Wednesday, December 8, 2010
It was middle to late afternoon on one of those chilly, uncomforting days that is every December 8th in New York City. I am guessing it is around 1986, a short 6 years after the shooting across the street at the Dakota. Lit by the directional light of a winter sun, my wife and I took our now annual stroll through Strawberry Fields in Central Park. We sat in the benches near where the pavement says, “Imagine!” And we did.
It was quiet. We noticed a film crew moving from bench to bench, carrying both equipment and questions to the occupants. When they reached us, they were polite and quiet too, aware that they might be disturbing our meditation. The crew was from Japan and the woman holding the microphone asked if we might answer some questions for Japanese TV.
At first, she asked me how John Lennon affected my life. Where should I start? I am a musician, a classical guitarist, whose life was forever changed by the Beatle’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964. I had just turned 13 years old. I would begin talking about what that was like, seeing them perform for the first time. A welling up of emotions obscured my thoughts and eventually my words. Very sensitively, they allowed me to ramble on for quite a while.
Soon the woman with the mic turned to my wife with another question about John and his influence. Also a musician, a flutist, she delivered a much more eloquent response than I could have ever provided. I cannot remember exactly what she said but I remember being moved by her response. They thanked us and walked away. We thought how cool it was that we might wind up a 4 second sound byte on Japanese TV. I pessimistically thought to myself that we would both end up on the cutting room floor. They were still shooting film, after all.
So, years pass as they do. My wife and I continued to play concerts, gigs. My teaching picks up. I am now at the United Nations International School in New York City and it is around 1992. On the first day of classes, private guitar lessons, a young boy, no more than 15 years old walks into my studio. He is Japanese and has very little knowledge of English. As usual, music allows us to communicate quite well and our first lesson goes off well. I had noticed him staring at me and thought he was trying to read my face to see how I felt about him.
At the end of the lesson, as he was leaving, he turned to me and pointed. He said, “You, John Lennon!” “Strawberry Fields”. I could not figure out what he was trying to say. I look nothing like John Lennon and thought to myself that maybe he wanted me to teach him to play the song “Strawberry Fields”. How could I do this? He was a beginner. Finally, he put up his hand and said goodbye, repeating once again, “You, John Lennon, video.” I must have looked quite puzzled.
It turned out that this 15 year old boy from Tokyo was a collector of everything Beatles. Magazines, photos, recordings and yes, even video recorded off the home TV. The next week he arrived carrying a VCR tape cartridge that looked like it had been recorded over at least 100 times. No title, just the tape. He handed it to me and implored me to watch it at home.
There we were, my wife and I, thirty-somethings, still full of innocence and expectations about life (nothing much has changed!), sitting on the bench, talking about John and the Beatle’s and how they were responsible for the musicians that we had become. I still remembered my emotional response, hands flailing as I tried to communicate my thoughts, and Kathy’s calm and clarity in expressing hers.
We met John in NYC that day. We try and meet up with him each Dec. 8th in the park where we sing songs with kids too young to remember that the Beatle’s weren’t always on iTunes. I think of my Japanese student and hope that I have helped him put music into his life as John and the boys from Liverpool did for us.
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