Checking In On John Lennon's Friends, Family...And Assassin, 30 Years On
Posted Tue Dec 7, 2010 4:46pm PST by Chris Willman in Stop The Presses!
While not neglecting her own career, Lennon's widow has striven tirelessly to protect her late husband's legacy and promote him as a symbol of peace and idealism, even as pesky biographers remind the world of his darker side. Some Ono-approved projects have been a wash, like the ghastly 2005 Broadway bio-musical Lennon, which was panned by critics and closed just six weeks after opening. But Ono has been behind some better-received projects, too—like Strawberry Fields, the Central Park memorial that opened in 1985 near the scene of the crime.
She continues to cast an equal vote in Beatles-related business dealings along with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George's widow Olivia Harrison. Her own artistic endeavors have slowed down, though she took a time-out from paying tribute to John to enjoy some tributes of her own, with Lady Gaga recently headlining a night of Ono covers in Los angeles. To this day, Ono continues to polarize Lennon fans, who think of her either as (a) the busybody who couldn't stop breaking up the Beatles, even after the Beatles were broken up, or (b) the greatest posthumous protector any major artist ever had.
MARK DAVID CHAPMAN
Chapman, 55, was sentenced to a 20-years-to-life term after rejecting an insanity defense and pleading guilty to the murder. That's effectively "life," given the political implications that would follow if anyone ever let him out of prison. In September, Lennon's killer was turned down for parole for the sixth time, in an every-other-year denial familiar to anyone who ever followed the token hearings for similarly loathed figures like Charles Manson.
Chapman has been increasingly penitent over time, after initially using his sentencing to self-defensively read from the novel Catcher In The Rye, presumably because he still considered Lennon one of the "phonies" that that novel's protagonist rails against. At the time, psychiatrists who examined Chapman considered him delusional but not necessarily psychotic or unfit for trial, and if anything, Chapman's lack of obvious "craziness" and apologies only makes him more aggravating to Lennon fans. He's given sometimes conflicting interviews over the years, sometimes talking of hearing voices and arguing with imaginary figures, other times offering prosaic explanations having to do with envy or fame. At his 2000 parole hearing, he said he had "felt like nothing, and I felt if I shot him, I would become something." Chapman is still married to his longtime wife, Gloria, and gets conjugal visits at Attica.
Although none of Chapman's statements have ultimately been particularly revealing or interesting, that didn't stop artistic provocateurs from making no fewer than two movies about Chapman, The Killing Of John Lennon and Chapter 27, the latter starring Jared Ledo as the pudgy killer. One of the latter film's few quasi-defenders, a Los Angeles Times critic, called it "a rather sly portrait in bland dementia," and those last two words may say everything that needs to be said about Chapman, in the end.
Almost as inflammatory as the movie projects has been repeated sales or auctions of the Double Fantasy LP that Chapman got Lennon to autograph outside the Dakota hours before gunning him down. A New York autograph dealer calls the jacket-which bears Chapman's forensically enhanced fingerprints-"the most extraordinary document in rock 'n' roll history," and he's trying to get $850,000 for it.
THE JOHN LENNON LEGACY
In honor of his 70th birthday, Lennon's solo catalog got its own set of remasters and reissues this year, though these seemed surprisingly underpublicized. The final John & Yoko release, 1980's Double Fantasy, was mixed down to its bare bones for an alternate release titled Double Fantasy Stripped Down. Simultaneously issued this fall were an all-inclusive 11-CD boxed set, a themetically demarcated four-CD set, and for neophytes, yet another single-disc best-of collection.
Naturally, biographical pieces that have come along in book or film form tend to be dismissed either as hagiographies or hit pieces. But The U.S. vs. John Lennon, an account of his struggles with American immigration officials in the early '70s, got good reviews. And Philip Norman's 864-page biography, 2008's John Lennon: The Life, was acclaimed for striking a decent balance between the muckraking of previous biographers like the reviled Albert Goldman and the saintliness that overrides most Yoko-approved accounts. An arthouse biopic about Lennon's early years, Nowhere Boy, also hit theaters this fall, with Kick-Ass star Aaron Johnson as young John.
Thirty years gone from this mortal coil now, John Lennon is still an Everywhere Man.
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