Nineteen-seventy-one was the year John Lennon left London and pop stardom for a life in New York City as a solo artist, record producer and activist looking to help end the war in Vietnam. He settled in Greenwich Village and quickly came to be seen by the leaders of the faltering anti-war movement as someone who was capable of reinvigorating it. The government was acutely aware of Lennon’s power as well, seeing him as a viable threat to Nixon’s reelection hopes, initiating extradition proceedings against him.
Lennon’s second solo album, Imagine, appeared in 1971, followed the following year by Sometime in New York City. Meanwhile, John and Yoko are searching for her daughter, a primary reason they came to America in the first place. And John is struggling to embrace feminism.
The Walrus and the Elephants tells a double-barreled story of music and politics, how the personal is political and the political is personal, of upheavals in one life amid the larger cultural upheavals of an era.
|Publisher:||Seven Stories Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
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From the Hardcover edition.
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Chapter One: THE ADVENT of THE HIPPIE MESSIAH
“We came here . . . not only to help John and to spotlight what’s going on . . . but also to show and to say to all of you that apathy isn’t it, and that we can do something.” —John Lennon, (Ann Arbor, MI, December 1971)
IN DECEMBER 1971 John Lennon stood onstage to sing and speak on behalf of John Sinclair, a radical leader who was serving a ten-year prison sentence for possession of two joints of marijuana. Sinclair had been incarcerated for more than two years when Lennon pleaded his case. The decade of the sixties was over. A new decade was beginning.
Two days after Lennon sang, “Let him be, set him free,” a state circuit court reversed a previous decision and Sinclair walked out of prison.
With the nation reeling after years of political turmoil, America needed a new kind of leader. The recently turned ex-Beatle was one of the most famous and influential people on the planet. If he could get a man out of prison, what else might he do?
A government eager to silence enemies asked the same question. They thought Lennon might use his considerable clout to, in their words, “sway” the upcoming presidential election. It would be better for some people if he just went back to England, and the Nixon administration tried to make that happen through methods legal and otherwise.
“So flower power didn’t work,” Lennon said from the stage between songs that night. “So what? We start again.”
JOHN LENNON FELT like a newcomer to New York in the summer of 1971. He’d been to the city before, of course, but those were whirlwind Beatles visits, frantic tours where Manhattan was seen from limousines and hotel rooms. Lennon sought a lower-profile life, ironically in the very place where, seven years earlier, he had launched the “British invasion” of English rock and everything that followed. Back then all it took was an electric guitar, a smart-ass grin, and “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
But this time there were no teenage screams to drown out the music, no mobs of girls desperate for a glimpse at a Beatle. It wasn’t the sixties anymore, a decade of war and assassinations, flower power and protests. Lennon was no longer one of the “Fab Four,” a point he made often.
“Tried to shake our image just a cycling through the Village,” Lennon wrote in “New York City,” among a fresh batch of songs inspired by his new home. He and wife Yoko Ono had stayed first in Midtown’s St. Regis hotel before settling that fall at 105 Bank Street on the west side of Greenwich Village, a space formerly occupied by drummer Joe Butler of the Lovin’ Spoonful. The downtown neighborhood suited Lennon’s frame of mind: a gritty yet colorful free-for-all of music, radical politics, art, and dope smoked openly on the streets; an atmosphere worthy of the finest psychedelic “Sgt. Pepper” vibes.
The apartment was modest by New York standards, barely two rooms more functional than spacious. It was worlds apart from Tittenhurst, the English estate Lennon left behind, a home that made an ironic setting in the eyes of more than a few critics of the Imagine promotional film (“imagine no possessions”). Lennon was apparently embarrassed by his wealth, among other by-products of Beatlemania. He told authors Peter McCabe and Robert Schonfield, who that summer had been researching a book on the Beatles’ breakup, Apple to the Core, “I can’t really go on the road and take a lot more money. What am I going to do with it? I’ve got all the fucking bread I need.”
From the Hardcover edition.
Table of Contents1. The Advent of the Hippie Messiah
2. John and the Elephants
3. "Doped with Religion and Sex and TV"
4. "A Thourough Nuisance"
5. Word Play
6. "We'll Get it Right Next Time"
7. "You Can't Keep a Good Band Down"
A Post Trip Post Script: "We All Shine On..."
Author's Note: Sources and Methodology
From the Hardcover edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A professional colleague’s son once summarized “Frankenstein” as “Scientist creates a monster, except that the true monster of the story is the scientist himself”. This statement, with a little paraphrase, is the underlying message of James A. Mitchell’s “The Walrus & the Elephants: John Lennon’s Years of Revolution”. The government – clarify that to be “the Nixon Administration” – was very concerned about former Beatle John Lennon’s attempts at activism, as well as his potential influence among the 18-20 year olds who had just won the right to vote. He, along with so many others, made his way to Nixon’s infamous Enemies list. As such, the government spent a lot of time, money, and effort tracking his movements and building a case for his deportation – often sloppily, and in the end, ineffectually. The main story, however, is about John Lennon, the man, and his days after the break-up of the Beatles. It talks about his desire to pursue music for music’s sake – as he no longer needed to do it purely for the money. It talks about his wanting to make a difference in society, to help right wrongs and to bring awareness to causes. And, it talks about his friends, both real and hangers-on, transient and permanent, that entered his life in the 70s. The book provides an entertaining and an enlightening read, and I recommend it to all, with possible exception of fans of Richard Nixon or J. Edgar Hoover. RATING: 4 stars DISCLOSURE: I received this book at no cost as part of the Goodreads FirstRead program. There was no charge, but a fair and unbiased review is always an implied request as a part of that ongoing giveaway.