Relay: Lennon’s Words, Now More Than Ever

Imagine . . .

“Oh yeah, oh yeah / Oh yeah, oh yeah / Imagine. . . .” All the way back in 1963, John Lennon exhorted us to imagine. I’d heard the song — “I’ll Get You,” the B side to “She Loves You” — perhaps a thousand times, but never the way I heard it on Saturday, standing in the subfreezing air with hundreds of others, all of us forming an ever-thickening circle surrounding the mosaic at Strawberry Fields, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. 

Outside of that tiny section of Central Park, people went about their business, that business apparently the holiday-season orgy of materialism or the enthusiastic annihilation of livers and brain cells, Saturday being the annual SantaCon, an event that the late, great Village Voice once described as “a day-long spectacle of public inebriation somewhere between a low-rent Mardi Gras and a drunken fraternity party.” 

Around that mosaic, though, those hundreds, several of them wielding guitars and a handful of other instruments, were remembering Lennon on the 38th anniversary of his murder. The songs flowed, one after the other, one guitarist or another strumming or singing an introduction in an informal, festive sing-along and celebration of Lennon and the Beatles. 

It’s always so nice to see people of all ages and ethnicities come together, forming a sort of microcosmic New York City within the city, a microcosm of humanity itself, in its collective impulses to gather together and express itself. Better still when the expression is uplifting and positive. All you need is love, love is all you need, was Lennon’s message to the world in 1967. I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together, he intuited, later that year, with a little help from lysergic acid diethylamide. 

And yet, despite the merry chorus of New Yorkers and visitors to the Capital of the World, where Lennon had persevered, over the strenuous and paranoid protestation of Richard Nixon and his ilk, to become a permanent resident of the city he loved, an overwhelming sadness would not, could not fade away. 

George Harrison, said his widow, Olivia, “was really angry that John didn’t have a chance to leave his body in a better way, because George put so much emphasis and importance on the moment of death, of leaving your body.” 

Lennon was not afforded the luxury of calmly going into the blinding, burning light, mindful that his and the universal mind are one. How could he, with a fan/fanatic squeezing a trigger over and over, shooting holes in his body? 

Nineteen years after Lennon’s murder, the nation was shocked by a mass shooting at a high school in Colorado, two students murdering 12 schoolmates and a teacher. And then, the trickle became a deluge, among the carnage 20 first graders and six adults in Connecticut; 49 killed and 53 wounded inside a nightclub in Orlando, and 58 killed and 851 injured — you read that right — from gunfire and the resulting panic when a gunman opened fire on the crowd at an outdoor country music concert in Las Vegas. 

This year has been a predictably bloody one in the gun-crazy United States of America. Seventeen more students and teachers were killed, on Valentine’s Day, at a high school in Parkland, Fla. It was the year’s deadliest mass shooting — as of Monday, anyway — but far from the only one. On the 311th day of the year, the 307th mass shooting took place, this time inside a crowded bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Twelve were killed — 13 if you count the shooter, who turned the weapon on himself in the end. 

In a sad but sadly foreseeable irony, some of the patrons enjoying country music at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks had survived the mass shooting in Las Vegas one year before. There are now Americans who have personally experienced two mass shootings. 

According to the John Lennon Official account on Instagram, more than 1.4 million people have been killed by guns in the United States since Lennon was shot and killed on Dec. 8, 1980. Is this who we are? Is this who we want to be? Will we passively bury the bodies, offer our eminently useless thoughts and prayers, and await the next shooting, surely knowing by now that nowhere is safe?

Saturday was so very cold in the park, and I left, after an hour, with Lennon’s words rising from the crowd and into the wintry air. “A very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year / Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.” 

Christopher Walsh is a senior writer at The Star.