Chapman’s aim was, in a sense, truer than that of other antihero assassins such as Oswald and Hinckley. They had merely set their targets on presidents, while Chapman focused on a rock star, an infinitely more acclaimed figure in our culture of celebrity worship.
Lennon was neither the ludicrously hateful villain of Chapman’s imagination nor the glorious love guru his followers imagine him to be. Like most of us, Lennon appears to have been an imperfect person with some admirable traits and many notable faults. He was an immensely talented songwriter and musician with a spotty personal life plagued by sexual infidelity, drug addiction, and other vices; a man prone to wretched self-indulgence, but also articulate, intelligent, and often winningly self-effacing and sincere; at times a charlatan, but undoubtedly a genius.
To Chapman, Lennon only represented the world’s execrable “phoniness,” which Chapman took as a personal affront. This simplistically negative conception didn’t do justice to Lennon’s complicated personality. But after Chapman filled him with bullets and surrendered to police on that December evening in New York, the ex-Beatle’s posthumous ascension to holy martyrdom has truly grown annoying, even obnoxious.
On this thirtieth anniversary of Lennon’s murder, we hear little but holy rubbish about this rich, besotted, pampered celebrity who met a tragic end at a young age. He was, we are now commonly informed, a “speaker of truth to power,” a “noble soul too pure for this world,” and so forth. That Lennon himself likely would have disdained this Lennonite cult of personality has little influence on his worshipers’ adulation. Unfortunately, phony delusions regarding Lennon did not die on December 8, 1980. They have exponentially multiplied, fed by the notion that this pop singer was in some sense crucified for our sins on that terrible day.
But who mourns for Mark David Chapman?
The man who acquired infamy by planting four shots into a rock star’s back and shoulder has now led the majority of his life behind bars and is unlikely ever to be paroled. That Chapman was (and is) a creepy, psychotic freak we can all agree, but wouldn’t Lennon himself, had he survived, wanted to understand his attacker rather than simply revile him? Wasn’t one of Lennon’s most likable traits his willingness to hear from people who didn’t like him without growing defensive?
It is December 8, 2010. Lennon remains dead, Chapman rots in prison, and the Earth turns as ever before. Both John and Mark have failed in their quixotic quests to change the world. There is nothing new under the sun, but some still imagine making a better world. And that, too, is nothing new. Rest in peace, John; rot in peace, Mark. God bless you both.
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