30 years ago (tomorrow) I was standing in my parent's kitchen, having just come down from getting dressed for school. The Today Show was on, and they were talking non-stop about how John Lennon had been shot and killed the previous evening. I was stunned. I stood, motionless, mouth agape, trying to understand how this could possibly be true. I didn’t understand how my parents could wash dishes and drink coffee and not be staring at the screen. I was numb. I was 15. It was my first assassination.
I had just started listening to The Beatles. I wore out Sgt. Pepper. I found Robber Soul buried in my mom’s albums and adopted it. And, to be honest, and more than a little embarrassed, as I stood in shock in the kitchen that morning, I was also trying to remember which Beatle was John. It seems ridiculous now, but I was just learning. I was a n00b.
Over time, years, I grew to understand just how big of a loss this was. As I listened to his music more, I grew to admire, and relate to, John’s almost painful yearning for peace and his unwavering belief in the power of truth and love. As I read more and watched more and listened even more, I appreciated his quick and sharp wit. He could make his point, spot on, and usually as a joke to ease the tension. As I learned more, I longed for more. I longed for more of John Lennon.
While in NYC 5 years ago for the marathon, one of the things I insisted on seeing was the memorial for John Lennon in Central Park. I also wanted to see the Dakota, the building where he and Yoko lived. A sort of pilgrimage I guess, the best I could manage short of a trip to Liverpool.
The Dakota was different than I had expected. I pictured a door that opened directly on to the street. I always thought he was shot while answering a knock at that door.
As I looked at the building, then my map, then the street signs and then the building again I realized I was at the right place, but I wanted to be sure. I walked to the guard house, which I would assume wasn’t there 25 years before, and asked the guard “Is this the Dakota?” He nodded. He must get that all the time. What must it be like living or working in a building known for something so terrible. I suppose people are working today in the Texas Schoolbook Depository. Life really does go on, doesn't it.
It is a magnificent building. I was most impressed by the cast iron faces on the railing along the sidewalk, and the enormous gaslights above the entrance.
A short walk to Strawberry Fields in Central Park, and there was the memorial. It was quiet. That is until we were surrounded by what was easily a hundred teenage girls, and it was pretty obvious they were on a tour, direct from Japan. In a matter of seconds, they were everywhere. They all wore the same school uniform, but with different, tiny backpacks and purses. It was as close as I've ever come to a flash mob.
The Japanese girls, and there were more arriving by the minute, and the girl I was with, and I stood and looked at the mosaic and snapped pictures. I had always imagined it as colorful, but it’s pretty much light gray and dark gray. Still, it’s simplicity of message and place warmed by heart. It also made me sad.
The girl and I discussed what the world had missed in 25 years without John Lennon. She thought that perhaps his popularity and message would have faded. That he was a man of his time. She was a Republican.
I thought that the Double Vision album was an re-awakening for him, that he would have continued on with more music from his heart, with a message of love and peace and acceptance. Sure, he might have pissed some people off, but he would have no regrets. And he would have made things right with Julian, his oldest son.
He would play solo concerts with piano and guitar for charities. He'd keep working on his art and dabble with photography. He would stand by his wife. He would produce his sons’s music. I'm pretty sure he would have appeared on Letterman many times.
The world would have looked to him for meaning and hope when his adopted city was attacked on September 11, 2001. He would have spoken out against the war in Iraq.
He would be an ambassador to the world from his imagined future, a future of peace and love and understanding.
John Lennon has fulfilled that last role, even in death. But I still miss him.
Numbers: 5.1 miles on trails.