….unless you really wanted to meet John & Yoko.
New York City, 1979
This one really came out of left field as Doug Kleiman, the person whose story it is, is also a friend. Doug casually mentioned to me one afternoon that he and a friend snuck into The Dakota several months before Lennon was killed.
In 1979, New Yorker Doug Kleiman was 14 years old. Doug and his friend Joe snuck in to The Dakota on 72nd Street and Central Park West across from Central Park, one of the city’s most storied apartment buildings, and the home of John & Yoko. Legend has it that it was nicknamed and then formally named “The Dakota” because at the time it was built (1884) there were no apartment buildings above 42nd Street, and if you lived there you were so far away from everything that you may as well live in Dakota!
Doug and his friend were interested in meeting John because they thought that he could provide answers to the many questions that they had about life, religion, spirituality, politics, Beatles, and more…answers that their teachers, friends, and family were not really able to provide. —Or, they were more willing to hear and accept them from John Lennon!
Doug explained that they wore suits and looked like rich private school kids who should be there. They snuck past the guards at the gate and roamed the building for a couple of hours trying to figure out what apartment John & Yoko lived in.
They hit paydirt when John emerged to walk a friend to the elevator and saw them standing in the hallway.
John asked them what they were doing there and after they explained that they came to meet him, he invited them into the apartment
JJF: Was the experience what you imagined?
DK: It was beyond what I imagined. He was as cool, inspiring, poetic, and witty as the world came to know…he was also funny, kind, encouraging, and was generous with his time and advice to us.
JJF: How much time total were you with them?
DK: We were with John for about two hours, and then Yoko joined us later for another 45 minutes to an hour, or so.
JJF: Thinking back now, would you say that they had a kind of hippie like trust vibe about how you were treated?
DK: John trusted us enough to invite us into their apartment. Yoko was initially more protective and wary. Of course we were young, slight, and certainly not intimidating. Our intentions were pure, so I assume that our vibes were rather “hippie trusting” too. Looking back, the irony of what was to happen to John a little more than a year later is haunting.
JJF: Did you ask any questions, or did John surprise you with his comments?
DK: Both! We asked John a lot of questions, and he answered them thoroughly. He also asked us a lot of questions about what we were interested in, where we went to school, etc. I believe that at least part of his reason for asking these questions, was to learn more about what kids close to Julian’s age were into. We asked questions that generally required a lot of explanation, and he really took his time to answer them carefully and thoughtfully. He most certainly surprised us with words of advice, inspiration, and wisdom…he was also quite poetic at times.
We did ask questions about the Beatles…as in, would they ever get back together?
John said: “Well, never say never, but probably not”. I asked why not? He said: “Because that was then and this is now.” I told him that I had heard a reporter say that he was the only Beatle that didn’t want to get back together for a performance. He replied: “Yeah, is that what you heard? Well, that’s funny because I haven’t spoken to any reporters about it for a very long time…it’s important to know that people write a lot of rubbish to sell newspapers and magazines, and that you can’t believe everything that you read and hear.”
I asked if he would consider doing it if it was for charity. He said, “Concerts for charities are great in theory, but the problem is that they don’t always get the money to the people or causes that they’re intended for…there’s always someone taking a percentage of this and a piece of that…and by the time it’s all done, there’s barely enough money left to buy a cup a coffee.”
JJF: Did you walk away feeling that the experience brought you closer to knowing what kind of person John was?
DK: Yes, absolutely. But equally and perhaps more importantly, we learned about ourselves, too. The time we spent with him instilled us with a new self confidence. After all, if John Lennon says you’re cool, it goes a long way as an adolescent and beyond! From that point on, high school got a little easier. John and Yoko were very kind, generous, and hospitable to allow us into their home. They gave us wholesome and practical advice, too: to stay away from drugs, to follow our dreams and passions. In fact, when I told John that I was interested in becoming a photographer, John said:
“Photography is great you know…there are many different kinds of photography you can do; artistic, journalism, portraits. I have some friends that are photographers. Some photographers tend to be very compulsive…constantly taking pictures of everything. If you become a photographer, remember to put the camera down sometimes, and just look at the subject, a sunset or whatever. If you don’t put the camera down at least some of the time, then at the end of your life you will have a million pictures of everything, but you will have seen nothing.”
JJF: Lastly, did your friends believe you when you told them what happened?
DK: John and Yoko asked us not to tell many friends about our meeting because they didn’t want to encourage more people to sneak into the building. So, I only told a few select friends and family. After John was killed, I told more people. I was grieving so deeply that I felt compelled to explain why.