Fifty years ago, an airplane carrying John Lennon and Yoko Ono touched down in New York City – and so much promptly changed.
Lennon’s aura as a former Beatle – the most fabled band in history had split up only the year before – made every head turn in town. Although Yoko was a respected performance artist in her own right, John, in particular, came to epitomize the best of New York: irrepressible, fun at the core, special and gritty.
Remember, the Nixon White House tried for several years to deport John on what seemed to be a trumped-up marijuana-possession rap in London back in 1968.
We could use someone with John’s charisma today, you know?
With our city in the grip of a malaise – brought down by such scares as fresh Coronavirus fears, xenophobia toward residents of Asian origins, economic woes and a mix of hope and fear about the prospects of the next mayor – we sure could use a dose of the wit, humor and enthusiasm that Lennon brought when he came to live here.
Lennon was special, first as an ex-Beatle, of course, but eventually as a much-needed energy source of optimism, humor, wit, instant karma and good vibes. Perhaps no other immigrant so charismatically put his imprint on the town in the following decade, and beyond.
Ono knew all about living here. She had lived in cold-water flats in lower Manhattan as a young woman, before meeting Lennon during a sojourn of hers in London in November 1966.
Lennon and Ono arrived on or about Sept. 3, 1971. Their mission was to publicize Lennon’s eagerly awaited solo album, “Imagine” - and enjoy a respite from the barrage of negative publicity that the notorious British press had hurled at Ono ever since she and John had hooked up in 1968 and gotten married in March 1969.
Lennon and Ono soon after settled in a two-bedroom apartment on Bank Street and began buying up units in the Dakota in 1973. Ono still lives there, 41 years after Lennon’s death.
As it turned out, John and Yoko stayed in Manhattan and never returned to live in John’s native England. Lennon often remarked that the city enchanted him, what with its 24/7 lifestyle, multiracial composition, fun and quaint coffee house hangouts (Café La Fortuna on West 71 Street was his favorite spot) and never-ending cable-television assortments.
Mostly, John appreciated it that people LEFT HIM ALONE! Beatlemania was a relic in the city. People recognized John’s importance, but they didn’t languish in the past. They wanted to shake his hand, not hold it. They wanted to nod in his direction. Maybe they said thanks. But most tended not to hassle him. They didn’t intrude and remind him again and again how The Beatles had once changed their lives. They just wanted to say thanks. And that made a big difference to him. New York was, as he told WNEW’s Dennis Elsas in a Sept. 28, 1974 interview “cool,” the ultimate form of praise to John.
New York has celebrities on every block, in every neighborhood.
We see Jerry Seinfeld strutting down Central Park West or Sarah Jessica Parker in the West Village or any number of A-Listers on the Upper West Side. We are accustomed to exchanging glances or rubbing elbows with the beautiful people.
But John Lennon was unique. He helped make the city life seem exciting and glitzy and memorable. Oh yes. Imagine!
Que pasa, New York, Lennon famously sang in a song aptly entitled “New York City” the following year. We are still pondering it!