It was dusk, sprinkling and windy outside. Steve Jobs and I hurried along Manhattan’s Central Park West. Steve was carrying a large box—a birthday present for Sean Lennon, who was turning nine. If he hadn’t been murdered four years earlier, John would have been 44. Both father and son shared the same birthday, October 9.
We turned right onto West 72nd Street at the storied Dakota apartment building. To get into the building through the carriageway, we passed through a gathering of fifty or sixty people, many holding lit candles. They were singing, “Give Peace a Chance,” remembering John. A few had tears. We stood with them for a while before going inside.
Before 1980, the Dakota had been known for its famous residents, including the Lennons, Calvin Klein, Boris Karloff and Lauren Bacall, and the movie filmed there, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. Since then it’s been remembered for tragedy—John’s murder on the sidewalk out front. A few months before John died, I’d conducted a lengthy Interview with him and Yoko. It was the final in-depth interview of John’s life. One of the last things he said to me was, “I’m turning forty. Life begins at forty, so they promise. And I believe it, too. I’m, like, excited. Like, what’s going to happen next?”
Steve and I waited for the ancient elevator. “All the girls loved Paul, but John was my favorite Beatle,” he said. “Lennon cut through the bullshit and told it like it was. I still can’t believe they killed him. He was a genius, a beautiful genius.” He said that there had been a period when he was a teenager that he listened exclusively to the Beatles, solo Lennon, and Dylan.
The elevator, with gnarly gargoyles looking down on passengers, creaked slowly upward to the seventh floor. On the landing, Steve knocked on an oversized mahogany door. A man opened it and ushered us in. As instructed, we removed our shoes. Steve found a place to store the large box on the floor, behind a collection of walking sticks.
In the evening light, out the window of the White Room–everything inside was white, including the piano on which John wrote “Imagine”–Central Park was a patchwork of crystal and gray. Across the park, the lights of Fifth Avenue hotels and apartments glittered. The party was in full swing. The guests included Walter Cronkite, Roberta Flack, Harry Nilsson, John Cage, and artists Louise Nevelson, Kenny Scharf, and Keith Haring. Andy Warhol arrived, refusing to take his shoes off. Sean came up and Warhol gave him presents, including a spectacular painting of a heart-shaped candy box and a bracelet he’d made out of pennies. The last time they’d seen each other, Andy had ripped a dollar-bill in two and given half to Sean, who, after thanking him, jokingly asked for the other half. Warhol reached in his pocket and handed Sean a wad of torn-in-half dollars.
Dinner was served and then a birthday cake in the shape of a grand piano. Afterward, the adults talked, and Stevee asked Sean if he’d like his present. Following Sean, Steve lugged the box he’d brought down the hallway to Sean’s bedroom, also white, but that one had shelves of robots. Steve opened the carton and lifted out his present.
Steve had boyish dark hair parted on the side. He wore jeans and a white dress shirt, sleeves rolled up. He sprawled on the floor in front of a computer. Called Macintosh, it was boxy, taller than it was wide, beige, the size of a breadbox set on its side.
Steve turned the computer on, and Sean, sitting on the floor near him, stared at the six-inch, black-and-white built-in monitor. He watched Steve push a cigarette-box-sized contraption that was attached to the computer by a wire along the floor. Steve said it was called a mouse. When he guided it along, an arrow on the screen moved, too. Steve moved the arrow over a tiny picture of a paintbrush and clicked to launch a program called MacPaint. He looked at Sean. “You try,” he said.
Sean took control of the mouse, and rolled the small box along the floor. Steve said, “Now hold the button down while you move it and see what happens.” Sean did, and a thin, jagged, black line, appeared on the screen.
Sean, entranced, said, “Cool!” He clicked the mouse button, pushed it around, and on the screen appeared shapes and lines, which he erased (Steve explained how to use an on-screen eraser), and then he drew a sort of lion-camel and then a figure that he said was Boy George.
A few people entered the room and stood over Sean and Steve, watching over their shoulders. I looked up. “Hmmm,” said one, Andy Warhol. “What is this? Look at this, Keith. This is incredible!” Keith Haring nodded. Mesmerized, the artists stared at the moving line.
Steve continued working with Sean, with Warhol and Haring watching, and then Andy asked, “Can I try?”