The Beatles was the most popular musical group in all of human history. John, Paul, George, and Ringo are a study in what happens when you take four regular guys and make them rich and famous beyond all imagining. Given their circumstances, it’s a wonder they didn’t turn out worse than they did.
We focus this day on John. John Winston Ono Lennon was born in October of 1940 to Julia Stanley Lennon during the London Blitz. He was so named after the esteemed Prime Minister. John’s father Alfred was a Scottish merchant seaman who was gone for long periods supporting the war effort. He sent money back for Julia and the child until 1944 when he went absent without leave. When he finally returned six months later John’s mother was pregnant by another man, and their tenuous marriage unraveled. At age five young John was forced to publically choose between his parents. The resulting chaos undoubtedly scarred the child.
John had a tumultuous childhood. He was communally raised by five different female family members. Along the way, he learned to play the banjo and eventually the guitar. His aunt Mimi once opined of his inexpensive acoustic guitar, “The guitar’s all very well, John, but you’ll never make a living out of it.”
Throughout his formative years, John cultivated a reputation as a troublemaker. Though he was clearly exceptionally gifted, he admitted that he was the kid that other kids’ parents worried about. When he was eighteen John’s mother Julia was struck by a car and killed.
There have actually been six Beatles. Stuart Sutcliffe played bass, and Pete Best was the original drummer. In what has got to be the world’s most profound lost opportunity Sutcliffe’s interest waned, and he dropped out.
Pete Best was fired and replaced with Ringo Starr. This unfortunate turn of events inspired the hilarious Rainn Wilson comedy The Rocker.
The Beatles made music for eight years. Their stage personas evolved from fairly restrained, well-dressed gentlemen to drug-using hippie counterculture activists. Along the way, they developed a spectacular international following. Among every large group of human beings, a small percentage of them will be tragically unbalanced. Certain attributes of the Beatles meteoric success now began to plant some dark seeds.
In March of 1966 Lennon was quoted as having said in an interview with the Evening Standard, “Christianity will go…it will vanish and shrink…We’re more popular than Jesus now—I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.”
This bit of sacrilege didn’t make much of a splash in the UK. However, on our side of the pond, the more puritanical Americans took enormous umbrage. There were formal burnings of their records, and the Ku Klux Klan took an interest. Among those deeply offended by John Lennon’s god complex was one Mark David Chapman.
Mark David Chapman was an Air Force brat whose service member father was distant and abusive. He showed delusional traits from a young age and began dabbling in drugs at 14. That same year he ran away from home and lived alone in Atlanta for two weeks.
In 1971 Chapman became active in the Presbyterian church and seemed to be turning his life around. He worked on a variety of mission projects and was described as hard-working, friendly, and genuine. Around this time Chapman read JD Salinger’s novel A Catcher in the Rye, and he began to go off the rails.
The subsequent years were tumultuous for Chapman. He attempted suicide, ended and started relationships with women, traveled literally around the world, and qualified as an armed security guard. He began drinking heavily and, incensed by Lennon’s obvious atheism and blasphemous proclamations, began plotting his demise.
Chapman had his theological nexus with Lennon, but his proposed hit list was both long and variegated. Paul McCartney, Johnny Carson, Elizabeth Taylor, George C. Scott, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Ronald Reagan were all targeted. He later admitted that he had picked Lennon because he was convenient.
Chapman bought a Charter Arms .38 Special revolver and traveled all the way from New York City to Atlanta to secure hollowpoint rounds to feed it. Chapman had already been to NYC once before to kill Lennon but changed his mind and went home. On the day of the shooting, he posted himself outside of the Dakota apartment building where Lennon lived with Yoko One and his son Sean. Earlier that day Chapman visited with five-year-old Sean and his nanny while they were out taking a walk.
On the afternoon of December 8, 1980, Chapman caught Lennon and Ono outside their apartment building as they were heading to a recording session. They apparently had a fairly pleasant exchange, and Lennon autographed a copy of the album Double Fantasy for Chapman. Lennon and Ono returned home around 1050 pm. Chapman was still standing outside the building.
There were rumors that Chapman called Lennon’s name, but he later denied any recollection of that. Without a great deal of fanfare, Chapman fired five rounds from his inexpensive .38 Special revolver. The first missed Lennon and struck a window in the building. The other four connected. Lennon staggered into the lobby of the building with blood pouring from his mouth.
The first two hollowpoint rounds struck the singer in the left side of his back. The other two hit his left shoulder. Two rounds passed through his body, and another ended up in her left arm. The fourth lodged in his aorta near the heart.
One round severed Lennon’s subclavian artery. Another severely damaged his aorta and aortic arch. Lennon’s left lung was also badly perforated. Surgeons at Roosevelt Hospital performed an emergent open-chest heart massage to no avail. A post mortem evaluation estimated that Lennon lost 80% of his blood volume before he died.
When police arrived Chapman had placed his weapon on the ground and stood calmly reading The Catcher in the Rye. He was arrested without incident.
Douglas McClenahan was a gun designer who had previously worked for Colt, High Standard, and Ruger before starting Charter Arms in 1964. His first revolver was the five-shot short-barreled Undercover model ultimately used by Chapman. Unlike other contemporary designs, McClenahan built his revolvers around a one-piece frame for strength, reduced the number of parts in the mechanism, and introduced a novel safety device.
According to its website, Charter pioneered the transfer bar ignition system used in most modern revolvers today. As opposed to the exposed firing pin of more traditional wheelguns, this transfer bar system ensures that the firing pin cannot contact the cartridge unless the trigger is pulled fully to the rear.
The Charter Arms Undercover .38 is a snub-nosed five-shot wheelgun of conventional layout. The cylinder release presses forward in the manner of Smith and Wesson guns and allows the cylinder to pivot open to the left for reloading. Chapman’s Undercover sported slightly oversized grips and an unshrouded ejector rod. The actual assassination gun is retained by the New York City Police Department and is on display in the small museum associated with their Forensic Investigation Division.
Charter Arms went bankrupt in the 1990s but was resurrected some years later by the Ecker family in Shelton, Connecticut. This new company succumbed to nuisance lawsuits and closed its doors in 2005. A subsequent restructured Charter Arms still produces revolvers today.
In the final years of the Beatles, John Lennon developed an abiding enthusiasm for the hallucinogen LSD. The drug’s influence on such Beatles classics as Strawberry Fields Forever, All You Need is Love, I am the Walrus, and, obviously, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds seemed to me to, if anything, improve their work. As an aside, Lennon recorded Twist and Shout, a personal favorite, in 1963 while suffering from a wretched head cold. If you listen to the song closely you can hear it.
Mark David Chapman pled guilty to murder in the second degree and was sentenced to 20 years to life imprisonment. He has been considered for parole and denied every other year since 2000. He is held in solitary confinement for his own protection and is granted one 48-hour private conjugal visit with his wife on prison grounds each year.
John Lennon’s death triggered an outpouring of grief around the planet on an unprecedented scale. Three fans committed suicide after the murder. Yoko Ono had Lennon cremated and refused to hold a service. Ono had to ask grieving fans singing outside the Dakota to leave as they were keeping her awake. She later requested a ten-minute period of silence to commemorate her late husband. 225,000 mourners subsequently gathered in Central Park to take part. Annie Leibovitz’ iconic portrait of a naked Lennon embracing Ono was shot on the day he died at age 40, gunned down in cold blood by a psychotic fan.
Charter Arms Undercover
|Barrel Length||2 inches|