Was John Lennon really a revolutionary?

Maurice Hindle and Tariq Ali go head to head.

 

As we reported at the time, Maurice Hindle's previously unpublished interview with John Lennon, which appeared in the Christmas issue of the New Statesman, attracted a good deal of media attention -- not least in the Guardian, where Maev Kennedy concentrated on Lennon's remarks about a letter critical of him that had appeared in Tariq Ali's far-left journal Black Dwarf. (Lennon had railed against the revolutionary posturing of gauchistes such as Ali: "The system's a load of crap. But just smashing it up isn't gonna do it.")

Anxious lest Lennon's radical credentials be impugned, Kennedy concluded that the story ended happily:

John Lennon died on December 8 1980, shot on the doorstep of his Dakota building home in New York by Mark Chapman -- but by then had long since made his peace with Tariq Ali, and regained his radical laurels. The American journal Counterpunch four years ago finally published in full a long 1971 interview by Ali and Robin Blackburn, originally for the Trotskyist Red Mole, in which Lennon agreed with Ali that he was becoming "increasingly radical and political".

Maurice has responded to Kennedy's gloss on the interview in the Guardian today. And he rejects the suggestion that Lennon's flirtation with revolutionary politics lasted right up until the end:

Lennon much regretted his earlier association with the radical left, as the contents of the chapter entitled "We'd all love to see the plan" (quoting from the song "Revolution") make clear.

Writing in 1978, he stated: "The biggest mistake Yoko and I made in that period was allowing ourselves to become influenced by the male-macho 'serious revolutionaries', and their insane ideas about killing people to save them from capitalism and/or communism (depending on your point of view). We should have stuck to our own way of working for peace: bed-ins, billboards, etc."

Lennon's primary gift was for writing and recording songs that communicate with millions in ways that no ideologically driven political creed -- whether of the left or right -- ever could.

The debate hasn't stopped there, however. Tariq Ali himself has now entered the fray, conceding that Lennon's views did shift somewhat in the years following an interview he gave to Ali and Robin Blackburn in 1971, but insisting that they didn't move as far as Hindle suggests. His piece ends with this uncharacteristically breathless swoon:

I last spoke with him in 1979 when we discussed the likely impact of Thatcher's victory. He didn't sound too unradical in that conversation. If there is a record of it in some British intelligence archive, I would be grateful to see a transcript. Clearly, his views changed somewhat but I can't see him as a neocon supporting the wars and occupations in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The loss of his voice was a tragedy for millions.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Indie band The 1975 want to “sue the government” over the Electoral Commission’s latest advert

Frontman Matt Healy perhaps isn’t aware that the Electoral Commission is not, in fact, the government (or believes that this is part of a wider conspiracy).

How do you make registering to vote in the EU Referendum cool? It sounds like something  from The Thick of It, but judging by the Electoral Commission’s latest TV ad for their new voting guide, this was a genuine question posed in their meetings this month. The finished product seems inspired by teen Tumblrs with its killer combination of secluded woodlands, vintage laundrettes and bright pink neon lighting.

But indie-pop band The 1975 saw a different inspiration for the advert: the campaign for their latest album, I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (Yes, a title perhaps even more cumbersome than “The EU Referendum - You Can't Miss It (Phase One)”).


Lead singer Matt Healy posted a picture of the guide with the caption “LOOK OUT KIDZ THE GOVERNMENT ARE STEALING OUR THOUGHTS!!” back on 17 May. The release of the TV spot only furthered Healy’s suspicions:

Healy perhaps isn’t aware that the Electoral Commission is not, in fact, the government (or believes that this is part of a wider conspiracy).

The 1975’s manager, Jamie Oborne, was similarly outraged.

Oborne added that he was particularly “disappointed” that the director for the band’s video for their song “Settle Down”, Nadia Marquard Otzen, also directed the Electoral Commission’s ad. But Otzen also directed the Electoral Commission’s visually similar Scottish Referendum campaign video, released back in September 2014: almost a year before The 1975 released the first promotional image for their album on Instagram on 2 June 2015.

Many were quick to point out that the band “didn’t invent neon lights”. The band know this. Their visual identity draws on an array of artists working with neon: Dan Flavin’s florescent lights, James Turrell’s “Raemar pink white”, Nathan Coley’s esoteric, and oddly-placed, Turner-shortlisted work, Bruce Nauman’s aphoristic signs, Chris Bracey’s neon pink colour palette, to just name a few – never mind the thousands of Tumblrs that undoubtedly inspired Healy’s aesthetics (their neon signs were exhibited at a show called Tumbrl IRL). I see no reason why Otzen might not be similarly influenced by this artistic tradition.

Of course, The 1975 may be right, in that they have helped to popularise this particular vibe, moving it out of aesthetic corners of the internet and onto leaflets dropped through every letterbox in the country.  But if mainstream organisations weren’t making vaguely cringeworthy attempts to jump on board a particular moment, how would we know it was cool at all?

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.