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John Lennon's Years of Revolution

Written by James A. MitchellAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by James A. Mitchell


List Price: $23.95


On Sale: December 03, 2013
Pages: 272 | ISBN: 978-1-60980-468-8
Published by : Seven Stories Press Seven Stories Press
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Synopsis|Excerpt|Table of Contents
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Nineteen-seventy-one was the year John Lennon left London and pop stardom for a life in New York City as a solo artist, record producer and activist looking to help end the war in Vietnam. He settled in Greenwich Village and quickly came to be seen by the leaders of the faltering anti-war movement as someone who was capable of reinvigorating it. The government was acutely aware of Lennon’s power as well, seeing him as a viable threat to Nixon’s reelection hopes, initiating extradition proceedings against him.
Lennon’s second solo album, Imagine, appeared in 1971, followed the following year by Sometime in New York City. Meanwhile, John and Yoko are searching for her daughter, a primary reason they came to America in the first place. And John is struggling to embrace feminism.
The Walrus and the Elephants tells a double-barreled story of music and politics, how the personal is political and the political is personal, of upheavals in one life amid the larger cultural upheavals of an era.


“We came here . . . not only to help John and to spotlight what’s going on . . . but also to show and to say to all of you that apathy isn’t it, and that we can do something.” —John Lennon, (Ann Arbor, MI, December 1971)  
IN DECEMBER 1971 John Lennon stood onstage to sing and speak on behalf of John Sinclair, a radical leader who was serving a ten-year prison sentence for possession of two joints of marijuana. Sinclair had been incarcerated for more than two years when Lennon pleaded his case. The decade of the sixties was over. A new decade was beginning.

Two days after Lennon sang, “Let him be, set him free,” a state circuit court reversed a previous decision and Sinclair walked out of prison.
With the nation reeling after years of political turmoil, America needed a new kind of leader. The recently turned ex-Beatle was one of the most famous and influential people on the planet. If he could get a man out of prison, what else might he do?

A government eager to silence enemies asked the same question. They thought Lennon might use his considerable clout to, in their words, “sway” the upcoming presidential election. It would be better for some people if he just went back to England, and the Nixon administration tried to make that happen through methods legal and otherwise.

“So flower power didn’t work,” Lennon said from the stage between songs that night. “So what? We start again.”
JOHN LENNON FELT like a newcomer to New York in the summer of 1971. He’d been to the city before, of course, but those were whirlwind Beatles visits, frantic tours where Manhattan was seen from limousines and hotel rooms. Lennon sought a lower-profile life, ironically in the very place where, seven years earlier, he had launched the “British invasion” of English rock and everything that followed. Back then all it took was an electric guitar, a smart-ass grin, and “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

But this time there were no teenage screams to drown out the music, no mobs of girls desperate for a glimpse at a Beatle. It wasn’t the sixties anymore, a decade of war and assassinations, flower power and protests. Lennon was no longer one of the “Fab Four,” a point he made often.

“Tried to shake our image just a cycling through the Village,” Lennon wrote in “New York City,” among a fresh batch of songs inspired by his new home. He and wife Yoko Ono had stayed first in Midtown’s St. Regis hotel before settling that fall at 105 Bank Street on the west side of Greenwich Village, a space formerly occupied by drummer Joe Butler of the Lovin’ Spoonful. The downtown neighborhood suited Lennon’s frame of mind: a gritty yet colorful free-for-all of music, radical politics, art, and dope smoked openly on the streets; an atmosphere worthy of the finest psychedelic “Sgt. Pepper” vibes.

The apartment was modest by New York standards, barely two rooms more functional than spacious. It was worlds apart from Tittenhurst, the English estate Lennon left behind, a home that made an ironic setting in the eyes of more than a few critics of the Imagine promotional film (“imagine no possessions”). Lennon was apparently embarrassed by his wealth, among other by-products of Beatlemania. He told authors Peter McCabe and Robert Schonfield, who that summer had been researching a book on the Beatles’ breakup, Apple to the Core, “I can’t really go on the road and take a lot more money. What am I going to do with it? I’ve got all the fucking bread I need.”

From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

1. The Advent of the Hippie Messiah
2. John and the Elephants
3. "Doped with Religion and Sex and TV"
4. "A Thourough Nuisance"
5. Word Play
6. "We'll Get it Right Next Time" 
7. "You Can't Keep a Good Band Down" 
A Post Trip Post Script: "We All Shine On..."

Author's Note: Sources and Methodology

From the Hardcover edition.
James A. Mitchell|Author Desktop

About James A. Mitchell

James A. Mitchell - The Walrus and the Elephants

Photo © Nishantini Nimal

JAMES A. MITCHELL is the author of But for the Grace: Profiles in Peace from a Nation at War, the story of an orphanage in Sri Lanka’s war-torn northeast; It Was All Right: Mitch Ryder’s Life in Music, and Applegate: Freedom of the Press in a Small Town. He has reported in print and on television from South Asia, and from Sri Lanka’s war-torn northeast in particular and the consequences of the twenty-six year civil war there. He lives in Southeast Michigan.

Author Q&A

Author James A. Mitchell is the author of But for the Grace: Profiles in Peace from a Nation at War (Mansion Field, 2009), the story of an orphanage in Sri Lanka's war-torn northeast; rock biography It Was All Right: Mitch Ryder's Life in Music (Wayne State University Press, 2008); and tales from a rural newspaper, Applegate: Freedom of the Press in a Small Town (2002, University Press of America). A reporter and editor for more than thirty years in New York, Michigan, and as a US Army soldier-journalist, Mitchell's works on a wide range of subjects have appeared in newspapers and magazines includingEntertainment Weekly, The Humanist, Video Business and Starlog. From South Asia, Mitchell produced video features for CNN's iReports in the aftermath of the twenty-six-year civil war. Mitchell lives in southeast Michigan, and serves with a nonprofit organization that supports the Grace Care Center children's home in Sri Lanka. The author makes frequent appearances before community and civic groups regarding Sri Lanka, and has appeared on radio and TV shows to discuss Detroit rock and roll.




"James Mitchell carefully and lovingly has reconstructed an inspiring and poignant chapter both in John Lennon's odyssey and in the tangled flow of the American anti-war and other protest movements of the late nineteen sixties and early seventies. The Walrus and The Elephants is an indispensable window into an amazing time in American history and the history of rock and roll."—Danny Goldberg, author of Bumping Into Geniuses

“This book serves as a backstage pass to the missing link between Lennon’s music and his activism, ranging from decriminalization of marijuana to termination of undeclared war —both ends of that spectrum fueled by the government’s misuse of power without compassion—revealing how the Nixon administration tried to silence him.”—Paul Krassner, author of Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture

“Lennon is one of the most documented individuals in modern culture, yet never before has this early New York period of his history been examined with greater depth and clarity.”—Lee Ranaldo, co-founder of Sonic Youth

From the Hardcover edition.

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