John Lennon, Magnificent Bastard
I remember a November night last year, living in a weird all-women’s building in New York City, sitting around a table in the lounge playing cards and telling my friends the story of John Lennon. There were two of us, tag-teaming the story, picking up where the other one left off. It was heavily editorialized but extremely honest. It took all night. We told the story like we were the narrators of some kind of fairy tale, repeating an odyssey of a legend we intended our listeners to pass on to their children, and their children’s children.
The fact is that both of us are 20-something girls. We were born years after John Lennon died. To us the biography of John Lennon is already myth, filled with fantastical stories that may or may not be true–John Lennon greeting mystified police officers wearing a top hat and a cape (after they were called by a girl he dosed with acid, who swore she had been kidnapped by a John Lennon impostor); dramatic retellings of John Lennon’s first meeting with Paul McCartney (a garden fete in Woolton when they were both teenagers), or his first night with Yoko Ono (they record “Two Virgins,” or what about when his wife came home and caught John and Yoko sitting cross-legged on the floor staring at each other); John Lennon goes to Spain (just after the birth of his son) with Brian Epstein (alone, and even though Brian had a pretty well-documented crush on John)–but are certainly worth believing. His music rarely enters into it. John Lennon was this larger-than-life figure, a beautiful tall tale whose lifespan didn’t end at the same time that his life did, on this day 30 years ago.
In my head, John Lennon is the first rock star the way that we think of them: brilliant and imperfect and peaceful and furious, a hissing, spitting, cursing ball of energy. He did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted to do it, and not because he was famous, or because he was rich. He always did these things, from his childhood at Menlove until the day he died. I think a lot of people don’t see John Lennon the way that I do: the good mixed up with the bad and filled with loads of nonsense and an unending sense of humor. Sometimes John was cruel but usually he was kind; a strange man unafraid of letting the world see him for who he was, warts and all (except for some reason he refused to be photographed wearing his glasses in the early Beatle years–so half the time he was just walking around blind). When he wanted to write a song, he wrote a fucking song. When he wanted to draw a picture, he drew a fucking picture, or wrote a fucking poem, or made a fucking video, or talked to a fucking girl. He never hesitated or wasted a second and turned the ordinary into the extraordinary always. It didn’t matter if it made sense. It didn’t need to make sense. Time you enjoy wasting, said John Lennon, was not wasted. It’s kind of a beautiful way to live one’s life I guess.
To the Beatlemaniacs among us, Liverpool is the Holy Land, a hallowed ground where the lucky are able to make their pilgrimages. But I guess New York is almost as good, the new home that John Lennon chose. I know that the first place I went just after I had moved to New York was the Dakota building, where he lived and (where he died, I guess).
I was so fucking lonely that day. I got to New York and I sat in my room and I opened my window and I looked at all the lights and high-rises and cars and I cried. I didn’t know what else to do, so I did what I always do when I’m totally spent and I’m out of ideas: I seek out John.
When I got there I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. It was difficult to imagine that I was standing in a place where John Lennon had once stood. In my brain he had been too magical to have really existed but I couldn’t deny the fact that he had been very real now that I was there, and maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to start with the place where he had fallen before he died It was weird to be standing on the sidewalk where years before someone had shot the man I love more than anybody. I didn’t know what to do with myself. It seemed strange to cry. It was sunny and it was warm outside and people were passing by happily, so I crossed the street into Strawberry Fields in Central Park and somehow, like always, I knew I had found some kind of home in John: a huge goddamn group of people with a tiny little band in the middle, everybody twisting and shouting Beatles songs from ages 5 to 95. I danced with strangers until it got cold and it got dark and I went home and I went to sleep without crying.
I went back again on December 8th, the anniversary of his death. I guess I hadn’t anticipated exactly how different the attitude would be. It was freezing outside but it was impossible to feel the chill in a group of people so crushed together. Nobody seemed to mind. People held candles in the air. I watched wax drip down this one girl’s arm; she didn’t care. I learned a pretty important lesson about stereotypes that day, as I caught sight of a couple of people behind me, and the one who looked like the frat boy was the one repeating Beatles facts until his throat was hoarse. I think for my generation it’s easier to forget exactly how far the grasp of the Beatles reaches. I was surrounded by all kinds of people my age, people whose lives had never intersected with John’s, screaming words he wrote before we were even conceived and exchanging bizarre John Lennon anecdotes and crying. I cried like a little girl, naturally. Apparently John Lennon turns me into the biggest sap. I was impressed by how many people felt the same way that I did about someone we had never met and would never meet, because we all felt like we knew him. Everyone was there like we were remembering this mutual friend we’d all had.
The band that was playing stopped for a moment of silence to mark the moment when John died and I guess the other band playing his music like 50 yards behind them that no one had heard until then didn’t get the memo because they kept playing. At first everyone was annoyed. All we wanted to do was be allowed to sit around and have a good cry and mourn but the music was making it pretty much impossible. All of a sudden, almost in unison, everyone started to realize exactly how perfect it was and people started to laugh: even in death, you couldn’t get John Lennon to shut the fuck up.
Check the MORE tag for some of my favorite Lennon nonsense. Give resting in peace a chance, you badass, GQ motherfucker.
It was Chrisbus time but Randolph was alone. Where were all his good pals. Bernie, Dave, Nicky, Alice, Beddy, Freba, Viggy, Nigel, Alfred, Clive, Stan, Frenk, Tom, Harry, George, Harold? Where were they on this day? Randolf looged saggly at his only Chrispbut cart from his dad who did not live there.
‘I can’t understan this being so aloneley on the one day of the year when one would surely spect a pal or two?’ thought Rangolf. Hanyway he carried on putting ub the desicrations and muzzle toe. All of a surgeon there was amerry timble on the door. Who but who could be knocking on my door? He opend it and there standing there who? but only his pals. Bernie, Dave, Nicky, Alice, Beddy, Freba, Viggy, Nigel, Alfred, Clive, Stan, Frenk, Tom, Harry, George, Harlb weren’t they?
Come in in old pals buddys and mates. With a big griff on his face Randoff welcombed them. In they came jorking and labbing shoubing ‘Haddy Grimmble, Randoob.’ and other heary, and then they all jumped on him and did smite him with mighty blows about his head crying, ‘We never liked you all the years we’ve known you. You were never raelly one of us you know, soft head.’
They killed him you know, at least he didn’t die alone did he? Merry Chrustchove, Randolf old pal buddy.
Photos by Astrid Kirchherr
Arf, Arf, he goes, a merry sight
Our hairy little friend
Arf, Arf, upon the lampost bright
Arfing round the bend.
Nice dog! Goo boy,
Waggie tail and beg,
Clever Nigel, jump for joy
Because we’re putting you to sleep at three of the clock, Nigel.
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