(Above: “(Just Like) Starting Over” announced John Lennon’s return to music in the fall of 1980. After his death, it occupied the No. 1 spot for five weeks.)
By Joel Francis
The Daily Record
Rock and roll is littered with artists who left too soon. None are mourned as deeply and fervently, though, as John Lennon. The former Beatle was gunned down outside his New York City home 30 years ago today.
Keith Elliot Greenberg’s new book, “December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died” marks the occasion. Much of the information contained in this brief volume has been presented before. Even casual fans will be familiar with many of the details in Greenberg’s truncated telling of Lennon’s biography. While the Beatle’s story is well-known, Greenberg makes it worth visiting again.
“December 8, 1980” reads like a true crime television special, which makes sense given the author’s background as a producer for “America’s Most Wanted,” “48 Hours” and “MSNBC Investigates.” The unfolding day is interrupted by the histories of both Lennon and his assassin, Mark David Chapman.
Greenberg not only places the reader in both men’s minds heading to the fateful moment, but paints a vivid picture of Lennon’s home in the Dakota building and the state of New York City as a whole. First-hand stories from Lennon’s neighbors, autograph hounds who haunted the Dakota’s entry, musicians, fans and police officers. The details these auxiliary players provide peel back the years and familiarity and make the story seem fresh.
Although they were only tangentially related to the saga, Greenberg recounts the activities of Lennon’s fellow Beatles on that day, and their reactions to his death. One can feel the throngs pressing against Ringo as he visits Yoko Ono at the Dakota, and feel the energy of Bruce Springsteen’s unofficial tribute concerts in Philadelphia.
“December 8, 1980” concludes well after the titular date, covering Champan’s trial, the Beatles anthology reunion project, and the attempt on George Harrison’s life in 1999.
Beatles fans truly interested in the events of Dec. 8 and its main participants are advised to seek out any of the available solid Lennon biographies – Philip Norman’s “John Lennon: The Life” has received rave reviews – and Jack Jones’ 1992 Chapman biography “Let Me Take You Down.” Although it is essentially a distillation of those texts, Beatle fans looking for a light trot through that devastating day should be satisfied with Greenberg’s work.
George Kalinsky: Painting with Light (includes stories of Lennon’s concerts at Madison Square Garden and the Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh)