Welcome to Nutopia. You can be a citizen, if you'd like -- you'll have countrymen and women all over the world. Nutopia is everywhere. A dedicated showing of patriots huddled in the freezing cold in New York City on Wednesday to sing their national anthems, in honor of the fallen leader that led them through tortured adolescence and socially conscious adulthood. It was the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's death.
A conceptual country, created by Lennon and wife Yoko Ono in a bit of an April Fool's Day stunt during their deportation battle with the Nixon government, Lennon said that, "NUTOPIA has no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people," with citizenship obtained, "by declaration of your awareness of NUTOPIA."
The sign said Strawberry Fields, the "Imagine" mosaic-marked plot of land in Central Park, by West 72nd Street. It's where John Lennon used to walk and think and escape from whatever demons -- personal or international -- that were on his mind. It's right across from the Dakota, the distinctive apartment building where Lennon lived, loved, finally found happiness -- and was killed. On Wednesday, it was the capital of Nutopia.
Thirty years -- to the day -- that Lennon was shot and killed, the population of Nutopia is thriving. Generations packed together in the park throughout the day, arm and arm, singing its founder's songs, lovingly and wistfully but mostly happily, remembering from their youth (or, in mine and many others' cases, remembering from endless hours of album listening and documentary watching) the magic and meaning and revolution that the bravest Beatle brought to the world and their lives.
They sang along, reciting the melodic love songs of the early Beatles, the soul-bearing tortured young man confessions of later Beatles and solo albums, and the politically charged rock with which he shocked the 70s establishment. Nutopians sang everything from, "Lose That Girl," to "I Am The Walrus," to "Working Class Hero," a true cross-section of Lennon's work.
It's a 30-year tradition, and some lifelong Nutopians that grew up listening to Lennon have been keeping vigil since the beginning. Amy, from Queens, bundled up and singing like the words were muscle memory, said she's never missed a single Strawberry Fields vigil. And it's not just a hollow tradition -- she learns more every year.
"It just seems like, I get to appreciate John Lennon more, I always liked him... I'm starting to really understand, it seems like only now, totally, what he's saying," she told me. "I always thought I understood what he was talking about, but it seems like it's really clear only now."
Referring to the troubled world we've found ourselves in, she called him a visionary. It made one think about what quips -- and calls to action -- Lennon would be making today.
Some Nutopians there have been keeping vigil even that first anniversary remembrance. When Lennon was shot, an endless stream of mourning fans dispatched upon the city, marching to the Dakota. They had no agenda, per se; there was just the sense that they needed to do something, anything, to honor John, and they wanted to be with their countrymen and women to do so.
Marietta made that march, taking a Greyhound bus from her college in Boston. Last night, she was back to where it all ended -- and started -- thirty years ago. This time, she came from Alaska. It was a fitting tribute to the man that shaped her entire career.
"I grew up and became a social worker... specifically with John's writing, there was always something that connected with people that were marginalized in our world, and as I grew up and started to see that in real life, my reference point was Beatles lyrics."
In keeping with Lennon's plea for a world without countries -- and Nutopia's infinite boundaries -- I spoke to Guillermo, who took his family on an international trip planned specifically for this event.
"We came from Colombia, the whole family, we think John Lennon was one of the greatest men in the world, and we're so sorry he's dead, and we have to remember all the time what he left us," Guillermo said, rubbing his son on the head.
"They love John Lennon, also. They know who John Lennon is, what he made for music," he continued, pointing to his smiling children. They were eight and eleven years old, singing along full throated with the chorus.
Lennon was not a perfect man, to be sure. This wasn't a freezing chorus eulogy for the sinless. A troubled and troublemaking teen, in his early years, John could be abusive to those he truly loved, and was far from an attentive parent the first time around. But neither was he a typical rock jerk; his admission of his demons and flaws and tortured, parentless past in stark, breathtaking song spoke to generations of the alienated and "freaks," as he called himself.
The stereo group therapy, along with his one step ahead, silly sharp wit, made him relatable, a friend in RPM (or now, iTunes!). It's that friendship, along with the compassionate voice that he lent to the muted masses, that moved so many to bring flowers to a man that could accept them from a heaven he Imagined did not exist.