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Airs Friday, Oct. 9, 2020 at 9 p.m. on KPBS 2 + PBS Video App

John Lennon on rooftop in New York City, August, 29 1974.

Credit: © Bob Gruen /

Above: John Lennon on rooftop in New York City, August, 29 1974.

After a five-year hiatus, John Lennon was back in the studio. Lennon had famously walked away from the music business, the fame machine, everything. He baked bread, took care of his son Sean, spent his time “watching the wheels go ‘round and ‘round.” But now Lennon was back recording. He was, perhaps for the first time in his life, unreservedly happy.

It had been a long, difficult journey to this point. Lennon had been persecuted by the Nixon administration, who had used the FBI and the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) to tap his phone and put him and Yoko under 24-hour surveillance, all in an attempt to deport him for political purposes.

Lennon had been consumed by drink, making, on more than one occasion, a public ass of himself. And, for eighteen months, he had been kicked out of the Dakota by Yoko Ono, the great love his life. (It was a period Lennon later referred to as his “lost weekend.”)

But, in early August 1980, John Lennon was at The Hit Factory recording what would become “Double Fantasy. “ The songs Lennon had written for the album didn’t speak to the pain of his past — he was done with that. They were about the life he had built with Yoko and Sean: “Watching the Wheels,” “Woman” “Beautiful Boy.” Each song spoke to the newfound contentment Lennon had achieved.

“LENNONYC” is about that journey. It is the story of one of the most famous and influential artists of the 20th Century, and how he found redemption not in the public adoration he craved as a youth, but in the quiet and simple pleasures of fatherhood. It is also an immigrant’s tale.


The film examines the period of time John Lennon and his family spent living in New York City. Aired: 11/22/10

For while John Lennon may not be your typical immigrant he surely was just that.

Lennon came to New York City in 1971, seeking what every other immigrant who has washed up on its shores has sought: freedom — the freedom to be himself and not “Beatle John,” the freedom to love without the overwhelming public scorn he and Yoko had suffered in London, and, simply, the freedom to live a normal life.

That, more than anything, is what New York City offered John Lennon: the ability to go out to a movie or a restaurant, to hail a cab. In New York he could be free.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono in New York City: A Timeline

Lennon’s time in New York, a substantial portion of his life post-Beatles, includes many of his important moments in his biography – for both his professional life and his relationship with Yoko Ono and journey into fatherhood. Explore a series of milestones that formed John’s life as a solo artist and father.

“LENNONYC” tells this story with never before-released in-studio recordings, concert film only recently transferred to HD, and a trove of Lennon/Ono compositions — some in versions previously unheard.

It also contains interviews with those closest to Lennon during this period in his life — friend and photographer, Bob Gruen; Jim Keltner, a drummer on many Lennon solo projects in the 1970’s; May Pang, Lennon’s companion during his “lost weekend,” Elton John, rock superstar, and co-conspirator on the hit single “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” and Jack Douglas, the producer of “Double Fantasy.”

Elton John describes John Lennon's final performance

Elton John speaks about a performance he gave with John Lennon at Madison Square Garden, which turned out to be Lennon's last. Elton John describes what he says is "the greatest ovation I've ever heard for anybody in my whole life." Airing: 10/09/20

LENNONYC Extra Audio Interviews

Many fascinating interviews were recorded in order to make AMERICAN MASTERS "LENNONYC," but could not be included in the film because of time constraints. Listen to slightly edited outtake interviews conducted for the film.

“LENNONYC” also contains one of the most powerful and emotionally direct interviews Yoko Ono has ever given. In fact, it is the filmmakers’ unique and exclusive relationship with Ms. Ono that makes this so special. No film about John Lennon has ever covered this story with the same breadth and depth.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the Village

In this clip, rarely seen archival footage by filmmaker Jonas Mekas captures John Lennon and Yoko Ono's early years in Greenwich Village - surrounded by New York City staples such as Andy Warhol and Allen Ginsberg.

As the public turns its attention to what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday (Oct. 9, 2010), and the 30th anniversary of his murder (Dec. 8, 2010), “LENNONYC” is uniquely posed to commemorate the life of one of the most important and influential artists of the 20th Century — someone whose life and work is as powerful and relevant today as it has ever been.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono in Central Park

Watch archival footage from 1980 of John and Yoko walking in Central Park. Hear John talk about the personal freedom he has found living New York City.

Watch On Your Schedule:

This film will be available for streaming simultaneously on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS Video App, which is available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast.

Join The Discussion:

AMERICAN MASTERS is on Facebook, Instagram, tumblr, and you can follow @PBSAmerMasters on Twitter. #AmericanMastersPBS


A co-production of Two-Lefts Don’t Make a Right Productions, Dakota Group, Ltd., and THIRTEEN’s AMERICAN MASTERS in association with WNET for PBS. Director/writer is Michael Epstein. Executive producers are Stanley Buchthal, Michael Cohl, and Susan Lacy. Producers are Susan Lacy, Jessica Levin, and Michael Epstein. Susan Lacy is the series creator and executive producer of AMERICAN MASTERS.


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