JOHN LENNON: THE NEW YORK CITY YEARS
John Lennon wasn’t born in New York City, but he was the quintessential New Yorker – an immigrant artist originally from the suburbs of a dying industrial seaport in the north of England who had parlayed his genius into early meteoric success, then followed his muse to another seaport, New York City, the late-20th century epicenter of arts and culture.
Lennon moved to New York City in August 1971. He loved New York – the 24-hour atmosphere, the rough edginess of the city that reminded him of Liverpool and the feeling of privacy, even in public. “New York is the greatest place on earth,” he said of his new home.
He dove into the city life, rode his bike around Greenwich Village, strolled through Central Park, used his fame to raise issues of transcendent importance and created music, art and a family with his wife, Yoko Ono.
Lennon often said that he was born in Liverpool, England, but he grew up in Hamburg, Germany. Hamburg was yet another seaport, a rough-and- tumble place where he and his bandmates paid harsh dues and began an odyssey that would eventually change the world.
Lennon was born in Liverpool, grew up in Hamburg, but he lived in the fullest sense of the word – in New York City.
Message from Yoko Ono:
This is a small big show with a strong, powerful wind blowing in it from the past… like Manhattan itself, and like Liverpool. John loved New York City because, to him, there was a vivid resemblance to the city he was born and raised in.
Initially when Jim Henke approached me about doing a John Lennon in New York City show, I was delighted and thought it was such a wonderful idea, right away. We worked hard together to make sure it was a thorough representation of John’s life in New York.
All aspects of John’s experience in New York are represented in this important exhibit, the very first of it’s kind. John was a musician, artist, peace activist, father and husband. New York City provided him the foundation and freedom to be all of these things, at his choosing. I am happy to share this part of our lives with you.
When John was alive, he was the only Beatle who lived here. In London, they were always visiting each other. If John didn’t visit them, they would come around unannounced. That’s how it was. So on one hand, it must have been kinda lonesome for John, living here in New York City as the only Beatle, and away from his mates.
I think that now. But he never expressed anything like that, ever. John was in love with this city, head over heels…
When you are in love, you forget that you had a past…
11 May 2009
At the opening of John Lennon: The New York City Years
at Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC
Stills from Flickr
Days Like Those
by Allan Kozinn, New York Times, 9 May 2009
Walking up Mercer Street toward the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC the other day, Yoko Ono and her assistant, Amanda Keeley, shared a quick giggle after passing a group of men unloading a van and then hearing, from about five feet behind them (and for the third time in a short stroll), “Hey, that was Yoko Ono.”
“It always happens that way,” Ms. Ono said, and Ms. Keeley added, “It doesn’t register until a few seconds after you walk past.”
Ms. Ono was heading to the museum, which opened in November, to observe the preparations for “John Lennon: The New York City Years,” an exhibition of memorabilia that opens on Tuesday and provides a glimpse of the nine years he lived in the city, from 1971 until his death in 1980. The show offers a good overview of his creative world, with examples of his art (drawings and collages, some never seen before), video clips of his performances and, most crucially, a collection of lyric sheets and production notes that, if you look closely at Lennon’s changes, additions and annotations, tell a lot about his working methods and his ways of thinking about music.
A display case along one wall in the museum’s large exhibition room holds the white New York City T-shirt, the rhinestone Elvis pin and other items of clothing he wore in famous photographs (with the photographs beside them). Another includes letters, documents and newspaper clippings about his fight to avoid deportation, ostensibly because of a drug conviction in Britain (but really, Lennon always believed, because the United States government found his peace campaigning and political engagement irritating).
Four large video screens play music clips and experimental films. And five cases in the middle of the room present songwriting memorabilia, including handwritten manuscripts for “Imagine” (on New York Hilton note paper), “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” (with cross-outs and lyric changes) and about a dozen others, as well as picture sleeves from a few of Lennon’s singles and the Grammy he won, posthumously, for “Double Fantasy,” in 1981.
“Come here, I want to show you this,” Ms. Ono said as she led a visitor toward a Steinway upright piano in a glass case.
“This is from our bedroom at the Dakota, even now,” she said. “The bed was here, and the piano was there,” she explained, approximating the distance with her hands, “so he could just jump down from the bed and play, if he had an idea. And look at this, here and here,” Ms. Ono added, pointing to a series of cigarette burns on the edges of the flat top and the wood at each side of the keyboard. “He was a chain smoker, and he would leave a cigarette on the edge of the piano when he was writing.”
Nearly everything in the exhibition belongs to Ms. Ono and draws on material she has lent to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s main museum in Cleveland and to the John Lennon Museum in Tokyo. Also featured are items that have never been on public display before, among them a collage that Lennon made for George Harrison during a visit to Tokyo in the late ’70s, that, spookily, includes the surgeon general’s warning about the dangers of smoking. (Harrison died of lung cancer in 2001.)
Other material in the exhibition was contributed by the photographer Bob Gruen, Jim Henke, the hall of fame’s vice president for exhibitions and curatorial affairs, said.
“We’ve had a good relationship with Yoko since before the museum opened here,” Mr. Henke said in a telephone interview from Cleveland. “One of our first acquisitions was a loan from Yoko that included John’s ‘Sergeant Pepper’ uniform, school report cards and handwritten lyrics. And in 2000 she wanted to do an exhibition because it would have been John’s 60th birthday, and also the 20th anniversary of his death.”
Ms. Ono, 76, was an avant-garde artist in New York before she met Lennon in London in 1966. “John’s heart was here,” she said. “Even when he was in Liverpool, and London. He used to show me that famous Bob Dylan album cover, where he’s walking with a girl,” she said, referring to “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” “and he’d say, ‘that should have been me, I could have been a New Yorker.’ So when Jim Henke spoke to me about this, I thought, ‘What a beautiful idea.’ But at the same time, I wanted to do it because we live in a very violent world, and I wanted to show what John was, you know?”
She was referring to his murder in 1980, when he was shot as he and Ms. Ono returned to the Dakota from the recording studio. On the exhibition’s far wall, a poster with the picture of Lennon’s bloodied glasses that Ms. Ono used as the cover of her “Season of Glass” album includes a printed message: “More than 932,000 people have been killed by guns in the U.S.A. since John Lennon was shot and killed on December 8, 1980.” A display case to the right of the poster will hold a brown paper bag marked “Patient’s Belongings.”
“Do you know what this is?” Ms. Ono asked. “When John passed away, the coroner’s office took all his clothes. And I was called in, and they just gave me back this brown paper bag. It was very hard for me, but I insisted on having this bag in the exhibition. I think it’s a very good lesson for people to know what violence means.”
Visitors can sign a petition, alongside the display case, asking for stricter gun laws. It will be sent to President Obama when the show closes in January.
Most of the exhibition, though, is more celebratory, and much of it focuses on Lennon’s creative life. On one screen a black-and-white home video shows Lennon and Ms. Ono working on the 1971 protest song “Luck of the Irish” and writing fresh lines on a typed lyric sheet. That page is displayed a few feet away.
Another piece that captures the songwriting process in flight is a half-typed, half-handwritten version of “Nobody Told Me,” from 1980. Here, Lennon left the final lines of a few verses blank except for the closing words, which show the rhyme he was going for.
Particularly revealing is a list of the songs Lennon planned to record during the sessions for “Double Fantasy,” his final album, in 1980. It’s a long list. Several songs ended up on the posthumous “Milk and Honey” album, released in 1984. The list also includes “Real Love,” a song he never got around to recording formally, although a rough demo was embellished by the surviving Beatles for a 1996 single.
Beside each title, Lennon summarized his thoughts about how the song should sound, listing not only instrumentation ideas, but also references to earlier songs he regarded as templates. Next to “Dear Yoko,” for example, he wrote that he had in mind Buddy Holly’s “Listen to Me” and his own “Oh Yoko” and “Imagine.”
A touch of the avant-garde playfulness of Lennon’s early New York period is on display as well. Near the exit is “Telephone Peace,” a white telephone mounted on a wall, with a card telling visitors to answer the phone when it rings.
“This is something we did at the show in 2000,” Mr. Henke said. “Yoko would periodically call in and speak to whoever answers.”
Ms. Ono seemed amused at the prospect. “Yes, you pick up the phone,” she said, “and it will be me.”
by Anthony deCurtis, The New York Times, 16 May 2009
As cutbacks loom in every sector of New York City’s economic life, the specter of the 1970s, with all of its deprivations and depredations, seems increasingly near as well. This being New York, of course, those days of near bankruptcy, graffiti-scarred subway cars, escalating crime rates and a dwindling population as the faint of heart fled to easier climes, evoke a fond nostalgia for some.
In the June issue of Vanity Fair, for example, the critic James Wolcott, who is working on a memoir of the decade, gleefully recalls a time when real New Yorkers could walk the streets with bravado while “the tourists looked scared. Getting back to their hotel alive was one of the main items on their checklists.”
Interestingly, that shell-shocked town is where John Lennon chose to make his home with his wife, Yoko Ono, in August 1971, as “John Lennon: The New York City Years,” an exhibition at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex in SoHo, documents. “New York is the greatest place on earth,” Lennon insisted with the enthusiasm of an out-of-towner who has just unhinged his jaw to chomp his first deli sandwich. For all his worldliness as an artist, Lennon had led a sheltered life as a member of the Beatles, shuttling from hotels to concert halls to airplanes when the band was on tour, and living isolated in the suburban “stockbroker belt” outside London when in England.
So he embraced the heady freedom New York offered, leaving his mop-top past behind like a new arrival from a small town, eager to become who he wanted to be. New Yorkers, in turn, saw the city anew through his wide, endlessly appreciative eyes. Sadly, such open-heartedness would prove his undoing in a town that proved tougher than he ever imagined it could be.
In a way that would be unthinkable now for one of the most famous men in the world, Lennon and Ono rented a two-room apartment on Bank Street in the West Village when they settled here, and bought bicycles to get around town. As a student at Sarah Lawrence and an avant-garde artist in New York in the 1950s and ’60s, Ono was intimately familiar with the city. “She made me walk around the streets and parks and squares and examine every nook and cranny,” Lennon said. “In fact you could say I fell in love with New York on a street corner.”
His proximity to the docks and the meatpacking district reminded Lennon of his hometown port city of Liverpool, as did the characteristic gruffness of New Yorkers. “I like New Yorkers because they have no time for the niceties of life,” he said. “They’re like me in this. They’re naturally aggressive, they don’t believe in wasting time.”
When the Nixon administration used a minor drug conviction in England as a pretext for kicking the politically outspoken Lennon out of the country, the city rallied behind him. The Hall of Fame exhibition includes a letter from Mayor John V. Lindsay to the Immigration and Naturalization Service recounting Lennon’s charitable and artistic contributions to New York and requesting that he be permitted to stay.
Lennon and Ono broke up for a time in 1973, after which he mostly lived in Los Angeles. In 1975, after the couple had reunited, the government dropped its case and Lennon got his green card (also on display in the exhibition). And after three miscarriages, Ono gave birth to their son, Sean, that year. “I feel higher than the Empire State Building,” Lennon declared.
By this time, the family was living in the Dakota on 72nd Street and Central Park West, a step up from Bank Street but hardly as posh then as it would eventually become. As the city struggled to recover from its economic crisis, Lennon established a domestic life. He stopped making albums, turned over his business affairs to Ono, and famously baked bread and cared for Sean.
By the time the couple began working on the album “Double Fantasy” in 1980, life in New York seemed to be on firmer – and safer – footing, though it was still raw enough that in 1979 Lennon and Ono donated $1,000 to purchase bullet-proof vests for the city’s police force.
Lennon was eager to return to public life, and he was still singing the praises of his adopted city. “I can go right out this door now and go in a restaurant,” he told a BBC reporter on Dec. 6, 1980, in an interview to promote the album’s release. “You want to know how great that is?”
Two days later, Lennon was shot to death outside the Dakota. He was 40 years old. He had just returned home from a recording session with Ono and, rather than have their car pull directly into the Dakota’s driveway, he got out at the curb so that he could greet the fans waiting outside. It was an emotionally generous gesture, maybe even a naïve one: trusting the city too much, underestimating its dangers.
Mick Jagger, a far more jaded New York transplant, couldn’t believe his friend used to take cabs, which is “probably to be avoided if you’ve got more than $10,” as he said years later.
In the nearly three decades since Lennon’s death, New York has often seemed like two cities: one where the famous and wealthy played in a luxurious bubble, and the other grittier world where everybody else lived. During his time in the city, John Lennon tried to act as if those worlds could be bridged. New York is safer now, statistics say. But underestimating the dangers ahead may still prove a fatal mistake.
Ken Dashow from Q104.3 attended the press conference and met with Yoko.
Here’s the audio from that – special thanks to Q104.3 & Ken.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC (76 Mercer St., NYC) is honored to present JOHN LENNON: THE NEW YORK CITY YEARS to open in May 2009. This extraordinary exhibit presents exclusive artifacts from the life and work of John Lennon – a true legend of music and one of the greatest artists and activists of the twentieth century. The exhibit will feature never‐before‐seen items that uniquely commemorate Lennon’s life in New York City.
“John would have been so pleased that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex in New York is honoring his life and work. It was a city we called home for many years and I so hope it will be a true gift to New York City’s residents and visitors that have been such supportive fans,” said Yoko Ono.
This special feature exhibit is created by Yoko Ono and curated by Jim Henke, Vice President of Exhibitions and Curatorial Affairs, for the New York City Annex. The exhibit will include a selection of rare artifacts, films and photos as well as exclusive New York‐centric additions provided by the generosity of Yoko Ono. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC exhibit in SoHo is expected to make a big impact on the millions of fans who adore John Lennon, telling the story of his time in New York, a place he dearly loved. Additional details about JOHN LENNON: THE NEW YORK CITY YEARS will be unveiled in coming weeks.
“Yoko Ono has been very generous to the Hall of Fame over the years, and we are delighted to be able to work with her on this new exhibit,” Henke said. “John Lennon spent the last nine years of his life in New York, and he loved the city. This exhibit will examine those years and the many things John accomplished while in New York.”
“We’re ecstatic to bring this John Lennon exhibit to the Annex. New York is an integral part of our music history and holds major significance to John and Yoko. It’s an honor to showcase the life and work of such an extraordinary rock and roll legend,” said Michael Cohl of S2BN Entertainment, one of the producing partners.
A portion of the cost of each ticket to the exhibition will be donated to The Spirit Foundation, a charitable foundation set up by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, to further John and Yoko’s philanthropic initiatives.
“As a pivotal figure in the history of Rock and Roll, the extraordinary legacy of John Lennon will receive a well‐deserved spotlight with this new exhibit. This will be the must‐see event for music fans in New York and around the world,” said Arny Granat of Jam Exhibitions, one of the producing partners.
About The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame NYC
It opened its doors in November 2008 to an overwhelming response from visitors and critics alike. As a technologically advanced exhibition that focuses on the greatest moments in rock history, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC takes visitors beyond the typical museum experience and engages people in a dynamic and immersive music journey that recalls some of the defining moments in rock and roll history through the artists that changed our world. The exhibits highlight rock and roll’s impact on music, where visitors can discover, or rediscover, their connection to it all.
“It will be tough for any top history buffs – whether they first encountered the Rolling Stones on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” or in the recent documentary “Shine a Light” – to resist goodies at the Annex like David Byrne’s big suit from the film “Stop Making Sense,” a blue sequined dress from Tina Turner’s final tour with Ike, Michael Jackson’s handwritten lyrics to “Billie Jean” and Prince’s coat from “Purple Rain.” – New York Times
“New York City is steeped in rock history: the Velvet Underground, CBGB, the birth of hiphop, Bob Dylan – we could go on. And yet there’s no single repository devoted to the history of rock [here]. Now there’s the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC, an offshoot of the Cleveland original.” – Time Out New York
“Though the dark, subterranean museum, complete with a gift shop, is in far better shape than the downtown rock clubs it was meant to emulate, its heart is in the right place ‐ as are the artifacts it houses.” – New York Post
“Music fans can relive rock ‘n’ roll’s defining moments at the newly‐opened Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC, an interactive, total immersion experience.” – Where New York
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC is proudly supported by official sponsors Citi, Best Buy, Diesel for Bloomingdales, and Gibson. Additional supporting partners include Sony, Sennheiser, Kohler and Brocade Home.
S2BN Entertainment, Jam Exhibitions and Running Subway co‐present The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ANNEX NYC.
Tickets on sale now
$24.50 (Adult), $16.50 (Child 4‐12), $22.50 (Senior 65+).
For tickets call (866) 9‐ROCKNY or (866) 976‐2569
Buy online at www.rockannex.com or
Visit the box office located at 76 Mercer St (between Spring & Broome Sts.), New York, NY 10012. Current
Thurs. 11am‐7pm, Fri.‐ Sat. 11am‐9pm, Sun. 11am‐7pm.
Extended Exhibit Hours for Lennon feature:
Tues ‐ Thurs. 11am‐7pm, Fri.‐ Sat. 11am‐9pm, Sun. 11am‐7pm.
Last admission is one hour before closing.
Open on select holidays.
Monday – Friday only
Use code: LENNON2
OFFER EXPIRES AUG. 31, 2009. BLACKOUT DATES APPLY. NOT VALID ON PREVIOUSLY PURCHASED TICKETS. ALL SALES ARE FINAL. NO EXCHANGES. NO REFUNDS. TEN TICKET LIMIT PER ORDER. MUST MENTION/ENTER CODE PRIOR TO PURCHASE TO RECEIVE OFFER. NORMAL PHONE AND INTERNET SERVICES FEES MAY APPLY. THIS OFFER MAY BE REVOKED AT ANY TIME.
For more information
Call (646) 786‐6680.
About the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Cleveland:
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is the nonprofit organization that exists to educate visitors, fans and scholars from around the world about the history and continuing significance of rock and roll music. It carries out this mission both through its operation of a world‐class museum that collects, preserves, exhibits and interprets this art form and through its library and archives as well as its educational programs. The Museum in Cleveland is the centerpiece and starting point for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s telling the story of rock and roll. The 150,000 square‐foot Museum celebrates the history and impact of rock music with exhibits, films, interactive kiosks, education programs and public events. With the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex in New York, the Rock Hall is for the first time extending its reach outside of Cleveland and establishing space to house its traveling exhibits and speak to new audiences. A portion of proceeds from the Rock and Roll Hall Annex will go to support the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s exhibitions, education initiatives and Library and Archives, scheduled to open in 2010.
For additional information on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, please contact Margaret Thresher at (216) 515‐1215 or [email protected] Media and fans can also learn more about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum at www.rockhall.com.
Photo of John Lennon by Bob Gruen.