The US vs. John Lennon: Paranoia Strikes Deep

I still remember the morning like it was yesterday. It happened to be thirty years ago. I was 17 and I came out into the living room and sat stunned staring at the television. The night before, December 8, 1980, John Lennon was gunned down in front of his Dakota residence in New York City at 10:50 p.m. As a child, I always wanted to be like John Lennon. The first albums I bought with my own money were the Beatles’ red and blue greatest hits records. My first pair of glasses were round, just like John. Everything I did was like John. I learned to play guitar, to play Beatles songs, specifically John’s. I wore my hair long, dressed like him. The only thing missing was an English accent.

John’s death stunned me at 17. After moving several times at that age, I had more musician friends than real ones. But at 17 you begin to find out more about your idols and role models than when you were a child. You begin to discover they aren’t perfect. I found it hard to like John’s solo work. Except for two albums (Imagine and Plastic Ono Band), I thought most of his records apart from the Beatles were not very good. But still, I looked up to him. Instant Karma is still one of my favorite songs of all time.

As I got older, I began to see John Lennon more historically, not musically. I began to look at how he fit within the context of his times. Was he a revolutionary? Was he another great figure who will be remembered in history books? This story will begin in 1966. John Lennon attended a gallery opening of a series of works by Yoko Ono. Many people believe Yoko changed John. I do not agree with that statement. The times changed John more than Yoko. John had always been conscious of events happening around the world before he met Yoko. He made comments of the political (We’re bigger than Jesus), he even made an anti-war movie with Richard Lester called “How I Won the War”. To say Yoko is responsible for changing John is ludicrous. John now did things with Yoko. A lot of Beatles fans did not like it.

Their marriage was farcical. It even became the basis for the song, The Ballad of John and Yoko.

Standing in the dock at Southampton,
Trying to get to Holland or France.
The man in the mac said, you’ve got to turn back.
You know they didn’t even give us a chance.
Christ you know it aint easy,
You know how hard it can be.
The way things are going
They’re going to crucify me.
Finally made the plane into Paris,
Honey mooning down by the Seine.
Peter Brown called to say,
You can make it O.K.,
You can get married in Gibraltar, near Spain.
Christ you know it aint easy,
You know how hard it can be.
The way things are going
They’re going to crucify me.
Drove from Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton,
Talking in our beds for a week.
The newspapers said, say what you doing in bed?
I said, were only trying to get us some peace.
Christ you know it aint easy,
You know how hard it can be.
The way things are going
They’re going to crucify me.

The resulting “Bed-In” was done to raise awareness about peace. Plastered across the window at the Amsterdam Hilton was a banner that said “Bed Peace”. However, these events were non-violent. Everything John did was non-violent. With the Beatles,John had penned some great anti-war songs including All You Need is Love and Revolution. No one in Britain ever saw John as a threat to the crown. They may not have liked him, but to think of him as a subversive, never. Lennon was well aware of his public persona and he used it to his advantage. Long before there was Brangelina, there were John and Yoko.

Rubin, Ono, Lennon, and Hoffman

Things changed when John and Yoko moved to the United States in the early 70s. The FBI began compiling a file on Lennon soon after his arrival. Lennon, meanwhile, began to associate with the counterculture movement more and more. Jerry Rubin and Abby Hoffman began a short friendship with John and Yoko. After a benefit for one John Sinclair in Michigan resulted in Sinclair’s release from prison, President Nixon began to take notice.

Thus, the case of The US vs. John Lennon began. Nixon, the king of paranoia, began to use Lennon’s associations with Rubin, Hoffman, and Sinclair. From 1971 to 1975, the FBI and the US Government tried to deport John Lennon. Nixon feared that Lennon’s subversiveness and drive for peace would cost Nixon the reelection in 1972. It did not stop Lennon from campaigning for peace or chastising Nixon. Lennon once declared that Nixon should “Declare Peace!” Lennon added it would help Nixon get reelected.

Many musicians and fellow artists came to the aid of John and Yoko during this time including Bob Dylan. The case got so bizarre that the FBI was worried about a parrot who said “Right On!” after every time someone said something. Using informant Julie Maynard, the FBI and CIA portrayed Lennon to be a revolutionary bent on overthrowing the US government, specifically, Richard Nixon. At one point, John and Yoko declared their own country, Nutopia, and sought political asylum in the US – they were joking, but no one saw it that way.

It was all for naught. While the two sides butted heads, and lawyers were involved in proceeding after proceeding, Nixon was reelected and resigned within two years. John Lennon, he was still here. When the court case finally reached a climax in 1975, the judge threw out the case and apologized for Nixon’s paranoia political behavior. Soon after, John got his green card and was in the US to stay. In 2006, an excellent documentary of the proceeding came to light. The US vs. John Lennon is a great documentary about the times of John Lennon in the early 1970s, but more importantly, the pervasiveness of the fear and paranoia of those in power. From the 1968 Democratic through the trial, America came off as a country on the verge of chaos.

In the end, John Lennon was a part of his times. I see him now more for his human frailties than his rock star Beatle status. He evolved into a man who wanted peace. He was not afraid to use his fame to raise awareness. For that, Nixon tried to deport him and failed. Sure, Lennon hung out with revolutionaries and drug addicts. But he never picked up a gun in anger. He never once tried to fight the war himself. All he did was to want a little peace and quiet. Like his idols before him, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, he wanted to bring about a revolution through peace and love.

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