Yesterday the press reported that Mark David Chapman’s upcoming parole hearing has been rescheduled for a date in September. Chapman, who gunned down John Lennon in cold blood in front of the Dakota apartment building in New York City three decades ago, has served almost 30 years in prison. He was sentenced in 1981 to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years. Since 2000 he has tried, unsuccessfully, to be paroled every two years. Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow, opposes any parole because she believes that Chapman poses a threat to her family.
Should the fact that Chapman murdered a colossal musical and cultural figure like Lennon, as opposed to an average person, factor into the decision on whether Chapman should be paroled? I think the answer is a resounding yes. A thought-provoking book called 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men And Women Who Shaped A Millennium tried to come up with a formula to measure whether a person was influential. One of the factors was the degree and extent of impact that a person had on the world. Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, was rated number 1 because of the extraordinary, game-changing nature of his invention.
Lennon was no Gutenberg, but he clearly had an enormous, and continuing, impact on the world. Can anyone seriously dispute that Lennon was a hugely influential musical figure? The Beatles forever changed the direction of popular music, thanks in large part to John Lennon. His contribution continued in his solo career, with songs like Working Class Hero and Imagine. Anyone who still treasures songs like Twist and Shout, A Hard Day’s Night, Sexy Sadie, or Come Together, among dozens of others, knows in his gut and in his heart of the impact of John Lennon.
Who knows whether John Lennon would have made any further contribution to popular music or modern culture? The point is that he never got the chance to do so, and the rest of us were deprived as well when he lost that opportunity — thanks to Mark David Chapman. Yoko Ono and Lennon’s children, family and friends have suffered the most due to Chapman’s crime, of course, and Ono’s wishes concerning Chapman’s request for parole should be respected. The authorities also should consider, however, that the ripples from Chapman’s act fanned out to touch all of us. For inflicting such a terrible, senseless loss, I think Chapman deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison.