Strawberry Fields Forever: Remembering John Lennon (Try to see it my way)

A weird electric current ratcheted-up, a nitrogen-filled atmosphere seeped into the store as before a cataclysmic thunderstorm. And so it was that we watched through the picture window facing east on Columbus Avenue an increasingly surreal scene. Beyond the tiers of bouquets wrapped in bright yellow cones of paper people, mostly younger folk were walking quickly, some ran, appearing from the left edge of the window racing, looking blanched, craven as if some evil threat swept down the avenue at their backs pushing them forward and away. As suddenly as they appeared they disappeared beyond the right edge of the glass of the shop door adjacent to the large window artificially separating us from the outer world. Smaller figures across the avenue on the far sidewalk moved in seemingly slower counterpoint, a visual Doppler effect. A prickly unease ran through within the confines of the Cultured Seed, a renowned cut flower business in the west 70's in 1980. We soon heard from locals also drawn southward, friends of the shop; several poked their heads through the front door and announced wild-eyed in harsh, hysterical voices, "Have you heard? John Lennon has been shot! Shot and killed!"

"What?" I asked disbelieving; the word more reflexive exclamation than logical question echoed in my head. Stunned, I spiraled down into an altered state. It couldn't be true! All slowed as if a liquid river of time chilled to the point of viscosity; I was trapped in that frozen moment between liquid and ice. No, this was not just another day in the life. Nothing would ever be right again. That eerie December day suddenly felt colder, helter skelter and other worldly. Revolution Number 9 played backwards reverberating in an inner ravine. Turn me on dead man. A growing stream of people were racing to the Dakota.

Ob la di. Ob la da. Several months earlier Debbie and I had seen John and Yoko in an Italian dessert and coffee house, Cafe La Fortuna, just east of Columbus Avenue near the north corner of West 71st Street. Debbie had come to visit me in New York City. She, a musician as am I, indulged in dessert and coffee in the rear of this charming establishment, laughing, catching up. Quiet that morning, we were the only ones there. But then John and Yoko walked in, sat down with a third individual a few tables away. Was he friend or reporter writing an expose? I think the latter but will never actually know.

Debbie wanted to meet them, hoping to receive the gift of an autograph. I gently touched her forearm and begged her not to bother them. Having lived in New York for some time it had become my policy to leave the famous alone - there were and are so many living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I would pass celebrities on the streets regularly: news celebrities, Broadway stars, screen actors and actresses, well-known politicians and cultural luminaries, sometimes disguised, sometimes not. Often we'd exchange glances; it was enough for them in that my facial expression gave away that I recognized who they were. My modest policy: leave them be as surely too many were accosted too often by admirers, adorers and potential stalkers. I liked my privacy and I figured these folks did also. Let it be. But now in retrospect I wonder if I had done Debbie a disservice by dissuading her from the few words which might have passed among all of us - from one famous musician to musicians much less so in the lovely quiet at the rear of the cafe.

John Lennon was and is the tainted angel with the enormous heart and the acerbic edge in his voice. His heart was stopped, the voice extinguished. New songs were not to be. The world was broken, the vinyl disk scratched and sullied with dried brown clots of earth mercilessly, violently rubbed into the bands. Alone that evening I took stock of my heart in relation to the world beyond my eyes. My voice had too been silenced though my heart beat hard and fast. Thoughts raced and coursed through me, quicker even than the river of people I had seen earlier this fateful day. It was in that wild stream of consciousness that I reached, grasped and held from the furious currents a strand of truth about myself: the extent to which John Lennon and, indeed, the Beatles had influenced my life, the manner and slant I viewed the life deep inside and beyond my gaze. It was as if I stood apart, away and looked back upon myself from the distance, within you without you. The tears came. When the rain comes innocence is lost; swept away - gone, irretrievable. Innocence receded farther and farther away in the rage of tears. The maelstrom punched searing holes in my soul like shards of hot glass in tender skin. On this evening there would be no rubber soul... Into the heart of a dark, black night. When the deluge gradually ebbed all that remained was a feeling of loss, morbid under the numbing weight of this imposed mourning, forced upon us all. Revolver - a real nowhere man, fractured and fragmented through his own dark prism, had murdered this amazing cultural anti-hero. All the lonely people: where do they all come from? Exacted through Maxwell's silver hammer the madness of Mark Chapman had found its intended recipient.

Mother Mary, come to me... Later that evening I called a dear friend, Linda. I really do get by with a little help from my friends.

The pall was palpable at the Cultured Seed. For weeks on end a quiet processional of people, singly and in pairs, sometimes in small groups all with the strain of loss etched in their faces, solemn with heads down turned came into the shop, each a tragedy-filled decumbent blossom. I look at you all and see the love there that's sleeping. Mourners purchased flowers singly and in small bouquets to tenderly lay at the spot where John Lennon had been gunned down.

I could not bring myself to go there. I could not put myself in the place where he laid crumpled, slain in a bloody pool. I would not do it - the pain too much to bear. The apparition of the inconsolable Yoko Ono would appear in my mind, again and again. It took many weeks for the pounding horror of terrible visions to lessen.

While my guitar gently weeps... Many weeks later it was that I mustered the strength to slowly pass on the south side of 72nd Street towards Central Park West wincing as I looked to the north across the street to the Dakota, flowers still adorning the desecrated ground. Mean Mr. Mustard in the annals of time, a warrior sociopath had exacted crazy mad vengeance upon a family, upon the world. Difficult, through a day tripper darkly, it has never become easy for me to walk by that spot - a black and gray charcoal etching on ivory parchment paper in my mind's eye always, for as long as I be, never to be erased until I am expunged from this world.

A hand full of days and heart filled with years have passed. There are places I remember. And though John Lennon has been silenced the music lives on - haunting, simply beautiful - the lyrics of so many of his solo pieces yet timely. As I had stated I had come to understand that the Beatles had influenced my thought, my young life. Take a sad song and make it better. He, they, we are all together had been transported by accident, talent and timing to the cutting edge of a cultural wave of which I chose to be a willing participant. We, all of us who were a part of it arose upon the crest of this insurrection of which the popular music of the time was new, fresh and edgy - the heady froth upon the surging social tides beneath. Timing is everything. Revolution. John especially, but also George Harrison had influenced my music composition, the way I looked at a score, the form, the dissonance. For me "It's Only a Northern Song" is greater than the qualification "only".

It may seem a curious crossover but I have always been a visual composer; lines, dots and dashes connect, flourishes, landscapes painted on scores emerge in my mind's eye - peering through a glass onion. Kandinsky. The Adirondacks. Paradox Lake. Napatree Point. Nightstruck I, II and III. And with this odd trait I have gardened. Musical notes and pots of plants come together; both become the stuff of abstract architecture. Completed scores are time lapse photographic canvases, temporal landscapes moving through seasons and years, visual music, aural gardens, tangerine trees and marmalade skies. It was not until the loss which I felt so very personally that I began to recognize the inner template of this personal truth.

One hundred fifty trees: maples arrived from Canada, cedars from Israel, river birch donated by the Russians, dawn redwood, magnolias... Five thousand shrubs: Carolina Allspice, rhododendrons, sweetly fragrant viburnums, jetbeads, hollies... Twenty thousand perennials including a gorgeous assortment of daffodil bulbs provided by the Dutch... One hundred sixty-one species and cultivars of plants in various numbers and collections were gifted to landscape Strawberry Fields. All one hundred twenty-one nations who contributed are named on the Garden of Peace plaque in honor of John Lennon's continual efforts toward a more kind world, all the people living life in peace. And at the heart of the garden the touching black and white Imagine mosaic. It is a misfortune that the government of the United States never responded to the worldwide request set forth by Yoko Ono. We, as a nation, are not included among all those represented on the remembrance embedded in glacial boulder. The now Strawberry Fields, this teardrop-shaped sliver of land over-looked by the Dakota, happened to be the last place John and Yoko walked together before he was taken from us.

Through tragedy, to grow through a hard day's night, to turn a darkness to light, to squash the blue meanies on your way upon updraft toward uplift is a good day, sunshine. Wandering within Strawberry Fields in Central Park on a warm early spring day I became acquainted with Fothergilla, its pure white honey-scented squat bottle brush flowers caught my eye, my fancy. Lovely. On a breezy autumn day strolling about Strawberry Fields the quietly handsome demure matte-finish green leaves of the Fothergilla had turned to warm tones of orange, red, yellow with embedded splotches of deep purple. Tie-dyed. Beautiful. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, the girl with kaleidoscope eyes, indeed. Smitten, I have since used Fothergilla in designs here at Quackin' Grass and for the occasional customer who hires me to make a garden for them. In my life I've loved them all: a garden, a temporal canvas, a music composition - it's the same, it all flows up, out and expands from the same wellspring.

And so in time I watched the seemingly separated pools of creativity become more expansive within me. Pools became ponds and ponds became linked by streams; lakes turned to warm seas, connected and beautiful with moon tides and lapping waves, an octopus's garden. And I can at the very least give partial thanks to John Lennon; previously unknown in the ways he had touched me so deeply he now had become a known artistic catalyst, teacher and cultural soldier. It was through his life, music and untimely death I discovered connections and truths about myself. Beginning on that fateful December day in 1980, the morning after the evening John was taken from us I came to assess, reflect and grow in self awareness through one of the influences in my life as human being and artisan. We are all together.

The top of my head opens up, a shaft of light beams up into the sky all across the universe. I am connected. I create. Now it is well known though privately, intimately within the recesses of my being all that had been imparted. Thank you, John. I wanna hold your hand. You have my heart always. Though I know I'll never lose affection for people and things that went before, I know I'll often stop and think about them. Strawberry Fields forever.

Penned by Wayne Paquette, December 12, 2010