Chapter 6


“They were out to get him. It can be very spooky to be followed or wire tapped.” —Paul Krassner

If anyone needed to get away, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were long overdue for a vacation in the summer of 1972. In San Francisco Lennon found a place similar to their now beloved Lower Manhattan. As with New York, Lennon wanted to believe he and Yoko could go about their business with little or no celebrity fanfare. They considered finding an apartment in San Francisco, a West Coast bookend to their Village loft. “We walked the streets all day, all over town and nobody hassled us,” Lennon said.79

The underground newspaper publisher Paul Krassner met them for lunch in late July. Krassner had been introduced to Yoko several years earlier, and spent time with the Lennons in Syracuse at the September 1971 opening of Yoko’s Emerson Museum show. He was a kindred spirit in many ways with Lennon. They shared a playful sense of the absurd that was balanced and guided by compassionate intelligence. In the early sixties Krassner had turned local journalism into community activism; he interviewed a doctor who performed abortions and followed up by establishing an underground referral service. Krassner indulged a theatrical side and tried stand-up comedy after he edited Lenny Bruce’s autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People. Friends included some of the era’s most interesting and infamous, whether taking LSD with Groucho Marx, romping as a Merry Prankster with Ken Kesey, launching the Realist, or vying to unseat Nixon alongside Jerry Rubin and Rennie Davis; Krassner was among the founders of the Youth International Party and credited with coining the term Yippie.

By the summer of 1972, the antipresidential sentiment gained momentum after the June break-in at the Democratic Party’s Watergate Hotel offices was discovered. Journalists across the country tried to keep pace with Woodward and Bernstein as the story unfolded, each new development raising questions as to just how far up the ladder the scandal reached. There was talk of secret White House accounts that financed the burglary, and the latest revelations included the involvement of former Attorney General John Mitchell, whose wife Martha had become a quotable media darling. The flamboyant Mrs. Mitchell had been credited with popularizing the presidential “Tricky Dick” nickname, and also described Vietnam protestors as “Russian revolutionaries.”

Martha had even juicier stories to tell in the wake of Watergate, and Realist reporter Mae Brussell explored a notable Beltway legend: “Why Was Martha Mitchell Kidnapped?” Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell were Watergate residents, and she claimed to have been forcibly silenced after the burglary. With Watergate, though, even the wildest theories often connected with actual targets.

Brussell’s report joined a growing chorus of questions about Nixon and company. Each revelation heightened the sense of danger felt by those, like the Yippies, who were fighting the fight. Krassner thought that Lennon should know a few things about the White House he’d angered, an administration more than willing to co-opt the law on its own behalf. Krassner showed Lennon the printer’s galleys of the Brussell article: the sheets awaited time on a printing press before the story went public.

Krassner had a story to tell, but as often was the case with independent publishers, he was short of the capital needed to get it in print. He told Lennon of his shortfall, and after lunch they went to a local bank to withdraw the $5,000 Krassner needed to get the presses rolling. Admittedly, Krassner showed the galleys to a man with a reputation for dropping cash to support efforts like the Realist.

Perhaps Lennon sympathized with a fellow suspect; he had a demonstrated soft spot for radicals known to be under federal watch, which Krassner surely was. Included in Krassner’s FBI file—which he obtained years later under the Freedom of Information Act—was a letter sent to Life magazine in response to a favorable 1968 profile of Krassner and the Realist. Krassner, the author said, was not the lovable crusader portrayed by Life: “To classify Krassner as some sort of ‘social rebel’ is far too cute. He’s a nut, a raving, unconfined nut. As for any intellectual rewards to be gleaned from The Realist—much better prose may be found on lavatory walls.”80

The letter was signed, Howard Rasmussen, Brooklyn College. As recounted years later in the Los Angeles Times, “Rasmussen” was an FBI agent. Never failing to recognize a solid turn of phrase, Krassner entitled his autobiography Confessions of a Raving Unconfined Nut.

More grievously, while the Left included plenty of people who posed no real threat to the establishment—delusions of counterculture grandeur notwithstanding—that didn’t matter to a corrupt government willing to abuse its authority to keep them quiet. Krassner says the Nixon-Beatle showdown resulted from a combination of factors—extreme abuse of presidential power and a cultural figure of rare if not unequaled stature.

Lennon confided to Krassner that he might have crossed a line, and perhaps some of his open defiance went too far. If conspiracy theorists were correct about the Nixon administration’s willing to use “any means necessary” to silence their opponents, all bets were off. A lot of people were paranoid, but Lennon had reasons for his fears.

“We had a conversation about musicians who died young,” Krassner says, the recent tragedies of Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix very much on the minds of the rock community. “I was quoting something that they were all really killed by the CIA or something like that. He said, ‘No, no. They were all self-destructive.’”

Lennon’s final words to Krassner on the topic left the publisher with chills long after his guests departed: “He said, ‘If anything happens to me and Yoko, it wasn’t an accident.’”

• • •

“You’re a long way from New York City,” Geraldo Rivera said, and asked a question tailor-made for Lennon. “What brings you here?”

“A car,” Lennon deadpanned. He paused, then shared a laugh with Rivera, the old-school punch line echoing Lennon’s answer to how he found America eight years earlier: “Turn left at Greenland.”

John and Yoko spent most of August 5, 1972, playing tourist with Rivera—by then a New York friend.81 They had first met in the Village and had seen each other often as the WABC-TV Eyewitness News reporter covered both the INS story and Yoko’s search for Kyoko. Getting together on the West Coast invited a chance to see some of the city in friendly company and catch up, on the record, about any new developments.

There was a lot to talk about. Lennon’s status with immigration remained uncertain, as were the whereabouts of Yoko’s daughter. Equally uncertain were Lennon’s professional options: freshly stung by the backlash to Some Time in New York City, any plans for a concert tour—musical rather than political—awaited visa allowances.

Lennon knew what he didn’t plan for during his stay in California: “We don’t want to do any politics,” he said. “We came down here to get away from that.”

Yet the issues were never far from Lennon’s mind while John and Yoko wandered with Rivera and a cameraman. They rode the cable cars and gave dozens of passengers a lifetime memory; they walked along the wharf, drove the roller-coaster streets, and stopped at a hillside lookout point for a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It seemed a good day: bright skies, the wind from the bay blowing strands of Lennon’s hair under a beret-style cap, his denim jacket flapping in the breeze. They’d been on the West Coast for several days, had spent the weekend at Krassner’s oceanside cabin, and were settled in the Hotel Miyako where Rivera and a skeleton crew recorded off-the-cuff segments for later broadcast.

Guitar in hand while holding a conversation, Lennon played bits and pieces from a mental jukebox stocked over a lifetime. He sang the first two verses of the truly appropriate “Fools Like Me” by Jerry Lee Lewis, a lament of misunderstood romance: “Everybody tells me love is blind / maybe so but I refuse to see.” He switched to a tropical “Down in the Caribbean” groove, riffed a few bars of Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue.” Geraldo asked about his influences and personal tastes, which seemed to come from a variety of sources. Many styles, but most from a time when Lennon was discovering his love of music.

“I don’t know what the titles are,” Lennon said. “I know the song but I don’t really know bluegrass from green grass. Everybody remembers their own favorites. I’m just doin’ the ones [from] when I first had a rock group.”

It always came back to music for Lennon. His forays into political activism were but one aspect of a multifaceted artist, one who had conquered his chosen field. Rivera wondered where Lennon’s muses would take him next.

“What do you want to do, really want to do, man?” Rivera asked. “You’ve done virtually everything, the Beatles. What’s left?”

“We want to pool our heads and do a new form,” Lennon said. “It could be movies, it could be anything. We’re always instinctive, we just follow the wind. Like sails on a yacht, when the wind gets in us we just go with it, you know.”

That ship, however, was stuck in a harbor, anchored by court appearances and legal challenges. Lennon was half-resigned to being deported, and mostly concerned with the limited options for Yoko: the courts had awarded her paper custody of Kyoko, but ex-husband Tony Cox could afford to be patient during the deportation proceedings. The ordeal left him and Yoko in a state of tired disbelief.

“You can’t believe it’s happening to you,” Lennon said. “You never know what the state’s doing. The judge said you must bring the child up in the continent of America, and we’re quite happy with that. We’d love to be here.”

If allowed to stay, Rivera asked, would Lennon continue his active participation in the antiwar movement?

“I don’t know what active is,” Lennon said. “I’d always look at every offer to help very thoroughly and decide the pros and cons of any move or cause. We consider everything. It depends on what the gigs are, right?”

Rivera had just the gig in mind, a project they’d talked about for several months. Rivera was equal parts investigative reporter, fiery activist, and gonzo crusader—and a journalist of unlikely beginnings. After he had graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1969, Rivera served as an investigator with the New York Police Department, then as counsel for a Puerto Rican activist group, the Young Lords. Television called and Rivera became an on-air reporter with New York’s ABC affiliate. In late 1971 he began investigating disturbing allegations about a New York hospital, and did so in decidedly street fashion. As recalled by the Atlantic magazine, Rivera “used a stolen key to investigate the Willowbrook State School for the Mentally Retarded. His televised report on the rampant abuse and neglect of the residents led to changes in state law and new standards for the treatment of the mentally disabled across the country.”82

The Willowbrook story aired in January 1972 and resulted in near-immediate change for patients and long-term improvements for an incalculable number of suffering souls. The Peabody Award–winning exposé put Rivera on the national broadcast map.

There was more to be done, and the Willowbrook reports spawned thoughts of a benefit concert. Rivera’s idea, to make a “one-to-one” connection between the people of New York and victims of Willowbrook, was perfectly consistent with what Lennon had been trying to say. The chance to bring both funds and awareness to the cause was exactly what he’d been looking for—to help a local charity, one not likely to spark controversy, and do what he most wanted and missed: get onstage and play some rock and roll for a reason.

As recalled in Lennon Revealed, Rivera said that Lennon had been eager to help from the minute he saw the televised reports, and to do more than just make a token appearance onstage.83 Lennon “was not a celebrity who just loaned his name to a cause,” Rivera said. “Both John and Yoko felt like adopted citizens of New York. They wanted to give something back. John was extra sensitive to the needs of others.”

• • •

Lennon was absent in body but present in spirit when the Republican National Convention got underway in Miami on August 21.

A last-minute change found both the Democrats and Republicans convening in Miami: some claimed that hippie pressure forced the GOP move from San Diego; others said a donation by ITT in Florida paved the way. First up in July was the Democratic nomination of George McGovern, whose perhaps too-progressive platform that included abortion rights and gay liberation added a sacrificial lamb–quality to his candidacy. A fair number of activists showed up and hung around Flamingo Park for a few days, but the big show was the following month when the Republicans convened.

The August convention attracted the expected celebrities to either protest or support the Nixon administration, generational lines as clear as ideology: antiwar stars included Shirley MacLaine, Warren Beatty, and fresh-from-North-Vietnam Jane Fonda; support for the president was shown by Jimmy Stewart, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jr.

If massive, violent problems had been expected, the convention failed to meet doomsday prophecies, although the week was not without incident: one widely reported clash featured those in support of the president spitting in the faces of disabled Vietnam Veterans Against the War, including one of the group’s leading voices, wheelchair-bound Ron Kovic (whose 1976 autobiography Born on the Fourth of July would be dramatized in a 1989 film by fellow veteran Oliver Stone). More than two hundred demonstrators were arrested after Miami Police—credited up to that point with emphasizing negotiations over assault tactics—let loose with teargas to end what they considered a small riot. (Rolling Stone’s Hunter S. Thompson and reporter Andrea Mitchell were among the gassed when they were assumed to be resisting arrest.)

As expected by the White House and FBI, Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman were present and accounted for, seen on the floor pretending to be reporters on assignment for Popular Mechanics magazine, but the words “You’re under arrest” were not directed at the Yippies most expected to cause problems. Along with presumably keeping an eye on “Hanoi Jane” Fonda, the FBI made sure that Miami agents and cops knew which of the high-profile radical leaders would most likely cause a problem.

This included John Lennon, who remained an expected visitor to Miami by investigators still determined to find reasons to deport. Attempts to have him arrested for narcotics had failed; either Lennon lived a clean, drug-free life or New York cops made little effort to help the feds.

A memo had been prepared for convention distribution that included a physical description of Lennon—to educate Southern officers as to his identity—with a note that a drug bust might help a fading federal argument: “Local INS has very loose case in NY for deporting subject on narcotics charge in England. INS has stressed to Bureau that if Lennon were to be arrested in US for possession of narcotics he would become more likely to be immediately deportable.”84

The name John Winston Lennon headlined a be-on-the-lookout poster that was distributed to local law enforcement agencies, and included a by-the-numbers profile of a white Englishman, approximately six feet tall, weighing 160 pounds, brown to blond hair, and the fact that he’d been arrested in his native land for narcotics.

This time a picture was included—unlike previous bureau memos that mentioned the need to have a photo “for identification purposes”—an image of a longhaired man with circular-frame glasses. The photo included a cartoon balloon emerging that had him declaring, “The pope smokes dope.”

But the FBI circulated a picture of the wrong man; it was David Peel. The photo was from a publicity release for Peel’s comically named album. Some confusion may be allowed—sort of—as the flyer included the names John Lennon and Yoko Ono as producers. But there was very little resemblance between Peel and any former Beatle.

The absence of John Lennon in Florida all but closed the FBI’s investigation. His nonappearance was confirmed in an August 30 memo filed by an agent—who went to Miami in undercover capacity as a member of the Weathermen Task Force: Lennon “was not observed by the case agent . . . it is believed the subject did not travel to Miami as he had previously planned.” INS attorney Vincent Schiano likewise reported the no-show, and said there was no additional evidence that Lennon was “active in the New Left,” a movement that suffered from internal disputes: “The subject has fallen out of the favor of activists Jerry Rubin, Stewart Albert and Rennie Davis, due to the subject’s lack of interest in committing himself to involvement in anti-war and New Left activities.”

The John Lennon case was placed on “pending inactive status.” The New York office sent headquarters a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” message; they would advise and inform if any changes took place in Lennon’s deportation case.

For some Movement leaders there was an empty-tank quality after the convention. Life under the federal microscope took its toll, and Jay Craven returned to DC and the re-relocated offices of a dwindling Coalition for Peace and Justice. Intimidation tactics kept the radicals in check whether in Miami or Washington, and any threat they might have once posed seemed to have dissolved. Craven recalls being tailed and shadowed throughout the convention, and realizing that the Nixon agenda would continue no matter their opposition.

“We were under a lot of surveillance. They had agents in the next office who wanted us to know they were there,” Craven says. “The Nixon administration’s effort to intimidate and strategically block the Movement won.”

Whatever the future held for the coalition and the nearly defunct Yippies, Rennie Davis knew it no longer included John Lennon. In their minds Lennon backed away from the Movement as a whole due to green card concerns; in reality he’d simply distanced himself from Rubin, but kept on fighting. The politically driven concert tour had been a great idea once, the peak of a burgeoning movement. But instead of a victory cheer the Movement seemed ready for a funeral march.

“My initial reaction to John coming out to join us was really colored by the larger context of the enormous role he played,” Davis says. “He breathed life into something that had lost its way and was unwinding.”

Even without Lennon in their future, Davis wondered if there was any Left remaining to rally at this uncertain threshold.

“Coming off this phenomenon of young people who stepped up to change the world, by Miami it was over,” Davis says. “There was one more demonstration outside the White House, but for all practical purposes it was at an end.”

• • •

Lennon approached the One-to-One benefit concert as more than just a unique performance; the August 30 show was intended to be the first of many.

“I was ready to go on the road for pure fun,” Lennon told Rolling Stone of his expectations. “I didn’t want to go on the road for money. I felt like going on the road and playing music. And whatever excuse—charity or whatever—would have done me.”

John and Yoko returned to New York and spent the latter half of August rehearsing with Elephant’s Memory—long, hard, and loud; stories are told that initial sessions in a rented space on West Tenth Street they’d christened Butterfly Studios sparked neighbor complaints, so rehearsals continued at the Fillmore East.

Photographer Bob Gruen recalled Lennon embracing the increased rehearsal schedule, and his love for music overcame his performance anxieties. “A spirit of rock ’n’ roll really permeated the space,” Gruen said.85 The common denominator of music served as a way to loosen up while getting the show together. Bonding continued during postrehearsal dinners, often at the uptown Home restaurant Lennon had come to enjoy, and on one notable occasion to a Chinatown establishment known to stock a full bar. Gruen said the long night grew longer when Lennon—who had always picked up the group dinner tabs—realized he had no cash on him. Neither did anyone else, and additional rounds of drinks were ordered while they waited for one of John and Yoko’s assistants to wake up and bring money.

The final selections would be determined from among dozens of songs the group prepared, running through arrangements over and over. Lennon spoke or whispered as often as he sang to avoid shredding his voice prior to showtime.

Lennon was confident in the music, Adam Ippolito says, at least as far as the band was concerned. The overall sound was enhanced with added thump to the rhythm section: session drummer Jim Keltner served as a second percussionist—a frequent collaborator heard on Lennon’s first two post-Beatles albums—along with former Elephant’s bassist John Ward.

“By that point he was feeling pretty good,” Ippolito says. “We were in a groove playing together. He was ready.”

The Elephants needed to be equally prepared. The show represented a marked graduation from what the band had experienced by that point in their career: no matter how enthusiastic the crowds at Max’s Kansas City, club dates were a world away from a packed arena audience eager to cheer for a music legend. The band recalls that Lennon and Apple made sure the group’s equipment was suitable to the venue—Madison Square and beyond. Lennon, Tex Gabriel recalls, was as quick to spread money on the music as he was contributing to underground newspapers or Leftist ideals.

“There was this guy the Lennons had who carried around this black bag,” Gabriel says. “Inside was thousands of dollars in cash; loads of money like from a bank heist or something. John told him to take a certain amount to go get Marshall amps and whatever else we needed. Didn’t rent them, just bought them.” Bandsmen estimated that Lennon gave upward of $100,000 toward equipment purchases.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot now,” Van Scyoc says, “but $100,000 in gear at that time was a lot of money.” He recalls being impressed by the quality of equipment, which clearly indicated plans beyond the benefit show. This is the moment the Elephants had been waiting for, to go on the road for Lennon’s debut tour as a solo artist.

“When the thing came up we thought, ‘Thank God: a gig!’ We jumped all over that,” Van Scyoc says. “We definitely hadn’t been playing venues like the Garden with the Elephants, that’s for sure. We were in front of three thousand seniors once, but this was very high profile, about as high as you can get.”

More than a just a show, the “Concert to Free the Children of Willowbrook”—as originally called in Billboard magazine—was the climax to “One-to-One Day” in New York City, so declared by Mayor John Lindsay. Lennon’s involvement was not restricted to rehearsal and stage time: he and Yoko joined fifteen thousand Willowbrook volunteers and patients for a preshow picnic in Central Park, where the Sheep Meadow played host to games, music, hot-air balloon rides, and encounters with a wandering Beatle.

Intentionally, there was limited fanfare at the picnic. Lennon found the balance he’d sought of using his celebrity to help a cause yet remaining one of a crowd, not the spotlit leader—a focus that would be unavoidable when they hit the stage.

• • •

“Welcome to the rehearsal,” Lennon greeted the afternoon crowd, fifteen-thousand strong in Madison Square Garden for the first of two shows.86

On a no-frills stage that barely made room for musicians and amplifiers, harsh spotlights brightened Lennon’s round blue eyeglasses; he’d dressed Village casual in an olive-green US Army shirt that bore sergeant’s stripes, a Second Infantry Division patch, and the name Reinhardt. But despite his outward displays of confidence, the Elephants knew that Lennon was more than a little nervous. There was a lot at stake for him, to prove his worth with new material that had met mixed reactions, and—as all four former Beatles had to come to terms with—expectations as to what he’d play. Everyone had certain hopes, including the Elephants. Gary Van Scyoc recalls preshow discussions regarding the set list.

“We wanted to do a ton of Beatles songs,” Van Scyoc says. “But he only allowed us to do ‘Come Together.’ We rehearsed about ten, but that was a cool one, we got off on that.”

The band enjoyed the chance to play a brief set as one of the concert’s opening acts—along with Sha Na Na, Roberta Flack, Melanie, and Stevie Wonder, all of whom performed gratis for the cause. The spotlight, however, was clear, as were hopes for a little musical nostalgia.

“We’re going back to the past just once,” Lennon emphasized before launching into “Come Together.”

Lennon may have jinxed himself when he told the crowd, “You probably remember this better than I do . . . something about a flattop.” Sure enough, the lyrical wordplay he sang that began with “Here come old flattop”—a song composed of fragmented imagery—didn’t quite match the Abbey Road recording known so well by the fans. A few stumbles here and there: “over you” rather than “over me”; he didn’t seem sure if he had hair “under,” “beneath,” or “below” his knees. Each misstep produced a visible grimace.

“I nearly got all the words right,” Lennon said at song’s end. He shook his head as he sat at a piano. “I’ll have to stop writing those daft words, man; I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m getting old.”

The bandsmen held up their end of the musical ship, doing their damnedest not to disappoint Lennon. Adam Ippolito says that the hour-plus performance was clearly a different and greater pressure than doing one or two quick songs on TV.

“He was self-conscious and didn’t like the fact that there was a mistake or two,” Ippolito says. “Most people didn’t notice.”

The set list allowed the band to demonstrate its own place in Lennon’s musical life with selections from Some Time in New York City, and not just serve as stand-ins for Paul, George, and Ringo. “New York City” was a surefire crowd-pleaser at the Garden, and one of five Some Time songs along with “Woman Is the Nigger of the World,” “Sisters O Sisters,” “Born in a Prison,” and “We’re All Water.”

Lennon’s first two post-Beatles albums were well represented: “Imagine” was “one of the supreme songs of the set,” Van Scyoc recalls. Lennon had familiar songs to offer from his solo repertoire: “Instant Karma,” a blistering “Cold Turkey,” and a singalong “Give Peace a Chance,” which featured the audience banging tambourines they’d been given at the door. For a lesser-known number, “Well, Well, Well,” Lennon playfully told the crowd it was “a song from one of the albums I made since leaving the Rolling Stones.”

Nerves aside, Lennon had fun. The biggest grin he wore that night was during a rowdy rip-up of Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog.” Lennon and Gabriel danced with their guitars; Stan Bronstein grabbed a girl and twisted his beefy way through the song, old-time rock and roll at its finest. The Beatles were known to kick-start recording sessions with a romp through tunes they played in the Cavern days, a habit Lennon continued with the Elephants.

“When rehearsing we used to do those songs just to warm up,” Van Scyoc says. “It wasn’t like a conscious thing, but we got him in a groove doing that stuff. We pulled out old Chuck Berry songs, always reverting back to that old ’50s stuff. Whenever John really wanted to relax, that’s where he’d go.”

The One-to-One show captured moments of pure Lennon, the essence of his life as an artist. While the show was named for its humanitarian cause, Lennon made that personal connection in ways few musicians could. He remained one of the most soul-baring singer-songwriters to ever form an intimate relationship with an audience. Not many would write a song like “Mother”; fewer still would perform it in such stark capacity. A lonely spotlight, spare piano chords, a singular wounded voice revealed Lennon’s deepest pain to thousands of friends:

Mother . . . you had me, but I never had you;
Father, you left me, but I never left you.
So . . . I . . . I just want to tell you . . . Good-bye.

“He absolutely put it all out there,” Gabriel says. What the audience saw gave similar chills to the guitarist standing ten feet away from Lennon. “It was raw, and it was real. Very real. There was no pretense with him.”

Any fault, Lennon freely said, lay with his own performance, the rough edges heard at times that afternoon and evening. Separate from a critical analysis of the music, Lennon gave every impression of wanting to get back out there and do it better.

“We’ll get it right next time,” Lennon said near the end of the show, a brief nod to the random flaws likely unheard by the audience.

Next time never happened. John Lennon never again played a full concert, never again headlined marquees around the country or world. Other than a few brief, one- or two-song performances scattered over the next two years, Lennon’s 1972 Madison Square Garden shows were the warm-ups for a tour unfinished, a legacy of songs unheard.

• • •

In a certain regard the One-to-One concerts were an unqualified success. A tremendous amount of good resulted from the overall attention and awareness generated by Rivera, an incalculable amount of assistance to patients and families over the years. Lennon was aware of the recent history of rock charities being taken to the cleaners, as was alleged with Allen Klein and George Harrison’s Bangladesh benefit; he said during the show that he hoped the donated money reached its intended beneficiary.

It did. Funds from the concert went to three New York charities that built residences for Willowbrook patients and others with similar needs. ABC paid a reported $300,000 for the rights to film and broadcast the event, and negotiations began for an album. More than $1.5 million would be generated over time from broadcast revenue and record sales. The $60,000 contribution to the cause that Lennon made when he purchased tickets for patients and caregivers was left out of FBI reports that speculated on Lennon’s contributions to questionable beneficiaries.

At the time, the critical reception from music fans and reviewers was mixed. The star attraction was duly praised, but Lennon was again angered at the eagerness by some to publicly deride Yoko, who had a few too many vocal spots in the eyes of her detractors.

“Everyone loved the band,” Gary Van Scyoc recalls. “But it was a little too much of her and it just rubbed people the wrong way.”

Not every critic jumped on the anti-Yoko bandwagon. Writing for Soul Sounds magazine, Toby Mamis was among her supporters.87

“A lot of people don’t get off on Yoko Ono’s music,” Mamis said. “I think she’s taking rock in new directions and we should go with her and see what she discovers. A lot of ostriches like to keep their heads in the sand and pretend things will always be this way and that ain’t true. Someone’s got to find out where we turn next and Yoko, among others, is looking.”

Mamis reminded skeptics that this was Lennon’s first major production on his own, and that Elephant’s Memory—“one hell of a good hard rock group”—was the first stable team of players Lennon worked with since the Beatles, a band that Lennon recorded with, rehearsed, “planned and sweated with the anticipation of a live concert.”

Rolling Stone’s conclusion was mixed: “His performance was a fresh reminder of what everybody had known all along, that he is a startlingly good songwriter and a strong, intelligent, expressive singer.” Lennon “appeared to be having a great time,” and even “managed to get some life into ‘Woman Is the Nigger of the World,’ an awful, lapel-grabbing song, the political rectitude of which never compensates for [bad lyrics].”

Years later, in 1986, Rolling Stone’s David Fricke looked back on the show when a videotape of the concert was released.88 Fricke appreciated the gems in the rough, and applauded the “soulful gusto of Lennon’s singing” and “the surprising breadth of his set list.” He praised Elephant’s Memory—“the left-wing New York club band”—for solid work. The Madison Square Garden concert would be remembered as much for its rarity as its intent. “Classic Lennon,” Fricke called it. “Because it’s all here—his humor, pain, anger and unshakable faith in the power of rock & roll to change the world.”

• • •

The Elephants played one final performance with Lennon on September 6 for the Labor Day Jerry Lewis telethon. The annual benefit for muscular dystrophy seemed an odd platform for Lennon—arguably more so than Mike Douglas—given Lewis’s usual guest list of old-guard entertainment in the style of former partner Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and other Las Vegas luminaries.

Not that Lennon adapted his style: sunglasses in place, hair flowing in a variety of directions, Lennon first sang “Imagine” before the band rallied the studio audience into joining a reggae-tinted version of “Give Peace a Chance.”

“Send money now . . .” Lennon sang in between title chants to get the phones ringing.

Many speculated that Lennon’s brief appearance—coming so soon on the heels of the benefit concert—was designed to curry favor with the government. Doubtful, says Gary Van Scyoc. Lennon was consistent with his views and plans. Critical barbs didn’t dampen Lennon’s eagerness to get back on tour; Lennon believed the deportation effort was based on his peace promotion, which he also continued.

Van Scyoc recalls the band and Lennon growing equally impatient about touring. They’d started their relationship less than a year earlier from Mike Douglas to the recording studio and Madison Square Garden, getting everyone ready for something that just wasn’t happening.

“It was just boom-boom-boom at a thousand miles an hour,” Van Scyoc says. “You think it’s going to go on forever and, okay, we’ll be patient. Nobody knew the green card issue was going to take years.”

Securing his residency would prove a long, frustrating ordeal. The deportation case stalled in court, and motions from attorney Leon Wildes worked their way into a system of extended deadlines, adjournments, and delays. There seemed little threat that he’d be kicked out, but Lennon was unable to leave the country for fear of being blocked Charlie Chaplin–style from reentry. His now-extended visitor’s visa allowed only limited options for what he could do professionally; he could record and perform, but not for a fee.

Although his case was now considered a low priority, there seemed little interest in pushing the matter to a conclusion and Lennon was left in legal limbo. Media attention faded due to the non-newsworthiness of adjournments and extensions, and Wildes realized they were in for a long wait: “They were afraid if they dismissed it they would be accused from the other side of being too lenient,” Wildes says. “So it just hung out there, they didn’t know what to do with him. They had wanted him out at one time and now they couldn’t care less.”


79 Steven D. Price, 1001 Greatest Things Ever Said about California (Guilford, CT: Lyons Press/Globe Pequot, 2007), p. 151.

80 Paul Krassner, Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counter-Culture (New York: Touchstone, 1994), 181.

81 John Lennon and Yoko Ono, interview with Geraldo Rivera, WABC-TV Eyewitness News, broadcast and unedited footage, recorded August 5, 1972.

82 Sridhar Pappu, “Being Geraldo,” Atlantic, June 2005.

83 Larry Kane, Lennon Revealed (Philadelphia: Running Press, 2005), 242.

84 “John Winston Lennon,” FBI Records: The Vault, Additional contextual and background information can be found in Jon Wiener, Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).

85 Bob Gruen, John Lennon: The New York Years (New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2005), 40.

86 John Lennon: Live in NYC (Sony Video, 1986).

87 Toby Mamis, “One to One,” Soul Sounds, December 1972.

88 David Fricke, review of Live in New York City by John Lennon, Rolling Stone, April 10, 1986.

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