There are three collective-memory questions almost every baby boomer can quickly answer: Where were you when you heard JFK got shot? Where were you when you heard that planes hit the twin towers on 9/11? And, representing a mid-point between those two tragedies: Where you were when you heard John Lennon got killed?
Three decades on from December 8, 1980, here's a snapshot of some of the key players in Lennon's life (and death), and how they've dealt with some of the thornier issues surrounding his legacy over time.
McCartney and Yoko Ono have often traded digs in the decades following Lennon's death. Paul asked permission to change the order of the Lennon-McCartney writing credit to McCartney-Lennon on songs he'd written without any assistance from John, and Yoko balked at "rewriting history." Some of the spats went public. In 2005, Ono made comments that seemed to imply Paul favored "June-with-spoon" rhymes over John's greater sophistication, or was Salieri to Lennon's Mozart. In return, McCartney said, "Her life is dedicated to putting me down." But the two have subsequently been chummy upon coming together at the Las Vegas premiere of Love and other events.
[Photos: A Look Back: John Lennon's Life]
George Harrison recorded his own tribute to Lennon, "All Those Years Ago," featuring McCartney on backup vocals and Ringo Starr on drums. The surviving threesome had a more formal reunion when they expanded upon Lennon's demos of "Free As A Bird" and "Real Love" in 1995 and released them as the only "new" Beatles recordings after their 1970 split, as part of the Anthology series of vintage outtakes.
A hits collection titled 1s, with no previously unreleased material, became an unexpected worldwide blockbuster upon its release in 2000, and ended up being the bestselling album of the subsequent decade, both nationally (certified 15-times platinum) and internationally. In contrast, the 2006 Love album of remixed and sometimes mashed-up material, while beloved by critics and hardcore fans, was a surprisingly slower seller, and was just certified double-platinum in 2010. The Cirque du Soleil show it was conceived to accompany still runs in Las Vegas. In 2009, gamers got to play and sing along with an animated John in Rock Band: The Beatles, released at roughly the same time as remastered CDs of the band's work. Lennon and his mates are currently all over billboards everywhere—in their heavily bearded "Hey Jude"-era visages—in a promotional campaign for iTunes, now that the Fabs' catalogue is finally available for legal download.
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
[Photos: Fans remember Lennon in Central Park]
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
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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