Where Politics and Music Mingle

Gimme Some TruthThe recent release of the historical documentary film The U.S. vs. John Lennon , on FBI surveillance of the beloved Beatle, has propelled Jon Wiener’s Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files into the limelight.

The book chronicles the 14-year legal battle to win release of the FBI files, which revealed the Nixon Administration’s attempts in 1972 to “neutralize” John Lennon’s antiwar activity. In the last few weeks, some major media outlets have interviewed Wiener or published his comments: The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, and NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross have all utilized the author’s expertise. The John Lennon FBI files document an era when rock music had a real political force, when youth culture challenged the status quo in Washington, and when the president responded by mobilizing the FBI to silence the man from England who sang “Give Peace a Chance.”

Gimme Some Truth also tells the story of Jon Wiener’s campaign to win release of the Lennon files under the Freedom of Information Act, and the story of the ways the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations fought to preserve government secrecy in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

2 thoughts on “Where Politics and Music Mingle

  1. Jon Wiener’s “Gimme Some Truth” – a book on the FBI files about John Lennon – is an important book of startling relevance today given the assault on human rights and privacy during the Bush administration. Reading the book, one is struck by the seeming triviality of these files – Lennon might have dabbled a bit in New Left politics but really did almost nothing of political note. An FBI agent noted that Lennon was too under the sway of narcotics to be capable of much coherent political thought(Lennon’s usage was heavy – he might even have agreed!). The whole thing is, of course, disgusting because of the violation of privacy and the FBI paranoia about constitutionally guaranteed freedom of thought and expression. One gets the distinct impression that some people are just not comfortable living in a free society. In recent memory, a supposedly middle-of-the-road American politician seriously proposed charging the Dixie Chicks and Michael Moore with sedition. I suggest the politician in question heed Samuel Johnson, who said that a carriage needs to be struck at both ends before one can determine if it’s roadworthy. Apparently, American conservatives don’t see the value of a Devil’s Advocate. Wiener’s book also has some prime pieces of FBI stupidity such as making a ‘wanted’ poster of Lennon with another singer’s face on the poster. And some of the inane side remarks are in themselves worth a hoot. The FBI maintained that many previously censored passages of these reports could damage America’ security interests and perhaps even endanger the country. Read the passages for yourself and draw your own conclusions about the honesty of the American government here. The American government, in various administrations, seemed enamoured of secrecy for its own sake. As one Pope used to say, if they so love the truth, why do they so fear the light? An interesting name pops up in Wiener’s book. Kenneth Starr was all for uncovering the ‘truth’ about Bill Clinton’s petty sexual shenanigans, but fought against revealing the truth in the John Lennon FBI files. Apparently one’s passion for truth and disclosure varies with the object of inquiry. For those who have laboured long and fruitlessly on the academic treadmill, John Lennon’s appointment to a teaching post at New York University is a trifle depressing. Nevertheless, pay attention to the partially blacked-out passage about Lennon and New York. The FBI’s informant here, if you read closely, was obviously either an employee of York University or (!) a faculty member at this university. Truly, there is no honour amongst academics. Shame, shame, shame! Jon Wiener deserves full credit for his intellectual and moral stamina here. Really, we ignore his book at our peril. Wiener’s book casts a long, cold shadow on our time. People who won’t fight for their rights will lose them sooner or later. Greg Cameron, Surrey, B.C., Canada

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