Saturday, December 9, 2017


listening to: that's when I reach for my revolver - mission of burma

March 30, 1981. There it was: news footage of newly-elected President Ronald Reagan walking toward his limousine, waving toward a crowd, when suddenly gunshots erupt in a cacophony.  Two dozen secret service agents and law officers jump into action as Reagan is pushed inside his awaiting limo.  The video footage appeared on television sets around the country that evening.  To millions of Americans it rekindled memories of the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and John F. Kennedy - but I immediately thought of John Lennon.  Lennon had been shot to death just weeks prior.  A deranged assassin pulled out a revolver outside Lennon's longtime residence, the Dakota building in New York City, then shot Lennon several times in the back.  Likewise Reagan was shot at close range with a revolver, not too far from his home. Also like Lennon, Reagan was immediately rushed to the nearest hospital where his visibly shaken wife demanded to be at his side.  The difference of course being that Lennon's wife, the conceptual artist Yoko Ono, watched blood gurgle from Lennon as he took his last choking breaths before dying, while Reagan's wife Nancy, a former Hollywood actress, watched Reagan recover and survive. It was later reported that if Reagan's would-be assassin's bullet had hit just a half inch closer to Reagan's heart, then Reagan would have been killed as well.

I was still a few months shy of my 13th birthday at the time. All I really cared about in life was sports, mostly football.  My afternoons consisted of hours and hours of football.  Epic battles ensued as all my neighborhood friends and enemies divided into two teams then bashed each around a meadow on the edge of town each day after school.  At sunset I'd bicycle home, my body riddled with bumps, bruises, my shirt ripped and my pants grass-stained.  A highlight reel of that day's game played inside my head until, by nightfall, these images were replaced by heroic dreams of making future tackles and brilliant catches.  But my obsession with football was rudely interrupted on the night Lennon was murdered.  It was a Monday night and I was up late watching an NFL game between the Patriots and Dolphins when, in the closing moments of regulation, famed sports announcer Howard Cosell paused the play-by-play to announce that John Lennon, the most famous of the Beatles, had just been shot.  I sat there bewildered.  My mother was washing dishes in the kitchen while my younger brother was already asleep on the couch.  Cosell's words seemed like about the strangest thing I had ever heard during a football game.  The shooting of a musician... Why was this being reported during a football game?  As the Patriot's place kicker set up for the potentially game winning field goal, my attention left the game entirely.  "Why in the world would someone kill a musician?  Especially a Beatle?" I wondered...

I didn't consider myself a Beatles fan at that age, but like most American households, John Lennon's music (especially with the Beatles) was a regular presence in my life while growing up during the 1970s.  For the next couple of days after Lennon's death, I noticed my mom and other grownups visibly disturbed by the tragedy.  It was just seventeen years earlier that Lennon had first burst into the American consciousness.  As the leader of the Beatles, his voice sang out from American radio sets just days after our nation witnessed one of our greatest national tragedies - the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Kennedy had been gunned down in broad day light on the streets of Dallas, Texas.  The assassination of JFK hit America hard.  America's golden age, a period of more than a decade of post-WWII afterglow, was suddenly sacked.  The entire nation went into a state of mourning, shock and sorrow.  America was in desperate need of something to help it recover, something to make Americans feel good again,  something to allow them to laugh again and to dance again and enjoy life again.  And right then, at that very moment, here came the Beatles, and Beatlemania exploded across the United States in a phenomenon never seen before or since.  Lennon and company invaded the national media and took over entire cities with their sold out live performances,  They sold more vinyl records than anyone else in history. Their images were plastered across every magazine and newspaper in the land.  They starred in top grossing critically-acclaimed films, had a popular animated series on TV, made historical TV appearances and, during the week of April 4, 1964, they achieved the unheard of feat of having all 5 of the top 5 spots on the weekly Billboard Hot 100 pop music chart.  The Beatles were bigger than Jesus.   It seemed like they had rescued America.

Seventeen years later though, it would be Lennon's assassination that sent Americans into mourning. Upon hearing of Lennon's murder, crowds of New Yorkers gathered outside the Dakota building.  Within minutes there were thousands.  Eventually this crowd was herded into New York's Central Park. The outpouring of grief swept across the nation, the globe in fact.  The media covered Lennon's assassination in as much detail and intensity as if it was the assassination of a world leader.  To many Lennon was more influential than John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr.  His reach was global, ageless, emotional, personal.  In response to his death, millions of people from all corners of the planet paused for ten minutes of silence to remember Lennon. Every radio station in New York City went silent for those ten minutes. Extreme Beatles fans went as far as committing suicide.  Millions wept.

Reagan was sworn into office just a month afterward, and similar to how Lennon and the Beatles had helped America heal from the death of John Kennedy 17 years earlier, it was now President Reagan whom Baby boomers would look upon to help them heal.  Not just from the assassination of Lennon, but from a decade that seemed to be mired in one crisis after another: the 1970s.  Although I was sheltered in an ideallic Midwest small-town during the 1970s, the decade was a low point for America that compared to the Great Depression and the Civil War.  To paraphrase President Jimmy Carter, it was an "Era of Malaise".  Americans of the "Era of Malaise" were the first American's in history to witness America losing a war (Vietnam).  Their TV sets brought them horrific images of U.S. soldiers committing unspeakable atrocities to innocent women and children on a nightly basis.  There were ghastly, real life testimonies of soldiers raping young Vietnamese girls then savagely beating and killing them in front of their parents and siblings.  The magazines and newspapers were filled with confessions and details about innocent children being burnt in their village huts.  If this wasn't enough to cause havoc on the American conscience during the Malaise Era, there was also the Watergate scandal, a televised live action national tragedy that put the very validity of our nation's government in doubt. America's very soul was in question, and the confusion was compounded further as, after 25 years of economic prosperity and expansion, America's economy was suddenly in turmoil.  The economy was so unstable that new terms actually had to be invented in order to describe it - terms like "stagnation" and "the misery index".  On top of that, the disintegration of the American nuclear Family was unfolding before our citizen's eyes.  All the pillars of American culture that Americans had grown up believing in - God, country and family - were suddenly crumbling.  The assassinations, turmoil and civil right's activism of the 1960's had ushered in the "culture wars" of the 1970's - which not only pitted father against son, but father against mother, mother against daughter, and daughter against son.  The divorce rate doubled in America every single year from 1965 to 1975.  The Pill was suddenly available.  Abortion was legalized.  Gays were not only coming out of the closet but demanding attention and equal rights.  Blacks were forcing controversial affirmative action laws upon legislatures.  Women were burning their bras and speaking up for equal rights.  There was wife-swapping and disco music.  The Malaise Era American witnessed the happy, hippy recreational drug use of the 1960's give way to frequent overdoses of drug addicts and street punks.  Crime was running rampant, hitting all-time highs as urban areas were experiencing white flight and cities were going bankrupt.  The headlines were full of hi-jackings, kid-nappings, bombings and cult abductions. By the time Jimmy Carter made his infamous "malaise" speech in 1979, the average American was not just in a fog of malaise, but they were exhausted, out of work, resentful and suspicious of their government.  They were confused about the present, afraid of the future and without any hope for tomorrow.  And then, right on cue, as if scripted from a Hollywood screenplay, with his easy smile and down-home charm, in rides the tall, handsome hero on his white horse to save the day, to give our nation the sure-footed direction that it so badly needed.  Ronald Regan was here to give hope of bringing America back to simpler more wholesome times.

That was the promise at least.   Reagan, who had a good-natured, optimistic singing cowboy vibe about him, campaigned on the idea of making America Great Again - and Americans thirstily bought into it.  They were tired of being malaised.  And, as if to demonstrate just how great America was, Reagan's first order of business was to preside over an inauguration that proved to be an exercise in extravagance.  The celebration of wealth and privilege that Washington DC put on display the day of Reagan's inauguration was the likes of which had never been witnessed before. Corporate jets lined up wing to wing on the tarmac at the National Airport in DC as America's wealthiest citizens poured into the city.  So many millionaires flooded into DC that the capital actually ran out of available limousines and had to import fleets from as far as Atlanta, Georgia.  Fur coats, diamond jewelry and designer dresses were on display everywhere you looked.  Banquets overflowing with gourmet food by world famous chefs cramped every hotel and fine establishment in the city.  By the end of the evening well over a million hors d'oeuvres were catered to the thousands of corporate sponsors that now occupied the nation's capital. Nancy Reagan, the new first lady wore an outfit that cost over $25,000 (enough to feed 50 welfare recipients for an entire year, as one newspaper man reported).  Nancy Reagan also insisted on having several hair stylists on call that night, waiting in the helicopters that flew her from one inauguration party to the next. The “haves” were ready to celebrate, and if John Lennon were still alive he might have saw fit to reprise his famous quote, “...Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And for the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry...”

A couple weeks later, when the news footage of Reagan being shot at close range was being played over and over by TV stations, I was still thinking about John Lennon.  It's strange that, just as Lennon's entry into American lore was forever linked to JFK's assassination, now his demise was linked to the assassination attempt on Reagan - at least in my mind anyway.  On the very day Reagan was shot, headlines of Lennon and his murder were still gracing the covers of magazines and newspapers.  And the juxtaposition of these story headlines sent my 13 year old brain reeling on a chase to link these two men together. The obvious, most tangible link between Reagan and Lennon largely hinged on the fact that it was hard to imagine two human beings of such iconic stature whom better represented the polar opposite sides of the monumental cultural tug-of-war that had been fought in the United States of the 1960s and 1970s.  This cultural war, where the ultra-conservative, buttoned-down, aging establishment was suddenly challenged by the free-loving, dope-smoking, radical hippy youth, defined not only America in the 60s, but it would define the central cultural evolution of America over the next two decades as well.  The culture war changed America to such a degree that by the time of Lennon's assassination, the things that Americans had only been able to whisper about in back rooms prior to the invasion of the Beatles – subjects like race, religion, war and sex – were now being confronted out loud at dinner tables, and out on the streets, and in the movies and on the TV sets of America. Lennon was a touchstone for this change that had taken place in America - from his remarks about the Beatles being bigger than Jesus to his historical TV appearances on the Dick Cavett Show and the Michael Douglas Show.  And plenty of folks couldn't help but wonder if the motive behind Lennon's assassination had something to do with all that.  Had this change in American values so deeply enraged the core of conservative America that the only way to strike back was by putting an end to the life of the man who had been such a focal point for so much of that change?

For several weeks after Reagan's shooting, I was hungry for all the news and information about the two shootings I could get.  As the stories of the two assassination attempts unfolded it was revealed that the man who shot Lennon – a young drifter named Mark David Chapman – was obsessed with the idea of celebrity.  Chapman had been a fan of the Beatles but had become disillusioned by some of (what he perceived as) Lennon's anti-Christian comments and lyrics, both with the Beatles and then during Lennon's solo career.  Still though, in the final days leading up to shooting, Chapman loitered around the Dakota Building, giddy with the idea of possibly seeing Lennon in person.  On the actual day of the shooting Chapman even asked Lennon for an autograph.  Interestingly enough, as the story of Reagan's shooting came out, it was revealed that the young man who shot Reagan, John Hinkley Jr. had a similar fascination with celebrity.  While Chapman seemed to believe that the Beatles and J.D. Salinger (author of The Catcher in the Rye) were sending him signals via their creative works, Hinkley believed that the actress Jodi Foster was sending him messages through her work on the movie screen.

The similarities between Hinkley and Chapman did not end there. Looking at photos of Hinkley and Chapman from that time, there is a striking physical resemblance between the two. In fact they looked as if they could have been twin brothers. Both young men were 25 years old – both were born in May of 1955.  Both grew up in Texas and they both embarked on adulthoods that consisted largely of drifting from place to place.  Hinkley dropped out of college in 1975 and moved to Hollywood to become a songwriter. Similarly Chapman worked as a musician who played guitar at churches and nightspots throughout the 1970s.  But the most intriguing connection between the two was that both had close, long-term ties to World Vision – an international religious organization that had allegedly been a “front” for the CIA. Chapman had been a key aid to the program director at World Vision.  His position lead to meetings with the 38th President Gerald Ford as well as other top government officials. Hinkley's connection to World Vision was just as prominent: the president of World Vision was his very own father, John Hinkley Sr.

This World Vision connection seemed like too much of a coincidence, even to my 13 year old brain.  And in fact, over the years it prompted conspiracy theory talk centered around the CIA's mind control program (dubbed Project MKUltra).  The existence of MKUltra had been mistakenly revealed to the public three years prior to Lennon's assassination thanks to a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request.  Initially, MKUltra was only alluded to in the wake of Congressional investigations of Watergate by the Church Committee and the presidential commission (aka the Rockefeller Commission) that investigated illegal activity conducted by the military and Intelligence agencies.  Most of the information regarding MKUltra was systematically destroyed by Richard Nixon's CIA director (Richard Helms) during the Watergate panic in 1973, but enough documentation survived to reveal that the U.S. government had indeed used LSD and hypnosis in an effort to brainwash unwitting citizens into become assassins.  World Vision was suspected as one of the 'fronts' the CIA used to recruit and employ these assassins.  So its not surprising that the fact that Hinkley and Chapman had such close ties to World Vision led conspiracy theorist to believe the Lennon and Reagan assassination attempts had been government sponsored.

As strange as all of that seems, I didn't pay much attention to conspiracy theories.  Why would the government want Lennon or Reagan dead?  And honestly, at 13 years of age,  I didn't even really know what the CIA was.  Still though, with each bit of information I came across, the deeper I found myself drawn into this story.  I became a fixture at my local library, digging up past newspaper accounts and magazine articles on anything dealing with Reagan or Lennon.  And with each bit of information I found, the more the Lennon-Reagan shootings became intertwined in my mind until an obvious narrative emerged - a narrative that centered around the ideological battle between Reagan and Lennon.  It was a head to head ideological fight that first erupted drastically in 1969 when LSD guru Timothy Leary asked John Lennon to write the slogan song for his campaign to unseat Reagan, who was then the Governor of California.  Leary asked Lennon to write the song around his campaign slogan “Come Together”.  Lennon obliged, and when "Come Together" was released months later it immediately become an anthem for the Baby Boomer generation.  Reagan’s reaction to Leary and Lennon's challenge was swift.  In 1966 Reagan had centered his campaign around the platform of cleansing California of the epidemic of stoned hippies that were taking over his state.  In fact, Reagan was instrumental in getting California to outlaw LSD.  So now, challenged by Leary, Reagan encouraged criminal prosecution of Leary for an earlier possession of a marijuana charge.  Leary was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison.  Instead of serving his time, Leary fled the country, becoming a fugitive, thus Leary's attempt to unseat Reagan was unsuccessful.  Reagan remained in office.

But remaining in office as the Governor of California wasn't Reagan's end goal.  Reagan had his sights set higher and in 1968 he made his first run for the Presidency of the United States.  Although he was soundly beaten by Richard Nixon for the Republican nomination, the defeat caused Reagan to realize his weakness:  He simply wasn't considered as a heavy weight on the national level like Nixon was.  But there was something Ronald Reagan had in common with John Lennon: he understood the potential power of the burgeoning American mainstream mass media.  Reagan played football in college, then he was sports announcer, then a B-movie actor and was now an avid NFL watcher.  And one night, just a week prior to Richard Nixon being sworn in as the 37th President of the United States, Reagan was watching a football game, Superbowl III no less.  He had been wrestling with ideas on how to become a national political figure when, like the rest of America, Super Bowl III captured Reagan's imagination.  Superbowl III was the first time the moniker 'Superbowl' was actually used for the National Football League's championship game.  And it was the first time roman numerals were used (similar to the way they were used to denote WWI and WWII).  The game was further elevated to national status because it pitted a brash, long-haired rebel Quarterback named Joe Namath against, Conservative Christian, military haircut-wearing All-American Johnny Unitas.  With unprecedented media hype, this wasn't just a football game, it was a cultural showdown.  Broadway Joe Namath, who 
boldly claimed his underdog New York Jets would defeat the mighty Indianapolis Colts, was catapulted to national household name right in front of nation's and Reagan's eyes as he led his Jets to an amazing upset victory.  

John Lennon's friend Bob Dylan once sang, "You know there's something happening, but you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?"  The lyric couldn't have been more appropriate on that night, as Nameth lead the Jets to one of the most miraculously upsets in pro football history.  Conservative America sat and watched in stunned horror as a tidal wave of publicity rode Namath into the stratosphere of folk hero stardom.  Reagan however, immediately understood what was going on.  As Namath became the most popular human being in America, Reagan was starting to flesh out a drastic plan that would put him in the national spotlight as well.  A plan that would place him on the Presidential level that Nixon was on.  He needed to create a showdown.  He needed to choreograph a media event where he could back up his tough talk about combatting the hippies with strong, decisive action.  Reagan's tough talk during his previous campaign had targeted the drugged up hippies that were trying to overtake not only his state, but the entire nation.  Just like Namath had promised he would take care of the Colts, Reagan boldly took to the stump promising that he would take care of the hippies.  Reagan's anti-hippy rhetoric moved enough Californian voters to the polls to propel him to the governorship of California in the previous election.  But the hippies had run even more rampant since he took office.  Now Reagan embarked on a series of tough justice speeches in a campaign of showy, hyped-up, political gatherings.  He made promises of cleansing the state of the hippy protesters like those at UC Berkley and other colleges.  Reagan had taken out Leary, a symbolic victory, but that was just one man.  Reagan's scope was much greater now.  He ramped up his rhetoric, going as far as declaring that Berkeley students and administrators had turned the campus into "a haven for communist sympathizers, protesters, and sex deviants."  Now it was time to do something about it.

After watching Namath back up his words by defeating the Colts, Reagan realized that if he could back up his bold words with a bold, tangible defeat of the hippies then it could create a sensational media event and propel him to the national spotlight in full Joe Namath fashion.  And ironically, football would provide the catalyst for the event he needed.  On April 28, 1969, the University of California at Berkeley released its plans for building a football field on a site called the People's Park. This announcement caused an immediate conflict because a group of free wheeling hippy locals had already organized and built a public park on that land.  These hippies used the park for free speech rallies, full of "peace and love and beads and other funny smelling cigarette-type of stuff".  The hippies had acted without the approval of University officials and since the land was private property, Reagan was going to have none of it.  Reagan ordered thousands of police, including the California Highway Patrol, into the area to break up the massive 'sit-ins" the hippies organized. When that didn't work, his opportunity to create a national media event fell into place. Reagan called in the national guard and then the blood flowed.

John Lennon and his soon to be wife Yoko Ono, taking a page right out of Broadway Joe's playbook himself, were creating a media storm of their own.  Their media campaign began one eventful night in London as they both appeared inside of large brown paper bags at an underground artist's gathering called the Alchemical Wedding.  Later, in a press conference in Vienna, just weeks after Superbowl III, Lennon described what he was doing.  He called it "bagism" saying that he and Yoko sat in the bags to challenge audiences to be participants rather than passive consumers. "Yoko and I are quite willing to be the world's clowns; if by doing it we do some good," Lennon said.  From there, Lennon and Ono jump-started a campaign of headline-grabbing media stunts the likes of which the press had never witnessed before. In April of 1969 John and Yoko sent acorns to the heads of state in over 80 countries around the world, with instructions that these world leaders should plant the acorns as a symbol of peace. This was after they used the occasion of their March wedding to hold a week long “bed-in” to promote world peace and to protest war.  Two months later they tested the 'bed-in' waters again by holding another one, this time just north of the American border in Montreal, Canada.

The bed-ins were derived from the non-violent "sit-ins" that were most popular form of civil disobedience with the students and staff at UC Berkely who Reagan was at war with.  These kinds of protest groups would sit on college campuses or in front of civic buildings or private property until the police came and carted them off.  It was a sure fire way to get media attention and Lennon's bed-in in Montreal magnified that to the international level.  During the bed-in, celebrity guests ranging from Tommy Smothers to Timothy Leary dropped in to participate in the recording of Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance".  The bed-ins attracted a throng of tabloid newspaper people and media attention.  One staunch Conservative cartoonist named Al Capp barged into the bed-in looking to start a fight.  Capp began to verbally spar with  Lennon, who was casually lying in bed with signs like “Hair Peace” displayed behind him.  A surreal scene quickly ignited into a full blown insult-fueled confrontation as Lennon brought up the subject of the student protesters at the University of California Berkley.  This was just days after students and faculty at UC Berkley had been shot and killed as Reagan interrupted their peaceful protest by ordering the California national guard to descend upon them. The bloodbath, “Bloody Thursday” as it became known, became the national media sensation that vaulted Reagan into the national spotlight.  Both Reagan and Lennon were in the national spotlight now, on the opposite side of the issues.  Both had engineered their massive media events designed to advance their opposing ideologies.  Lennon had captured the media's imagination with his wild antics.  Reagan had promised a bloodbath and then delivered.  Al Capp might not have understood what was going on, as he and other Conservatives in the media scoffed at Lennon and Ono's media assaults, but Lennon and Reagan understood exactly how a sensationalistic media event could further an agenda and galvanize lofty ideas into a forced effort.

Before and after Governor Reagan ordered the California Highway Patrol and then the Californian National Guard to quell the protests at UC Berkely that resulted in  “Bloody Thursday” he spoke to the press, sounding like a football coach cast in a Hollywood B-movie.  He recited lines such as, “If it takes a bloodbath, let's get it over with.”  His words couldn't have been more at odds with the words that Lennon was putting forth, “Give Peace a chance” and “Love is the Answer”.  As Bloody Thursday battled Lennon's "bed-ins" for national headlines, Lennon and Ono moved on with their plans of an international multimedia campaign.  This included renting billboard space in 12 major cities around the world that declared "WAR IS OVER! If You Want It – Happy Christmas from John & Yoko".  Some media outlets reported these as publicity stunts while others treated them as cultural events.  Nearly all of the media reported Bloody Thursday as a historic culture clash instead of merely a publicity stunt.  

But the greatest live media event involving Reagan would of course be the assassination attempt on his life and his recovery from it in early 1981.  It wasn't scripted, but as I watched Reagan recover from his gun wounds that spring and witnessed how he glibly (or heroically, depending on how you saw it) spouted off one-liners to reporters, it was obvious that Reagan was prepared for this role.  The nation was fascinated with Reagan's survival and speedy recovery and this moment would become one of the centerpieces of every biography written of him ever after.  It was the turning point.  Unlike Lennon's assassination, which marked the end of an era - the unhappy ending of the hippy dream - Reagan's survival symbolized the exact opposite.  It proved that his Conservative American dream was inevitable.  Even bullets couldn't stop it.  It was as if johnny Unitas had limped off the bench in the final seconds of the 4th quarter and thrown a long touch down pass to win the game and defeat the long hairs once and for all.  And with the unprecedented popularity that Reagan received after surviving the assassination attempt, it was carte blanche for his conservative agenda.  It transferred the political capital to him that was needed to increase the defense budget to astronomical heights while simultaneously cutting spending on food stamps, healthcare for the poor, federal education programs and the EPA.  His administration attempted to purge as many people with disabilities as possible from the Social Security disability rolls and cut food programs for school kids.   Watching all of this unfold, the Reagan Revolution (as it would be called) seemed unstoppable.

During the summer of 1981, football had taken a back seat to my Lennon-Regan obsession.  My research branched out from reading newspaper and magazine articles about the two, to tracking down old Regan movies and buying up old Lennon records.  My hunt eventually lead me to the local Used Record store.  The local Used Record store was a major after-school hang out for older teen boys, a place for an exchange of ideas - not just strictly about music, but also about culture, politics, etc.  I was becoming known as a guy who collected John Lennon records there.  And as I was perusing the vinyl, I couldn't help but overhear Harper, the owner of the place, complaining to a patron about how Reagan was destroying America.  

"It makes you wonder what if Lennon's assassin had failed and Reagan's assassin had succeeded, doesn't it?" Harper spoke.  "America would be a lot different right now."

That seemed pretty obvious.  If Hinkley had succeeded and George Bush had taken over as U.S. president then the Reagan Revolution never would have happened.  Bush didn't have the charism (nor the idealism) to push for a cockamamie idea like Reagan's Star War's initiative.  And Bush dismissed Reagan's "trickle down" economics as a bunch of voodoo.  Tax cuts for the rich, unregulated deregulation, appointing corporate criminals to head Federal agencies.  Bush wouldn't have done any of that.  He was a Washington insider who used compromise and diplomacy to keep the status quo and who was entirely uninspiring to the working class Regan Democrats.  But to the other half of the question: What if Chapman had failed?  Would Lennon, a musician, really have changed America for the better?

Lennon was at the peak of his political influence during the early1970s, before anyone realized the  Era of Malaise was actually upon us.  Reagan meanwhile, became even more committed to gaining a foothold on the national stage.  On a mission to galvanize a new Conservatism, not only in California, but across the entire United States, he became a regular on talk radio programs and the public speaking circuit.  He became the voice of Conservatism right as Lennon's stature as the voice of the hippy generation grew to unprecedented proportions.  Lennon was the epitome of the long-haired freak, who smoked dope, talked smack about Jesus and had a god damned “gook” for a wife (as certain opponents in the media pointed out).  He spoke out against the war in Vietnam, spoke up for civil rights, gay rights, woman's rights.  He was the epitome of everything Ronald Reagan stood against.  By 1971 Lennon's status hit a new level when he decided to take up permanent residency in New York City.  Lennon's influence was so great by this time that his move to the U.S. prompted both J. Edgar Hoover's FBI and Richard Helm's CIA to immediate set up full time surveillance on him (years later Ronald Reagan would present Richard Helms with the national security medal for distinguished achievement in the field of intelligence).  There's no evidence to suggest that Reagan played any part in the FBI or the CIA's “investigation” of Lennon, but it doesn't seem impossible that Reagan would have ordered the FBI and the CIA to investigate Lennon if he had been in Nixon's shoes in 1972.  After all, years later we would see Reagan make a mockery of the rule of law during Iran-Contragate.  Plus Reagan already had a history of informing on entertainers who expressed anti-government sentiments.  Reagan's introduction to Federal government surveillance came when he was an informant for the FBI during the Red Scare of the 1950s.  The FBI asked Reagan, who was a Hollywood actor and president of the Screen Actor's Guild at that time, to identify suspected Communists in Hollywood - specifically actors he knew or whom had worked with.  Reagan turned over dozens of names of suspected commie liberals.   

But those were the good old days.  Now, in the early days of the 1970s, these liberal commies were out of the closet, demonstrating at sit-ins and be-ins and bed-ins.  They were burning bras, burning draft cards.  Now these liberal agitators were called hippies and Lennon was their leading voice.  

In December of 1971, the Nixon administration identified Lennon as a person who could actually sway the 1972 election.  Lennon's power became clear after he wrote a song for White Panther leader John Sinclair.  Sinclair had already served two years of his ten years prison for possession of drugs.  Lennon first performed this new song "John Sinclair" at the "John Sinclair Freedom Rally" in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Lennon sang "You gotta-gotta-gotta set him free" and amazingly three days later Sinclair was set free.  This seemingly amazing feat of being responsible for Sinclair's release from prison put Lennon squarely on Nixon's radar.  Nixon considered Lennon as such a threat that not only did he put Lennon on his famed Enemies List, but the Nixon Administration actually hatched a plot to have Lennon immediately deported from the United States. 

Lennon's influence had a direct effect on governmental actions.  His ability to galvanize public opinion against the status quo was at an all-time high.  In the wake of Lennon's successful campaign to free John Sinclair, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover made John Lennon a top priority.  According to FBI surveillance of Lennon during this period, the FBI soon found out that Lennon had fallen in with left-wing activists/agitators Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman and Bobby Seale.  With Lennon's help, these agitators devised a plot in which Lennon would follow Nixon around on the campaign trail, city to city, in order to host anti-Nixon rallies.  This was to be nothing short of a cout de tat of the entire media coverage of the 1972 Republican National Convention, with the ultimate intention of influencing the outcome of the 1972 United States Presidential election.  The Nixon administration countered immediately by bringing in the CIA. The CIA's surveillance in fact was part of a secret, illegal CIA program called MHCHAOS, whose reports went directly to the President. Working independently of one another, informants from both the CIA and the FBI were tracking Lennon's daily movements.  Several agents from both agencies penetrated the YIPPIE political organization in which Lennon associated. The NY police department and law agencies in Miami Florida were involved as well as they plotted to set Lennon up for a drug bust.  The intelligence that the agencies gathered on Lennon was disseminated among dozens of organizations ranging from military intelligence to Secret Service to FBI field offices in several U.S. Cities. As a celebrity Lennon had become used to being stalked, but now it had gone to an entirely different level.  The FBI and CIA surveillance of Lennon was ramped up to the point of intimidation.  Lennon was shadowed by blunt men in trench coats.  Lurking about his neighborhood these professionally trained men followed him down streets and alleys.  White vans parked outside his apartment for days on end.  Undercover agents in cars tailed them wherever they went.  Crackling noises and interference overwhelmed the telephone line whenever he made calls.  His property was bugged and federal agents employed the latest tracking equipment and technology.  Lennon was even warned that he and Yoko would be arrested for "interstate travel in the furtherance to conspiracy to incite a riot" if they went forth with their plot.  Meanwhile, South Carolina senator Strom Thurman met with US Attorney General John Mitchell with the purpose of revoking of Lennon's visa and proceedings by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to deport Lennon were immediately fast-tracked.  In the end, it was Lennon's obligations to this deportation case and other legal situations that would keep him busily frustrated and unable to shadow Nixon on the campaign trail.  The plan for him to invade the Republican National Convention was thwarted.  

Likewise, Reagan's plans to invade the 1972 Republican National Convention were thwarted as well as CREEP (Nixon's Committee to Re-election the President) was able to marginalize Reagan's bid for the nomination.  But over the next two painful years, as it became evident that the Era of Malaise was indeed upon us, CREEP would prove to lead to the downfall of Nixon, as it was revealed that operatives in CREEP were the "masterminds" behind the break in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Office Complex in Washington D.C.  Watergate not only had huge impact on America, but for both Reagan and Lennon as well.  Lennon who was in the middle of his so-called "Lost Weekend" attended the Watergate hearings, and as the proceedings unfolded he began speaking to the press about his suspicion that he had been the subject of FBI and CIA's surveillance.  Ironically it would be the Watergate hearings that prompted Congress to pass the Freedom of Information Act which in turn allowed the pubic to see the depth of the Nixon Administration's abuse of powers and it's illegal targeting of Lennon.  Reagan watched Richard Nixon resign from the U.S. Presidency and realized the door for another run at the white house was wide open.  And it was at that moment, under these twists of circumstances, that Reagan and Lennon - these two ideological opposing cultural icons - actually meet face to face for the first and only time in their lives. The occasion?  An NFL football game, of course.

It was during halftime of the Monday Night Football telecast on December 9th, 1974. The game was at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum featuring the hometown Los Angles Rams taking on the NFL squad that represented our nation's capital, the Washington Redskins. Lennon was there promoteing his recently released album, Walls and Bridges.  Reagan meanwhile was about to turn the keys to the Governor's mansion over to the liberal Governor-elect Jerry Brown.  

Howard Cosell, when asked which icon he wanted to interview on air, immediately replied, "I'll take the Beatle."  

Then as the two icons waited to go on the air for their halftime interviews, Reagan began chatting Lennon up, explaining some of the rules of American football.  Lennon was curious and contentious, receiving Reagan's chummy manner warmly.  Strangely enough, the two men had more in common than met the eye.  Both men were idealistic.  They both had patriotic middle names that began with a W. John Winston Lennon's middle name was in homage to the former leader of his home country, Winston Churchill, while Ronald Wilson Reagan's middle name was in homage to the former lead of his home country Woodrow Wilson.  And it was undeniable that both men had an unique charisma that resonated with millions of Americans. They were both followed, if not worshiped, by millions.  They were both leaders, men who had started their careers in the entertainment business which eventually lead both into intense interests in politics.  Both had been radio stars, TV stars and movie stars, but there were striking similarities in their personal lives as well.   Lennon was the son of a ner-do-well, good-timin' drunken sailor while Reagan was the son of an alcoholic salesman.  Both men had very rocky, and at times, confrontational relationships with their fathers.  They both had failed first marriages that produced sons who weren't afforded the attention that most sons craved. And central to the treks of both men was the fact that they each found their soul mates and fell in love with devoted and loyal women who seemed to worship them in every way. Reagan, who was an actor, married Nancy who had been an actress. And Lennon, a musician and an artist, his wife Yoko had been an artist and a musician as well. The two second wives, Yoko Ono and Nancy Reagan also shared something in common. They both used astrological charts and celebrity psychics to plan the major events in their lives. On the day that the Beatles were scheduled to sign the papers that would legally disband the Beatles, Yoko Ono famously prevented Lennon from signing the papers due to bad signs in the stars. Similarly she would later pull out of the partnering with Paul McCartney to buy the Beatles catalog in the mid 1980s because of the astrological signs (this move actually led to the songs being bought by the king of pop, Michael Jackson right after Jackson joined forces with the Reagan's in Nancy's Just Say No campaign). Nancy's connection to the stars was just as devoted as Ono's as former Reagan staff members revealed.  News stories came out about how every major move and decision the Reagan's made was cleared in advance by a celebrity psychic Joan Quigley of Sand Francisco.  Which leads one to wonder if the Lennon-Reagan meet was more than just chance?

Whatever the case, a lot changed for both Lennon and Reagan after their face to face meeting.  A few days later, while at Disney Land, Lennon signed the document that officially dissolved the Beatles.  Reagan meanwhile, just days later met with South Carolina Senator Strom Thurman (who like Reagan had switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party) to seek his support in his bid for the Republican nomination in 1976.  Thurman backed Gerald Ford instead and Ford won the Republican nomination.  But in the confusing post-Watergate atmosphere, liberal Democrat Jimmy Carter beat Ford in 1976 for the U.S. Presidency.  Meanwhile Lennon gained permission to become a permanent resident of the U.S. and he and Yoko gave birth to their son Sean.  With Carter in the white house and Nixon resigned in shame, it seemed like a good time for Lennon to get out of politics and pop culture and the public eye.  The hippies had won, and for the time being Lennon decided to focus on being a house husband.  But as the hippies became comfortably confused and numbly apathetic during the Era of Malaise, Reagan was working harder than ever.  Narrowly missing the Republican nomination in '76, Reagan took doing radio commentary, writing a weekly newspaper column, appearing on TV and delivering speeches that galvanized political coalitions.  He became the leading voice of the Conservative, Christian Capitalistic Right and he beat out George H.W. Bush for the Republican nomination in 1980.  He then chose Bush as his running mate and won the white house less than a month before Lennon was assassinated. 

It may seem like another bizarre synchronic connection that Lennon retired shortly after meeting Regan and then came out of retirement right as Reagan was winning the white house.  And it may seem like a strange coincidence that just days after Reagan won the white house, Lennon released Double Fantasy, the final album during his lifetime.  Harper, the owner at the local Used record store in my hometown, felt certain that this meant Lennon was preparing to become politically involved again.  But after listening to Double Fantasy (and then later the posthumously released Milk and Honey) I couldn't find anything to support that.  As a 13 year old it was hard for me to relate to Lennon, a 40 year old guy who was singing about sitting around his house all day watching TV, baking bread and taking care of his small son.  His hit song “Woman” came off as the pathetic pandering of some pussy-whipped, middle-aged rich guy.  "Watching the wheels" seemed to be the musings of a man who had no interest in the idiotic tit-for-tat popularity of politics.  In fact, he seemed like a man who saw little difference between the political game and the NFL game.  In the end it was all just a game and he, like most other citizens were simply on the sidelines or in the stands, cheering for one quarterback or the other. 

Reagan was the quarterback the Conservatives rooted for though out the 80s.  He ushered in an Era of Corporatization that completely transformed the American system.  He lowered taxes for the corporations, deregulated banking, fostered the "revolving door" that put corporate criminals in charge of the government agencies they formerly violated and then allowed them to return to the corporate boardrooms several million dollars wealthier.  Corporations were taking over the media, taking over education, taking over taking over the health industry, the food industry, taking over the military, taking over America.  

I left my home town in 1986.  I went off to college and then off to the big city, never to see Harper or his used record store again.  I thought about him though, and his certainty that America would have been different had Lennon lived.  And somehow, as I saw America transforming before my eyes thoughout the 1980s, I wanted to be convinced of that.  There was no doubt that there was no one who was really sticking their neck out like Lennon had in the early 1970s.  It was just the opposite in fact, instead of opposing the institutions, the 80s saw Rock stars becoming the institutions.  Even though they were climbing all over one another to be seen as the politically relevant Reagan counter-Revolutionary sirens - Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Mick Jaggar, Bono, even Lou Reed took up all sorts of political causes and got involved in "fund-raising" charity events, concerts, videos, etc.  There was a new cause with every new political breeze.  Which one was it this week?  Was it USA for Africa?  Hands Across America?  Live Aid?  Rock the Vote?  Farm Aid? Artists against Apartheid?  In reality their political activism was so utterly corporatized that it was impossible to tell whether these artists were promoting a cause or promoting their corporate sponsor.  It was all so safe and so fucking lame and so irrelevant.  And I'd like to think that John Lennon would not have been reduced to all of that.  I'd like to think that he would have been the exception.  But in all honesty, my days of hero worship and believing in Rock icons is gone and if Lennon had survived instead of Reagan then it really wouldn't have changed the U.S. Not much, if at all.  And that's reality.