John Lennon: New Yorker
I won't try to be grandma Elvira here and attempt to describe the influence the Beatles had on modern music and culture. Suffice it to say that it was so profound that although Lennon, while still with the Beatles, made a controversial, albeit offhand remark about the group being bigger than Jesus, I happen to believe that this was, indeed, true. In other words, most teens and tweens were infinitely more galvanized by the Beatles in the 60s than by going to Sunday mass. The Beatles, in turn, were perpetually mobbed by rabid, screaming fans wherever they went. It was doubless impossible to live any kind of normal life this way, and the Beatles eventually stopped touring and retired to the studio to produce some of their greatest albums.
In 1971, after the Beatles had broken up, Lennon, with his wife Yoko Ono, moved to New York City, where he would live until his death in 1980. He adored it here, and told his biographer Ray Coleman that "New York is what Rome used to be."
New Yorkers pride themselves on not going all ga-ga when they spot a celebrity on the street. Most residents have seen their share, particularly since films and TV shows are constantly being produced here. One of the things Lennon loved about New York was that he felt free to roam the streets without being constantly hassled. He eagerly explored the city, and after his son Sean was born, he could be seen wheeling his stroller down the paths of Central Park.
BG often talks reverently about the time he met and "touched" John Lennon. In the seventies, BG worked at a hardware store on the Upper East Side, where he did encounter a number of celebs, including Andy Warhol, who used to purchase art supplies there.
One day Lennon wandered in and asked BG for change of a dollar. BG handed him the four quarters (thus "touching" Lennon). Lennon then asked if he knew where the nearest health food store was, and BG's colleague told him there was one right across the street. As he left, BG put up his fingers in a peace sign and said, "Take care, John!" Lennon gave him a peculiar look and left.
Another time, BG was in a West Side bar in the afternoon. The place was nearly empty, but seated at a nearby booth were Lennon and Elton John. Elton John's famous cover of Lennon's "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" had recently come out, and BG recalls that the two played the song over and over on the jukebox and drunkenly sang along. BG, mindful of his status as a real New Yorker, never approached the two.
Though I never saw Lennon in the flesh, I remember a colleague of mine whose friend ran into Lennon and asked him the eternal, moronic question: "When are you getting back together with the Beatles?" Lennon replied, "When are you getting back together with your grammar school mates?" People who think of fame and fortune as the ultimate dream come true fail to realize that most celebrities have to put up with slavish sycophants who cannot relate to their idols as human beings, and actually think a star will be impressed with the revelation that a stranger "loves" their music/films/art.
In the fall of 1980, after spending a number of years in the role of "househusband" while raising his son Sean, Lennon went back into the studio with Yoko to record the album "Double Fantasy." The day of Lennon's death, Mark David Chapman approached him as he left his apartment in the Dakota building, requesting that he autograph his copy of the newly released album. Lennon obliged. When Lennon returned to the Dakota that night, Chapman, who had been lying in wait for him all day, fatally shot him.
When the news of Lennon's death was announced, hordes of fans began to gather in front of the Dakota. As I recall, this vigil went on for days and days. Although it was a touching tribute, I had no desire to join the people chanting and singing Beatles songs and lighting candles there and talking about "John" as if they'd known him personally. Certainly, it was a testament to how deeply Lennon had touched his generation. But somehow, the sight of the fans gathered there also brought to mind the darkly rabid devotion that led some disturbed individuals to obsess over a star to an unhealthy degree. After all, Lennon is far from the only celebrity who has been stalked and even killed by an off-kilter fan.
When fans of a celebrity identify so strongly with their idol that they see them as a demi-god and this idyllic image is subsequently shattered by the fact that they are merely human, the results can indeed be tragic. Chapman had been an avid fan of the Beatles and particularly of Lennon, but his admiration later turned to obsession and, eventually, resentment. Apparently, Lennon's new visibility fueled Chapman's insanity enough to compel him to travel to New York and stalk him.
Today, the Strawberry Fields memorial was packed with fans paying tribute to Lennon. The memorial consists of a garden in Central Park, directly across the street from the Dakota on the corner of West 72nd Street and Central Park West. The central part of the memorial is a circular mosaic (shown here). In the center is the single word "imagine"--which is, of course, the title of one of the most famous of Lennon's songs.
Once again, people gathered in tribute. Once again, I felt a slight twinge of uneasiness at the sight of tearful fans and aging ex-hippies strumming Beatles tunes on their guitars. Yes, it was certainly touching and appropriate, but a little part of me said to myself: Don't these people have a life? What would Lennon think of all this?
It is of course impossible to say what Lennon would be doing today if he were still alive. I like to imagine that he would still be living in New York, perhaps still making music, and probably protesting the Iraqi war as vehemently and outspokenly as he had once protested the war in Vietnam.
As things stand, Mark David Chapman lives on. His identity will forevermore be merged with Lennon's--which, I suppose, is what Chapman ultimately dreamed of.