33 years ago, yesterday, the talent and the genius was murdered in a courtyard across the street from the place named for a song which probably was in the top five of all the songs this genius wrote. But, sadly, he had to die for that part of Central Park in New York City to be brought to life.
While he was not an elected political figure or leader, he was, nevertheless, a man of very deep political convictions. He took on the United States government which fought to deport him for a minor marijuana charge back in England. And he won. Afterward, he filed to become a citizen which did not want him. Sadly, he died before he was naturalized.
As the conscience of a generation, he fought for the rights of minorities, for the disadvantaged and for the oppressed. Few people born in the 20th century didn’t have an opinion about this man. Yet, he was 23 before virtually anyone in this country ever heard of him.
He managed to cause a stir with his quick brain and his quicker wit. He managed in 1966, for example, to have the audacity to compare him and his band mates to Jesus Christ. And of course, that caused many “evangelists” to demand that his records be burned or broken in order to let this guy know his comments were not welcomed. In fact, as anyone who read or listened to the entire quote, he was comparing the popularity of his group by so many in his lifetime to the fact that few knew Jesus in his.
Yes, he never denied that he tried drugs but he never actually tried to have others do the same. Yes, he made spiritual choices for himself but again, did not try to convert anyone else either. And yes, he was unfaithful to his first wife, subsequently his second, and again, felt it was his business alone.
So, through the remainder of the 60s and up until 1975, he continued to perform and record new music for our enjoyment and pleasure. He always seemed to be telling us something new about his feelings and wanted us to understand his reason or purpose of the message he was sending us.
And then, suddenly, he vanished for five years. No music, no statement, no public appearance to perform. Yes, he could be seen walking around the neighborhood in which he lived. I can certainly tell you that I met him walking along West 72 Street, when I worked in the Bank on the next block, pushing a stroller with his toddler who will soon be 40 years old. I found him to be friendly enough, but guarded his privacy. And he really didn’t want to talk about his prior life. It was, after all, the past and he was living in the present, looking toward the future.
Then, just about two months before he was killed, he released an album called Double Fantasy, which soared to the top of the charts even though half the songs were garbage. But, the songs that did matter told a story of what he had been doing for the last few years: Starting Over, Beautiful Boy, Watching the Wheels, Woman.
And then, a mad man who tried to mirror John Lennon’s life, snuffed it out by shooting him in the back. Suddenly, the genius was dead, never to be heard from again. Until 1995, through the wonder of digital technology, when two songs were released and performed by him and his band mates. Free As a Bird and Real Love went right to the top when they were released. He would have been pleased.
Do you remember where you were when you heard the news “about a lucky man who made the grade?” I do. And the next day, and for days after, you couldn’t walk passed his building, on the corner of Central Park West and West 72 Street amid the thousands of mourners who grieved day and night until Sunday, the 14th, when a vigil was held in the Park he held so dear.
“Imagine all the people, living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one.”