Dec 8 2010

Thirty Years Gone

Today is the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon‘s death. On this day in 1980, he was murdered on a New York City sidewalk while returning to his apartment at The Dakota. His wife later scattered his ashes in Central Park at a location that’s come to be known as Strawberry Fields. I visited the memorial briefly in 2008.

I remember hearing about his death on the evening news while eating dinner (it would have had to have been the next day, which probably means my memory is muddled). It was a “What were you doing when you heard that Kennedy was shot?” moment for a new generation. I remember thinking that I’ll never see a Beatles reunion now — and that was about it. I had no emotional attachment to the man, his music, or his message at the time.  I didn’t begin to enjoy or understand his solo works for another couple years. In time, I came to love some of his music and message (though I’ve never cared much for his doodles).

On the anniversary of his death, I’m left wondering about Chapman. The man was charged with second-degree murder and has been at Attica ever since. To date, he’s been denied parole six times. During the murder trial in 1981 he changed his plea to guilty against the wishes of his attorney, who was arguing for “not guilt by reason of insanity”. The judge accepted this plea. In lieu of speaking in his own defense, Chapman read a passage from (one of my favorite books) “Catcher in the Rye”. He was holding a copy of the same book during the murder, annotated with the words: “This is my statement”.

Chapman immortalized Lennon. He cemented Lennon’s post-Beatles legacy for the ages. While the deed itself was horrific, Chapman proved that he was no phony and ensured that Lennon could never become one either…

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” – John Lennon

Jan 23 2010

In Cold Blood

While waiting for a call from the garage on the status of my Jeep, I finished the last pages of Truman Capote’s 1966 novel, “In Cold Blood“. The story was published the year before in the New Yorker, a magazine for people that can make it through 1000s of words of literary self-masturbation without falling dead asleep. I need purpose in the poems and stories that I read. I can’t stand wading through a traffic-jam of words only to find that the words themselves were the only purpose for the piece. Capote wrote for the New Yorker long before I ever picked-up a copy (and fell asleep on the toilet) and delivers from the very beginning. Four shotgun blasts ring out on page three. The rest of the book tries to explain why.

“In Cold Blood” is a collection of many stories woven together, each stemming from the interviews of those affected by the 1959 quadruple murder. Truman Capote and Harper Lee (of “To Kill a Mockingbird” fame) traveled to west Kansas to write an article on the Clutter family murders prior to the identification and capture of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. The book outlines their subsequent incarcerations, trials, and sentencing. What sets this book apart is that Capote interviewed the murderers and was able to reconstruct their lives leading up to the night of November 15th and give insight into the minds of the condemned.

An interesting addendum to “In Cold Blood” are the criticisms of it. While the book has been lauded as a pioneer of True Crime stories, many have questioned the book’s veracity. Capote did not take notes or recordings during his interviews in Kansas, preferring instead to write quotes and summaries afterward (he claimed “over 90%” retention). There is also the question of whether Perry and Dick were in a homosexual relationship (some have suggested that Dick’s intentions to rape Nancy Clutter may have angered Perry and sparked the murders). Capote, a liberated homosexual himself, never addressed this in the book. His sympathetic handling of Perry’s character however has led some to believe that he developed a “fondness” for the young man awaiting the gallows. While these criticisms might pitch the balance from non-fiction to fiction, they do nothing to detract from the storytelling itself. A compelling book from start to finish.

“Then it was real quiet again. Except that dog. Old Andy, he danced a long time. They must have had a real mess to clean up…” “…The fact is, his heart kept beating for nineteen minutes.”

4 out of 5

Oct 19 2009

Law Abiding Citizen

Law Abiding CitizenThis weekend, we went to see a movie titled “Law Abiding Citizen“. It stars Gerard Butler (“This is Sparta!”) and Jamie Foxx (no relation to Megan Fox because of the single “x” and parentage or some such triviality). I was told this was a “good daddy movie”… and I’d tend to agree, as long as there’s no conflict between “good” and “terrorist”.

On its surface, “Law Abiding Citizen” is your typical movie about an ex-soldier/secret agent who decides to use his extreme military skills to wreak havoc on his enemies. The movie quickly veers into gray areas because the protagonist employs blackmail, murder, and general terrorism to make the judicial system question itself and its priorities. While the main character’s agenda is interesting, in the end it is just an excuse for torture-porn and large fiery explosions. Because of this, I’m disinclined to give this movie a great deal of thought even if I did enjoy rooting for the main character (who had a healthy serving of tragedy with a side of injustice early in the film). While he had every right to be angry, pissed, even murderous… (in my opinion) he carries it too far when he starts blowing up people that were only peripherally (if that) involved in the original case.

Is there a lesson here? Not really. The movie actually gets silly toward the end when the writer runs out of novel ways for the protagonist to kill people (his specialty) and resorts to mechanized military hardware. I guess the main problem with the movie (which is the part I liked the best) is that somewhere in the middle, the protagonist and antagonist switch roles. It might be interesting to poll a number of people and find out when (or if) they think this switch takes place. Personally, I think it happened much later than it probably did for other people… But that’s just me. I can be vindictive like that, well… at least in my imagination.

“Spies are a dime a dozen. Clyde was a brain, the best. If he wants you dead, you’re dead.”

3.5 out of 5