John Lennon’s Assassination Simulations

Believe it or not, John Lennon’s assassin Mark David Chapman was up for parole this year, one in which The Beatles’ founder, rebel spirit and uncompromising critic would have turned 70 in October. It happened in August, so I moved up this Wired essay from my forthcoming book Geek The Beatles to protest Chapman’s parole. Although it was widely read and spread, I’m not sure if it had any effect on Chapman’s parole board’s decision to keep his dumpy mortal coil locked inside Attica. I’d like to think it did.

But the anniversary of Chapman’s epochal assassination is now upon us. Three decades ago today, Chapman fired four shots into Lennon’s frail form, and erased one of global culture’s most complicated saints from reality. Unable to shoulder the burden, reality splintered and began to virally replicate the assassination and its effects across media, slowly replacing that reality along the way.

Years from now, our children will turn to these hyperreal mediations for an elusive material called the truth, and be faced with only competing fictions.

It is these assassination simulations that the following essay analyzes, albeit in shorter form given the limited attention-span of the 21st century. The book proper will delve deeper, and hopefully hold together once it ventures into the realms of conspiracy theory and interstellar intrigue. (Yes, Lennon’s assassination has its cosmological consequences.)

But today’s hideous anniversary provides an opportunity to remember how Lennon’s murder, like his life, has been massaged for money to the point of exhaustion. And eventually, annihilation.

Mark David Chapman disrupted culture and history when he killed John Lennon 30 years ago this December. The disturbed assassin’s actions have reverberated in pop culture ever since.

From recent films like The Killing of John Lennon and comics like Superman to the dark beyond of music, tabloid TV and conspiracy theory, Chapman’s avatars have flourished while his dumpy mortal coil rots away in New York’s Attica Correctional Facility.

Chapman makes his seventh appearance before a parole board Monday and may walk out a free man. Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono opposes Chapman’s parole, and anti-Chapman Facebook groups have joined the chorus. (You can send your own message to the parole board.)

Chapman considered himself an iteration of The Catcher in the Rye’s phony-killer Holden Caulfield. He was a walking text with a murderous mind, overwhelmed by media and mounting voices. Four decades on, his assassination of Lennon has been set free from reality into a hyper-reality swimming in alternative context and confusion.

As part of our series Geek The Beatles, which tracks the continuing influence of one of the most important and technologically innovative bands ever, revisits the timeless relationship between Lennon and Chapman, which has gone viral in movies, TV, comics and music. Turn off your mind and float downstream into the heart of darkness.

Working Class Suphero

Working-Class Comics Superhero
From J. Michael Stracyznski’s new Superman story arc (above) to Rock & Roll Comics’ The Beatles Experience, Lennon and Chapman live on in a bizarre comics kinship.

Stracyznski’s new charge of “re-invigorating Superman,” starting with issue No. 700, strips the timeless superhero of villains to battle. Instead, he walks the streets of America to reconnect with humanity. Rather than kicking ass on Lex Luthor, he helps people start their car or catch a clue. In Superman issue No. 701 (at top and above), released in July, the Man of Steel talks down an would-be jumper by invoking the paradox of Lennon’s death and Chapman’s continuing life.

Truth is trickier in The Beatles Experience, published in the ’90s but reissued in graphic novel form in 2009. Densely packed with sociopolitical context and musical history at the beginning of each chapter, The Beatles Experience packs loads of information into its 200-plus pages. It all starts in deep space with Lennon, a 2001: A Space Odyssey-like Star Child who takes physical form on Earth to teach the world about creation, peace and love like a space-faring Christ.

It’s not a new idea, of course. Seething anger over Lennon’s controversial statement that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus” was one reason Chapman later painted Lennon as a phony who deserved extermination. In The Beatles Experience, the assassination comes not strictly through the schizophrenic mind of Chapman, but through the devilish conspiracy of Nixon, Hoover and — wait for it! — George H.W. Bush. One panel of The Beatles Experience features a disgraced Nixon pestering Bush to make good on the government’s promise to eradicate Lennon — as both sport nefarious devil horns to drive home the drama.

Written by the late Todd Loren and illustrated by Mike Sagara and Stuart Immonen (Legion of Super Heroes, Ultimate X-Men), The Beatles Experience careens between sci-fi, non-fiction and dark conspiracy, setting the reader adrift in an enlightening but nevertheless confusing hagiography of Lennon and his super sidekick The Beatles.

The Lennon rabbit hole goes much deeper in Mack White’s indie comic Dead Silence in the Brain, which posits that Chapman was not living vicariously through his favored fictional avatars like Holden Caulfield or Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz but instead was a true-life iteration of The Manchurian Candidate. And in Enki Bilal surreal, futuristic Memories (below), the elderly surviving Beatles unknowingly chat with the freed assassin Chapman about their collective loss.

This article appeared at WIRED