The author in Mexico City, October 9, 2005, reading La Jornada.
I’ve been telling people for months that if I can ever think of a reason to start a blog, I’ll start a blog. Well, today I thought of a reason. A production company, Peace Arch Entertainment, is making a movie starring Lindsay Lohan and Jared Leto. It’s called Chapter 27, and it’s about the relationship between John Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman (Leto), and a fictional Lennon fan (Lohan) most likely based on a woman known as Jude, whom Chapman befriended a month before the murder.
The title of the movie was presumably inspired by “Chapter 27” in my book, Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon.
Chapter 27 is supposedly the missing chapter of J.D. Salinger’s classic novel of disaffected youth, The Catcher in the Rye, which Chapman says “inspired” him to murder Lennon. (Catcher ends on Chapter 26.) Chapman, who saw himself as a modern-day incarnation of Holden Caulfield, the hypocrisy-hating narrator of Catcher, believed that if he murdered Lennon, he’d write Chapter 27 in Lennon’s blood and literally vanish into the pages of the book to become The Catcher in the Rye of his generation.
In Nowhere Man, I explain the roots of Chapman’s insane “theory,” going into great detail about numerology, particularly Lennon’s obsession with it and his belief in the power of his “birth number,” 9 (he was born on October 9), and all its multiples.
The key scene that explains how 27 “karmically” connects Chapman to Lennon occurs at Chapman’s 1981 court hearing (which I attended as a journalist). Just before the judge sentences Chapman to 20 years to life for Lennon’s murder, Chapman speaks to the hushed courtroom:
“‘I feel like a bloodied prizefighter in the 27th round,’ [he says]. These are the exact words he said to a psychiatrist in Hawaii after his suicide attempt. But nobody knows what he’s talking about. They understand neither the significance of 27, the triple 9, nor the significance of Chapter 27, the missing chapter of The Catcher in the Rye, Chapman’s chapter written in Lennon’s blood. They are just the meaningless words of a madman, signifying nothing.”
Nowhere Man is the only book (or publication of any kind) that explains any of this—the importance of 27 beyond being the number that follows 26.
Though they have not yet credited me for my research or reporting, I can’t help but be flattered that the producers of Chapter 27 appropriated from my book the title, and perhaps even the concept, of their movie. They had the legal right to do so, as titles and concepts cannot be copyrighted. Of course, it would have been nicer if they’d given me credit, something along the lines of, “Inspired by Robert Rosen’s Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon.” But, as I understand it, that’s not the way Hollywood works, and there’s not much I can do about it. Still, Chapter 27, the movie, starring the hugely popular Lindsay Lohan—who I think looks gorgeous on the cover of the February ’06 Vanity Fair—will be a good thing for Nowhere Man, even if it’s not officially credited.
In Latin America, where the Spanish-language edition of the book has a much higher profile than the English-language edition does in the U.S., the media is already acknowledging my contribution to the movie. That’s how I found out about Chapter 27.
In early November, a few days after I’d returned to New York from a Nowhere Man promotional tour in Mexico and Chile to commemorate Lennon’s 65th birthday, my editor at Paniko, a Chilean webmag I contribute to, e-mailed me to ask if I knew someone was making a movie called Chapter 27, or Capítulo 27 as it’s called en español.
I told him no, I’d never heard of it and was flabbergasted to learn what the movie was about.
A few weeks later, on December 5, Proceso, which is more or less the Mexican equivalent of Time or Newsweek, and which I occasionally write for as well, ran the first of two articles (the second ran on December 9) explaining the connection between Nowhere Man and Chapter 27. (If you don’t speak Spanish, you can still get the gist of these pieces by translating them with Google language tools.)
Lennon presencia su propia muerte
PLATOS LASER: Mark Chapman, el asesino de Lennon
It is, of course, gratifying to get this kind of coverage in Latin America, where the media has thoroughly scrutinized and deconstructed Nowhere Man, and apparently is under the impression I’m some sort of “celebridad Americano.” And even here, in America, where I’m essentially anonymous, the January 20, 2006, edition of the New York Post, in a story picked up by the Associated Press, mentioned Nowhere Man in connection with Chapter 27, though stopped short of saying that the movie’s title was inspired by my book.
That’s why I’ve begun keeping this blog. The Internet is the great equalizer, and I’m using it to go on record, in English, that “Chapter 27” in Nowhere Man is the inspiration for Chapter 27, the movie. I’d also like to appeal directly to Chapter 27’s producers. Come on, guys. It would be very cool and much appreciated indeed if you officially gave me credit for my contribution to your film.
And I’d also like to suggest to whatever publishers might be reading this that a new edition of Nowhere Man, which could be published in 2007 to coincide with the release of Chapter 27, would be an excellent synergistic way to promote both the movie and the book—especially if the new cover is a photo from the movie: the scene where Lennon signs Chapman’s Double Fantasy LP in front of the Dakota.
Though I don’t plan on updating this blog every day, I will be writing as time permits, or if there’s something new to say about the subject at hand—such as another story in the New York Post.
For now, I’ll leave you with “Chapter 27” itself, which appears in “The Coda”—the final section of Nowhere Man—and details Chapman’s mental disintegration in the months before the murder, and the legal proceedings afterward. Unlike Nowhere Man’s Lennon sections, which I wrote with Yoko Ono and her attorneys, figuratively speaking, looking over my shoulder (and my own lawyers literally doing so), in “The Coda,” I didn’t have to worry about the subject—Chapman—suing me if he didn’t like something I said, and that, to say the least, was liberating.
On the stifling day of August 24, 1981–a Honolulu-like day–about two hundred members of the press and a handful of spectators wait for the famous assassin to be brought before the New York State Supreme Court in downtown Manhattan and sentenced for his crime of second-degree murder. The courtroom is packed, and the energy level is high with anticipation, the kind of anticipation that normally might precede a rock concert. Everybody cranes their necks to get a good look at the manacled star as he is marched into the room wearing a bulletproof vest under a dark blue shirt. He looks sad and pathetic, a pawn in the clutches of something he barely understands. Though there is no longer any need for a trial, there is a primal need for a public shaming, a verbal tarring and feathering before the world media. Everybody knows why Mark David Chapman did it. They’ve known it for eight months. He did it for fame.
And there’s certainly a lot of fame up for grabs in the courtroom this day. It would be unfair to suggest that everyone there–all the journalists, expert witnesses, lawyers–has the same objective: to be famous. The judge, Dennis Edwards, for example, appears to be utterly benign, a kindly old man, low-key in his demeanor. Indeed, he seems almost bored by what is happening, and so drowsy from the heavy August humidity that he dozes off for a few moments at the bench, but nobody seems to notice, or care. And the defense attorney, Jonathan Marks, carries himself with an air of dignity. He does seem to be concerned that his client be given a fair hearing.
But there appears to be only one difference between Chapman and virtually everybody else who is participating in this hearing: The defendant has far more radical ideas about how far he’s willing to go to achieve celebrity. For one grotesque moment, Chapman, a cowardly loser, an empty shell of a human being, managed to manipulate himself into acting with the courage of his monstrous convictions. He has done exactly what he wanted to do; he has transformed himself into the world’s most famous antihero.
Consequently, the air is thick with vengeful jealousy. People are furious at Chapman not only because he killed John Lennon, but also because he committed a brutal attack on the status quo, an act of class warfare. John Lennon was a very successful professional, a member of the power elite. And the very successful professionals in this courtroom take it personally. Chapman has stolen John Lennon’s fame, and they’re not about to let him enjoy it. But the sad fact is that whatever fleeting fame they might be able to grasp this day will depend strictly upon their relationship to the killer. I psychoanalyzed him. I prosecuted him. I wrote a story about him.
The expert witnesses have prepared well for their moment in the spotlight, for this merging of the personal and historical. The psychiatrists could be mistaken for actors auditioning for a TV miniseries. If there is fault to be found in their performances, it’s that most of them are transparent. They smile too much. They look too happy, too smug, as though they aren’t concerned with any antiquated notions of justice, but are thinking instead about book deals.
The psychiatrists for the prosecution repeat what they’ve been saying since December: Chapman was sane, he knew exactly what he was doing, and he did it for fame. The defense psychiatrists, of course, talk of his schizophrenia, the “Little People,” his pain.
Apparently, nobody on either side is familiar with Yoko Ono’s intriguing statement on reincarnation: “Your brother is the person you murdered in your past life.” So nobody has bothered to ask Chapman, Do you expect to be John Lennon's brother in your next life?
The Lennon fans add a surreal touch to the proceedings. Many of them are long-haired in that “John ’68” style. They wear wire-rimmed glasses and T-shirts with Lennon’s image on it. They’re outnumbered by reporters by at least two to one, and they’re anxious to share their opinions with “the men of the press.”
“Mark David Chapman,” opines one fan, “was just a cowardly fuck who did it for fame.”
“Now he deserves to die,” adds another. “And I’d be happy to pull the switch.”
Allen Sullivan, the prosecutor, describes Chapman as a man who “has never exhibited any true remorse” and who is “only interested in himself, his own well-being, what affects him, what’s important to him at this particular moment.” He then proceeds to hammer home the point that Chapman “did it for fame, personal aggrandizement, to draw attention to himself, to massage his own ego. The defendant was concerned throughout that he become famous.” His proof: Chapman wanted photographer Paul Goresh, who’d previously photographed Lennon signing Chapman’s copy of Double Fantasy, to wait until Lennon returned from his recording session so he could get a photo of the murder.
Sullivan makes it sound as if the desire for fame is a shameful thing, a crime in itself. But his words ring hollow. It’s an ugly show that intentionally overlooks the one hideous fact that hangs like fog in the courtroom. It is the one fact that nobody dares mention: In America in 1981, particularly in a city like New York, fame is a crucial commodity, and anonymity is a toxic condition that can lead to murderous rage.
Holden Caulfield, or John Lennon for that matter, would have puked.
Before Judge Dennis Edwards passes sentence, Chapman is given the opportunity to speak. But there’s little he can do to help himself. Chapman has already pleaded guilty. The evidence against him is overwhelming. There is literally a smoking gun. The verdict may as well have been preordained. He is getting locked up somewhere for the rest of his life. Once, the only real question was if it was going to be in prison or in an institution for the criminally insane. Now there is no question.
Looking like a martyr in a bulletproof vest, he stands up and faces the judge. He has his “Bible” with him–his well-thumbed copy of The Catcher in the Rye. “I’ve chosen this passage as my final spoken words,” he vows–a vow he'll soon break. He opens to Chapter 22, in which Holden, after being thrown out of school for failing four subjects, tells his little sister, Phoebe, what he wants to do with his life.
The murderer begins reading. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all.” He’s nervous and at first he falters. Then something clicks and he hits his stride, his voice suddenly strong and clear, smooth and flawless. He is well rehearsed, and he does Salinger justice.
“Thousands of little kids and nobody around–nobody big, I mean–except me. And, I’m standing on the edge of some scary cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff–I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”
This is his message and confession. Mark David Chapman is the Catcher in the Rye for his generation; he has murdered John Lennon to save the little children.
Then Chapman tells the hushed courtroom, “I feel like a bloodied prizefighter in the 27th round.” These are the exact words he said to a psychiatrist in Hawaii after his suicide attempt. But nobody knows what he’s talking about. They understand neither the significance of 27, the triple 9, nor the significance of Chapter 27, the missing chapter of The Catcher in the Rye, Chapman’s chapter written in Lennon’s blood. They are just the meaningless words of a madman, signifying nothing.
The judge then passes sentence, and Chapman is taken away still wearing manacles. He walks fearlessly out of the courtroom, holding his head high, veritably glowing with pride. He’s done what he came to do.
Afterwards, outside the courtroom, the media, with their pens and floodlights and cameras at the ready, descend upon the expert witnesses for the prosecution, and Sullivan, the prosecutor. They are the winning team. They stand in a tight little knot, preening in the floodlights, everybody smiling broadly, patting each other on the back, congratulating themselves on a job well done. The only thing missing is champagne, which will probably come later, at the private party.
“Was justice served?” the media demands to know.
Of course justice was served. The killer will most likely spend the rest of his life in jail.
Then there is nothing for them to do but go home and watch themselves on the evening news, look at their pictures in the morning newspapers.
Except for Mark David Chapman. He will continue the great fall described in the dark prophesy in Chapter 24 of The Catcher in the Rye. Mr. Antolini, an old teacher of Holden’s–another “pervert,” actually–tells him, “This fall I think you’re riding for–it’s a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The man falling isn’t permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom. He just keeps falling and falling.”
Chapman will soon discover what lies at the bottom of the “bottomless” pit: solitary confinement in Attica, possession by demons.
Imagine no possession.
“That kills me.”
That’s what Holden Caulfield would have said, anyway.
From Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon
Quick American Archives, 2002
© 2000, 2002 Robert Rosen