NEW YORK • As they do every Dec 8, admirers of John Lennon assembled at the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park to sing familiar Beatles songs and imagine a world that lives as one.
The gathering on Tuesday, the 35th anniversary of his killing, had the feeling of a miniature peace festival - with fans gathered in a circle around a stone inlay of the word "Imagine" as greying men strummed guitars and shook a tambourine.
Online, however, the commemoration of the musician's death was absorbed into one of the political fights of the moment, as many on social media drew a link to modern- day gun violence in the United States.
Yoko Ono, Lennon's widow, posted an image to her 4.75 million followers on Twitter of the bloodied glasses that her husband was wearing on the day he was fatally shot by Mark David Chapman.
It is an image that she has deployed before, on anti-gun billboards and an album cover. This time, it updated the tally of gun deaths to add tens of thousands.
By Tuesday evening, her post had been retweeted more than 6,000 times, mostly eliciting approval, but also notes of dissent.
Kenneth Womack, a dean at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, and an author of several books on the Beatles, said the energy on social media this year around the anniversary of Lennon's death was striking.
"It is certainly happening at a time when people are galvanised around this debate," he said.
Womack added that Lennon would himself have been "suitably outraged and part of the debate".
"I have almost no doubt in my mind about that," he said.
He said the sense that the world had been robbed of an important voice of conscience had only increased in the decades since Lennon's death. "That's the sad fate of it all," he added.
In front of the south entrance of the Dakota apartment building in Manhattan where Lennon was killed, British tourist Lyndon Jones took photographs and paused to reflect on how the peacenik musician would have felt to see the turbulence in the world today.
"Disappointed," he concluded. "We could use a voice like his, really."
NEW YORK TIMES