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The Death and Life of John Lennon

He had just come through a difficult personal time during which he had questioned everything about his life and his work and his celebrity.

“What is it I’m doing?” he said, dragging on the cigarette, explaining the questions he had asked himself. “What am I doing? Meanwhile, I was still putting out the work. But in the back of my head it was that: What do you want to be? What are you looking for? And that’s about it. I’m a freakin’ artist, man, not a f - - - - - ’ racehorse.”

Within months of that interview, the man who had said he didn’t really have much to do with children learned that he was going to be a father. And soon he disappeared, making no public music for half a decade, dropping out of the visible world to give his son, Sean, a childhood. Once, during that period, I dropped him a casual note, telling him that if he felt like talking, he should call. I got a form letter back.

John Lennon had silenced himself, perhaps for good. Then, last summer, the news broke that he was back in the studio. I was in London, and the session was over by the time I got home. I’m sorry about that. I wanted to see him one more time, and thank him for showing up. He wasn’t just another racehorse.

3. HELTER SKELTER


In case of accidents he always took his mom.
He’s the all American bullet-headed saxon mother’s son.
All the children sing
Hey, Bungalow Bill
What did you kill
Bungalow Bill?

—Lennon and McCartney

John Lennon was dead by the time Patrolmen James Moran and Bill Gamble got him to Roosevelt Hospital, but the doctors tried anyway. They opened him up. They massaged his heart. There was blood everywhere, but they tried. And while they worked, the scene outside turned into an obscene festival. The paparazzi, thieves of the mojo, arrived by the dozens, waiting to steal the spirit of anyone left alive; legitimate reporters and photographers were there too, and a lot of cops, and then, slowly, as the word spread, a few fans. Some of the reporters fought for the two telephones in the emergency room, while the usual assortment of damaged human beings—older black people, too many children, a Hare Krishna couple—waited to be helped. A woman TV reporter marched in with a crew and tried to walk through the doors to the room where the doctors had been working on John Lennon. She was stopped, of course, but tried to make common decency into a First Amendment issue by ordering the crew to turn on the lights and videotape the refusal of the hospital assistant to allow her to photograph the holes in John Lennon’s chest.

“You want me to tell you what happened, man?” an orderly said, standing outside on an overhang, looking at the crowd. A few fans had lit candles now. “Where’s $20? Come on. Why should I be doing anything for you for nothing?”

Another said, “They did more for Lennon than we normally do for anybody. They cracked his chest open and then tried internal cardiac massage. But nothing helped. He just bled to death.”

Somebody asked whether Yoko Ono was crying as she waited inside with record producer David Geffen and others for the inevitable to happen. “No, she wasn’t crying,” an attendant said. “She’s got $30 million coming to her. Do you blame her for being so cool?”

Inside, Stephan Lynn, the director of emergency services, finally gave up. The official moment of death was recorded as 11:15 P.M.

The body was wrapped and taken to the morgue wagon. When a police car came out of the basement drive, its lights twirling in the signal of distress, and the photographers saw the morgue wagon behind the squad car, there was another scramble. The photographers followed the wagon up the block and then stopped as it pushed out into the city. Yoko wasn’t in it. Got to get Yoko. Yoko’s grief. They did and then left. The parking lot seemed desolate. A man named Eduardo was among those left behind. He was well dressed, middle-aged, and someone asked him why he was there.

“If the Jews had a Christ, the Christians had John Lennon and the Beatles,” he said. “I’m proud to have belonged to the sixties.”

At the morgue, the entrance was sealed shut with a lock and chain. Attendants with green mortuary masks moved around in dumb show, their words inaudible, or typed out forms on grim civil-service typewriters. Behind them, in a refrigerator, lay the sixties.


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