JOHN LENNON: Barefoot in Nutopia

An insider’s story of his last years

by Mike Tree


Nutopia     Mike Tree     The Occult     Bermuda     Studio Sessions     Helter Skelter     Silent Vigil     AfterwordMike_Tree.htmlThe_Occult.htmlBermuda.htmlStudio_Sessions.htmlHelter_Skelter.htmlSilent_Vigil.htmlAfterword.htmlshapeimage_1_link_0shapeimage_1_link_1shapeimage_1_link_2shapeimage_1_link_3shapeimage_1_link_4shapeimage_1_link_5shapeimage_1_link_6shapeimage_1_link_7

I first met John Lennon in the spring of 1977, shortly after he had stopped making records, and the birth of his son, Sean. That year I ran my own freelance plant care business to supplement my income, while I apprenticed as a film editor. 

At the time, an acquaintance told me he had a friend who is interested in my plant services and arranged for me to meet him, but he didn’t give a name. His friend, he said, lived at the New York landmark building called the Dakota.

After a short telephone call, the Dakota’s concierge directed me to the service elevator. Once on the seventh floor, the operator pointed out the apartment’s service entrance. 

When I pressed the door buzzer, I noticed a small brass plaque which read “Nutopian Embassy.” After a long wait, a thin, shabby-looking man cradling a baby in his arms opened the door.

“Oh,” he squinted to see me, “you must be the tree man. Come in.”

I entered a kitchen large enough for a tennis court. Track lights on the fifteen-foot-high ceiling gave it a soft glow. White cabinets and white marble-topped counters circled the the room I had just entered. 

Once I overcame my astonishment at its dimensions, I turned my attention to the man holding the baby. He was about five-eleven, wearing a T-shirt, cutoff jeans and was barefoot. He had long reddish-brown hair pulled carelessly into a ponytail and hadn’t shaved in days. His piercing hazel eyes gave me the once-over, then softened. 

“Hi, I’m John,” he said, extending his hand with a smile, “and this is Sean.” He bounced the baby as he spoke to me.

His voice and British accent sounded vaguely familiar. My heart began to pound, suddenly realizing—it’s John Lennon!! 

While I stood frozen with my back to the door I had just entered, he crossed the room and handed his child to a Japanese woman. At first I thought it was Yoko Ono, but when she turned to take the baby, I could see it wasn’t her.

He looked over at me and nodded his head, saying, “Come this way.” 

I followed him across the terra-cotta-pink tiled floor to the far end of the room, where he pushed open a stained-glass paneled door. But before he went further, he turned to me and said, “Please take your shoes off.” 

It seemed like an odd request, but I quickly complied. As I stepped through the doorway, I sank into a thick white carpet, and followed him down a long hallway. He moved with astonishing grace and speed. Shafts of sunlight shimmered from beneath closed doors along the dark corridor. At the far end it opened into a large foyer with a fireplace and closed doors on all sides. In a far corner, he threw open a set of double doors. Blinding sunlight greeted us. 

“This is the White Room,” he said with arms outstretched. “Isn’t it great?” 

The early morning sun flooded the room, spilling in through towering windows that looked out onto Central Park. Everything in the sparsely furnished room was white: walls, carpet and sofas.

“Where would you put plants?” he asked. “What kinds?” 

I didn’t immediately reply, but instead went to the window, drawn by the spectacle of the city. A hint of spring hung over Central Park like a pale green veil. Across the park, buildings along Fifth Avenue stood in silhouette against the morning sunlight. Angled between the two windows in the room stood the white grand piano, which I recognized from the Imagine film. The top of the piano had an assortment of small, framed photographs. As I studied them, he picked up one and handed it to me. 

“Here’s me,” he said, “in front of my auntie’s house when I was twelve years old.” 

The photograph showed a smiling thin boy dressed in a white shirt and dark shorts, proudly sitting on a bicycle. 

“My uncle George gave me the bicycle when I graduated elementary school.”

While I studied the other photos, he spirited from the room through a door concealed in the wall. 

“There’s a plant in here,” he called. 

The adjoining room, about half the size of the White Room, had only one large window, which also faced east. A small indoor tree stood in front of the window. He asked me to identify it.

“It’s a fig tree,” I said. 

“You mean we’re going to have figs?” he asked, eyes growing large.

“Well, not quite. This is a Ficus benjamina. Edible figs come from a different species. Now don’t forget that. We’ll have a short quiz next time,” I quipped, a standard line for plant job interviews. 

Next, I followed him across the foyer and down another corridor to another room. “Yoko’s favorite plant is in here,” he said, opening the door.

It was the master bedroom, with the same ankle-deep, white carpet as the rest of the apartment. On one side of the room, against a white painted brick wall, a king-sized mattress was supported by what appeared to be church pews. In a corner, next to the bed, sat an upright art deco piano. On the other side of the bed, was a waist-high bookcase stocked with an assortment of audio equipment; a small mixing board, several tape players and a large number of cassettes. Across the room, with the sound turned off, flickered an oversized television. He sat on the bed and gestured to the plant. 

“It’s a Ming tree,” he said. 

The six-foot-high tree stood in front of the only window, which had the shutters closed.

“John, this plant needs a lot of light,” I said, feeling a mixture of awe and self-consciousness when I addressed him by name. “You should open the shutters.”

“Oh? You can open them,” he said, waving his hand. “Well, now, that’s all the plants. I’ll see you the next time you come.”

I took this as my cue to leave and went back to the kitchen to pick up my coat and shoes. Does this mean I have the job, I wondered? John did say he’d see me the next time. My head swirled with exhilaration and disbelief. 

A few days after my visit, I got a telephone call from the Lennon’s account, telling me to report to the Dakota at 7:30 AM the following Monday. Though he didn’t say it, I assumed this meant I had the job. Years later, l would learn that Nutopia referred to a wisecrack John had made during his deportation trial. He told the court that he and Yoko were ambassadors from the cosmic kingdom of Nutopia and were therefore entitled to diplomatic immunity.   

Photo of John © 1972 by David Pickoff.
Photograph of John and Yoko from Life magazine © 2010 by Annie Leibovitz. 
All photos used in a nonprofit, educational context with the claim of fair use.
This web site is copyright © 2011 by Michael Medeiros. All rights reserved.
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