Why would John Lennon decide to provide his esteemed pulpit to the anti-war movement? Did he think, as he said in some interviews, that he needed to escape his past to be taken seriously? Was it an ingredient that he felt was necessary for spiritual growth as a man, or was he so opposed to the Vietnam War that he was willing to forego a successful solo career in order to put some influence on the Nixon administration to end that war?
In many ways, John Lennon’s foray into the anti-war movement was career suicide. John Lennon didn’t need the movement, and he didn’t need more fame. He could’ve spent the rest of his life in his comfortable abode, and he would’ve been one of the most famous people who ever lived.
At the point in time where the movie The US versus John Lennon begins documenting Lennon’s life, he was a couple years removed from The Beatles. By most accounts, Lennon dissolved the entity. If he didn’t dissolve the entity, he at least initiated the dissolution with comments that it was over, and the rest of the band put the finishing touches on its dissolution. I’ve quit jobs before. We all have. In the first few weeks of our emotional outburst, we’re all full of piss and vigor. We’ve had enough of whatever it was that led us to our decision. We all can’t wait to branch out in life and begin the new life we dreamed up when we decided to call it quits. After that stage begins to dissolve and the reality of what we’ve done begins to set in, the little things begin to eat at us. The routine we’ve known for so long is no longer. The people we’ve known for so long, and interacted with on a daily basis, accidentally fall into the background of our lives. We’re left with something of an empty hole in our lives, and we need to find something to fill that hole. The jobs I’ve left were meaningless jobs that could be easily replaced on many planes, but I’ve never left the biggest band in the world. I’ve never been a part of something that I found fulfilling on a creative basis. I can’t imagine the empty hole left in Lennon’s soul when he left The Beatles. I can’t imagine that Yoko did much to fill that immense hole. I am not making a comment on her abilities as a wife, or soul mate, I’m just thinking that when John had Yoko and The Beatles, there had to be a feeling that he had it all. I believe that this hole was part of the reason Lennon entered the anti-war movement and allowed others to use him in the manner he was.
As with many momentous moves of the nature, I don’t believe Lennon’s move can be described with one, simple explanation. I believe that the reason was multifaceted. In my opinion, based upon the facts released in this movie and a Rolling Stone article, a more interesting reason why John was motivated to put his career on the line to be used as a spokesman for the anti-war movement is Paul McCartney.
In a September 03, 2009 Rolling Stone article it was reported that in a meeting with The Beatles, Lennon vented “years worth of self-doubt and discontent and placed it all at McCartney’s feet. Paul, he felt, had always eclipsed him. Paul had simply written too damn much, in John’s estimation. By the time they got to the Magical Mystery Tour sessions, Lennon said, ‘You’d already have five or six songs, so I’d think, (expletive) it, I can’t keep up with that.”
“It was a remarkable admission,” the Rolling Stone piece furthers. “John Lennon—who until Abbey Road and Let it Be had written most of The Beatles masterpieces and defined their greatest depths—could no longer bear to divide up this brilliance with Paul McCartney. The Beatles could withstand whatever tensions Yoko Ono brought them. They might have endured Allen Klein. But the Beatles could not survive John Lennon. His anxiety was too vast.”
So, The Beatles are done, and John with his raging insecurities knew that Paul—when left to his own devices—would absolutely annihilate him in material. As evidence of this, Paul has gone on to create a catalogue so vast that he is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for most songs written. John couldn’t keep up with Paul’s well documented work ethic, so what does a paranoid Beatle do to keep up with a man sure to become an icon in the post-Beatle years? He goes in the opposite direction.
As opposed to most liberals who openly question motives, I readily admit that I could be wrong in this assessment. I am questioning the motives of a man who has been dead nearly thirty years after all, but I think John Lennon entered the anti-war movement to give himself a legacy that he believed would compete with what was going to be McCartney’s. I know what the naysayers are thinking, Lennon would’ve had a legacy regardless of whether he wrote another song or not. True, but I think he wanted a legacy that could satisfy his anxiety ridden ego.
I think there was a part of John Lennon that thought that The Beatles legacy was a little silly, commercial, and a part of the past. I say the latter, because as any true artist knows it’s what you do today that matters to you and not what you did yesterday. In other words, if you want to stay legitimate you will thrash what you’ve done in the past. The past does become silly. What you considered epic in your twenties is now silly compared to what you’re doing now in your forties. I think Lennon was only thirty-five when he was slain by Chapman, but his artistic highs were already far greater than those of us who have lived with our arts, so I think his need to defeat his past achieved greater heights than most of us who have made it to forty will ever know.
One thing we also can’t ignore in our attempts to understand Lennon is the timing of the breakup of The Beatles. In the aftermath of The Beatles, the top story was the Vietnam War. If a John Lennon wanted to achieve front page stature, the best thing to talk about would have been the Vietnam War.
I also think that Lennon fit, like a puzzle piece, into the anti-war movement. The leaders of this movement, at that time, were Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. These two had, at that time, achieved radical status. By most of the accounts I’ve heard, most people were taking a talking horse from the show Mr. Ed more seriously than they were the words of Rubin or Hoffman. The two of them needed to mainstream their vehicle in a manner that landed them on the national stage again. For them, The Beatles split could not have occurred at a more opportune time. I doubt very much that Lennon would’ve acquiesced to their wishes if he was still in The Beatles, or if he didn’t fear Paul’s ascension to superstardom.
Having said all that, I think Lennon believed in the anti-war movement. I think he wanted to spread the word of peace throughout the nation. In joining with Hoffman and Rubin, however, I think he disregarded Kierkegaard’s dictum: “When we feel most saintly, we could be working for the devil.” In other words, when Lennon placed himself in solidarity with these two radicals the matter may have begun to go down a road that Lennon hadn’t planned on. As evidence of this, there was supposed to be an anti-war benefit to occur on the same day as Richard Nixon’s GOP nomination. Hoffman and Rubin put Lennon an Ono at the top of that bill. Lennon went on a talk show to announce that he was not going to be a part of that show, “no matter what the bill said,” he said. The movie states that the motivation of this announcement was that he feared the Nixon administration and the FBI. While this may be the case, it could also be the case that Lennon thought that Hoffman and Rubin were taking him to radical extremes that he had not planned on. I think Lennon knew that some collateral damage of his career would occur as a result of his actions, but I don’t think he wanted to invite the short-term radicalism for the long-term suicide of his career. In other words, he wanted the stature, but not the consequences of it. I think that he thought that the benefit concert would result in grave consequences.
Another scene in the movie gives us a peek into Lennon’s motivations. This scene involves Lennon being interviewed by a New York Times reporter named Gloria Emerson. Emerson said that she thought Lennon appeared “ridiculous” in his attempts to be taken seriously as an Anti-War protestor.
Lennon said: “Well, I’m sorry you liked the mop tops dear, but I’ve grown up.”
“Have you?” Emerson asked, “to what?”
“Twenty-nine,” Lennon replied.
Lennon went on to ask her what song the protestors were singing at the moratorium. “They were singing a song I wrote (Give Peace a Chance)! And when I get there,” he furthered, “I’ll sing it with them.”
The reply of his age may be revealing if you take into account Churchill’s quote: “If you’re not a rebel by 20, you’ve got no heart. If you haven’t turned establishment by 30, you’ve got no brains.” Lennon was on the cusp of turning establishment if you believe Churchill’s quote holds water. If not, then you must admit that your head and heart reach a certain crux at twenty-nine, but your heart still wins that battle, until your head tells you that your heart is acting a little irrational. At 21, your head may not have much of a reply, but at 29 years of age your head is gaining ground.
I believe the key to this interview is the earnest nature of Lennon’s words. I do not hear a hardened radical in those words, but a man seeking stature. He wanted her to recognize what he was trying to do. He wanted the NY Times reporter to appreciate the legacy he was trying to create. He appeared wounded and frustrated by her questions. He also appeared wounded that she would not acknowledge the prominence of the protestors singing his song.
The movie, itself, shows that Lennon is still being used by radicals to promote the far left agenda. How many people would’ve rented this movie, The US vs John Lennon, had it been titled: “The 60’s Movement against the Vietnam War part 174”? Would anyone pay their hard earned money to hear what Chomsky, Cronkite or McGovern thought of the War, the Nixon administration, or the 60’s in general? I wouldn’t have. I wouldn’t have wasted a library rental on it.
I feel bad for Lennon that he was used in such a manner for the latter half of his life. I know he wasn’t an innocent pawn in the game, but I don’t think he knew what he was involving himself in to the extremes that he was taken.