BOOK REIVEW / But he's not the only one: 'Let Me TakE You Down: The man who killed John Lennon' - Jack Jones: Virgin, 14.99

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
EVER SINCE he was a child Mark David Chapman wanted to be somebody, but eventually he decided to shoot somebody instead. A former psychiatric out- patient, born-again Christian and carnival-worker, Chapman went to New York in 1980 to teach the phonies of the world a lesson. Subsisting on a diet of Heineken and chocolate mousse, he bought a .38 caliber pistol and a copy of John Lennon's latest album, Double Fantasy; then he parked himself outside the Dakota building on West 72nd Street along with a number of other stray Lennon fanatics. The first time Chapman met Lennon face-to-face he asked him for his autograph. The second time they met, only a few hours later, Chapman shot him five times in the back.

On the night of 8 December, 1980, Chapman became the world's first and most famous celebricide. 'It was like everything had been stripped away,' he recalls of those minutes after the murder when he waited for the police to take him away. 'It wasn't a make-believe world anymore. The movie strip broke.' Chapman felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, 'where she is in a weird place and wants to go back home.' A weird place is right.

For Chapman, the bright cinematic clarity of delusion was always a lot cosier than the dull reality of living. In his imagination, Chapman repeatedly traipsed off to see the Wizard, performed rock and roll music with the Beatles, and enjoyed sublime sexual congress with Doris Day. If Chapman had confined his fantasies to his beery bedroom, he probably wouldn't have turned out much different from millions of other American couch-potatoes. What screwed things up, however, was that he tried to project his personal 'movie strip' on to the real world outside.

On the night he murdered Lennon, Chapman was carrying a copy of Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye in his pocket; he believed that Lennon's blood on his hands would transmute his flesh into printer's ink, allowing him to flow directly into the pages of the book he loved, Him and Holden Caulfield together at last, seekers after truth and immaculate disdainers of phonies. Perhaps if he sanctified his dreams with blood, he would never have to wake up.

Jack Jones's investigation into the mind of Mark David Chapman makes substantial use of police and psychiatric records as well as extensive personal interviews and correspondence with Chapman himself. In many ways Jones's book is muddled and infuriating, presenting too much in the way of first-person testimony from Chapman, and too little in the way of convincing analysis. (Jones tends to make foolish and ridiculous statements like: 'When he shot John Lennon, Chapman robbed us all of an opportunity to better understand ourselves.')

Chapman's story, however, is a lot more fascinating than his reflections. 'There's a big part of me that's mostly good,' Chapman explains at one point. 'But there also is a very small part of me that is very powerful and very evil.'

But because Chapman's voice lacks the intensity and conviction of either good or evil, what comes across is a rather skittish, banal and self-important young man with lousy eating habits and intermittent delusions of grandeur. And even after more than ten years in Attica Prison for first-degree murder Chapman can't seem to manage even one provocative insight into either himself or the crime he committed. When Chapman wants to seem profound, he quotes the musical lyrics of John Lennon or Todd Rundgren; other times he defers to the wisdom of Salinger's Holden Caulfield, a young boy who never existed (and perhaps that's what Chapman envies about him). 'Normal kids don't grow up to shoot ex-Beatles,' Chapman claims, but there are times when it's the flat exasperating normality of Chapman's voice which is the most unsettling thing about him.

During his imprisonment Chapman worshipped Satan for a while, but these days he listens to self-help tapes and tries to keep up with his voluminous correspondence. A lot of people write to Chapman to threaten his life, but others want to touch base with a real soul-mate. 'I'm trying to get a Mark David Fan Club organized,' one young man explains. 'But few people if any share our moralistic values.'

Mark David Chapman didn't simply commit a crime, he initiated a system of behaviour. In 1981 John Hinckley, obsessed with the then child-actress, Jodie Foster, shot Ronald Reagan and James Brady with a .38, the same gun Chapman used on Lennon.

Hinckley was carrying a copy of The Catcher in the Rye in his pocket, and wanted to be, like his hero Chapman, a man 'loved by millions'. And a few years after that, Robert John Bardo, armed with another .38 and another copy of Catcher, shot the television sitcom actress Rebecca Schaeffer because she didn't love him as much as he loved her. Celebricides want to be as real as the images they see on televisions and billboards: if that doesn't work, then they try to drag the images down to their gun level.

For some people in our weird, media-saturated century, being known is the same thing as being loved. And that's the terrible message at the heart of this disturbing book.