August 30 – Live From New York, It’s John Lennon

Call it playing catch-up or call it being a terrific humanitarian…likely both were true, and either way about 30 000 New Yorkers were all the better off for it this day in 1972. That was the day John Lennon held two concerts, an afternoon and an evening one, at Madison Square Garden. The concerts were quickly arranged benefit shows, and although no one knew it at the time, they’d be the last full concerts Lennon would ever give. He was the only one of the Beatles who never toured as such after the Fab Four split up.

Lennon decided to do the shows to raise money for the Willowbrook School after seeing a TV news story about it. Willowbrook was a state-run school for mentally disabled kids and none other than Geraldo Rivera, an up-and-coming newsman at the time, brought to light stories of both abuse of the children and poor conditions at the school caused by disrepair. Lennon and Yoko Ono felt moved to act, and so the concerts were arranged, with all proceeds going to the school. They brought in Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack and Sha Na Na to play on the bill as well; in a surprisingly magnanimous move, Lennon also invited Paul McCartney, who declined.

The idea was wonderful, but it was also highly reminiscent of a double concert George Harrison had done the year before to raise funds for Bangladeshi relief at the same venue. As even the Beatles Bible point out, “the success of George Harrison’s ‘Concert for Bangladesh’ the previous year may well have influenced his decision.” No doubt it irked him a little to see Harrison come to the Big Apple – John’s adopted hometown – and become a hero, not to mention score a hit record, with a charity event that was exactly the type of thing they’d expect Lennon and Ono to do.

Whether a bit of jealousy played a role or not, it was hard to argue with Lennon’s gesture. They sold tickets at between $5 and $10 (depending on seat location) and both shows sold out quickly. ABC filmed it and turned it into a TV special, paying $350 000 to the cause for the rights.

Lennon and his wife brought in session drummer Jim Keltner, and the Elephant’s Memory Band (a group of session musicians from the New York area who often backed Lennon at the time) to play, with John playing rhythm guitar himself. They rehearsed for three days. After Rivera welcomed them to stage for the afternoon show, it was apparent to some that a bit more practice might have helped. The sound was a bit off, and at one point John joked “welcome to the rehearsal.” They played 17 songs, starting with “Power to the People” through a finale of “Hound Dog”. He powered through his Beatles tour de force “Come Together” and a number of his early hits or near-hits like “Imagine,” “Cold Turkey” and “Instant Karma”. Yoko took center stage to do a couple of numbers, “Born in a Prison” and “Sisters, Oh Sisters.” The evening set apparently sounded a bit better, and had 14 songs, including “Give Peace A Chance” to end it. The two Yoko songs were dropped from the bill, with no record of if any fans felt short-changed because of it.

The shows ended up raising over a million dollars for the school, making it a great humanitarian success. Commercially, it wasn’t a massive, or immediate hit. In 1986 (after John’s death of course) a live album – John Lennon Live In New York – and videotape of it were put out, produced by Yoko.

Two surprises came of that fact. One, she chose the afternoon set to use, which even the musicians themselves thought the lesser of the two, performance-wise, and two, that she had an uncommon lack of egotism, basically editing herself out of the record. Her songs weren’t included and on songs where she was singing harmony, her voice was mixed very low so as not to detract from Lennon’s. The video had a different selection of songs. Rolling Stone would say of it while it “could have used a few more hours of practice” it was still a decent listen as “classic Lennon, because it’s all here – his humor, pain, anger and unshakeable faith in the power of rock’n’roll to change the world.” Traits his ex-bandmate George Harrison would no doubt admire. The album was a minor success, hitting #41 in the U.S. and eventually going gold.

What no one there knew of course was that it was going to be the last time to see John do a concert of his own. Even though he was active recording through the ’70s and up until his death in 1980, he gave up playing live entirely after this show. The only exception was a brief appearance, also at Madison Square Garden, to be on stage with his friend Elton John in 1974 at one of his concerts.

27 thoughts on “August 30 – Live From New York, It’s John Lennon

    1. Agreed. Although I’m sure George’s popularity from the Bangladesh show rubbed him the wrong way, i think John was indeed trying to make the world better & he succeeded in little ways.

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  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    It does sound like Lennon through and through…he was impatient and didn’t like to rehearse…I think if he would have lived he would have toured on the album after Double Fantasy.

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    1. one might imagine – no pun intended – he might have done that, since he seemed in a good headspace, and Yoko would have been ready to go, but maybe he just hated the stage after so long on it when young.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. badfinger20 (Max)

        Yes it was…Dave I still have a week or so to go to pick up the pieces but I can at least read some blogs on my time now… so I will be here some and gone some.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. that sounds like a horrendous job you’re stuck with … I’m not up on the IT end of computers, but to have to retrieve all the files off a dead server… is that what you’re tasked with?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. badfinger20 (Max)

        Dave I’m the Director of IT with NO one to direct…covid wiped my staff of 9 (laid off)…I’m by myself with a consultant…so I do have him in Colarado. I told you about him and thank goodness.
        I just interviewed someone last week…I will see if they will hire him. They won’t pay much so he is young…this is the reason I will probably do what I told you in email.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. That’s crazy…from 9 down to 1 then put this huge new responsibility on you, as much as I can see it was unforseen circumstances for co. losing server suddenly. You desrve more than a pat on the back from head office.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. badfinger20 (Max)

        Thanks Dave…yea where I work…I work for a real miser owner who doesn’t appreciate people…things are about to change! Also I’m learning a bunch!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Good on him for doing it, and it’s possible George encouraged him after his own success (look what you could do!) rather than him being a Jealous Guy. Ahem. And good on Yoko for staying lowkey, that is definitely not her usual nature.

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    1. true on all, especially surprising Yoko contained her ego (which would be hard for any artist, no matter what their real talent level) and put herself squarely in the background for the CD.

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      1. what were the exhibits like ? Wasn’t the thing John saw that drew him to her something like a chair up on top of a real high ladder with a note on it? Odd , but hey, she’s expressing herself.
        I once saw an art exhibit in Toronto by musicians… mostly of interest to me were portraits by Chris Stein and photos by Michael Stipe. they had a few other things including an “installation” by eno that was, as I recall, a lot of ghetto blasters piled on top of each other each playing different music.

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      2. There were exhibits scattered throughout. I remember a tree where you could write a note on a piece of paper and then tie it to the tree (I did, of course). And a microphone in the main lobby where you could walk up and say/yell/sing anything you wanted to everyone in earshot (it’s a packed space). There were artworks on the walls too, I think, but that place is so overwhelming you’d need a week and see one floor per day.

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      3. Well, sounds interesting at least. More so than some of these modern artists who paint a huge canvas one solid color & try to tell you some psychbabble about it being an exploration of the inner reaches of humankind’s soul or such.

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      4. Yeah I know, it’s crazy. If you’re a reader, and you haven’t yet, check out Stephen King’s Duma Key. I know, I know. But I read it ages ago, and remember several parts that were quite incisive about the art community. It’s one of his that I really like, even if the ending… well, I’ve said too much. Up to you, but it’s a fun read.

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      5. hmm, that’s one I haven’t heard of, but I will keep my eyes open for it. As I said here once before, it’s astounding how many books he’s written!

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      6. I just read a bio of Dr. Seuss… through the prime of his career, he was usually in his studio writing , or trying to for about 10 hours a day 7 days a week. Making those kids books was more work than some might think. He turned out great stuff, but it’s almost a shame he didn’t take more time to enjoy his success while he could.

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      7. It brings to mind that story (which I’ll paraphrase) of the writer (was it Bukowski?) who gave a talk to a bunch of universoty students. He asked “Who here considers themselves a writer?” Most of them put up their hands. He then said “What the hell are you doing here? You should be at home writing, not listening to me.” Point received.

        Lots of folks wanna write, but don’t think of the work and isolation it requires. They just want the end result and the praise. John Grisham wrote his first book during his daily train commute to and from his law practice.

        According to Wiki, Isaac Asimov wrote more than 500 books. Talk about a life of focus.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Yup. Plus over 90,000 letters and postcards. Basically, the guy wrote as much as he breathed, it seems.

        As for the quote, I looked it up and it was Leon Uris:

        ““Who here wants to be a writer?’ I asked. Everyone in the room raised his hand. ‘Why the hell aren’t you home writing?’ I said, and left the stage.”” ― Leon Uris, Qb VII

        I think I had it muddled up in my head with this work by Bukowski:

        https://poets.org/poem/so-you-want-be-writer

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