Thursday, December 08, 2005
THE NIGHT THE MUSIC DIED
It was a night similar to this photograph—Christmas lights adorned some parts of the streets; there were steam coming out of manholes; some buildings’ were gaily lit; and giant billboards featured beautiful women promoting newest trends.
It was nippy outside when I stepped out of my Tai-Chi training center on Sixth Avenue and 43rd Street near Bryant Park. It was really late; they had a special demonstration conducted by a master from the West Coast that featured some of his students. I was compelled to sit through the entire performance; amazed by their disciplined forms and techniques. After which was the courtesy chit-chat with the visitors.
As I headed towards a bus stop on 42nd Street, a man came out of a Blarney Stone bar shouting, “He got shot! He got shot!” A couple of other patrons trailed after him; their faces seemed aghast from the breaking news broadcast that interrupted a football game on television.
I dismissed the commotion and kept walking towards the bus stop thinking the victim might be a Mafia kingpin or some Washington figurehead.
It was a slow night for buses. I must have been standing there for a good twenty minutes when a young couple walked over to wait for the same bus. The guy turned to me and asked if I heard the latest development—that he just lost too much blood to survive. When they told me who it was, my knees weakened; I just sat on the cold curb. The couple knew how grief-stricken I was.
"Damn, Lennon is dead," I whispered to no one.
I grew up in a household of diverse music. My father favored Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, and Xavier Cougat to name a few; my mother loves George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Rogers and Hammerstein; my eldest sister adored Pat Boone, Paul Anka, Doris Day, Patsy Cline, Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole; my brothers would rock to Bill Hailey, Fats Domino, The Platters, Chubby Checker, Little Anthony and the Imperials and of course, the king; but when the Beatles came along, I immediately declared possession. For the first time in my life, I have music to call my very own.
So, when Lennon died that night it felt as if all music died as well.
He was my idol. I was always amazed by his quick wit, as well as by his courage to speak his mind. When the White House took him on as a nemesis, he fought back just as fiercely. But most important, I was in awe of his words and music. He was to me the finest wordsmith.
The first time I saw him in person was in Manila. He was seated at the back of a white Cadillac; George on his left and Paul on his right. When he noticed me and some friends running towards their car from a distance, he must have asked the driver to slow down a bit to allow us to catch up. He then bent forward and waved at us with a big smile on his face. When we all dropped on the grass as if struck by an invisible force of his gesture, they all laughed—amused by our antics. The white Cadillac then picked up speed, made a u-turn and headed towards the yatch club.
I would run into him many a times since that afternoon; usually around the Upper West Side. On a couple of times inside a café in the 70’s between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West. I would always greet him with, “Hi John!” And just like an old friend he would say hello back while meeting my eyes. That would be it. No small talk, autograph requests or pictures to take. He was considered a neighbor and that was it.
He was always with his baby, pushing his stroller. Inside the café, after giving the baby his bottle or letting him nap, he would lose himself in a book while he sipped his cup of tea or coffee. No one bothered him. Almost all of New York granted him that kind of respect; treating him as an ordinary citizen just out to enjoy the day with the baby. Always, the locals would greet him either with a quick hello or a simple knod of acknowledgement, which he would reciprocate in kind.
Wikipedia’s profile of him claims, “When asked once in the 1960s how he expected to die, Lennon's offhand answer was ‘I'll probably be popped off by some loony.’ In retrospect, although he might have meant it as a joke and did not expect it to happen, the comment turned out to be chillingly accurate. Another chillingly accurate comment was made in his last interview, where he mentioned that he often felt that somebody is stalking him: first it was federal agents in the 1970s trying to deport him and later the obsessed fan in 1980.”
New York has a handful of celebrities as its residents, but none compared to John Lennon in terms of integrity, madness, brilliance and influence. But most striking was his deep longing for peace for all of mankind.
posted by Señor Enrique at 4:35 AM
- Corsarius said...
There are many people who long for peace for all of mankind. But each and one of them is noble; their numbers do not lessen their nobility. Because for each one them, there exists a person who longs for war and supremacy, a negating force.
You are a lucky person to have, at the very least, regularly exchanged words with him. What a great experience.
You've done justice to him with this piece, Señor Enrique.
- Senor Enrique said...
I'm afraid there's truth in what you said, #9.
Yes, it's awesome to run into someone you truly idolize and realize he longs for the simple things you enjoy and take for granted -- freedom to stroll around wherever and whenever desired, as well as retain a sense of privacy.
This reminds me of a similar wordsmith, Eminem. He wishes he could just walk into any store or mall with his daughter and enjoy their time together undisturbed by screaming fans.
Ah, the pains of stardom.