One of the best things you get from a Levys’ tour is the personalized touch… like a maraschino cherry on top of a Welcome to New York sundae! Sometimes its Grandma waving a red pillow from her Upper West Side balcony, sometimes its a visit to Casa Levy on a Brooklyn architecture tour. My favorite bit of “Personalized Gideon Tour” is when I bring my group to Strawberry Fields in Central Park to tell them how I got my name.
“Now which Beatles song does the name Gideon appear in?” The kids sit and ponder for a moment while the boomers in the crowd grin knowingly. I continue . . .
“Rocky Raccoon, in which the lyrics go ‘Rocky Raccoon went into his room, only to find Gideon’s bible!’ And I thank my parents every day… for not naming me Rocky.” It gets a quick laugh from the group, but each time it fills me with pride. Because I know that one of the greatest influences on music, pop culture, peace-culture and humanity had a big part in naming me. If I could, I would certainly thank John Lennon for both the personal influence he had on me as well as the awe-inspiring influence he left on my great city, I would. Sadly that’s not possible, as John was ripped from this world far too soon. So I do the next best thing: I make a pilgrimage to Strawberry Fields every December 8th, the anniversary of John’s death and a day I like to call John Lennon Day.
The Beatles first exploded into New York, and subsequently into the homes, hearts and minds of all Americans in early 1964 when their performance on the Ed Sullivan Show launched the British Invasion. But John’s personal relationship with New York didnt start until after the Beatles broke up in 1970. John’s relationship with NYC had more to do with his personal and family life than it did with his music. In interviews with John and Yoko, they both said that John always felt like a New Yorker, it just took him longer to come home.
“One of the biggest kicks is just going out to eat, or going to the movies, you know? Just doing things I couldn’t do when I was [in the] Beatles. Sometimes people stop for an autograph, or maybe they just stop to shake hands which is the coolest when that happens.” What a neat New Yorker!
For John, it was something of a euphoric shock to the system to go from being mobbed by thousands of fans as one of the biggest pop sensations of all time, to being an everyday family man in a city that he loved and that loved him. When people asked why John “went into hiding” after the Beatles broke up, he laughed:
“The illusion that I was cut off from society is a joke. I was just the same as any of the rest of you; I was working from nine to five – baking bread and changing some nappies and dealing with the baby.”
John was an iconoclast in so many ways, it seems beautifully fitting that he could be an iconoclast to his own fame. When it got to be too much for him, he simply chose not too be a celebrity anymore, he became an everyday New Yorker like you and me. It lasted far, far too shortly though. In an almost cosmic backlash, a fan so obsessed with John’s talent and presence came to New York to latch himself to John’s fame in the only way his troubled mind could comprehend: by ending John’s life.
One of my great regrets in life is to have been born after John Lennon left this city and world. Of all celebrities either here and now or dead and gone, I feel like I know John the best, not just because he gave me my name, but even more poignantly, his music and his legacy on this city helps keep me connected to my mother, who adored John and who passed thirteen years ago this winter.
So every December 8th I make the pilgrimage to Strawberry Fields to sing his songs with all the other fans and devotees. Sometimes I hug a random stranger, sometimes I just close my eyes to feel the spirits of John and my Mom. after all, it was John’s death that inspired the revitalization of Central Park, starting with Strawberry Fields. So for the millions of visitors who enjoy Strawberry Fields every year, I like to think that John is smiling from the great beyond, and maybe (just maybe) wishing he could come back around for one last sing along.
By Gideon Levy