Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Lisa Harris (lrph) Mon 8 Nov 10 08:31
We are pleased to welcome to Inkwell.vue Keith Elliot Greenberg. KEITH ELLIOT GREENBERG is the author of "December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died," an hour by hour account of the events surrounding the last day of John Lennon's life. Keith grew up in Queens, New York, and first became a Beatles fan at age five, while watching the Ed Sullivan Show. He has authored more than 30 non-fiction books, including "To Be the Man," the 2004 New York Times bestseller co-written with "Nature Boy" Ric Flair -- universally considered the greatest professional wrestler who ever lived. He has also written for, among others, Maxim, USA Today, the Village Voice, New York Observer, Playboy.com, NBCSports.com, FoxNews.com and US Weekly. As a television producer, Keith's work has appeared on "America's Most Wanted," "48 hours," VH-1, "MSNBC Investigates," "A&E Biography," PBS and Court TV, along with many other outlets. Leading our discussion is The WELL's own Mike Godwin. Mike Godwin served for nine years as the first Staff Counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Godwin has published articles for print and electronic publications on topics such as electronic searches and seizures, the First Amendment & electronic publications, and the application of international law to computer communications. From 2004 to 2006, he ran a blog called "Godwin's Law." Currently, Godwin is general counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates many collaborative projects, including Wikipedia. Mike recalls December 8, 1980 vividly. He was a teaching assistant in a Shakespeare class, and had stepped out to get a Daily Texan to get a finals schedule, and of course the top headline (above the logo) was "John Lennon Gunned Down in NYC" -- He was thunderstruck. Thank you both for being here.
Keith Elliot Greenberg (kegreenberg) Mon 8 Nov 10 09:26
I've discussed December 8, 1980 with so many people -- from childhood friends to fellow writers to cops and suspected lawbreakers I meet in the course of my job as a crime reporter -- and their stories are always similar to that of Mike: stunned disbelief, a watershed moment not unlike learning about the death of JFK or 9/11. In fact, my publisher, Backbeat Books, actually set up a blog -- RememberingJohnLennon.com -- so folks could share their stories about that day. It's funny because a lot of people think their stories aren't unique but, when viewed alongside the experiences of others, there's a cumulative poignancy.
Tupac Chopra (mnemonic) Mon 8 Nov 10 10:25
I'm adapting this from an introduction I wrote in greenroom.pri because the memories from that day are so strong for me. (I know I'll be forgive._ -------- If you want to know more about me, and somehow have missed my contributions on the WELL, here are a couple of links: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Godwin> and <http://www.panix.com/~mnemonic/> Neither of those links is terribly relevant for discussing certain key events in 1980, now thirty years ago. I remember the day vividly. I was a teaching assistant in a Shakespeare class, and had stepped out to get a Daily Texan to get a finals schedule, and of course the top headline (above the logo) was "John Lennon Gunned Down in NYC" -- I was thunderstruck. He had always been the Beatle I identified with, and his five-year retirement (before "Double Fantasy") had always made emotional sense to me -- why not retire when you've done everything in the world you ever might have planned to do, and give your full attention to your child and your family? And then he and Yoko did an album, and it was a big commercial success, and it spoke to something other than the usual rocknroll themes. If anything, I was even more impressed. The sheer unfairness of the day, the feeling of loss for so many of us, the inability of us even to talk about it, struck us to the core. So it's great to have a book that tries to capture the impact of that brief moment in time. I don't think I remember what it was like to come back to the classroom with the news. It wasn't my class, and it wasn't my news to share, and I was pretty sure nobody there but me had scene the headline. So the much-admired Shakespeare prof (still a friend of mine -- I got to perform with him again just this last summer) was delivering his final lecture, and then, as a coda, asked if I had anything to add. Well, my mind was in turmoil. If you know me know I don't have a huge problem speaking extemporaneously, but I was still absorbing the news about Lennon. I mumbled something about living the life you want to live, not the one others want you to live, and didn't try to fill anyone in about what had happened. But I was still in shock. Keith, that is one small part of my story of that day, but one of the things you have done is gather so many bits and pieces of others people's stories, including Yoko's, and John's, and Sean's. Could you say more about what inspired you to start this project, and the process you went through to get here? stories, including
Keith Elliot Greenberg (kegreenberg) Mon 8 Nov 10 12:01
I didn't even realize it at the time, but, when John Lennon died, I began saving newspaper clippings related to the case, including the commemorative issue of the now-defunct "Soho News." I carried that newspaper with me to every apartment I've lived for the last 30 years, through every phase of my life. So when people ask when my research began, I say 30 years ago. The book manifested itself after my editor at Backbeat Books, Mike Edison, and I were talking about that day, and how New York has changed over the last 30 years. I'm a lifetime New Yorker, and I felt sadness about the thought of people forgetting the city that was John Lennon's New York, and that's when we came up with the idea of interviewing everyone from former Mayor Ed Koch to the guy who was in the emergency room with a broken leg when Lennon was wheeled in. The term I've been using is "snapshot in time," and I hope I achieved this.
Lisa Harris (lrph) Wed 10 Nov 10 07:16
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Teleological dyslexic (ceder) Wed 10 Nov 10 14:01
Hello Keith, Your book is wonderfull. When is the movie coming out?
Idyll (dshif) Wed 10 Nov 10 17:48
I think the day Lennon died is the day that the 'sixties' died. The idealism of it anyway. When you think of the 80's to come, they seem so much more materialistic. Far less hopeful. Far less playful. At least when Lennon was in the world, we had one guy, not a perfect man, by any means, but one guy who was speaking his truth.
Keith Elliot Greenberg (kegreenberg) Wed 10 Nov 10 21:16
Lennon would have argued that the '70s was a very disappointing era. He had great hope for the '80s. Unfortunately, with the death of John, the decade started tragically. Teleological Dyslexic, thank you for the kind words. As I told a Sirius/XM Radio today, when you write a book, you're never sure if people will read it, much less like it. It's gratifying to receive the positive feedback.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 11 Nov 10 10:00
I was looking at the December 8 date and realizing that I had thought it was the 6th. That was the date of the Altamont concert killing 11 years earlier. I had a pretty positive alternative experience of the Seventies, but seeing those events as bookends is eye-opening. What a lot of tragedy and betrayal of hope.
Idyll (dshif) Thu 11 Nov 10 13:49
You have a very complicated structure, Keith and I think for the most part it works well. It pyramids in the way I think you intended it. Did you have as much trouble writing about Chapman as I had reading about him?
Keith Elliot Greenberg (kegreenberg) Thu 11 Nov 10 14:55
Because I also work in television, I had a visual image of the book, and saw the sometimes complicated structure as a means of flashing back. My intention was to portray the man John Lennon had become on December 8, 1980 in the context of the life he'd led before. John's devotion to his youngest son, Sean, for instance, needed to be supplemented with information about the way the former Beatle felt abandoned by his father, and how, in turn, John essentially abandoned Julian during his formative years. But I believe John Lennon was remorseful about that choice; life was moving so fast, and he followed the familiar pattern. By 1980, he'd evolved. Breaking with the habits of the past is never easy, and John Lennon should be admired for it. Gail, I never looked at Altamont and John's murder as bookends to the '70s, but it's an intriguing concept; wish I came up with it myself. By the way, as I said before, Backbeat Books has a blog for people to share their stories about December 8, 1980: RememberingJohnLennon.com.
Keith Elliot Greenberg (kegreenberg) Thu 11 Nov 10 16:53
Idyll, I forgot to answer your question about Chapman. Some John Lennon fans refuse to even say the killer's name out loud, and I'm sympathetic to that. But just as John Wilkes Booth is a character in Abraham Lincoln's life story, so, too, is Chapman in the saga of John Lennon. To this day, people are bewildered about why Chapman killed his former idol. So I was fascinated, reading through transcripts of his parole hearings, trying to get a sense of his motivation.
what another day it takes: (oilers1972) Sat 13 Nov 10 19:47
I was one of the many who first heard about it on Monday Night Football, from the mouth of Howard Cosell.
Keith Elliot Greenberg (kegreenberg) Sun 14 Nov 10 01:37
Interestingly, ESPN is working on a segment about people who learned about the tragedy on Monday Night Football. They contacted a friend of mine who was living in Rhodes Island, heard the news from Howard Cosell, put on his coat, and immediately drove to New York, camping out in front of John Lennon's building, The Dakota, for the next several days. As I've said in other interviews, today, people would use Twitter or Facebook to spread the word that there was a gathering at The Dakota. In 1980, it was 100 percent spontaneous.
Tupac Chopra (mnemonic) Sun 14 Nov 10 01:49
We really didn't know where to go or what to do. it was as spontaneous outpouring of public grief and reaction as I can remember.
We're carrot people. (unkljohn) Sun 14 Nov 10 06:42
I was visiting my sister in Phoenix at the time. Being vacation we didn't look at TV or see the newspapers.....we were just visiting and having a good time. Then the Time magazine arrived in the mail.....what a shocker.
Dave Waite (dwaite) Sun 14 Nov 10 08:51
I too heard it on the Monday night Football. I left the TV to hear live music - I know I needed music to help me get through the night. I appologize for not reding yoru book yet, but I always remember the press release that Yoko published about Chapman and Sean reaction to the shooting. Yoko told Sean that the man would have to go to court fo rwhat he did and Sean asked, "What kind of Court? A basketball court?" and yoko mentions taht John would have loved that remark becuase they would banter like that with words.
Keith Elliot Greenberg (kegreenberg) Sun 14 Nov 10 13:50
Unkljohn, that's quite an outrageous story, when compared to the way information is transmitted today. Could you imagine waiting for a weekly magazine to learn about, say, Michael Jackson's death? Dwaite, curious to hear your reactions as you read through the book. I'll be doing a book signing in London on Thursday and two in Liverpool on Friday, so it will be very interesting to hear the English reaction.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Sun 14 Nov 10 19:10
I was working as a youth minister at the time, in Long Beach, CA. and a DJ friend of mine at the local punk rock station asked me to come down and handle phone calls from his listeners that were stunned by what happened. At first, I thought he was joking, but he told me many people actually believed John was God and he expected a lot of calls. I was in my 30's and, for me, John Lennon was not such a big deal, sort of over the hill and into art nouveau music with Yoko. I was following punk music to keep up with the kids I was working with. Anyhow, I went down to the station around 7pm and was there til well past 2am, taking calls from young people who were totally in shock. It was a wake up call for me. I had no idea how many people were that into him.
Keith Elliot Greenberg (kegreenberg) Sun 14 Nov 10 20:41
I'm not sure how many people literally believed that Lennon was God, but some may have projected unrealistic hopes or expectations onto him. Many, including myself, saw the Beatles as being perennially intertwined in their lives, and there was a feeling of powerless when one was so abruptly taken away. I think that's why people felt the need to converge in front of the Dakota -- to mourn together and perhaps attempt to make sense of the incomprehensible.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 15 Nov 10 08:04
Think you are right about that. Why kill a rock legend? It made no sense, and seemed so unfair, especially when, by all accounts, John was quite happy in his life. In a strange way it weaned a generation of people off of their icons.
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 15 Nov 10 13:29
I didn't want to know the details when it happened. I think a lot of people felt that way -- John was in no way a "god" to many people, but more like a family member and perhaps a teacher/poet. So I had thought all of the story was already very known, and that I had looked the other way in my pain. How public was it? Was any of the source material for this book hard to track down?
Keith Elliot Greenberg (kegreenberg) Mon 15 Nov 10 21:21
Some of my sources were the people quoted in the book. But one of my favorite parts of the process was going to the Brooklyn Public Library, and looking through the newspapers from December, 1980. It helped me remember how the city felt at that time -- and motivated me to convey those feelings on paper.
Tupac Chopra (mnemonic) Wed 17 Nov 10 12:25
I never thought Lennon was God (or even a god) -- I thought he had done a marvelous job of figuring out, under incredible public pressure and attention, how hard it was to figure out how to be a full human being -- a husband, a parent, and an artist. One of the problems you face in your book, Keith, is that for all there is the focus on the single day, there is so much backstory you have to fill in (George Harrison and Eric Clapton come to mind). For those of us who lived that day, all of that stuff seems immediate, but of course it's got 30 years of historical reflection piled on top of it now. Sort of like looking at the Beatles playing in DC in 1964 and stopping to think that in 1934 the first Flash Gordon comic strip was published. Talk a bit about how to compress so much pop-culure backstory into a single day?
what another day it takes: (oilers1972) Wed 17 Nov 10 21:28
#20: "Why kill a rock legend?" Unless there was more to it than that. Like maybe certain among the Powers That Be felt threatened by Lennon's resurgence. Remember, the FBI spied on him extensively in the early '70s and had a huge file on him. I'm just sayin'.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 18 Nov 10 18:39
Not big on conspiracies here, without compelling sources that are usually missing... but your post made me curious. Oh, my, are there some curious things out there: http://www.lennonmurdertruth.com/footnotes.asp Wow.
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