Yoko Ono once said that New York City never changed John Lennon. He was born a New Yorker.
Certainly the image of Lennon flashing a peace sign in a 'New York City' muscle t-shirt will ever connect him to the Big Apple. As will, more tragically, his murder, outside Lennon and Ono's apartment at the Dakota (the classy co-op at Central Park West and W 72nd St) 30 years ago today. (Watch how the chilling news first broke on Monday Night Football that night.)
Lennon fans regularly go by to see the doorway where Mark David Chapman shot him four times, or to Strawberry Fields in Central Park, with its 'Imagine' mosaic. But there's more to Lennon's New York.
To follow him around the city he lived most of his last nine years, one only needs listen to his relatively unknown 1972 song 'New York City' - a breathless romp around hipster New York of the early '70s, a song that remains buried on his fascinating, overtly political album Sometime in New York City. Here are the main stops:
105 Bank Street, Greenwich Village
Most link Lennon's New York life with the Dakota (site of the recent battle between U2's Bono and Billy 'stroke me' Squier), but Lennon and Ono's first home was in Greenwich Village. The song begins with the couple 'standing on a corner,' then later has them 'cycling through the Village' - likely from their simple townhouse on wee Bank Street, around the corner from the famed White Horse Tavern, a bar once frequented by Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac and even the South Park guys.
Max's Kansas City
In the song's Manhattan tour, Lennon's first stop is the epicenter of indie cred, that is before 'indie rock' was a term. This once cozy, scenester nightclub was where Andy Warhol and Lou Reed's Velvet Underground hung out. Now a deli (of course), the spot survived a couple incarnations before closing in 1981. Velvet Underground's Live at Max's Kansas City album was recorded on a portable tape player.
For fresh air, perhaps, Lennon 'did the Staten Island Ferry,' which cuts across the New York Harbor, right off the Statue of Liberty, and in fact is a better deal today than in the '70s: free.
Fillmore East, East Village
Lennon plays the 'Fillmore and Apollo for freedom,' two classic theaters in New York. The Fillmore – originally a Yiddish theater – became a rock'n'roll destination of choice from 1968 to 1971, a spot where the Allman Brothers and Neil Young recorded classic live albums. Lennon and Ono played the sprawling 'Scumbag' with Frank Zappa here in 1971 (here's a personal account of the show); the song appears on Sometime in New York City. You can see the spot at 105 2nd Avenue, off E 6th St, then get one of those Lennon-style 'New York City' t-shirts from vendors on nearby St Marks Place.
Apollo Theater, Harlem
The Harlem legend, the Apollo, meanwhile, still thrives. Jazz greats like Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington played in the '30s and '40s, and James Brown's body came here by horse-drawn carriage for his funeral in 2006. The best time to come is for Wednesday night's famed 'Amateur Night,' where a wild and ruthless crowd celebrates what works and jeers at what doesn't. All in fun. There are also daily tours for $16.
As Lennon sings, 'what a bad ass city.'