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Monday, October 20, 2014

J.D. Souther Returns to the Studio After 24 Years: From the Archives

JD Souther returns to the studio and stage after 24 years

BY STEVEN ROSEN · FEBRUARY 1ST, 2010 · MUSIC Cincinnati CityBeat
If you were asked which “lady or gentleman of the canyon” — the iconic 1970s-era singer-songwriters of Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon — had recently delivered a late-middle-age masterpiece, you’d probably guess Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Carole King, Don Henley, CS&N … basically anyone but JD Souther.

That’s partly because Souther, 64, isn’t that well-known, despite having written or co-written such classics of L.A. Folk and Country Rock as The Eagles’ “Best of My Love,” “Heartache Tonight” and “New Kid in Town”; Linda Ronstadt’s “Faithless Love” and “Prisoner in Disguise”; and his own (with James Taylor) “Her Town Too.” He also had a solo hit, the Roy Orbison-influenced “You’re Only Lonely,” in 1979.

It’s also because Souther stopped recording for 24 years before releasing If the World Was You — the album that’s winning such acclaim now — in late 2008. Even then, the Great Recession struck just as the album came out on the small Slow Curve Records label.

But, slowly, he’s been capitalizing on strong reviews and increased touring to get the word out, including a stop in Fairfield Saturday playing solo (with just guitar and piano).

The solo show means one aspect of what makes If the World Was You so strong won’t be heard live — the sometimes-modal, Cuban-influenced Jazz arrangements that Souther and his group recorded (mostly) live-to-tape in a Nashville studio. But the album’s many other strengths will be heard: Souther’s voice is supple yet tough, capable of a high-pitched sweetness but also as earthy and lonesome as the Texas plains where he grew up. His songs show his knack for exploring that space between major- and minor-key melodies (think “New Kid in Town”) is undiminished.

Souther didn’t stop writing songs for others during his long recording layoff and he also did a lot of traveling and even some acting. But he lost interest in furthering his own performing career (or writing for himself) after releasing Home By Dawn, his fourth solo album, in 1984.

“I just stopped making records and touring,” he says by phone from Nashville, his current home.
“I didn’t feel like working, and I don’t think I was crazy about what was happening in music as the MTV period got in full swing and became the primary way of connecting an audience to music. It was a little less satisfying to me. I took Sonny Rollins as an example — when people began to question his playing, he’d just retire and go practice for a few years.”

His songwriting/performing ambitions were rejuvenated by a 1998 trip to Cuba.
“That lit the fuse again,” Souther says. “ I was there a little over a week and the music was so infectious and so wonderful and reminded me so much of music I liked as a kid, because I was a Kazz drummer growing up. I always played Jazz. I was a tenor player, too.”

Born in Detroit — his grandmother sang opera and his father a big-band singer — the music-loving John David Souther moved to Amarillo at a young age where he loved listening to everything, from the Great American Songbook to Texans Orbison and Buddy Holly.

“And after that I discovered Ray Charles and felt like I found a new world,” he says. “I think he’s the dominant musician of the late 20th Century in America.”

In Los Angeles in the late 1960s, Souther and another Detroit-born aspiring musician — future-Eagle Glenn Frey — became close friends and formed a duo called Longbranch Pennywhistle. They quickly became immersed in the city’s burgeoning singer/songwriter culture and released an album.

When it went nowhere, David Geffen, then a Rock manager starting his own label called Asylum Records, bought their contract.

“I think David suggested to Glenn he put together a band,” Souther says. “I was filling in as a drummer for Linda Ronstadt — she was my girlfriend and needed a drummer — so I played, but I really didn’t want to do that. I would rather have been home writing.

I had just bought a piano, had a little cottage across the courtyard from Jackson Browne, and we were just writing furiously. Glenn wanted more people in our band, I wanted less. I just wanted to stay home and write. So The Eagles grew out of (Ronstadt's) back-up band.”

As The Eagles became successful, Geffen thought he could do the same thing with Souther, and he put together the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band with Chris Hillman of the Byrds and Richie Furay of Poco. They had a hit with 1974’s Furay-penned “Fallin’ in Love,” but the band lacked the chemistry of The Eagles and soon fell apart. Their second and last album was aptly named Trouble in Paradise.

Today that band is viewed as an egregious example of record-industry hype of the period: a “manufactured” supergroup.

“I’m not sure what’s manufactured and what’s not,” Souther says, pointing out The Eagles, too, were put together at Geffen’s suggestion. “When David suggested the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band to me, I thought, ‘Yeah, that might be a good idea.’ But I think I held back a little bit. Richie and Chris thought I was sometimes giving my best songs to The Eagles rather than bringing them into our recording sessions, and it may have been true, but probably the reasons are obvious. They were already selling records and I had no doubt about the way they were making records.”

Now that he’s resuming his career as a singer/songwriter (he’s already working on new material) in his 60s, Souther acknowledges there are creative challenges.

“As you get older, luck comes in smaller batches,” he says. “You tend to get really big splashes of color just by chance when you’re young, because you haven’t had that much experience and your senses are more untouched and, consequently, not so calloused over. Now you have to constantly keep hitting the refresh button, making sure the snow we just had here, for instance, is every bit as beautiful and mysterious as it was years ago.”

JD SOUTHER plays the Fairfield Community Arts Center on Saturday as part of the Sojourner Concert Series. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Paul Revere & the Raiders: How Do Those 1960s Hits Hold Up?




Men In Hats: Paul Revere/Raiders Return!


By Steven Rosen
 (In memory of Paul Revere, who died this week, and also of Mark Lindsay, who is still out there performing his hits and recording new music, here's this review of their 2010 retrospective album. It's from www.blurtonline.)
(As we all know, kicks
just keep getting harder to find. A just-issued collection of the Raiders
entire output on 45 should sustain you quite nicely, however. Editors' note.)
Paul Revere & the Raiders will return… will return… will return.
Well, maybe not – while Revere and the lead singer of the ebullient 1960s pop-rock band, Mark Lindsay, are still busy on the oldies circuit separately, they show no evidence of wanting to reunite.
But the band, who despite the cornball Revolutionary War attire and generally square, audience-friendly image really could make dynamic Top 40 singles with pop smarts and garage-rock edge, do get a much-deserved three-disc retrospective courtesy of Collectors’ Choice Music. The Complete Columbia Singles collects the A and B sides of every Columbia single the band put out in the 1960s and early 1970s. That’s a worthy return to vinyl – or whatever it is that CDs are made of.
Collectors’ Choice has done this before with Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Jan & Dean and Jay & the Americans. This is probably the best so far, since the Raiders were more of a live band than the others, thus they weren’t as dependent on studio wizardry to sound good or shape their sound. And Bob Irwin’s mastering job makes the singles, be they mono or stereo, sound full-bodied and alive.
The Raiders weren’t a garage band, exactly. Their instinct was to brighten rather than scuff up their songs. But they did have ones – like “Just Like Me,” “Steppin’ Out,” “Kicks,” “Hungry” – that any garage band would be proud to cover. At their best, they also had hits that the Rolling Stones would have been proud to cover – “Him or Me – What’s It Gonna Be?” and “Ups and Downs.”
As one of the first rock bands to be signed by Columbia Records (maybe the first), they also had the promotional clout to get consistent Top 40 airplay. And, while they got ome great songs from Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (“Kicks,” “Hungry”) at a critical moment, Lindsay turned out to be a pretty good writer, especially when working with producer Terry Melcher.
Te group, which underwent all sorts of personnel changes but kept organist Revere and singer Lindsay as its focus, got its start in the same early-1960s Pacific Northwest teen scene that produced the Sonics and Kingsmen. In fact, the band’s version of Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie” – recorded in Portland in 1963 at virtually the same time as the Kingsmen’s – is what brought them to Columbia’s attention. One of their follow-ups was Berry’s “Have Love Will Travel,” also a Sonics’ favorite. Disc One shows the early Raiders had the chops to win many a local battle of the bands.
The Raiders hit their stride in 1965, when the savvy guitarist Drake Levin and exciting bassist Phil “Fang” Volk joined Revere, Lindsay and drummer Mike “Smitty” Smith. They got a gig on a Dick Clark teen show called Where the Action Is. And the singles they put out – “Steppin’ Out,” “Just Like Me,” “Hungry,” “Kicks” – are everything you wanted a good Top 40 record to be back then. Superb hooks and guitar riffs; stomping rhythms; impassioned, attitudinal vocals that have clarity but also forcefulness and shout-out-loud defiance; lyrics that make you take notice. It sounded young. (“Kicks” is considered an anti-drug song, but the way Lindsay and band scream out “kicks just keep getting harder to find” seems a call for anti-establishment rebellion, a mate to Mann-Weil’s “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”) And when Levin left, Jim “Harpo” Valley came in to keep the sound crisp and hard-edged, yet still pop.
 This is the period that The Complete Columbia Singles is most valuable in spotlighting. Working with Melcher, who sometimes used session players for recording because of the band’s touring schedule, the Raiders put out singles that maybe were a shade less dynamic than the 1965-1966 breakthroughs, but still had the muscularity to leap forth from transistor and car radios when played loud.
One, “The Great Airplane Strike,” wasn’t much of a hit – too weird a subject – but Lindsay’s surly, seductive talk-sing vocal, very Jaggeresque, makes it a worthy companion to “Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown.” And “Good Thing,” which starts with what sounds like Lindsay taking a toke, marriesraucousness with Beach Boys-worthy harmonies in a way that seems liberating for 1966.
 Disc Two collects the singles from the Raiders’ underappreciated late-1960s period, when – like Memphis’ Box Tops or New Jersey’s Rascals – they adventurously tried different approaches to pop-rock, not intent to clone their last hit. “I Had a Dream” has a simmering beat and Lindsay’s voice is uncharacteristically soft, but it rises for a robust chorus. “Peace of Mind” starts with distorted, psychedelic guitar and has a gospel-rock feel, courtesy of back-up female singers. “Too Much Talk,” which Lindsay produced and has a ballooning bass part and a teasing organ, is one of those late-1960s trippy hits, like “Judy in Disguise” or “Hot Smoke and Sassafras,” that starts off sounding off-kilter but then erupts with energy as the parts fall into play.
 Judging from some of the B sides and non-hits of this period -- Rain, Sleet, Snow,” “Do Unto Others,” “It’s Happening” – the Raiders were trading ideas with all the other singles-oriented acts writing and recording in L.A., trying to keep up with the changes wrought by the Beatles and the San Francisco Sound. It was a great time to be a rock band, and it shows.
 But the hits started to slow as the more conceptual acts - those who thought in terms of albums – started to pull away. And as guitarist Freddy Weller and bass player/songwriter Keith Allison joined the band, Columbia started to nudge the Raiders – who weren’t destined to become art-rock album-sellers – toward the hard edge of bubble gum, as the label also did with Billy Joe Royal (“Cherry Hill Park”) and as the Grass Roots were successfully doing elsewhere. These songs are OK and very catchy, but derivative and lyrically banal (“Let Me,” “We Gotta All Get Together”).
 Their fortunes were going downhill until in 1971, out of the blue, the band had its biggest hit ever with a version of John D. Loudermilk’s “Indian Reservation” – a song that had been recorded by others for more than a decade. There’s no denying it’s a kitschy choice, a novelty hit that has no connection with the band’s legacy, but you can still admire the production values: Session player Hal Blaine’s thunderous drums, the lightning-bolt use of strings, the ominous “will return” chant.
 It was also the end of the band as a commercial force, especially as Lindsay started to have solo hits. Disc Three chronicles another couple year’s worth of singles. Some are of little import, going for awatered-down country soul sound – including a cover of Joe South’s “Birds of aFeather.” And Lindsay’s vocals started to get tinny and tiny amid diffident production, as on “Powder Blue Mercedes Queen.” But there were still a few surprises – a peppy arrangement of Jimmy Webb’s acerbic “Song Seller,” and aroller-rink, sing-along take on Dylan’s “(If I Had It to Do All Over Again, I’dDo It) All Over You.” (There’s also a cool party song called “The Turkey” – a B-side – that’s part Memphis-soul-stew instrumental and part deadpan comic vocal.)
 Still, if you add up the good singles – A and B sides – that the Raiders made, the band has as good a case to make for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction as do the Hollies, Dave Clark Five or Rascals, who all are members. But if they ever do get in, everyone attending the ceremony should be made to wear those uniforms and tri-corner hats. Heck, it would a kick. And, as allnow, kicks just keep getting harder to find.
srosenone@aol.com

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

From the Archives: Ian McLagan & the Bump Band -- Never Say Never



Review: Ian McLagan & the Bump Band: Never Say Never
By Steven Rosen
There’s a darker, sadder side to the Small Faces/Faces legacy of British pop-star “lads” breezing through the Mod and Pub-Rock eras of their country’s ever-shifting musical dynamic. 
Steve Marriott, the powerfully raspy lead singer of Small Faces, died tragically in a house fire. Ronnie Lane, the bass player of both bands, long fought multiple sclerosis before his death in 1997.
And for all the reputation of the Faces as raucous, hard-drinking rockers voiced by a leering Rod Stewart, it’s a wistfully melancholy mid-tempo number sung by Ron Wood and written by Lane and Wood, “OhLa La,” with its immortal line “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger” that has become their most enduring.
Ian “Mac” McLagan, the band’s powerfully expressive keyboard player, long ago moved to Austin (following Lane) to front bands with his shaky but energetic singing, and to work as an in-demand session player. Not long after he had released a 2006 tribute album to Lane, Spiritual Boy, his wife of 28 years, Kim, died in an auto accident.
Never Say Never is his response to that – he wrote the songs and produced, with old pal Glyn Johns supervising the mixing and mastering. The voice, as ever, is shaky, pushing against its limits and sometimes failing. But that also makes it soulful, and it makes you want to comfort him.
In a way, this album is a follow-up to “Oh La La” – older and wiser, laconic and regretful, still believing in rock but with a pianist’s deep appreciation for the beauty of melody. The best songs are as well-constructed as Paul McCartney’s best, on the order of “Maybe I’m Amazed” (which the Faces covered).
Some of it is really heart-rending, as McLagan addresses his loss. The neo-classical “Where Angels Hide,” with just Mac on the Steinway, is starkly gorgeous. “When the Crying Is Over” recalls Ray Charles doing teary C&W, its sadness undercut by the swelling grandeur of his keyboards and the back-up female vocals. “An Innocent Man,” which exudes mystery about his future as it switches between major and minor keys, is a song destined to be repeatedly covered, like “Oh La La.”
Never Say Never also features McLagan and his band - Jud Newcomb, Don Harvey and Mark Andes (of Spirit, Firefall and Heart fame) - defiantly taking comfort in upbeat pub rock, infused with McLagan’s deft barrelhouse and English music-hall ivory-tinkling (and -pounding). In this context, those songs (“My Irish Rose,” “I’m Hot, You’re Cool”) never sounded better. They make you-and presumably Mac – want to keep going.
Standout tracks: “Never Say Never,” “An Innocent Man.” 
(From Blurt, 2009)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Graphic Novel Discussion Group for Adults Finds an Avid Following

Graphic Novels at the Mercantile Library

The Mercantile Library exudes an almost sanctified vibe about the seriousness of reading. But at 1 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month, a group meets to discuss what once were dismissively called comic books. The seven-year-old Graphic Novel Discussion Group believes they are now a serious adult concern.
Recently, they gathered to discuss RASL, Jeff Smith’s time-shifting narrative about stolen art, Bob Dylan, Nikola Tesla, and more. Jeff Suess, group leader as well as The Cincinnati Enquirer’s librarian, says adults slowly have been embracing graphic novels since Art Spiegelman’s Maus won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. “The resurgence has really happened in the last 10 years.”
The group was started by member Edmund Osterman and employee Chris Messick, and is open to nonmembers. “The point was to do something different, maybe attract new members. It offers a more youthful aspect to the institution,” says Cedric Rose, the Mercantile’s collector. Calvin would be proud.

mercantilelibrary.com
Originally published in the September 2014 issue

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Most Underappreciated Outdoor Fountain in Cincinnati

     


        By Steven Rosen
       (Excerpted from Cincinnati CityBeat, 8-27-14)
      
      With apologies to the Tyler Davidson Fountain, if I were to pick my favorite outdoor fountain in Cincinnati -- and I did, for a recent Cincinnati CityBeat story -- it would be the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Reflecting Pool in the Alice Bimel Courtyard. The pool is marble and just a couple inches deep. Its long, narrow rectangular form has just enough of a gap between the smooth edge and the pavement to allow the water to overflow, like a liquid curtain, into a drainage area below. 

      Along one side, granite benches holding potted flowers alternate with ivy-filled basins. Water continuously, mesmerizingly spurts out of demurely placed spouts inside the latter and into the pool. There are some tree-shaded tables and small geometric-shaped benches for sitting nearby, but at a slightly further remove the museum’s cafĂ© offers outdoor table service with a view.

                       Hargreaves Associates in association with KZF designed this as part of a 2004         
                       renovation of the museum’s interior courtyard, and it has a very ordered, Zen Garden-
                       like feel. This is something worthy of Isamu Noguchi, or maybe Donald Judd if he 
                       tolerated a little decoration. When I visited, some young ladies remarked that they 
                       wanted badly to slip off shoes and walk in the placid water. It seems to me you could            
                       walk on it.

                       (Photo courtesy me)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Are Billboards the Right Place to Show Art?

Are Billboards Right for Showing Artwork?

BY STEVEN ROSEN · CINCINNATI CITYBEAT AUGUST 27TH, 2014 · THE BIG PICTURE
ac_big_pictures_july_cwynarA Sara Cwynar photo in Big Pictures - Photo: Rob Deslongchamps
Unlike other exhibitions, the Cincinnati Art Museum isn’t using billboard advertisements to lure visitors to come see its currentBig Pictures photography show. That’s because Big Pictures occurs on billboards, not in a gallery at the museum’s brick-and-mortar Eden Park site. 

Every six weeks, two different contemporary photographers display their digitally repurposed or reformatted work — two images each — on leased billboards around the area.

If that sounds like an abstract, obtuse distinction, it means everything to Brian Sholis, the museum’s associate curator of photography. The yearlong Big Pictures show, which began on June 1 and is now in its second rotation of presenters, is his idea.

“This is an exhibition and is being treated as an exhibition,” says Sholis, who was appointed to his position last fall. “The money for it is coming from the people we usually seek money from for exhibitions.” (Sholis chooses the photographers, who receive an honorarium.) 

To emphasize the difference, Sholis does not plan to use billboards to market his upcoming FotoFocus-related exhibition at the museum, Eyes on the Street. (It opens Oct. 11.) “I don’t want confusion,” he says. 

The two young photographers currently featured on Big Pictures billboards are Sara Cwynar, a Brooklyn-based Canadian, and Lorenzo Vitturi, a London-based Italian. Both artists create work that is collage-like, but in different ways. Vitturi pieces together bright, surreal still lifes using unusual objects — like desiccated fruit and plastic; Cwynar starts with a found image, digitally enlarges and prints it out in sections, and then sticks on other images or bits of other objects (Post-It notes) to those prints as part of the “analog/digital”(Sholis’ term) process of getting to a final work.

Of the four photographs on display now, my favorite is her “Gold – NYT April 22, 1979 (Alphabet Stickers),” which adds some glitter to its site in Newtown. (Visit bigpicturescincy.org for more information and to find billboard locations.)

To some, the very notion of billboards (or outdoor signage in general) being artwork or hosting artful images instead of give-us-your-money advertising is confusing. But it’s getting more common. Sholis based his idea on programs in New York and Los Angeles and along Interstate 10. (His project and others were featured recently in The New York Times’ T magazine.)

Sholis, like so many people, sees billboards in general as blight. “My natural inclination is to wish them away, a little bit,” he says. “But if you can’t beat them, you can put them to better and more appropriate purposes — to show something that’s not necessarily a fattening, processed food or that lawyer with boxing gloves that’s everywhere. If there’s a way to use them to add a little bit of serendipity to people’s lives, that’s a good a thing.”

And at the very time Sholis has launched Big Pictures here, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America has included Cincinnati in its nationwide Art Everywhere: A Very, Very Big Art Show. 

Based on a similar project in Great Britain, online voters selected their favorite works from the collections of five major art museums — Art Institute of Chicago, Dallas Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art and the Whitney Museum. Some 58 images are being reproduced on static and digital billboards and other advertising media around the country. (Visit arteverywhereus.org for information.)

You should now be able to see the work of Edward Hopper, John Singer Sargent, George Bellows, Mary Cassatt, Willem de Kooning and more driving around the Cincinnati area. 

Art Everywhere has a drawback — of the billboards I saw, only about two-thirds of the space was given over to the image while the rest promoted the program. And it has its ironies — one of the selected artworks for national exposure is a Margaret Bourke-White 1937 photograph that is less than complimentary to the billboard industry. It shows black victims of an Ohio River flood lined up at a bread line, under a billboard of a happy white family in a car that proclaims, “World’s Highest Standard of Living.” 

“When I first saw the article in The Times announcing (Art Everywhere), I thought, ‘Competition,’” Sholis says. “But the more the merrier. I think there’s enough distinction between what they’re doing — reproducing art history — and what I’m doing, asking contemporary artists to reimagine art for public spaces, that there’s not that much overlap.”

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Film Review from the Archives: The U.S. vs. John Lennon




The U.S. vs. John Lennon
Steven Rosen in Los Angeles
August 23, 2006
Dir: David Leaf and John Scheinfeld
1 hour, 39 minutes
(previously published in a film journal)

Despite its provocative title, David Leaf and John Scheinfeld’s documentary “The U.S. vs. John Lennon” is as much a friendly portrait of the late Beatle as political activist as an expose of Nixon White House efforts to deport him in the early 1970s for that activism. But the film fails to clearly delineate where Lennon affected his times politically from where he was just responding to them. As a result, the film undercuts the drama in Lennon’s immigration struggle and overstates his prescience as a political figure.

Distributor Lionsgate Films believes there’s enough contemporary relevance to Lennon’s anti-Vietnam War views and deportation battles to merit theatrical release. That’s made especially clear in an interview with Gore Vidal, who says, “Lennon represented life, Mr. Nixon and Mr. Bush represent death.” It’s doubtful this angle will propel the movie to healthy theatrical grosses, however.  Lennon was many things to many people, but Michael Moore he isn’t. (It’s slated for U.S. release on Sept. 15, after appearances at Venice and Toronto film festivals.)

Its best prospects would seem to be TV and/or the DVD market, both in the U.S. and Britain, as a companion to such other past Lennon-related video product as “The Beatles Anthology,” “John and Yoko’s Year of Peace,” “The Dick Cavett Show: John Lennon and Yoko Ono” and the VHS release of Lennon and Ono as guest hosts on Mike Douglas’ American talk show. That’s where Leaf and Scheinfeld’s recent past work – “Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of ‘Smile’” and “Ricky Nelson Sings” – has gone. And VH1 Rock Docs is a producer on this.

The directors are strong at compiling nostalgic archival footage, such as material from Lennon and Ono’s famous 1969 Bed-In for Peace in Montreal, which grows more charmingly eccentric and sweet with each passing year. As does, it should be added, Ono’s beauty.

There also are snippets from their appearance on Douglas’ show, a nasty row between a churlish Lennon and a New York Times reporter who dares criticize him, and footage from his appearance at a 1971 University of Michigan concert to free radical activist John Sinclair. (The last, presumably, from Steve Gebhardt’s documentary “Ten for Two,” which could use a DVD release.) The directors also have conducted new interviews with various figures from the time, including Vidal, Angela Davis, Walter Cronkite and George McGovern.


As explained in the film by Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono, his immigration attorney Leon Wildes and others, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and the Nixon White House began trying to deport the ex-Beatle back to Britain because they feared he would be a political threat to Republicans in 1972. The battle to get rid of him went on until 1975, into Gerald Ford’s presidency, when a court finally supported Lennon’s attempt to stay.

The film does hit the salient points of this struggle, but the directors lack the journalistic background to know when what’s clear to them isn’t so clear to the audience. This writer, for instance, had to go home after the screening and consult the Internet to figure out exactly when and on what grounds Lennon won his battle.

Or if, for that matter, President Ford – who met George Harrison in the White House in 1974 – was more sympathetic to Lennon than Nixon. To be a first-rate documentary, ‘U.S. vs. John Lennon” really needs to explore angles like that. It also needs to explore the motivation and impact of Lennon’s most political album, 1972’s “Some Time in New York City,” which it hardly mentions.


By the time Lennon won his immigration battle, he had moved through his radical phase and went five years completely out of the public eye. Just days before his and Ono’s album “Double Fantasy” came out, he was shot to death on Dec. 8, 1980, by an unbalanced fan. This film doesn’t address those missing years – nor should it – but it does timidly reach for an improbable connection between his murder and his politics. That should have been left out.

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