Strawberry Fields – December 8, 2013
I realized before I went to New York in December I was going to be there on the 8th, on what would be 33 years since John Lennon’s death. Looking at my calendar, I had planned to be there for the Capital’s game that night at Madison Square Garden and then I realized the significance of the date the game was on.
I was 12 the night I heard the news on the kitchen radio. I was in grade seven at elementary school, and would be going to junior high the next year. It was a Monday, that night in 1980. A school-night. The old radio on the top of the fridge was announcing a special breaking news item. Being on the west coast this would have been before 9pm. Mom was at the sink washing dishes and I remember the windows were dark because the curtains were open.
The news flashed on the television news in our den, on the TV my parents had owned since my sister and I were little. Many people learned of John Lennon’s death through Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football. On the TV news I could see the dark pictures from New York, with everyone gathered on the street where it had happened, and singing songs in tribute. At least that’s what I remember about that night.
When I got to New York, I had a first day in the city, my day full of walking and stumbling into iconic scenes and buildings, my eyes scaling the tall never-ending buildings. The next day was the 8th and that Sunday morning I had been out for a run through Manhattan, through an empty Times Square.
I was staying at the Doubletree Hilton on Lexington. My room had no view, except for the goings on of the police precinct and fire station below. As I was drinking my coffee that morning I was thinking about the time that had passed, the 33 years since John Lennon had died. I was excited about being in New York. I was thinking about going shopping, about buying a scarf at Macy’s where I had never been before. I had wanted to walk over to Rockefeller Center and have a better look at the Christmas tree again. I was excited about going to the hockey game. I had dreams of creating a future for myself and getting myself into a healthy frame of mind and I was hoping this trip was going to give me a regeneration of spirit and the freedom to do that when I got home.
It was then that I questioned my reasons for going to find the memorial. It had been 33 years. I remember the news that night. I had always enjoyed his music. I have recently said that my favorite song of all time is Whatever Gets you Through the Night from the album Walls and Bridges. Others like Jealous Guy, Mind Games, #9 Dream, Scared, I’m Steppin Out, Nobody Told Me, Borrowed Time, (Just like) Starting over, Watching the Wheels and Woman were my other favorite Lennon songs.
What would I feel by going to the memorial, I wondered. But I reasoned with myself as I walked up Lexington. I am not from here. I didn’t know when I would be in New York again. There are things that happen in your lifetime. You hear about these things and have memories of them. Sometimes it helps to learn more, to make a physical connection with a place. When I was a kid I understood that it happened in New York, but I didn’t understand the geography.
It was a bitterly cold day. There was a market on the corner of the park and I stopped and looked at some of the hats and purses at the stalls there along the way. Despite the cold, I liked walking in New York.
Through life growing up and listening to music, we have what I could call ‘musical’ parents, not real parents that play instruments, but musical artists in the generation before us, people who were older than us that we listened to growing up. We didn’t know them personally, but they were in the public eye, and influenced us and helped form our tastes in music as we grew up. We also feel at a loss when they are gone and are no longer here to create more of what helped make us. John Lennon would fall into this category.
I walked up to 71st after looking at the hats, and saw there were others walking up there, and I wondered if they were also going to Strawberry Fields. There had been a running race in the park, and the runners were spilling out of Central Park, still with their race numbers on.
I entered the park and could hear some voices singing a Beatles song and there was a circle of people. Some were standing on benches nearby so they could see. When I reached the edge of the circle of people the man stopped singing, and I wasn’t sure what was in the middle of the circle, then I could see bits of the mosaic from where I was behind the girl in front of me. Eventually she stepped aside and I could see the mosaic and take a picture.
In the days leading up to my trip I had watched a documentary about John Lennon’s life in New York American Masters, LENNONYC(2010), and it became one of my favorite documentaries. I liked the scenery, the history of his life in New York and the music.
When I had watched the documentary, one thing I like about it was the positive feelings Yoko Ono and John Lennon had towards New York. It was mentioned in the documentary of New York always being a place where immigrants could make new lives and reinvent themselves, and this idea still appeals to me. One of my ancestors passed through Ellis Island on her way from what is now the Ukraine, on her way up to Canada. The battle that Yoko Ono and John Lennon faced with immigration, which they had won, was a very important fight.
So it did help me to go to the memorial. It was important as a closing of those fragmented pieces of memory from December 8, 1980. At the same time, I had started a new relationship with this city, it was a new place for me, and I had a new understanding of the old memories. So I guess I saw it as positive.
Back onto 59th I headed away from the park, in the Times Square area. I carried on then, past the tall basketball-player-like man that told me I needed a hat, onto the Reebok store to get a Capitals T-shirt. It ended up being quite a day. I had seen Times Square for the first time that morning, seen the memorial that afternoon then went to Madison Square Garden for the first time that night.
And I went to Macy’s. Even though I wasn’t keen on the Christmas shopping crowds spilling in from the cold air. Maybe I was hoping some of this reinvention in New York was contagious.
This is a work of creative nonfiction; it contains no composite characters and no names have been changed. I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them, but I have taken some storytelling liberties, due to my interpretation of events, fading memory, lack of time machine, and need to cherry-pick some memories over others in order to express my thoughts within the story.