“All we are saying is give peace a chance…” John and Yoko Lennon.
I gave Tebbers a boost up to the lowest branch and Red did the same for me as a line of young, mostly male punk rock looking types climbed a tree in Central Park. On the distant stage, Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussein two of the world’s finest musicians played mournfully in the traditional sense of Indian classical music.
I sat beside Tebbers on a healthy feeling branch and we listened to the music quietly. Red asked, “Is there room for three?”
“Probably but not safely,” I replied.
Red moved to the other side of the tree’s trunk and found a solid limb on which to sit comfortably and within chatting distance.
Tebbers looked around and started pointing in all directions. Curious, I started looking at that which he found so interesting. “Holy shit,” I mumbled. Our tree grew out of Shepherd’s Lawn in the central part of Central Park. People stood, sat, lay For as far as our eyes could see from our perch. Later that night, Walter Cronkite would tell us that CBS estimated the crowd at 1.25 million, maybe more as it was too hard to determine how many people packed the side streets in upper Manhattan.
Ravi stood up from his sitar and, with his very recognizable accent, said a short prayer followed by, “God bless John Lennon.” He and Hussein left the stage which we could see at a distance and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band set up as Alan Ginsburg read his requiem for the former Beatle.
The poet left and Bruce and Linda Rondstadt took hold of microphones and jumped straight into what I thought must have been the greatest version of “Devil in a Blue Dress” that I’d ever heard. My memory jumbles up events from that era, did this incredible duet happen at the No Nukes rally lead by Nobel Peace Prize winner Helen Caldecott or did they play at the John Lennon Memorial service? I know I sat beside Tebbers in trees at both events and can’t remember whether The Boss jammed out at which event or both. I suppose some historian of the counter culture could tell you but I’m too lazy to even wikipedia it right now.
After the band left the stage, Yoko Ono, the grieving wife slowly approached the microphone. Every night since her superstar husband took the bullets from the deranged Mark David Chapman’s gun, she passed through a crowd of hundreds if not thousands standing in front of her apartment building wanting to express their grief and support for this wonderful woman. Rather than letting her body guard goons rush her inside, she stopped and thanked people for coming, for sharing her grief, for the rare occasion that a large group of New Yorkers would gather in a collective act of love. Yoko refused autographs but gave me and others who asked a hug and helped many others wipe away tears.
On the stage in Central Park, Yoko spoke for about ten minutes pouring her heart out to what may have been the largest gathering of people in New York City for any reason at all. Then she asked the crowd for five minutes of silence in memory of John.
More than a million people stood, sat, reclined or took a position that worked for them and said nothing. No busses, sirens or automotive traffic could be heard. A few birds cooed and chirped but they seemed confused at a large chunk of Manhattan falling silent.
Nothing seemed real as we sat in a tree in a part of the park the city would later rename Strawberry Fields. Five minutes of silence, interrupted occasionally by the hum of the engine on the Goodyear blimp while surrounded by more than a million people brings one’s mind to a place that even large doses of LSD 25 can’t reach. The notion that we gathered out of love, peace, respect, honor made it all the more queer.
During those five minutes, if the sky had opened and John Lennon returned to his wife’s side, no one would have been surprised. As the five minutes ended, the millions started, softly at first and then rising to a near deafening loudness sang “All we are saying is give peace a chance,” as Yoko cried silently on the stage.