Keith Elliot Greenberg, an interview

 Onstage and Backstage podcast from Hal Leonard is available on iTunes and Libsyn. Each episode authors and their guests have a chat about the topics of their books. Today, Keith Elliot Greenberg talks about his book December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died on Off the Meter with Jimmy Failla. This episode has been re-posted on Onstage and Backstage podcast with permission of Off the Meter.

>>>LISTEN HERE<<<

December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died follows the events leading to the horrible moment when Mark David Chapman – the paunchy, mentally ill Beatles fan – calmly fired his Charter Arms .38 Special into the rock icon, realizing his perverse fantasy of attaining perennial notoriety. New York Times-best-selling author Keith Elliot Greenberg takes us back to New York City and the world John Lennon woke up to, and we follow the other Beatles, Lennon’s family, the shooter, fans, and New York City officials through the day. Once the fatal shots are fired, the pace only becomes more breathless.

Q&A with Keith Elliot Greenberg

Keith Elliot Greenberg is the author of December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died, now out in paperback from Backbeat Books.

Why did you feel compelled to write this book?
For 30 years, I’ve been carrying this story. I was five years old when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, and the first movie I ever asked my parents to see was A Hard Day’s Night. John Lennon never knew me, but I felt that I knew him, and he understood me. Mark David Chapman felt the same way. But because something misfired in his mind, he decided to take John Lennon away from all of us.

Some of the most moving parts of the book are the scenes of ordinary New Yorkers coming to the Dakota after the tragedy to express their sorrow and grieve with one another. Do you remember what you did that night?
The night of the murder and the aftermath is so vivid to me. I can see the John Lennon button I hung from the rearview mirror of my car. I remember the feeling of serenity, standing in silence at the vigil in Central Park. It’s strange because about a week later, I was in a diner in Queens, and ran into some people I’d seen at the vigil. We looked at each other and nodded, didn’t have to say anything, because we all were feeling the same thing.

I’m a lifetime New Yorker and, in some ways, the story of John Lennon’s death is a story of this city. When I interviewed people for this book—Mayor Ed Koch, a woman who lives in the Dakota, a guy who was in the emergency room when Lennon came in, a cop called to the scene—we all shared a very New York perspective of what occurred. This was a tragedy for the world, but it happened in our city—the city I love as much as any family member—and, for that reason, the memories seem that more intense.

What can we learn by looking closely at this one day in such detail? It’s clear from your book that there’s so much more to this story than just the shooting of a rock icon by a mentally ill man—shocking as it was. Why is it so significant?
December 8, 1980 was more than a day. It was a convergence. I tried to tell the story of John Lennon’s life—his emotional highs and lows—and how it all led to this day. Mark David Chapman’s was unraveling, going back and forth over whether he should commit this act, and then, in one moment, it all exploded. Everybody felt it. And the feeling lingers even now, 30 years later.

Some have said that Lennon’s death changed the relationship between celebrities and their fans. Do you agree with that?
Lennon’s death changed our perspective. John was nice to his fans, the people who hung out in front of the Dakota every day. No one realized that stalkers could actually be dangerous. Because of this incident, celebrities have had to build walls around themselves, cut themselves off. They’re scared. It makes you wonder about the effect this isolation has had on music. How can you write songs about regular people when you’re terrified that one of them, in Lennon’s words, is going to pop you off?

Why is it important to look at these events from the perspective of 30 years on?
Thirty years seems like such a short time. In many ways, I feel like the same person I was then. So do the people I interviewed for the book. But it’s important to take a moment like this—I don’t want to trivialize it and call it an anniversary—and take stock of what occurred 30 years ago. Think about the music we missed, think about the doors John could have opened, think about Yoko’s words to continue his dream of peace and pass it on to the next generation.

December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died follows the events leading to the horrible moment when Mark David Chapman – the paunchy, mentally ill Beatles fan – calmly fired his Charter Arms .38 Special into the rock icon, realizing his perverse fantasy of attaining perennial notoriety. New York Times-best-selling author Keith Elliot Greenberg takes us back to New York City and the world John Lennon woke up to, and we follow the other Beatles, Lennon’s family, the shooter, fans, and New York City officials through the day. Once the fatal shots are fired, the pace only becomes more breathless.

December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died

Thirty-one years ago today, Mark David Chapman calmly fired his Charter Arms .38 Special at John Lennon, killing the rock icon and fulfilling his deranged quest for infamy. In this excerpt, New York Times bestselling author of December 8, 1980 Keith Elliot Greenberg takes us back to New York City and the world Lennon woke up to on that final fateful morning.

Below the high gables and terracotta spandrels—and the carved Lakota Indian gazing upon the yellow cabs and subway-bound commuters on Seventy-second Street—John Lennon scuttled around the Dakota, writing small notes to himself. Even with an album climbing on the charts, the former Beatle had grown to define himself as a househusband, and if he didn’t make these scribblings, certain workaday tasks just wouldn’t get done. With a five-year-old child at home, John and Yoko were awake at 8:00 A.M., planning the day and eating breakfast. At age forty, Lennon felt relatively healthy, renouncing the alcoholic tears that had characterized his youth in Liverpool and the Beatles’ early days in Hamburg, as well as the fifteen-month “Lost Weekend” that nearly broke up his marriage. Among some rock ’n’ rollers who’d grown up on the Beatles, forming a cocaine dependency ranked among the better ways to transition from the seventies to the eighties. But, having snorted his share in more thoughtless times, John now abstained.

Officially, John had also given up sugar. In the studio, though, he allowed himself to give in to arguably his most innocent of vices. John and Yoko had gone through a vegetarian phase and now aspired to be macrobiotic, eating whole grains and fish with rice. On a recent visit to the Dakota, however, an interviewer from Playboy had noticed that John still loved his Gauloises Bleues, the strong French cigarettes particularly popular in the Middle East.“Macrobiotic people don’t believe in the Big C,” Lennon told the magazine, conceding that he was more than conscious of the possibility that he was deluding himself. “Macrobiotics don’t believe that smoking is bad for you. Of course, if we die, we’re wrong.”

Mortality was an issue that came up often with Lennon. As a performer, he’d encouraged his listeners to abandon the parochial concept of earning a spot in heaven. Yet, without that secure notion to soothe him, he seemed to worry about his life ending prematurely. In virtually every interview, he broached the topic of death—even if it was to emphasize that he hoped to live a long, fulfilling life.

For more than a decade, the man who’d once smacked around insubordinate girlfriends and insolent associates had characterized himself as a pacifist. If someone challenged him to a fight, he said, he’d run away—shouting over his shoulder about peace. But Lennon pointed out that Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., had also forsaken violence—and been killed nonetheless.

In 1975, he’d removed himself from the public eye, spending the majority of his time in the warren of apartments the Lennons owned in the Dakota, the landmarked, North German Renaissance– style building on Central Park West—to live, not as a hermit, but as a civilian. The experience invigorated Lennon after years as a captive to fame. Even after the Beatles’ breakup, John had felt like he couldn’t escape his celebrity. And he’d believed that he had to hustle to maintain it—because, as much as he condemned the recording industry, he wanted to live up to the standards expected of Beatle John. During his five-year sabbatical from the business, he told one reporter, the “invisible ghost” had disappeared.

rockbookshow.com

Click here for another video of author Keith Elliot Greenberg.

December 8, 1980

In a breathtaking, minute-by-minute format, December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died follows the events leading to the horrible moment when Mark David Chapman calmly fired his Charter Arms .38 Special into the rock icon, realizing his perverse fantasy of attaining perennial notoriety.

New York Times bestselling author Keith Elliot Greenberg takes us back to New York City and the world John Lennon woke up to. The day begins with a Rolling Stone photo session that takes on an uncomfortable tone when photographer Annie Leibowitz tries to maneuver Yoko Ono out of the shot. Later Lennon gives the last interview of his life, declaring, “I consider that my work won’t be finished until I’m dead and buried and I hope that’s a long, long time.”

We follow the other Beatles, Lennon’s family, the shooter, fans, and New York City officials through the day, and as the hours progress, the pace becomes more breathless. Once the fatal shots are fired, the clock continues to tick as Dr. Stephan Lynn walks from the emergency room after declaring the former Beatle dead, Howard Cosell announces the singer’s passing on Monday Night Football, and Paul McCartney is lambasted for muttering “Drag, isn’t it?” – his bereavement confused with indifference.

The epilogue examines the aftermath of the killing: the considerable moment when 100,000 New Yorkers stood in silence in Central Park, the posthumous reunion of the Beatles in the studio – with George, Paul, and Ringo accompanying the recordings of their old friend – the unveiling of a bronze John Lennon statue in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and the durable legacy that persists today. Available for purchase here from Backbeat Books.