the last time. With rather spooky prescience, he talked about his contempt for the critics, and their lust for dead heroes.
"These critics with the illusions they've created about artists -- it's like idol worship. They only like people when they're on their way up. I cannot be on the way up again.
"What they want is dead heroes, like Sid Vicious and James Dean. I'm not interested in being a dead f**king hero, so forget 'em, forget 'em."
He talked too about the changes in his life, and the reasoning behind the decision to take time off. "It was a big event for us to have a baby," he said. "People might forget how hard we tried to have one, and how many near-death scenes there were for Yoko. We actually had a stillborn child and a lot of problems with drugs, a lot of personal and public problems brought on by ourselves and with help from our friends."
After the acrimonious fallout from the break-up of the band, and following his estrangement from Paul McCartney, he retreated into family life. But this phase of relative contentment was to be cut abruptly short.
Mark Chapman was a maintenance man from Hawaii. A devout Christian with a history of drug use and emotional instability, he'd been an avid Beatles fan He was a schizophrenic who explained his deed as a final capitulation to the "little people in his head" who enjoined him to stake his claim to history by killing Lennon. Last September he was denied parole for a sixth time. In front of a panel of officials, he expressed his remorse for the action which made him known to the world.
On October 23, 1980, he bought a gun and bullets in Honolulu. Several weeks later, on December 6, he travelled to New York. A few days later, he waited outside Lennon's apartment block for several hours. When Lennon left the building with Yoko that afternoon, he signed Chapman's copy of Double Fantasy. When the star and his wife returned to the apartment at 10.50pm, Chapman opened fire, shooting Lennon in the back. Chapman stayed rooted to the spot until the doormen grabbed him.
"I made a horrible decision to end another human being's life, for reasons of selfishness . . I felt that by killing John Lennon I would become somebody and instead of that I became a murderer, and murderers are not somebodys," he told parole officials. His contrition, however, failed to convince them that he could be safely returned to society, much to the relief of Yoko Ono, who has expressed her concern for the safety of her son Sean, should Lennon's killer ever be released.
Chapman's wife of 28 years has remained loyal to him. She was aware of her husband's plans to kill Lennon, she told CNN recently, but failed to intervene. Though initially sentenced to 20 years, it seems unlikely that Chapman will be released. And this perhaps, is as much in his own interest as the public's. Thirty years may have passed, but the grief and the anger still endures. Chapman robbed the world of a star, but also an artist. That pointless destruction of talent cannot easily be forgotten or forgiven.