You either get tired fighting for peace, or you die.
- John Lennon
December 08, 1980.
John Lennon, one of the founding members of the Beatles, is returning after a studio recording with his wife Yoko Ono. As his limo pulls up in front of Dakota Apartments in Manhattan`s Upper West Side at 11 pm, a man skulks in the shadows waiting for his prey.
Lennon steps out, and the man calls out to the musician. Then, suddenly taking a combatant position, he opens fire with his 0.38 revolver. Five shots reverberate in the still moments of the night. John Lennon is perforated by the fatal bullets. He stumbles a few steps, cries out aloud that he has been shot and then slumps; he is hemorrhaging fast. There is a stony silence.
His shattered round rim glasses are blood stained. They tell a story of what has just transpired. John Lennon, an ex-Beatle, is dead.
The worst fears are confirmed by the St Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center, where Lennon is rushed, accompanied by his wife. The world numbs in disbelief.
The assassin, a stocky man of 35-40 years, stands there like a ghost. Unaffected by human emotion, Mark David Chapman makes no attempt to escape the bloody scene. He lazily pulls out J.D. Salinger’s book, Catcher in the Rye, and starts leafing through it. When arrested by the Police, he brazenly says, “I’m sorry I gave you guys all this trouble.”
Even as media went abuzz with the news of the killing of one of the most famous rock stars of all times, and fans gathered outside Dakota Apartments, multiple theories began to do the rounds about the possible reasons for this cold blooded murder.
The first theory was the most obvious. Chapman was a mentally disturbed drug addict and had been to rehab centres to get treated for depression and suicidal tendencies. The book whose pages he casually turned after ruthlessly slaying Lennon had affected him to the extreme. He related the problems of the troubled protagonist, as depicted in the Catcher in the Rye, to “phonies” like John Lennon. Only in his death would he have found mindless vindication.
Chapman’s unstable mental state was evident during the trial when he kept changing versions about his motives much to the exasperation and against the advice of the defence lawyer. Later in an interview after being indicted, he confessed to having “no emotion, no anger, dead silence in the brain”.
There were others who felt Chapman’s actions to be a wretched publicity stunt. But the probing felt there was more to it than met the eye. Behind the veneer of the deranged psycho, was there another hand that had pulled the trigger? Were there other conspirators who had used Chapman to fulfill some other sinister motives?
British lawyer/journalist Fenton Bresler in particular and American detective Arthur O`Connor felt that Chapman was a man who had been brainwashed or programmed to carry out the dirty job. Bresler in his book ‘Who Killed John Lennon’ writes, “"Mark David Chapman is in many ways as much the victim of those who wanted to kill John Lennon.”
Amidst extreme allegations that Yoko Ono may have had a motive, the finger is pointed more and more to someone in the government in the United States. Lennon was known for his firebrand ideas especially related to humanity and peace. He was strongly opposed to the Vietnam War and never minced words when speaking against it. His outspoken ways had put him out of favour with the US government, particularly the Richard Nixon regime, which considered him a dangerous man capable of mobilizing public opinion against its policies.
The US government had denied him the permission to hold his famous bed-in in the country and for a long period refused Lennon permanent residency rights. There was an FBI file in his name, he was under constant surveillance and his phone was tapped.
These right-wing elements had all the motives to get rid of the singer-songwriter, but the timing casts a doubt on this hypothesis. By the time of his assassination, Lennon had been out of public eye for a while. He was more or less living a quiet private life with Yoko Ono. But others feel that with the imminent return of the Republican government, their paranoia of the Beatle may have returned.
Despite the band’s spilt, the shootout had an enormous impact on the rest of the Beatles. While Paul McCartney penned ‘Here Today’ and George Harrison ‘All Those Years Ago’ as a tribute to their slain friend, the killing brought into sharp focus their own safety and the very real possibility of a maverick wanting them all dead for some incomprehensible reasons. Besides tightening personal security, George Harrison suffered deeper psychological trauma. Though he denied becoming a recluse, the fact is that he rarely stepped out from the confines of his home. It only made things worse that another deranged youth managed to break into his home and struck him with a knife at least seven times, puncturing his lungs and causing head injuries.
It is difficult to pin point the reasons why the two Beatles were attacked, but they did seem to have intuited a lurking danger. Did John Lennon have any hint of his impending death? There are two instances which indicate that the idea was there in some deep of recess of his mind. He had once remarked in an interview that if he or his wife were ever to be killed “it wouldn’t be an accident”. At another time he had said, “I`ll probably be popped off by some loony.”
Ironically, the last song that Lennon recorded was ‘I Don`t Wanna Face It’, which is a part of the ‘Milk and Honey’ album. He had also been recording four other new songs at his apartment including the piece called ‘Dear John’. Its lyrics aptly sum up his highly controversial, passionate and blazing life.
don`t be hard on yourself.
Give yourself a break.
Life wasn`t meant to be run.
The race is over, you`ve won.