In the history of the rock music era, there are two instances that can be deemed as “the day the music died”.
The first one happened on February 3, 1959. That was when rock stars Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and “The Big Bopper” were killed in an airplane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa, as they were about to make their way to the next stop on their “Winter Party Dance Tour” during a very cold and stormy February night.
The next one happened exactly 40 years ago this month. On December 8, 1980, John Lennon, former member of the powerhouse rock group The Beatles, was shot to death in front of the Dakota, the palatial New York City apartment building where he, Yoko Ono and their son Sean lived, by a deranged, obsessed fan named Mark David Chapman. John’s violent, untimely end came at a time when he just started a career comeback after a five-year self-imposed exile, and his new album “Double Fantasy” and its first single “(Just Like) Starting Over” were rapidly climbing the record charts. There was even talk of a world tour for 1981.
But what were the events in both Lennon’s and Chapman’s respective lives that eventually crossed paths on that tragic night in December of 1980? Mega bestselling author James Patterson, best known for his popular Alex Cross murder mysteries, delves into the facts of this tragic event in rock music history with his second non-crime nonfiction book The Last Days of John Lennon.
Let’s face it. If you want a more thorough telling about the life and music of John Lennon, you can always check out the epic biographies written about him by Ray Coleman and Philip Norman. However, Patterson manages to tell the story of John Lennon, Mark David Chapman and Lennon’s murder in a style and pace that echoes many of his best selling crime thrillers. Also, the reader has to give Patterson a great deal of credit for telling this story without having to economize on many of the vital facts that would have made the book end up like a cheap paperback crime novel (and the nearly 100 pages of notes at the end of the book is a vivid testimony to the diligent research Patterson committed in order to make the text factually credible).
Thanks to that, he brings to light several instances in Lennon’s life that have been rarely recounted. One that comes to mind is one Saturday night in the spring of 1976, when Paul McCartney visited John at the Dakota and decided to watch that night’s broadcast of “Saturday Night Live”, in which executive producer Lorne Michaels appeared on camera at the beginning of the broadcast and proposed a Beatles reunion on the show for a flat fee of $3000. Both of them were tempted to just pick themselves up and go directly to the NBC studios at 30 Rock and make a surprise appearance, but they decide against it. According to an interview McCartney gave last year, “…we decided it was too much like work and that it would be more fun to have the night off.”
All the main events in Lennon’s life are covered in the book, such as his 1957 initial meeting with Paul McCartney, the musical trial by fire of the Beatles in Hamburg and Liverpool, the “we’re more popular than Jesus” remark and its repercussions, his relationship with Yoko, the bed-ins for peace, the “Lost Weekend” period, his quest to stave off deportation, and the career comeback that resulted in the Double Fantasy album. And to give the book that much needed sense of balance, Patterson interjects the Lennon narrative with the three-day period of December 6 to 8, 1980, in which he follows Chapman’s quest for notoriety by meandering around the streets of New York until he familiarizes himself with Lennon’s world in New York – especially the Dakota luxury apartment building where John and Yoko lived at – in order to make him more comfortable as he readies himself for his deed of death. It almost reads like one of Patterson’s Alex Cross thrillers (which makes us wish that Detective Cross would be in hot pursuit of Chapman and stop him just in time before he does any harm).
Although many people are aware of this day of infamy and its violent outcome, James Patterson has proved in The Last Days of John Lennon of Lennon’s iconic status in the world of rock music as its most vocal and creative rebel, and the pain many Beatles fans still feel 40 years after the fact. James Patterson has shown he can write highly readable nonfiction books that don’t necessarily have to deal with crimes and mysteries, and has made one point that’s quite starkly clear with this book: we still sorely miss John Lennon.