John Lennon’s gardenWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
On Oct. 9, I stood on the curb at W. 72nd Street in New York City, staring at the sidewalk in front of the Dakota Building.
The day was significant in that it was the exact 70th anniversary of John Lennon’s birth. The place was significant in that it was the exact spot where Lennon died.
I stood across the street from the Dakota, unable to decide how close to the actual spot I wanted to be. Intellectually, I knew the bloodstains were long ago scrubbed and faded away, but I regarded the block of cement with superstitious dread and could not bring myself to cross the street and approach the ground where Lennon shed his lifeblood.
Instead, I crossed the street to Central Park and Strawberry Fields, the garden named for Lennon.
The large mosaic in the park, with the simple yet universe-shaking word “Imagine” embossed on the tiles, was surrounded by people paying respect to Lennon’s life and artistry, and by people disrespecting the mosaic by acting like fools, pretending to make snow angels on it, posing for photos as they made thumbs-up gestures and generally acting like their skulls contained all the brains of the legions of squirrels that call the park home.
I stood on the outer rim of the mosaic, not sure what to do. I crossed through the garden to a stand where an apparent survivor of the Summer of Love was selling postcards, photos and odds and ends that pictured Lennon and his fellow Beatles. I bought two pins with images of Lennon in New York City, tucked them into my right jacket pocket and stood on Central Park West, trying to decide if I wanted to stand on the ground where Lennon died.
My mother and I did not agree on a lot of things, but for as long as I can remember, we united over The Beatles. From a beat-up collection of vinyl singles to the advent of cassette tapes and through CDs, just about every Beatles album and song made their way through our kitchen and living room rotation. Mom’s favorite was “The Beatles,” nicknamed the “White Album,” followed closely by “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be.” Specific songs would be played in endless loops: “Yellow Submarine,” “Hey Jude,” “Here Comes the Sun.”
Mom and I could rarely find the right words to exchange, but we could harmonize on these songs, communicating through the words of Lennon and Paul McCartney.
I was drawn to Lennon, and read everything I could about him in books borrowed from the library. Lennon’s one-parent upbringing and modest background struck a chord, as did his mission to not compromise, to fight for what he believed in and to use his art to wake and shake people. If art failed to get a reaction, to make people think or feel, what was the point, he asked, and that has been the mantra of my life as a writer.
Mom died by degrees during the course of two decades, but that’s a summation employing hindsight; at the time, I did not realize how steady her decline was, and therefore had not worked out the inevitable.
A Day in the Life
On Dec. 9, 1980, riding the bus to Lake Junior High School, I noticed that WOHO was playing an unbroken string of Beatles songs. I wondered aloud what that was about, and someone — I think he was a blond kid named Roger — said, “John Lennon was shot and killed last night.”
I did not believe him and said so.
Roger, if that was his name, shrugged and went back to his conversation.
The question that flooded my mind then has never been answered to my satisfaction. Why would anyone want to kill John Lennon? He died at 40, a milestone I passed four years ago. I will forever chase his legacy, and be grateful he created a universe of music in which I run, shout, dance, hide, cry and love.
All You Need is Love
Recently, I found an online
of someone dialing through New York City radio stations the night Lennon died. The bursts of static squelch through fragments as the dial slowly spins: Beatles music, news bulletins, commentary and police reports from the scene by an “Officer Miller.”
Listening to the recording transported me to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, where I once spent an afternoon at an exhibit about Lennon. I marveled at the handwritten lyrics, the guitars, the white piano where Lennon wrote “Imagine.” At the end of the exhibit was a glass case containing a brown paper grocery bag with its top closed and rolled over, creased with sweat and time. A plaque noted that the bag contained Lennon’s belongings when he died, including the round eyeglasses that rested on his nose when he turned to face his assassin.
“It’s funny how one insect can damage so much grain,” Elton John sang in his tribute to Lennon, “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny).” But standing in Strawberry Fields on Lennon’s birthday, I felt, for the first time since Mom died, the hope and life Lennon represented and the joy he gave us all those years ago.
I looked up at the sky, felt the Lennon pins in my pocket, hummed “In My Life” to myself and turned my back on the Dakota, choosing the life in gardens and music versus the death in sidewalk and concrete.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. His e-mail is email@example.com.