What Happened To Claudio?
Chapter 13 - Curt's Trip to Britain
This is an exclusive excerpt from the 15th draft of the story Finding Claudio written by Gavin Munro. This content is exclusively for you subscribers!
Curt had landed in London on the Tuesday May 18th 1971, he was on a mission.
The following Monday John started recording some of the most important and popular songs of his whole career.
Great artists need great assistants, creativity in its purest form can be a messy process and the artist’s time is wasted archiving and organising. They need to be free to channel their muse and not indexing and scheduling things. John and Yoko had delegated these tasks to a team of friends and trusted associates at Tittenhurst Park, none more trusted and organised than Dan Richter. Richter (an artist in his own right) was head of logistics for John & Yoko.
He knew ‘Claudio’ was intending to visit John and had a funny sense he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
"Weeks before we received a telegram to John Lennon, I would review the mail every morning before presenting them to John and Yoko. This telegram said something like ‘Hi, I need to look in your eyes, I’ll see you soon, Claudio’. We could tell from the postmark that it came from the San Francisco area. These telegrams kept arriving from Claudio. People would tell me ‘Don’t worry, he’ll never come all that way’ but from the second or third telegram I remember thinking ‘We’re going to find out who Claudio is.”
Curt sent an audio tape or ‘spoken telegram’ to Dan too, here’s what it said:
TRANSCRIPTION OF AUDIO MESSAGE:
"Somebody tell John I'll be at Gatwick the 18th [May] wearing a three quarter brown sheepskin coat. Reply immediately before. Should I come and wait or what? I can't make the trip unless I know you'll be there.You say you want to help and you know I need help but I won't come there until you wire back."
Richter was under the impression that Claudio was a veteran of the Vietnam War with PTSD who was in a VA hospital and was about to be released ‘That was the story’ recalls Richter ‘and lo and behold about a week later, there was Claudio.’
‘"I went up to him and said 'You can’t really stay here'. The thing about John [Lennon] was that he really cared about people, and he really didn’t want anything bad to happen to Claudio. When the police took him into London John was concerned for his safety, ‘He said please don’t hurt him'. "
Lennon’s home was in Ascot, only 30 or so miles from London. Richter continues the story ’The police told us that once they had taken him to London he had been dropped off at a train station and I thought “Oh he’s going to be back”. On the afternoon of Wednesday 26th May he eventually made his way back to the gates and Lennon’s entourage didn’t know what to do with him.
Imagine was the 2nd solo album of Lennon’s and the recording process at Tittenhurst Park was being filmed for a possible future project.
It was looking like the police would’ve arrested Claudio for a second time. Dan had an idea to appease both sides. Claudio was desperate to meet Lennon, and John, believing he was a shell-shocked war veteran wanted to meet a victim of the Vietnam conflict. But John was still wary.
Dan explains "I said to John and Yoko, he says he wants to look in your eyes…why don’t we let him look in your eyes?" There were obvious concerns about the safety of one of the most famous couples in the world which Dan addressed "I told them we’ve got a lot of people here and I’ll stand between you case he has a knife or a gun, we won’t let him hurt you".
John and Yoko thought about the proposal for a while and said "Yes, and we could film it". Dan defends the decision to film the encounter "It wasn’t exploitative on their part because they were filming their life. So we got a film crew there and we had some people walk him up from the gate and you can see what happened in the film".
John, Yoko and Dan can be seen on the driveway, Lennon and Yoko in the doorway of Tittenhurst Park and Dan standing between them and ‘Claudio’.
John and ‘Claudio’ talked for 10 minutes about the meanings behind John’s songs. Claudio was inquisitive about the messages the songs were sending out and how he intended them to be received. AT the meeting he made reference to Dig A Pony, a John song and ‘Carry That Weight’ one of Paul’s compositions.
Curt told a friend years later that at the time he met Lennon he believed he was Jesus Christ.
‘Another Beatles song he believed was talking to him was George’s Here Comes The Sun, he told me he thought that the message was “Here comes the son [of God]”, and that was him.’
Dan Richter saw the meeting as a display of Lennon’s compassion: "John had great empathy, which is, if you think about it, can be very painful."
"The thing I remember about Curt is that he wasn’t a ‘follower’, there was no way he’d be joining a cult. He was confident, independent and no matter what he was doing like joining a garage band or taking drugs he always had the intelligence about him that made me feel he was in control.
When I saw the video of the meeting with Lennon years later I thought he was in a different place, I didn’t recognise him. It just wasn’t him"
"I liked the fact that Lennon gave Curt something to eat and I can understand his apprehension about meeting some random stranger, especially knowing what happened to Lennon later.
Yoko said that John knew Curt was a good soul:
‘He was no dummy, he was a spiritual person. Claudio was communicating to John on a high level. It’s no bad thing, it’s a good thing actually.
We knew he was a spirit and that’s why we invited him in to have lunch with us. The food did it though. It calmed him down. I don’t think we heard from him again.’
Diana Robertson, John & Yoko’s secretary remembers Curt had a special aura:
‘Claudio would just appear out of a hedge sometimes. He looked rough but incredibly beautiful. There was something about him that was amazing. I think he was harmless really, but to begin with people didn’t want to have anything to do with him and didn’t want him around. It was so lovely when John let him in and gave him a cup of tea.’
Peter Bendry, John & Yoko’s general assistant remembers John’s appearance as they were trying to move Curt along one day:
'Dan and I would go around the grounds every morning to see if anyone was camping out and very often there were people there. And as we were escorting this guy out of the park through the main gate, John comes out of the front door and says ‘Hey bring him in. I want to know what’s going on in his head.’
‘I had this guy called Claudio who had been sending telegrams for 9 months to England saying ‘I’m coming, I’m coming and I’ll only have to look in your eyes and I’ll know.
So last week he turned up at my house and he looked in my eyes and he didn’t get any answer. He thought the whole thing was about him and I said ‘No, it’s about me, it mike strike a corresponding chord in your experience because we all have similar experiences but it’s basically about me and if it’s not about me it’s about Yoko. I said ‘You’d better get on and live your own life, you’re wasting your time trying to live mine.’
I thought it was big-hearted of John to let a stranger in and talk to him. I’d seen him in weird states, but that Curt in the video was the most far out I’d ever seen him. It looks like he’s coming down from something and/or not eating and he’d been traveling, but I’d never seen him look so forlorn."
Curt's older brother Ernie said that the meeting left Curt with a bitter taste in his mouth...
"When Curt returned home, in California, he was upset with John. He felt like John had deceived him. Curt was convinced the Beatles were calling him to England, through their music. Curt was using drugs, and the drugs were causing him to think strangely.
But he did say John treated him well, and even let him play in his music room.”
Curt left Tittenhurst Park around 6pm, the same day he arrived. Around 7pm Lennon's started to arrive for the evening recording session. Former Beatle George turned up at around 7:30pm, driving the half an hour drive from his estate at Friar Park to John’s mansion. George would be providing slide guitar to the track How Do You Sleep that night and probably tried to convince John to play at his upcoming charity concert for Bangladesh in New York in August 1971. Lennon wouldn’t do the concert because he feared it would become a Beatles reunion. A day after Curt was there, Lennon recorded Imagine at Tittenhurst Park.
As Curt departed one Beatles’s residence he had his sights fixed on another….535 miles north.
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