Imagine . . .

John Lennon once referred to New York City as “Rome”. He was right. It is Rome. You can interpret that comparison however you choose.

Our city has “adopted” millions of people from all walks of life, John Lennon famously among them. His love for New York is well-known but what’s always amazed me is that Lennon praised this place at a time when the city was, arguably, at its worst – the 1970s. I remember it all too well. It was during that period that New York earned its reputation as a polluted, unruly, gritty, crime-ridden place. I’d argue that point if I could but I can’t. It was like that.

But on the other hand, the city was affordable back then for many, many more people than it is now. It was also not run by authoritarian killjoy mayors like Guiliani and Bloomberg who put the needs of millionaires, tourists, and commercialism above those of artists, musicians, and the native working class. Patti Smith described it well when she criticized Mayor Bloomberg’s reinvention of New York as a “shopping center” and a “hip new suburbia”, and predicted that “One day, all the people who have driven out the artists and have only these fancy condos left are going to turn around and say, ‘Why do I live here?'”. Although I basically agree with her in that pre-gentrification New York was indeed a place like no other, I also think not everything about New York back then should be romanticized. I for one do not miss the litter and filth. It was a fucking toilet.

This week, on Wednesday the 8th, marks thirty years since John Lennon was shot and murdered at the Dakota apartment building, where he lived with his wife Yoko Ono and their five year-old son Sean. The city he extolled for its freedom, energy, and laissez-faire attitude, where the people didn’t treat him like a celebrity or harass him other than to call out “Hi John!”, as he walked the streets like every other New Yorker, is the same city in which he was, tragically, ironically, vulnerable. Living in “Rome” comes with its own set of risks.

As the city of Dallas carries the shame of Kennedy’s assassination, New York City carries the shame of John Lennon’s murder. One of our most famous and beloved residents, John Lennon loved and appreciated New York when it kind of sucked. He could have lived anywhere, yet he chose a dangerous, decaying, bankrupt city. Forgive us, John, for not keeping you safe.

Enjoy this video for “Music Monday”. The psychopathic dickwad Mark David Chapman appears at :51, when John was signing an autograph for him, just hours before Chapman shot him:

“Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.”   – John Lennon

8 thoughts on “Imagine . . .

  1. Dave Rudin says:

    I still remember when John Lennon was killed. It was a Monday, because I remember watching Monday Night Football that night. The local ABC news interrupted the game to say that Lennon had been shot, and sometime later, Howard Cosell informed the nation that John Lennon had been shot dead.

    After Lennon’s murder, people really started dumping on the city – but Chapman would have killed Lennon wherever he lived. Lennon was killed in New York because he lived in New York, and he lived in New York because he loved New York. (He didn’t write a song called “Que pasa, L.A.,” did he?)

    By the way, have you seen the documentary “Lennon NYC” that’s been playing on PBS, about John’s years in the city?

    Regarding the Disneyfication of Times Square, one writer wrote that she moved to New York because it was interesting, not clean – and with the overhaul of Times Square, she said, New York is definitely less interesting.

    • artmodel says:


      I didn’t hear the Cosell announcement at the time (12 year old girls are not usually watching Monday Night Football!) But I have heard the footage and I find Howard’s words to be very heartfelt.

      Yes, I saw the PBS documentary and enjoyed it a lot! There were many photos and interview excerpts I had never seen or heard before which was great. It was very well done.

      Your comment about Chapman’s intentions got me thinking. I’m actually not fully convinced that Lennon’s living in New York was an incidental thing. I mean, I really don’t know. But I find it hard to believe that if John Lennon had been living for years as a recluse, in virtual anonymity, in some rural isolated place like Montana, if Chapman would have still come after him. We know that Chapman wanted notoriety (sadly, he got it) and murdering a famous person like Lennon on a country road with no one to witness it except for a hawk in tree, just doesn’t work. But the Upper West Side of New York, outside a legendary apartment building, causing sirens to screech toward 72nd street and reporters and grief-stricken fans to descend upon the scene within an hour, that’s a whole different scenario. Yes, if Lennon had lived in another major city like Los Angeles, surely that would have worked for Chapman. But I don’t know if he would have necessarily targeted John Lennon if Lennon had dropped completely out of the public eye and spent his days chopping firewood near a shed. New York is still the happening “center”. If you want to do something “big”, it doesn’t get any bigger than New York. Ah, who knows. The main thing is that Chapman is rotting away at Attica where he belongs.

      Times Square today is virtually unrecognizable from the Times Square I remember as a kid. It’s bizarre really. The city has changed so much, some of it for good, much of it not for good.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts and comments, Dave!


  2. derek says:

    I was around when the murder tok place. I remember hearing it at 11;30 PM about his tragic passing. My thoughts were shocking, beyond sadness and angry at the bastard who killed him. I cried hearing the song “Imagine” its both beautiful and poignant. Since the song is about world peace but it is a reminder of the tragedy of December 8, 1980. It was a great shock and dark day for us, like Kennedy’s murder in 1963, the 9/11 attacks and the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941 December 7 that is.
    I was fortunate to see John at the One to One concert in 1972 I would have love to see a Beatles reunion since he had plans to do so after patching up with Paul weeks before that horrible day. Let’s remember his talents than the horrible day.
    I think this is what John would have wanted.

  3. derek says:

    His death at at the hands of that bastard hurt Yoko, Sean and Julian (poor Julian who was establishing a relationship with his dad after being away from each other) and it hurt his beloved fans. Boy he hurt alot of people and its unforgiveable.

    • artmodel says:


      You are so lucky to have been at the One to One concert! That’s a great memory you will have forever. And the song “Imagine” is as relevant today than it’s ever been, maybe even more.

      Your thoughts and comments are deeply felt. Thanks very much for sharing them. Like you said, let’s always remember the music over the tragedy.


  4. Fred says:

    One of the things I like about New York City is that here I feel so embedded in the world. Walking in the streets or taking public transportation you’re swimming in a sea of humanity, not just flocking with birds of your own feather as you mostly do in other towns. All the time you hear languages from every continent and accents from every region. Every day you see people who are incredibly rich and people who are incredibly abject. No matter who you are, you’re just a person somewhere in the middle of that scale. Celebrities often say they like to live in New York because they don’t have to disguise themselves to avoid people flocking around them in awe.

    When you can mention someone by just their first name and people know who you’re talking about, that person is a pretty big celebrity, especially if that first name is John! I expect this is part of what John loved about New York, that he could just be a person in this city. He walked around without bodyguards instead of going everywhere in armored limos with dark windows. He knew the city could be dangerous but I think he took that risk because he couldn’t imagine living the rest of his life isolated in a celebrity bubble. His murder is tragic, but at least among all the stars that died young, he died trying to be freer, not trying to be higher.

    • artmodel says:


      Beautifully stated. You captured the essence and the character of the city so well, especially John Lennon’s reasons for living here.

      Thanks so much for your comments!


  5. Paul S says:

    John was, undoubtedly, one of the best artist to ever walk the earth. When I think of New York back in the early 20th century I think of people freely expressing themselves. Whether it be through architecture or innovating – art was all around. With all the commercialization going on lately I feel like we are losing this sense of freedom that was once instilled. This may not be just an ‘New York’ thing, maybe it is an American one all together.

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