Picture Lennon as Closet Reagan Backer

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the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Picture Lennon as Closet Reagan Backer

Imagine John Lennon a conservative.

It isn't easy if you try.

ImagineFilmmaker Seth Swirsky imagines just such a scenario in his new documentary "Beatles Stories." In the documentary, Fred Seamons, Lennon's personal assistant at the time of his murder in New York City in 1980, said the former Beatle had tired of the utopian politics that had defined his image and musical output for two decades.

"John made it clear that if he were an American, he would vote for [Ronald] Reagan because he was really sour on [President] Jimmy Carter," Mr. Seamons said.

"He'd met Reagan back, I think, in the '70s at some sporting event," Mr. Seamons said. "Reagan was the guy who had ordered the National Guard, I believe, to go after the young demonstrators at Berkeley, so I think that John maybe forgot about that. He did express support for Reagan, which shocked me."

Picturing the author of "Working Class Hero" slapping a Reagan/Bush sticker on his guitar case after all of the sleep-ins and anti-war demonstrations of the '60s and '70s takes an act of imagination beyond my abilities.

Still, the possibility that Lennon was a closet conservative at the time of his death was cheered by the very folks on the right who had previously found him unbearably obnoxious.

The John-Lennon-was-really-into-Reagan meme couldn't have come at a better time for conservatives who have never attracted endorsements from youth-oriented celebrities of the former Beatle's stature. Neil Young's alleged infatuation with Reagan in the 1980s was exaggerated according to the iconic rocker.

News of the documentary broke the same week that Tom Petty sent cease-and-desist orders to the Michele Bachmann presidential campaign to stop using "American Girl" at its whistle stops.

The Bachmann campaign's humiliation was just the latest in a litany of Republican nonendorsements by American rockers. A few months ago, former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was forced to issue an abject apology to David Byrne for the unauthorized use of the Talking Heads' classic "Road to Nowhere" as an attack ad.

Before that, John Mellencamp forced John McCain's presidential campaign to apologize for using "Pink Houses" and "Our Country." Tom Scholz, co-founder of the rock group Boston, demanded that Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign stop using "More Than a Feeling" for its theme.

The rock duo Heart was less than flattered by Sarah Palin's use of "Barracuda" during her campaign swings. But the biggest insult ever was Bruce Springsteen's repudiation of Reagan's appropriation of "Born in the U.S.A." during the 1984 campaign.

If it turns out that Lennon had a regard for Reagan that Mr. Springsteen and his colleagues lacked, then it would go a long way toward closing a political endorsement gap that favors Democrats.

A thumbs-up by a dead Lennon makes previous repudiations by the likes of Springsteen, Mellencamp, Petty, Byrne and Heart almost bearable if you're a conservative who really can't stand the idea that Ted Nugent is the only rocker willing to be seen with a Republican presidential candidate these days.

In the past, Kiss' Gene Simmons, Meat Loaf, Sammy Hagar, Johnny Ramone, Kid Rock, Styx, Ricky Skaggs, Gretchen Wilson, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and the Beach Boys have supported Republican candidates. Alice Cooper is a fervent Republican, but he doesn't endorse candidates.

That's why the right embraced the news of Lennon's alleged turn toward conservatism even though evidence of his political apostasy is thin.

If anything, Lennon, despite his great wealth, was a European-style socialist whose politics leaned more toward anarchism than the milquetoast posing of the modern Democratic Party. If it's true that Lennon was irked by Carter's pietism, he would have been appalled by Barack Obama's pragmatism.

In 2002, Mr. Seamons confessed to stealing and selling photos and letters belonging to Lennon on the black market. He paid $70,000 to Yoko Ono for compensation. Until someone a little less morally compromised corroborates his account of Lennon's drift toward Reaganism, we should consider it an urban myth. Gimme some truth, indeed!

Tony Norman

Tony Norman is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist. He was once the Post-Gazette’s pop music/pop culture critic and appeared as an expert on cultural issues on local radio talk shows and television programs. In 1996, he began writing an award-winning general interest column, which, he says, rejuvenated his enthusiasm for the kind of journalism that makes a difference.

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