American journalist James A. Mitchell, author of John Lennon in New York: The Revolution Years (photo: Linda Remilong)
American journalist James A. Mitchell, author of John Lennon in New York: The Revolution Years (photo: Linda Remilong)

The report that opens the section 30 days from the September 2015 issue of Brazilian was dedicated to the new book by American journalist James A. Mitchell, John Lennon in New York: The Revolution Years.

The research on the ex-Beatle's first days in the metropolis was the subject of the report Unarmed and Dangerous. Then, a virtual chat with the author, in exchange of emails made days after the closing of the September edition.

Brazilians - How did your interest in the Beatles and John Lennon come about?
James A. Mitchell – I'm young to have been one of the teenagers who first responded to beatlemania, but each new generation, including mine, has discovered and continues to discover the band's music. The Beatles' influence was – and still is – felt in areas beyond popular song. Long before I started the book, I was among those who admire the creativity and artistry of The Beatles, a truly unique band.

What motivated you to document Lennon's early years in New York?
I wanted to approach the period from a different perspective. Exhaustive biographical writings exist about Lennon, who lived an extraordinary and fascinating life, filled with the greatest triumphs and the darkest tragedies, but I had no interest in repeating the approach to these works and was drawn to this unique story. The book's introduction is based on testimonials from band members Elephant's Memory, who spent considerable time with Lennon, however this one is forgotten. The research develops as, based on political motivations, the administration of President Nixon tries to deport Lennon from the United States. This story – which well reflects all that was good and bad about my country during that period – captured my interest.

In addition to family decisions, do you believe that Lennon's distance from political causes in the second half of the 1970s was also due to ideological disenchantment?
Perhaps, but it also seems to me to be a matter of personal priorities. Lennon continued to generously make his rich contribution to New York in other causes, but he tried not to be the center of public or TV attention. There was certainly some disenchantment, as I recounted in the book, with people who tried to use Lennon for their personal agendas. He had disagreed, for example, with Jerry Rubin's methods and messages and so decided to fight his own fight - peacefully and on his own terms. While I haven't pored over his personal life, Lennon's decision to be more of a father to Sean than he had been able to be to Julian seems to be a man's search for peace with his absent father past.

If Lennon were alive, what social and political causes do you believe he would be involved in today?
Those that are based on the fundamental principles to which he dedicated himself. It is true that we can all change some opinions as we age, but the record shows that Lennon and those who fought for individual rights – whether for minority groups like the feminist movement, the cause of gay and immigrant rights – have continued to do it. Lennon himself had made it explicit that some of the “activists” were more interested in being “against” certain things or people, like the Vietnam War and President Nixon, for example. But, after Nixon, these people found other important causes to protest, but Lennon – and Gloria Steinem, John Kerry, Ron Dellums, and others named in the book – would certainly hold values ​​in defense of civil liberties.

After finishing the book, were there any changes in the way you play Yoko Ono?
The long-standing criticism that Yoko broke up the Beatles should be forgotten. That was a decision made by John and Paul. Despite Yoko's influence, as a free artist Lennon always did what he wanted. Of course, he never found another musical partner that could match what he and McCartney did together, but Yoko was truly a life partner, who helped keep Lennon's eyes wide open to new ideas. Especially about feminism, a cause he embraced with genuine understanding. There are critics who point to his anti-feminist behavior, noticeable in some lyrics, as a young man, but Lennon was the product of a generation where such attitudes were common. He was one of the first to understand that this behavior was wrong.

What similarities do you see between 1960s movements like Black Panthers, White Panthers and the International Youth Party and recent demonstrations like Occupy Wall Street? Lennon left revolutionary heirs? Who are they?
There have always been and always will be organizations like Panthers or Yippies. Some come and go, like fashion or popular music. There is also a legacy left by Lennon: the marriage of rock-and-roll and activism, in charity and politics. Something seen in large scale events like Live Aid and in the attitude of artists like Bob Geldof (creator of the festival organized in 1985, which raised funds for the fight against hunger in Africa), who recognized the power of media and music to draw global attention when needed. Just as John and Yoko used that same interest on their honeymoon to spark a campaign for peace, today's celebrity activists like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have helped save many lives. History has a special way of showing who was on the right side of certain things. In the US, when you think of President Nixon, you think of war and corruption in politics. The thoughts that John Lennon brings to people's minds are words like “imagine” and “peace”. A good legacy.

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