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The story behind John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields in New York

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For over 30 years, Beatles fans have been gathering at Strawberry Fields in Central Park to celebrate John Lennon’s life on his birthday, October 9, and also to mourn his death on December 8.

Located across the street from the Dakota apartment building where John Lennon lived with Yoko Ono, Strawberry Fields encompasses the pathways in Central Park that John and Yoko used to stroll together over the years from 1973 until Lennon was gunned down in front of the building in 1980.

Five years after his death, on October 9, 1985, what would have been Lennon’s 45th birthday, this tear-shaped section of Central Park stretching from 71st to 74th streets along Central Park West was re-named “Strawberry Fields” after The Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields Forever.” The famous grey and white marble Imagine mosaic, which is the centerpiece of the area, was a gift from the city of Naples, Italy.

StrawberryFields-ceremony

The groundbreaking ceremony for Strawberry Fields was held on March 21, 1984 with Yoko Ono and Lennon’s sons Julian and Sean in attendance. A bronze plaque which was unveiled at the dedication ceremony lists 121 countries who endorse this Garden of Peace.

The idea for ‘Strawberry Fields’ was conceived by Yoko Ono and she “selected an ancient mosaic design found in Naples and placed the word Imagine in the center,” according to author Sara Cedar Miller. “The people of Naples were delighted, and artisans were dispatched to Strawberry Fields to inlay the Imagine mosaic medallion, faithfully copying the design Yoko had chosen.”

While most people think of the Imagine mosaic section as the major part of Strawberry Fields, there are actually 5.3 acres in total that make up the whole of the area. For the landscape design of this section of Central Park, Yoko worked with landscape architect, Bruce Kelly, to create a fitting memorial to John Lennon that was “more nature than culture.”

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Yoko’s letter in the NY Times on August 19, 1981

In August 1981, Ono placed letters in the New York Times and many other newspapers asking for donations from other countries to create this peace garden. Many countries sent native plants; for example, an oak tree from Great Britain, dogwoods from Monaco, tulip bulbs from the Netherlands, maples from Canada, etc. And, of course, strawberries were planted by the Central Park Conservancy.

The area is shaded by elm trees and provides many benches for visitors to relax and “imagine.” Strawberry Fields is intended as a quiet place for reflection, designated as a “quiet zone” in the Park. In exchange for a generous donation to the Central Park Conservancy, patrons can get their name inscribed on a plaque on one of the benches.

Yoko Ono still lives in the Dakota and her windows overlook the Imagine mosaic at 72nd street and Central Park West. While the word “Imagine” is recognized for Lennon’s famous song first released in 1971, it is also a concept that Ono has portrayed in her artwork long before she met Lennon. He even admitted that he got the idea for the song from her.

The song “should be credited as a Lennon-Ono song, because a lot of it, the lyric and the concept, came from Yoko,” John Lennon said in a 1980 interview, shortly before he died.

StrawberryFields-plaque

In 2017, the National Music Publishers Association announced that Ono would share songwriting credits for Lennon’s “Imagine.”

“Those days, I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho, and I sort of omitted to mention her contribution,” Lennon added, noting that the song makes direct reference to Yoko’s 1964 book, Grapefruit.

 

It was Yoko’s intention to continue the world peace sentiment that she and Lennon had initiated in 1969 which included planting an acorn in England and then sending acorns to heads of state around the world. In her 1981 letter, Ono said, “John would have been very proud that this was given to him, an island named after his song, rather than a statue or a monument….It will be nice to have the whole world in one place, one field, living and growing together in harmony.”

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Note:
A book called Strawberry Fields: Central Park’s Memorial to John Lennon chronicles the creation of this memorial. The book, released in 2011, was written by Sara Cedar Miller, the official photographer and historian of the Central Park Conservancy. The 95-page book is filled with gorgeous color photos as well as historical documents and black & white photos.

The Central Park Conservancy also sells souvenirs of the Imagine mosaic, including a blanket, coffee mug and jewelry.

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John Lennon may have never started his first band, The Quarrymen, without best friend Pete Shotton

John Lennon Quarrymen

Sad news in the Beatles community to hear that Pete Shotton, John Lennon’s best friend growing up, died on March 24, 2017. He was 75 years old, born in 1941 – surprising that he was one year younger than John Lennon, since they were best friends in school.

Pete and John met in Sunday school when they were respectively, 6 and 7 years old. They also lived close to each other in Liverpool. They formed a small rowdy group of boys from the neighborhood which also included Nigel Whalley and Ivan Vaughn, who would play a pivotal role in Beatles history when he introduced Paul McCartney to John Lennon in 1957.

John and Pete’s childhood and teenage friendship, which lasted through high school and adulthood, was depicted in the film, Nowhere Boy, which showed how John was the instigator of the two:

John Lennon insisted on Shotton’s participation as a member of his first band, The Quarrymen skiffle group. Pete was assigned the washboard. It wasn’t so much Shotton’s musical ability (which was lacking) but more having the support of his friend in the band. In fact, without Pete, John may have never pursued starting the group.

According to Pete: “Had I categorically said no, John would almost certainly have shelved the whole idea of forming a group… I don’t mean to imply that there was anything special about me… It’s just that John and I were so inseparable at the time, it would have been inconceivable for either of us to get involved in something the other wasn’t keen on doing.”

John Lennon and Pete Shotton

Although Pete’s time with Quarrymen only lasted a year, he became an invaluable eyewitness to history. He observed John’s relationship with his birth mother, Julia, for several years before she died when John was 17. Pete was also the one who officially asked a 15-year-old Paul McCartney to join the Quarrymen.

In his insightful book about his friendship with John Lennon, Shotton recounts all the early rock and roll influences that John Lennon experienced. His book is regarded as one of the 10 best Beatles books of all time according to Rolling Stone.

Pete Shotton bookThe original title of Shotton’s book was John Lennon In My Life. It first came out in 1983 and was then re-issued a year later as The Beatles, Lennon and Me. It was co-written with Nicholas Schaffner, who was also the author of the great book, The Beatles Forever.

In his book, for example, Shotton offers behind-the-scenes truths of how The Quarrymen members evolved into The Beatles. Since Pete was one of the few people that was extremely close to John, he was able to offer insights into Lennon’s psyche.

“Neither Paul nor George would have lasted very long in John’s band… had John not come to like them so much as people,” Shotton explained. “Most of the other original members were gradually frozen out of the picture, not so much for lack of musical promise, but simply because John found them a bore.”

After Lennon became a superstar, he still maintained his friendship with Shotton, who was also there when John began his relationship with Yoko. Pete describes when the couple spent their first night together in this interview he did in the 1980s:

The last time Pete saw John was in the summer of 1976 when he visited with John and Yoko in New York City.

Reacting to John’s shocking murder in 1980, Shotton wrote in his book, “What a life.” Then on the next page which is the end of the book, he wrote: “What a fucking ending.”

Sean Lennon posted a photo on Instagram about Shotton’s passing:
https://www.instagram.com/p/BSCD_fkja2e/
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John Lennon memorial, the Imagine Peace Tower, was 40 years in the making

imaginepeacetowerIt all started with Yoko Ono’s 1964 book, Grapefruit, where she talked about her artistic concept of creating a lighthouse. Ono’s “Light House” further described in her 1965 “Architectural Works Sales List” was a “house constructed of light from prisms, which exists in accordance with the changes in the day.”

When her relationship started with John Lennon in 1967, Lennon asked Ono if she could build him a “Light House” in his garden like the one he had read about in her publication. Yoko explained to John that her idea was conceptual: “I’m convinced that one day, it could be built, but I don’t know how to do it,” she told him with a laugh.

Forty years later on October 9, 2007, a lighthouse called the Imagine Peace Tower was launched by Yoko Ono in collaboration with the city of Reykjavík, Iceland. The circular structure, located waterside on Videy Island off the north coast of Reykjavík, is a powerful ray of light that shoots up towards the sky. The wishing well shines every year between October 9, Lennon’s birthday, and December 8, the anniversary of his death and represents people’s wishes for world peace.

“Actually, this is an answered prayer because my first time in John’s house he talked about building a lighthouse. I never knew how to conceptualize that,” Yoko explained. “I never believed this could be reality.”

Due to the heavy expense and maintenance to keep the structure lit 365 days a year, Yoko decided to have the Imagine Peace Tower lit between the two most significant dates in Lennon’s life, in addition to a few other selected weeks throughout the year.

“I realized that, with contrasting the two symbolic dates, it gives an understanding of the shortness of life, and eternity of the spirit,” Ono said. “It reminds one how brief life can be and is significant even for those not into John Lennon’s life.”

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“Imagine Peace,” a phrase that symbolizes John and Yoko’s campaign for peace, is inscribed on this outdoor work of art in 24 different languages. One of the reasons Yoko chose to erect the tower in Iceland was because it is “a peaceful country with no military,” as reported by the Iceland Post.Perhaps her greatest work of art, the Imagine Peace Tower took Ono three years to develop with engineers in Iceland. As described in the official Imagine Peace Tower book, there are six mirrors “angled at 45 degrees which act as prisms” inside the wishing well, which when combined with the nine searchlights on the floor, result in a tower of light created from 15 beams.

At the 2007 unveiling on Lennon’s 67th birthday, Ono said she was convinced that John Lennon would have been pleased with the Tower. “I dedicate this light tower to John Lennon. My love for you is forever,” she said.

Yoko encourages everyone to send their wishes of peace to the Imagine Peace Tower via Twitter, e-mail or postcards. A webcam of the Tower is available for viewing at http://imaginepeacetower.com/
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Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, director Ron Howard attend 10th anniversary of The Beatles LOVE show in Las Vegas

On July 14, 2016, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and many more celebrities gathered in Las Vegas to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Beatles LOVE show by Cirque du Soleil. The audio and visual experience of the show has been revamped and enhanced to give the production a fresh look.

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Ringo Starr, Barbara Bach, Joe Walsh, Marjorie Bach; July 14, 2016; Photo by Trina Yannicos

Giles Martin, who serves as audio producer of the show, said that 10 years ago, “we used a lot of cutting-edge technologies to put The Beatles music into a 2,000-seat space, 7,000 speakers in the room. But the technology now has moved on so much and the actual sound bit of the show we can improve.”
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The updated version of LOVE, which features a cast of 70 performers, includes advanced projection technology, new acrobatic acts, a remixed soundtrack with a new song (“Twist and Shout”), colorful costumes, brand new speakers and state-of-the-art video panels featuring The Beatles’ images.

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Paul and Ringo with the cast of The Beatles LOVE; July 14, 2016; Photo by MJ Kim

This is the fourth time in 10 years that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have publicly attended the show together. The first time was when the show opened in 2006, the second time was for the 1st anniversary in 2007, the third time was for the 5th anniversary in 2011, and now in 2016 for the 10th anniversary. Sadly, two members of the Beatles’ family who attended past celebrations have since passed away: George Martin and Cynthia Lennon. (see photos from the LOVE premiere in 2006)

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Paul McCartney and wife, Nancy; July 14, 2016; Photo by Trina Yannicos

Also in attendance was Ron Howard, director of the upcoming documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, and he shared some insights on the making of his film which opens in September. He said he has interviewed Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr twice for the movie which documents The Beatles’ years on the road.

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Yoko Ono; July 14, 2016; Photo by Trina Yannicos

“It’s kind of an adventure/survival story in a way,” Ron Howard explained in an exclusive interview on the red carpet. “I really wanted to take the audience inside the experience a little bit. It’s not something that’s just ‘here’s where they went’, it’s how and why things worked the way they did. I hope the added value of letting audiences understand really how intense the pressures were from the outside while they were going through all of this AND continuing to grow as artists in this remarkable way.”
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Giles Martin (left) and director Ron Howard at The Beatles LOVE 10th anniversary celebration; July 14, 2016; Photo by Trina Yannicos

 

When asked if he has always been a Beatles fan, Howard remarked:
“Always a fan, not encyclopedic, not a fanatic. So in a way I’m sort of speaking for that group of people who kind of thinks they know the story, and now I can turn to that crowd, maybe the millennials in particular, and say you know the music, you know the name The Beatles, and you know they were big, but you just have no idea really what the story was and the intensity of that journey – what it meant to culture and what it meant for these guys to live through it.”

Paul and Ringo posted their own photo together on Instagram celebrating the LOVE show’s 10th anniversary:
https://www.instagram.com/p/BH30Qc7AWEX/?taken-by=paulmccartney
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In Memoriam: Cynthia Lennon dies from cancer at age 75

It was announced on Wednesday April 1 that John Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia Lennon, passed away in Mallorca, Spain after a short battle with cancer.

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Julian and Cynthia Lennon at Beatles LOVE show premiere in Las Vegas in 2006. Photo by Shelley Germeaux for Daytrippin'

Julian and Cynthia Lennon at Beatles LOVE show premiere in Las Vegas in 2006. Photo by Shelley Germeaux for Daytrippin’

Cynthia met John Lennon at the Liverpool College of Art in 1958 and they soon began dating. She wrote about their relationship in her book, A Twist of Lennon (1978). She shared intimate details of their time together:
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“John and I in those early days would just sit opposite each other, hold each other’s hands under the formica table and gaze avidly into each other’s moon-struck eyes,” Cynthia said.
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A love letter from John to Cynthia was published in the recent book, The John Lennon Letters. John wrote an 8-page letter to Cynthia at Christmastime in 1958. He was 18 years old and gushing over and over of how much he loved her:
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“You are wonderful, I adore you, I want you, I love you, I need you, Don’t go, I love you, Happy Xmas, Merry Chrimbo, I love you, I love you, I love you, Cynthia… All I Want For Christmas Is You, Cyn”.
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A few years later as John was concentrating on his career as a Beatle, he and Cynthia decided to get married when they learned she was pregnant in 1962.
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Julian Lennon was born on April 8, 1963. The demands of touring during Beatlemania and the temptations from other women resulted in their marriage becoming strained.

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In 1968, Cynthia caught John and Yoko together at the house she shared with John. The subsequent split took a toll on the Beatle family with Paul McCartney writing a song of support and encouragement for Julian called “Hey Jude.” John and Cynthia’s divorce became final in November 1968.

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Cynthia Lennon at a book signing for "John" in New York, October 2005.

Cynthia Lennon at a book signing for “John” in New York, October 2005. Photo by Trina Yannicos.

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In 2005, Cynthia published another book about Lennon called John.
She talked about her marriage to Lennon in this interview promoting the book:

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Over the years, Cynthia appeared several times in public to support her son Julian at various Beatle-related events.

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In 2006, Cynthia and Julian attend the Beatles LOVE Cirque du Soleil premiere in Las Vegas.

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In 2010, Julian and Cynthia appear at the unveiling of the John Lennon Peace Monument in Liverpool.

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Cynthia Lennon was 75 years old. Julian Lennon has set up a memorial page for his mum at cynthialennon.memorial. He also posted a touching tribute for his mother on YouTube:

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“The news of Cynthia’s passing is very sad. She was a lovely lady who I’ve known since our early days together in Liverpool. She was a good mother to Julian and will be missed by us all, but I will always have great memories of our times together.”

– Paul McCartney

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