Tributes to John Lennon on December 8, 2005

25 Years after His Assassination

by George Shriver

A statue of John Lennon was put up in Havana a few years ago. This symbolized recognition of his revolutionary spirit on an island where the spirit of revolution continues to live nearly half a century after winning power, a revolution that has not become hopelessly bureaucratized.

No such statue went up where the heirs and appointees of Stalin’s bureaucratic system still ruled. The Stalinist regimes had a negative attitude toward John Lennon and the Beatles. These rock musicians were regarded as “unreliable elements,” expressions of youth revolt against authority, etc. Even in Cuba for a while, when it depended on aid from the Soviet Union and Stalinist influence was stronger than now, the Beatles were sometimes frowned upon. But most of the rigid and backward Stalinist dogmas have been shaken off in Cuba, where such ideas and the social forces that promote them never established the powerful hold they imposed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

With the simplicity and power that reveal his greatness as an artist, John Lennon left us, in his enormously popular song “Imagine,” the vision of a just and peaceful society, of human beings “sharing all the world.”

This is essentially the vision of socialism. That’s why it’s especially fitting that the statue of John Lennon stands on Cuba’s revolutionary soil, where a concert in his honor is being held today. I imagine that some day similar tribute will be paid to Lennon in a socialist United States as part of a world without countries and without borders, a world that “will live as one.”

Like many others on this anniversary we reproduce here the lines of Lennon’s immortal song:


Imagine there’s no heaven,
It’s easy if you try,
No hell below us,
Above us only sky,
Imagine all the people       
living for today...

Imagine there’s no countries,
It isn’t hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
And no religion too,
Imagine all the people
living life in peace...

Imagine no possessions,
I wonder if you can,
No need for greed or hunger,
A brotherhood of man,
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one,
I hope some day you’ll join us,
And the world will live as one.


Among today’s many tributes we reproduce three below. The first is from Amy Goodman’s radio and television show “Democracy Now.” It’s worth reproducing in full because it reveals Lennon as an antiwar and social justice activist as well as a great artist, and exposes the U.S. government campaign against him.


John Lennon 1940–1980: History Professor Jon Wiener Discusses Lennon’s Politics, FBI Files, and Why Richard Nixon Sought to Deport Him


25 years ago today John Lennon died after being shot by a gunman named Mark Chapman. Millions mourned the death of perhaps the most famous Beatle. Today memorials are being held across the world.

On this anniversary, we pay tribute to Lennon’s life with historian Jon Wiener, author of the books Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files and Come Together: John Lennon in His Time.

We also hear Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, describe their Bed-In For Peace. We play excerpts of Lennon singing “Imagine” at the Apollo Theater in Harlem at a rally for the Attica prisoners and Lennon singing at the 1971 Free John Sinclair concert in Ann Arbor. In addition we air historic interviews with Pete Seeger discussing the significance of Lennon’s song “Give Peace A Chance” and Abbie Hoffman on Lennon, the political radical. [includes rush transcript]

The U.S. government saw Lennon as such a serious threat that President Nixon attempted to have him deported in 1972. In addition the FBI closely monitored his actions and amassed a file on Lennon of over 400 pages.

Today, on the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s death, we speak with historian Jon Wiener about Lennon’s politics and his FBI files.

Jon Wiener, history professor at the University of California Irvine and the author of the two books on John Lennon mentioned above.

[rush transcript follows]

AMY GOODMAN: 25 years ago today, Howard Cosell broke into Monday Night Football with an announcement that shocked the country.

HOWARD COSELL: Yes, we have to say, remember this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy, confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City, John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous, perhaps, of all of the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival.

AMY GOODMAN: John Lennon, dead at the age of 40. As soon as word of his murder was announced, hundreds of fans began gathering in Central Park near the Dakota apartment building where Lennon lived and was shot. A day after he died, his wife, Yoko Ono, said, “John loved and prayed for the human race. Please do the same for him.” Millions mourned his death around the world. As a leader of the Beatles, John Lennon helped to transform popular music, but to his fans, he was far more than just a musician.

While the highlights of Lennon’s career with the Beatles are well known, Lennon is less remembered for his political activism and dedication to peace. Lennon wrote some of the most famous songs of the anti-war movement: “Give Peace a Chance,” “Imagine,” and “Happy Christmas, War Is Over.” He sang at political protests against the Vietnam War, in support of the radical John Sinclair, and for the prisoners of Attica. He and Yoko made international headlines simply by lying in bed as part of their Bed-In for Peace.

The U.S. government saw Lennon as such a serious threat that President Nixon attempted to have him deported in 1972. In addition, the F.B.I. closely monitored his actions and amassed a file on Lennon of over 300 pages. Today, on the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s death, we speak with historian Jon Wiener about Lennon’s politics and his F.B.I. files. Jon Wiener is a history professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of two books on Lennon, Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files and Come Together: John Lennon and His Times. I talked to Jon Wiener and asked him for his thoughts on this 25th anniversary of Lennon’s death.

JON WIENER: Well, you know, there’s going to be a lot of media coverage about the lovable lad from Liverpool and about Beatle-mania, but I think it’s important to remember that Lennon put a lot of work into fighting the war in Vietnam. He was an activist in the peace movement, and he paid a very heavy price for that. In 1972, Richard Nixon tried to deport him because of his peace movement activity. I think that is a legacy that’s worth remembering today, more than Beatle-mania and more than “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

AMY GOODMAN: You wrote a book about the FBI files and John Lennon called Gimme Some Truth. Can you talk about why you started on this quest to get the full FBI  files on John Lennon and how much you have learned. What was happening to him when he left Britain and came to this country under the presidency of Richard Nixon?

JON WIENER: Well, Lennon arrived in the United States in 1970, 1971, moved to New York. He wanted to be part of what was going on. What was going on in New York was the antiwar movement, and he became friends with Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman and Bobby Seale and other activists, and he wanted to join in, basically, with the movement, which is pretty unusual for a superstar. Lots of superstars have causes, but he wanted to help end the war in Vietnam, and he tried various different strategies of doing that in different ways, at different times. That’s what got him in trouble with the Nixon administration.

I filed a Freedom of Information request a really long time ago, in 1981, just after he was killed, just to see if the FBI had any documents on him. I thought they must, since they tried to deport him in ‘72. At that time, they told us they had around 300 pages, but they weren’t going to release most of them, because of their national security status. I was lucky enough to get the help of the ACLU of Southern California in taking this case to court. We filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act in 1983.

In 1997, about 15 years later, virtually all of the issues were resolved by the Clinton administration. They released almost all of the pages we were seeking. They paid $204,000 of our legal expenses. But they still withheld ten pages, which they said were national security documents provided by a foreign government under a promise of confidentiality. We’re still trying to get those ten pages. And just recently, a court ordered the FBI to release them, and the FBI has now told us they are going to appeal that decision. So, ten pages to go, national security documents.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re saying, Professor Wiener, that John Lennon is still a threat to the national security of this country?

JON WIENER: Well, I’m not saying that, but the F.B.I. is telling us that they can’t release these ten pages, because they contain information provided by a foreign government under a promise of confidentiality. Now, we’re not even allowed to know the name of the foreign government. My guess is that it’s not Afghanistan.

And, in fact, there’s a guy in England named David Shayler, a former employee of MI5, the British organization that [is their equivalent of] the FBI. He says he saw a Lennon file at MI5. He described its contents. It had information about Lennon’s ties with the British New Left and the antiwar movement in London and the Irish movement. Shayler was prosecuted by the Brits under their Official Secrets Act and sentenced to six months in prison for revealing this information.

Our assumption is that’s the information that the government of the United States is withholding today. It’s provided by the foreign government of Britain. It concerns Lennon’s political activities in London in 1969 and 1970. We don’t see any reason why information about the political activities 35 years ago of a dead rock star need to remain classified today, but the F.B.I. is willing to go to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and try to convince a three-judge panel that this material can’t be released.

AMY GOODMAN: Jon Wiener, can you talk about what John Lennon hoped to do in this country, joining up with the antiwar movement, registering voters, and how he was thwarted, specifically how he was dealing with the Nixon administration?

JON WIENER: Yeah. Lennon tried to figure out ways that he could use his power as a celebrity to help end the war. And the idea that he developed, along with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and other people, was that he should headline a national concert tour in 1972 that would coincide with the presidential election campaign. In ‘72, Nixon was still president and preparing to run for reelection. The war in Vietnam had reached a peak. It was clear that this was going to be a big issue in ‘72.

The concert tour that Lennon was planning would have been quite a big deal, just because no Beatle had toured the United States since the lads waved farewell at Candlestick Park in 1966, but what Lennon had in mind was something different. He wanted to combine rock music with radical politics and use the tour to urge young people to register to vote. 1972 was the first year that 18-year-olds were given the right to vote, so that was going to be an important project—and a vote against the war, that meant voting against Nixon.

Nixon got wind of this plan and promptly began deportation proceedings against Lennon to try to get him out of the country to prevent this tour from ever happening. They were able to do one concert. It was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in December ‘71, where they tried out this idea. It was the “Free John Sinclair” concert. John Sinclair was a local movement activist and leader who had been sentenced to ten years in the Michigan state prison for possession of two joints of marijuana. It was a big national issue in 1971, and Lennon headlined a fantastic show that involved political activists. Jerry Rubin spoke, Bobby Seale spoke, Stevie Wonder showed up to play. And we have a tape of Lennon’s appearance that night. It’s in Ann Arbor at Chrysler Arena, December 1971, 15,000 people in the audience.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to John Lennon that night.

JOHN LENNON: Now, 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. Okay, so flower power didn’t work; so what? We start again.

This song, I wrote for John Sinclair. Okay, John Sinclair, nice and easy now. Sneaky. [singing “John Sinclair”] “One, two, one, two, three, four — It ain’t fair, John Sinclair, in the stir for breathing air — Won’t you care for John Sinclair, in the stir for breathing air — Let him be, set him free. Let him be like you and me — They gave him ten for two, what else can Judge Columba do? — We gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta set him free — if he was a soldier man, shooting gooks in Vietnam, if he was the C.I.A., selling dope and making hay, he’d be free, they’d let him be — free the man like you and me — They gave him ten for two, what else can Judge Columba do? — We gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta set him free – They gave him ten for two, and they got [inaudible], too — We gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta set him free — Was he jailed for what he’d done or representing everyone? — Free John now, if we can, from the clutches of the man — Let him be. Lift the lid. Bring him to his wife and kid —”

AMY GOODMAN: That was John Lennon singing at a “Free John Sinclair” rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1971…I asked Jon Wiener what happened to John Lennon after he performed at the “Free John Sinclair” rally.

JON WIENER: The first thing that happened was that John Sinclair got out of prison two days later on appeal. It was quite an amazing victory that nobody had really expected. When I got the John Lennon FBI file, the first stuff in there is a report from an undercover agent who was one of the 15,000 people at Chrysler Arena that night. He wrote down every word John Lennon said, including all the words to the song, including “gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta set him free.” He sent those to J. Edgar Hoover. They were promptly classified as confidential and kept secret for the next twelve years. But this formed the—this got the Nixon administration concerned that there really might be some potential here to affect the election.

Now, in retrospect, it seems very unlikely, since Nixon won by an overwhelming landslide in 1972. Only Massachusetts voted for George McGovern. Remember the slogan, “Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts.” But, you know, back in December 1971, no one was sure what was going to happen in the election. No one was sure who the Democratic candidate was going to be. No one was sure how significant the youth vote was going to be…You know, Nixon did a lot of things that I didn’t like, but he was also an astute judge of American politics, and I think if Nixon was concerned that Lennon’s political plan to register young voters might play a role in the ‘72 election, I’m willing to accept Nixon’s judgment that there might have been something to that.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue that Nixon held over John Lennon of deporting him over drug charges, even those drug charges were questionable, is that right? They were brought when he was in Britain?

JON WIENER: Well, the Nixon administration’s claim for deporting Lennon was that it was just a routine administration of the then-existing immigration law, which held that you could not be admitted to the country if you had any conviction for drugs, no matter how insignificant, no matter what the circumstances. And Lennon had pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of cannabis possession in London a couple of years earlier. So, the Nixon administration said he had just been admitted improperly, and therefore, he had to leave. Lennon claimed this was motivated by a desire to silence him as a spokesman for the peace movement, and I think the FBI files show Lennon was right about that. Everything in the file is about Lennon’s political activism, the people he was hanging around with, the plans he was making. Virtually none of it is about the status of his immigration visa.

AMY GOODMAN: Another major political event he was involved with was in 1971: the Attica uprising, upstate New York, the prisoners who were protesting prison conditions. Can you talk about what John Lennon had to do with that?

JON WIENER: Yeah. In September, 1971, there was an uprising at Attica Prison in upstate New York. Something like a couple of thousand, mostly black, inmates seized the prison, had a whole list of demands, most of which were completely reasonable: decent health care, religious freedom for Muslims, alternatives to pork in the diet, uncensored reading materials. The prison administration agreed to virtually all of the demands, but then one horrible morning, 1,400 New York state troopers stormed the prison.

They killed 32 prisoners and ten guards and injured something like 80 more. This was, you know, a complete outrage, and the next month, December 1971, there was a protest meeting and a benefit concert for the families of the prisoners who had been killed in the uprising. That was held at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. And John Lennon went, because this, you know, disturbed him. He hated what had happened at Attica. We have tape, very unusual rare tape, of Lennon speaking on stage live at the Apollo, 1,500 people who had gathered to protest the murders at Attica Prison.

AMY GOODMAN: John Lennon in Harlem.

JOHN LENNON: I would just like to say it’s an honor and a pleasure to be here at the Apollo and for the reasons we’re all here. Some of you might wonder what I’m doing here with no drummers and no nothing like that. Well, you might know, I lost my old band, or I left it. I’m putting an electric band together. It’s not ready yet, and these—things like this keep coming up, so I have to just busk it. So I’m going to sing a song now you might know. It’s called “Imagine.” [singing “Imagine”] Two, three, four — “Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us; above us, only sky — Imagine all the people, living for today —”

AMY GOODMAN: John Lennon, at the Apollo in Harlem, after the Attica uprising. Of course, then-New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, right after the prisoners rose up—it was another September 11, September 11, 1971 (September 9, it began). On the 13th, he called out the New York state troopers, and they opened fire, killing 39 men, including guards, critically wounding more than 80 others and injuring hundreds.

JON WIENER: Yeah, it was a terrible day, and it’s interesting that Lennon wanted to be part of that protest, too. So, you know, New York was very important to him, and he wanted to be part of the political life of New York and part of the movement in New York, and that’s one of the reasons why it was particularly horrible that he got killed in New York, which was the city that he thought of as the center of the world, the home of the free.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of freedom, there is a very famous image that will be no doubt played throughout today, and that was the Bed-In. John Lennon and Yoko Ono in Canada. Can you talk about this?

JON WIENER: 1968. Well, the first Bed-In was in Amsterdam. John and Yoko got married in 1968. A lot of things happened in 1968, and one of them was John and Yoko got married at Gibraltar, near Spain, as they said in the song, “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” But even as early as 1968, they were thinking about the war and what they could do to join the antiwar movement. And they decided to declare that their honeymoon would be a weeklong protest against the war in Vietnam. But instead of marching outside the American embassy at Trafalgar Square in London, they decided that they would stay in bed to protest the war. This outraged the mainstream media and a lot on the left, too. We have tape of Lennon explaining the logic behind the Bed-In.

JOHN LENNON: What we’re really doing is sending out a message to the world, mainly to the youth, especially the youth or anybody, really, that’s interested in protesting for peace or protesting against any forms of violence. And the things are, the Grosvenor Square marches in London, the end product of it was newspaper stories about riots and fighting. And we did the bed event in Amsterdam and the bag piece in Vienna just to give people an idea that there’s many ways of protest, and this is one of them. And anybody could grow their hair for peace or give up a week of their holiday for peace or sit in a bag for peace. Protest for peace in any way, but peacefully, because we think that peace is only got by peaceful methods, and to fight the establishment with their own weapons is no good, because they always win, and they have been winning for thousands of years. They know how to play the game violence, and it’s easier for them when they can recognize you and shoot you.

AMY GOODMAN: So this was in Amsterdam, is that right, Jon?

JON WIENER: That’s—no, he was referring to—Amsterdam is in the past there. He’s saying ‘We did this in Amsterdam.’ He is explaining why they did the Bed-In in Amsterdam. Here, they’re, you know, adopting a pacifist position, and they’re criticizing what they regarded as kind of the stereotyped forms of protest—the protest march, the protest speech—and they wanted a movement that was more innovative and more imaginative in its tactics. As I said, this outraged a lot of people on the left, as well as a lot of people in the mainstream. But I think it did accomplish their main goal. They got worldwide publicity as opponents of the war in Vietnam.

AMY GOODMAN: “Imagine” is a song that has tremendous power through the decades, through the ages. After 9/11, it was reported that Clear Channel had it on a list of songs that would not be allowed to be played on their stations, and that was significant, because Clear Channel owns more than 1,200 radio stations in this country.

JON WIENER: Yeah. Well, he does say, “Imagine no more countries. It isn’t hard to do.” And he also says, “Imagine no religion. It’s easy if you try.” Of course, the Christian right in the United States finds that a completely outrageous statement, and they have been campaigning against that song ever since he recorded it in 1970.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, Jon Wiener, there’s “Give Peace a Chance.” Talk about the story behind that.

JON WIENER: Well, you know, Lennon wanted to—basically, Lennon is a musician, a songwriter, a performer. He wanted to write a song for the movement, and he did. It was “Give Peace a Chance.” It did become the anthem of the antiwar movement. Half a million people sang “Give Peace a Chance” in a demonstration at the Washington Monument in the fall of 1969. Do we have time to listen to my interview with Pete Seeger, talking about what it was like that day?

PETE SEEGER: Well, in November 1969, I guess I faced the biggest audience I had ever faced in my entire life. Hundreds of thousands, how many, I don’t know, but it stretches as far as the eye can see, up the hillside and over the hill, past the Washington Monument. And Brother Kirkpatrick and I were singing together and tried to get them singing with us, but the crowd was too big to get the rhythm. After two songs, I looked over to the chairperson of the day, said, “Okay if we try one more?” and she nodded her head. And I said to Kirk, “Follow me on this.”

He had only heard it once before, but I had, in the back of my mind, I might have to try it. I had only heard the song myself a few days before. And I confess, when I first heard it, I didn’t think much of it. I thought, ‘Well, that’s kind of a nothing of a song. It doesn’t go anyplace, does it?’ I heard a young woman sing it at the peace rally. “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” She gave it a kind of an oom-pa-pa oom-pa-pa waltz, like a German band. I don’t know if John Lennon’s record had that or not. I never heard his record. As a matter of fact, I’ve hardly ever heard any of his records. I admired the guy, the little I heard. I had never heard this song, except as the young woman sang it to me a few days earlier.

JON WIENER: And did you have the impression that everybody who was there already knew it?

PETE SEEGER: I didn’t know if they had ever heard it before, but I decided to try singing it over and over again until they did know it. Well, Kirk and I started singing this, and after about a minute or so, I realized that it was still growing. Sure enough, Peter, Paul, and Mary jumped up to our left and started joining in on another microphone and giving us a little more instrumental and harmony background. Couple of more minutes, Mitch Miller hops up on the stage to our right and starts waving his arms. And I realized it was getting better and better, as more and more people were able to latch onto it, because it was so slow.

And then, they started swaying their bodies in time, and banners and flags would sway to the left and right in a big slow ballet. If you can imagine several hundred thousands of people moving their bodies. Parents had their small children on their shoulders. And it was a tremendously moving thing to realize his song was finally getting through, where not a single other song of the day had really gotten people to join in on it.

JON WIENER: Pete, what do you think about the politics of “Give Peace a Chance”?

PETE SEEGER: Well, undoubtedly, some people wanted to say a lot more than that. On the other hand, history gets made when people come to the same conclusion from many different directions. And this song did hit a common denominator. There’s no doubt about it.

[“Give Peace a Chance”]

AMY GOODMAN: That was John Lennon, singing “Give Peace a Chance.” Jon Wiener, can you talk about John Lennon in the Beatles, and their political views and how the U.S., how the Nixon administration dealt with them, overall?

JON WIENER: Well, you know…there was a tension within the Beatles that we only found out about later, where Paul McCartney basically was an entertainer who wanted to sing songs that would delight and thrill people. John Lennon, and also George Harrison, were much more interested in the world and what was going on and how they could be part of what was going on. I mean, it was an exciting time to be young. So, the Beatles struggled with this internal debate they were having.

In 1964, when they came to the United States, at their first press conference, they said, “We hate war. War is wrong. We think about it every day.” They had been advised not to do this by their management. This was something—taking a political stand like that in the United States at the time was something only for folkies like Joan Baez or Bob Dylan or something like that. Rock groups never said they were against the war in Vietnam, especially in 1964. I think probably most Americans hadn’t even heard of the war in Vietnam. And for the Beatles to say, “We think about it every day,” was a truly remarkable thing. I don’t think most people noticed it at the time. But, obviously, they were already wrestling with the issue of what they could do, and especially Lennon, and to a lesser extent Harrison, also.

If you look at Lennon’s songs, a lot of them are about what’s going on around them. And, you know, they were spokesmen for the counterculture. They were spokesmen for psychedelic drugs. And they were spokesmen for youth rebellion against authority, in general. You know, the most important thing was that their songs were so great…if the songs weren’t so great, we wouldn’t be talking about them today. But there was more to the songs. There was an interest in engaging with the political spirit of the times that we don’t see very often in the history of pop music.

AMY GOODMAN: Jon Wiener, can you talk about Abbie Hoffman?

JON WIENER: Well, Abbie Hoffman was one of the people that John and Yoko sought out when they arrived in New York in 1971. He was one of people who developed this plan for a national concert tour, where they would try to register young people to vote against the war and vote against Nixon. After Lennon was shot and killed, I interviewed Abbie Hoffman, and I asked him what it was like working with John and Yoko at that time.

ABBIE HOFFMAN: John and Yoko did come and look up myself and Jerry Rubin, and they wanted it known around the New York scene that they had political side to them. They—before they even got here, they had a lot more political consciousness than just say the bed-ins or other things that they were kind of involved in that might appear a little flaky.

We must have met at least a dozen times, and we started to organize demonstrations at the Republican Convention, which at that time was still in San Diego…of course, all of these conversations were monitored by the F.B.I. and God knows who else, you know. And it was these conversations that, number one, forced the convention to move to Miami, and number two, got the immigration service on John Lennon’s back. And you know, I think it’s wise to remember that for six years, he was hounded, not just because of some pot possession charge. I mean, there’s probably 100-200 people a week that want to come into this country with much more, you know, many more charges, but because that he was both political and was forming alliances with radicals.

He had—he talked sheer poetry. I mean, you totally hung on every word, and he was extremely dramatic and ran the gambit from, you know, manic excitation to sad depressive, moody states. And he just pulled off one night and just went over to the corner and in three minutes wrote a song, came back and sang it. It was quite a thing to witness.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Abbie Hoffman. Of course, Abbie Hoffman later, himself, committed suicide. Jon Wiener, this is the 25th anniversary of the death of the murder of John Lennon. Any thoughts on that, on his murder?

JON WIENER: Well, you know, the first thing we think of is who gets assassinated in America? It’s Martin Luther King [and Malcolm X], and it’s John Lennon. It’s a scary thing about America. And for people who grew up in the ‘60s, you know, that day, December 8, 1980, was one of the very worst days, because, you know, the dream really was over at that point. Lennon was a guy who you never knew what he was going to do. He was willing to embarrass himself. He tried out things that often didn’t work, but he was always interesting, and you know, we had the feeling that sort of he was part of us, and so, today, we miss his spirit. We miss his adventurousness. We miss his music. And, you know, it’s a sad day.

AMY GOODMAN: Jon Wiener, author of Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files. You can visit his website at or go to our website at We will link to all. In 1981, Jon Wiener produced a two-hour documentary for Pacifica Radio called John Lennon: The Political and the Personal. Special thanks to the Pacifica Radio Archives.

[The second tribute we are reproducing for the interest of our readers was posted on the web site]

A 1971 Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono by Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn

CounterPunch Editors' Note: It was twenty-five years ago today that John Lennon was murdered outside the Dakota building on Central Park West in New York City. We doubt many CounterPunchers have read the following 1971 interview with Lennon done by CounterPunchers Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn. It's a lot more interesting than the interminable Q and A with Lennon done by Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner. Tariq and Robin allowed Lennon to talk and spurred him on when he showed signs of flagging. Lennon recounts about how he and George Harrison bucked their handlers and went on record against the Vietnam War, discusses class politics in an engaging manner, defends country and western music and the blues, suggests Dylan's best songs stem from revolutionary Irish and Scottish ballads, and dissects his three versions of “Revolution.” The interview, which inspired Lennon to write “Power to the People,” ran in The Red Mole, a Trotskyist broadsheet put out by the International Marxist Group, a British appendage of the Fourth International. The Mole had popped up after its predecessor, The Black Dwarf, went to ground. As you'll see, those were different days. The interview is included in Tariq Ali’s Streetfighting Years, recently published by Verso. AC / JSC

Tariq Ali: Your latest record and your recent public statements, especially the interviews in Rolling Stone magazine, suggest that your views are becoming increasingly radical and political. When did this start to happen?

John Lennon: I've always been politically minded, you know, and against the status quo. It's pretty basic when you're brought up, like I was, to hate and fear the police as a natural enemy and to despise the army as something that takes everybody away and leaves them dead somewhere.

I mean, it's just a basic working class thing, though it begins to wear off when you get older, get a family, and get swallowed up in the system.

In my case I've never NOT been political, though religion tended to overshadow it in my acid days; that would be around '65 or '66. And that religion was directly the result of all that superstar shit—religion was an outlet for my repression. I thought, “Well, there's something else to life, isn't there? This isn't it, surely?”

But I was always political in a way, you know. In the two books I wrote, even though they were written in a sort of Joycean gobbledegook, there's many knocks at religion and there is a play about a worker and a capitalist. I've been satirizing the system since my childhood. I used to write magazines in school and hand them around.

I was very conscious of class, they would say with a chip on my shoulder, because I knew what happened to me and I knew about the class repression coming down on us—it was a fucking fact but in the hurricane Beatle world it got left out; I got farther away from reality for a time.

TA: What did you think was the reason for the success of your sort of music?

JL: Well, at the time it was thought that the workers had broken through, but I realize in retrospect that it's the same phony deal they gave the Blacks; it was just like they allowed Blacks to be runners or boxers or entertainers. That's the choice they allow you—now the outlet is being a pop star, which is really what I'm saying on the album in “Working Class Hero.” As I told Rolling Stone, it’s the same people who have the power, the class system didn't change one little bit.

Of course, there are a lot of people walking around with long hair now and some trendy middle class kids in pretty clothes. But nothing changed except that we all dressed up a bit, leaving the same bastards running everything.

Robin Blackburn: Of course, class is something the American rock groups haven't tackled yet.

JL: Because they're all middle class and bourgeois and they don't want to show it. They're scared of the workers, actually, because the workers seem mainly right-wing in America, clinging on to their goods. But if these middle class groups realize what's happening, and what the class system has done, it's up to them to repatriate the people and to get out of all that bourgeois shit.

TA: When did you start breaking out of the role imposed on you as a Beatle?

JL: Even during the Beatle heyday I tried to go against it; so did George. We went to America a few times and Epstein always tried to waffle on at us about saying nothing about Vietnam. So there came a time when George and I said, “Listen, when they ask next time, we're going to say we don't like that war and we think they should get right out.” That's what we did. At that time this was a pretty radical thing to do, especially for the “Fab Four.” It was the first opportunity I personally took to wave the flag a bit.

But you've got to remember that I'd always felt repressed. We were all so pressurized that there was hardly any chance of expressing ourselves, especially working at that rate, touring continually and always kept in a cocoon of myths and dreams. It's pretty hard when you are Caesar and everyone is telling you how wonderful you are and they are giving you all the goodies and the girls, it's pretty hard to break out of that, to say, “Well, I don't want to be king, I want to be real.” So in its way the second political thing I did was to say “The Beatles are bigger than Jesus.” That really broke the scene. I nearly got shot in America for that. It was a big trauma for all the kids that were following us. Up to then there was this unspoken policy of not answering delicate questions, though I always read the papers, you know, the political bits.

The continual awareness of what was going on made me feel ashamed I wasn't saying anything. I burst out because I could no longer play that game any more, it was just too much for me. Of course, going to America increased the build up on me, especially as the war was going on there. In a way we'd turned out to be a Trojan horse. The “Fab Four” moved right to the top and then sang about drugs and sex and then I got into more and more heavy stuff and that's when they started dropping us.

RB: Wasn't there a double charge to what you were doing right from the beginning?

Yoko Ono: You were always very direct.

JL: Yes, well, the first thing we did was to proclaim our Liverpoolness to the world, and say, “It's all right to come from Liverpool and talk like this.” Before, anybody from Liverpool who made it, like Ted Ray, Tommy Handley, Arthur Askey, had to lose their accent to get on the BBC. They were only comedians but that's what came out of Liverpool before us. We refused to play that game. After The Beatles came on the scene everyone started putting on a Liverpudlian accent.

TA: In a way you were even thinking about politics when you seemed to be knocking revolution?

JL: Ah, sure, “Revolution.” There were two versions of that song, but the underground left only picked up on the one that said “count me out.” The original version which ends up on the LP said “count me in” too; I put in both because I wasn't sure. There was a third version that was just abstract, musique concrete, kind of loops and that, people screaming. I thought I was painting in sound a picture of revolution—but I made a mistake, you know. The mistake was that it was anti-revolution.

On the version released as a single I said, “when you talk about destruction you can count me out.” I didn't want to get killed. I didn't really know that much about the Maoists, but I just knew that they seemed to be so few and yet they painted themselves green and stood in front of the police waiting to get picked off. I just thought it was unsubtle, you know. I thought the original Communist revolutionaries coordinated themselves a bit better and didn't go around shouting about it. That was how I felt—I was really asking a question. As someone from the working class I was always interested in Russia and China and everything that related to the working class, even though I was playing the capitalist game.

At one time I was so much involved in the religious bullshit that I used to go around calling myself a Christian Communist, but as Janov says, religion is legalized madness. It was therapy that stripped away all that and made me feel my own pain.

RB: This analyst you went to, what's his name...

JL: Janov...

RB: His ideas seem to have something in common with Laing in that he doesn't want to reconcile people to their misery, to adjust them to the world, but rather to make them face up to its causes?

JL: Well, his thing is to feel the pain that's accumulated inside you ever since your childhood. I had to do it to really kill off all the religious myths. In the therapy you really feel every painful moment of your life—it's excruciating, you are forced to realize that your pain, the kind that makes you wake up afraid with your heart pounding, is really yours and not the result of somebody up in the sky. It's the result of your parents and your environment.

As I realized this it all started to fall into place. This therapy forced me to have done with all the God shit. All of us growing up have come to terms with too much pain. Although we repress it, it's still there. The worst pain is that of not being wanted, of realizing your parents do not need you in the way you need them.

When I was a child I experienced moments of not wanting to see the ugliness, not wanting to see not being wanted. This lack of love went into my eyes and into my mind. Janov doesn't just talk to you about this but makes you feel it—once you've allowed yourself to feel again, you do most of the work yourself.

When you wake up and your heart is going like the clappers or your back feels strained, or you develop some other hang-up, you should let your mind go to the pain and the pain itself will regurgitate the memory which originally caused you to suppress it in your body. In this way the pain goes to the right channel instead of being repressed again, as it is if you take a pill or a bath, saying “Well, I'll get over it.” Most people channel their pain into God or masturbation or some dream of making it.

The therapy is like a very slow acid trip which happens naturally in your body. It is hard to talk about, you know, because—you feelI am pain,” and it sounds sort of arbitrary, but pain to me now has a different meaning because of having physically felt all these extraordinary repressions. It was like taking gloves off, and feeling your own skin for the first time.

It's a bit of a drag to say so, but I don't think you can understand this unless you've gone through it—though I try to put some of it over on the album. But for me at any rate it was all part of dissolving the God trip or father-figure trip. Facing up to reality instead of always looking for some kind of heaven.

RB: Do you see the family in general as the source of these repressions?

JL: Mine is an extreme case, you know. My father and mother split and I never saw my father until I was 20, nor did I see much more of my mother. But Yoko had her parents there and it was the same...

YO: Perhaps one feels more pain when parents are there. It's like when you're hungry, you know, it's worse to get a symbol of a cheeseburger than no cheeseburger at all. It doesn't do you any good, you know. I often wish my mother had died so that at least I could get some people's sympathy. But there she was, a perfectly beautiful mother.

JL: And Yoko's family were middle-class Japanese but it's all the same repression. Though I think middle-class people have the biggest trauma if they have nice imagey parents, all smiling and dolled up. They are the ones who have the biggest struggle to say, “Goodbye mummy, goodbye daddy.”

TA: What relation to your music has all this got?

JL: Art is only a way of expressing pain. I mean the reason Yoko does such far out stuff is that it's a far out kind of pain she went through.

RB: A lot of Beatle songs used to be about childhood...

JL: Yeah, that would mostly be me...

RB: Though they were very good, there was always a missing element...

JL: That would be reality, that would be the missing element. Because I was never really wanted. The only reason I am a star is because of my repression. Nothing else would have driven me through all that if I was “normal”...

YO: ...and happy...

JL: The only reason I went for that goal is that I wanted to say: “Now, mummy-daddy, will you love me?”

TA: But then you had success beyond most people's wildest dreams...

JL: Oh, Jesus Christ, it was a complete oppression. I mean we had to go through humiliation upon humiliation with the middle classes and showbiz and Lord Mayors and all that. They were so condescending and stupid. Everybody trying to use us. It was a special humiliation for me because I could never keep my mouth shut and I'd always have to be drunk or pilled to counteract this pressure. It was really hell...

YO: It was depriving him of any real experience, you know...

JL: It was very miserable. I mean apart from the first flush of making it—the thrill of the first number one record, the first trip to America. At first we had some sort of objective like being as big as Elvis—moving forward was the great thing, but actually attaining it was the big let-down. I found I was having continually to please the sort of people I'd always hated when I was a child. This began to bring me back to reality.

I began to realize that we are all oppressed, which is why I would like to do something about it, though I'm not sure where my place is.

RB: Well, in any case, politics and culture are linked, aren't they? I mean, workers are repressed by culture not guns at the moment...

JL: ...they're doped...

RB: And the culture that's doping them is one the artist can make or break...

JL: That's what I'm trying to do on my albums and in these interviews. What I'm trying to do is to influence all the people I can influence. All those who are still under the dream and just put a big question mark in their mind. The acid dream is over, that is what I'm trying to tell them.

RB: Even in the past, you know, people would use Beatle songs and give them new words. “Yellow Submarine,” for instance, had a number of versions. One that strikers used to sing began “We all live on bread and margarine”; at LSE we had a version that began “We all live in a Red LSE.”

JL: I like that. And I enjoyed it when football crowds in the early days would sing “All together now”—that was another one. I was also pleased when the movement in America took up “Give peace a chance” because I had written it with that in mind really. I hoped that instead of singing “We shall overcome” from 1800 or something, they would have something contemporary. I felt an obligation even then to write a song that people would sing in the pub or on a demonstration. That is why I would like to compose songs for the revolution now...

RB: We only have a few revolutionary songs and they were composed in the 19th century. Do you find anything in our musical traditions which could be used for revolutionary songs?

JL: When I started, rock and roll itself was the basic revolution to people of my age and situation. We needed something loud and clear to break through all the unfeeling and repression that had been coming down on us kids. We were a bit conscious to begin with of being imitation Americans. But we delved into the music and found that it was half white country and western and half Black rhythm and blues. Most of the songs came from Europe and Africa and now they were coming back to us. Many of Dylan's best songs came from Scotland, Ireland, or England. It was a sort of cultural exchange.

Though I must say the more interesting songs to me were the Black ones because they were more simple. They sort of said, “Shake your arse, or your prick,” which was an innovation really. And then there were the field songs, mainly expressing the pain they were in. They couldn't express themselves intellectually so they had to say in a very few words what was happening to them. And then there was the city blues and a lot of that was about sex and fighting.

A lot of this was self-expression, but only in the last few years have they expressed themselves completely with Black Power, like Edwin Starr making war records. Before that many Black singers were still laboring under that problem of God; it was often “God will save us.” But right through, the Blacks were singing directly and immediately about their pain, and also about sex, which is why I like it.

RB: You say country and western music derived from European folk songs. Aren't these folk songs sometimes pretty dreadful stuff, all about losing and being defeated?

JL: As kids we were all opposed to folk songs because they were so middle-class. It was all college students with big scarfs and a pint of beer in their hands singing folk songs in what we call la-di-da voices—“I worked in a mine in New-cast-le” and all that shit. There were very few real folk singers you know, though I liked Dominic Behan a bit and there was some good stuff to be heard in Liverpool. Just occasionally you hear very old records on the radio or TV of real workers in Ireland or somewhere singing these songs and the power of them is fantastic.

But mostly folk music is people with fruity voices trying to keep alive something old and dead. It's all a bit boring, like ballet: a minority thing kept going by a minority group. Today's folk song is rock and roll. Although it happened to emanate from America, that's not really important in the end because we wrote our own music and that changed everything.

RB: Your album, Yoko, seems to fuse avant-garde modern music with rock. I'd like to put an idea to you I got from listening to it. You integrate everyday sounds, like that of a train, into a musical pattern. This seems to demand an aesthetic measure of everyday life, to insist that art should not be imprisoned in the museums and galleries, doesn't it?

YO: Exactly. I want to incite people to loosen their oppression by giving them something to work with, to build on. They shouldn't be frightened of creating themselves—that's why I make things very open, with things for people to do, like in my book [Grapefruit].

Because basically there are two types of people in the world: people who are confident because they know they have the ability to create, and then people who have been demoralized, who have no confidence in themselves because they have been told they have no creative ability, but must just take orders. The Establishment likes people who take no responsibility and cannot respect themselves.

RB: I suppose workers' control is about that...

JL: Haven't they tried out something like that in Yugoslavia; they are free of the Russians. I'd like to go there and see how it works.

TA: Well, they have; they did try to break with the Stalinist pattern. But instead of allowing uninhibited workers' control, they added a strong dose of political bureaucracy. It tended to smother the initiative of the workers, and they also regulated the whole system by a market mechanism which bred new inequalities between one region and another.

JL: It seems that all revolutions end up with a personality cult—even the Chinese seem to need a father-figure. I expect this happens in Cuba too, with Che and Fidel. In Western-style Communism we would have to create an almost imaginary workers' image of themselves as the father-figure.

RB: That's a pretty cool idea—the Working Class becomes its own Hero. As long as it was not a new comforting illusion, as long as there was a real workers' power. If a capitalist or bureaucrat is running your life then you need to compensate with illusions.

YO: The people have got to trust in themselves.

TA: That's the vital point. The working class must be instilled with a feeling of confidence in itself. This can't be done just by propaganda—the workers must move, take over their own factories and tell the capitalists to bugger off. This is what began to happen in May 1968 in France...the workers began to feel their own strength.

JL: But the Communist Party wasn't up to that, was it?

RB: No, they weren't. With 10 million workers on strike they could have led one of those huge demonstrations that occurred in the centre of Paris into a massive occupation of all government buildings and installations, replacing de Gaulle with a new institution of popular power like the Commune or the original Soviets—that would have begun a real revolution, but the French CP was scared of it. They preferred to deal at the top instead of encouraging the workers to take the initiative themselves...

JL: Great, but there's a problem about that here you know. All the revolutions have happened when a Fidel or Marx or Lenin or whatever, who were intellectuals, were able to get through to the workers. They got a good pocket of people together and the workers seemed to understand that they were in a repressed state. They haven't woken up yet here, they still believe that cars and tellies are the answer. You should get these left-wing students out to talk with the workers, you should get the school-kids involved with The Red Mole.

TA: You're quite right, we have been trying to do that and we should do more. This new Industrial Relations Bill the Government is trying to introduce is making more and more workers realize what is happening...

JL: I don't think that bill can work. I don't think they can enforce it. I don't think the workers will cooperate with it. I thought the Wilson Government was a big let-down but this Heath lot are worse. The underground is being harassed, the Black militants can't even live in their own homes now, and they're selling more arms to the South Africans. Like Richard Neville said, there may be only an inch of difference between Wilson and Heath but it's in that inch that we live...

TA: I don't know about that; Labour brought in racialist immigration policies, supported the Vietnam war and were hoping to bring in new legislation against the unions.

RB: It may be true that we live in the inch of difference between Labour and Conservative, but so long as we do we'll be impotent and unable to change anything. If Heath is forcing us out of that inch, maybe he's doing us a good turn without meaning to...

JL: Yes, I've thought about that, too. This putting us in a corner so we have to find out what is coming down on other people. I keep on reading the Morning Star [the Communist newspaper] to see if there's any hope, but it seems to be in the 19th century; it seems to be written for dropped-out, middle-aged liberals.

We should be trying to reach the young workers because that's when you're most idealistic and have least fear.

Somehow the revolutionaries must approach the workers because the workers won't approach them. But it's difficult to know where to start; we've all got a finger in the dam. The problem for me is that as I have become more real, I've grown away from most working-class people—you know, what they like is Engelbert Humperdinck. It's the students who are buying us now, and that's the problem. Now The Beatles are four separate people, we don't have the impact we had when we were together...

RB: Now you're trying to swim against the stream of bourgeois society, which is much more difficult.

JL: Yes, they own all the newspapers and they control all distribution and promotion. When we came along there was only Decca, Philips, and EMI who could really produce a record for you. You had to go through the whole bureaucracy to get into the recording studio. You were in such a humble position, you didn't have more than 12 hours to make a whole album, which is what we did in the early days.

Even now it's the same; if you're an unknown artist you're lucky to get an hour in a studio. It's a hierarchy, and if you don't have hits, you don't get recorded again. And they control distribution. We tried to change that with Apple but in the end we were defeated. They still control everything. EMI killed our album Two Virgins” because they didn't like it. With the last record they've censored the words of the songs printed on the record sleeve. Fucking ridiculous and hypocritical—they have to let me sing it but they don't dare let you read it. Insanity.

RB: Though you reach fewer people now, perhaps the effect can be more concentrated.

JL: Yes, I think that could be true. To begin with, working class people reacted against our openness about sex. They are frightened of nudity; they're repressed in that way as well as others. Perhaps they thought, Paul is a good lad, he doesn't make trouble.”

Also when Yoko and I got married, we got terrible racialist letters—you know, warning me that she would slit my throat. Those mainly came from Army people living in Aldershot. Officers.

Now workers are more friendly to us, so perhaps it's changing. It seems to me that the students are now half-awake enough to try and wake up their brother workers. If you don't pass on your own awareness, then it closes down again. That is why the basic need is for the students to get in with the workers and convince them that they are not talking gobbledegook. And of course it's difficult to know what the workers are really thinking because the capitalist press always only quotes mouthpieces like Vic Feather* anyway. [Ed. Note: Vic Feather (1908-76) was General Secretary of the TUC from 1969-73.]

So the only thing is to talk to them directly, especially the young workers. We've got to start with them because they know they're up against it. That's why I talk about school on the album. I'd like to incite people to break the framework, to be disobedient in school, to stick their tongues out, to keep insulting authority.

YO: We are very lucky really, because we can create our own reality, John and me, but we know the important thing is to communicate with other people.

JL: The more reality we face, the more we realize that unreality is the main program of the day. The more real we become, the more abuse we take, so it does radicalize us in a way, like being put in a corner. But it would be better if there were more of us.

YO: We mustn't be traditional in the way we communicate with people—especially with the Establishment. We should surprise people by saying new things in an entirely new way. Communication of that sort can have a fantastic power so long as you don't do only what they expect you to do.

RB: Communication is vital for building a movement, but in the end it's powerless unless you also develop popular force.

YO: I get very sad when I think about Vietnam where there seems to be no choice but violence. This violence goes on for centuries perpetuating itself. In the present age when communication is so rapid, we should create a different tradition, traditions are created everyday. Five years now is like 100 years before. We are living in a society that has no history. There's no precedent for this kind of society so we can break the old patterns.

TA: No ruling class in the whole of history has given up power voluntarily and I don't see that changing.

YO: But violence isn't just a conceptual thing, you know. I saw a program about this kid who had come back from Vietnam—he'd lost his body from the waist down. He was just a lump of meat, and he said, “Well, I guess it was a good experience.”

JL: He didn't want to face the truth, he didn't want to think it had all been a waste...

YO: But think of the violence, it could happen to your kids...

RB: But Yoko, people who struggle against oppression find themselves attacked by those who have a vested interest in nothing changing, those who want to protect their power and wealth. Look at the people in Bogside and Falls Road in Northern Ireland; they were mercilessly attacked by the special police because they began demonstrating for their rights. On one night in August 1969, seven people were shot and thousands driven from their homes. Didn't they have a right to defend themselves?

YO: That's why one should try to tackle these problems before a situation like that happens.

JL: Yes, but what do you do when it does happen, what do you do?

RB: Popular violence against their oppressors is always justified. It cannot be avoided.

YO: But in a way the new music showed things could be transformed by new channels of communication.

JL: Yes, but as I said, nothing really changed.

YO: Well, something changed and it was for the better. All I'm saying is that perhaps we can make a revolution without violence.

JL: But you can't take power without a struggle...

TA: That's the crucial thing.

JL: Because, when it comes to the nitty-gritty, they won't let the people have any power; they'll give all the rights to perform and to dance for them, but no real power...

YO: The thing is, even after the revolution, if people don't have any trust in themselves, they'll get new problems.

JL: After the revolution you have the problem of keeping things going, of sorting out all the different views. It's quite natural that revolutionaries should have different solutions, that they should split into different groups and then reform, that's the dialectic, isn't it—but at the same time they need to be united against the enemy, to solidify a new order. I don't know what the answer is; obviously Mao is aware of this problem and keeps the ball moving.

RB: The danger is that once a revolutionary state has been created, a new conservative bureaucracy tends to form around it. This danger tends to increase if the revolution is isolated by imperialism and there is material scarcity.

JL: Once the new power has taken over they have to establish a new status quo just to keep the factories and trains running.

RB: Yes, but a repressive bureaucracy doesn't necessarily run the factories or trains any better than the workers could under a system of revolutionary democracy.

JL: Yes, but we all have bourgeois instincts within us, we all get tired and feel the need to relax a bit. How do you keep everything going and keep up revolutionary fervor after you've achieved what you set out to achieve? Of course Mao has kept them up to it in China, but what happens after Mao goes? Also he uses a personality cult. Perhaps that's necessary; like I said, everybody seems to need a father figure.

But I've been reading Khrushchev Remembers. I know he's a bit of a lad himself—but he seemed to think that making a religion out of an individual was bad; that doesn't seem to be part of the basic Communist idea. Still people are people—that's the difficulty.

If we took over Britain, then we'd have the job of cleaning up the bourgeoisie and keeping people in a revolutionary state of mind.

RB: ...In Britain unless we can create a new popular power-and here that would basically mean workers' power—really controlled by, and answerable to, the masses, then we couldn't make the revolution in the first place. Only a really deep-rooted workers' power could destroy the bourgeois state.

YO: That's why it will be different when the younger generation takes over.

JL: I think it wouldn't take much to get the youth here really going. You'd have to give them free rein to attack the local councils or to destroy the school authorities, like the students who break up the repression in the universities. It's already happening, though people have got to get together more.

And the women are very important too. We can't have a revolution that doesn't involve and liberate women. It's so subtle the way you're taught male superiority.

It took me quite a long time to realize that my maleness was cutting off certain areas for Yoko. She's a red hot liberationist and was quick to show me where I was going wrong, even though it seemed to me that I was just acting naturally. That's why I'm always interested to know how people who claim to be radical treat women.

RB: There's always been at least as much male chauvinism on the left as anywhere else—though the rise of women's liberation is helping to sort that out.

JL: It's ridiculous. How can you talk about power to the people unless you realize the people is both sexes.

YO: You can't love someone unless you are in an equal position with them. A lot of women have to cling to men out of fear or insecurity, and that's not love—basically that's why women hate men...

JL: ...and vice versa...

YO: So if you have a slave around the house, how can you expect to make a revolution outside it? The problem for women is that if we try to be free, then we naturally become lonely, because so many women are willing to become slaves, and men usually prefer that. So you always have to take the chance: “Am I going to lose my man?” It's very sad.

JL: Of course, Yoko was well into liberation before I met her. She'd had to fight her way through a man's world—the art world is completely dominated by men—so she was full of revolutionary zeal when we met. There was never any question about it: we had to have a 50-50 relationship or there was no relationship, I was quick to learn. She did an article about women in Nova more than two years back in which she said, “Woman is the nigger of the world.”

RB: Of course we all live in an imperialist country that is exploiting the Third World, and even our culture is involved in this. There was a time when Beatle music was plugged on Voice of America....

JL: The Russians put it out that we were capitalist robots, which we were I suppose...

RB: They were pretty stupid not to see it was something different.

YO: Let's face it, Beatles was 20th-century folksong in the framework of capitalism; they couldn't do anything different if they wanted to communicate within that framework.

RB: I was working in Cuba when “Sgt. Pepper” was released and that's when they first started playing rock music on the radio.

JL: Well, I hope they see that rock and roll is not the same as Coca-Cola. As we get beyond the dream this should be easier: that's why I'm putting out more heavy statements now and trying to shake off the teeny-bopper image.

I want to get through to the right people, and I want to make what I have to say very simple and direct.

RB: Your latest album sounds very simple to begin with, but the lyrics, tempo, and melody build up into a complexity one only gradually becomes aware of. Like the track “My mummy's dead” echoes the nursery song Three blind mice” and it's about a childhood trauma.

JL: The tune does; it was that sort of feeling, almost like a Haiku poem. I recently got into Haiku in Japan and I just think it's fantastic. Obviously, when you get rid of a whole section of illusion in your mind you're left with great precision.

Yoko was showing me some of these Haiku in the original. The difference between them and Longfellow is immense. Instead of a long flowery poem the Haiku would say “Yellow flower in white bowl on wooden table,” which gives you the whole picture, really...

TA: How do you think we can destroy the capitalist system here in Britain, John?

JL: I think only by making the workers aware of the really unhappy position they are in, breaking the dream they are surrounded by. They think they are in a wonderful, free-speaking country. They've got cars and tellies and they don't want to think there's anything more to life. They are prepared to let the bosses run them, to see their children fucked up in school. They're dreaming someone else's dream, it's not even their own. They should realize that the Blacks and the Irish are being harassed and repressed and that they will be next.

As soon as they start being aware of all that, we can really begin to do something. The workers can start to take over. Like Marx said: “To each according to his need.” I think that would work well here. But we'd also have to infiltrate the army too, because they are well trained to kill us all.

We've got to start all this from where we ourselves are oppressed. I think it's false, shallow, to be giving to others when your own need is great. The idea is not to comfort people, not to make them feel better, but to make them feel worse, to constantly put before them the degradations and humiliations they go through to get what they call a living wage.

[Tariq Ali is author of the recently released Street Fighting Years (new edition) and, with David Barsamian, Speaking of Empires & Resistance. He can be reached at:

[Robin Blackburn, a frequent contributor to CounterPunch, is the former editor of The New Left Review and author of the excellent history of the slave trade, The Making of New World Slavery, and the new book from Verso Banking on Death: the Future of Pensions.]

A Third Tribute to Lennon—from the Web Site

[Among the many tributes paid to John Lennon today, the following one adds some interesting dimensions, and we think it worth reproducing.]

Why John Lennon stood out from the rest

by Steve Jones

The 25th anniversary of the death of former Beatle John Lennon in New York on December 8, 1980, following a shooting incident involving a deranged fan, will no doubt be marked with considerable interest and media attention by many around the world. The mass outpouring of grief which following his death has, for a rock star, only been matched—in the U.S. anyway—by that for Elvis Presley (1977) and Jerry Garcia (1995) and to a lesser extent Bob Marley and Kurt Cobain.

Many other rock and pop stars have breathed their last over the years, some without anyone really noticing, yet the passing of the above individuals was most certainly noticed. What has linked them together was the fact that their deaths were untimely and that they were seen to be, in one way or another, icons whose lives touched a chord in people.

As a former Beatle, Lennon’s death was never going to be a non-event, even if he had died in old age of natural causes, yet the effect his death had on people—and still has—cannot be explained simply by this claim to fame. Nor can it be explained away by the success of his solo career—because compared to many it was not that successful. His early solo albums were largely experimental and only reached a limited market. Later albums such as “Imagine” and “Mind Games” were more mainstream and sold well, but probably do not exist in many people’s current record collections. He had some success with singles but, again, only one song has remained in serious circulation, “Imagine.” After 1975 he released no recordings or did any concerts, going into virtual retirement until shortly before his death, when he released the moderately successful “Double Fantasy” album.

So in many ways it was the man rather than the music which people chose to mourn. As a Beatle, Lennon was seen as being the anti-establishment one, whose songs often revealed a hidden depth as against the happy, commercial one (Paul), the cheeky chappy one (Ringo), or the mystic nutter one (George). He would also be the first Beatle to clearly take up social and political causes. Following the start of his relationship with artist Yoko Ono in 1968, he started an antiwar campaign—a “bed-in!’—and released the anthem “Give Peace a Chance.”

Later songs would deal with racism, Vietnam, women’s rights, and Northern Ireland. He was known to financially support left-wing causes and, as a result, had a somewhat large FBI file and would have problems getting a U.S. work permit. Following his break from serious drink and drug abuse he would also take up the issue of domestic violence and the effect that drinking in particular had on personal relationships. Many of his songs in that respect were deeply personal aimed at drawing out his inner demons, some of which went back to his early chaotic childhood. His aim to give a stable upbringing to his children was to directly lead to the late ‘70s retirement period as he sought to become a “house-husband.”

However, even in retirement he remained a strong campaigner for peace and social justice. He had some problems squaring this with his massive personal wealth which he discussed in an interview in Playboy magazine:

PLAYBOY: On the subject of your own wealth, the New York Post recently said you admitted to being worth over $150,000,000 (1980) and…

LENNON: We never admitted anything.

PLAYBOY: The Post said you had.

LENNON: What the Post says—OK, so we are rich; so what?

PLAYBOY: The question is, How does that jibe with your political philosophies? You’re supposed to be socialists, aren’t you?

LENNON: In England, there are only two things to be, basically: You are either for the labor movement or for the capitalist movement. Either you become a right-wing Archie Bunker, if you are in the class I am in, or you become an instinctive socialist, which I was. That meant I think people should get their false teeth and their health looked after, all the rest of it. But apart from that, I worked for money and I wanted to be rich. So what the hell—if that’s a paradox, then I’m a socialist. But I am not anything. What I used to be is guilty about money. That’s why I lost it, either by giving it away or by allowing myself to be screwed by so-called managers.

This dilemma apart, Lennon’s reputation stands as an idealist whose views as a campaigner for a better society remain untarnished even by decades of cynical “reassessments.” Every year, at this time, his most commercially successful song “Imagine” gets played time and again on the radio. But it is not simply a nice, Christmas song full of meaningless platitudes; rather it expresses a world outlook which many of us would agree with:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

At a time when the rock and pop world seemed to be obsessed with making money and having a good time and to hell with the rest, and the political world was about to be dominated by the reactionary double act of Thatcher and Reagan, Lennon was seen to be holding out against this lack of humanity. His message was one of unity, peace, and a better future for all—a message which many youth, especially, responded to in 1980 and still do 25 years later:

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

It is a message that requires us to mobilize the youth and workers of the world to defeat imperialism and capitalism and build a socialist future that will make these lyrics a reality.