When the Beatles split, it was no surprise that John Lennon launched a successful solo career; some of his earlier songs spoke dramatically about peace. The truth was though that John Lennon wasn’t quite the pacifist that his music may have alluded to.
Two of John Lennon’s most famous solo songs were ‘Give Peace A Chance’ and ‘Imagine'; both songs were quite clear in their sentiments, both were nothing short of a call for peace. Both John Lennon and Yoko Ono gave a number of interviews about peace and both participated in anti-war demonstrations. One only has to think back to their honeymoon in the Amsterdam Hilton when they had their ‘bed-in for peace’ and their second bed-in in Montreal (where they recorded ‘Give Peace A Chance) to see the way they wanted the public to see them. Although the sentiments may have been accurate, they almost hid the real truth.
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Although the evidence has never truly been clear, it is believed that Lennon helped fund the IRA in the late 1960’s . Even in the middle of the 70’s, Lennon was up to no good, running amok in LA, getting into many brawls. He even once wore a woman’s sanitary towel on his head. One night, while drinking with Harry Nilsson, Lennon disrupted a club performance by The Smother Brothers. For a man of peace, he sure had his moments of proving it wrong.
During the 1960’s, while still living in Liverpool, Lennon never participated in demonstrations. This was rather surprising considering that a good number of art school students liked to take part – perhaps Lennon just couldn’t be bothered, perhaps he had no interest. Lennon did not like fighting but he did like to bully people that he saw as weaker than him. One incident of note occurred on a floating beat night upon the Royal Iris: Lennon, high on alcohol, saw a girls hand on the door jamb, Lennon kicked the door, it closed on her hand. He was laughing loudly as the girl’s hand dripped blood. Another incident happened in June 1963 at Paul McCartney’s 21st birthday. Bob Wooler made a comment about Lennon’s recent trip to Spain with manager Brian Epstein; Lennon lost the plot and attacked Wooler. A few punches were landed before they were separated, enough though that Wooler had to go to hospital. Lennon never truly apologised for that incident.
Lennon may have wanted peace outwardly but the truth seemed to be that he was incapable of having peace with himself. Consider the song Revolution: “When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me…”. On the version that was released as a single, Lennon wanted you to count him ‘out’. On the White Album version, he wasn’t so sure, he says you can count him out/in. Lennon admitted at the time that he wasn’t quite sure of his stance; something inside of him maybe realised that the only way to peace would involve some sort of destruction. It would not be the first or last time that some of his thoughts were at odds with each other.
When Lennon sang that a ‘working class hero was something to be’ it became one of the most defiant statements he ever made. The sad thing was that Lennon was not working class; a hero to some, maybe but certainly not working class. Lennon was interviewed by Tariq Ali in August 1971, for the revolutionary magazineRed Mole, he was quoted as saying:
“I’ve always been politically minded, you know, and against the status quo. It’s pretty basic when you’re brought up like I was to hate and fear the police as a natural enemy and to despise the army as something that takes everybody away and leaves them dead somewhere.”
Lennon had read The Communist Manifesto in his youth; Karl Marx was the only political figure on the Sgt Peppers album cover. But who really brought Lennon up to think that way, it certainly wasn’t Aunt Mimi! If one word could be used to sum up John Lennon, it would be – malcontent.
John Lennon may have been anything but a pacifist in reality but that shouldn’t take away from the message he tried to convey when talking of peace. It could be argued that the only way to truly realise the good is to first sample the bad. In that case, Lennon was in a perfect place to talk of peace as peace was the one thing that John Lennon could never truly have himself. If you wanted to hear why alcoholism is so bad, would you not rather hear it from someone that has suffered it for themselves – first hand experience being integral. In the same respect if you wanted to hear why peace is so good, would you not rather hear it from someone that knew all about the opposite. On that note; I leave you with the John Lennon song ‘Give Peace A Chance’.
P.S. This article was originally published by the same author on Triond on the 25th of February 2010 and can be found by clicking HERE.