DECEMBER 8, 1980: THE DAY JOHN LENNON DIED, by Keith Elliot Greenberg c.2010, Backbeat Books; $24.99, 233 pages
What did you do with your yesterday?
If you can remember, you’d probably hit the high parts: places you went, chores you finished, TV you watched. But who did you talk with yesterday? What songs did you hear, what flavors did you savor, what was in the mail?
Every day, you go about your life without considering the minutiae of it. In the poignant new book “December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died” by Keith Elliot Greenberg, you’ll read about small minutes that led up to a big event that most baby boomers remember all too well.
On Dec. 8, 1980, Barbra Streisand, Kenny Rogers and Stevie Wonder topped the Billboard LP charts. Queen, Olivia Newton John and Diana Ross all had released singles that were reminiscent of ’70s music. And John Lennon enjoyed the huge success of his latest album.
Four American nuns were discovered murdered in El Salvador a few days before Dec. 8, 1980. Ronald Reagan was preparing for the presidency, having just been elected a month before. Led Zeppelin had officially disbanded, but John and Yoko Ono were posing for their friend and neighbor, photographer Annie Leibovitz, for a Rolling Stone cover. There was a radio interview scheduled for later that day, and since Lennon and Ono knew the interviewer, they were looking forward to the session.
On the streets below, fans gathered, waiting for a glimpse of Lennon. John Lennon had embraced New York as his home, and he enjoyed freely walking the neighborhood with 5-year-old son, Sean. Understanding that most fans only wanted an autograph or acknowledgment, Lennon had even befriended a few.
One of those fans, Mark David Chapman, had come with a copy of Lennon’s new album, but an autograph wasn’t all he wanted. A Beatles fanatic in his childhood, Chapman had become angry at Lennon, and had decided that killing him would guarantee a sort of immortality. He imagined people uttering his name alongside those of John, Paul, George and Ringo.
December 8, 1980, wasn’t the first time Chapman had gone to New York to try to kill Lennon. But that was the day he succeeded.
As you’re reading “December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died,” you can’t help but notice the malevolence that oozes between the history that author Keith Elliot Greenberg presents and the almost minute-by-minute, life-and-imminent-death dance that seemed fated to happen. It’s a nail-biter.
Although you know what happened 30 years ago, many little-known incidentals are disclosed here and some may come as surprises. I particularly liked the way Greenberg weaves small stories and tiny actions in with the biography of a performer who finally found joy with his life and his work, and a man determined to listen to the voices he heard.
For Beatles fans, this is a wistful look back 30 years-plus. For anyone who wasn’t around during the Fab Four’s heyday, this book explains a lot. For everyone who loves music, “December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died” is a book to start today.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books.