When the former Beatles frontman John Lennon was gunned down in 1980 by Mark David Chapman, the world entered a state of shock that it has never truly recovered from. Lennon was one of the finest songwriters of all time, one-quarter of the most important band in history, and for the most part, a voice for good in a world that seemed so consistently bad.
Whilst the news cut everybody deeply, no one else felt the pain more than those who were closest to Lennon. Whether it be his wife Yoko, his sons Julian and Sean, or his former bandmates, Lennon was a tremendous character, and as his most intimate have shared at many points over the years, the void left by his incredibly premature death has never been filled, and nor will it ever be.
Lennon’s songwriting partner in The Beatles, Paul McCartney, is one of those who feels the loss more than most, and whenever asked about his old friend, he explains that he often still thinks about him every day. Reflecting just how affected by Lennon’s death he was, McCartney penned the poem ‘Jerk Of All Jerks’ about Chapman, which was published in the 2001 book Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics 1965-1999.
McCartney caught our attention when he explained the poem’s provenance during the historic Adopt-A-Minefield event in Los Angeles in 2001. At the time, Macca told the audience: “This is poem is kind of serious because the title of the poem came to me the day John got shot and after all the tears and the horror of the whole thing, in the evening the phrase that kept going through in my head about the guy who done it was ‘Jerk Of All Jerks’.”
Reciting the poem, McCartney continued: “Hello, how are you? I’m jerk of all jerks. I’m here to undo all your charitable works. I do it quite simply by making mistakes and one little boo-boo is all that it takes and you’re at the mercy of jerk of all jerks.”
Adding: “I’m the guy with a pistol who kills your best friend. You can’t really blame me ’cause I’m round the bend. I’m the man that disposes of nuclear waste. There’s no need to worry it’s perfectly safe. In fact there is now every reason to hope that if anything happens I’ll easily cope.”
“Hello, how are you? I’m jerk of all jerks … I’m the soldier who says as he plants a landmine that, ‘this field in the future is sure to be fine’. And what’s more he is told that this innocent egg won’t cost you much more than an arm and a leg”. Hello, how are you? I’m jerk of all jerks”, the poem concluded.
Interestingly, it has been pointed out that the version McCartney recounted in Los Angeles is different from the one that appears in the book. Reading these parts on ABC that same year, McCartney read lines such as “I’m a motorist that quite likes a drink when he drives. Who causes the loss of innocent lives” and “I’m the leader who says as he wages his war that the children are not ones that he’s aiming for”, that did not appear during his Adopt-A-Minefield appearance.