Thursday, June 30, 2011

Encounters with John

I always enjoy reading stories of fans who met John in the 1970's and 1980 outside of the Dakota. Since I recently was in New York and stood outside of the Dakota, it is neat because I have a very clear visual of where they were standing when they spoke to John and Yoko. As I have said before, that is what I like to think of when I think of John and the Dakota. Him and Yoko speaking with those who appreciated them and their work.

Here is a wonderful story written by Lisa Grand. It was published in the Winter 1990 issue of the London Beatles fan club magazine. It is a real joy to read. What precious memories Lisa has of the times she met John and Yoko. (The photos do not directly go with the story. I do not believe Lida took photos or asked for an autograph.)

Bless you, wherever you are…
Encounters with John
By Lisa Grand

I was fifteen years old when I first went to the Dakota in February 1979, and I was filled with a mixture of terror and excitement over the prospect of seeing John. Since it was just a few days after Yoko’s birthday, I brought her a plant with purple flowers.

It was an icy-cold, blustery day, and I was accompanied by my 19-year old pen pal, Brenda, from Minnesota, who seemed like an adult to me, and a pen pal of hers, Cynthia. It was so bitterly cold that every part of my body was either stinging from near-frostbite or completely numb.

As if by magic, John and Yoko emerged from the darkness of the deep archway that leads into the Dakota. A woman appeared out of nowhere and asked John for his autograph. “I’m sorry, we don’t do that anymore, love,” was his gentle reply.

I carefully approached Yoko with the plant and wished her a happy birthday. I was at once overwhelmed by her calmness and beauty. She was dressed in a fur coat and she had tucked her wavy, black hair into it. Yoko had a creamy complexion and she radiated a beauty more intense than anything I ‘d ever seen. I was happily surprised to find that we were the same height (5 feet tall). There was such warmth emanating from Yoko that when I stared into her deep brown eyes, I felt compelled to hug her. I will never forget the softness of her fur coat of the silky smoothness of her cheek. I suppose I was aware of on some level that John was watching me, but whenever this though tried to enter my conscious mind, I simply blocked it out. Really, that was too much to bear.

No sooner did I hand Yoko that plant than John took it from her. He explained that they were on their way out, so he would take it into the office. His speech forced me to acknowledge his presence and I was jolted from my peaceful gaze into Yoko’s eyes to a state of shock.

Having said that, John spun around with the plant and headed back into the Dakota. Relieved that he had left, I re-focused my attention on Yoko. It was inconceivable to me that this was the same person I had seen in so many unflattering photos. Having read everything ever written on the subject of John and Yoko, I could not understand how so many writers could portray Yoko in a negative light. Surely these people had never met her.

I chatted with Yoko for just a short while before John began walking toward us. This time I was acutely aware of John studying me as I spoke to Yoko. We continued our conversation even after John rejoined our circle. When I asked how her birthday was she gushed, “It was beautiful.” Yoko glanced lovingly toward John as if to let us know that he was responsible for making her birthday beautiful. Moments like these were the most previous to me. John and Yoko’s love was such a fantastic thing to witness firsthand.

Over the next year and a half, I was to see John about a dozen times. Sometimes he was alone, and sometimes he was with Yoko. I couldn’t help noticing that when John was alone he seemed a little nervous-he walked at a fast clip – but when he was with Yoko he was patient, calm and reassured. I loved to watch them walking down 72nd Street together. They always held hands.

Getting back to that cold day in February, John knew right away from her bubbly personality and Midwestern accent that Brenda was not form New York. He asked her where she was from, how she liked New York, and whether she had come for the Beatlefest. We were shocked to hear John mention the Beatles – we thought that was a forbidden subject – and further surprised that he knew about the fan conventions. Brenda had planned her trip to New York to coincide with the Beatlefest, but John would not leave it at that. He was curious about the convention and he asked us what went on there. “What do they have there? Posters? T-shirts?” he asked. He seemed to view the whole thing in commercial terms. Sensing this, I asked him to elaborate. ‘They just make a lot of bread off you guys.” He added.

I protested that it really meant something to us, but John went on to explain why he mistrusted the producers’ motives. “Originally all the money was supposed to go to charity, but now they just make a lot of bread off you guys.” With the repetition of this phrase I realized that John was expressing his concern over what he considered to be the exploitation of his fans.

We mentioned having seen Sean, who was just three years old at the time, earlier that day and John’s face lit up. When Sean left that morning with Helen Seaman, his nanny (and Fred’s aunt) we noticed that he didn’t look too happy. John explained that Sean had been to a party the night before and had eaten “too much junk.” This, of course, was during John and Yoko’s macrobiotic (or at least health-food conscious) period, so they were pretty upset about this. “I’d rather he’d thrown it up.” Added John.

Knowing full well that Sean was their favorite topic, we continued talking about him. I told Yoko that we had been listening to her Plastic Ono Band album and that when we turned it over we were amazed to see that Sean had the same eyes as hers when she was a little girl. Yoko just smiled at our observation, but John got very excited. “Fred said that last night!” He repeated this in a tone of amazement a couple of times and finally concluded, “I’m glad he doesn’t have my eyes. They’re rotten.” “No they’re not” I muttered as an automatic reflex. I didn’t stand for anyone putting John down, not even John himself.

At about this time I noticed that the sun had broken through the clouds and was shining brightly on John’s hair revealing a beautiful auburn color. He really seemed to be glowing. As the conversation drew on, I found it increasingly difficult to maintain physical appearance. I had been expecting him to look very old and have short hair, just as he did when he received his green card, as these were the most recent pictures I’d seen of him. Boy was I in for a shock. John looked as though he’d just stepped off the cover of Abbey Road, but with a more closely-trimmed beard.

He was exquisitely dressed in pleated corduroy trousers, a shirt and a jacket, the browns, reds and golds of which all blended together, and his Frye boots made him well over six feet tall. He was absolutely gorgeous. The combination of John’s presence and the sun made me feel very warm.

Very early that morning, before we left the house, Brenda and I had been listening to a Beatles bootleg called Indian Rope Trick. For some strange reason, there was a version of “Cheese and Onions” on that record that sounded a whole lot like John singing. It was strange also to find a Rutles’ song on a Beatles bootleg. With this still very much on my mind, I asked John whether he knew the song “Cheese and Onions.” To this day I think he was trying to freak me out, but I carried on with the conversation asking if he’d ever recorded the song. “No.” he replied. “That’s uh Monty Python.” I knew it was bothering him that he couldn’t think of the name of the group, so I asked him whether he liked the Rutles. “Well I wouldn’t get out of bed for them,” he answered with dry Liverpudlian humor.

At about this time, a woman came by walking three white poodles. The smallest one looked hopelessly confused as he kept getting his leash tangled with those of the other three. John stared down at this tiny creature and asked it in a tone of mock-anger, “What’s the matter with you?” It was hilarious.

The reason we had such a long time to talk to John and Yoko was that the entire time their doorman was desperately trying to hail a cab from them (We thanked him later for being so inept). After about ten or fifteen minutes John suggested they go to the corner to get a cab, but Yoko gave him an emphatic “No” which we interpreted to mean “No, we’re talking to these girls.” We loved her. Eventually they decided to go back inside and call their limo service. “The moment they pulled away, the doorman from across the street came running over to tell us that we had spoken to John and Yoko for over twenty minutes. Was he timing us?

Another especially memorable time for me at the Dakota was in June of the same year. I peered into the dark driveway and saw a familiar-looking silhouette. After a few seconds it dawned on me that it was John and Yoko kissing! John was leaning over and Yoko had her head tilted back at such an angle that she had to hold her floppy hat on her head with one hand. The reason this looked so familiar to me was that it was the same image that appeared on the screen at the beginning of the waltz John and Yoko did to George’s I, Me, Mine in Let It Be.

When John and Yoko broke their embrace, they headed out towards the sunlit day, both smiling. As if this was not enough, little Sean suddenly ran out in front of them hysterically laughing. With such beautiful scenes as these imbedded in my mind, it is impossible for me to be affected by any of the trashy books that come out.

The last time I saw John was in September of 1980. “Starting Over” had just been released and I knew that things would be different now that John and Yoko had decided to go public again. John looked better than ever before in his life as far as I was concerned. He was tanned, clean shaven and had cut his hair much shorter than it had been the year before.

John, Yoko and David Geffen made their way form the Dakota to a limo waiting by the curb, and John stopped for a moment when he saw Jude, Jeri and me. I felt stongly that I wanted to make a connection with John, so I extended my hand to him. He quickly transferred whatever he was holding form his right to his left hand, and took my hand. I remember how big and warm his hand was and how wonderful it felt. John was in a calm, sweet, mood. David Geffen asked him who I was, and without missed a beat John replied, “Oh her? She’s a regular.” It was a nice goodbye.


  1. hi sara I think I've seen a photo of john and yoko where john's wearing a hat and dressed all in white clothes and another almost the same pic but now sean's in the frame too.
    I think these pictures were taken one of the days this girl met them.

  2. Lovely story! I love how she talks about how John was calm and reassured when Yoko was with him. Thanks for posting this!

  3. This was a really great read. I've read so many amazing encounters and experiences with people who met John and Yoko and it's heartwarming because there's a lot of nastiness towards Yoko and their union for the most part from SO many...yet these encounters really show what a beautiful couple they were.

  4. what a lovely story! i have several friends who used to go to the dakota all the time, i wish they would write about it! thanks for posting sara. I was in new york on vacation with my then 8-year-old daughter (now almost 40...) in the summer of 1980, but i didn't want to bother john, so i didn't stand outside the dakota nor the recording studios (my friend had just found out he was recording - he was a dj). you can imagine how much i wish i had...

  5. What an AWESOME story!! and an amazing good-bye.
    I've always wanted to meet a celebrity like that.

  6. wow...that Brenda in the story is me..and I remember all those great times meeting fun to find this online tonight!!

  7. It sounds like typical john to pretend he doesn't know who the "Rutles" are. Even though Neil Innes who played the John-like Rutle Nasty was on the "Magical Mystery tour" bus trip with the Beatles as a member of the Bonzo Doo Dah Dog band!