Remembering John Lennon

Posted by: Joe DePlasco, Managing Director

I learned of John Lennon’s death early in the morning of December 9th. It was around 6 a.m. and the top of the news on NPR’s Morning Edition. I was living in a basement apartment in an old row house in Cambridge, just outside of Boston. I remember a pang of sadness. Over the next few days, like everyone else, I followed the story. Yet the Beatles seemed so removed (I was ten when they broke up) and John, well, where had he been? Who was he?

A few years later, I read Jon Weiner’s ”Come Together: John Lennon in His Time,” primarily because I had just read his history of the new south and was a bit perplexed that this historian would also write a book about a former Beatle. Weiner had uncovered, through his Freedom of Information request of formerly sealed FBI files on Lennon, the Nixon administration’s foolish efforts to keep Lennon from staying in the United States.

Lennon began to emerge as this incredible political person – someone who had read the same books I was reading, someone who was struggling with the war and using his remarkable celebrity to promote peace and tolerance. But still there was a little bit of a disconnect since at the time of his death, he had been out of the limelight for five years because he had decided to stay home and take care of his kid – something I would not fully appreciate until having a child of my own.

This past summer, when I learned of the American Masters film ”LENNONYC,” I immediately thought DKC had to be involved in the project. What could be cooler than a film on John Lennon’s life in New York City, timed to what would have been his 70th birthday and the 30th anniversary of his death? We needed billboards to remind us of the political billboards he and Yoko put up in the 1970s, we needed a screening in Central Park on the night of his birthday (October 9th). And I would get to listen to his1970s music again and again for a reason.

We all seek to be relevant in some way, with our friends, our families, and our work. We seek authenticity. There was no person more relevant than John Lennon. The public tragedy of his death – versus the personal tragedy that his family experienced – is that we lost an artist who was completely real. He articulated, in his early 1970 recordings, a sense of change and struggle that others were forfeiting. Just as importantly, he wrote about an inner struggle of identity, about the longing for parents and family, for love and a sense of place. His life, his words and songs seem untouched by time, his wit remains sharp, his politics true.

Over the last month I’ve listened repeatedly to Lennon’s solo music. The Beatles, while unique, are a throwback for me, their early music kind of boy-band like, the heavy marketing a turnoff. The John Lennon of the 1970s, the New York City John Lennon, is a screaming voice of change, anguish, hope, longing, and ultimately, in the songs of ”Double Fantasy,” the album that came out just before his death, and the posthumous ”Milk and Honey,” of inner peace and satisfaction, the words of a man who had found his sense of place and purpose through the everyday caring of a young child. (Take a look at the CBS Sunday Morning piece about Julian Lennon, John’s first son, for his perspective on all: http://imaginepeace.com/archives/12864.)

”The period that Lennon lived with his family in New York is perhaps the tenderest and affecting phase of his life as a public figure,” Susan Lacy, the executive producer of American Masters, has written. ”Just as the generation that had grown up with the Beatles was getting a little older and approaching a transitional time in their lives as they started families, they saw this reflected in Lennon as he grew from being a rock star icon into a real flesh and blood person.”

For me, two songs from the early 1970s speak loudest. One, ”Mother,” is a primal scream of anguish about the loss of family and parents:

”Mother, you had me but I never had you

I wanted you but you didn’t want me

So I got to tell you, Goodbye, goodbye.

Father, you left me but I never left you

I needed you but you didn’t need me”

And from ”Working Class Hero:”

”Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV

And you think you’re so clever and classless and free

But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see

A working class hero is something to be

A working class hero is something to be”

This guy was a Beatle and he’s singing about abandonment, his hurt, his disgust with a destructive society and a politics of hate, along with his own search for meaning.

”LENNONYC,” which was written and directed by Michael Epstein, follows the story and ultimately his retreat into the Dakota on the Upper West Side where for five years he just stayed home to take care of his young son Sean.

He emerges just as alive, just as relevant and his songs now have a sense of inner peace:

From ”Watching the Wheels:”

”Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game

People say I’m lazy dreaming my life away

Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me

When I tell them that I’m doing fine watching shadows on the wall

Don’t you miss the big time boy you’re no longer on the ball

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round

I really love to watch them roll”

And one of the tenderest songs ever written about a father’s relationship to his child, ”Beautiful Boy:”

”Before you go to sleep

Say a little prayer

Every day in every way

It’s getting better and better

Beautiful

Beautiful, beautiful

Beautiful Boy

Out on the ocean sailing away

I can hardly wait

To see you to come of age

But I guess we’ll both

Just have to be patient

Yes it’s a long way to go

But in the meantime

Before you cross the street

Take my hand

Life is just what happens to you

While you’re busy making other plans”

Thanks to Drew Katz’s Infinite Possibilities Foundation, a DKC client, along with VEVO and of course WNET, we now have our Central Park screening.

On the night of Saturday, October 9th, ”LENNONYC” will be shown at the SummerStage Theater in Central Park. Here are some news clips from the press conference with Mayor Bloomberg and Yoko Ono: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LHGK_7YX0k.

For more information, visit the Facebook event page at http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=121586737894882&ref=ts. (The film will air on PBS nationally on November 22.)

And also thanks to the Infinite Possibilities Foundation, we will have our billboards. Lennon’s picture, still famous so many years later in his NYC t-shirt, will adorn several billboards on arterials leading to New York City. Check out their web page at: http://www.infinitepossibilitiesfoundation.org/

A few thoughts from other team members on the LENNONYC account:

Debra Duffy

When I tell friends and family that I’m working on LENNONYC, everyone, regardless of age, has a story.

My dad tells of the news bulletin Howard Cosell announced during Monday Night Football; years later, I’d get to know the TV newsman whose reporters and field crews were the first on the scene at the Dakota.

As a child, I’d watch the Thanksgiving Parade from across the street of that landmark, never making the connection about where I was each year until I was much older.

Mary is my 13-year old cousin. Her iPod and computer time these days are consumed with all things Beatles. I was fascinated that she’d discovered them, and wanted to know if someone had encouraged or inspired her.

Mary’s eyes and smile widened, “I really love the music! Don’t you? Did you know John Lennon would be 70 years old this year?”

Being a part of this team and having such a special role of celebrating what would of been Lennon’s 70th birthday is an honor and reminds me of why I love what I do and although I will never be famous – I hope to inspire people the way Lennon did. And I can certainly assure you that my daughter – who is now five months old – will be able to share her favorite Lennon music when she is older – continuing to keep Lennon’s legacy alive.

Brian Moriarty

I was asked to write a few words about why working on LENNONYC is important to me. I have tried and stopped several times. While I consider distilling grand, complex ideas and messages into words one of my fortes, this one is a bit too much. It’s not working. The fact is, I have listened to the Beatles for as long as I can remember. I will never be able to write in a few words the profound impact that their music has had on me. I will never be able to put into words how Lennon’s murder, when I was seven, made me terrified of the world. Lennon, of course, was quite gifted at putting into words and music profound ideas and feelings in a way that connected with people around the world, across generations. To even be remotely (very remotely) connected with his legacy by working on the film LENNONYC is as humbling as it is an honor.

I am also having trouble writing this because my two-year-old son Julian (who is not, by the way, named after Lennon’s son) is hanging on my leg. He is asking me to play. I have tried to shoo him off. But then I thought of the Lennon we get to know in LENNONYC. He stopped being a rock star. He stopped being an icon. He left it all so he could start being a dad.

So in tribute to Mr. Lennon, that is what I am going to do.

Aliza Rabinoff

On the drive home today from a quick overnight trip to Bethel, NY with my husband, my best friend and her 8-month-old daughter to visit the original site where the momentous Woodstock Music Festival left its indelible mark years ago, a reflective conversation on music began.

Having just marveled at the lush and beautifully serene farmland where thousands gathered for a momentous occasion in music, and history in general, we started reflecting on another momentous occasion in music (again in NY), and history in general, the impact John Lennon had and the tragedy that was his murder. I explained how excited I was to be working on LENNONYC and to introduce to others such a wonderful film that sheds light on this extraordinary songwriter and the touching love story of John and Yoko and their love affair with NYC. As a native New Yorker, this was an even bigger bonus.

I grew up in Queens. When John died, I was nine. I recall a somber conversation my mom had with her best friend as I prepared to go to a movie and didn’t quite get the thrust of what they were saying.

Later, as an NYU student, I was a late comer to the music of the Beatles and John Lennon, but made a point to educate myself further and visit the NYC landmarks associated with John and Yoko and their music, always dumbfounded by the sheer lunacy of killing an artist whose goal was to make the world a better place.

As I embarked on what has now been a 16-year career in the music business, I eventually learned more about John Lennon beyond these hallowed sites and the usual stories from the many respected journalists and musicians I have been privileged to work with.

This all resonates even more for me on this momentous moment in music – again in New York City – the screening of LENNONYC in Central Park honoring and celebrating John on what would have been his 70th birthday. I feel like I can give back and share something special with those same journalists who always educated me, as well as friends and family, and to join the ongoing conversation of “where were you” that I was never quite a part of.

I now know where I will be when thousands of fans honor John Lennon next Saturday, Oct. 9. And I, along with countless others, will utter the same words that Yoko so poignantly said in the film, “John was an artist. Why would someone want to kill an artist?” My question exactly.