Let Me Take You Down: New York 1980

One day in December 1980 I was working as a bus driver and I was driving one of our old half cab buses into Manchester. My conductor, Bob, was kept pretty busy as we took a bus load of passengers into Manchester city centre for their jobs in shops, offices and other places. At one point Bob poked his head through the little window into the cab and told me that he had heard from a passenger that John Lennon had been shot in New York. It was shocking news and when we arrived in Piccadilly, we both ran to the news stand to read the news in the morning papers. There was nothing about Lennon in any newspaper and we wondered if it had been just a mad rumour. Later when we went back to the canteen for our break, we heard the news either on the TV or the radio. Lennon had indeed been shot and was dead.

I can’t claim to be a great fan of John Lennon. I liked him and his music and back then in 1980, I had a copy of one of his albums, Walls and Bridges and a few years later I bought Double Fantasy, his last album and also the last vinyl album I would ever buy but what did happen that day back in December, 1980?

It was a cold day in New York and a man called Mark Chapman took a .38 calibre revolver out of his pocket and calmly fired five shots at John Lennon who had just exited a limo outside his home in the Dakota building, just across from Central Park.

The last vinyl album I ever bought, and the last one that John Lennon made. Double Fantasy. £2.99, what a bargain.

Chapman was born on 10th May, 1955 in a place called Decatur, in Georgia, in the USA. Chapman’s home life was difficult; his father was abusive towards his mother and Chapman apparently lived in fear of him. In his early teens Chapman was involved with drugs and even once ran away from home. In 1971 he became a born again Christian and worked as a summer camp counsellor for the YMCA. He was very popular with the children at the summer camp and even won an award for his outstanding work. Later he worked with Vietnamese refugees at a resettlement camp and once again  impressed his colleagues and superiors.

After his work with the refugees finished, Mark went to college but there he began to feel depressed. He was no longer doing important work with the refugees and thought of himself as a failure. He dropped out of college to work as a security guard and then in 1977 he left home to travel to Hawaii where he intended to commit suicide. His attempt failed but he was able to gain support and help for his depression and even started to work as a volunteer at the hospital that had helped him.

Much has been written about Chapman’s love of Catcher in the Rye, a novel by JD Salinger and how the book somehow turned Chapman against Lennon and indeed inspired him to kill. I read the book many years ago and at the time I thought it rather dull and uninteresting and I remember being surprised that it could inspire anyone to do anything, let alone provoke someone to murder.

The main character, Holden Caulfield has learned he has failed all his classes at school and that he won’t be returning for the next term. He leaves and gets a train to New York where he basically wanders about feeling sorry for himself and moaning about ‘phonies’, presumably people who are false. In the December of 1980, Mark Chapman too was wandering about New York feeling sorry for himself and hating ‘phonies’. For him, the really big phoney was John Lennon.

Lennon was suffocated by the incredible fame of the Beatles, and had decided to relocate to New York in 1971. New Yorkers were not overwhelmed by his celebrity status and he found himself a large apartment in the impressive Dakota Building on the corner of Central Park West and 72nd Street. Lennon lived quietly with his wife Yoko Ono and son Sean and retired from public life during his son’s early years. His comeback album Double Fantasy was released in 1980.

Chapman had a copy of Catcher in The Rye with him when he shot Lennon on the 8th December, 1980. In his copy Chapman had signed ‘from Holden Caulfield to Holden Caulfield. This is my statement’. He had hung around the Dakota building in New York and when Lennon left for the Record Plant recording studio, he had pushed forward his copy of Double Fantasy, Lennon’s latest album, for the singer to sign.

Lennon signs Double Fantasy for his killer

Lennon wrote ‘John Lennon 1980’ on the record and handed it back to Chapman asking ‘Is this all you want?’ Chapman took the album back and Lennon jumped into a limo and was gone. A photographer named Paul Goresh was there and snapped a photo of Lennon signing the album. Chapman was excited about it and asked for a copy before Goresh left. Goresh promised to return the next day with a print.

Later the Lennons returned to the Dakota and Chapman was still there waiting. Yoko entered the building and Lennon was following when Mark Chapman pulled out his 38 revolver and fired five times at the ex-Beatle. Lennon staggered into the Dakota entrance saying ‘I’m shot’. Chapman dropped his gun and began reading the Catcher in the Rye until the police came and arrested him. Another Police car arrived and seeing that Lennon was losing a lot of blood carried him to the police car and took him directly to the Roosevelt Hospital. Staff there tried to revive Lennon but the wounds were too severe and he was pronounced dead at 11:15pm.

On a TV documentary for the ITV series First Tuesday which I found in my old VHS collection, one of Mark’s old girlfriends was interviewed. Judy Williams spoke about the Mark Chapman she knew as warm and gentle. ‘It just wasn’t Mark’ she said ‘He couldn’t have been in his right mind when he did it.’

So why did Chapman shoot John Lennon? Apparently, Chapman had been a fan of the Beatles and John Lennon’s solo music but felt that Lennon had become a fake, a ‘phoney’, someone who preached peace and love to the masses while his music made him a multi-millionaire. Chapman signed out of his security job as ‘John Lennon’ on his last day of work so it is even possible that he identified so much with Lennon that the other Lennon, the fake ‘Lennon’ had to die. Chapman also claimed at other times that he shot Lennon to promote Catcher in the Rye.

I’ve just finished reading Let Me Take You Down by Jack Jones and in the book the author prints pages and pages about Chapman and his disturbed ideas including the fantasy ‘little people’ who filled his imagination and tried to stop him going through with the killing. He had in fact visited New York on a different occasion to shoot Lennon but returned home without committing murder.

I can imagine Lennon in his room in the Dakota, looking down on New York and reflecting on how far he had come. Did he ever think of his home in Liverpool? I am sure he did. He corresponded regularly with his Aunt Mimi who brought him up at their home, Mendips, in Liverpool.

Years ago, when I used to work in Liverpool, I visited his childhood home. I had always imagined Lennon came from a rough council house background but his former home is in Woolton, a pleasant leafy suburb of Liverpool with semi-detached private houses and some rather nice pubs and shops. Not quite what I had expected.

Mendips, Woolton, Liverpool. Picture courtesy wikipedia

After reading Let Me Take You Down I dug out my old VHS documentary which uses numerous statements by Chapman, recorded secretly by the NYPD in the hours after his arrest. I listened to his various ideas about why he had to shoot John Lennon but I’m not sure we can ever understand the workings of a disturbed mind. ‘The Beatles changed the world’ Mark says at one point, ‘and I changed them.’

I like John Lennon of course and I was interested to read this book to see what really happened to him and to find out why Mark Chapman decided to shoot him. I had always thought that Chapman was just a madman and after reading this book I can see that basically, I was right. Chapman was mad. I suppose it was foolish of me to think that there was a definitive reason behind the shooting, some tangible reason, something that perhaps if Lennon or his people had been aware of, they could have taken some action to prevent the murder. At the end of the day, I don’t think there was or even that the actions of a disturbed person can be explained in simple terms. Chapman got it into his head that he had to kill John Lennon and he did.

Mark Chapman is still alive today. He is still serving his life sentence in Wende Correctional Facility in New York and first became eligible for parole in 2000. All Chapman’s applications for parole have so far been denied.

Today in 2021, Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, still lives in the Dakota building.

Sources:

The Man Who Shot John Lennon. First Tuesday UK TV documentary written and produced by Kevin Sim.

Let Me take You Down by Jack Jones.


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A Brief History of the Disco Era (with a little help from Google)

I do love my music. At home when there is nothing much on the TV I like to flip through the recommendations that come my way on Spotify. In my car I listen to CDs. I have always told myself that my precious CDs were too good to be dragged about in my car so I lovingly copied them to writeable CD discs, carefully, in most cases editing out the tracks I didn’t like. I’d be my own invisible DJ making up new CD albums with a track from here, another from there and so on. Lately, I haven’t done that so much and seeing that I don’t play my CDs much at home, I decided not to copy them just to bring the original CDs themselves into my car.

The other day after a particularly bad day at work, a day that was busy, where things didn’t go so well and I was just wanting to forget about things and release all the stress that had built up, I searched for something new, some music that I hadn’t played for a while that would relax me. I chose a CD that was a 1970’s disco collection.

I cranked my motor up, turned up the volume and as I turned onto the M6 motorway heading for home, my mind went back to a better time, a younger, easy going more relaxed time. I went back to the disco era.

So when did the disco era start and what was the first disco record?

Looking on Google to answer that question gives up various results by numerous authors and music writers but the answers are invariably just the opinions of those same writers. One answer was Rock the Boat by the Hues Corporation, another was She’s a Winner by the Intruders. (Never heard of it.) It might even have been that disco classic, Never can Say Goodbye by Gloria Gaynor. When it comes down to it, there is no definitive answer.

A lot of disco music comes from the soul tracks of the early seventies by groups like the O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes and the Trammps. Later, traditional pop bands tried to emulate those soul groups and the resulting soul/pop sound that became disco began emerging in the early 1970s in US urban night clubs and discotheques.

Here’s another random disco fact: the word discotheque is a French word meaning a library of discs. Discotheque became used in France to describe a nightclub where playing records had replaced a live band in the 1940s during the Nazi occupation. Discotheques are where disco music began and something else that I noticed on Google were comments about the disco clubs of the seventies, the most famous one must have been the Studio 54 club in New York.  Another google result mentioned that Seventies Disco was born on Valentine’s Day 1970, when David Manusco opened The Loft in New York City.

Anyway, that’s enough of Google for a while so here are some personal memories.

The record I probably most associate with disco is The Hustle, by a group called Van McCoy. I have a feeling they were just one hit wonders but I might be wrong. The Hustle seemed to me to be the perfect disco record at the time. Great tune, a great dance beat and just really well put together. Looking back at the track today in 2021, it’s still good but it’s not the work of musical genius I once thought it was.

Back in the mid seventies I used to occasionally visit the discos of Manchester, places like Pips, Saturdays, Rotters, Fagins and a dozen other clubs I can hardly remember. There was a club called Sands in Stretford which was always packed to the seams but the disco I remember the most was one I wrote about in Floating in Space, it was called Genevieve’s.

Genevieve’s was in Longsight, which was a pretty rough area of Manchester and one of the hazards of the place was that if you went there in your car, you never found it in quite the same shape as how you left it, if you found it at all.

I remember one long ago Saturday night. My friends and I had to queue up for about ten minutes to get inside but we took that as a good sign. After all, a queue meant the club was busy. A group of grizzly bouncers scrutinised us and under their intense gaze we paid the entrance fee then went on inside. We were met by the warm fireside glow of soft lighting and the loud, pulsating beat of disco music. Coloured spot lights flashed over the four dance floors, in the hub of which sat the DJ, turning slowly around in a revolving booth.

There were five bars. Two small corner bars, two long bars, and a circular bar at the far end of the club. It really was a well set out place. We headed for one of the corner bars and my mate asked “bitter Steve?” I nodded and he called out to the barmaid.

A small army of bouncers was wandering around the club and as we waited for our drinks an argument broke out at one of the slot machines. Without any questions two burly bouncers grabbed the offender and propelled him expertly to the door. Another hooligan tried to come to the rescue by jumping on the back of one of the bouncers but a third bow-tied, black suited gorilla punched him solidly in the side, twisted his arm up his back and quickly removed him also. It was the sort of place where they didn’t stand any messing and the beer tasted like 3 parts water to one part beer and your feet stuck to the floor as you walked around. No one to my knowledge ever decided to complain to the management.

Genevieve’s attracted all sorts of people. There were smartly dressed, obviously wealthy people, peeling off rolls of bills to pay for whiskies and gins and other spirits. There were many attractive, well dressed girls. The younger girls drank halves of lager, sat in groups, and danced in groups to the Motown music of the sixties. They would drop their handbags onto the floor as they converged together for the formation dance routines for ‘Jimmy Mack’ and ‘Third Finger Left Hand’.

There were groups of lads too, who held cigarette packets and lighters in their hands, or placed them down in front of them on the tables while they drank, talked and eyed up the girls.

I spent a lot of my young life in that club. Despite the watered down drinks and the frequent fights, my friends and I had a lot of fun there until one day it either closed down or we found a better place to go.

The track that really reminds me of that club was Bus Stop by the Fatback Band. It had a strong disco beat and lyrics that just seemed to consist of ‘Bus stop!’ ‘Do the Bus stop!’ ‘Are you ready? Do the Bus Stop!’

In 1977 John Travolta appeared in the ultimate disco film ‘Night Fever’ and Travolta danced away to the music of the Bee Gees and tracks like ‘Stayin’ Alive’ and the title track ‘Night Fever’. I don’t ever remember there being dancers like that in any club I ever visited but what the heck, it was still a good film.

It wasn’t enough to buy the records and dance to disco records in clubs, you had to look the part too. I had a stack of shirts with ‘penny round’ collars and matching fat ties and quite a few pairs of flared trousers. Oh, and don’t forget the 1970’s platform shoes. I must have looked about seven foot tall back in those days.

Disco came to an abrupt end in 1979 in the USA where there seemed to be an outcry against the genre. Many music fans apparently felt that the music industry had been taken over by disco and many artists who had begun to produce disco music themselves, people such as Rod Stewart, were accused of selling out. In the UK and most of Europe, disco music morphed seamlessly into new electronic music. Artists like Michael Jackson took dance music to a new level and his album Thriller which spawned a number of hit singles became one of the best selling albums of the 1980’s.

What was the last ever disco single? The easy answer is that there wasn’t one. Dance music continued into the eighties and from there to the present day. Groups like Shalamar and Colonel Abrams just carried on producing dance tracks but if I had to put my finger on any one track as being the last of the disco era, I’d vote for I’m Coming Out by Diana Ross, released in 1980 when flared trousers were making way for drainpipes and when ties and shirt collars were thinning down.

What was your favourite disco track?


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10 Random Hits from the World of the Vinyl Single

10 hits from the world of the vinyl singleAs a teenager there was one, really important thing in my life. Music. And by music I am talking about singles. The BBC top twenty was all important to me and every Saturday night my mate Steve and I would drink beer and talk about women, sci fi and music. I bought numerous singles every Saturday. It’s very rare that I would buy something already in the charts for the full price. I’d usually wait until the record I wanted started to drop down the placings then I’d snap it up for half price. I spent a lot of time flicking through boxes of records in record stores with the end result that now, in 2016; I have a considerable amount of boxes of records. Ninety nine percent of them are singles. I was never one for albums because mostly albums let you down. You’d hear some great single by somebody new, buy their album and it rarely lived up to the single.

Singles are a whole different ball game in these days of downloading. There are those with even more records than I have but my records fill half a small room, whereas my young friends today have their entire music collection on their mobile phone or mp3 device. Not for them the allure of the soft dark vinyl or the album art or sleeve notes. No personal annotations like there were on my record sleeves with the discreet addition of the date I bought the record. The first single I ever bought was in 1973 and it was Olivia Newton-John’s version of ‘If Not For You’. Reduced to half price it was 24 pence. One day I’ll have to sit down and work out which was the last ever vinyl single I ever bought.
Here are a few of my very favourite singles.

I’m Not in Love by 10cc
Forget about the Smiths and Oasis and all those other whiney bands. 10cc were a proper Manchester band making some great music from the early seventies all the way through to 1983. There were two distinct groups within 10cc, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme and Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman. Godley and Creme left in 1976 to work with a musical device they invented called the Gizmatron and Stewart and Gouldman kept 10cc going until 1983 although the band did reform in later years. This fabulous track was recorded at Strawberry studios in Stockport and was originally an album track until public demand made the group release the track as a single.

I’ve Got the Music In Me by Kiki Dee
Most people associate Kiki Dee with Elton John and the hit single ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ but Kiki had a pretty successful solo career and this is a great up-tempo rock number.

Escape (The Pina colada Song) by Rupert Holmes
This was a hit in 1979. What I really love about it are the lyrics. It’s about two lovers who have perhaps lost each other but then find each other again.

Yesterday by the Beatles
Hey, it’s a list of great music! Of course there is going to be a Beatles track! This is really something of a Paul McCartney solo piece and it’s interesting to wonder how it might have turned out without the influence of George Martin, the Beatles’ producer but anyway, it’s a wonderful song. (I have to admit that this is one single I don’t have on vinyl though!)

Only You by Yazoo
Yazoo comprised Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke who later went their separate ways. There was a cover version of Only You by the Flying Pickets, a vocal group who were a group of out of work actors. Their version was just as good as the original and was a Christmas number one in 1983.

Into the Groove by Madonna
This was the theme from the movie ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’, one of my all-time favourite films. It’s actually a great candidate film for a 21st century remake because the plot of the film which involves a girl who follows the personal ads in a newspaper would be perfect for the current internet social media age. Check out the video below with clips from the movie.

Loves Theme by the Love Unlimited Orchestra.
Love Unlimited were, if you didn’t know, Barry White’s backing band and if you’ve never heard this before just imagine one of Barry White’s tracks without him singing and you’ll get the idea. I’ve always loved this single and there used to be a bar in Manchester I used to frequent called the ‘Playground’. It was a sort of disco bar and the DJ used this as his theme song. Read more about the Playground in my novel Floating In Space.

How Long by Ace.
Now this is a serious contender for my all-time favourite single ever. Written by Ace vocalist Paul Carrack who went on to work with other bands like Mike and the Mechanics and later become a solo artist. Paul’s other great songs include ‘The Living Years’ and ‘Over My Shoulder.’

The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby and the Range.
A great eighties track dating from 1986. Bruce Hornsby was an American singer and songwriter. I’m not sure if Bruce had any other hits but this one is a great piano driven rock song that I’ve always loved.

Gonna make you a star by David Essex.
This was a hit in 1974 and I have written a post already about David and his white suit and the impact it had on me. Read more about it here. One quick word of advice though, don’t travel on a grimy old bus wearing a white suit!


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my novel, ‘Floating In Space’? Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

12 Chart Hits from a Decade when Pop Music was Fun!

quotescover-JPG-88Bored by the latest music chart? Remember when the music charts were fun? Well, maybe you don’t but back in the 1970’s, the decade covered in my book ‘Floating In Space’, the music charts were a whole different ball game. Every taste of music was covered from soul to rock and back again. TV theme tunes made it into the charts, as did comedy and novelty records. Here’s a quick selection of ten of the most memorable. Can you think of any others?

Toast by Street Band (1978. Can you spot a young Paul Young?)

King of the Cops (1975)

Mr Jaws by Dickie Goodman. (1975)

Renta Santa by Chris Hill (A sort of British Mr Jaws using the same idea of music clips. 1975.)

Theme from Van Der Valk by the Simon Park Orchestra (a number 1 hit in 1973!)

Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West (Benny Hill reached the Christmas number 1 slot in 1971)

The Monster Mash (Bobby Boris Picket and the Crypt-Kickers! originally from 1962 but re-released in 1970.)

The Wombles (1974)

Convoy: C W McCall (1975)

Convoy GB By Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks (1976)

Ugly duckling Mike Reid (Number 10 in 1975!)

Car 67 by Driver 67 (My favourite oddball hit  of all time from 1978!)


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information!