Yoko had decided there would be no public service for John. She wanted to avoid the circus-like atmosphere that had surrounded Elvis' funeral. She asked that people join in a silent, 10-minute prayer vigil Sunday, "wherever you are." But New York Mayor Ed Koch felt there should be a public tribute, so he invited fans to join Sunday near the band shell in Central Park. I decided to stay and cover the Sunday memorial -- and was touched by how the city was moved by John's death. Wherever I walked, I felt the impact. There were conversations everywhere -- in the subways, coffee shops, hotel lobbies. The words I heard most often were "sad" and "why?" John's death knocked the wind out of New York City as much as Elvis' had Memphis, which I would have loved to have been able to tell him because of how much he loved Elvis.
On the day of the prayer vigil, visitors in the heart of Manhattan didn't need to ask for directions, they just followed the crowd. Unlike the hysterical weeping that I'd seen in Memphis in 1977, the audience on Sunday was more subdued, listening to Lennon songs over a loudspeaker. Some held signs, offering messages like "Just Give Peace a Chance" and, inevitably, "We Love You, John." At 2 p.m., the crowd began its silent prayer. This was the day's most emotional moment. Midway through the silence, a photographer in the roped-off press area stopped taking photos of weeping mourners and retreated behind a parked truck to cry himself.
One thing troubled me on the flight back to Los Angeles. Had I been honorable in contacting Yoko? I had wanted to express my feelings to her about her and John, but I also hoped deep in my heart that she had wanted me to write a story. I remained anxious until the day a card arrived from Yoko.
It read "Thank you" and was signed "With love."
Excerpted from "Corn Flakes With John Lennon (And Other Tales From a Rock 'n' Roll Life)" by Robert Hilburn. Copyright Copyright 2009 by Robert Hilburn. Permission granted by Rodale Inc., Emmaus, Pa. 18098.