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Lennon’s Death. Mark Chapman’s crime against Paul McCartney

December 8, 2015


On this, the anniversary of Lennon’s death, it’s worth thinking for a change about what Mark Chapman did to Paul McCartney that day.

And as for the notorious “it’s a drag” remark – it’s also worth studying this bit of film of McCartney being collared by reporters on the 9th December 1980.

There’s a glazed look on his face.  He seems to be moving in a trance – functioning on a sort of terrifying autopilot.  It’s clear that he hasn’t been able to absorb Lennon’s murder and he hasn’t anything adequate to say about it while still in shock.  In the meantime, he’s also having to deal with microphones being shoved under his nose.

John and Paul’s relationship was… not great in the early 70s.  Barbed comments were going back and forth and there was a serious business disagreement between them.  Paul felt that the Beatles’ partnership could better be resolved by banishing lawyers and just having the four principals sit in a room together and talk things out.  John did not think this was possible.  Which of them was “right” hardly matters now.

From around 1974 onwards however, with legal proceedings concluding, a more relaxed and generous attitude prevailed.  They could have friendly meetings and phone calls.  Famously, they were together in 1976 when SNL offered silly money to have them both show up in the studio.

In 1980, Lennon was giving a great many interviews in which he would variously acknowledge, praise and yet attack McCartney.  By the time of Lennon’s death they were neither friends nor enemies.  Part of the trouble was that Lennon, when talking to the press, had few if any unexpressed thoughts.  Nor did he have much of a concept of a “private life”.   Any and all slight irritations and passing paranoid suspicions made it straight into print or onto tape.  This was a rather endearing and yet cruel characteristic of Lennon’s – with which McCartney was all too familiar.

If Lennon had lived, their relationship would have continued to have had its ups and downs – but there’s every reason to project more ups than downs.  Mark Chapman, whom McCartney has called “the jerk of all jerks” – did the cruelest of things to McCartney by wiping out Lennon just at a time when the Lennon McCartney relationship looked promising but not assured.   (Their last phone call had been friendly.)  If Lennon and McCartney had been bitter foes and incapable of talking to one another in 1980 – the bereavement would  been less painful.  If McCartney and Lennon had been completely and unambiguously reconciled then the bereavement would have been less painful.    Instead Chapman robbed McCartney of a reasonable expectation of a better relationship with Lennon – and that’s the crime that’s hardest to forgive.

But Chapman did other things to McCartney.  Following Lennon’s martyrdom and apotheosis (a process which involved excising all of Lennon’s self-deprecating Liverpudlian humour), McCartney found himself being marginalised and insulted by people with such a sorry and imaginatively impoverished “zero sum” mindset that they felt that they needed to make McCartney smaller if Lennon was to be bigger.

Now McCartney was (and is) a family man.  He had no right to grieve and despair for ever.  Others had (and have) a claim on him – and like all Dads – he needs to be cheerful and upbeat on a regular basis.  Mark Chapman transformed John Lennon from a fascinating mortal to a tedious ghost and in so doing made it harder for Paul McCartney to just get on with his life and his family obligations.

Before long, McCartney found that he was being required to defend himself just to preserve any definition of self respect.  As a fully deserving half of the greatest and most fascinatingly equitable song-writing partnership of the twentieth century, he was placed (thanks to Mark Chapman) in the position of sometimes being forced to look as though he was arguing with a dead man, whereas he’s really been arguing not with Lennon, but with those who feel it necessary to treat Lennon as the one and only presiding genius of the group.

Then there were the disputes about song authorship – disputes which are, as McCartney has remarked – really quite marginal in the context of the overall body of work.  The truth is, that even if John had lived, and John and Paul had restored and sustained the closest of friendship, any absolute clarification of songwriting credit would never have been established.  Not if they both lived to be a hundred.

In fact, Lennon’s own memory seems to have been less than reliable, and different interviews yield different opinions about the  writing of certain songs.  Turns out that long after the “eyeball to eyeball” phase of co-composition was ended, the songwriting partnership was continued.  Paul would bring a song idea to John and vice versa – and a song would be completed between them.  A middle eight, a bridge, extra lyrics – or just affirmation – would be traded back and forth.  The song would still sort of “belong” to whichever had had the original idea – but the interventions remained invaluable.

If Lennon had lived, this constant burden of having to find a sensitive way of simply asserting a right to a little respect would have been far less crushing.  Having to live in the shadow of a tediously inflated pseudo-saint (a saint far less interesting than the flawed and hilarious John Winston Ono Lennon) has proved an unjust life sentence.

Mark Chapman imposed that burden on Paul McCartney.

Jerk.  Jerk of all jerks.


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One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    Reposting on this anniversary

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