The Day I Came THIS CLOSE To Sort Of Meeting John Lennon

Was I going through a period of temporary insanity back in 1973? Had the gates regulating the flow of my positive emotions gotten stuck in the closed position? Well, yeah, that’s not too far off the mark I guess. It was a long time ago, and I have trouble enough figuring out the current status of my state of being. But I’m not totally clueless when it comes to identifying where I was at, mentally and emotionally speaking, in my days of yore.

Photo by Bob Gruen

Yes, my recollections may be on the spotty side. Still, there’s no denying the fact that my brother Richie and I were standing on Broome Street (in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood) one morning or afternoon in May or June of 1973, when John Lennon, unaccompanied and moving briskly, walked past us. I was living in SoHo, and Richie, a student at Columbia University, resided way uptown.

Out of the corner of my eye I’d noticed Lennon approaching. Richie saw him too. Yet we were blasé about the situation. Neither of us made eye contact with or said hello to the guy we’d worshipped, who had been one of our ultimate heroes only a couple of years before.

I won’t speak for Richie, but I will for myself. “Yo, schmuck! What the hell was wrong with you, Neil?” I just heard myself asking myself.

Hey, give me a break! I was (pretty) young.

I recall this incident every great once in a while, but hadn’t in ages until Thursday of last week. As I was brushing away that morning’s breakfast, hardened like cement on my teeth, Lennon’s song One Day (At A Time) came on the radio and, for reasons unknown, it instantly brought me back in time. And I knew for sure that John Lennon was to be the key for the story you presently are reading when, a few hours later, I heard a radio disc jockey sorrowfully mention that the following day (December 8) would mark the 37th anniversary of John’s death. As nearly everyone knows, he was murdered by a crazed, miserable asshole outside the apartment building in which he lived with Yoko Ono on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

There are reasons why John Lennon and I more or less crossed paths. Here goes.

That long-ago spring found me, four years post-college, floundering magnificently in the game of life. My romantic prospects were nil. My meaningful career prospects were niller. My bank account had a few bucks in it, but basically was pitiful.

Pretty much unanchored, I sublet for three months, with a friend from my college years, an affordable, beautiful apartment on Broome Street in the up-and-coming SoHo section of lower Manhattan. I spent my time traipsing around the city, checking out the neighborhoods and low-cost entertainment and picking up temp work to bring in a smattering of bucks. Those were the days when you could eat cheaply, a slice of pizza being available for a mere 25¢, and when a person might devote a lot of hours to worrying that his personal compass wasn’t pointing in a good direction.

John Lennon wasn’t having the easiest time of it either back then. The U.S. government was doing its best to try and deport him. And he and Yoko were having big marital problems. Somewhere I’d heard or read that they were separated and that John was living in SoHo. I never knew any details of his domestic situation while I lived on Broome Street, but I kept half-expecting to see him around.

See a Beatle on the street? Man, once I’d have fainted if that ever came to pass. I mean, I’d been an incredibly major Beatles fan. I lived and breathed Beatles for years. But strangely, a year or two after their 1970 dissolution, their aura began to dissipate. I still kept up with each Beatle’s doings, but the magic spell they’d had me under was no more.

Yep, John had plenty to worry about in 1973. But his woes didn’t stop him from doing what he did best: Writing songs and making music. Undertaking a bit of research last week, I discovered that he entered a Manhattan studio in July 1973 to record his Mind Games album. Most likely he was writing some songs for that record when I saw him on Broome Street. And the kicker is this: One Day (At A Time) comes from Mind Games. There’s a real chance that the lovely song that set this story in motion might have been partially playing in his head when our near-encounter took place.

Some stories need a moral and/or reason for being, and this is one of them. I therefore pose this question: If I knew then what I know now, would I have acted differently? Answer: Damn straight, boys and girls. I ain’t exactly deep on the path to enlightenment in these latter stages of my life, but I sure have a few bits more sense than did my more youthful self.

For example, if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years it’s that being friendly to people right and left is the way to go. It won’t kill you. Or so I’m told. If I’d had my head on straighter in 1973 I’d have smiled at John Lennon and said “Hey, man. Thanks for all the great music you’ve made,” or “Hello, John. Fancy meeting you here.”

Lennon likely would have saluted Richie and me and thrown a “It’s a pleasure, gents” type of remark at us while continuing on his way. And if something along those lines had taken place, I’d now have a hell of a better tale to tell than the one I own. Or, come to think of it, maybe not . . . as with all aspects of life, it depends on how you look at things.

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Screwball Begone! (A Review Of Mistress America)

I wasn’t as fond as I thought I would be of the movie that my wife Sandy and I went to see recently. Sandy told me that various critics have heaped praises upon said flick, Mistress America, some calling it a screwball comedy in the grand old Hollywood tradition of Howard Hawkes and Preston Sturges. I saw the movie differently. I found it to be as much a drama as a comedy, as bittersweet as it is funny. And as for screwball, which can be great . . . well, Mistress America’s try at the madcap art form encompasses not the entire movie at all, settling instead for one long and uncomfortable segment in the second half. I didn’t have much fun with that interlude. A collection of intersections involving most of the movie’s cast, it felt flat and strained to me, out of place with the decidedly tilted but more realistic antics and people-play that populated the rest of the film. In other words, Mistress America overextended its ambitions. It would have been a better movie if its creators, Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, had kept their eyes on the  wry and poignant, and left the supposedly wild and crazy alone. My rating? Two, maybe two and a half out of four stars.

We saw Mistress America at the Regal multiplex in Warrington, PA.
We saw Mistress America at the Regal multiplex in Warrington, PA.

Mistress America revolves around a small parade of characters led by Brooke Cardinas (Gerwig) and Tracy Fishko (Lola Kirke). Brooke is a 30ish lady on the go, an at-times free spirit who cobbles together a living in New York City by leading exercise classes, doing interior decorating, whatever it takes. Her dream is to open a restaurant slash hair salon slash hangout in Lower Manhattan called Mom’s, a place where customers will settle in and feel really comfortable. A wifty notion possibly, but who knows? Brooke already has signed a lease for the empty space she plans to transform, and is in the process of assembling financial backing. She’s committed, and several steps ahead of herself.

Into Brooke’s life enters Tracy, a Barnard College freshman not connecting very well to the college scene in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. At Mistress America’s outset, Tracy and Brooke have never met. Tracy learns of Brooke’s existence from her mother, who has plans to tie the knot with Brooke’s father. Following her mom’s suggestion, Tracy gives her stepsister-to-be a call. They meet, they bond, and the slings and arrows and goofy twists of fortune begin to fly.

Excising the unwieldy aforementioned portion of Mistress America, what we’re left with is an observant study of two women looking for some answers. Tracy is young, an introvert, and beginning what appears will be a very long process of self-discovery. I’m not placing heavy bets on her ever finding peace and contentment. She can be nasty and guileful, sides of her personality she might not have known were alive till the forceful Brooke’s influence poked them to the surface.

Brooke on the other hand is a longtime gung-ho trooper. Disappointments have peppered her life, but on she goes, pushing aside her doubts and sadnesses as she seeks the next opportunity or person that might set her on the true path. Late in the movie Brooke offhandedly takes a deep look inside and throws out some comments that almost are on target. To Tracy she says something to the effect of  “I know everything about myself. That’s why I can’t do therapy.” Actually, she knows so much that, I think, she scares herself. And keeps on running.

Baumbach and Gerwig, a real life couple, have been feeling their collaborative artistic juices the last few years. They cowrote Mistress America, and Baumbach directed. Ditto for 2013’s Frances Ha, which resembles Mistress America in that it centers upon a young woman who stumbles a lot in life. Frances, though, is several notches below Brooke on the got-it-together scale. Gerwig starred in Frances Ha, and I wasn’t sure if she would have the acting chops to differentiate her leading roles. I am glad to report that she does. Her Brooke is a complicated soul, usually energized and with a gleam in her eyes, but down enough times that my good wishes went out to her. Mistress America, despite its big ol’ flaw, offers plenty to chew on.

(Photo by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on it, a larger image will open)

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