1993 'Visiting John Lennon's Grave' Central Park New York

 

Many years have passed since John Lennon was murdered outside his Dakota apartment on Central Park West in New York City, where it is widely believed that Yoko Ono still keeps his ashes. Despite this many hundreds of people still come to pay their last respects at his memorial in Central Park. In this article I recall my emotions after visiting his memorial and trying to make sense of his untimely death.

 In the stillness of the afternoon a soft breeze blew, I bent down and placed some flowers on the black and white memorial. I closed my eyes and for a brief moment I tried to imagine him again, the half-buttoned shirt, the black Rickenbacker guitar, the pilgrimage east to the Guru’s Indian ashram. My eyes slowly clouded as I recalled the person who had provided the soundtrack to my life, those timeless moments when his music shared my deepest emotions, my love, and my pain. So often, over the years I had walked through the golden sunsets of distant lands with only his anarchic voice playing on an old cassette recorder to accompany me on my travels. But now, in this corner of Central Park, there was only silence where there once had been song, sorrow where there once was joy, memories where there once had been melodies. As the sun climbed higher in the sky, I stayed by the memorial and watched the other people who had come to pay their respects, hospital personnel and hippies, tourists and tramps, each one in their mourning, each one wearing their reticence like a shroud. A young woman approached with a letter and gently placed it on the memorial. It read, "John, Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can!"

I thought about it, so ironic, a myopic memoir of his life, instantly contradictory and paradoxical. For a moment I tried to make sense of his untimely death. As in a haze, I walked across to a nearby seat and took out the copy of J.D.Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye that I had bought on in Barnes and Noble the way to the park. I knew that after Mark Chapman had shot Lennon, he didn’t flee, but just stood calmly at the scene and starting reading aloud from this book, which told the story of an angst ridden teenager called Holden Caulfield growing up in 1950‘s New York. My eyes fell upon the opening lines,

 

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth".

The monologue tells us that Caulfield has been expelled from school and decides to ‘take a vacation in New York’, before returning home to his parents' inevitable wrath. The book describes his thoughts and activities over these few days, during which he describes bouts of depression, erratic behaviour and an eventual nervous collapse. The character captures the attitude and culture of adolescence, the distrust of teachers and parents and the feeling that everybody is a phoney, who will inevitably disappoint you. I continued to read,

"I woke up singing this morning. I mean, I was happy and all. But last night, what I really felt like was jumping out the window. All I could see were these phonies. They were on TV, in books and stuff. I swear sometimes I think I'm crazy, surrounded by these goddam princes making out like life's perfect and all.

Silently, as if in a dream I began to make some sense of the meaningless killing. Chapman had idolised Lennon but as he began to explore his own sense of isolation, like Caulfield he concluded that his hero was a phoney. It is true that Lennon was often paradoxical. He preached peace and love yet walked down Oxford Street with a placard declaring his support for Irish freedom fighters. He asked people to imagine a world with no possessions and at the same time invested over sixty millions dollars in New York real estate. He sang about being abandoned as a child, but still walked out of his own son’s life. The sun climbed higher in the sky as I reached the part of the book where Holden Caulfield tells his little sister that he saw himself as a martyr and protector of innocent children and he wanted to keep them from falling over the cliff into adulthood. It continued,

"I keep picturing all these kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids and nobody’s around- nobody big, I mean except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff-I mean they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be another catcher in the rye".

With those words to justify his actions, this demented solitary reaper had raised his scythe and cut down the flowering plant that composed the peerless joyous songs that remained forever etched on my musical memories. After the police arrested Chapman, he turned to the shocked people, who were watching and shouted,

I am Holden Caufield, the catcher in the rye of the present generation

Instilled with a new sense of understanding, I went back over to the memorial and looked again at the letter that the young woman had left on the memorial. Again I read again its words. "Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can!"

It was then that the other words of the immortal song slowly crept into my consciousness

"You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us and the world will be as one"

Goodbye John!