John Lennon Interview, 1981

by John Cardinal, February, 2007
The following interview is a work of fiction based on the question, what would have happened if there were two people waiting for John Lennon outside the Dakota on the evening of December 8th, 1980? The interviewer, Brian Marney, is a fictional character, as is Jim Murray and his family members described in the story. Other people mentioned in the story are real, but they have been placed in fictional circumstances.

John Lennon - Interview with Music Time magazine, April 1981

by Brian Marney

Preface to the Twenty-Fifth Anniversay Reprint, June 2006

Dedicated to Jim Murray

It's hard to believe that it's been twenty-five years since John Lennon was shot outside his Dakota apartment. I conducted the first interview with John and Yoko after the incident, a interview that focused on the events of December 8, 1980. I haven't interviewed him since that time, but we've spoken a few times since then, mostly when I've called him for input to other articles. After the release of the Anthology package, I called and told him I was surprised he had approved. "Listen," he said, "People want all that stuff and George Martin said he could make something of it. There were others reasons to do it... Unrelated to that, there was a flanking manoeuvre, a very smart flanking manoeuvre: Paul and Ringo went to Yoko first, and they had a nice little discussion. When Paul talked to me, I was lukewarm. Then I asked Yoko, and she was enthusiastic. She said, 'You can't give your fans everything they want, but you can give them this.' And she was right. Later, they told me they had discussed it with her first. What could I say? I always told them she was managing me!" I called him before the reissue of the 1981 interview, to thank him again for choosing me back then and to ask if he had any comments on the incident. He said, "We were right about you, eh? All I've got for you now is, dedicate it to Jim Murray."

I've added comments, labeled with "2006", to the few additions I made for this version.

The Original Article

On Monday, April 6th, 1981, I received a call from Yoko Ono. I am a junior reporter here at Music Time and a call from Yoko was about as likely as being nominated for a Nobel prize. I was shocked, and I briefly considered the possibility that someone was playing a practical joke on me: it was either a very good imitation or the real Yoko. When she asked if I was available to interview John and her for the magazine, I decided I wanted it to be real and I said yes. Actually, I said, "Yes... Positively! Yes". "Positively!", she replied with a laugh, and she quickly proposed arrangements. I didn't want to blow a lucky break by asking too many questions, and I accepted a meeting for 1PM on April 8th, the 4-month anniversary of Mark David Chapman's attack on John.

Approximately 48 hours later I arrived at their country home north of New York City. I passed through security without incident, and knocked on the front door. The door opened and John Lennon said, "Hello, Mr. Positively, welcome aboard!" My blank stare informed John that I didn't know what he meant, and he explained, "You said, 'Yes. Positively!', right?" My mind finally clicked into gear, I remembered my remark of two days previous, and said, "Oh, yeah. That's me. Positively it's me, actually."

John grinned, and we shook hands. He led me to a sitting room, and said, "Just sit for a minute. I've got something quick I have to do, but I'll tell Yoko you're here and she'll keep you busy until we get started."

Yoko appeared, shook my hand, and she looked at me with such intensity while she held it that I wanted to pull my hand away. I was used to the benign indifference of West Coast meetings and not prepared for prolonged hand and eye contact. She put me at ease, however. "This will be wonderful, a wonderful afternoon. John is easy to interview. We are easy to interview. We've had years of experience. John is honest, and he will answer whatever questions you have. Just ask good questions." We chatted about nothing for a minute or two, and as Yoko was instructing me where to sit, John came back. He sat next to Yoko, very close, on a large white sofa, and I sat across from them. I asked if they were ready, and after two nods I switched on my tape recorder and we began.

BM:This can be off the record, but...
JL:The tape is recording...
BM:Yes, but what I mean is, this may not be interesting to readers. I want to ask, why me? You've had only brief written statements in the press since December 8th, and you don't know me....
JL:I want people to hear from me. For two months there was a story every day, and after that, every other day, and about half was true. The other half was ... I don't know what. Wrong.
BM:Yes, people desperately want to hear from you, but still, why me?
JL:I heard you on the radio when I was in LA. You said you were glad the Beatles didn't reunite because that would ruin it. It was the smartest thing I heard the whole time I was there. When I saw you were at Music Times, I decided on you. It's intuitive for me.
YO:We trust our instincts.
BM:John, we've heard from doctors and press releases that you are fine, and you look fine to me, but there are rumors that you've lost movement in your arm. Has the wound healed?
JL:My shoulder is fine. I am not supposed to lift Sean yet, but I have and ...
JL:... it's fine. I can write, I can play guitar, piano, drink tea. The press reports said it. It didn't hit anything, and they went in and got it. I've got a war medal now, on the wrong shoulder, I guess. I am fine.
JL:Good, not fine. I've been hit so many times in life, I can take it better than most, but this is big. Whoever said, "What doesn't kill us, makes us stronger" was wrong. F- that. I am not stronger. I don't want to stay in this luxury prison out here. I miss the city, but I can't go back yet.
BM:Will you go back?
JL:Yes. I am not in New York now because no one would leave me alone. As soon as something else happens, I can go back. I want to be in New York, but also... if he changes my life to something I don't want, he might as well have killed me.
JL:Yes, Chapman.
BM:What has to happen?
YO:Something else for the press to cover.
BM:Will you record again?
JL:Yes. There's a record that's half done, and we're going to finish. There's more material now. We'll leave some for next time, but the stuff we did before and a couple new ones, we're working on those. I don't like to keep things waiting for long. I can do it, I'll resurrect things if I have to, but I'd rather get it out. It's pure at the start, and it's easy for me or someone else to pollute it. I stopped for awhile, but I'm back and I am not going away. This album will get finished.
BM:At the Record Plant?
JL:Probably, maybe the Hit Factory, or wherever they let me in. [chuckles] We had great sessions at the Record Plant and if it's available I'll go there.
[2006: The album was indeed finished at the Record Plant, and John and Yoko have recorded there many times since.]
BM:OK, let me ask about December 8th. Tell me about your day, starting at home in the morning.
JL:Morning for me is later than for most people. I spent some time with Sean. We had a session scheduled and we went downstairs at about 4PM. There were some fans waiting when we went out, and one was Chapman but I didn't know that then. He asked me for an autograph. I signed Double Fantasy for him. We were in a hurry. I signed a couple things and we drove off..
BM:The session was at the Record Plant?
JL:Yes, we were working on singles from Double Fantasy. Mixing, trying to decide what to release.
BM:Did you go anywhere else?
JL:No, we were there all evening.
BM:Tell me about getting home. What happened first?
JL:We were walking in and two guys were standing to the side. Not together, but they both stepped out at the same time, and I recognized Chapman from the morning. I don't like it when there's more than one. I get nervy. I walked towards the other guy—who turned out to be Jim Murray—because Chapman had his turn in the morning. Fair's fair.
YO:I was ahead of John. Jose [Padermo, the doorman], was waiting for me. He said hello or good evening.
JL:Murray was nervous. He said he wanted me to help him. I thought he meant money, and I don't carry money and I told him I can't give you any money and it wouldn't help anyway. He had a small notebook, and a pen, so I took it and signed my name and handed it back to him. He looked surprised, and I felt bad for him, but what could I do? I started to walk away and he said, "I don't want money. I want you to tell me what to do." I was still walking and I turned around and I said, "I don't know friend, I really don't, you've got to find that for yourself." I didn't mean to blow him off, or treat him lightly, and I feel like a prick now, but that's the truth and that's what I said. Chapman called my name and when I looked towards him he was pointing a gun, and I thought, this is it, Mr. Lennon, this is it. I don't know if I said anything or not, but I was certain he was going to shoot me.
YO:I didn't hear John talking to Murray. When I got to the door, Jose stepped forward and grabbed me, and then there was a shot.
JL:Murray moved towards Chapman, and there was a shot. I felt a sting in my shoulder, but there wasn't any pain, really, it felt like I was pushed. It turned me the rest of the way 'round and I went down. I knew I was shot, but I can see how sometimes people don't know they've been shot. I could see Yoko ahead and I went crawling toward her. I wanted to save her, and she wanted to save me, so she ran to me and pushed me down all the way. There were noises then, and I knew they were shots but they seemed like they were somewhere else, down the street. I knew that wasn't true, but that's what it seemed like.
YO:The police say the two shots that hit Murray were probably muffled by his body. I heard the last three shots, they went past us in the air. Chapman shot at John from under Murray. He was on the ground and Murray was dying on top of him and he was still trying to kill John.
[John was struck in the shoulder. One of the two bullets that hit Murray severed his aorta, the other passed through his thigh. The last three shots hit the walls in the archway.]
BM:Was there any clue that Chapman meant you harm?
JL:No, nothing. I thought it was strange that he came forward when I got out of the car, but he didn't try to talk to me. I didn't think it then, but why wait around all day and then not talk to me? That happens, but not after talking to me once. I see people at cafes and in the park and after they say hello once, they say it everytime.
BM:So Murray is laying on top of Chapman, and Chapman has fired his last shots.
JL:We didn't know that. We were on the ground. Jose left us and ran to Chapman.
BM:What did Chapman do?
JL:I didn't see it, so I only know what people said. He dropped the gun and tried to get up. People grabbed him. He didn't struggle. They pulled him away from Murray.
YO:The police were there very fast. I wondered how they got there so fast. They were only a couple blocks away.
JL:We hid in the Dakota lobby. I was sitting on the floor against the wall, and I was dizzy. A policeman came in. [Bill Gamble] I was never so glad to see a policeman. He was calm. Yoko said I was shot, and it was funny to me. I had forgotten!
YO:You said you were shot, too. I said it and you said it. The policeman said an ambulance was on the way, and he left.
JL:That was scary, I don't mind sayin'.
YO:He said he had to go, but everything was under control. Later we heard that he left us to take Murray to the hospital, he and his partner Moran, they didn't want to wait for the ambulance. Two other cops had Chapman.
JL:But we didn't know that. I laughed when he said things were under control. Not for me, brother! We stayed there until the ambulance arrived. They said we could come out, and we went out. Murray was gone, Chapman was gone.
BM:Did you know where they went? Did the police tell you?
JL:No, not then. I assumed they had Chapman, and we asked about Murray, but Hanson—the cop who came and stayed with us—he said he didn't know. He rode with us to the hospital. I think he knew Murray was in bad shape, but didn't want to tell me.
YO:The hospital was a scene.
JL:It was. I was laying on my back and rolling down corridors and all I saw were the ceiling lights. They were streaming past and I knew I was rolling but it was like a dream. No out-of-body feeling, but everything felt slow, and thick.
YO:You had lost blood.
JL:Yes, and I was in shock, too. Now I know what shock feels like.
BM:What happened next?
JL:Roosevelt [Hospital] is good for gunshots... lots of practice.
YO:They said they would stabilize him. His vital signs were good. They reassured me.
JL:I knew it was serious because no one was saying they were glad to meet me!
JL:Got ya.
BM:Did they operate right away?
JL:It seemed like hours, but it wasn't hours, it wasn't soon. Rolling light show, x-ray, rolling light show, operating room, and I woke up the next day.
YO:I waited outside. Reporters came, but the hospital kept them away. I stayed in a patient room. Somehow, Judith Malina came and we talked and cried. We had so many friends in New York, but she was the boldest. She talked her way in.
[2006: Judith Malina mentioned her night at Roosevelt with Yoko in the introduction to her 1984 book, The Diaries of Judith Malina: 1947-1957.]
BM:When did you hear that Murray died?
JL:Yoko told me on Tuesday morning.
YO:Afternoon. You weren't really awake until afternoon.
JL:Afternoon, then.
YO:The police told me, and then it was on television. I watched television when they took John to the operating room. They didn't know Murray was a hero then. They said he might have been involved! Who said that? Why? I knew he wasn't involved. Everyone there knew he wasn't involved.
JL:People guess about everything. They don't know, and they guess. Then they hear other people repeat it, and convince themselves they're right. I know, I've done it!
BM:What did the police say?
YO:They said Murray jumped on Chapman and saved John's life. The doorman saw it, the driver saw it. They knew it then, but they weren't talking to the press yet. It was a celebrity thing.
JL:Everyone in blue waited for the person above them. It worked, I mean, when they did talk, they got it right. When they were very sure they knew what happened, they talked.
BM:Yoko, Howard Cosell was the first to tell America that John was shot. He announced it during the Monday Night Football game, "John Lennon has been shot outside his Dakota apartment in New York City." Did you hear that?
YO:No, not on Monday. I heard about it later. He should have waited to know that John was alright, but no reporter with that information would wait.
BM:The country—and the world—took a deep breath. The hospital said you were in stable condition. They were tight-lipped. Who was calling the shots?
YO:That night, I don't know. On Tuesday, in the morning, I woke up and the TV news said John was in stable condition but that was all they knew. Dr. Lynn came and asked me if I wanted to talk to the press. I said no. He asked me what he should tell them, and I said to tell them that John was strong and he would be fine. No matter what I said, it wouldn't satisfy people.
JL:The press.
YO:It wouldn't satisfy the press.
BM:Let's talk about Murray.
JL:This is the hard part.
BM:Was he there in the afternoon?
JL:I didn't see him. I don't think so.
BM:You met with his son Paul and his wife Lisa in January. What did you tell them?
JL:Paul is the same age as Sean. I didn't want to tell him anything. What do you say? His mother knows him, and knows what he needs to hear.
YO:He and Sean went and played. It was a fun day for them.
[2006: Later, people realized this was another Jim/Paul parent/son relationship with significance to John Lennon, in addition to Jim McCartney and his son Paul.]
BM:How is Sean taking all this?
JL:He didn't like visiting in the hospital, but now he's fine. Children recover quickly. He doesn't understand now, and when he does, well, we'll leave that for then.
BM:What about Lisa? What happened with her?
JL:We thanked her. We told her Jim saved my life. We told her that everything about him being a hero was true.
BM:She has said that you have been generous.
JL:That's between her and us. It's OK if she tells, I won't tell her what to do, but it's up to her. No money will bring back Jim Murray.
BM:The story about Jim, he wanted to ask you how to be a success, did she talk about that?
JL:No. She said he was a fan, but he never told her he was going to see me. The police gave us copies of some pages from his notebook. She didn't get copies, I don't know why. We showed it to her. My signature was scribbled on one page, over his notes. I signed my name over his notes, even though he didn't ask for my autograph. Sometimes I am a daft prick. I read it. He wanted something I couldn't give him, but I think he knew that, too. His trip to the Dakota was a symbol. He still loved his wife, and most of it was about proving to her he was worth another chance.
[Yoko is upset at this point. John is somber.]
YO:It was fate. He had to be there, he had to balance Chapman out.
JL:And there were other people, too. Jose ran to Chapman to keep him down, keep him away from us. He didn't know Chapman was out of bullets. He had stopped shooting, but no one knew. We didn't count, we didn't know how many bullets he had.
BM:Chapman has plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
JL:His lawyers said that, not him, but yes, he is a sick man. He needs help, but he won't get it.
BM:Why not?
JL:He can't help himself, and without that, no one else can help him either.
YO:There's hope.
JL:There's hope, but there's reality and ten thousand years of ... of so-called civilization, and we still don't know how to really help people. If his leg got crushed, we can make him a new one, but his head is broken, broken worse than the rest of us, and we don't know how to fix that for him.
BM:Do you want him in jail for life?
JL:Yes and no. Not jail, 'cos they'll tear him apart, but locked up. Anyway, it's not up to me. I don't feel safe, I may never feel safe again, but it's not him I worry about.
YO:He has to be somewhere he can be watched. He is a danger to himself and to other people.
JL:I worry about people who think he had a good idea!
[2006: Against the advice of his lawyers, Chapman pled guilty to second degree murder. He was sentenced to 20 years to life and is still in prison as of this writing. The Lennon's have appeared at all his probation hearings to urge the court to keep him in prison.]
BM:We strayed away from Murray.
JL:In a split second, he had to choose whether maybe I would die, or maybe he would. I am here because he chose to save me. I don't know what to do with that. He's a hero, but what if his life was more important than mine? What if thousands suffer because he's gone? We don't know what the future was for him. It sounds bad, sounds ungrateful, but it's not.
BM:I don't think it's ungrateful, but I don't understand yet.
JL:It's complicated. I don't understand yet either. I had no choice—and I'm glad of that—but it's the stark, naked truth. Chapman devised a twisted plan, and Jim Murray got in the way. I think Murray acted on instinct, and I wonder what he thought as he lay there dying. I don't know why I was saved. It all happened around me. Am I supposed to live a better life than before? Is there a lesson in this? Is it my fault?
YO:Jim Murray had a loving soul, a loving heart. He is a lesson. He wanted better.
JL:That's where I should have started. Loving soul, loving heart. I couldn't help him, but he was looking, trying to help himself, and that's good. He was on the right track. Maybe he wanted an easy answer, someone to slip him the magic formula, but that's just a symptom of someone beginning the journey. I had it, in India, with the Maharishi. Inside I knew there was no easy answer, but I wanted one anyway.
BM:What does this mean for you tomorrow, and the next day, and the next?
JL:Being shot? I don't know. Like I said, this is big; there's my life before being shot, and my life after. In the hospital, a nasty thought crossed my mind: a single about being shot would sell. There's nothing I can do about that, either. My life comes out in music, and even if the next song is about chasing frogs with Sean, it will sell. And some idiot will write that I am taking advantage of being shot, when I had no choice and I can't go ahead without it.
BM:You said you had new stuff, new material to record.
JL:I have a couple, three really. One about this, but it's not the "Ballad of John and Yoko" or anything. It's called "Being Somebody."
BM:About the danger of being famous and being a target?
JL:No... partly about that. It's not just about me. It means something to me, but it will mean something else to other people. OK, wait, [mimics television commerical] 'we have the technology.'
[John gets up and leaves]
YO:People say he is hiding out, but he is ... he's at 100%. It has slowed me down, but not John, at least not now.
[John is back with a cassette tape player in hand.]
JL:OK, yours goes off or mine doesn't go on. There's enough bootlegs of my stuff already.
[I shut off my tape recorder, and John plays me "Being Somebody", an acoustic gutar song with a haunting melody. I switch my tape recorder back on. 2006: The version I heard was very similar to the single version released a month later.]
BM:It's beautiful. I like the chorus, with "always" first and then "never" the second time. What was it the last time?
JL:"Always" again. Just two variations.
BM:You have to get that out.
JL:Well, it's not recorded properly yet, and with a couple more songs, the album is complete. I may release it as a single, I don't know. It's a little dark, a little moody, not grade-A single material.
BM:No, maybe not, but people will love it. It's obviously not a rocker...
JL:Right, but I might arrange it with a band. You've heard the version with my voice and guitar, but I can hear more on it.
YO:I want to hear the full version in his head, then decide.
[2006: The album had both the solo acoustic version (the single) and a full band version. Lisa Murray subsequently revealed that John and Yoko gave the proceeds from the single to her and her son Paul, and the Lennon's helped her with advice about how to manage the money.]
BM:You know, I have to ask about it, have you talked to the other Beatles?
JL:[laughs] You almost made it! Almost got to the end with no mention of the fab floor!
BM:[I laughed.] I know, I know. But people want to know.
JL:They know already, don't they? If your old friend was shot, would you call? And Ringo was here in New York, and on TV.
BM:What about Paul and George?
JL:George called on Tuesday morning. Yoko told me she talked to him. Everyone in the States tried to get through on Monday night, but nobody did. George was in California and when he didn't get through on Monday night he called again Tuesday morning, but I was still sleeping. I spoke to all of them on Wednesday.
BM:All together?
JL:No, separate calls. I had to call them. I knew they'd be worried about me and not trusting the news. And worried about themselves, too. I wanted to tell them I was OK and it wasn't a cult trying to get us. Ringo said he was coming and I said no, don't do that, but he and Barbara came anyway and it was good. It took the heat off Yoko for a couple days.
BM:What about Paul?
JL:These were short calls. He said he was shocked, and worried about me, and asked what he could do to help. I said, "Don't seize the reins at Apple", and he laughed. We had a good laugh on that.
BM:All of them are laying low right now.
JL:Well, that could be coincidence, but I know other people—I don't want to say who—that are worried. Chapman is famous now, infamous. Who's gonna decide to copy what he did?
BM:He didn't do it for fame.
JL:That's true, but someone else might. He did it to save me, right? To save me from who? Myself I guess. It's ironic: Chapman went there to help me, and Murray went there to get help. One thought he was coming to give me something, and one thought he was taking, and it was the opposite that happened.
BM:Chapman said his statement was Catcher in the Rye.
JL:There's no way I can make sense of that. That's like Manson with the White Album, Helter Skelter and Piggies and all that. Whatever Chapman saw in Catcher, he put there himself. Who knows what really causes these things? Berkowitz said that a dog told him what to do.
BM:Have you read Catcher in the Rye?
JL:Oh, years ago. I've read everything. I think I read that at Art school.
YO:I've never read it... It's an American thing, or American/British thing, and it's in school curriculums. I will read it to try and understand him.
JL:[sarcastically] Good luck.
BM:What is on the horizon besides music?
JL:Nothing, really. I came back because I was excited to create music again and I still am. Double Fantasy was selling well before the shooting and people want to hear my music again.
BM:Will you collaborate with someone besides Yoko?
JL:Writing songs, probably not, but who can say? Jack Douglas, the band on Fantasy, they were great, and we collaborated with them.
BM:Were there plans for a tour to support Double Fantasy?
JL:No, not to support Double Fantasy really, but I did consider it. The band was tight, and it was fun to play with them, and I thought we'd be good live.
BM:What about now?
JL:I am not going to go to the end of the street today, never mind on stage. I can't tour now or soon because it would be a bigger circus than ever and that's not what I want. I thought about touring because of the music, but now it wouldn't be about that.
YO:You forgot about gun control.
JL:I did.
YO:We are going to support gun control. Probably a TV ad.
JL:Only if they let me show my scar! [makes a crazy face and pulls shirt to the side but the scar is not visible.]
YO:John has always been against guns, and so this is not a conversion. This is the same story.
JL:"Happiness Is a Warm Gun" was anti-guns, trying to show the perversion of being happy after killing something.
BM:And "Bungalow Bill".
JL:Bill and his mother.
BM:You have bodyguards now, and you didn't have them before.
JL:This will pass, and when it does, I'll leave the bodyguards behind. No entourage for me.
YO:Brian, have we got enough?
JL:You go, Mother.
BM:I can be done, I don't want...
JL:She has calls to make, call after call. I think she calls radio shows.
[Yoko says thank you and leaves.]
BM:You said earlier that there were now two parts of your life, before being shot, and after.
JL:Not exactly. I said there was before and after, but those aren't the only two parts of my life. I can list tragedies, there's plenty to go around, and there's before and after for all. My mother was killed by a drunk driver. My uncle died, Stuart died of a cerebral hemorrhage. People know all that, but to them it's a story. To me, it's my life. I know people who had it worse, and I don't complain because it's not gonna change. But there's more than two parts in my life.
BM:OK, that's where I was going. How this incident compared to other things in your life.
JL:This isn't like the others. I didn't lose someone. I have Yoko, and Sean and Julian, and I'm still here. Jim Murray isn't here and that's the tragedy.

Copyright © 2007 by John Cardinal. All rights reserved.