(John Lennon) criticized America’s involvement in Vietnam, and, as the Sixties progressed, he became an increasingly important symbol of the burgeoning counterculture.
— Veteran rock music journalist Anthony DeCurtis, on the website JohnLennon.com, 10/8/10.
As a staunch Lennonist, I was tickled to get a letter some years back from a rich lefty friend that included a photo of him sitting with “John” in Havana. Well, he wasn’t really with John himself, since the ex-Beatle was long dead at that point. But he was sitting next to the famous “Imagine” statue of John on a park bench in the Cuban capital. My friend had a wicked grin on his face — he knew I’d hate to see evidence that he was fraternizing in some sense with the old red butcher Castro.
As I considered the picture, I thought: “Cute, but guess what would happen to any Cuban caught singing the lyrics to Lennon’s best song?” We might all differ as to what was his best song, but to me it was “Revolution 1,” usually just called “Revolution.”
When the Beatles’ “White Album” came out in late 1968, the world seemed almost literally to be coming apart at the seams. Against the backdrop of a big, increasingly unpopular war in Southeast Asia, riots, assassinations, and strikes had become commonplace and upheaval was the order of the day. The young, in particular, were on the march, trying to “kick out the jams” as the gritty Detroit band MC5 urged, and to end not only “the” war in Vietnam, but the very idea of war. Many of the young were in the thrall of a potent millennialism as well: In this “Age of Aquarius” there’d be not only no war, but no want, no racism … not even bad vibes. Nothing but bliss — whether of the drug-induced or self-induced variety, no one much cared. But how to achieve this exalted state of consciousness the young seemed to sense was really just around the corner?
For some, the answer was Lenin. The new age wouldn’t just birth itself, so there would have to be some rough stuff — knocking heads before you could cradle them, as the top Bolshevik himself had said — to bring its benefits to mankind.
But then a funny thing happened: Lenin met Lennon at the height of the world-shaking ructions of 1968, and Lennon won. On the first track of the fourth side of the white double album actually named “The Beatles,” he sang:
“You say you want a revolution … well, you know — we all want to save the world.”