Sometimes I see October 9 creeping up on the calendar and have not much to say past “Happy birthday, John.” This year, though, as a result of the 09/09/09 VH1 Classic extravaganza, there were a couple Lennon-related items worthy of noting, neither of which I had ever seen before.
One was a live concert in New York City in 1972, a benefit for the mentally handicapped (the preferred term in the day). It was odd, though. It all SOUNDED particularly familiar, such as him referring to his old group as the Rolling Stones. That’s because I own the album that was released posthumously in 1986; I have it on vinyl, perhaps one of the last LPs I ever bought. A photo of Lennon given to me by my friend Rocco was almost certainly from the same set of concerts. (Yes, the same Rocco who gets a mention in Love & Rockets 40.)
VH1 bleeped a couple words in the concert, one of them a pronoun. One was in the title of Woman Is the N***** of the World, which was excised several times. The other word was from Well Well Well. In the line, “She looked so beautiful, I could eat her,” the “her” was clipped. The interesting thing about the technology is that it didn’t affect the backing track, only the vocal track.
Something that I DIDN’T know until recently is that there were two concerts. And Elephant’s Memory, John and Yoko’s backing band, was reportedly really ticked off with Yoko Ono, believing she should have released the music from the tighter second concert rather than the first. A few of those second show performances appear on the box set Lennon Anthology. John messes up the lyrics to Come Together in both.
Here’s a performance of Instant Karma, followed by Mother.
The other item I saw was the 2006 feature film, the U.S. vs. John Lennon, which chronicled the development of John Lennon’s evolution from moptop to the famous/infamous “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus” comment to John & Yoko on the cover of Two Virgins. But ultimately, he was recognized as a political creature – black activist Angela Davis, e.g., took notice of the Beatles song Revolution. Many may have thought John and Yoko’s bagism and bed-ins were silly; John didn’t seem to care. Yet “Give Peace a Chance”, recorded at the Montreal bed-in, became as much the antiwar anthem as “We Shall Overcome” was the anthem for the civil rights movement.
Post-Beatles, John and Yoko’s activism became more pointed, hanging out with Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale (who appears in the film). When John was seemingly successful in freeing activist John Sinclair, the Nixon White House became concerned about the 1972 election, especially given the passage of the 26th Amendment allowing 18-year-olds the right to vote for the first time nationally.
What to do? Based on a suggestion by Senator Strom Thurmond, the Nixon White House decided to try to deport John Lennon. The basis was a marijuana conviction that lots of pop stars in England had been subjected to, all performed by one overzealous officer.
The twists and turns of that four-year journey are fascinating, especially as told by among others, Walter Cronkite, Mario Cuomo, John Dean, Ron Kovic, George McGovern, Gore Vidal, and Geraldo Rivera, who had broken the story of the abuses in the mental health system, and was MC for the One to One concerts. Most interesting, though, was Watergate convict G. Gordon Liddy, who freely confirmed that the Nixon White House WAS out to get John.
October 9, 1975 was not only John’s 35th birthday, it was the date of Sean Lennon’s birth AND the day their immigration lawyer Leon Wildes informs John that he’d won the case. In some ways, I think the movie should have ended there. Instead, we get happy scenes of John, Yoko and Sean for a few minutes, followed by four gunshots. It seemed tacked on, though Yoko’s only complaint was that the bullets should have been louder.
Still I learned a LOT in this film that I did not know. Recommended. Here’s the trailer.