The shooting of John Lennon in 1980 was staged, or at least he didn’t immediately die. Or at least that’s the premise that launches a hilarious work of fiction called “Life After Death (For Beginners)” by Michael Gerber, in which — among other things — Lennon tries to discover who killed him and whether it was for money or politics or love.
I guess it doesn’t sound very hilarious, and I’m guessing that Yoko Ono, who has been a friend to the peace movement all these years, might not find it hilarious, since she serves as the butt of many jokes. Other butts of jokes include John himself, the other three Beatles, their manager, Jackie Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gloria Swanson, Elvis, and above all the human race — which sort of makes it nothing personal for all those other people.
But now it sounds mean-spirited. “Life After Death” may be cynical, but I went into it loving John Lennon’s music and his politics and — more or less — humanity, and I came out the same way, only with a little extra appreciation for Michael Gerber, as someone who could make me laugh out loud more times than I kept count of — not to mention rewriting the 60s as an orchestrated plot set in motion by a stand-up comic, plus including the full text of his stand-up routine rather than skipping over that as if it were sex, like most novels would. I do recall a good deal of hilarity in the scene — I’m not giving much away — in which John accuses Paul of his murder. I also came away with added appreciation for John Lennon as a man who could inspire someone to invent things he never did or said that are not just hilarious on their own but that gain depth from the idea that it’s John Lennon doing them.
I don’t know if I could laugh at this book if I were one of the people its characters are based on, except maybe Paul. I think I’d be too busy hiring lawyers to try to prevent the book ever being made into a movie. Luckily, most of us don’t show up in these pages at all — or so we can easily tell ourselves. I’m afraid that if John really were still alive he’d be telling us the joke was on us, that we could only laugh at madness created by beings we more or less recognized as the same type of people we are.
We turn out to be as fragile as Plastic Ono Band, as insane as Sgt. Pepper’s, and as embarrassing as a naked photo on an album cover.
David Swanson is the author of “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union”