On December 8th 1980 I had just arrived in New York and was feeling in a kind of trip, estranged and crushed under those skyscrapers. The family of friends who would have hosted me in that Central Park West apartment must have had the impression the taxman had delivered a bomb in the apartment, not a guest.
I had arrived, discovered I had forgot part of the luggage at the Kennedy Airport, called a friend, gone out... come home again...
The telephone rings... it's a family friend living not far from the place... she is calling there (I wonder why) to tell that she was going to buy cigarettes when she heard a shot from the other side of the street... "they have shot him!"... she was saying on the phone... "they have shot John Lennon!"
Before leaving I had picked up in my Roman house the John and Yoko's last album, Double Fantasy, out of thousands of other records and had thought for a moment to take it with me to New York... but my rationality had risen up against my intuition: why should one take a record with him?
Now I was there in New York, not far from Lennon's home... everything sounded so absurd, magic, incredible... no, it had not to do with jet lag.
I phoned my friends from Skyriders Productions (I would have worked together with as a director on the We Love You John* program to be transmitted by Italian Television) to tell them to go... but I did not go there that day. I was not feeling like... That was not the point...
I felt I had been called there somehow and wondered why.
That painful closeness strengthened my sympathy for the artist, for his indomitable uneasiness, that was mine too, for his story, his disillusions and his desperation, his search, the self-destructive violence, his loves and hatreds and finally his death I had been somehow called for to tell .
I did not. In the video I chose to tell the playful, nonconformist, lyrical and philosophical side of the artist instead.
No Politics, no polemics, not even too much anger for such an untimely death.
Laying the blame on the hand that had shot him down would have meant to mistake the part for the whole...
West and East: John and Yoko
It was not just a chance that he married Yoko Ono. Lennon had already approached the eastern thought. He used to say that his wife was for him Don Juan (Carlo Castaneda's readers know him well), the multiform master reflecting his disciple's personalities as a perfect mirror.
Eastern philosophy and spirituality brought inspiration to many of his lyrics. The law of Karma, for example... every action runs other actions, our acting moves more acting... our life is the result of many other lives... the origin of the event comes from very far, can be the reward or the payment of ancient merits and faults... then sometimes a good job for his conscience is for man not doing, being able to sit and stare, because this observation brings a special quality to the body and feeds precious cells inside.
Eastern thought gave him the impression of entering a wider sky, of breathing a larger intelligence, of escaping the stern, provincial, Western-European-British-Liverpudlian thought, and penetrate deeper areas of the Soul, the same he had investigated through drugs... discovering the magic Oneness of Everything without being able to preserve Its fragrance, lost as he felt in front of the masks of hypocrisy the world's face used to show him.
He had been a motherless child, brought up by an aunt. Seashell eyes, windy smile Julia, his mother, died young in a car accident when he was 18. His father a seaman steward had separated very soon from his wife.
The lack of a family structure created in him a search for love, a quest he will try to answer to all his life.
He had been a youngster crazy for rock&roll and America. At schooldays times he met Paul, who was a little more straight, a little more bourgeois, a little more acquainted with guitar's chords.
About the great, prolific love and hatred that bound the twos and let something bigger to express through the Beatles to various generations, with happy intuition Linda McCartney wrote:
John and Paul represented the revolutionary and the bourgeois, the radical and the conservative, but it wasn't so.
Their discrepancies were the eternal struggle between conformist and nonconformist, between the diplomatic orthodoxy of Paul and the uneasiness of John who suffered for not understanding, not knowing, not being able to accept deep inside the perverse mechanisms of power.
The Beatles have been for their fans a reassuring symbol, a perfect Tao. George and Ringo a corollary of John and Paul. The true dreamer, maybe John only.
In their music there was breadth, tradition and experimentation.
Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll
Sexual revolution is at the door. For the first time little girls feel free of twisting and shouting their repression at those four crazy little soldiers, the mop tops with their stunning guitars singing feelings and fantasies of a new generation. Same haircut, same suits.
Too tight a uniform for John. Too many commercial interests behind the Beatles' phenomenon.
Their enormous success covered any wild behavior with impunity. It was a new British imperialism regenerating the fame of the English language in the hearts of millions of youngsters and storing up pounds in the counters of the nation.
Their image was protected at all costs: Beatles = clean and clever. Their pseudo rivals, Rolling Stones = dirty and drugsters. But it wasn't so.
John was like a naughty kid who has done another of his tricks and suffers from not being punished. The impunity given by their success hurts him inside, showing clearly the hypocrisy of the world which he considered one of his greatest enemy and was one of the reason why he split from the Beatles in order to be free again of searching Truth, investigating the meaning of what was happening within and without.
Fear will always go with him, he sang it in many ways. Fear has walked along with an entire generation that after clearing away old scenarios awoke in a barren land of ideological ruins and desperately tried to rebuild a sought after garden which appeared a chimera.
In the after-Beatles days, John plays the role of an avant-garde artist who plays with media and tries to wear political cloths of "working class hero", even if they don't fit him perfectly. Universal, simple and eternal values remain his best chords. He is a private revolutionary who loves talking to the world, feeling that working world's problems out is working his problems out. America, the melting pot of different races and ideologies allowed John to go beyond a provincial vision.
To live in New York he sacrificed friends, he played the part of the good kid, after driving Mummy mad with all his provocations.
He knew that living in New York was the only possibility for him of experiencing an aspect of life which was denied him, the so-called normality: a wife, a child, a home, going out for movies, dinners, even playing the part of King Father while Mother Queen manages properties.
Biographers give many contrasting versions of these five years away from the musical stage: impeccable father, redeemed revolutionary, reformed nonconformist, submissive ideological leader... but they also wrote of shut blinds, junk, desperation, confusion, fear, pain, an entire emotional inventory by which he felt menaced when he was young, even if he never had the time to fully taste it, stunned as he was by the flattering success, the hard timetables and the licentiousness that Beatles' Myth allowed and hid.
Now he had time for experiencing joy and sorrow, love and hatred... silence and noise, and he was trying to separate from both poles, to build a certain detachment... even by the wife he had been celebrating as his saver and master. He was now singing that it was time to start all over again, also separately.
He had understood it had been His Dream which had created the Beatles, had put musicians together, set the stage and invited the audience. A common dream, still unconscious...
Now Light Enters His Room
Now light enters his room, he understands better, sees the connections.
Dream has estranged him from Beatles' prison towards other prisons, other ideas, as far as the sometimes thrilling final act of his pseudo bourgeois family life... in which he apparently has the freedom of signing autographs to fans in the street, going to work and walk back home with his wife, just for stretching his legs a little bit... Only apparently.
Belonging to a normality he always had been feeling cut off from turned out just an illusion.
As a child he had had less than normal; as a Beatle too much more than normal... never what was right.
Yet the problem was inside him not outside. He hates psychological and mental narrowness, emotional poverty, yet he can't stand the prison of success, his flattering lie. Like a new Siddharta he lives searching... experimenting... waiting and sometimes fasting... from success.
Dreaming, John digs, is the only leading character. While God is, in his opinion, a concept by which we measure our pain, Dreaming is a concept by which we measure our joy and realization.
Dreaming is neither dreaming at night nor day-dreaming, the two most frequently meanings in our western thought ("Dreaming? Stuff for people who haven't got anything better to do... haven't got problems I have... stuff for spoiled people, very rich ones or crazy artists..." Commonsense says.)
It isn't so. Dreaming is the tool we can grab and handle our future with, right now. It contains creator and creature... past and future, cause and effect... tormentor and victim. Dream is all-powerful, can write any script, can redeem every misdeed and crime from the past, counterbalancing their action. It can anticipate and create future, a better present, making them more conscious, vibrating, total and harmonious.
Each of us can be the author of a personal or common dream of survival, love, harmony and peace. As a matter of fact each of us is already the Author of a dream and to the extent to which he is so, he determines his life, more or less consciously. If we live in a nightmare, we dreamed of it before, anticipated it, feared it, evoked it.
Western thought tells that he has been killed by a fan, probably mad, who loved him too much and had been trying to imitate him all his life long, even marrying a Japanese woman... a man who had asked him for an autograph then waited for him to come back home in order to shot him down... a cause and an effect.
It seems indifferent and absurd to western thought to think that the victim and the tormentor are both responsible, that the killer is called on stage contemporaneously with the victim and cannot shirk his duty...
New Joy, New Sorrow
John Lennon called on stage by his killer? I don't think so. Much stronger is his dream... very likely it has been it. The pictures of him in Central Park with Yoko were very meaningful. The new joy he had been looking for must have terrified him. New joy would have evoked new sorrow, he knew.
So he dreamed (intentionally?) of death. A life dream of ecstasy and fall, excitation and depression, guilt and punishment... A journey to the paradises and hells of his psyche and his body... a wish for abandoning like a child in his mother's arms to the uncomfortable, mortal embrace the world bestows on its beloved myths, sometimes strangling their deeper essence, forcing their not yet entirely explored strength on fixed courses until they become simplified representation of yes or no, peace or war, love or hate, pain or joy, shadow or light.
Today we are called to understand and reconcile those apparent contrasts, to substitute the "or" with an "and", to link and transcend the opposites integrating them inside us.
The synapses are speeding up and communications put us all in touch... people see they need to know what to say.
Let's Dream Our Own Dream
In order to know it, we have to dream... dream of being... dream our own dream, because whatever we already are it's our dream that is building it up.
If we change our dream we change our history and the world's history too. It's high time.
John Lennon has been a great human and artistic example of the Dreamer to us... You may say I am a dreamer/but I'm not the only one/I hope some day you will join us/and the world will be as one...
It is probable that in re-entering the Stage he felt an unbearable menace coming from his 'exposure', too big a responsibility for his worn-out body and mind.
James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix... and more recently Kurt Cobain and Princess Diana. Adolescence myths who are not able to get into a human and artistic maturity. They are crushed and run towards their death.
The 8th of December 1980, in New York, at Dakota Building where the Lennons lived at the corner with Central Park, it wasn't a ferocious crime against a too young and so much loved pop artist, but something more profound.
The Killer and The Victim
The killer and the victim met each other halfway and played their part, painful for both of them, like every darkness into which we fall.
Some days later, on December the 14th, a dedicated Vigil was held. Thousand of fans assembled around a little chapel with a picture of John wearing a New Yorkers T-shirt... to underline the fact that he had been killed by a city he loved very much.
Japans and Texans, New Yorkers, fans of every kind, age, style and race, FBI agents, the oppressed, the repressed, the depressed, gays, young fathers, feminists, pacifists, rockers, beatniks... former freaks..
Such a disparate crowd... his audience... the World... upset, destroyed by his death, as if everybody had lost a part of oneself with his death... Me too, staring around, wondering who they were, why they were there, why I was there.
My reportage, a tribute to John Lennon's life, not to His death, shows some of those faces that John must have often seen around him from the stage. This time in a deathly drama.
Ten minutes' silence, broken only by the sound of helicopters flying on the place, with TV crews and policemen.
Ten minutes of not doing, how he had been trying to do last five years. Once again a dream: of not existing anymore, in spite of his last declarations. (It's like starting over)
Dream is very obedient; we have to know what we are dreaming of or it will kill us because of our unconscious will by some killer's hand from outside.
We can dream of being more this or more that. The important is dreaming to be. The important is dreaming, betting on qualities in us we don't even know.
It's not as easy as it seems. It is not as difficult as it seems.