Issue Ceremony for John Lennon Commemorative Stamps
Somehow the stars aligned with the planets and I was able to go to New York City to attend the issue ceremony of IGPC's John Lennon Commemorative stamps. Eight nations participated in this global event. It was my first trip to the Big Apple, but I felt right at home for some reason. Maybe it's because I like to wear dark clothes -- and in New York, everybody wears dark clothes.
The ceremony was held at Hard Rock Cafe on 57th street just south of Central Park. My wife and I arrived at the restaurant unfashionably early, but I was able to get in early anyway since I had been helping IGPC promote the stamps on my web page. When I entered, I immediately noticed some familiar faces -- Mark and Carol Lapidos who organize the Beatlefest conventions, and the members of "Liverpool," the Beatles sound-alike group who have been playing at Beatlefests for about a hundred years now.
As everybody was milling around eating breakfast, some of the guest speakers started to filter in: Dion of "Dion and the Belmonts," Peter Noone of "Herman's Hermits," Billy J. Kramer of "Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas," Mary Wilson of "The Supremes," and Sid Bernstein the concert promoter for the Beatles' New York concerts. Needless to say, I was taking pictures. David Peel, a street musician whom John meet in New York in 1971, was there not as a speaker but just to play the fool. He was a bit obnoxious, but it made the event more memorable and I'm sure John would have loved it.
Bruce Morrow & Dion
Bruce talked to him even though
Dion didn't bring any Belmonts
He used the opportunity to
peddle his 25 year old albums
I introduced myself to Sid Bernstein and I wished him well on his continued efforts at reuniting the surviving Beatles to perform in concert. It seems that every few years since their break up, Sid has come up with bigger and bigger offers, but to no avail. Not too long ago (less than a year, I believe), he offered them something like 100 million to do ten shows. Of course, the Fab Three turned it down, but it didn't escape my notice that Paul took a more than passing interest at the sound of 100 million dollars. Sid told me that he has a new offer in the works that will be even bigger.
Me and Sid
Really, I've known Sid all my life
(Sid, I promise I'll call soon)
Liverpool (the band) warmed up the crowd with a less than enthusiastic performance of Beatles songs. I don't think they're used to being relegated to playing background music since normally they sound great. Nevertheless, the ceremony kicked off with legendary New York disc jockey Bruce Morrow "Cousin Brucie" as the Master of Ceremonies. He is legendary because he had a repoire with the Beatles during the early 60's. I don't know, I still think Murry the K's legend loomed larger.
Bruce Morrow (Cousin Brucie)
The Master of Ceremonies and
disc jockey at WA-Beatles-C Radio
The first speaker, if I remember correctly, was some representative of the State of New York who seemed to have a bit of trouble saying the phrase "eight nations from five continents." The governor was supposed to be there, but I'm still not certain he would have had any better luck with that catchy phrase. I'm just stalling because I don't really remember what the friendly politician said.
Soon after, Lonnie Ostrow, the representative from IGPC, took the podium. He recounted a moving tale from his fourth grade class. John Lennon had just been shot the day before and the teacher played Lennon's music and told her students about him. She then asked if there were any questions and after a couple questions by other students, Lonnie burst out, "Why the hell would anyone want to kill John Lennon?!" The teacher, who couldn't answer the question, began to cry. I bet that teacher is still trying to come up with the answer.
The folks at IGPC did a great job
(and the stamps are beautiful)
Next up was Mary Wilson, who claims she is 51 years of age. She looked around the room and said she saw a bunch of teenagers. She wasn't trying to say we were all immature but rather that she saw a bunch of people from her generation who were teenagers during the Beatles' peak of the 60s.
Acts and looks younger
than her 51 years
Billy J. Kramer, if you will remember, was a contemporary of the Beatles who was also under the management of Brian Epstein, the Beatles' manager. In fact, his biggest hits "Bad To Me" and "Do You Want to Know A Secret" were provided by none other than the famous songwriting team of Lennon & McCartney. When it was his turn to speak, Billy told us that it was John who suggested the "J" in Billy J. Kramer. Before that, it was just...well, Billy Kramer. After the ceremony I asked Billy if the J stood for anything. He told me that John wanted it to stand for Julian, but that Billy just wanted the J. And now you know the rest of the story.
Billy J. Kramer
It was John who gave Billy the "J"
Peter Noone was quite engaging. Sometimes he worked at EMI Studios (before it became Abbey Road Studios) in London the same time the Beatles were there. "The Beatles," Peter said, "always were taking our gear." One day, he thought the Beatles decided to repay him by providing him with a song. He came to this conclusion when he noticed a tape reel with the label "For Noone" on the canister. Excitedly, he called his manager and told him the good news that the Beatles had written a song for him. It wasn't long though before he came to realize that the song he thought was for Noone was actually "For No One." I don't know if that story was actually true or he just made it up, but it was very funny nonetheless.
Peter Noone and Maldives Stamp
Peter "No One" holds up his stamp
as Sid and Dion look on
Dion came up to speak but I can't for the life of me remember what he had to say. I'm sure it had something to do with John Lennon though. Anyway, after he was done, Cousin Brucie prodded him to do a song and with a little coaxing from the audience he finally gave in. He performed the famous Chuck Berry song, Johnny B. Goode (or is that Johnny Be Good? -- I can never remember). It turned into an all-star jam session as Mary Wilson and Billy J. Kramer both joined Dion up on the stage.
Dion, Mary, & Billy
If they decided to tour, they'd call themselves
Dion, Mary, Billy & the Belmonts, Supremes, Dakotas
Sid Bernstein, who I thought was absolutely the most sincere and personable guest speaker in attendance, addressed the crowd while he tried unsucessfully to keep from crying as he spoke of John and the Beatles. I happened to be sitting right next to Sid's daughter during his speech and she was crying with her father as I'm sure many other people in the room were also. It wasn't so much what he said, but rather the way he said it. It was obvious that he held the Beatles very close to his heart and that the loss of John Lennon was a very sad one for him.
He brought the Beatles to Shea Stadium
and he'd like to do it again
After all the speakers had spoken and all the bagels had been eaten, it was finally time to unveil the stamps. All the invited speakers and dignitaries from some of the participating nations were positioned alongside huge replicas of the stamps conveniently draped with black velvet. After the ritual countdown from 10 to 1, the drapes were removed and a blaze of flashes from cameras blinded everyone in sight (pun intended, but not very funny). Earlier in the ceremony, I had given up my seat alongside Sid Bernstein's daughter to Sid himself, and took a space along the side of the room, just a few short inches away from the covered stamps. That turned out to be fortunate because it meant that I had the best view of the stamps at the time of the unveiling and my camera was working.
Ghana Stamp and Representative
After the stamps were unveiled, the place turned chaotic as everyone who had been seated were now roaming the place in search of autographs or photographs -- including myself. Shortly after, the workers at the Hard Rock Cafe began telling people to leave claiming they had to serve food shortly or something. So, I found my wife again, who had the wisdom to just let my roam during "my" day and we left the Cafe at the same time Mary Wilson was leaving. I couldn't help but feel a little bit smug when people outside the cafe were staring at the people coming out. All in all, it was a lot of fun, but it also was a lot of work. I was trying to be a photographer, journalist, and fan all at the same time. And all the while, I was trying to remember that the reason we were all there was to honor a man whose life had touched so many, but could have touched so many more...
Billy J. Kramer & Palau Stamp
Does anyone know where Palau is?
(nice looking stamp though)
(Copyright Sam Choukri 1995 -- use is permitted as long as credit is given)
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Last updated on Aug 14, 1998