John Lennon, Curtiss A, and walking the streets of New York City
A couple of months ago, I took a trip out east with a handful of Minnesota bands who were playing a showcase at the CMJ Festival. It was a whirlwind trip; we spent almost four times as much time on the bus as we did actually walking the streets of New York City proper. Most of the trip was spent talking to the musicians on the bus and watching them perform, but we were given one three-hour window of time to roam the city unfettered and I took advantage of it to the fullest extent possible.
As if by instinct, I just started walking. I'd never been to New York before, and I just wanted to see something, anything, that would make my short-lived trip to the Big Apple memorable.
As I walked north through the Meat Packing District, past Madison Square Garden, and through Times Square, I couldn't shake the intense feeling of history surrounding me. The city felt huge, dense, momentous. Embarrassingly, I found myself remarking over and over again how I had seen a particular building or landmark in a movie. When we reached Central Park, we decided to walk around the perimeter instead of going straight through, the peace of the park on our right side and the whir of the traffic of the Upper West Side on our left as we continued north.
I didn't immediately recognize The Dakota when we walked up alongside it, but it felt hauntingly familiar. My companion quietly turned to me and told me that it was the building where John Lennon was shot. At that moment, it felt like someone had punched me in the gut. I held my breath, taking it all in.
We walked a little further north before turning and heading directly into Central Park, winding down a path that ran next to a beautiful pond and eventually heading into a small, serene patch of forest. A small sign read "Strawberry Fields." It was so quiet. There was music playing softly, so we headed into the gathering of trees to see where the acoustic guitar was coming from. By the time we got to the clearing, by the time the tiled "Imagine" memorial was visible, by the time I realized exactly where we were, it started to hit me hard. There was a huge lump in my throat and tears stinging my eyes.
Two men with long beards fumbled through a duet of "Two of Us." A small gathering of people stood around the memorial, some crying, some taking pictures. I did both. The meaning of the word palpable took on a whole new weight. There was something living in that park, around that memorial, and I'll never forget the lump in my throat and the feelings of immense sadness and respect and peace.
I wasn't alive the year John Lennon died. I can't even begin to imagine what it was like. But every year on the anniversary of his death, I know that Curtiss A will be at First Avenue doing his best to channel the spirit of Lennon and keep his legacy alive. For those who've never been, it's always a phenomenal night; Curt invites a rotating cast of his best musical pals up on stage to play note-perfect, soulful renditions of Lennon's best work, with set lists sometimes numbering 50 or 60 songs. And Curt never tires, despite the fact that this will be the 29th year he has performed such a show.
For a glimpse into the fierce, frenzied mind of Curtiss A, check out this interview Jim Walsh just reposted of a 2000 phone conversation between Curt, Walsh, and Yoko Ono. (And to dive into my own history books, here's a review I wrote of the John Lennon tribute from 2005 on HowWasTheShow.com.)
The 29th Annual John Lennon Tribute Show featuring Curtiss A takes place tonight at First Avenue. 18+. $12. 6:30 doors.
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