Exactly thirty years ago at the exact moment I am writing this, John Lennon was shot and killed.
And the world became a lesser place because of it.
Ten years ago, as it is happening again today, the various television networks were running documentaries on John’s life. I watched many of them. And I learned a lot.
I was born in 1964, just as the Beatles were coming to America for the first time. While they were still together as a group, I was too young to understand much of what was going on. I vaguely remember the music and pop culture of the late 60s, although I was glued to everything involving the moon landing in 1969.
I remember seeing news clips and photographs of the then long-haired and bearded John. I remember he seemed like an angry man to me. Maybe even a little scary to a little kid. And there was this very unusual Japanese woman that a lot of people seemed to dislike that he was hanging out with.
I liked the Monkees. They were funny.
But in 2000, as I watched those documentaries about John and Yoko – I finally got it. I finally understood what they were up to. John was so over the circus that the Beatles had become. It couldn’t have been less about the music anymore. Just screaming, ever encroaching fans who wanted their Beatles and their songs to be what they had always been.
Yoko didn’t even really know who John was when they first met. That must have been a welcome departure for him. She was as far away from the über-celebrity madness of the Beatles as she could have been. An obscure, serious foreign artist who was more concerned with her performance art than his fame.
And together they decided that if cameras were going to follow them around and document every little thing they did, they might as well shine a light on things they believed were important. They were the original Brad and Angelina.
And as I later watched and learned who John and Yoko really were, I decided to write Yoko a letter. Finding her address at the Dakota took only a minute and I sealed the envelope, put a stamp on it and dropped it in the mail the day after Christmas.
Ms. Yoko Ono
1 West 72nd Street
New York NY 10023
December 26, 2000
With all the media coverage in the last few months regarding John Lennon’s life, I, like many others have had the opportunity to reacquaint myself with him. I’m 37 years old and for the first time, I can honestly say I finally get what he was trying to say.
I was born in 1964, so my knowledge of John and the Beatles and you came much later in my life, somewhere around 1975. I was a Monkees fan at the time, and when it was pointed out to me that the Monkees were an attempt to cash in on the success of the Beatles, I guess I didn’t react too well. The Beatles seemed so much more serious and hard to me as a 12 year old when compared to the Monkees. But it was a place to start.
I started with the early music, but didn’t understand a lot of what John and the rest of them were trying to say in the later records. I guess I was going through the same thing many fans had gone through 10 years earlier.
To be honest, John scared me. He seemed angry, at least to the 12-year-old I was. I began to read and learn about you sitting in on the Beatles recording sessions and the bed-in and became even more confused. There did seem to be an awful lot of hostility toward you when you became more important to John than the group was.
I didn’t understand what the Vietnam War was. Just that it used to interrupt my favorite cartoons once in a while. My parents were very straight laced. I guess they were the right age to be Beatles fans, but somehow they weren’t. So the peace movement went right over my head as well. I guess we fear what we don’t understand.
Now, more than two decades later I’m seeing it all again through grown up eyes. I saw the re-release of A Hard Day’s Night a few weeks ago and was astounded by John’s budding genius even back then. The documentaries about John’s life that have been running have been so eye opening because I never really understood what you and John were doing in the late sixties and through the seventies.
Seeing what you and John were saying and how the media at the time simply couldn’t wrap their brains around it gave me a profound sense of respect for what you were trying to say as well as the way you were saying it.
You were teaching us about tolerance long before I began hearing that idea surface again in the 90s. You were teaching us that we are all part of one community and we need to try harder to understand each other and accept our differences as opportunities to learn more about who we are.
Thank you for being so courageous at a time when people were afraid of how you both looked and what you represented. I know you must be a busy woman. Thank you for allowing me to express my gratitude for what you both did. John’s message lives on.
I didn’t know if she’d read it or even if she did, if I would ever hear back from her.
The following August, in my mailbox was a letter with the New York City return address of STUDIO ONE. I tried to think who of my New York friends worked at a place called Studio One.
The 72nd street address sounded familiar, but I still couldn’t quite place it.
I had forgotten about my letter to Yoko.
So when I opened it, I really didn’t know what to expect.
Inside the envelope was a card. On the front was a small blue square with the words
A Piece Of Sky
And at the bottom of the front of the card,
Let’s all meet in 10 years and
put the sky back together again.
I tuned the card over and hand written on the back was simply,
Today, Yoko is celebrating John’s life at a huge music festival honoring him in Japan. Probably better than being in New York at the very place John’s life ended.
Holding her card in my hands was amazing. I don’t know how many she sent out or how many people will bring them back. But I know I will.
I’ll be in New York in January, ten years and a few days after I first sent my letter. I don’t really know what will happen. Maybe nothing. I’ll spend some time thinking about John in Strawberry Fields in Central Park next to the Dakota where Yoko spread John’s ashes after he was cremated.
John was an incredible person… musician… artist… New Yorker… world citizen.
And as I sit here, writing this and listening to his music tonight, part of me is sad, but I also feel hopeful. As I said in my letter to Yoko,
John’s message lives on.
And now as the documentaries and articles about John and Yoko fill the media outlets again, 30 years after his death, a whole new generation of people will hear it once more.
How can that not be hopeful?