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James Patterson on ‘The Last Days of John Lennon’

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It really hurts to consider that John Lennon has been gone for 40 years - the same interval of time that he lived. How could someone whose influence is still so tangible today, who’d provided so much joy, who’d created so much timeless art, and who’d just reemerged with new music after five years away to raise his son, be destroyed in an instant by a delusional nobody? It’s painful to consider the many what ifs and the possibilities that became impossible after the night of December 8, 1980.

James Patterson’s latest book, “The Last Days of John Lennon,” doesn’t really answer the question of why, because there isn’t one, but it does tell the story, and not just of John’s final days.

Patterson’s book, a collaboration with Boston-based journalists Casey Sherman and Dave Edge (“Boston Strong,” “Hunting Whitey”), is a true-crime drama that does a pretty good job of accurately delivering the story of Lennon’s life from childhood through the Beatles years to the end. Meanwhile, we sense Lennon’s killer lurking in the shadows, where he mostly remains until mid-story.

Patterson’s coauthors accessed the killer’s criminal case files and parole review interviews which illustrate the intent to gain fame by killing his idol. As Patterson explains during the follow interview, he saw the killer as a boring, one-dimensional figure so he devoted more space to Lennon’s Beatles period, which serves to make the sense of loss more profound at the book’s conclusion.

(A quick note about the interview: I eliminated the name of Lennon’s killer from the transcript.)

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The Maine Edge: What was your ultimate goal for this book?

Patterson: I tried to tell The Beatles’ story, as well as the murder story, and also the love story between John and Yoko which a lot of people don’t know. It’s different from anything that’s been written about The Beatles before. I’m not saying that it’s better but it’s certainly different. Most people under 40 might know the music but they don’t know the story.

The Maine Edge: I’m speaking to you on the 40th anniversary of John’s murder and you were living in New York City when it happened. How did it affect you?

Patterson: You know how when something like that happens, it seems surreal? You can’t believe it. I was numb and incredibly sad. I was living nine blocks away on Central Park West. I’m not a hundred percent certain but I think I heard the news from watching Monday Night Football (as announced by Howard Cosell).

I walked up to the Dakota building, which is where he was shot, and there were already a hundred-plus people there, all playing Beatles songs. I came back the next day, and at that point, there were hundreds of people singing and crying, it was spooky. The Dakota is a creepy looking place from outside, it’s where they shot “Rosemary’s Baby.” It was dark and gloomy with all of these people singing and the police were everywhere, it was an unforgettable scene. Then there was the big memorial in Central Park days later. I have a picture from that just outside my office where someone is holding up this tablet that just says ‘Why?’

The Maine Edge: That’s still the big question. We know that Lennon’s killer, while living in Hawaii, wanted to be somebody, to be remembered, to be famous, and that he had considered other names. Why do you think he ultimately settled on John?

Patterson: Lennon was his first choice but there were a couple of other candidates. I think it’s because Lennon was just so famous, and he thought he could become as famous as Lennon by killing him. Whatever the killer’s obsession and fantasy was, it kept changing. The first thing that offended him was when John said (during a 1966 interview) The Beatles were bigger than Jesus. He didn’t understand that what Lennon meant was ‘This (massive adulation) is crazy, we’re just rock musicians, we shouldn’t be put on a pedestal like that.’ I think that’s what Lennon was talking about. He also hated that Lennon left The Beatles and he didn’t like John’s relationship with Yoko Ono. It’s crazy when you feel you’ve been betrayed by someone you idolize. When the killer signed out at his place of employment in Hawaii, he signed his name as John Lennon.

The Maine Edge: You partnered with two excellent Boston-based journalists, Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge, who accessed the actual criminal case files as well as the killer’s parole review interviews which you weave into the narrative. What surprised you about those case files and interviews?

Patterson: I wasn’t that interested in writing about the killer. Casey and Dave wanted to make it more of a back and forth between Lennon and his killer, but I just didn’t want to write that much about the killer. I found him to be very uninteresting and one-dimensional. I came in and decided I wanted to tell a lot more of The Beatles’ story. After the first draft, the book changed a lot.

I write the words “be there” at the top of chapters when I’m writing or rewriting because I want the reader to be in the middle of that scene. The first scene in the book is the killer in a cab going from the airport into New York. He’s talking to the cabbie and tells him to remember his name because he might hear it again at some point.

The Maine Edge: Do you think this book will be turned into a movie?

Patterson: There’s a lot of interest, we’ll see. I think one of the issues might be the use of music and whether or not a film would be able to include The Beatles’ music, which always gets a little complicated. You’ll notice at the head of every chapter, there’s a line from a song, and a lot of the songs aren’t Beatles songs. I think you could do a great movie just using music from the era. That was one of the cool things about that period. I was with Lee Child last night (British author of the Jack Reacher series) and he was talking about how rock and roll just woke everybody up in England. You had The Rolling Stones, Traffic, The Yardbirds, Cream, Blind Faith, there were so many. I think you could do a movie using other songs from the period and it would also be very effective.

Last modified on Wednesday, 16 December 2020 08:30

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