What If Mark David Chapman Changed His Mind?

On an unusually warm day 34 years ago, 40 year old John Lennon was on his way back to his apartment with his wife Yoko Ono after a recording session. Arriving at their apartment at the Dakota building around 10:50 pm, Lennon was greeted by fans as he exited the limousine and made his way to the entrance with Yoko. One of those fans, who had been stalking Lennon for three days, emerged out of the shadows, yelled “Mr. Lennon”, took a combat stance, and fired five hollow-point bullets at Lennon’s back from a Charter Arms .38 Special revolver from approximately ten feet away. The first bullet missed and hit a window, while the next two hit Lennon’s back with two more hitting his shoulder. Lennon tried crawling up the steps yelling “I’m shot, I’m shot”. The concierge attempted to reduce the bleeding with a tourniquet, but realized it was no use with the injuries Lennon sustained.

The shooter was Mark David Chapman, and up until this time he had no prior criminal record. He did have problems with drugs and alcohol, and during his court defense was deemed a paranoid schizophrenic as his lawyers tried to cop the insanity plea. He was married, living in Hawaii, and had spent previous parts of his life traveling around the world. It’s not unknown that he had an obsession with J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. He was even reading the book while he sat on the curb waiting for the police to arrive after shooting Lennon. We may never understand what neuron in Chapman’s brain snapped, but something between Catcher in the Rye and his infatuation with Lennon’s life caused him to attack an innocent person.

Lennon (left) autographs a record for Chapman (right) six hours before he is killed.

But what if Chapman hadn’t shot Lennon? What if, at the last moment, he decided that this wasn’t a good idea? What if he just continued being a fan, and turned around and went back to his wife in Hawaii? What if Chapman had never read Catcher in the Rye in the first place? What if? What if?

Chapman had plenty of opportunities to re-think his plan. He set out from Hawaii to New York, purchased a gun, but was unable to purchase bullets, flew to Atlanta to get bullets, then flew back to New York. With all that solo time on planes to and from, don’t you think he would’ve had more than ample time to think about the outcome? But it’s obvious now the man was set on his goal, and nothing was going to interfere with his deranged plan.

While we’ll never know how things would have turned out if Lennon had been spared, I do have a couple ideas to speculate on:

The first is that there most likely would have been a Beatles reunion at some point. Even though the members went on their own paths post-Beatlemania (John and Paul certainly had the more illustrious path), I have no doubt that at some point the four stars would have realigned for one big show, regardless of how big John and Paul’s egos were. If David Gilmour and Roger Waters can do it, so could have John and Paul (sidenote: it’s going to happen with Oasis, too. Just watch). Think about it: All four members would have still been alive before George Harrison’s death in 2001. The Beatles lasted ten years, and split in what many thought to be their artistic prime, so everything points towards an eventual reunion. It’s not like they were together for 20 plus years and people got sick of them, and the fact their music was so revolutionary meant that numerous generations could have experienced a Beatles concert.

The Beatles performing on the Ed Sullivan Show
The Beatles performing on the Ed Sullivan Show

The second involves Lennon’s stance on political activism. Once the fab four disbanded (egos, artistic direction, Yoko Ono), Lennon proceeded to take a strong anti-war stance, noted mostly by his and Yoko’s “bed-in for peace” in Amsterdam and Montreal which served as the couple’s honeymoon in protest of the Vietnam War. Lennon even relinquished his title of Member of the British Empire bestowed upon him by the Queen of England in 1965 because of Britain’s support of the war in Vietnam. One of Richard Nixon’s biggest hurdles as he attempted re-election was John Lennon. He and Ono would regularly attend peace rallies and encourage people that a vote against Nixon was a vote for peace. Nixon and his consiglieres attempted to ban Lennon from the U.S. by acting on Lennon’s admission of “cannabis residue” in 1968. This failed to pass, and Nixon would go on to become the first president to resign from office after the Watergate scandal. If Lennon had not been shot, the political landscape of things could be drastically different. Had Lennon been allowed to continue his social activism, things like same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana may have a different look in today’s world with someone like Lennon leading the charge. He realized he had a huge influence on people and was working to use it for a greater cause than selling records.


The final thought is how the Beatles’ catalog of songs may have been better handled since the band’s breakup and Lennon’s death. In 1985, Michael Jackson paid $47.5 million for the American Television Corporation’s back catalog, which featured between 160 and 260 Beatles songs, including “Yesterday” and “Let It Be”. McCartney was attempting to win back the rights to the songs, but was outbid by Jackson. This meant that every time McCartney played a Beatles song post 1985, he was most likely paying Jackson for the rights to sing the song. I believe that had Lennon been around, the rights to the Beatles’ music would have had a different outcome. Just think about what Lennon may have had to say when Napster debuted in 1999. With Lennon’s free-spirit it’s not hard to imagine that he may have supported the free music cause. He was never one to be overly concerned with money, and was more concerned with keeping the peace and making things available to people in all walks of life, including music. Would guys like Lars Ulrich have gone up against Napster if John Lennon was on the other side? It’s certainly interesting to think about.

While this is all purely speculation, this is something that conjured up in my mind after seeing my friend’s Facebook post that simply said “What if Mark David Chapman had changed his mind?” From that spun a web of thoughts and ideas that I felt were worth sharing as we look back on the anniversary  of Lennon’s death in 1980.

Mark David Chapman was sentenced 20 years to life for his actions, and has been denied parole eight times, most recently this past summer. Chapman stated that he was “an idiot” and “choosing the wrong way to glory, but the bright light of fame, of infamy of notoriety was irresistible.” Chapman has repeatedly stated that he knew what he was doing, and that he had taken painstaking efforts to ensure his plan. It’s just a shame he couldn’t focus his intensity on a more worthwhile cause.


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Tags : Music
Nick Hershey

The author Nick Hershey

Nick was born and raised in Amish country, has a beard, but isn’t Amish. He’s a fan of winter as long as he’s at the top of a mountain with a board under his feet. He’s an avid sports fan, movie junkie, tv bum, and music enthusiast who still purchases CDs for some reason.