Since December 8th is the anniversary of the assassination of John Lennon, I decided to do a bit of musing. But first, a brief summary:
On December 8th, 1980, John Winston Lennon was shot dead in the doorway of The Dakota in New York by Mark David Chapman.
Prior to the assassination, Chapman showed signs of severe mental illness, according to his wife, Gloria Abe. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Chapman was a perennial college dropout with tendencies toward extreme anger, which made his chances of retaining a job miniscule. Chapman became a born-again Presbyterian, his religious thoughts now implanted firmly in fundamentalism.
It is said that roots of Chapman’s rage stemmed from John Lennon’s statement that The Beatles were bigger than Jesus (which in itself is false, as his exact words were as follows: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”)
A member of Chapman’s prayer group remembers that he created a parody of Lennon’s song “Imagine”, a song which Chapman categorized as “Communist”, containing the lyrics “Imagine, imagine if John Lennon was dead.” Jan Reeves, a sister of one of Chapman’s best friends, said that “seemed really angry toward John Lennon, and he kept saying he could not understand why John Lennon had said it [that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus]. According to Mark, there should be nobody more popular than the Lord Jesus Christ. He said it was blasphemy.”
Inspired by the message of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye‘s conflicting message of adolescent sensitivity, depression, and anti-social/violent thoughts. According to Abe, she didn’t take Chapman’s message of murdering Lennon seriously, yet booked him to see a therapist anyways. His appointment was for the day after he decided to travel to New York from Hawaii to carry out the deed.
Earlier in the day, Chapman bided his time and watched The Dakota with anticipation. He even saw the nanny taking Lennon’s son Sean for a walk, going to far as to shake the younger Lennon’s hand, calling him a “beautiful boy”, referencing Lennon’s song of the same name.
Later in the day, Lennon returned home and was promptly shot Lennon in the back five times, puncturing a lung and several main arteries. Chapman then proceeded to sit on the grass, pulled out a copy of Catcher that he bought especially for this moment, and started to read. When police arrived and asked him for a statement, he handed them the copy and said, “This is my statement.”
Lennon, a man who changed the face of Rock, was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. The first newsman to report the death, and one who had recently become familiar with Lennon, was Howard Cosell during ABC’s Monday Night Football. Since that day, Chapman was sentenced from twenty years to life, and his parole has been denied each time, the consensus being that his crime warrants more jail time and for the simple fact that he’d be killed himself within hours of release.
Those are the bare facts, that I chose to include because they bear repeating because of the sheer bone-chilling evil contained in them.
Mark David Chapman is a monster, something we can all agree on. But, there comes a point in the life of someone who is severely mentally ill where they become a prisoner in their own body. Chapman, after the deed, was diagnosed as having depression, suicidal tendencies, and schizophrenia.
These facts do not excuse the man, but they shed stark light on the problems behind such acts that still occur today. We treat physical ailments with more precision each year, with technology on the rise and treatments becoming more sophisticated. Yet, when it comes to mental health, we’re still living in the proverbial dark ages.
If Chapman was able to get help for his issues, and not simply used fundamental Christian radicalism as a band-aid, John Lennon may still be alive to this day. On the day Lennon died, we lost one of the musical geniuses of the 20th Century. His talent was just starting to hit a new level of innovation and we, sadly, will never be able to see what he would become.
I’m not trying to excuse the heinous act, but mental health issues are something I grapple with on a daily basis. It’s difficult to go about your everyday business with those nagging thoughts in your mind. Though my thoughts are nowhere near as intense as Chapman’s, I can see how one could be driven to the edge. Chapman was a cold-blooded killer, but there was a phantom in his brain holding his head in the freezer.
I agree with Yoko Ono and the parole board – Mark David Chapman should never be allowed to walk the Earth as a free man. He should remain in prison for the rest of his earthly career, both for his own safety and the safety of others. Violence begets violence, and John himself would agree that fighting fire with fire only proves the points he raised in “Imagine.”
So, on this most solemn of remembrances, we need to look at our society of 2016 and demand that the upper echelons of our government focus on screening and supporting the mental health of each individual in our country. Mental illness is a disease that is preventable if treated correctly, and proper screenings can diagnose these issues before innocent blood is shed.
If we listen closely beneath the violent political rhetoric and turbulence of our age, we can hear Lennon’s voice float from the afterlife, intoning, “I hope some day you’ll join us/And the world will live as one.”
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