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Thursday, December 9, 2010

"When I find myself in times of trouble . . . Mother Mary comes to meet me . . ." Consolation of Strawberry Fields

Yesterday, December the 8th, was the  Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was also the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's murder, and just as it is said that people of a certain age remember what they were doing when they received the news that John F. Kennedy was assassinated (as I blogged about in a previous post), it is said that most people of a certain age will remember what they were doing when they received word that Lennon was shot and killed in New York City, just outside his home, a half a block away from where I now reside.

I had just moved to New York City nearly six months prior to this incident, and was subletting various places as I had not found a place to live. I had not listened to the radio that morning and didn't own a television. Therefore, I found out about his death very early the following morning, on December 9th, 1980 — thirty years ago today —when I was picking up clothes from Canopy Dry Cleaners (which was located on West Seventy-Second Street in Manhattan a block and a half west of Lennon's home in the Dakota).

The owners of Canopy Dry Cleaners were a Korean couple, and the wife always had her Korean Bible open on the counter and that day was no exception — other than she had a portable radio playing Lennon's song Starting Over .

She was the one who told me he had died the previous night, the night of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, from a gunshot. She recalled the irony of his famous lyrics (from Let It Be), "when I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to meet me . . ." and that John Lennon apparently hated the lyrics because of their "Christian undertones" although the song was written by Paul McCartney (for his departed mother Mary who died when he was a young boy).

Whatever the reason for McCartney penning the lyrics, or for Lennon's reaction to the song, Let it Be, would be the last album for  The Beatles and unwittingly made a statement about moving on in life. After  Lennon's death the conflicting rhetoric associated with this song filled the conversations of the thousands and thousands of people that filled the upper westside streets of New York City to recall their memories of John Lennon.

My main association with John Lennon's music at  that time was painful. Imagine (his big hit song of the 1970's), had been chosen by the student council of my graduating high school class — a place where I was always the unchosen one by classmates. I was not yet savvy enough to dismiss their ridicule, found no consolation in Imagine and preferred songs  such as Neil Diamond's rendition of He Ain't Heavy He's my Brother and its lyrics, "if I am laden at all, I am laden with sadness that everyones heart isn't filled with love for one another . . ." even though Imagine lyrics long cry out for "a brotherhood of man."

Besides there were moments that I hardly believed Lennon could "imagine no possessions" given his many homes. Still, it was shocking and sad to see someone murdered, especially someone who brought consolation to so many.

In any event, I was in grade school when The Beatles became a household name, but I associated them with unrest, probably because of all the upheaval in my own life. I remember the winter of 1964, when I was an elementary school student. In my class of 30 pupils, I was one of two students whose parents supported Barry Goldwater's run for the presidency (which he had officially announced in January of that year — five days before President Lyndon Johnson had announced his "war on poverty"in his State of the Union speech). I felt left out then also for being one of two. During those elementary school days, it was so important to be liked and I foolishly longed to be part of the majority — the "in" crowd. As it was, I was the target of bullying because I wore very thick glasses for my high myopia, and was experiencing the growths of lumps and bumps all over my face and body from Neurofibromatoisis.

At that time it seemed to me there was sadness and strife not just in my school life but also in my home life. My parents were constantly fighting, leaving my mother in tears, and the unrest was all around me. Additionally, most of the United States was still mourning the loss of John F. Kennedy, when along came the release of the record album, Introducing the Beatles. It has been said that these "four guys from Liverpool" seemed to be offering hope to our aching country when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 23rd 1964 singing Twist and Shout, Please Please Me, and I  Want to Hold Your Hand. 

I suppose to some extent, many people wanted their hand held during such time of strife, and these four musicians from Liverpool, England, who in 1964, performed on the stage of The Ed Sullivan Theatre on 53rd Street and Broadway in New York City seemed the ones to provide hope for many. I am told the theater was overwhelmed by over 50,000 requests for tickets in a theatre that seated 703.

The numbers of people who followed The Beatles went up drastically after Lennon was shot, and in fact after he died, throngs of people stood outside the Dakota chanting with such fervor that his wife, Yoko Ono, sent word to the crowd that their chanting was keeping her awake. She asked they reconvene in Central Park for silent prayer, and declared that December 14 would be dedicated to silent prayer. 30,000 people gathered in Liverpool, and 225,000 gathered in Central Park, many remembering those days in 1964 when they first saw Lennon on their television sets when he appeared on the stage of The Ed Sullivan Theater. A number of years after this, I appeared on the stage of The Ed Sullivan Theater in a small role for the sit-com, Kate and Allie. Lennon's memory was still very much of the ambiance, though it had been so many years since he was on that stage.

He continues to be mourned across the world, but mostly in New York's Strawberry Fields across the street from the Dakota. Yoko Ono has provided many resources to preserve this area which is also very near to where I live. I have spent much time in Central Park in awe of the trees and plantings but also of the rocks — particularly those alongside paths near the entrance to  Strawberry Fields that border a road in Central Park, which  leads to the lake. 

The way in which the sunlight falls upon the massive rock has provided inspiration for one of my kaleidoscopic prints (Rocks by Strawberry Fields) seen at  the top of this post, which can be found in the print collections within the kaleidoscopic gallery on my web-site, which was created by Chris Deatherage.

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