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You say you want a revolution? Lennon v. Mao December 23, 2010

Posted by vsap in Blogroll, Poetry, Uncategorized.
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“But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow.” – John Lennon, “Revolution” 1968

Why, in 1968, would John Lennon knock Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong? Let’s take a brief look at Mao and Lennon to see how a totalitarian leader could have crossed a liberal entertainer.

It could be that Lennon was disturbed about Mao’s social-political programs, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, which are blamed for costing millions of lives, causing severe famine and damage to the culture, society and economy of China. Mao’s policies and political purges from 1949 to 1976 are widely believed to have caused the deaths of between 40 to 70 million people. (Stats and links from Wikipedia)

Lennon’s song, written in the midst of the Chinese “cultural cleansing”, could have provoked Lennon to action. Oddly enough, the liberal TIME magazine named Mao one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th Century. Killing lots of people certainly has influence on those afflicted by it. I guess it will put you on many odd lists.

Lennon appeared to want “revolution” through peaceful means. More about that later. He would have been disturbed, then, with Mao quotes such as:

“Revolution is not a dinner party, nor an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be advanced softly, gradually, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely, plainly, and modestly. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.” (bold and italic is mine)

In the early 1930s Mao’s authority was challenged by the Jiangxi branch of the CPC and military officers. Here’s how Mao handled the threat:

“Under the direction of Mao, it is reported that horrible methods of torture took place and given names such as ‘sitting in a sedan chair’, ‘airplane ride’, ‘toad-drinking water’, and ‘monkey pulling reins.’ The wives of several suspects had their breasts cut open and their genitals burned. Short (2001) estimates that tens of thousands of suspected enemies, perhaps as many as 186,000, were killed during this purge. Critics accuse Mao’s authority in Jiangxi of being secured and reassured through the revolutionary terrorism, or red terrorism.” (Wikipedia)

But let’s move up closer to when the song was written and it would have been more “fresh” in the consciousness of Lennon and the rest of us living at the time. Consider 1966:

“The Revolution led to the destruction of much of China’s traditional cultural heritage and the imprisonment of a huge number of Chinese citizens, as well as creating general economic and social chaos in the country. Millions of lives were ruined during this period, as the Cultural Revolution pierced into every part of Chinese life . It is estimated that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, perished in the violence of the Cultural Revolution.

When Mao was informed of such losses, particularly that people had been driven to suicide, he is alleged to have commented: “People who try to commit suicide — don’t attempt to save them! . . . China is such a populous nation, it is not as if we cannot do without a few people.” The authorities allowed the Red Guards to abuse and kill opponents of the regime. Said Xie Fuzhi, national police chief: “Don’t say it is wrong of them to beat up bad persons: if in anger they beat someone to death, then so be it.” As a result, in August and September 1966, there were 1,772 people murdered in Beijing alone.” (Wikipedia)

About the same time, an American Maoist emerged, Huey P. Newton.

“While at Merritt College, Newton read the works of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Mao Zedong, and Che Guevara. It was during his time at Merritt College that Newton, along with Bobby Seale, organized the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966. After a coin toss Seale assumed the role of Chairman, while Newton became Minister of Defense.” (Wikipedia)

Clearly, Maoism and Maoists professed violence to procure change.

No matter how steeped in these matters John Lennon was, or how correct, it seems to be a stretch for the man who proclaimed (in the same year) the Beatles as more popular than Jesus Christ to take on the most populous nation in the world.

Nevertheless, Lennon did appear to be consistent in espousing peace, not violence, as a path to change. Here are a few quotes from Lennon to support this assertion:

“I don’t believe in killing whatever the reason!”

“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.”

“If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliché that must have been left behind in the Sixties, that’s his problem. Love and peace are eternal.”

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

“Love is the greatest refreshment in life.”

Of course, you likely have your own favorite lyrics or quotes from John Lennon regarding peace and love. Thus, we can agree that while Mao and Lennon believed in “revolution”, they did not agree on the methods to obtain whatever the goal of the revolution were meant to be.

So, where was Lennon’s “head” in the time running up to the Beatles recording “Revolution”?

“According to biographer Ian MacDonald, Lennon’s continuous experience with LSD during the year brought him “close to erasing his identity“. 1967 saw the release of “Strawberry Fields Forever“, hailed by Time magazine for its “astonishing inventiveness”, and the group’s landmark album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which revealed Lennon’s lyrics contrasting strongly with the simple love songs of the Lennon/McCartney’s early years.

In August, after having been introduced to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the group attended a weekend of personal instruction at his Transcendental Meditation seminar in Bangor, Wales. They later travelled to Maharishi’s ashram in India for further guidance, where they composed most of the songs for The Beatles and Abbey Road.

The anti-war, black comedy How I Won the War, featuring Lennon’s only appearance in a non–Beatles full-length film, was shown in cinemas in October 1967. Paul McCartney organised the group’s first post-Brian Epstein project, the self-written, -produced and -directed television film Magical Mystery Tour, released in December that year. While the film itself proved to be their first critical flop, its soundtrack release, featuring Lennon’s acclaimed, Carroll-inspired “I am the Walrus“, was a success. With Epstein gone, the band members became increasingly involved in business activities, and in February 1968 they formed Apple Corps, a multimedia corporation comprising Apple Records and several other subsidiary companies. Lennon described the venture as an attempt to achieve, “artistic freedom within a business structure”, but his increased drug experimentation and growing preoccupation with Yoko Ono, and McCartney’s own marriage plans, left Apple in need of professional management. Lennon approached Allen Klein, who had managed The Rolling Stones and other bands during the British Invasion. Klein was appointed as Apple’s chief executive by Lennon, Harrison and Starr, but McCartney never signed the management contract.” (Wikipedia)

Yoko Ono was a huge distraction, professionally, but an equally huge influence on Lennon’s concepts of peace and love.

“During Lennon’s last two years in the Beatles, he and Ono began public protests against the Vietnam War. They were married in Gibraltar on 20 March 1969, and spent their honeymoon in Amsterdam campaigning with a week-long Bed-In for peace. They planned another Bed-In in the United States, but were denied entry, so held one instead at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, where they recorded “Give Peace a Chance”. They often combined advocacy with performance art, as in their “Bagism“, first introduced during a Vienna press conference. Lennon detailed this period in the Beatles’ song “The Ballad of John and Yoko“. Lennon changed his name by deed poll on 22 April 1969, adding “Ono” as a middle name. The brief ceremony took place on the roof of the Apple Corps building, made famous three months earlier by the Beatles’ Let It Be rooftop concert. Although he used the name John Ono Lennon thereafter, official documents referred to him as John Winston Ono Lennon, since he was not permitted to revoke a name given at birth.[167] After Ono was injured in a car accident, Lennon arranged for a king-sized bed to be brought to the recording studio as he worked on the Beatles’ last album, Abbey Road.” (Wikipedia)

What was the “Bed-In For Peace” all about? In short, it was John and Yoko’s non-violent ways of protesting wars and promoting peace.It was detailed in this fashion:

“Knowing their March 20, 1969 marriage would be a huge press event, John and Yoko decided to use the publicity to promote world peace. They spent their honeymoon in the presidential suite (Room #902) at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel for a week between March 25 and 31, inviting the world’s press into their hotel room every day between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. After their other stunts, such as the nude cover of the Two Virgins album, the press were expecting them to be having sex, but instead the couple were sitting in bed—in John’s words “like angels”—talking about peace with signs over their bed reading “Hair Peace” and “Bed Peace”. After seven days, they flew to Vienna, Austria, where they held a Bagism press conference.

During April 1969, John and Yoko sent acorns to the heads of state in various countries around the world in hopes that they would plant them as a symbol of peace.” (Wikipedia)

I don’t believe there is a reasonable argument that John and Yoko’s attempts to bring peace and love (to the forefront of western society and the world) did anything significant to change war and tumult at the time or since.

“Revolution” was inspired by political protests in early 1968. Lennon’s lyrics expressed doubt about some of the tactics. When the single version was released in August, the political left viewed it as betraying their cause. The release of the album version in November indicated Lennon’s uncertainty about destructive change, with the phrase “count me out” modified to “count me out, in”.

Despite Lennon’s antiwar feelings, he expressed in “Revolution” that he wanted “to see the plan” from those advocating toppling the system. The repeated phrase “it’s gonna be alright” in “Revolution” came directly from Lennon’s Transcendental Meditation experiences in India, conveying the idea that God would take care of the human race no matter what happened politically.” (Wikipedia)

It is ironic that the “peace-loving left” espoused violence like Mao and were upset when Lennon appeared to be turning his back on them. Well, he didn’t just appear to be, he did in both word and deed. That’s the downside to leftist thought: intolerance for other thought (especially within its own group). It is the same today as it was in 1968…on steroids.

Also ironic was Lennon’s call for a plan from those who wanted to topple “the system (or establishment)”. Anarchists, by definition, don’t have a plan beyond immediate chaos and disarray. They have proven, whether in Russia, China, North Korea, or Haiti, that the consequences of not planning for what happens after the “revolution” is unmitigated disaster.

Thus, I agree, for once, with John Lennon. He did the right thing by questioning the use of violence and chaos to destroy the target of the left’s hatred in his song “Revolution” in 1968. He was surprisingly “old school” when it came to the need for structure so that, ultimately, life could be lived in peace. We need that attitude to carry us through these dangerous times.

Footnote: Are the Beatles more popular than Jesus Christ? No.

Sales of The Holy Bible are estimated at 60 billion. When those copies given away are included, the total goes to 72 billion. The Beatles are estimated to have sold 600 million to 1 billion units.

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Comments»

1. jeremy - January 8, 2011

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