By David Werther.
John Lennon, The U.S. vs. John Lennon; Music from the Motion Picture (Capital Records, 2006), ISBN 94637 49122.
In the morning of December 11, 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono performed at the John Sinclair benefit concert in Ann Arbor, Michigan. While Lennon was singing his new song "John Sinclair," the song's namesake was in prison having been sentenced to ten years for selling two joints. Thanks in part to a recent change in the law, Sinclair left prison in less than 3 days. It would be hard to imagine a more exhilarating rally. And that got Lennon thinking that a national concert tour, encouraging young people to register to vote and then vote against the war in Viet Nam, and Nixon, would be a good idea.
When the Nixon administration got wind of the proposed tour, it decided it would be a good idea for Lennon to leave the U.S. More precisely, a memo Strom Thurmond passed on to Attorney General John Mitchell stated, "If Lennon's visa is terminated it would be a strategic counter-measure." Thus began a battle with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Lennon's introduction to F.B.I. intimidation. Hence, the U.S. vs. John Lennon.
The songs on the CD cover more than the years (1973–76) during which the INS attempted to oust Lennon and Lennon's legal counsel won him repeated stays. In the end, Lennon remained in the U.S. and was granted permanent residency, but only after he had abandoned his proposed political concert tour and Nixon had been re-elected.
The CD includes the slogan songs "Power to the People," "Instant Karma," and "Give Peace a Chance," as well as more focused protests like "John Sinclair" and "Attica State." Lennon is better at slinging around slogans than he is at addressing specific injustices. His songs for Sinclair and Attica State don't measure up to Bob Dylan's gold standard (e.g., "George Jackson" and "Only A Pawn in Their Game").
The sole Beatle song on the CD is "The Ballad of John Yoko," written by John and Yoko and recorded with Paul. It is astounding that less than three years after Lennon publicly apologized for saying that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ, he could have had a hit record with the lines, "Christ you know it ain't easy, You know how hard it can be, The way things are going, They're gonna crucify me." Religious themes also arise in "God" and "I Found Out." He begins the former stating that "God is a concept by which we measure our pain," then follows that with a litany of disbelief , "I don't believe in bible . . . tarot . . . Buddha . . . Gita . . . Zimmerman [read Dylan]," and a new credo, "I just believe in me, Yoko and me, Yoko and me, And that's reality." And, in "I Found Out," Lennon dismisses Jesus, "There ain't no Jesus gonna come from the sky," and then focuses on his subsequent pain, "Now that I found out I know I can cry."
In addition to "God" and "I Found Out," a third song, "Working Class Hero," comes from Lennon's first solo effort, the masterful Plastic Ono Band. Lennon never surpassed that work, though sometimes, as in the case of another selection, "Gimme some Truth," he approached that greatness.
"Oh My Love" underscores John's tenderness and vulnerability with Yoko; along with "Here We Go Again" and "Nobody Told Me" it shows his softer, more melodic side.
Those of us who love Lennon do so because of his honesty and wit. Following "Oh My Love," the CD concludes with "Instant Karma" combined with a snippet in which Lennon is asked, "Do you bear any grudges against the Strom Thurmonds and John Mitchells putting you through all this?" to which he replied, "No, I believe time wounds all heels."