Monday, December 2, 2013

The Walrus and the Panther. Feedback on The Walrus and The Elephants by James A Mitchel

The Walrus and the Panther

By Steve the Fly.
Amsterdam. Sunday 1st December.

"I always look after the underground"--John Lennon

 "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
An Arbor, MI,
December 1971.

A new hardback, The Walrus & The Elephants: John Lennon's years of revolution by James A. Mitchell is out on December 3rd. It examines John Lennon and his decade in America with particular focus on his antiwar activity, and subsequent transformation into a figurehead for the post-Nixon peace movement worldwide, and the pressures and troubles that come with such a huge responsibility, right under the gnashing teeth of the U.S state department.

Acting as a kind of angel investor, or a hip charitable entity, together with his music, songs and lyrical support for the U.S underground movement, Lennon was a Hero of the hippies and was used--with permission and often encouragement--as a secret weapon, deployed by a Rubin or Hoffman yippie strategist. John Lennon re-ignited the bloody and battered antiwar movement in America by choosing a selfless and sympathetic trajectory into the fold. An English gentleman in NYC, redefining UK/US relations single-handed, one cause at a time. The story spirals downwards from the high point shortly after his arrival in the U.S, before the FBI and CIA got deep under his skin and started harassing him, and before the years of use and abuse by both sides of the movement and the usual negative press vultures circling his every move.  

Lennon quickly mingled with the New York art and activist scene on his arrival, taking up different causes to support, generously giving money (often about $5000 every two days) and being there at performances, exhibitions and protests. He showed an open passion for solidarity with oppressed and marginalized people and their causes, across the planet, but localized in NYC. Race and gender equality, and antiwar causes were often at the top of his and Yoko's list. The improvisational ritual theatre of Rubin and Hoffman must have appealed to Lennon's love for mischief, maybe reminding him of the prankster version of Monty Python antics, but deployed in the streets, free of charge for the people, not staged inside a studio.

Breathin' Air

"I would like to compose songs for the revolution...i hope they see that rock and roll is not the same as Coca-Cola. That's why I'm putting out more heavy statements now and trying to shake off the teeny-bopper image."--John Lennon.

One of Lennon's first public appearances since moving to America with his super charged goal of invigorating the peace movement, was in Detroit Michigan. Lennon offered to rally support on behalf of freeing John Sinclair at a happening held in the Chrysler arena, the full story of which is told in the new book by James A. Mitchell, and changed the life of John Sinclair in untold ways, not least by freeing him from prison, but also inspiring Sinclair and other activists around the planet that change was possible if you want it, and that the people can make a difference. There is hope, the 1960s cultural transformation is steaming ahead into the 1970s, the hippies are alive and kicking with both feet. The fact that John Lennon came out to Detroit to perform a song he specially wrote for John Sinclair gives evidence to show, without doubt, the kind of character he embodied.

As a good friend and collaborator with John Sinclair i find the details of this story burning into my neurons and branding them, as i read the opening chapter of the new book chronicling Lennon's arrival in New York and fairy-tale like journey to help set John free.

If you look for them, there are multitudes of conspiracy plots surrounding the life and death of John Lennon who was certainly a prime target of the American homeland security apparatus, and the FBI/CIA Hoover/Angleton shitpit of pigs. If Mark Chapman was indeed some kind of CIA mind controlled assassin, or a so called naturally demented psychopath, does not really change the fact that Lennon was watched and hounded and interfered with by spies, snitches, crooked judges, cops, congress critters, agent provocateurs, dupes, investors and corporate record barons while in America. 

The culture wars, and the wars on some drugs are raging at home and abroad, back then, and now, creating a backdrop for the Sinclair fairy tale to play out in plain sight again, and a chance to reconsider the message of the hippies and the 60s radical activists plus the artists, in light of history since that explosive intersection point, before the expansion of the American military industrial entertainment elephant that the Walrus and the Panther warned us about, and stood up to, and even managed to beat into submission during some scraps and local battles. Now, that beast has mutated into a truly monstrous form, reaching around the entire planet playing out the same old games of coercion, intervention and manipulation. RAW would called this monster TSOG: Tsarist Occupation Government.

My personal feeling has always been that the hippies were right, for the most part. The hippies were right to oppose the  war in Vietnam, to burn the draft cards, to drop out of state institutionalized education and to refuse crabby slave labour for pennies on behalf of the industries helping to strangle their own, local community. Damn straight dude. The hippies were right to grow their own food and medicine, and start home crafts and cooking groups, local community collectives and shared services, yes, they were right to do that in light of the current unreliable state of affairs in America for maintaining the most simple standards of nutritious food, adequate clothing and some definition of comfort from the elements, some shelter. Hippies were a precursor to the modern green and environmental movements, combined with civil rights goals and practicing the arts of critical thinking and individual expression, meditation and new models of community, off the grid. 

Like many people around the world today i am furious about the American led capitalist-corporate financial heist of critical resources, the means to production and now even communications, in light of the massive, and growing disparages between the rich and the poor, the widely quoted 1% of those who shape the world in their own image, and the rest of us who eat their shit.

And a long long list of other moans and groans concerning the advancement of killingry, weapons, chemicals, biological agents opposed to investment in livingry, varied food gardens, cheap and low impact building materials, really environmentally friendly fuels, etc. I think Lennon was equally pissed off, and could see the inner workings of the system, and see through the authority of the magicians, possibly after dealing with similar conservative characters in England, to a degree, and trumping the critics with raw success and worldwide acceptance.

John Sinclair was also pissed off at the same people and for similar reasons, the stupid war, the heavy handed police brutality across America, outright racism, and oppression of minority groups, including hippies. This oppression brought the hippies into orbit with African Americans who could sympathize with one another after witnessing brutality and murder and assassination at the hands of those who were supposed to be protecting American citizens of every walk, the cops, the mayors, senators and political leaders. Something was wrong.

John Sinclair, like John Lennon also fits into the category of one who finds the places in between tragedy and comedy, or antiwar activism and theatrical improvisational rock and and roll shows. Both John's were turned on in the broadest sense of the word. Culturally they were leaders of their respective fields, at various levels of magnitude. Sinclair was poet and writer, localized in the sense of Charles Olson. Lennon was a poet and songwriter. Sinclair was a direct decedent of the beats, Billy Burroughs, Kerouac 'memory babe' and the great Allen Ginsberg who also performed a specially crafted prayer for John Sinclair at the free John Sinclair rally. 

Sinclair had a special interest in social justice that included equality for African Americans, realized by the creation of independent publications, the formation of artist workshops and applying these scholarly insights to a rock and roll band, in Sinclair's case the ferocious MC5. Both had explored the outer regions of contemporary arts, visual, musical, theatrical. They were both well placed in the 1960s and 1970s to carry a broad knowledge of their own place into history, using music as the rocket ship number 9 to achieve escape velocity. They were both captured the revolutionary spirit of change as it was happening, NOW, and perceived the counter strategy of using art and music as a weapon to fight back. Lennon had a equal interest in social justice, and was perhaps famously the Beatle to the left, but who always maintained that he had no particular political views. "all acts are political acts" seemed to be his philosophy.

Lennon was a reader too, and found a particular bond with Lewis Carrol in his youth, the Jabberwocky in particular, and later enjoyed Joyce's 'Finnegans Wake' for its equal playfulness and inventive spirit, when the book was recommended to him. But Lennon did not consider himself a literary scholar by any stretch, although he did in fact once comment that he wished to be a beat poet. A fact that adds weight to the accent on the beat in the name, the beatles.

The details of this rare success in breaking out of prison, by way of the exit, reminds me of a part in the Illuminatus Trilogy! by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson where John Dillinger escapes the inescapable crown point jail, and just walks through the walls.

John Lennon and his place in the tale of the tribe

"The trip from Detroit was an unqualified if unbelievable success: one of the world's most sought-after performers was set to champion the Sinclair cause. Andrews had signed a contract that paid Lennon $500 for his performance, a fee immediately signed back over to the John Sinclair Freedom Fund. The fee-turned-donation was a palty sum, of course, and Lennon was well aware that many groups and activists who sought him out did so in part from financial need. "I always take care of the underground," Lennon had said a few months earlier.--James A. Mitchell, The Walrus and The Elephants: John Lennon's Years of Revolution. Page 28.  

John demonstrated that knew how to make fun and yet spotlight critical causes at the same time, an artistic brew that consists of the age old Greek mixture of tragedy and comedy. Lennon further engineered his craft to display the resolution of the opposite forces of tragedy and comedy, often demonstrated through his signature tongue-in-cheek songs composed sometime in New York City.

Maybe if we were to view Lennon's music post 1971 as a Bob Dylanesque' tragic ode mixed for a Monty Python comedy record, partly inspired by Lewis Carrol and James Joyce, we would get a better view of what he was doing, musically. Flipping the polarity on emotional habits, using simple lyrics together with his music based on some simple rock and pop forms to construct his message to the tribe. 

On another level, the life and death of John Lennon himself illustrate a comic-tragedy in 20th century history, a tale of an individual placed in history who reflects a good balance of concerns and actions undertaken based on those concerns, to try to make a better world for everybody. Lennon maybe the most well known example of single man including history, a legend, who can be instantly associated with peace, or the non violent co-operation of all people, nations and religions against war. A noble kind of legend, and one that we can all learn from and simply try to emulate. Support your friends and support local artists, write poems and songs yourself and give them to people. Be the change you wish to see in the world etc. 

Yes, John Lennon tackled the tale of the tribe and developed a poetics and a way into history that will eternally live in the minds of the people, a good artist and a good statesman, a general all-around good guy. A example of a human being in history who exemplified some general principles of humanity. Sharing, kindness, charity, sympathy, selfless action, solidarity, and revolution: the will to transformation based on principles of cyclical change.

"We were hippies, you know, we weren't criminals. We didn't consider ourselves engaged in criminal behavior. Everything we did was open, free to the public, that's what we were about."--John Sinclair, The Walrus and The Elephants, Page 25.

--Steve The Fly
Amsterdam. December 1st, 2013.


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thank you for reading, and for your feedback i bow