BOOK REVIEW | "THE WALRUS & THE ELEPHANTS: JOHN LENNON'S YEARS OF REVOLUTION" BY JAMES A. MITCHELL
photo & text by nacrowe
JAMES A. MITCHELL's book THE WALRUS & THE ELEPHANTS (SEVEN STORIES PRESS, 2013) highlights JOHN LENNON's foray into AMERICAN POLITICS after relocating to the UNITED STATES in the early 1970s. for him it was a transitional era that saw him reconsider his role as a musician and the responsibility that came with being a "spokesman" for a generation. i put that in quotes, because like BOB DYLAN, LENNON saw himself as an artist who communicated his own truths and never had aspirations to be anything but.
during this period he was keen to shed his BEATLES' image, which he considered of a bygone era in which he was bridled by handlers from showing too strong support for the counterculture movement his band helped inspire. he viewed his past work as platitudinal and sought to create work that was more immediate, almost journalistic in its specificity.
his first foray was at a benefit concert in DETROIT for the incarcerated artist provocateur JOHN SINCLAIR (and onetime manager of the MC5) who was given ten years for holding two marijuana joints. he was released within the week of the show. this power to sway public opinion as well as his association with the YIPPIES, who put on the show, caught the federal authorities by surprise and thus began a tale of intimidation and abuse of power by J. EDGAR HOOVER (FBI), the INS and the NIXON administration that basically lasted for another half decade.
the title of this book is a reference to both the REPUBLICAN officials that sought to curb his influence by denying his first amendment rights (originally at the suggestion of STROM THURMOND of all people) as well as the obscure, lower manhattan art-jazz-rock band ELEPHANT'S MEMORY that he took on as his collaborating backing band (a la THE BAND and BOB DYLAN).
despite the fact that this period was a low point in terms of his artistic output, marital woes and residential status, it could be argued that this battle with the NIXON administration is a key part of his post-BEATLES legacy and one that endures him to this day.
what struck me as interesting in this book were the lengths to which LENNON stuck out his neck during a volatile period in an adopted country. he knew the power of his voice and gave voice to the opposition with a nonviolent, peaceful message at great personal cost. almost needless on his end. he could have made records with ERIC CLAPTION and taken the safe road talking in platitudes. instead he attempted to push change. this is in direct opposition to ELVIS PRESLEY, who is mentioned in the book to have gone out of his way to act as a spy for NIXON among the counterculture, even stating the BEATLES by name in a letter as subversives.
how lame is that? what a sad legacy for ELVIS. oh well.
its tempting to think about what LENNON could have done now if he was still around. it feels like the BOOMERS are gonna be defined by TRUMP for eternity and sadly there is nobody of that era with the clout or media presence to cut through and drown out this sad ass face clown of a leader.
imagine. it isn't hard to do.