Lennon Was All Right, but His Disciples Were Thick and Ordinary
John was basically sympathetic to those who sought to rock things — he was, after all, perhaps the quintessential rocker — but he wanted a little more information before signing off on the head-knocking program.
“You say you’ve got a real solution … well, you know — we’d all love to see the plan.”
If the revolutionaries wanted a contribution from him, which many of them undoubtedly did, John reminded them: “We’re all doing what we can.” But he knew that a gentle reproof wasn’t going to be enough, so rather than leave any doubt he put the hammer (and sickle) down:
“But if you want money for people with minds that hate. … All I can tell you is brother you have to wait.” Why? Because ultimately, “it’s gonna be all right.”
The potent words stopped the would-be bomb-throwers in their tracks. Not all of them, of course -- late 1968 and the ensuing years would have more than their share of violence. But this song, coming as it did at the height of the Beatles’ almost unimaginable global popularity and influence, certainly exerted a calming influence on many of John’s young adherents — which is to say, a good part of the baby boom generation. If you were 17 then, as I was, and wondering which direction to take (a bright friend of mine in high school was planning to skip college in favor of training among the proles for “the revolution”), you suddenly had a sensible message from John Lennon, of all people, to go by: “Violence isn’t the way to bring about positive change. Don’t let yourself be swept into madness by people with little red books.”
Those words weren’t actually in the song, of course. And, in a typically Lennonesque twist, he also sang “and in” after “ but when you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out” in the first verse. But the rest of the song made the real message clear.
Everyone got it, except perhaps my lefty friend on his “Sandalista” pilgrimage to Havana. Did he ever stop to think about what might happen to any Cuban caught singing words like “But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow”? Probably not.
Nor did any of the Lennon retrospectives I saw this month in commemoration of what would have been his 70th birthday play or talk about the song that may well have kept some blood from flowing in the streets in 1968 and thereafter. Don’t worry, though. As John himself said: “Don’t you know it’s gonna be … all right.”