For its American Masters series, PBS airs tonight the documentary LENNONYC, on John Lennon’s decade, the 1970s, in New York City, from political actiivist to stay at home father to victim of murder. There’s a rich and extensive website for the film at PBS, with interviews, a podcast, videos, archival performances and more. See lengthy film excerpt below.
The Nation‘s Jon Wiener, who appears in the film briefly, has chronicled this era well and recently wrote about letters (from Bob Dylan and others) supporting Lennon’s fight against deportation—following an FBI probe of his left-wing views in the Nixon and Vietnam era.
I had some contact with Lennon during this period myself, as senior editor at Crawdaddy magazine. In 1971, John and Yoko gave us exclusive interviews for a cover story (probably because his politics matched ours) and John took the incredible step of buying a full-page ad in the New York Times to promote it—quite a boost for us.
Then he send us a track-by-track assessment of his Imagine album, including an explanation of why he wrote "How Do You Sleep?" as a response to Paul McCartney’s slam at him on Ram for allegedly breaking up The Beatles. John called his song "an angry letter" but also a way to "have some fun." But he extended an olive branch by closing the peace with congrats to Paul on the birth of a child.
He also commented on the title track of the album: "It’s a song for children."
A little later, Lennon sent us some lyrics for his upcoming, ultra-political Sometime in New York City album, with song titles like "Attica State" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday", tributes to feminism and Angela Davis and a call for freedom for imprisoned John Sinclair.
The album cover looked like the front-page of a newspaper—and the record was a commercial flop. John was hanging out at the time with Jerry Rubin and downtown potmeister and street singer David Peel. It wasn’t unusual to hear a friend say they’d been at someone’s apartment the night before and the ex-Beatle came around and "rapped" for awhile.
Still later, he sat for another exclusive cover story for us during his brief, and drunken, sojourn in LA before he returned to Yoko and NYC again, for good.
Finally, in 1975, he responded to my request for a contribution to a special issue by sending me a note with a photo of him in a men’s room at a urinal and the caption "Just Pissing About."—pure Lennonesque humor.
Here’s the clip from tonight’s show.
A new edition of Greg Mitchell’s award-winning book "The Campaign of the Century" (on the birth of media politics and more) has just been published.