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Strawberry Fields forever (or at least for a night)

December 9, 2009

Because the wind is high it blows my mind
Because the wind is high
Love is old, love is new
Love is all, love is you.

Darkness punctuated by candle flames and camera flashes. Strangers standing shoulder to shoulder, swaying a little, singing, trying to mimic the harmonies of a beloved song. Somewhere in the crowd, a glimpse of a guitar, the sound of a bass, a drum. Some songs gave me goosebumps the mild winter night couldn’t account for.
Standing in Central Park on December 8th, with hundreds of other Beatles fans- men and women, from my parents’ age, to a girl who couldn’t have been more than seven, and edged through the crowd to place flowers over the Imagine Mosaic. I’d gone by myself to Strawberry Fields on December 8th, a few years ago, and found a place singing in the cold air among strangers. This year, I went with friends who were new to New York, including a Liverpool native. (We joked we should dress him up in a suit, and charge people admission to converse with a native of the Beatles’ hometown.) I wish I could have had an aerial view, to know just how many people were there, singing in the dark.

In between songs, discussing what to play next, joking a little, (taking up the shout by an older gent from Yorkshire for “I Am The Walrus!” unleashed a very New York response: “No, you da Walrus!” Also uniquely New York: the guy who yelled “I got your Norwegian Wood right here, baby” after I called out a request for the song) sharing Beatles memories. “I saw them at Shea!” “I listened to my parents’ records.” “I remember hearing about John on the radio. I couldn’t believe it.” When an older man, walking with a cane, inched his way through the crowd, whispers spread that he was the one who’d booked the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I wanted to go up to him and give him a kiss on the cheek.

I grew up with the Beatles. Despite the fact that I was born almost a decade after their rooftop concert. My parents weren’t particularly Beatles fans. Their first date was to see “Help!” They rented the video when I was eleven and home sick with the chicken pox. It was instant love, consuming in the way of teenage girls and bands. Listening last night to the lyrics, and realizing how many of the Beatles early, simple love songs are good to grow up with, help lay a foundation for a first kiss. And from the crowd smiling and singing and taking pictures… I can’t have been the only one thinking that.

Dancing a little, jumping feet and clapping hands as much to keep warm as to celebrate favorite rhythms. Scatting the melody of the trumpet and guitar solos made us sound like Muppets, giggle a little in the dark. Traitorous impulse to request “Free Bird,” made me laugh at myself. The number of people who chimed in for Paul’s improv’d “She Loves You” chorus at the end of “All You Need Is Love” made me laugh at all of us. Lennon’s “Just Like Starting Over” makes a sweeter sort of love song sung in a winter’s night crowd with only a handful of instruments. I was impressed that the few guitars, tiny amps, and a drum kit played by musicians whose fingers had to be freezing, could make the noisy, crazy crescendo the end of “A Day in the Life” needed.

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