Trotted out in the wake of the John Lennon memorials (25 years since he was killed) last week was the old “the CIA killed Lennon” conspiracy theory. It is an article of faith (‘faith’ is the right word here for there is no evidence) – amongst some people that Lennon was taken out because he posed some sort of threat to the incoming Ronald Reagan administration.
A week or so back Chris Trotter, in the DomPost, was wheeling out similar mush-headed nonsense about the JFK assassination.
I usually enjoy Trotter’s columns. Even though he’s well and truly over on the Left he’s generally a good read, with plenty of insight and humour. And about once a month he goes off into revolutionary Marxist la-la land. Those columns are often even funnier, although unwittingly so.
(Or is he having a big laugh?? Discuss.)
A couple of weeks back Trotter essayed out pretty much the Oliver Stone take on the JFK assassination – basically that JFK got iced by the military-industrial complex because he was going to cut back on military spending and get out of Vietnam.
I’ve never really understood this line. Kennedy was the most rhetorically belligerent Cold Warrior to sit in the White House until Reagan came along. He promised in his inaugural that the US would “pay any price, bear any burden” to defeat communism. He campaigned on a totally bogus “Missile Gap” (and what’s more he knew it was bogus) and boosted military spending when he got into power.
With that rhetoric, that record, and the self-conscious machismo of the whole Kennedy ethos, there is just no way he was going to bottle out of Vietnam. I find it somewhat perplexing anyone could imagine someone with Kennedy’s track record and general attitudes was going to bother any “military industrial complex”, assuming, for a minute, that one exists.
There is one obvious group which benefited from Kennedy’s assassination, but its one you never hear mentioned by the festering obsessives in what we could call the conspiracy theory community.
That group is Black Americans.
The Civil Rights movement was reaching a peak by the early 1960s. The previous 15 years had been an era of growing protest in the South, backed by court rulings and a cautious Civil Rights Act in 1957 – one which was steered through by the then Senate Majority leader Lyndon Johnson.
Kennedy was gutless on Civil Rights. Although he’d phoned Martin Luther King in jail during the 1960 campaign, and pledged to end segregation with “the stroke of a pen” once in office he stalled. Black American groups protested by sending him pens.
When the protests on the buses began he phoned civil rights activists and bellowed “get your people off those buses”.
So the civil rights movement was going nowhere, and Kennedy was not as sympathetic as the post-assassination mythology would have it.
However there was someone who knew how to get laws through Congress and who had an understanding of the black civil rights movement, and – because he’d once known it himself – poverty in general.
Vice president Lyndon Johnson.
So, there’s plenty of motive for the Civil Rights groups, betrayed by Kennedy, to get him out of the way and get LBJ into the White House. And if such groups were to pull off an assassination, don’t you think they’d like to do it in a Southern state, with some dumb white trash as a patsy?
So the talk big and do nothing JFK is out of the way, LBJ is in the White House, and he steers through laws which abolish segregation and remove obstacles for blacks to get to the polls.
If you look at who benefits from the whole thing, it is clear the Black civil rights movement had a much greater motive for taking JFK out than the CIA, or the Mafia, or the generals, or the Cubans…Black Americans had been betrayed by JFK and they had a lot to gain.
Note, I am not seriously suggesting this is what happened. I am just saying if you’re going to believe a conspiracy theory, at least believe in one more likely than “the military-industrial complex rubbed out Kennedy”.
He was washed up by 1980, perhaps not so much musically but certainly politically. His political impact was always over-rated.
In fact, I’d suggest he never came up with anything particularly political at all. The only thing he was ever capable of was some very eight-year old “Peace is nicer than War” kind of statement. He kept saying that sort of thing as though it was very profound and original and he found if he said it with great vehemence and anger it was quite successful – there being, as usual, no shortage of gullible fools around. But this sort of thing, although annoying to anyone using their brain, is no threat to anyone.
Politics is about means. Lennon never talked about means – about the goals he espoused might be achieved.
That in itself suggest a certain bogusness. If you genuinely espouse a set of goals then you work out how to achieve them, and put some steps in place to do so. If you don’t then its clear all you are doing is striking a set of attitudes for effect.
The only things Lennon ever suggested were to go to bed for peace, or go naked for peace, or get into a bag for peace. Only the terminally deluded would see any of these as political statements.
The paradox of Lennon – and the true secret of his appeal, apart from the songs – was his rage. He’d had a rough childhood and that rage is there in a lot of his songs. He had a great voice for rage and you can hear it as early as “Twist and Shout” – the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” of the early 1960s.
Someone once called Lennon the “tantrum-thrower-in- chief of the baby boomers”. It’s a pretty good summary.
Which always makes the insistence of Lennon – and of the followers who took him at his word – which he was “man of peace” a little odd.
That leaves the songs. At their best: brilliant. ‘In My Life”; “Norwegian Wood”; “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “I Am the Walrus”, “Instant Karma,”…hell, fill in the names yourself. You all know them.
I’ll mention a couple of personal favourites – “Come Together” “I’m So Tired” “Nobody Told Me” and his version of “Slippin’ and Sliding”.
But the “peace is better than war” thing damaged his art. “All You Need Is Love” was the first warning sign. Its a pretty basic tune and as a message its rubbish.
Beware of anyone who talks about “love” in the abstract. Love has to be attached to a person or something else to have any meaning. It is, as someone once said, a verb. Anyone who talks excessively of love in the abstract is probably trying to convince themselves that they are a nice person. Their reasons for wanting to do this might be neurotic, (i.e. they might be quite a nice person really but they might fear they are not) or they might be more sinister – they might be a total arsehole and be trying to fake it.
And/or they want a shag.
Whatever reason – and there’s probably others – it pays to be very wary of anyone who babbles about “love” in this way. There’s another agenda operating, and it pays to work out what it is before proceeding any further.
Then there’s the song we’ve probably all heard in the shops at this time of the year “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”. Arrghh Arggh Argghh! Again, the sum total of the “political” message is that there won’t be any war if everyone wants it that way. Nice tune (until Yoko starts singing and butchers it) but as a message it’s mush.
And as for “Imagine”…as I’ve suggested in an earlier post, it reminds me of “You Light Up My Life”. The same air of “god I’m so enlightened” sanctimony; the same ponderous portentious piano…
By 1980 though he wasn’t even singing much about “peace”. He was doing what all those singer/songwriter types from the 1970s like James Taylor and Neil Young and Carole King and Jackson Browne were doing – singing about their own lives. Mostly, he was singing about Yoko. Irritating and self absorbed (albeit with some nice tunes) – yes.
But some sort of latent threat to the Reagan administration?
Only in the dreams of those foolish enough to take Lennon’s “peace” message seriously in the first place.