The band wore black -- black carnations and John Lennon T-shirts -- and mourned a lost idol in the bleary darkness of the Peachtree Street Club. aThey wailed Beatles' songs long into the night, choking up as they screamed, "Please, please me, like I please you . . ."
"As soon as I heard John Lennon had been murdered, I started crying," said Gary Limuti, 26, lead guitarist in the rock band, Neuz, who during his teen-age years was a close friend of the accused killer, Mark David Chapman. t"I felt so angry and hostile, I flashed: 'If I had a gun, I'd shoot the killer myself.' Then I found out it was Mark."
Limuti played hard, closing his eyes to shout his own ode at the devil Chapman has told police made him do it. Then he stepped into the shadows, threading through the punk crowd in leather and gold lame, to meditate on his old friend.
Chapman, he said, yearned to be a rock star, like Lennon, but lacked the talent. He was an outcast yearning to be in, a spirit whose life came to read like a song without lyrics.
"Why? I don't know. He was a very frustrated musician," said Limuti, who shared his friend's "mystical" fascination with Lennon lyrics. "I have a feeling that in his mind, he wanted to become Lennon. He married a Japanese-American woman like Lennon; he wore wire-rimmed glasses like Lennon."
Limuti said he watched his friend adapt the persona of another rock idol, too. Todd Rundgren. "He'd say, 'Oh, Todd Rundgren and I think so much alike.'"
Wearing a bullet-proof vest, Chapman was taken to court yesterday in New York so his attorney, Herbert Adlerberg, could withdraw from the case. "The case is becoming an albatross to me," Adlerberg told the judge after arriving in court amid unusually tight security. Law enforcement sources said threats on Adlerberg's life played an important part in his decision to withdraw.
Judge Rena Uviller then appointed Jonathan Marks, a Harvard Law School graduate and former assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, to defend Chapman.
Outside the city, at a mortuary in suburban Hartsdale, the body of the former Beatle was cremated -- but not before someone had taken a photograph of Lennon in the morgue, published yesterday in The New York Post.
Two of Lennon's fans committed suicide in despair over his death, one a 16-year-old girl in Brookville, Fla., who took an overdose of sleeping pills Tuesday, and a 30-year-old Salt Lake City man who put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
In an emotional interview yesterday, Yoko Ono urged his fans not to surrender to despair. "People are committing suicide," she said. "They are sending me telegrams saying that this is the end of an era and everything. I'm really so concerned . . . I wish I could tell you how hard it is. I've told Sean [her 5-year-old son], and he's crying. I'm afraid he'll be crying more."
As friends and family added bits and pieces to the puzzling patchwork of Chapman's life, and detectives hunted for a motive, Gary Limuti was deluged with calls from reporters around the world. The Penny Press in London wanted an exclusive. The National Enquirer waved its checkbook. The shaken guitar player and his manager called a press conference yesterday afternoon, hoping to assuage a powerful thirst for morsels about the alleged killer.
"He wasn't wacky when I knew him," said Limuti. "He was a humorous guy who was always looking for attention. He was always trying to figure out what he'd become in life, what his goals would be. But more than anything else, he wanted to be a guitar player."
He was a teen-ager picking over the dying memories of the Beatles generation, searching out hidden meaning in the ashes, said Limuti. He tacked John Lennon's picture on his wall and played the White Album over and over. "He got into smoking pot and he got into the Beatles -- especially Sgt. Pepper, "The Drug Album,'" said Limuti. Among his favorite songs: "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," "Dear Prudence," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Here Comes the Sun."
Friends say his parents were strict, that he was grounded for breaking curfew and talking back. When he was forbidden to play the Beatles at home, according to friends, he threatened to burn down the white split-level suburban house in South Atlanta.
He would take his Beatles albums down the street to play at Limuti's house, and then bring them back home. Then one day he found the records missing. He told friends his mother had sold them, and that she had banned his friends from the house.
Chapman drifted through high school, hunting a niche he never found, then or later, say friends. He converted from drugs to Jesus, had a promising career in YMCA youth work, counseled Vietnamese refugees at Ft. Chaffee, Ark., and migrated in 1977 to Honolulu. There, he found work in a hospital print shop, toyed with working at a nursing home, reportedly twice attempted suicide and wound up as a $4-an-hour security guard with a taste for expensive Salvador Dali prints.
But Limuti knew nothing of Chapman's life once he left Georgia for Hawaii. He said he hadn't seen him in three years. What he recalled was his friend's "hippie" phase.
Twice, Chapman ran away from home, once crashing at Limuti's house for a week. They shared interests in music, art and UFOs -- their friendship was sparked when Limuti, as an eighth-grader, spied a seventh-grader with a book on UFOs in the halls. It was Chapman. They remained friends through their years at Columbia High School.
He was "a bit of an outcast," said Limuti, a tall, thin, soft-spoken musician. "That's why I became his friend."
Chapman's girlfriends were all-American, right out of the pages of Seventeen, wholesome, much "straighter, more conservative than he was" said Limuti. Chapman spent hours pouring over music magazines, especially articles about the Beatles; and he became fascinated with radio rumors about Paul McCartney's death.
Limuti remembers that after a local evangelist came to school and preached, Chapman joined an army of 200 kids who carried Bibles and crosses in the halls.
"he always wanted to be trendy," said Limuti.
But that was 10 years back, and later there were reports that his early worship of John Lennon conflicted with his beliefs as a born-again Christian. He reportedly once told a YMCA co-worker that he was angry at Lennon's quip that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus."
Limuti wondered how a person he once knew so well could change so much."I'm not trying to defend what he did. I feel a lot of anger towards him. He's taken from the world a very great person.
"But when I knew him, he was like me in many respects, he was sensitive and held all life sacred. He was appalled at violence.
"It really freaks you out."