It’s almost 36 years since John Lennon died from an assassin’s bullet outside his home, The Dakota, in Manhattan, New York. Yet they still flock to mourn the Beatles guitarist, from Liverpool, at his memorial site in Central Park.
John Lennon, Bullet, Manhattan, New York, Memorial, Mark David Chapman, July 2016
It’s chilling to think how killer, Mark David Chapman, posed for a photo with Lennon, hours before he pulled the trigger. Chapman, who was a Lennon fan, was imprisoned for life and denied parole many times.
Across the road from where Lennon was gunned down, his widow Yoko Ono built a 2.5-acre teardrop-shaped living memorial in Central Park. Their Dakota apartment overlooked the park where the couple often walked.
On Lennon’s birthday, October 9, 1985, Ono and thousands fans unveiled the memorial site and renamed it Strawberry Fields; the name of a song he wrote for the Beatles.
As a Lennon fan from Africa, I vowed to set my foot there before returning to the motherland in September. In my second month in New York, weekends passed without visiting the park. I had been promised tours of the Big Apple since I arrived but I stay on the other side of the Hudson River in Jersey City. All my colleagues are on other side in New York City and Manhattan.
At 6PM on a Saturday in May, I was caught up in the moment of despair as it seemed another weekend was going to waste, a text message beeped. It was Karsten Strauss, a colleague.
“Hi Thobile, (do you) still have time to hang out tomorrow? But first a question: are you a fan of John Lennon?”
“Yeah man, I am John Lennon groupie,” I replied.
Apparently Manhattan knows not Sunday rest and never sleeps. I took a train to Manhattan and followed instructions sent to my phone. Strauss was there waiting for me. We walked down a few miles and passed two guards in navy suits and matching marine caps at the gate of the Dakota apartment.
“Where did it happen, officer?” Strauss queried as we passed.
One guard, leaning on a sign that read ‘Authorized Persons Only Beyond This Point’, lowered his head and hit the ground with shiny black shoes. “Right here,” he replied.
As we entered the memorial, the walkway led to a small crowd taking photographs around the black and white mosaic circle with one word on it: “Imagine”. The mosaic was a gift from the city of Naples, Italy.
Nearby, a busker strummed his guitar, very hard, playing a song I didn’t recognize; opposite him a grey-haired man in a stall sold souvenirs bearing Lennon quotes.
The excitement was overwhelming; I stepped to the mosaic and smiled to the camera with my African swagger. Unbeknown to me I had jumped the queue, I was embarrassed but I offered my sincere apology for the mishap. That’s not how I was raised. In the spirit of Lennon, peace was made.
Something about this memorial stirred thoughts of Africa. In 2007, South Africa mourned the death of a musician cut off in his prime. Reggae musician Lucky Dube was shot dead in front of his children as he dropped them off at a relative’s house in Rosettenville, Johannesburg. The man of sober habits – a non-smoker – died at the hands of carjackers.
Dube, born on a farm in Ermelo, Mpumalanga, was drawn to music after stumbling on instruments in a school cupboard. He released his first album in 1982; two years after Lennon died. He died 27 years after Lennon, and not much older, aged 43, with 21 albums and a record deal with Motown. Like Lennon, Dube carried a torch for peace.
The legacy of Lennon will be celebrated for many more decades in his adopted land. Dube, the man who stuck by his people and preached peace to the end, died with his good name and little else to remember him by other than his songs. There is no park, nor memorial, nor studio, to commemorate a man who meant as much to many Africans as Lennon ever did. Imagine.
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