Most die-hard Beatles fans know the date of John Lennon’s death better than their own mother’s birthday. On December 8th, 1980, Lennon was leaving his New York Apartment, having spent the morning at a photoshoot and a scheduled interview. Mark Chapman shot five bullets into Lennon’s back as he exited, leaving the musician bleeding into the concrete.
It’s a scene that we all seem to know innately. However, few know that singer-songwriter James Taylor, who lived close to Lennon’s apartment in the Dakota complex, spoke to Chapman the day before he murdered Lennon. Taylor and his ex-wife Carly Simon were close friends of Lennon. Remembering the pair’s first meeting with John and Yoko, Simon told The Independent: “James [Taylor] and I spent New Year’s Eve with John and Yoko and ten others at the Shun Lee Dynasty restaurant in Manhattan, and I happened to sit next to John. It was the first chance I had to sit close to him and study his face and have a good talk.”
Simon went on to note that John wasn’t particularly well-versed when it came to dinner-time conversation: “At midnight, everybody put on goofy hats and blew noise-makers, and John had on this little pointed hat that brought all his features, including his nose, into a kind of pointed focus. I was pregnant with [son] Ben at the time, and John began to give me the compelling, potentially grim story of Yoko’s problematic delivery of Sean. It took 20 minutes to tell, and all the while he wore that silly hat. It would have been difficult to take anyone else but John seriously.”
When Taylor and Simon heard of Lennon’s death they were stunned, especially considering they lived so close to John. “It seems amazing to me now,” Taylor told Tom Brook, “But I lived in the building one up from the Dakota and I heard [John] shot – five, just as quick as you could pull the trigger, about five explosions.”
But it gets weirder. When Lennon’s killer was revealed, Taylor realised he’d bumped into Chapman on the subway the day before. “[John’s] assassin had button-holed me in the tube station, the subway stop, right in front of 72nd Street the day before [John’s murder],” he told Brook. “The guy had sort of pinned me to the wall and was glistening with maniacal sweat and talking some freak speak about what he was going to do and his stuff with how John was interested, and he was going to get in touch with John Lennon. And it was surreal to actually have contact with the guy 24 hours before he shot John.”
Many years later, Taylor would imply that Lennon’s death was a sinister by-product of his fame. In 2011, he told the BBC: “The more well-known you are, it just becomes statistically more probable that someone crazy will get attracted, you know? I think there is a point of diminishing returns to fame and success, there’s a point where you can’t do your job anymore, you’re just maintaining the thing, the form that you’ve created, that you’ve been cast in.” Taylor himself knew that, having been apprehended by Chapman on December 7th. The only difference is that he was fortunate enough only to be the target of Chapman’s ravings.