The 30th anniversary of John Lennon's shooting

How the Beatle is being remembered.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's murder. The former Beatles singer-songwriter was shot five times by a fan, Mark Chapman, in front of his New York home on the corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West. Bewildered paramedics rushed him to Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. In September this year, the now 55-year-old Chapman was denied parole for the sixth time.

In contrast to the jubilation that greeted the 70th anniversary of Lennon's birth (which also took place this year), much of this week's coverage has been characterised by a more respectful and reflective tone. Over at the BBC, the journalist John Shone recalls the reaction of Lennon's first wife, Cynthia, and their son, Julian, upon hearing the news of John's death: "Julian . . . was a pupil at Ruthin School. He was asleep in the house, not knowing his father was dead . . . Cynthia turned up in a big limo with dark glasses on. She had a couple of minders with her and was hurried into the house without saying anything. She was in total shock, like everyone was."

This weeks' NME, meanwhile, features an interview with Yoko Ono, who still occupies the apartment where she was living with Lennon when he died: "It is the home John and I created together. Every wall witnessed John."

And on Sunday, I interviewed Keith Elliot Greenberg, author of December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died (Backbeat Books), on Resonance 104.4FM's Hello Goodbye Show. I asked him whether writing a book about Lennon's death risked monumentalising Chapman's act, thereby affirming his perverse quest for fame. We also talked about Lennon's significance to New Yorkers, who view him as part of the local heritage.

In Liverpool, his childhood home, fans will be gathering at a candlelit vigil around Chavasse Park's European peace monument (which was dedicated to Lennon on 9 October); others will be paying homage at the original Strawberry Field. Tomorrow evening, members of John's first band, the Quarrymen, will be appearing at the Echo Arena, bringing to a close the city's two-month-long Lennon season. The banjo player Rod Davis said: "We're playing not to mark his death, but to celebrate his life."

On a related note, here are extracts of an interview that Maurice Hindle conducted with Lennon in 1968, which appeared in last year's Christmas issue of the New Statesman.

Yo Zushi is a contributing writer for the New Statesman. His latest album, It Never Entered My Mind, is out now on Eidola Records and is on Spotify here.

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Ned Beauman's Madness Is Better Than Defeat brings jungle fever to a story of cinema

The author's lustrous and smart fourth novel never quite coalesces into purposeful significance.

“We were in the jungle… There were too many of us. We had access to too much money, too much equipment. And little by little, we went insane.” That’s Francis Ford Coppola describing the filming of Apocalypse Now, but it’s also a fair summary – give or take a few hundred pages of CIA machinations, mega-corp skulduggery and hallucinogenic-fungus consumption – of the plot of Ned Beauman’s fourth novel, a teeming shaggy-dog comedy of megalomania and obsession in which nothing and everything seems to be going on at once.

The setting is the Honduran jungle in the late 1930s. Under the command of a visionary director, a Hollywood company sets out to make a film (called Hearts in Darkness, ho, ho) on location at a freshly discovered Mayan temple. When they arrive, they find the temple already half-dismantled by a team of New Yorkers in the service of a reclusive billionaire. The Angelenos scuttle up the steps of the hemi-ziggurat; the New Yorkers pitch camp at the bottom. Decades pass and the two sides, lost to the outside world, evolve a demented micro-civilisation.

Or is that the setting? The setting is also 1930s California, where a studio magnate creeps silently through a mansion. The setting is prewar New York, where a playboy is kidnapped by goons at an octopus-wrestling match. The setting is Virginia in 1959, where a CIA operative called Zonulet sifts through a warehouse packed with innumerable spools of film. The setting is a hospital in Maryland, in which Zonulet may be imagining the events of the book after inhaling a deliriant hallucinogen. The setting is Borges’s Aleph, or Leibniz’s monad: that mystical point in the universe “from which all other points are visible”.

As the narrative moves forward and Beauman gleefully particle-collides his various fascinations – postmodern paranoia, Hollywood screwball comedy, occult mysteries, spy fiction and the real-life on-set horrors of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo and the 1930s film serial The New Adventures of Tarzan – such interpretations flicker in and out of probability like quantum states.

Beauman is a sparkling writer, and his book bustles with diverting micro-narratives. There’s a murderous fugitive Nazi who persuades the camp that he’s part of the “German-American Alliance” that won the war, a mousy anthropologist who becomes a leader of men, a newspaperman who gets a Murdoch-style stranglehold on the temple’s occupants, and many more.

But the underlying order is symbolic. The director of Hearts in Darkness, the sprawling meta-movie at the centre of the novel, argues that all good cinema follows a simple rule: its narrative intensifies in five or six escalating steps before “giving way to a thrilling interval of weightlessness or flight, then returning to the status quo”. Represented as a diagram, this trajectory resembles a side view of half a ziggurat, which can also be seen as a diagram of a succession of people following in each other’s footsteps. For example, a novelist writing about someone making a film of a doomed expedition into the jungle. Madness begets madness in this novel, almost as if some conspiracy or occult order were being worked out.

Is any of this familiar? Narrative as geometry, with diagrams. Chipper 1930s banter. Funny but significant names (Poyais O’Donnell, which references a 19th-century con trick; Zonulet, which means “little zone”). Nazis. Contagious insanity. An octopus. An airship. A nightmare conspiracy that may just be a druggy hallucination. A few years ago, Beauman told an interviewer that the work of Thomas Pynchon has had “no impact on British fiction, really, apart from perhaps on me and Tom McCarthy”, but this book isn’t so much influenced by Pynchon as colonised by his work. In chapter after chapter, one can feel the shadow of Gravity’s Rainbow sweeping across the text like the spaceship in Independence Day.

Perhaps there’s a point here. Beauman recapitulates Pynchon as Hearts in Darkness recapitulates Heart of Darkness, and so the shape of the half-ziggurat is redrawn. But when a writer steers this close to his models, comparisons are inevitable, and Beauman’s writing, lustrous and smart as it invariably is, lacks much of the moral and emotional seriousness – the fear, the loss, the sorrow, the threat – that acts as a counterweight to Pynchon’s comic and intellectual games. The result is a novel of great intelligence and humour, cleverly structured and brimming with tricks, that never quite coalesces into purposeful significance. It’s a tremendous rainbow, but I’d have welcomed a bit more gravity. 

Madness Is Better Than Defeat
Ned Beauman
Sceptre, 416pp, £16.99

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear