The Last Days of John Lennon
By James Patterson with Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge
Little, Brown and Company
December 8 of this year marked the 40th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon, gunned down in the hallway of his New York apartment building at the age of 40. Between that somber milestone, the never-ending and generational regenerating appeal of the music of the Beatles and his solo work, and new books and box sets, interest in Lennon and his music these days has definitely seen a bump. We won’t mention, the, uh, early-pandemic celebrity singalong butchering of “Imagine.”
But first, there’s something of a misnomer with this book’s title. It does not confine itself to the last days, weeks, or even year of Lennon’s life (for that, I would turn to the recent release John Lennon 1980: The Last Days of His Life by Kenneth Womack).
Instead, it tells a comprehensive, decade-by-decade highlight reel of Lennon’s entire life and career, interspersed with chapters on the movements and motivations of killer Mark David Chapman as he flew from his home in Hawaii to New York City with the intention of murdering his former idol.
Lennon, he felt in a convoluted theory, had somehow “sold out” or failed to uphold his personal or musical promise of good or upright or peaceful behavior, all stirred with Chapman’s skewed Christian beliefs. Later, it would also be revealed from his own mouth that Chapman’s other desire would be to create his own everlasting fame, and boosting readership of his personal manifesto, the J.D. Salinger novel The Catcher in the Rye.
For hardcore Beatles/Lennon fans, there’s little that’s new or illuminating here in a book largely culled from a rainforest’s worth of previously published sources. When the story reaches a familiar point of narrative in Beatles lore, some (including myself) can almost predict the anecdote or exact quote that will follow. But that’s music nerd quibbling in a book that’s meant for a general reader, and its does a full and satisfying job of telling its subject’s story with plenty of detail, background, and compelling content.
The sections covering the pre-fame Beatles, Lennon’s offhand-but-hugely-controversial comments comparing the Beatles’ popularity to that of Jesus, and his somewhat loose logic on marital fidelity are especially well-written.
The book also goes into detail about Lennon and wife Yoko Ono’s relationship with New York City. The couple originally came to the Big Apple in 1971, ostensibly a better location for them to search for Ono’s daughter Kyoko, who had disappeared on purpose with her former husband, Tony Cox.
They quickly fell in love with the city, its energy, and grittiness. Soon, a coterie of “friends” of varying degrees of sincerity would help the couple form a nascent – if sometimes naïve – political agenda, as expressed on their album Some Time in New York City. It was also where the couple fought an immigration battle to have them removed, at the behest of the U.S. government itself (they would eventually win the years-long struggle). Lennon likened America to the Roman Empire, and NYC to Rome itself.
“Everywhere’s somewhere, and everywhere’s the same, really, and wherever you are is where it’s at,” he’s quoted in the book. “But it’s more so in New York. It does have sugar on it, and I’ve got a sweet tooth.”
After living in a series of apartments, the couple moved into the formidable Dakota building. Where they’d be safe. And save for a few fans who hang out at the doorstep wanting a picture or autograph…
James Patterson, as the book flap tells us, is “the world’s bestselling author.” And the insanely prodigious penman has had massive commercial success with his mystery, juvenile humor, young adult, history, fantasy, and romance books, along with many collaborative efforts (including with former President Bill Clinton).
How much of the actual writing or heavy lifting research was divvied up among him and investigative journalism co-writing team Sherman and Wedge (who wrote the recent fine Hunting Whitey about the last years of the notorious Boston mobster’s life), is unknown.
Patterson did manage to score a handful of new interviews for the book, including a big coup with Paul McCartney, in which Lennon’s former bandmate revealed that Ono had reached out to him to broker a reconciliation between the couple during Lennon’s booze-and-blow fueled year and a half “Lost Weekend” in Los Angeles.
As with books about Lincoln, JFK, and the Titanic, the whole thing heads toward its tragic and inevitable conclusion on December 8, but the details of the day are no less chilling.
Like how Chapman got down on his knees and spoke to Sean Lennon, shaking the 5-year-old’s hand as he left with a nanny. How he finally met Lennon—who actually signed Chapman’s copy of his and Yoko’s new album Double Fantasy and shared a few words with him (the eerie moment captured by photographer Paul Goresh), but lost his nerve for murder.
And finally, how he finally pumped bullets into an unsuspecting Lennon as he returned for the night, losing his life despite all efforts by policemen and hospital staff. Ringo Starr, rushing to the Dakota with wife Barbara Bach, was put in charge of playing with Sean as the world tried to digest the awful news.
Mark David Chapman has been in prison since the murder. He was eligible for parole in 2000, but to date has been denied 11 times, the most recent in August of this year. It’s unlikely he’ll ever see freedom. And if he did, there’s no shortage of Lennon fans waiting to pull a Jack Ruby.
As a whole, the narrative, pacing, and facts of The Last Days of John Lennon flow extremely well. Also, Patterson’s name along with all but ensure that the readership for this title will go far beyond Beatlemaniacs and music bio aficionados. And it will be under plenty a Christmas tree this year for sure..
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