On John Lennon: “I Was there the day he arrived and I was there the day he left”

NEW YORK, NY – DECEMBER 08: Memorabilia sits a top the “Strawberry Fields” tile mosaic in Central Park, which was created in tribute to the late musician John Lennon, to mark the anniversary of his death on December 8, in New York City. Lennon was shot and killed by a gunman outside his apartment in the nearby Dakota building. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

By Jay Jay French

This story illustrates that on any given day you may either meet someone or engage in a conversation that stops you in your tracks. Something so profound that you marvel at the confluence of human interaction.

Ask anyone who ever said that they fell in love at first sight, for example. That surely would be one of those times. As this, however, is a Beatles column, this would have to have relevance to this subject.

This December 8 marks the 37th anniversary of the assassination of John Lennon. As a lifelong New Yorker, I was in my Upper West Side apartment listening to WNEW that evening. When Lennon’s shooting was announced, I immediately ran down to The Dakota and stood outside, emotionally numb in the cold December air, in disbelief until about 3 a.m.

I also walk in Central Park almost every day and I’m asked nearly every day, by tourists, “Where is The Dakota?” “Where is Strawberry Fields.”

I usually walk into Central Park at the 72nd street entrance so I have to walk by The Dakota and Strawberry Fields, and so I re-live his assassination, mostly with just a nod or quick look in The Dakota vestibule where he was shot, every time. There are always tour buses parked on Central Park West at 72nd with people taking photos.

It sometimes feels macabre, but I understand.

How can you not.

Those of us of a certain age lived through the assassination of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, The Challenger disaster and 9/11. Each event carrying with it its own personal timeline and emotional scar. We relive these events with friends and relatives when the conversations lead to them.

Lennon’s death, because I see it and feel it everyday, seems to always be at the top of my daily personal scar tissue.

No, I don’t cry, I just lament the tragedy. I think about all the what ifs.

What if he had lived?

What if The Beatles had reformed?

What kind of music would John or the band have created.

Things that now are impossible to know.

About five years ago I was having trouble with my cable boxes. My cable company had sent several teams over the previous year with each team of young repairmen confiding in me that the previous ones didn’t know what they were doing.

I got fed up and demanded a senior repair supervisor to check out my problems.

When the doorbell rang, there in front of me was not some young kid but someone my age.

I was 60 at the time and this guy looked and sounded like he was about my age. He apologized for the lack of knowledge of the previous repairmen and proceeded to diagnose my issues.  He was a really no-nonsense guy who wanted me to finally stop having service disruptions.

At some point, he was in my living room and kneeling down to check the modem. He looked up to see an 11-foot-long picture frame that housed two huge black and white photos of The Beatles taken when the band performed on the Ed Sullivan Show.

He stopped what he was doing and said, “That John Lennon cat. I was there the day he arrived and I was there the day he left”.

I was reading the newspaper at that moment and was really only half-listening. Then, suddenly, I reflected on what he just said, put down the paper and asked him to say that again.

He repeated the statement exactly as he had already done.

I said to him, “What does that mean?”

He said, “In 1964 I was in 6th grade at my school in Queens, across from Idlewild Airport. In February of 1964, my class was visiting the airport selling candy for a school fundraiser when all of a sudden there were police everywhere and girls screaming. The Beatles walked right by us. I saw it on the news that night so I was there when John Lennon arrived in New York.”

Wow, I thought, what an amazing story. I wasn’t, however, prepared for the second part.

He then went on: “On December 8, 1980, I was working for Western Union delivering telegrams. I had just delivered one at The Dakota and as I walked around the corner onto Central Park West, I heard the gunshot.

“I was there the day he left!”

I was stunned.

I said, “You are probably the only person on earth who could say that”.

A cable supervisor, because he was in my apartment and saw that photo, had just told me a story that sends chills down my spine every time I tell it.

As this was five years ago and I didn’t get his name (who knew that I would be writing a Beatles column), I can’t acknowledge this person and the profound nature of the conversation.

There may be no greater example that on any given day you may either meet someone or engage in a conversation that stops you in your tracks.

I will never forget those words: “I was there the day he arrived and I was there the day he left”

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