One of the photos from Annie Leibovitz's photo session with John Lennon and Yoko Ono on December 8, 1980 (above). The photo is one of the few John allowed taken without his sunglasses - or at least his glasses.
Over the next week or so, I'm going to be remembering John Lennon - on the 35th anniversary of his murder - with two posts, bookended by the transcript of his final interview, done on the afternoon of December 8, 1980 in the first-floor offices John and Yoko rented in the Dakota.
The last day of John Lennon’s life is probably one of the most documented days of
his life. Where he went, who he saw, have pretty much been covered with
photos and audio. Yet there are things that even a Lennophile like me
discover years after that unusually warm December night in New York
City. I knew that Lennon and Yoko Ono had a lengthy photo session with
now-famed photographer Annie Leibovitz on December 8th. The photos
Leibovitz took that day have become some of the most-often utilized
images of John through the years. The photos show a very thin, but
otherwise healthy-looking John, in rare photos without his glasses. That
very morning – specifically for Leibovitz’s photo shoot - John had his
hair cut and styled in the mode of a ‘Teddy-Boy’ from the 1950s. The
fact that the last images of him would look uncannily like the first images of him in Hamburg in 1960, with the leather jacket and Teddy-Boy cut, provided
a strange, macabre “circle-of-life” quality to them. He would die
looking much like he had 20 years earlier.
The morning started
with breakfast at La Fortuna, on Columbus Avenue, in New York City.
After the haircut, John and Yoko returned to the Dakota, where Leibovitz
soon arrived. The photos were to be for an upcoming Rolling Stone
piece. Leibovitz had promised John that a photo of both of them – John
and Yoko – would make the cover. John became suspicious, however, when
Leibovitz initially tried to get a picture with just John alone. John’s
intuition was right: Leibovitz would later recall that "nobody wanted
[Ono] on the cover". John agreed to some solo shots but made Leibovitz
promise that it would be John and Yoko on the cover.
Toward the end
of the photo shoot, Yoko left the apartment to head downstairs for a
scheduled interview she and John had with the RKO Network. John stayed
behind to allow Leibovitz to have her solo photos.
By this time,
Mark Chapman had secured his ‘usual’ place in front of the Dakota. He
had been there the entire previous weekend. Chapman had with him a gun,
and he intended to shoot John the moment he saw him. Chapman and Lennon had already had an encounter the day before - on December 7th.
While there were always ‘Dakota Groupies’ waiting for John, there was
also an unspoken rule that the fans gave John his space. What made
Chapman stand out that Sunday in Yoko’s mind – that is, stand out in her mind after the murder – was that
Chapman came very close, almost face-to-face and began taking
photographs “John got angry and ran after him to try to take the camera,
though I shouted to him not to do it,” Yoko told author Philip Norman.
“[John] didn’t get the camera, and when he came back he said, ‘If anyone
gets me, it’s going to be a fan.’”
That would be the first of
three encounters with Chapman. The second occurred around 5:30 pm on
December 8th, as John and Yoko left the Dakota for a recording session after the RKO interview.
Chapman was waiting for them, his revolver resting in his left-hand
pocket. He had intended to kill Lennon there and then. But when John
graciously signed Chapman’s copy of Double Fantasy and then
asked him if there was anything else he [Chapman] wanted signed, Chapman
was too taken aback to pull out the gun. Over the next six hours,
Chapman would not stray far from that spot, waiting for John to return
from the session.
This actually was the second trip Chapman had
taken to kill John Lennon. Chapman had flown from his home in Hawaii to New York to kill Lennon on November 1,
1980. He had purchased a gun in Hawaii but, for some reason, hadn't bought ammunition. He had spent much of the previous three months behaving even
more oddly than usual. His wife would watch him every evening as he
turned out the lights, lit candles and played Beatles records endlessly,
chanting “John Lennon must die”. When he got to New York City in early
November, Chapman found that he could not buy ammunition because he did
not have a license to carry in the state of New York. Frustrated,
Chapman got in contact with an old friend - now a gun collector - from
his days growing up in Georgia. Chapman flew there and spent a few days
with his friend “catching up”. Chapman then asked to borrow some
bullets. He told his friend he wanted hollow-point bullets – the kind
that explode on impact – and told the friend he was headed back to New
York and needed them for protection. His friend handed him the bullets
that would end John Lennon’s life.
Chapman flew back to New York
with the intention of killing John Lennon on November 6th. That day,
however, Chapman decided to take in a movie before killing John. Chapman
went to a nearby theater. The film Ordinary People. The movie
– about the accidental death of the older son of an affluent family and
how it effects the relationships among the bitter mother, the
good-natured father, and the guilt-ridden younger son - so touched
Chapman that he “snapped out” of his homicidal stupor and decided he
could not kill John Lennon. He flew back to Hawaii, where he
told his wife where he had been and what he had planned to do.
Unbelievably, considering the behavior she had witnessed and now the
fact that her husband was telling her he had gone to New York
to kill John Lennon, his wife did nothing. She told no one. Worse, when
Chapman told her in early December that he was heading back to New York,
she did nothing. Chapman told her he’d gotten rid of the gun.
As an aside here, Mark Chapman and Gloria Hiroko Chapman are still
married. Indeed, since 1992, Chapman has been receiving conjugal visits
with Gloria, as part of the "Family Reunion" program at Attica State
Prison, where Chapman is held. There, the Chapmans are allowed to spend
nearly two consecutive days with each other in a private setting.
According to prison spokesperson Erik Kriss, the goal of the program is
to help strengthen relationships that may have become strained due to
imprisonment. There is no such balm available for Yoko Ono, whose
relationship was 'strained' permanently by Chapman. As for Gloria
Chapman, how this woman has lived with the fact that she could have
prevented John Lennon's murder is a testimonial to the fact that some
people simply have no conscience.
In addition to the photos with
Leibovitz, the other noted event in John’s last day was the interview
with RKO Radio. RKO was the first commercial radio network to distribute
its programming entirely by satellite. When it began operations on
October 1, 1979, it was the first new full-service American radio
network in 40 years. Satellite distribution allowed high-fidelity stereo
programming to its affiliates, and by December 1980 it was the place to do promotional jaunts on the radio, as it would hit a nationwide audience.
The interview was eventually aired on December 14, 1980. Some of the quotes from that
interview have been used innumerable times – particularly in The Beatles Anthology.
It was an amazing interview, made incredibly macabre by what you know
will happen a few short hours from that point. The interview took place immediately before John’s
album-autograph-signing encounter with Chapman on December 8th, which was
captured by another ‘Dakota Groupie’, Paul Goresh. Indeed, the crew from
RKO was right there with John as he encountered Chapman. The limousine
that was due to take John and Yoko to the recording studio never showed.
The RKO crew offered to take John and Yoko, in their rented limo, to
the recording studio on their way to the airport to fly back to San
The RKO interview took place in the first floor
offices that John and Yoko had in the Dakota. Chapman was waiting
outside, no more than 100 yards from where John and Yoko were talking. The original tapes of the recording are available on YouTube. They are 2 ½ hours long and can be incredibly chilling to listen to. But also very funny, inspirational and insightful. I say 'chilling', knowing not only what would
happen later that day, but that the man who would kill John was
virtually on the other side of the wall waiting to do it while John
Listening to the raw tapes is surreal. When the RKO crew
arrived at the Dakota offices, they switched on the tape recorders and
they stayed on during the pre-interview, the interview itself, and the
post-interview, during which John graciously signed autographs for
friends and family of the RKO crew.
It is an incredible
experience to listen to the tapes. A few years ago, after hearing them the first time in full, I was so affected by them that I
decided I wanted to read the interview. Somewhere - it had to have been
transcribed somewhere, right? Well, if it was, I haven’t been able to
find it. The interview did make its way in the mid-1980s onto a bootleg
double album. Someone had even written a screenplay based on the
interview. But no transcript, at least not one of the entire 2 ½ hours
I decided I wanted to reproduce the transcript – word
for word – here. So, the next group of posts are going to be that
transcript. I have tried my best to capture all audible audio. I don’t
know if you’ll find it as fascinating as I have, but ever since I heard
the unedited version, it has been gnawing at me. I guess I feel that by
transcribing it and putting it out there on the Internet, I am doing
something for John.