Personally Yours, Beatle Brunch Fans …
an article written by Keith Elliott Greenberg, author of the book:
December 8, 1980 The Day John Lennon Died.
The sign in front of the Dakota reads, “AUTHORIZED PERSONS ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT.” I study it, read it over, walk a few paces down the block, double back and scrutinize it again.
Had the rule been enforced in 1980, Mark David Chapman would never have had the opportunity to lurk in the shadows of the archway leading to the entrance of the historic building, and fire five hollow point bullets at the back of his onetime idol, John Lennon.
Chapman, I’m convinced, was mentally ill. For whatever reason, he blamed his various shortcomings on Lennon, and had made at least one prior trip to New York to slay the former Beatle. He was also a proponent of Herostratic fame – named for Herostratus, the arsonist who torched the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, in 356 BC – or infamy at any cost.
Sadly, with this one act of violence, he succeeded. As a result, when I was doing interviews related to the hardcover release of my book, December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died two years ago, a number of radio stations asked that I refrain from mentioning the killer’s name; he was already infamous enough, and listeners preferred to hear about John.
Obviously, if it weren’t for Chapman, there never would have been a sign restricting the movements of the curious in front of the Dakota. On a chilly October afternoon, as regular New Yorkers patiently wait for the M-72 bus a few feet away, a dozen or so tourists line up to photograph the wrought iron gate leading to the building’s reception area – the spot where Lennon collapsed following the attack.
The doorman and I make eye contact, and joke about the fact that, in this modern age, his face appears in hundreds, if not thousands, of social media photos. The most common question he hears: “Where did it happen?”
When I wrote December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died, I realized there was more to that inquiry. People wanted to know how – and, particularly, why – the tragedy occurred. I told the story from a New York-centric point of view, describing not only the activities of Lennon, Chapman and the other Beatles that day, but others who’d find themselves pulled into the story: the mayor, the police officer who rushed to the crime scene, the neighbor whose husband dialed 911, the guy being treated for a broken leg at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital when the singer’s body was brought into the emergency room.
Now that the paperback edition is available, I find myself recounting these stories, as well as many others I’ve heard from fans about their December 8, 1980 experiences. Some are mildly amusing – a friend related that, at dinner that night, he told his father about his preference for Paul McCartney, and continues to feel guilty about it – but there’s an underlying sadness behind every tale, and a feeling of communal grieving that has not diminished after more than three decades.
From the Dakota, I cross the street to Central Park, passing an entranceway jammed with pedicabs, or rickshaws, and turn onto the short, winding path to Strawberry Fields, the 2.5-acre, landscaped memorial to the Liverpudlian who came to love New York. Thirty-two years ago, I walked a similar path into the park, joining 225,000 other fans at a vigil less than a week after the murder. For ten minutes, all of us were silent, some lost in prayer or meditation, the rest in our memories of John and his music. There was sorrow, of course, but comfort in unanimity – the fact that we’d all literally come together over him.
This time, I have my eight-year-old daughter, Summer, with me and we ponder the focal point of Strawberry Fields, the circular mosaic of inlaid stones, highlighted by the title of Lennon’s most significant song, “IMAGINE.” When she asks why this particular word, I explain how John – a turbulent guy himself -- asked us to imagine a world that was truly and utterly peaceful.
The 50 or so people gathered at the memorial appear to be aspiring to that goal. They chat quietly, smile at each other, introduce themselves. I noticed that someone has placed a pair of National Health glasses – Lennon’s trademark – on top of the mosaic, along with two mini yellow submarines, and a stuffed strawberry with the letters “JL” embroidered on top.
Everybody has a story about John, and the way he affected them. Michele Polan shows me a portfolio of her artwork. She started drawing the individual Beatles at the height of Beatlemania, and they remain among her favorite subjects. An hour before the shooting, she tells me, she decided to listen to Abbey Road on her turntable, and, even now, gets a chill when she contemplates how Lennon lost his life while he was so prominent in her thoughts.
“It’s kind of sad being here,” she says. “I think of him still.”
Two guitars are produced, and a small crowd congregates around a bench. Interestingly, the performers choose a Bob Marley tune, but its theme is consistent with the mood.
“Every little thing gonna be alright,” sings Barry White from the Bronx.
His partner Craig James, lives walking distance from Strawberry Fields, and appears to bask in its serenity. “We come here to give and take energy from this beautiful place,” he reflects. “We come to celebrate music. We come to remember John Lennon.
“He had a lot more to give.”