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Revisit the moment John Lennon was interviewed by a homeless Vietnam veteran


The death of John Lennon at the hands of Mark Chapman wasn’t simply a tragedy; it was a reminder that music holds real power. The killer was enraged by the lyrics to Lennon’s song ‘God’, in which he states that he doesn’t believe in The Beatles, God or Jesus. Chapman was enraged enough that he bought a gun and lurked outside Lennon’s New York apartment waiting for a moment to strike. Ten years before Chapman shot Lennon, however, the musician was met with a warning in the form of a young Vietnam veteran called Curt Claudio, a 23-year old American fan who had travelled all the way to Tittenhurst in Ascot to meet his hero.

The details of Claudio’s life up until he arrived outside Lennon’s house are still the subject of speculation. At the time, the John Lennon estate believed he was a Vietnam veteran. In the 2018 Imagine John Yoko book, Dan Richter – the pair’s assistant at the time – notes: “Apparently Claudio was a shell-shocked veteran who was due to be released from the hospital.” Lennon said he’d been sending telegrams to his house for nine months or so, always saying the same thing: “I’m coming and then I’ll only have to look in your eyes and I’ll know”.

Lennon’s team assured an unsettled Lennon that the “mad fan” wouldn’t actually show up. And then he did. Initially, Richter wanted to call the police and have Claudio arrested, but Lennon told them to let him in and give him a cup of tea. Claudio wanted both to meet John but also firmly believed that he was John, or at least that they had some spiritual connection. For the next hour or so, Lennon attempted to help him realise that the ideas he had formed in his head were utterly detached from reality.

John recalled the meeting in an interview held the week after: “[Cluadio] looked in my eyes and he didn’t get any answer. He thought the whole thing was about him and I said, ‘No, it’s about me.’ It might strike a corresponding chord in your experience because we all have similar experiences but it’s basically about me and if it’s not about me, it’s about Yoko. I said. ‘You better get on and live your own life, you’re wasting your time trying to live mine’.”

The most fascinating thing about the interview is that, while clearly unhinged, Claudio is profoundly relatable. After all, we all like to believe that songs we value have been written especially for us. At the time, Claudio would have been just one of many fans who felt Lennon’s music contained hidden depths and that it had been written to change the world from within. But, as Lennon explains, much of his material was written without a set purpose at all. In fact, a lot of the time he was just “having fun with words”. In this way, the conversation can be seen as a microcosm of a much grander dialogue about the relationship between musicians and their fans. As Lennon explains that his songs were written either for himself “or at best Yoko”, Claudio’s face begins to fall. We see a moment of dawning realisation: musicians are just ordinary men and women who need food and sleep and want to live quiet, happy lives.

If you haven’t already, check out the fascinating conversation between Lennon and Claudio below.