ENG 102 / 115
Exploring and Understanding “ The Political” Through Contemporary Music Marlene Denice Elwell
28th April 2009
Term Paper Final
Essay Prompt: While effectively and originally incorporating selected sources and your own analysis, how can it be argued that “the political” may be (or may not be) understood through contemporary music and/or contemporary music can be (or not be) understood through “the political”?
Perceiving John Lennon as “A Threat”: To Whom?
To provide an understanding of music, politics, as well as their reciprocal relations, a selected case will be discussed in terms of theoretical constructs put forward by Keith Negus. The aim of this paper is to discuss the case of John Lennon, who was a former Beatle, the adored(by some) British musician and iconic advocate for peace, being declared a threat to the United States of America by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in light of the notion put forward by Keith Negus in his book Popular Music in Theory: An Introduction. Moreover, the change in the perception of the song “Imagine” by John Lennon will also be discussed again in terms of of Negus’ concept of “mediation” (190). Negus uses the term “mediation” to
explain how music can be shaped and changed through time and place providing the opportunity of creating multiple meanings. That John Lennon’s song “Imagine,” which was considered a “threat” by the Republican U.S. President Nixon, was sung collectively at a Conservative Party conference in Britain will be discussed in this paper as an example of mediation. This occasion justifies Negus’ thoughts on songs’ gaining different meanings, which claims that any political content of a song has to be understood in terms of processes of mediation during which it can undergo change and be connected to various political agendas. It is such transformative potentials that provide illustrations of how music can be both limited to particular authoritarian agendas and claimed for specific interest groups (219).
In the 1960s, rock music represented a social challenge, but it was happening mostly unconciously, meaning different things to different people. John Lennon was also influenced by the struggles of the 1960s such as the Civil Rights Movement and the movement against the Vietnam War. He was becoming more explicitly political; he loved America but hated what was happening in Vietnam. Thus, he exercised his right to express his feelings about the war and peacefully protested against the things happening in the war. (Leshinsky 1). As a consequence, the famous musician was declared a threat by the FBI. The director of the FBI of the United States, J. Edgar Hoover used the FBI as type of a political police against any figure in the 1960s that he thought of as a threat to U.S. society. In the early 1970s, he added another target to his list, John Lennon. Hoover reported Lennon's efforts and actions against the war to the president of the United States, Richard Nixon. They (Nixon and Hoover) wanted to have Lennon deported from the U.S., just because he said: “Give Peace a Chance.” Nixon and Hoover thought that this song had the potential to do harm to the presidency campaign. This shows that one should acknowledge political meaning's residing not only in the music's texts but in the articulation with society's groups, context, era, etc. So, these lyrics
threatened the Nixon administration, for they encouraged anti-war movements. This approach of the government to Lennon led to the recording of Lennon’s phone calls, surveillance and finally a deportation order (Gallo 1). This example of John Lennon’s being followed and threatened by the government links the case to Negus’ theory of “malevolent state.” Negus defines the malevolent state as: This is the state of domestic counter-intelligence and external espionage, the state engages in surveillance at home and deploys police and troops to control...