The flood of tributes, anecdotes and guest columns (Yoko Ono and Ray Davies at The New York Times, for example) related to the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon's passing has begun. My generational involvement with Lennon, of course, was enormous, starting in tenth grade with Beatlemania—he was always my "favorite Beatle"—and through my college years and then well into the 1970s, with a more professional (if slight) relationship.
I had some contact with Lennon during that latter period, as senior editor at Crawdaddy magazine. In 1971, John and Yoko gave us exclusive interviews for a cover story (probably because his politics matched ours) and John took the incredible step of buying a full-page ad in the New York Times to promote it—quite a boost for us.
Then he sent us a track-by-track assessment of his Imagine album, including an explanation of why he wrote "How Do You Sleep?" as a response to Paul McCartney's slam at him on Ram for allegedly breaking up The Beatles. John called his song "an angry letter" but also a way to "have some fun." But he extended an olive branch by closing the piece with congrats to Paul on the birth of a child.
He also commented on the title track of the album: "It's a song for children." (By the way, Tom Morello at Rolling Stone recently picked "Imagine" as the #1 "protest" song of all-time.)
A little later, Lennon sent us some lyrics for his upcoming, ultra-political Sometime in New York City album, with song titles like "Attica State" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday," tributes to feminism and Angela Davis and a call for freedom for imprisoned (for marijuana) John Sinclair. "John Sinclair, John Sinclair/ In the stir for breathing air." And, with even more controversy, "Woman is Nigger of the World."
The album cover looked like the front page of a newspaper—and the record was a commercial flop. John was hanging out at the time with Jerry Rubin and downtown potmeister and street singer David Peel. It wasn't unusual to hear a friend say they'd been at someone's apartment the night before and the ex-Beatle came around and "rapped" for awhile.
Still later, he sat for another exclusive cover story for us during his brief, and drunken, sojourn in LA before he returned to Yoko and NYC again, for good. One of my boyhood friends, Patrick Snyder, who long idolized Lennon, did that interview. Patrick had sent me the single most moving note following my mother's death, simply quoting lines from "In My Life." (There are people I remember.....)
Finally, in 1975, he responded to my request for a contribution to a special issue about "Growing Up" by sending me a brief note with a photo of him in a men's room at a urinal and the hand-inscribed caption "Just Pissing About"—pure Lennonesque humor. Still have it, of course.
Of coruse, I was still in NYC five years later when Lennon was shot, and attended the giant Central Park memorial the following weekend.
Well, enough about me. Here's a clip from the LennonNYC movie that has been airing on PBS.
A new edition of Greg Mitchell's award-winning book The Campaign of the Century (on the birth of media politics and more) has just been published.