February 22, 2018
Salinger, Lennon, BrowningOn this day in 1980 Mark David Chapman murdered John Lennon outside his New York City apartment building. There are two books by him (In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works), and many about him, but the book which will forever be associated with Lennon is The Catcher in the Rye. After shooting Lennon four times, Chapman sat down on the sidewalk to read the book while he waited for police -- or perhaps just to have it ready for presentation, given that he had inscribed the inside cover with "This is my statement. Holden Caulfield, Catcher in the Rye." Even Chapman's previous days were made to parallel Holden's: a lonely, pre-Christmas wandering through the streets of New York; a prostitute, who arrived as Holden's did in a green dress (and also left without doing much more than take it off); talks with strangers about where the central park ducks go in winter (though this to a cop rather than a cabby, and getting not even a stare rather than a reassurance about how Mother Nature provides). To all this Chapman, or his voices, added his own twists: the refrain, The phony must die says The Catcher in the Rye, the gun and hollow-point bullets, the lifelong confusion over identity and purpose.
This last question, recast now as a search for motive, dominated the next days and months -- and still dominates, if not Chapman but his parole board is right. Two hours after the murder, Chapman told police that he killed because he wasn't Holden enough:
I went to the building. It's called the Dakota. I stayed there until he came out and asked him to sign my album. At that point my big part won and I wanted to go back to my hotel, but I couldn't.
For Lennon and Yoko Ono, the most persistent and last literary connection was not Salinger but the Brownings. Lennon's last journal entry quotes the very un-Holden beginning of Robert Browning's "Rabbi Ben Ezra," turned into song in Lennon's last year-"Grow old along with me! / The best is yet to be...."
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