Excerpt: 'The Last Days of Dead Celebrities'

On Thursday, October 9, a skywriting plane flew over Central Park and spelled out the smoky message "Happy Birthday John & Sean. Love Yoko." Below the message was a dual birthday party that Yoko threw at Warner LeRoy's famed Central Park restaurant, Tavern on the Green. "Mainly we concentrated on Sean," said Yoko. "He had a great time at the party. It was mostly his friends at the party, kids from school, a few parents, Sean's best friend, Max LeRoy, and his parents, Warner and Kay LeRoy. It was John's birthday and Sean's birthday, but John wanted it to be a day for Sean."

Sean's father kept mostly to himself in the cavernous multiroom restaurant, watching the party as though he were there as an observer and not a celebrant. There was, after all, much to reflect on. He was now forty.

"I don't think he felt forty was necessarily a milestone age for him," said Yoko, looking back at the day. "I mean, he wrote the song, 'Life Begins at Forty,' which was a serious song when he first wrote it. Then he listened to his own lyrics, and he said, 'I can't do this. I have to make it funny.' So he wound up creating a comic song about turning forty. That's how he wanted to look at it, especially that day. I think he wanted to play down his age and focus on Sean."

Mintz made one other trip to New York in early November, specifically to hear John and Yoko's new album. "The engineer would prepare cassettes for John, and he would take them back to the Dakota and play them on the little stereo in his bedroom," said Mintz. "He had none of the fancy equipment at home. He always believed music should be listened to the way it comes out on a car radio."

Mintz went back to the Dakota with John and Yoko that night, into what was called the "old bedroom," facing West Seventy-second Street. John's primitive hi-fi system was on one side of the bed. At the foot of the bed was a television, a large-screen TV that John had purchased a few years before in Tokyo. Mintz was with him in Japan when he bought the TV.

"He was one of the first people to import a large-screen TV from Japan," said Mintz. "But he really needed a large screen, because without his eyeglasses on he couldn't see more than four or five feet in front of him."

John and Yoko's bed was nothing more than a mattress on top of a piece of plywood, supported on each side by two church pews that the couple had gotten from an old church in the South. Behind the bed was a brick wall, and in front of it, up against the foot, was the large-screen TV. On either side of the television were these two large old-fashioned dental cabinets, the kind that you might see in a Norman Rockwell painting from the 1930s, with twenty or thirty sliding drawers, basically for clothing and John's ties.

"The whole look was simple, and it just worked," said Mintz. "And the room, of course, was either lit by candles or so dimly lit that you could hardly see a thing. And that's how I first heard Double Fantasy, in that setting. John put the cassette on and he kicked back in bed. He was in his pajamas, Yoko was in her nightgown, and I sat in a white wicker rocking chair on Yoko's side of the bed. The music just wafted throughout the open room. And the two of them were very stiff and quiet. The TV was on, with the sound off. John didn't have his glasses on, so to him everything was completely out of focus. He referred to the TV as his electronic fireplace."

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