Lengthy book excerpt: Final days of John Lennon

Here is something of note.  It is a work on the final days of famous celebrities.  In my other life I am a librarian, and I work with books all the time.  I have a fascination with books on musicians, particularly ones on facts about deceased musicians. This one happens to cover our beloved John.  Just thought I’d share this powerful and lengthy book excerpt that I came across today. 

Mitchell Fink, a former New York Daily News gossip columnist and best-selling author, has spent much of his life reporting on the inner lives of celebrities.

In his new book, “The Last Days of Dead Celebrities,” he reports on their deaths, examining 15 of Hollywood’s brightest stars, many of whom died tragically before their time. His subjects include John Lennon, Lucille Ball, John Ritter, Warren Zevon and Ted Williams.

Despite a harsh-sounding title, the book chronicles each celebrities’ physical, spiritual and emotional journeys to their final days.

You can read an excerpt of the book below:

It took a long time for John Lennon to feel comfortable in New York.

Like so many others before him, Lennon had chosen to settle in the greatest of all American cities after spending a lifetime somewhere else. New York, in any era, has always promised its new residents lives of unparalleled excitement, round-the-clock action, and enough culture and contrasting beliefs to keep them on their toes for centuries. In public, Lennon seemed to relish the idea of becoming a New Yorker. “I love New York. It’s the hottest city going. I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s the fastest city on earth,” was how Beatles chronicler Geoffrey Giuliano quoted the former Beatle in his book Lennon in America.

Lennon had even told Rolling Stone in 1970 that New York was “the only place I found that could keep up with me. . . . I’m just sort of fascinated by it, like a fucking monster.”

The trouble with fucking monsters, of course, is that they can often appear in the guise of an autograph hound, and if the sixties had provided Lennon with anything, it was definitely enough autograph hounds to last a lifetime.

Despite his public pronouncements, Lennon was undoubtedly looking beyond all the noise and fascination of New York on August 13, 1971, when he and his wife, Yoko Ono, moved their belongings into three suites on the seventeenth floor of one of the city’s classic Fifth Avenue hotels, the St. Regis.

Lennon wanted something else from New York, something far more precious and comforting than the speed of the city. Being in New York was a chance, finally, for him to get lost, be anonymous, and walk among thousands of other New Yorkers, free of bodyguards, in a fatigue jacket, sunglasses, floppy hat, and with body language that politely suggested how unnecessary it would be to squeal, scream, cry, or demand an encore.

And for the most part, New York complied because of an unwritten rule that grants all new New Yorkers the benefit of the doubt. The famous and the near famous get it, along with the wannabes and nobodies. You want to be left alone? Fine, New York will leave you alone. You stay on your side of the sidewalk, and I’ll stay on mine. Don’t brush up against anyone else’s body, certainly not without saying, “Excuse me,” and life on the street will happily go on. Act like a New Yorker and you become one. Act like a schmuck, and New York will have you for lunch.

From the moment they got to New York, the Lennons kept mostly to themselves and never acted like schmucks. Gone were the lavishly planned bed-ins and the flip comparisons in popularity to Jesus. Sure, they protested the Vietnam War and started hanging out with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. But by the early seventies, this was hardly considered radical behavior. As Lennon found out years earlier, when you try to force-feed anything to New York, you do so at your own peril. But ask New Yorkers, rather, to simply “Imagine,” and you may get them for all time. John and Yoko asked little of New York beyond that, and in return, to paraphrase a Beatles song, New York let them be.

“He liked it when people came up and said hi,” Yoko recalled of those early days in New York. “We had burnt our bridges in London. I don’t think that my people, the Japanese, were thrilled with our situation- John and Yoko doing Two Virgins, John and Yoko doing bed-ins. And we didn’t have many friends. A lot of them turned their backs on us. They didn’t like our union. They didn’t like the fact that we were so political. A lot of them still blamed me for the breakup of the Beatles. We were different, and we were hoping that New York wouldn’t be put off by that.”

There is no evidence anywhere remotely suggesting that New York was put off in any way by the Lennons. They were just New York’s newest superstars in a town that had seen many. It’s not unreasonable, therefore, to assume that Lennon might have been caught off guard by New York’s “so what?” attitude toward his fame. Lennon certainly did say at the time that he needed time to get used to the city, mainly because it wasn’t his idea to move there. New York had been Yoko’s decision, and he went along with it. He was quoted in Giuliano’s book as saying, “It was Yoko who sold me on New York. She’d been poor here and knew every inch. She made me walk around the streets, parks, squares, and examine every nook and cranny. In fact, you could say I fell in love with New York on a street corner. . . . Not only was Yoko educated here, but she spent fifteen years living in New York, so, as far as I was concerned, it was just like returning to your wife’s hometown.” Nevertheless, if behavior counts for anything, New York had yet to become Lennon’s hometown by October 10, 1971. It was one day after his thirty-first birthday, two days after the release of his landmark solo album, Imagine, and nearly two months since their move into the St. Regis. John and Yoko were getting dressed in one of their suites, preparing to go out. At that moment, and most likely unbeknownst to them, a Jewish wedding was in full swing in the hotel’s main ballroom. It was in between courses, or that time during most Jewish weddings when the bandleader picks up the tempo and coaxes guests onto the dance floor. The bride, who was nearing thirty, had one sibling, a twenty-sevenyear- old brother, and he was in no mood to dance, or even feel merry. He just sat at a table looking at his watch, hoping the time would pass quickly, counting down to the end of his sister’s big day. But he knew there were still hours to go and very few choices to make. Leaving the St. Regis and going home was not an option. His mother would have killed him.

But maybe there was a way out: marijuana, the ultimate and least offensive sixties panacea to everything. You want to put on earphones and tune into a coded message on The White Album, or something obscure on a Richie Havens record? Smoke a joint. On the other hand, if you want to tune out your sister’s wedding and feel like you’re a million miles away, even while you’re asking a relative to pass the butter, well, that very same joint will likely get you there. And that’s precisely what was needed here.

The bride’s brother had been tipped off during the ceremony that another wedding guest was holding some good shit. The brother thought, if he could talk his sister into giving him the key to the bridal suite, he and this other guest could go upstairs, get high, and then return to the festivities and hide in plain sight in a decidedly more tolerant state. No one would even know they had been gone.

Of course, it never occurred to either man that John and Yoko were even at the St. Regis, much less readying themselves to go out. At that moment, the only mission facing the two wedding guests was to get into the bridal suite, smoke their pot, and alter their consciousnesses to the point where perhaps even the dance floor might not seem to be such a terrible idea.

But an extraordinary thing happened as the bride’s brother put the key in the door to his sister’s room: The door to the suite directly across the hall opened and John and Yoko stepped out. The boys would later bemoan the fact that they never had a chance to say hello, much less invite the Lennons inside for a couple of tokes, a perfectly reasonable thought that came up only in retrospect. As soon as John saw these two strangers, he yanked Yoko back inside and slammed his door shut. It was obvious, even to these two disgruntled, pot-smoking wedding guests, that Lennon appeared threatened by the close proximity of other New Yorkers.

There is an old saying from the sixties that goes something like this: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not trying to get you.” Lennon had nothing to fear from the two men who were trying to enter another suite across the hall. As the two men remembered it, they had their backs to the couple when Lennon opened the door. Certainly no remotely threatening gestures were made. And yet Lennon’s first inclination was to retreat and close the door as quickly as possible. Was he paranoid, or simply startled? Did he sense danger in New York in 1971, or was he just being careful? Whatever the case, it was clear that he had not yet made peace with his new surroundings.

Then again, maybe it was just the coldness and formality of extended hotel life that was getting to him. During the more chaotic years, when he was a Beatle, a hotel had performed essentially the same function as a prostitute. In, out, and on to the next town. As opulent as the St. Regis was, two months there was proving to be more than enough. The Lennons needed something a little homier, and on November 1 they left the St. Regis for a Greenwich Village apartment on Bank Street that was both smaller and homier than their hotel suite. The basement apartment had only two rooms, a kitchenette, and a spiral staircase up to a skylight. But the simplicity of it, along with its tranquil setting in a classic downtown neighborhood, proved more in keeping with Lennon’s desire to blend into New York.

Photographer Bob Gruen was living in the Village then, in an apartment not far from Lennon’s small pad. “I heard about it as soon as they moved into the neighborhood,” recalled Gruen. “There was this buzz, like ‘Hey, guess who just moved in.’ But this being New York, nobody bothered them.”

On November 6, just five days after their downtown move, the Lennons ventured uptown, to the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem, and gave a surprise performance to benefit the casualties of the recent Attica prison riots. “I went to the Apollo that night,” said Gruen, “because Aretha Franklin was supposed to be there and I was going to photograph her. As I walked into the theater, I heard the announcer onstage say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.’ It was incredibly exciting. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to see John Lennon. They did a couple of funky songs. Backstage afterward, they were standing around waiting for their car, and people were taking pictures of them. So I took a couple of pictures of them standing there. At one point, John said, ‘You know, people are always taking pictures of us and we never get to see these pictures. What happens to all the pictures?’ “I said, ‘Well, I live around the corner from you. I’ll show you my pictures.’

“And he said, ‘You live around the corner? Slip them under the door.’

“I said I would, and I made up a couple of prints,” said Gruen. “A few days later, I went by their apartment and didn’t quite slip them under the door. I rang the bell instead, and Jerry Rubin answered the door. I said, ‘I have something for John and Yoko.’

“And Jerry Rubin said, ‘Are they expecting you?’ When I said no, he said he would take the pictures and give them to them.”

Gruen heard nothing from the Lennons until their names came up a few months later when he was asked to shoot pictures of the couple for a story that a writer friend was doing on the hard-driving rock group Elephant’s Memory. Jerry Rubin had introduced Lennon to the group, and he was planning to record a few tracks with them for their album.

“The writer asked me if I would like to take pictures of John and Yoko while he interviewed them,” said Gruen. “I said I would definitely do it, and that’s how I actually ended up meeting them. “I didn’t say anything immediately about me being the guy who was supposed to slip those other pictures under the door because I like to stay rather quiet when I’m taking pictures,” said Gruen. “So I just took pictures while they were talking. And because the story was about Elephant’s Memory, I wanted to take a picture of John and Yoko together with the band. They said they were going to the Record Plant that night to record with the band. So I asked if I could come along. They said they’d be working, but if I wanted to wait around until the end of the night, I could take a picture of them with the band. And that’s what I did. After I took the pictures at the Record Plant later that night, I went home, printed the pictures, and sent them to the magazine that was going to publish the story.

(More…The Lennon segment continues on for quite a few more pages.  Here’s the second page which continues from the first segment provided here.)
Source: ABC News

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