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Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Walrus and me

I saw John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the street once. It was around 1971 or so, in New York City. My girlfriend and I were walking along Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village, on the east side of the street between Eighth and Ninth Streets. We had just come out of the PATH train station on Ninth, and it was early on a weekend evening. Our night was just getting started, but it was dark.

In those days, Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street was the central intersection for us hippie wannabes who hung around in our bell bottom jeans and Army jackets trying to be part of the counterculture scene. It was a place where, one might have thought, John Lennon would never set foot, because if he had, his adoring fans would have torn him apart. As far as the thousands of kids who passed through that intersection every day were concerned, he was the Pope. No, that would be putting it too mildly -- as he himself once acknowledged, he was bigger than Jesus.

Anyway, we're walking along southbound on Sixth when out of the doorway of an upstairs Japanese steak house comes a short Asian woman in hot pants, a black beret, and a belt made out of bullets. I turned to my girlfriend and remarked, "Wow. That woman is doing an amazing Yoko Ono imitation." As we turned around and looked back at her, there was a guy in a cap standing beside her.

Holy moly.

And so we walked back a little ways to watch. They were standing in the doorway of the hibachi place waiting for their limo. People walked right past them -- people who, if they had just bothered to look, probably would have stopped dead in their tracks. The only other person who made the i.d. was a young guy who got a handshake and then ran off, no doubt to tell his friends.

We were too paralyzed to get close. The limo pulled up, and the couple stepped out of the doorway and made a quick move across the sidewalk to the car. But as the driver got out and opened their passenger side door, several shopping bags fell out into the gutter. One was from Azuma, an import store over a block or two on Eighth, where we teeny boppers used to hang out all day looking at soaps and incense and candles and Buddha statues, and dreaming that some day John Lennon would walk in.

Lennon and Ono climbed over the spilled bags and got into the car. The driver closed the door and got busy stashing the purchases somewhere else -- I can't remember whether it was the front seat or the trunk. But anyway, that gave us an extra 15 seconds or so to get a better look. My friend and I dared to get a little closer and peer through the open car window from about four or five feet away.

I waved at John Lennon. He waved back.

And then the limo pulled away. My girlfriend and I looked at each other in astonishment at what had just transpired. Except for that one brave fan who shook his hand, nobody else had noticed a thing.

Comments (15)

My roommate in college saw John Lennon coming out of a coffee shop in Chicago many years ago. He was surrounded by security and ironically didn't get coffee, but just a danish.

Great experience....

First you hit us with the anecdote about seeing George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh, and now this?
Could you at least discuss the tax code 'til the envy starts to wear off?

Being a teenager in the New York area certainly had its advantages.

What, no mention of Gray's Papaya down the street?

Great story. Happy 70th birthday, John!

And now theres a Qdoba.......

Very cool. That's just a few blocks from where, in the '80s, I saw Ric Ocasek at the grocery store and (another time) Billy Idol in an apartment building elevator. Somehow those don't have quite the same ring to them, do they?

I remember a friend seeing Grace Jones in Manhattan in the late '80s or early '90s... she said being sure of the celebrity ID was easier than usual, since in addition to her striking physique, she was topless.

As for Gray's Papaya... as a wide-eyed Baltimore hick, I was basically tutored in all things New York by my Greenwich Village college boyfriend in 1984 or so, and I was under the impression that branch was sort of new then.

I don't really miss living in New York and can't imagine raising my kids there, but I wish I still had friends there, and money to visit them. It was a fun place to be a young, broke adult -- most of the time.

I once asked Jerry Garcia if he knew where my friends could get some pot. It's a long story. Age 14, Egypt, 1978, in the garden of the Mena House hotel, before the concert at the Sphinx.

I have this rather hazy recollection of his enormous frame sitting on a patio chair, and his rather furry head balanced on it, with dark glasses. Mostly, I remember his simple reply.


Later in college this story commanded me some minor celebrity amongst deadheads, which I never understood, having never clued in to their greatness. In fact, when I was invited to the concert I had never heard of them. My more worldly pothead Norwegian girlfriend had, and she played me one of their records. I sniffed. "Not nearly as good as Led Zeppelin", I opined, in true teenage form.

Ha! And you were RIGHT, Gaye!

JB, have you gotten in touch with your "girlfriend" of that epoch and reminisced about this memorable West Village event and ruminated upon the vagaries of celebrity? Perhaps listened together to "Imagine?"

One never knew, during the late '60s-early '70s, who might be encountered on Bank or Bleeker or positively 4th St. And one never knows who, today, here in the Great NW, might be encountered who was there at that moment.

Great story, archived Lennon interview audio today on NPR Morning Edition.


Whenever I think of either Lennon or Morrison lyrics,. I'm put in mind of the lyrics Orlando posted in the forest of Arden in As You Like It.

And now theres a Qdoba.......

I think the Japanese restaurant was upstairs from where the Bagel Buffet is now.

These stories bring to mind a few experiences I had growing up and living in New Orleans.

I shopped at a record store on Magazine Street and used to see Aaron Neville in there all the time. This was the late 70s and he had a very distinct way of dressing and he was and stiLl is a very cool man. You have not lived until you've seen him and the Funky Meters do a killer version of Midnight Rider!

We'd see Dr. John around town when he was visiting or playing gigs. Professor Longhair and Lee Dorsey were present and just out and about living like New Orleanians.

Irma Thomas and Ernie K-Doe seemed to be in my orbit too as I often found myself working in their neighborhoods and eating at neighborhood restaurants they frequented.

The older I become the more I realize how fortunate I was to grow up in a city populated by so many creative, talented singers and musicians. That place just oozes very raw and very real soul and funk.

And talk about the local music scene. It was mind blowing and thankfully still is...

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