Mark Chapman, who shot John Lennon in 1980, has made a third appeal for parole, and John Lennon fans are up in arms. In their minds there is no question of Chapman being allowed out – because to them he is simply the most evil man who ever lived. More evil than Hitler, even.
Of course, if Chapman is still considered likely to shoot pop stars in the back then it would be unwise to set him free, except under highly controlled conditions whereby he was allowed to walk in areas near Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and Charlotte Church.
But Chapman was only sentenced to 20 years in the first place, and it would be wrong to keep him locked up purely because the man he shot happened to be John Lennon. Would he have been kept in prison for so long if he’d merely shot Mr John Smith from Tooting Bec? I doubt it. However, there are evidently people who believe that murderers deserve harsher punishment if they not only take a human life, but also rob the world of somebody who writes pop songs.
One Mr Porter (who apparently runs Beatles walks in London) commented “who knows what music John Lennon would have made if he were still alive?”
Well, nobody knows the answer to that, of course, but I can make a sensible guess: it would have been awful.
The clues are all in Lennon’s famously popular and revoltingly sentimental, insipid and hypocritical solo hit “Imagine”. (“Imagine no possessions” indeed – easy to sing when you’re sitting at a hugely expensive Steinway in a multi-million pound mansion.) And in the fact that every other post-Beatles song of Lennon’s sounds pretty much identical to “Imagine” – all clumsy repetitive piano chords and maudlin hippy wailing. At best, then, Lennon would probably have continued to write more of the same, which is a pretty ghastly idea.
But a far worse vision of what might have been can be seen in the post-Beatles ouvre of Paul McCartney. McCartney wasn’t shot. He went on to form the Wings, one of the most hated bands of all time. He wrote the Frog Song, which is a lot of fun when you’re five years old, but has never been considered a work of astounding musical genius. He donated his surname to some really rather disgusting vegetarian food. And he became progressively pretentious, trying to con people into thinking he was an artist, a poet, and even a classical composer.
Anyone who has seen McCartney’s paintings will know that, worthy though they might be of display in Tony Hart’s gallery on “Hartbeat”, they are not worthy of a high-profile exhibition at the Walker in Liverpool. Anyone who has bought his anthology of poetry will have realised fairly quickly that they’ve actually been sold a book of pop song lyrics. And anyone who heard his gargantuan mess of orchestral and choral music “Standing Stone” will know why the London Symphony Orchestra has not adopted a policy of commissioning big classical works from the musically illiterate.
Of course, McCartney requires no such scheme to enable him to make a fool of himself in public. He’s rich and famous, he can do whatever he likes – it’s people who actually know something about art, literature and music who have to bear the consequences of his folly.
Some people might argue that Mark Chapman actually did the world a favour by sparing us Lennon’s “Standing Stone”. He probably also did John Lennon a favour – or at least his reputation – because in the popular imagination, Lennon is now seen as the genius behind the Beatles, whereas McCartney’s contribution to the Beatles (hardly insignificant) has been tarnished by later embarrassments. People just can’t accept that the writer of the Frog Song might have once made a valuable contribution to the greatest band of all time.
I wonder if fans of Paul McCartney have considered a petition of their own in support of Mr Chapman’s parole. Although it’s too late to prevent the misjudgements mentioned above, a bullet in the head would at least put an end to his wince-inducing appearances in the media. Quite aside from his orchestral monstrosities and tedious family affairs, every time he stands on stage and performs a Beatles number it further cheapens the memory of his genuinely great work many decades ago.
So let’s withhold judgement about Mark Chapman – it might turn out to be a small mercy if he’s free and armed again before the Queen has another concert for aging rock stars in her back garden.