The Limits of The Pacifist Message- John Lennon Tribute
Come Together, John Lennon Tribute, Yoko Ono Productions, 2001
I am here to rain on this tribute to the work of John Lennon in New York City in early October 2001 on two counts- musically and politically. As to the music. I make no bones about the fact that, as a product of the Generation of ’68, I grew to adulthood with this music, however, in any choice between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, in my book the Stones win hands down. The same applies to comparisons to Lennon as an individual artist. John Lennon could write lyrics with the best of them, no question, but here is the real question- which song, for example, better expresses the sense of working class alienation and, more importantly, what to do about it- Lennon’s Working Class Hero or The Stones’ Street Fighting Man?
That said, even taking comparisons between artists out of consideration John Lennon’s work, as witnessed here, has not aged well. This, despite the profuse trade puffing by host Kevin Stacey and other narrators to the contrary. Part of this is because his works are so personal that they are not easily covered. Recently listening to some covers of the The White Album leads me to believe that this is true, as well, for most Beatles songs. Thus, the tribute, as a whole came off rather muzak-like, with the partial exception of Sean Lennon’s work with Rufus Wainwright on That Boy and Nancy Marchant’s rendition of Nowhere Man.
Now to the politics. Yes, we know that John Lennon, sincerely I believe, stood for ‘giving peace a chance’ and for ‘power to the people, right on’ but frankly, those slogans today, as we are in another titanic struggle against the imperial monsters over Iraq and Afghanistan just seems like some much children’s talk. What the narrators held to be Lennon’s profound wisdom on the peace question are things that seemed embarrassingly childish to me back even when they were first uttered. No, it is not enough to just think good thoughts about peace or have peace in our hearts for that to occur as if by magic. We have to go out and struggle for it against some people who will see us in our graves before they give ‘peace a chance’.
And here my friends is the kicker. This tribute was performed in New York City on October 3, 2001 a few weeks after the criminal actions of a bunch of Islamic fanatics wrecked havoc on that city. Perhaps I would have been more impressed by the tribute if one person- host, performer or from the audience- in the whole one and one half hour program had mentioned peace and the desire for it, not in the great by and by, but by actually mentioning opposition to the war in Afghanistan that was being prepared even as they sang and was only a few days from starting. Maybe, in the light of circumstances that couldn’t be done in New York City during those weeks but I will be damned if I will listen to people spout forth about peace when they were not out in the streets with the few of us who were protesting the Afghan war then. Hell, I too was afraid to go out in the streets and face the redneck reaction that was stirred up then. But that is where ‘peaceniks’, if you will, had to be. What would Mr. Lennon have had to say about that? Mrs. Lennon didn’t have anything to say at all.