Lennon. Musician or Historical Figure?

Love him or loathe him; you can’t deny that statisticaly John Lennon has been at the pinnicale of music and by matter of opinion there will never be a musician with such world-wide appeal or cultural impact ever again. Though the stats show that Paul McCartney is technically the most successful musician of all time and though McCartney can probably write a better Rock-pop tune or Ballad; Lennon for me has more of an ‘edge’ to him. This is due to the fact he was a much more controversial figure within The Beatles but even more so after that. Upon his murder the whole world stopped and thousands of people gathered outside his apartment. I wondered from the footage: how many people are mourning John Lennon the musician? Or the activist? Or the anarchist? Could he be distinguished between those roles and with it has he challenged enough or caused enough of an impact to be viewed as an historical figure as well as or beyond Lennon the “Cultural Icon” and does this steal away from his other roles as a campaigner or political activist? Or are these non-events in the life of a ‘rock-star’?

Bigger Than Jesus (1966) – This was one of the first times Lennon was challenged for a controversial comment about the Beatles being ‘More popular than Jesus’. It caused outrage in America’s deep south with Southern DJ Tommy Charles banning Beatles music. Several radio stations in Alabama and Texas promoted public burnings of Beatles albums and merchandise and The Ku Klux Klan nailed albums and images of Lennon to wooden crosses and threatened to cause distruption to the Beatles upcoming tour in the U.S. The Vatican even denounced Lennon. However the comment was not the real issue for The KKK. Lennon had made the comment in an interview with his friend Maureen Cleave in the London Evening Standard in March. In it Lennon made reference that The Beatles meant more to teenagers than Christianity did in the U.K which can’t be denied. There was no reaction at all in the U.K but when re-released in the U.S Datebook magazine in August the out-rage occured with an apparent different interpretation of his comments. It’s clear from the situation at that time and from The KKK Imperial Wizard: Robert Shelton’s comments that it was more of an oppurtunity to attack The Beatles for refusing to play in segregated audiences or their general support for civil rights. Lennon wasn’t trying to make a point in his comments as he back-tracked and apologised which he wouldnt do in the future. This was just a stunt and promotion for The Ku Klux Klan.

http://youtu.be/rN3wvY4a1DU / http://youtu.be/kZ6NL3iNNMs

John Lennon and Peace (1968-1970) – Lennon had grew more vocal about peace in this period with songs such as Revolution as he grew more angry about President L.B.Johnson’s decision to increase U.S presence in Vietnam but was also critical of Mao in China. The ‘Bed-in’ for peace was Lennon’s and Ono’s idea to utilise the publicity they would get to promote peace. The ‘Bed-ins’ took place in Amsterdam and Montreal with the latter venue being where he performed ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and where he tried to prevent anymore deaths in the Berkely Anti-war Riots by talking to protesters by phone and pleading with them to not react to police violence. Give Peace a Chance was sung by over 500,000 anti-war protesters marching in Washington to call for an end to the war in Vietnam. Furthermore Lennon had famously handed back his MBE to The Queen in protest of Britians support of the conflict. He claimed that others who got the honour were all war-veterans at that time apart from The Beatles and that it was hypocritical of him to have it. Many Royalists were upset by the gesture.

http://youtu.be/wBP3nq0OtZE / http://youtu.be/Zda7abQCmPs / http://youtu.be/nF9BOqGbjPc

John Lennon and Civil Rights – The Beatles had already made their views on Civil Rights very clear during their time in America but Lennon took it a step further at the close of The 60’s with his support for The Black Panther Party and their ten-point programme. The points that called for an end to police brutality and murder of black people and the points called for freedom for black people to determine their own destiny will have particularly appealed to Lennon at this time. This is mainly due to the police brutality many of his fellow peace protestors suffered at the time. He also supported it’s allied group: The White Panthers. Lennon held a benefit concert for The Panthers and for the release of The White Panther leader John Sinclair form prison. Within days of him performing his song ‘John Sinclair’; the Michigan Supreme Court ordered his release. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of The Black Liberation Army and their leader Michael X. Lennon and Yoko cut off all their hair in a symbol of support of Michael X and Lennon had paid his bail several times when he had been arrested as a result of his protest actions. John labelled The U.S and several European nations as the perpertrators of the genocide of Native Americans in North and South America and often talked of how The U.S government were exploiting them. Lennon would also wade into the debate of womens rights with his 1972 single ‘Woman is the nigger of the world’ This sparked confusion and controversy with the context of the offensive word with the song being banned by a large amount of radio stations. In many interviews as a result; Lennon clarified that he used the word to describe an “opressed person” which in this song was women and that this particular song was seperate to the black civil rights issue. In spite of the media frenzy the National Organisation for Women awarded John and Yoko with a ‘Positive image of women’ citation for the “strong pro-femminist statement” in the song.

http://youtu.be/sRq1mp4VArA / http://youtu.be/fZJLInCgem8 / http://youtu.be/iYjEz441I4M

John Lennon and Ireland

This was one of Lennon’s interests that for some reason is often overlooked. Perhaps it was because it had the potential to take Lennon up a gear and throw him into the deep-end and into a warzone but it never came to fruition. The events of Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972 had inspired Lennon’s song ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’ Lennon who is of Irish descent was enraged by the killings and agreed to meet with an IRA representative in New York. That man was Gerry O’Hare. Lennon’s songs ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’ and ‘Luck of the Irish’ had all it’s profits donated to the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) but the intention of his meeting with O’Hare was to organise donations to the IRA its self but also the organisation of two concerts. One in Dublin and another in Belfast. The latter gig was to be a show of defiance against the British Parachute regiments presence in Northern Ireland. He also wished to play a gig for Protestants in Belfast in what can only be seen as an attempt of granting some form of peace between the citizens of the divided city. What the reaction of the British military presence would have been had the concert went ahead is something that will only ever be speculative as Lennon made clear to O’Hare that his priority was in America with the civil rights, anti-Vietnam movements and his battle against Nixon’s desired deportation of Lennon in mind. He felt that he couldn’t leave the U.S while Nixon was still President and until he was granted the freedom to stay in America. If he had left Nixon would make sure he never got back in. Therefore his contributions to the NICRA and IRA were strictly financial but it was enough to unsettle the British govt. under Prime Minister Edward Heath who ensured that the FBI would expand their operations on Lennon to include files on his activity in relation to Ireland that would be fed back to MI5 in London.

http://youtu.be/MNwqV_HpMSE / http://youtu.be/cLZhNs7M1oE

John Lennon vs Nixon and the Establishment

This was a continued theme throughout Lennon’s activism. It tied in in with his critisism of the Vietnam war and the Cold War it’s self. He condemmed both sides and often tried to remind people that “the people are the government” and that they should take on-violent action to bring down goverments who “are insane with insane goals” This will have been in reference to the constant threat of nuclear anihilation or the threat of another world war. It was particularly his Vietnam objections that concerned Nixon who feared that Lennon was turning public support for the war to support against it and became paranoid about Lennon preventing his relection. This paranoia was unfounded as Lennon had just as little time for Democrats as he did Republicans but nevertheless Nixon made sure that the FBI had a daily track on him as there was a threat of Lennon ending his tour with a mass rally at the Republican National Convention. The FBI sureviellance of Lennon ran in conjunction with Nixon’s re-election campaign and once elected Nixon tried to ensure Lennon’s deportation back to the U.K. Lennon tried to push again for action against the U.S establishment for the events of the Attica Prison Riots in which 43 were killed. The initial protests from the prisoners were for better living conditions and political rights but the death of Black activist prisoner George Jackson at the hands of officers in a Californian jail had led to the riots at Attica. It was New York governer Nelson Rockefeller’s order to retake the prison that led to most of the deaths. This formed the basis of Lennon’s song. It was primarily about the waste of all those who had died in the riot but also the song had a wider message of rehabilitation of prisoners and the prevention of crime taking place at all if those comitting the crimes had a better and equal start in life. This was the basis of Lennon’s comments after performing the song on one of his many appearences on the David Frost Show. He had also backed trade union movements in the U.K. This was evident from the funding he provided to Jimmy Reid of the Communist Party of Great Britain in support of this Upper Clyde Shipbuilders strike in 1972. This had also left many to tag Lennon as part of the extreme left wing.

http://youtu.be/yTg4gtz_Xn4 / http://youtu.be/qFJTFALqyn4 / http://youtu.be/bLR2z4BE41o / http://youtu.be/vj3IYnpBln0

Lennon had effectively made breakthroughs with the Supreme Courts of Michigan upon granting John Sinclair’s release from prison and countering his own deportion from the U.S in New Yorks Supreme Court. Lennon too had made several monetry donations to the IRA, NICRA, the Communist Party of Great Britian and payed the bail for Black Panther leader Michael X on several occassions. His added contribution came in the form of the marches and protests he was involved in for various causes; mainly against the Vietnam war but also for peace in general. Lennon had no issue in displaying his support and backing for these various causes across all forms of the mass-media. Lennon was a useful tool and many activists or group leaders wouldn’t be granted access to the media like Lennon. He knew this and exploited it well. He’d even use the mass-media to promote his own causes such as the ‘WAR IS OVER’ campaign. But his main impact if he is to viewed as an historical figure would be in his music. Beyond everything else this is what Lennon did best and there are lists of songs he used to promote various causes. From this i’d say he is both a Cultural Icon and Historical Figure. Though he sometimes contradicted himself and never fufilled the promise he possessed to make an impact, he did change things. The best way he made an impact was through his music but it was more than that to Lennon. No one else at that time had a true regard for what was happening in the world. Everyone else were just pretenders. Can you imagine Jagger parting with his money for a cause? Or risking it all to back something? The like of Lennon will not come around in my lifetime. Today no artist can ever touch the popularity and more importantly the respect Lennon had and today people care less about others and only donate a few quid every year to satisfy their guilt. People moan about the governments of the world but people don’t do anything about it. Those who do find themselves in a worse situation than before and the world is becoming more selfish and materialistic than ever before. Even music itself is the edge of an abyss from which it will never recover but Lennon will always be there; people just need to remind themselves about what he did for Culture but what he did for the world.


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