Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: John Lennon's Last Day; Eleanor Roosevelt

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: John Lennon's Last Day; Eleanor Roosevelt

Article excerpt

It's probably blasphemous to admit that I've never thought very much of John Lennon's music. Common sense tells me it must be good but it's never made much of an impact on me no matter how hard I've tried to appreciate it. If I like a Beatles song, I usually discover it's by George. But the discovery from a radio trailer (reluctantly, I'll have to admit they do sometimes work) that Lennon would have been 75 this week was shocking enough (how could he ever be that old?) to make me tune in on Thursday night to John Lennon's Last Day .

Stephen Kennedy's docudrama for Radio 2 (produced by James Robinson) took us through the events of 8 December 1980, from the moment Lennon woke up in his seventh-floor apartment in the Dakota building on West 72nd Street in New York to the fatal shots that killed him, delivered by Mark Chapman from a .38 revolver hidden under his coat. No attempt was made to explain Chapman's actions. We were simply taken through Lennon's day, as if walking side-by-side with him. The effect was startlingly vivid, making real how brutal that ending was.

Lennon got up early that day, we were told by the narrator (played deadpan by Ian Hart), before going for a haircut at his favourite barber's, ready for a photo shoot later that morning with Annie Leibovitz (the result was that extraordinary picture of a naked John curled up against a fully clothed Yoko). Then he gave a radio interview with RKO to promote his first album in five years, Double Fantasy , in which he says, poignantly, 'My work is not finished until I'm dead and buried and I hope that's a long, long time.'

At four o'clock John walked out of the Dakota building on his way to a recording studio on West 44th Street. He had to wait for a few minutes for his car to arrive, by which time a small group of fans had gathered round him asking for autographs, one of whom was Chapman. A photograph exists of Chapman with Lennon, taken by an amateur photographer (long before selfies). Chapman failed to carry out his plan at that time (offbalanced by Lennon's chatty friendliness) but he was still there, lurking in the shadows, when Lennon returned at 10.50 p.m., and this time he accomplished his deadly mission, shooting Lennon in the back four times at close range. His fifth shot missed.

This was all very different from a Radio 4 drama, which would probably have filled in the back story, amplified the details, given us more of the history. Here, instead, we had long clips from Lennon's songs, carefully spliced in to add to the spooky sense that Lennon had no idea what was ahead of him. …

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