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London Calling--Barbara remembers John Lennon

London Calling – Barbara remembers John Lennon

The Backstory: The night John Lennon died outside the Dakota in New York City, December 8, 1980, I was at Dick Clark’s birthday party. My friend Martha, a literary agent, had gotten a bunch of friends invites to the celeb-packed event. We were happy, happy, happy, dancing ourselves silly surrounded by people too famous to notice we were there. Then Geoff and I left the club, jumped in a cab, got home, flipped on WNEW-FM and heard, John Lennon has been shot outside his apartment building.” We looked at each other, screamed no and started sobbing. The phone rang. I answered. It was my mother. She had bought me my first Beatles album and tickets to see them at both Shea Stadium (now Citi Field) concerts and let me train it into New York City to see them live in the Ed Sullivan Theater on their second U.S. tour. She, who had screamed herself to near fainting at Frank Sinatra concerts in the 1940s, was sickened by John’s death. 

Many years later, I got involved with a group called The Theatre Within, led by Joe Raiola, that staged an annual Lennon Tribute. I performed London Calling, the story that follows below, in 2004. Joe was in touch with Yoko Ono. She was planning a book to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of John’s death. Joe submitted a story he wrote and my story. Yoko accepted both pieces for Memories of John Lennon.

London Calling

I was fourteen in 1963, in my freshman year in high school. I was in school just one week when my boyfriend from second grade dumped me. It was a shock, But, about a week later, I was over it because this new kid came to school. Black hair, blue eyes, really adorable and straight out of immigration from England. So, he has this great accent, and he’s sitting right in front of me in homeroom — alphabetical order — and I was in love. We started hanging out, and he introduced me to the Beatles months before anyone else even knew there was a place called Liverpool. After school, we’d go back to his house and listen to music. And I liked this guy from England, but I loved the Beatles.

I was one of the first members of their U.S. fan club and adored John Lennon with every inch of my being. He was a poet; I was, too. I loved his voice, his evil sense of humor, and he absolutely had the best hair. But nobody really knew that I loved John Lennon. That was a secret, a really big secret. John was so cute and smart. People would just laugh at me if they knew I thought I was good enough for John.

Finally, the Beatles made it to the Ed Sullivan Show, and all the kids who had been laughing at me in school were instant Beatle-maniacs. My English boyfriend was now hot, hot, hot. Women were throwing themselves at him, and I got dumped again.

Beatles FC Newjpeg

My membership card in the Beatles Fan Club.

One post-dumping Saturday night, I was home baby-sitting and feeling sorry for myself — singing into my hairbrush — Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away” — and crying and slumping around. And the phone rang, and a voice, very official-sounding, said, We have a transatlantic call from London, England, for Barbara. Is she available?”

I said, yes. And this woman on the other end of the line said, Hello. Is this Barbara?”

I answered, Yes, it is.”

Well, hello, darling, this is Cynthia Lennon.”

My heart stopped.

I’m just calling you because you were one of the first members of the Beatles fan club in the U.S., and well, John and the boys just thought it would be really nice if we picked up the phone and called all the people who helped to make them so hugely popular in the States and just let them know how much we appreciate the support. And on behalf of my husband, John, I’d like to say thank you. Ta-da.”

Thank you too, I said, and hung up.

Now, back in 1963, stuff like this happened. Murray the K, Cousin Brucie, the WMCA Good Guys, they did stuff like this. And even though I knew this call couldn’t be real, I really wanted it to be.

Monday, I showed up at school, and I walked into English class. One of my friends was talking to the teacher, whispering, and they were looking at me. I hear someone in the class is getting transatlantic phone calls from London.”

My heart started pounding, and I just sat there and sort of looked down. Then he said, Barbara, it’s you, right? You got a call from Cynthia Lennon?” I looked up at him with deep loathing, and I didn’t say anything, but my friend and some of the other kids were looking at me with stupid grins. 

Then he said, John Lennon is your favorite Beatle, right?” I answered flatly, Yes, May I be excused?” I ran out of that classroom and into the girls’ room right across the hall. I stayed there until after the bell rang. I heard somebody open the girls’ room door and call Barbara, but I didn’t answer.

The next day, I came back to school and nobody remembered what had happened to me in English class. I think She Loves You” was released that morning, so my humiliation was no longer news.

A year later, the Beatles were our lives, my life, for sure. I went to see them live on the Ed Sullivan Show, sat about two feet from John in the second or third row of the balcony. Saw them at Shea Stadium twice. I don’t know how many times I saw A Hard Day’s Night, Help! And Yellow Submarine. But I hung on everyone of John’s lines. He said the things I always wanted to say. He was funny, and he became my voice, my hero. 

The last time I saw John was in the late 1970s. It was the height of the designer jeans era, and I was walking up Fifth Avenue right past Rockefeller Center, and he was walking toward me. I saw him and thought, oh, there’s someone I knew in high school. Then I realized it was John, and I can’t imagine what kind of look I had on my face, but I must have terrified him because I saw his whole facial expression change. But he kept walking toward me — brave man — and then we were side-by-side, and I thought I heard him say, Nice pants.” We were both wearing Paris 2000 jeans. I didn’t say anything back, but I just felt for two seconds, you know, if John had met me, if we did know each other, we probably would have been friends.

Memories of John Lennon, introduced and edited by Yoko Ono, © copyright 2005, Yoko Ono, HarperCollins Publishers, New York and Sutton Publishing Ltd., UK.

London Calling1

The Beatles sent out a Christmas recording to all their fans. This is the photo on the back of the record .