Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The U.S. vs. John Lennon

Written at the time the film hit theaters.

Yes, We All Shine On

First off, it's a
VH-1 documentary, and you know what those look and feel like. Heavy on the art direction, light on the content, The U.S. vs. John Lennon single-mindedly paints the impression that John Winston Lennon was considered a threat to the Nixon Administration, and thus, singled out for investigation and action by federal agencies to toss him out of the country. All true to a certain extent. But what the documentary, in its rush to lionize both Lennon as a martyr and rock n' roll as a powerful political force ("Corporate rock n' roll," mind you), fails to point out is that was a far-too-commonplace tactic for that government, whether under the aegis of J. Edgar Hoover, or by the group that was organized by the White House after Hoover decided he didn't want any part of Nixon's dirty work or "The Plumbers" (they of "Watergate" fame). First off, the filmmakers have the disingenuousness to say that John Lennon was unique in that he used his celebrity to advance a political cause.

No! Really? Bet that never happened before! Gosh! I wonder what all those HUAC meetings were for in the 50's?

Nor was Lennon unique being targeted by the Nixon administration. During the Watergate Hearings, it was revealed that Nixon had an actual "Enemies List"--involving such folks as Daniel Schorr and Paul Newman. The only surprising thing about its existence was that the clowns actually wrote the names down and kept copies of it (for the memoirs, no doubt).

Another point of emphasis is Lennon's participation in a benefit rally that saw its benefactor released from jail three days later. The documentary would have us believe it was "The BIG NAME of LENNON" that got the wheels of justice rolling, when it might actually be that
John Sinclair was released by a sympathetic judge who came to the same conclusion the rallyers did: that the man shouldn't have been sentenced to ten years in prison for selling two joints to undercover cops; that the charges were trumped up, and having been so trumped were thus dismissed.

Now Lennon is the Beatle that I have the most admiration for (then George, then Richard Starkey, then Pete Best, then Jimmy Nicol, Murray the K, then Sir Paul, the git), and its always fun to see old footage of him, sporting and sparking. What Lennon did do that was unique was to take Yoko Ono's challenging, simple ideas and exploit them as marketing slogans, whether with songs, on billboards, or the various stunts the two pranksters would use to lure in the press. Lennon didn't give a shit if he was thought a fool as long as the message got out—when you were a Beatle you developed a hard carapace. The film is at its best showing the two manipulating the "five steps behind" fifth estate, and clearly enjoying themselves, being very much in love, and showing how the government actions against them (surveillance and threatened deportation) weighed heavily on them.

But its not the whole story. Nothing is made of Lennon's drug abuse (what, they couldn't get rights to use footage from
Let It Be?) or about what has become known as "John Lennon's Lost Weekend." The filmmakers use "Instant Karma" as the End Credits song implying (I guess) that everybody doing dirty deeds got their "comeuppance." Ironically, one of the lyrics from that song is "And We All Shine On...(like the moon and the stars and the sun)." Taking another interpretation of the word "shining," one can say that applies to the film-makers as well, since they "shine on" any embarrassing facts that might contradict their simplistic view of a complicated artist.

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