Why John Lennon lives in Cuba!
by guest blogger Ivor Davis
I was with John Lennon the night he first “met” Fidel Castro.
Well sort of.
It was the Summer of 64, and I was travelling across America with the Beatles when Hurricane Dora forced us to detour from Jacksonville to Key West, Florida – just 90 miles from Cuba. For the first time during the crazy non stop concert tour, we were able to take an unexpected breather.
Trapped by torrential rain I trooped over to John’s bungalow for a drink or two—(or a “prellie” if so inclined,) or just time to hangout and shoot the breeze with no screaming fans on the front door.
John switched on his “telly” – and there was Fidel – delivering yet another one of his marathon political speeches. John was mesmerized by his fiery oration. Two hours later we switched off—John jumped to his feet and did an amazing impersonation of Castro—with makeshift Spanish and full facial contortions. It was like something out of a “Monty Python Flying Circus” British TV sketch.
Fast forward with me nearly sixty years—and there I was in Havana – visiting the John Lennon Park – and sitting next to the John Lennon bronze. And it was there I learned the astonishing story as to how Lennon – No – not to be confused with the other famous Lenin (Vladimir, the Russian revolutionary politician legend ), but our very own Liverpool lad, who by a strange set of circumstances turned out to be the star attraction in his very own park in the middle of Cuba, a country he had never, ever visited!
When the Beatles first invaded North America, dictator Castro banned all their music—citing their songs as another example of Western decadence: Tossed into the bin of all that kind of Cold War, catch-all baloney.
But then, more than a decade later, Fidel did a dramatic about turn. He learned to love the Beatles – and particularly John!
The amazing story and unlikely alliance of Castro and Lennon, was told to me by Roberto Chile – who was Castro’s personal photographer for several decades, and who is a huge Beatle fan.
I went to Chile’s home gave him a copy of my book, “The Beatles and Me On Tour” and a Beatles hat. He offered me one of Fidel’s favorite cigars and a tot of rum. I settled for afternoon tea and conversation so he happily recounted the behind the scenes story of how Fidel had become enamored of Joh – even though the two icons never, ever met.
“Every night,” said Chile, “we watched the American TV news beamed live from Miami. And when Lennon became such a high profile, and outspoken anti-war activist, Fidel saw a different side to him. Sure, he had become a rock star but his passion for peace was plain to see. It was honest.” Chile told me. “Fidel saw that Lennon risked his everything to go to war with President Nixon, his attorney general Mitchell and all their political stooges. Lennon, Nixon said, was a troublemaker from a foreign country who was loved by some and despised by others. So Nixon tried desperately to deport him. John was forced to abandon his own career to fight for years for peace and for what he truly believed in. And at great personal and emotional cost.”
“One day Fidel said to me: ‘Lennon–he is like me. We are like brothers. He does not fake. He is a true revolutionary.’”
Of course this had all and come hard on the heels of the l963, Cuban Missile Crisis – when Castro’s relationship and his alliances with Russia’s Nikita Khrushchev almost led to a new world war. America broke off all diplomatic relations with Castro and banned Americans from going to Cuba.
“And suddenly,” recalled photographer Chile, “Lennon in Fidel’s eyes was transformed into a new Cuban hero. An English Che Guevera.”
On December 8th, 2000— on the 20th anniversary of John’s assassination, Castro showed up to unveil the bronze statue of Lennon. There were lots of speeches as, “All You Need Is Love,” echoed on loud speakers around the park.
Recently I joined a throng of visitors to the Lennon Park where John sits serenely on a bench – but without his trademark wire eye-glasses.
A security guard at the Lennon park told me: “Every time we replace those glasses—someone comes along and takes them as a souvenirs. So we have given up.”
Paul McCartney I was told, once visited Cuba in January 2000 while on a Caribbean family holiday – although there is no reported sightings of Paul having ever visited John’s bench.
About Ivor Davis
– Manson Exposed: A Reporter’s 50-Year Journey into Madness and Murder
– The Beatles and Me on Tour