By Nicole Bouwkamp
John Lennon is often remembered for his time as an enigmatic member of The Beatles, the smart and witty frontman who could charm crowds and gain their animosity alike. He is also remembered for his strong political stances, namely for causes of justice and the promotion of peace.
Ann Arbor recently saw one of these promotions for peace in memory of John Lennon. On Oct. 10, the Veterans for Peace John Lennon Birthday Concert at The Ark saw local musicians come together, performing both Lennon’s own songs and other peace and protest songs. Proceeds went to the local chapter of Veterans for Peace to fund their Peace Scholarship Program.
Lennon was always leery about the politicians whose influences steeped into the lives of everyday citizens. In 1968 at The National Theatre, believing that “…our society is run by insane people for insane objectives, and I think that’s what I sussed when I was 16 and 12, way down the line.”
He also stated that “If anybody can put on paper what our government, and the American government and the Russian, Chinese, what they are actually trying to do and what they think they’re doing… I’d be very pleased to know what they think they’re doing, I think they’re all insane!”
These sentiments can be heard through his song, “Gimme Some Truth,” a song where Lennon sings that he is tired of hearing the things spread by “neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians.” As Lennon’s political voice demanded to be heard, so did his music grow to become the tool to spread it to the world.
His voice was also spread by the support and influence of Yoko Ono. As a contemporary multimedia artist and peace activist herself, Ono helped Lennon find ways to voice his own thoughts about the world around them, from government corruption to the Vietnam War and everything in-between.
After getting married in March 1969, they traveled to Amsterdam to spend their honeymoon staging a week-long Bed-In for Peace. Inviting the press into their hotel room, the couple stayed in bed and answered questions about their own protest against the Vietnam War.
While it may seem foolish to reject more active protests to lie in bed for a week and just talk about it in front the press, it was an alternative attitude – an alternative method of protesting something that could not be practically solved by any one person. Lennon was certainly distressed at certain aspects of a war-frenzied world, being fed only the sugar-coated words and patriotic rhetoric of a politician, and lost at how to do anything practical to generate significant change.
Lennon explains the protest himself as well,“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 … 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 against peace, anyway, 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.”
While the Bed-In may have been ineffectual, the sentiment was still prominent, perhaps even more so with the absence of action itself. It certainly got the press’ and world’s attention to the two “hairy hedonists” who did nothing but talk about their opinions on the war and for peace.
Of course, one cannot discuss Lennon’s quest for peace without bringing up “Imagine.” Heavily influenced by Ono’s own book Grapefruit, Lennon took great inspiration from the poem entitled “Cloud Piece” that reads, “Imagine the clouds dripping, dig a whole in your garden to put them in.”
For Lennon, the whole concept is to imagine a world where equality and peace, without comparisons to create strife among people. He was interviewed at one time saying that “the World Church called me once and asked, ‘Can we use the lyrics to ‘Imagine’ and just change it to ‘Imagine one religion?’ That showed [me] they didn’t understand it at all. It would defeat the whole purpose of the song, the whole idea.”
Lennon believed that world peace is within reach, but only if the restraints of social control, the restraints that bind human potential – human compassion – are rejected.
Looking back on Lennon’s death nine years after writing “Imagine” and the world events that have followed, it is obvious that such a plaintive song about peace and hope have given strength to the broken masses. Katy Waldman of “Slate” finds that ultimately, Lennon’s “‘Imagine’ captures the fragility of our hope after a violent or destructive event,” and as hope prevails in the struggle to survive, “reveals its tenacity.”