Monday, June 04, 2007

The Peace Pipe Dream.

To aver that John Lennon was a “radical thinker” is as naive as calling Amitabh Bachchan, India’s newest wannabe farmer, a worthy successor in Rastrapati Bhawan to Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam. Lennon was no thinker, radical or otherwise. He was without a shadow of doubt one of the all-time greats among pop song writers and music makers. (From among the vast Beatle body of work, the surreal “Eleanor Rigby” and the nostalgic “Yesterday” are personal favourites.) He also must have owned a good rhyming dictionary if you were to judge from the lyrics of “Give Peace a chance”. His intentions were probably noble. His execution was pathetically juvenile and puerile by the most charitable standards. All this reminds me of an ex-colleague of mine insisting to another ex-colleague and friend that now it’s all a matter of style and form. Content, he insists, is no more king. Maybe, he’s bang-on. If “Give Peace…” despite its shortcomings could achieve a cult status and could take in someone as shrewd as Kunal Kohli, the reign of content is truly over. The medium is the message, boys and girls. The title of the so-called peace anthem, mind you, came out of Lennon’s smartass repartee, in the early days of his first Bed-in, to a journalist’s “What are you up to, mate?” query. Guided by his ear for le mot just and a nose for high drama, he decided to set his by then famous words to music. Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “radical thinking” for peace gave the world such media events as the lavish Bed-in in the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel’s Room 702 (25 – 31 March 1969) to celebrate their honeymoon and the April 1969 launch in Vienna (Austria) of their madcap and elitist “Bagism” concept while eating chocolate cake. In essence, the idea was to live inside a bag and thereby insulate oneself from being judged by the colour of one’s skin, the length of one’s hair, the clothes one wore, one’s age or any other “defining” attributes that evoked a discriminatory response. The second Bed-in was to be held in New York. The US Government’s paranoia made them ban Lennon’s entry into the country using his 1968 marijuana conviction as a viable excuse. So, to spite the spoil sport, John and Yoko held it eventually in neighbouring Canada’s Montreal – Queen Elizabeth Hotel’ s Room 1742 – after having fled from the Bahamas, the earlier chosen venue, after a single sweltering night in the Sheraton Oceanus Hotel. (If the self-appointed Messiah of Peace – did he not once claim that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus? – and his mate could not brave the 86°F (30°C) inferno for peace’s sake, what chance did peace stand in the long run?) In Montreal, Lennon and Ono were in the celebrated company of Timothy Leary, Tommy Smothers, Dick Gregory and Al Capp with all except Capp donning the mantle of peace anthem singing groupies. Kunal seems to be awe-struck by Lennon and Ono’s December 1969 grand gesture, the “War is Over! If You Want It – Happy Christmas From John and Yoko" billboards put up with their own money in eleven cities. It was an ego trip, a self-promo, no less, no matter what they claimed. If he really wanted to make a difference, he could have spent the money to help the war victims, could he not? A control and power freak, an egomaniac, addicted to sex with groupies, heady unquestioning adulation from fans, drugs and non-stop hedonism with no responsibility whatsoever, yet a great pop artist in spite of it all, Lennon was no St John, unpalatable as it may sound. No “hero”, no “role model” as Kunal wants us to believe, I’m afraid, “The US vs. John Lennon” notwithstanding. Let us not get confused between hagiography and biography, for Pete’s sake, whoever St Peter happens to be.

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