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Archive for Saturday, December 1, 2001

Beatles fans pay last respects at Strawberry Fields

December 1, 2001

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— There was only one place for a New York Beatles fan to be on Friday Strawberry Fields in Central Park.

The outdoor memorial created by John Lennon's widow Yoko Ono after his violent death in 1980 became a scene of peaceful remembrance as news spread that fellow band member George Harrison had died the day before.

Fans placed bouquets of sunflowers, green apples, Hindu inscriptions and even a battered old guitar on the circular tile mosaic that bears the inscription "Imagine," one of Lennon's most powerful and best-loved songs.

The green apples signified the Beatles' record label, but the sunflowers, Eastern script and other talismans were all in honor of the "quiet" guitar- and sitar-playing Harrison.

"Norwegian Wood" and other songs he put his stamp on wafted through the leafy sycamores and maples at an impromptu park-bench jam session of guitarists, with scores of tourists and residents singing along.

"When my wife told me the news this morning I burst into tears," said Adam Perle, 52, one of those playing. "I was 11 when I first heard (the Beatles), and they changed my life."

Jan Baker, 57, of Hampshire, England, headed to Strawberry Fields because she was in New York for a vacation. "There's only two of them left now," she said "When you're almost 58 yourself, like he was, it comes home to you. But they loved life, they all had a very good time."

Baker recalled how she raced to buy "Love Me Do" and every other album and song the Beatles produced. She said as a teen, she adored them because everything about them was wonderfully different, from their haircuts to their tunes.

"No one has really written as good a dance song since," she said.

Her daughter Sharon, 28, who flew in from San Diego where she works at the University of California campus there, shrugged her shoulders and agreed.

"I didn't think it was cool when I was a kid and she played their music all the time, but when I reached my '20s and started listening, I realized I love the music."

Harrison was remembered by many as the spiritual one who took his fellow Beatles to see a renowned Indian yogi, and who explored mysticism deeply.

"Oh, I loved his philosophy, of life and of our journey through life to death," said Felicia Telsey, 46, a resident of the Upper West Side neighborhood. "I was listening to 'All Things Must Pass' this morning. That's his motto really."

Telsey said when she was 9, Paul McCartney and Harrison were her favorite Beatles, "but when I got older and went to college, it was just George."

Strawberry Fields is the site of a vigil every Dec. 8 commemorating Lennon's murder at the nearby peaked-roof Dakota apartment building where Ono still lives. The name was taken from a Lennon song "Strawberry Fields Forever" about a Salvation Army orphanage near his childhood home.

Tamara Ikenberg, 26, of New York, said she thought of Lennon's death when she logged on to her computer Friday morning, and there was an e-mail from her mother breaking the sad news of Harrison's death. Her mother had taken her to a Lennon memorial after he died, when she was 5; so she messaged her mother back that she'd bring a bouquet of sunflowers to Strawberry Fields to commemorate Harrison's hit "Here Comes the Sun."

She had to settle for bright yellow mums, but noted it was a gray, misty day in New York anyway. Looking around at the swaying, singing crowd, she said, "I think George would have liked this. It's very peaceful and very appropriate."

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