It must be difficult to be a celebrity who was born on October 9 in that he's never going to get any real attention because it's also John Lennon's birthday. It's sort of like being a celebrity on a plane which is going down and knowing that you won't be the lead story on the news because someone even more famous is on the plane.
And [two] years [ago] there [was] an especially large outpouring of attention for John Lennon's birthday because today he would have been 70. For the past three days, every self-respecting television network and radio station has done some sort of tribute to the music legend.
Lennon's life story is so well known, there's no need to relate it here. But can you imagine in just a few more years someone will actually have to have it explained to him who Lennon and The Beatles were? That will surely spell the end of civilization as we know it. Or maybe, on second thought, that day is not that far off. According to Sharon Angle and some of the other crazy Tea Baggers, the Muslims are taking over America, and when that happens, they'll surely wipe out all traces of Western Culture. Right?
Anyway, we digress. We've read so many books and articles over the years about Lennon and The Beatles that we often feel as though there's nothing new we can learn about them. Lennon was a ragtag working class kid who idolized Elvis and Little Richard and wanted to be like them so badly that he started his own band. That band eventually became The Beatles and became the most popular band the world as ever seen. The Beatles broke up, Lennon launched a very successful solo career, and along the way, he left his first wife, Cynthia, for Yoko Ono. Lennon and Ono lived in New York City for several years until one day in December 1980, a crazed fan shot Lennon to death outside his apartment building, The Dakota, beside Central Park.
Everyone knows that basic story, but we heard something yesterday on NPR that we'd never heard before. A few years ago, history professor Jon Wiener spent fourteen years trying to get access to John Lennon's FBI file. He was repeatedly rebuffed, told that the information in the file would threaten national security. Where have we hard that one before? Finally, Wiener sued, his case going all the way to Supreme Court before the FBI gave in. Wiener went on to write a book called "Gimme Some Truth", and the book contains some really priceless golden nuggets. Lennon had met some of the more prominent anti-Vietnam war activists shortly after moving to New York, (Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, Abby Hoffman, etc.), and he wanted to join the movement. President Nixon was running for re-election at this same time, in 1971, and his notoriously paranoid administration was made even more paranoid by the threat of someone as popular as Lennon becoming one of the anti-war voices. His hit, "Give Peace a Chance", had already chilled the spines of many a Republican war monger. Lennon finally backed down after Nixon threatened to have Lennon, a British citizen, deported.
Some of the funnniest parts of Wiener's book are the stories of prominent Republicans, like Strom Thurmond, sending memos to Nixon suggesting that Lennon be deported. The irony is hilarious that someone like Strom Thurmond, a former member of the KKK, considered John Lennon to be "subversive" and a threat to the United States. Some things, like the extent to which the Republican Party is completely out of touch with the reality of American society, never change.
Another great story we just heard is that when Lorne Michaels was making his famous pleas on "Saturday Night Live" in the 1970's for The Beatles to reunite on the show, which was really just a comedy bit, Lennon and McCartney were actually watching those shows. And they actually discussed taking Michaels up on his offer. Can you imagine if they had? Wow.
Happy Birthday, John Lennon. We most definitely miss you.
(Courtesy of East Village Afternoon:EvAfternoon.blogspot.com)
Today is also my Schola friend Sam Smith's birthday.
Best wishes to you, Sam, on YOUR day as well.