John Lennon, who would have turned 70 last month, was the ultimate Liverpudlian, his band the biggest in the world.
But he never quite found harmony until he moved across the pond after the breakup of the Beatles, spending much of the last nine years of his life traversing New York’s streets.
Throughout the 1970s, the ex-Beatle was a proud New Yorker, a tireless advocate for a struggling, crime-ridden city that desperately needed one.
The American Masters documentary “Lennon NYC,” premiering tonight, explores the remarkable years Lennon lived in New York.
amNewYork spoke with filmmaker Michael Epstein.
Why make a film about John’s New York years?
He always struck me as a New Yorker. From a filmmaking standpoint, when you look at John through the lens of New York, everything comes into focus in just the right way.
What can be learned from looking at him in that way?
You can look at his activism … you can look at his art, all of his solo albums … you can look at him as just a human being, a father, when he quote-un-quote retired from the business and retreated and raised [son] Sean.
How did John feel about the city?
He loved New York. It’s not an artificial construct I’m sort of imposing on John, turning him into a New Yorker. He loved New York, he loved the freedom, he loved the artistic opportunities. That’s why he fought so hard to be a part of it.
What did John making his home here mean for New York?
He was still John Lennon. John Lennon was a New Yorker, and it was a time when New York was left for dead by the rest of the country, and John was a champion just by living here. … I think John gave New York, for lack of a better word, some street cred.
Why does his work endure so powerfully after all these years?
Maybe it’s particularly true for the Beatles, but I think it’s true for a lot of celebrities: We tend to lose their humanity. The great, remarkable thing about John Lennon’s art is that it was infused with his humanity.
On TV: "American Masters: Lennon NYC" airs on WNET/13 Monday at 9.
Some of John’s favorite New York spots:
• Bank Street apartment: John and Yoko lived in Greenwich Village from 1971 to 72. 105 Bank St.
• The Dakota: The couple moved to this Central Park West mainstay in 1973. 1 West 72nd St.
• Record Plant Studio: John recorded here. 321 W. 44th St.
• The Hit Factory: The ex-Beatle recorded here as well. 421 W. 54th St.
• Central Park: John, Yoko and Sean frequented the park.
• Café La Fortuna: This UWS favorite closed in 2008. 69 W. 71st St.
• Smith’s Bar & Grill: John loved the hamburgers here. 701 Eighth Ave.
• 92nd Street Y: John and Sean went swimming here. 1395 Lexington Ave.
Getting Yoko involved:
Yoko Ono is famously protective of her husband’s legacy and reticent to be involved in too many projects about him. Yet, she’s seen onscreen frequently here. “American Masters” creator and executive producer Susan Lacy talks about securing the 77-year-old’s participation:
“I sent her a letter and she responded actually pretty quickly to that letter. A meeting was set up and I went over, took Michael [Epstein] with me, at the Dakota and it was very exciting because we were led into this room with the white piano in the corner. It was really something, and she’s tiny and she came in and we talked to her about our concept, which was their story and the New York years, the last nine years of his life, that we knew there was a fair amount of audio out there that probably had not been heard. … She didn’t blankly say, “Anything you want you can have,” but ultimately they opened up their archive, which is phenomenal. … We would just have to let her know what we were using and contextually how we were using it, but that was it. She didn’t have any input beyond that. I think she liked the film very much.”