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Other segments from the episode on September 15, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 15, 2006: Interview with Jon Wiener; Commentary on 2006 fall television season.


DATE September 15, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Historian Jon Wiener discusses his fight to gain access
to FBI's secret files on John Lennon and his book titled "Gimme
Some Truth"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (In unison) (Singing) "All we are saying is give peace a
chance. All we are saying..."

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: Anti-war music like "Give Peace a Chance" didn't exactly endear
John Lennon to the Nixon administration. In 1971, shortly after John Lennon
had come to New York on a visa and had hooked up with radical anti-war
activists, the FBI put Lennon under surveillance, and the Immigration and
Naturalization Service tried to deport him. The new documentary "The US vs.
John Lennon" is about the government's attempts to silence John Lennon.
Here's a clip from the film. First we'll hear British music journalist Chris
Charles and then archival footage of Lennon himself.

(Soundbite from "The US vs. John Lennon")

Mr. CHRIS CHARLES: John was no dummy. He knew that people would regard him
as being an outcast. But he didn't care. He thought that whatever people
thought about him was unimportant compared to the cause he was promoting.

Mr. JOHN LENNON: If I'm going to get on the front page, I might as well get
on the front page with the word peace...

Unidentified Woman: But you've made yourself ridiculous.

Mr. LENNON: To some people. I don't care if they put...

Woman: But you're too good for what you're doing.

Mr. LENNON: If it saves lives...

Woman: You don't think you--oh, my dear boy, you're living in a Never Never

Mr. LENNON: Well, you were saying that in America they're so serious about
the protest movement...

Woman: Yes, they are.

Mr. LENNON: ...they were so flippant they were singing a happy-go-lucky
song, which happened to be one I wrote, and I'm glad they sang it, and when I
get there, I'll sing it with them.

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: Our guest, Jon Wiener, is a historian who was a consultant on the
film and who investigated what the FBI and the INS did to Lennon between 1971
and 1972.

After Lennon's death, Wiener requested Lennon's FBI files under the Freedom of
Information Act. But the FBI refused to release many of the documents, saying
their release would endanger national security. So with the help of the ACLU,
Wiener sued the FBI in 1983. Fourteen years later, after the case went all
the way to Supreme Court, the FBI agreed to settle and released all but 10 of
the documents. Those 10 documents still haven't been released.

Wiener's book about the documents, named after a Lennon song, is called "Gimme
Some Truth." Wiener is a history professor at the University of California,
Irvine. He spoke with Terry Gross in 2000. His book opens with a 1972 memo
from Senator Strom Thurmond to Nixon's assistant William Tenent.

Mr. JON WIENER: Strom Thurmond at the time was chair of the Senate Internal
Security Subcommittee, which apparently was working closely with the FBI and
monitoring anti-war protests against the United States. The Strom Thurmond
memo outlined a plan Lennon had been developing with some friends of his in
the anti-war movement for a national concert tour Lennon would headline that
would coincide with the upcoming 1972 election season. Strom Thurmond pointed
out that this was not going to be the usual rock concert tour. It's kind of
strange to get this from Strom Thurmond since you don't usually think of him
as an expert on rock venues. But he, or his staff anyway, appreciated what
was interesting here, that this wasn't just going to be the first live tour by
one of the Beatles since the lads waved farewell in Candlestick Park earlier.
Lennon hoped to combine rock music with radical politics and organize young
people to vote in the 1972 election. Thurman thought that the Nixon White
House should know about these plans because they seemed to have political
significance for Nixon's re-election.


Read the last paragraph for us of that letter.

Mr. WIENER: OK. The Strom Thurmond memo concludes that the source felt that
if Lennon's visa is terminated, it would be a strategic countermeasure. The
source also noted the caution that must be taken with regard to the possible
alienation of the so-called 18-year-old vote if Lennon is expelled from the

GROSS: How do you interpret that last paragraph about a strategic

Mr. WIENER: Well, a little historical background here. The '72 election was
going to be the first in which 18-year-olds had the right to vote. Before
that, you had to be 21. Everybody knew that young people were the strongest
anti-war constituency, but also all real politicos know that, then and as well
as today, young people are the least likely to vote. So the question was, for
Lennon, how could he use his power as a celebrity to get young people into the
political process? And also this is a time when kids are very alienated from,
you know, mainstream politics.

So to get Lennon out of the country, the strategic countermeasure is to deport
Lennon so he won't be able to take this tour that would register young voters.
At the same time, they're worried that, you know, young voters will vote
against Nixon for kicking out, you know, the clever Beatle.

GROSS: How much were you able to find about the extent to which the Nixon
White House and Nixon himself was involved in the plan to deport Lennon so
that he couldn't mobilize youth to vote against Nixon?

Mr. WIENER: Well, the FBI files that have been released to me, there's
nothing directly from or to Richard Nixon himself. However, there is one memo
from J. Edgar Hoover to Robert Haldeman who was the assistant to the
president, the closest person to Nixon in the White House. That memo reports
on the FBI's progress in building a deportation case against Lennon. My
assumption is that there's no reason to tell this to Haldeman unless Nixon is

GROSS: How accurate was the FBI's information that John Lennon did want to
help organize these political concerts...

Mr. WIENER: Well...

GROSS: ...that would be for peace and against Nixon?

Mr. WIENER: There's no question that Lennon was talking about this with his
friends, his friends being Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Bobby Seale. And they
tried doing one of these in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in December 1971. They--John
and Yoko headlined a political rock concert, the free John Sinclair concert.
Every once in a while I run into somebody who was there. Fifteen thousand
people spent six hours in Chrysler Arena. They listened not only to John and
Yoko, but Stevie Wonder came, Commander Cody came, the MC5 came, William
Kunstler gave a speech, Jerry Rubin gave a speech, Bobby Seale gave a speech.
And a lot of it was about, you know, mobilizing young people to oppose Nixon.
So--and they were very excited--John and Yoko were very excited about the
tremendous turnout they had for this concert and how successful it was; so
they were interested in the idea. They never got to the stage of setting up
the national concert tour because the deportation order came down just two
months later.

GROSS: Now was the deportation order issued because of this campaign to get
rid of Lennon before he could organize youth to vote?

Mr. WIENER: Well, it certainly seems that way. That's what Lennon always
said and that's what his fans all thought. Of course, the Nixon
administration immigration service had a different explanation. They said
that Lennon never should have been admitted to the United States in the first
place because the then existing immigration law prohibited admission of anyone
who had been convicted of any drug offense no matter how minor, no matter what
the circumstances, and Lennon in fact had pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge
of cannabis possession in London in 1969 when he was busted by the infamous
Detective Sergeant Norman Pilcher, a name that will live in infamy among all
Beatle fans. Lennon pled guilty even though he claimed the drugs were planted
on him, and indeed a couple years later, Sergeant Pilcher was found guilty of
planting drugs on another celebrity and he himself went to jail. But the
Nixon administration's view was that they were simply enforcing immigration
law and Lennon's illegal case was actually a pretty weak one at that point.

GROSS: How far did the INS get in deporting Lennon?

Mr. WIENER: Well, for much of 1972 and '73, Lennon was under an order to
leave the country within 60 days. He had very talented legal help and they
kept getting these deadlines extended. There was a lot of people mobilized to
support him, but really it wasn't until after Watergate, after Nixon left
office, that the Gerald Ford administration Immigration Service finally agreed
to grant Lennon his green card on very narrow legal grounds. So for two
years, he was under a 60-day order to leave the country almost continuously.

GROSS: Now let's talk more about the FBI documents that you were finally able
to get through the Freedom of Information Act. You say that the FBI documents
make the FBI look more like the Keystone Cops than the Gestapo. Give us an
example of one of the documents that you think makes them look like Keystone

Mr. WIENER: Well, there's one where J. Edgar Hoover sends out instructions
to locate Lennon as quickly as possible. They say his last known address is
St. Regis Hotel, 150 Bank Street, New York City. Now every cop and cab
driver in New York knows that the St. Regis Hotel, you know, is on Central
Park. It's not--and that Bank Street is in the West Village. So this
couldn't be right. In fact, Lennon, at the time, was living on Bank Street,
but he was living at 105 Bank Street, not 150 Bank Street. So here's like
this all-points bulletin, you know, `Find Lennon.' They're just confused. I
mean, it could've happened to any of us, I guess.

The other really strange one is that there's a kind of a wanted poster for
Lennon. The FBI proposed that Lennon should be arrested, if at all possible,
on possession of narcotics charges--I'm quoting now from one of the
documents--`which would make him more immediately deportable.' And these
instructions to local police officials include a kind of a wanted poster, a
picture of Lennon, you know, height, weight, eye color and so on. You'd think
that they wouldn't really need this. Lennon was certainly one of the most
recognizable faces in the world in 1972. They have a picture there anyway,
but the strangest thing is the picture isn't of John Lennon. It's of another
guy, a guy--I mean, I know who it is. It's a guy named David Peel who was an
East Village folk singer, street singer, busker type who looked a little like
Lennon. I mean, he wore the wire-rimmed glasses and had Lennon's style of
long hair. Of course, lots of other people did in 1972. David Peel had
recorded on Apple Records. Maybe that's how they got confused.

So the FBI, you know, was lamentably out of touch with the mainstream--not
just of, you know, the radical counterculture of New York City but, you know,
you would think John Lennon is kind of pretty much the mainstream in 1972.

BIANCULLI: Historian Jon Wiener speaking to Terry Gross about the John Lennon
FBI files. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview with historian Jon Wiener. He
sued the FBI over access to John Lennon's FBI files and is the author of the
book "Gimme Some Truth."

GROSS: Now you also say that you're surprised at how trivial some of the
documents that the FBI withheld from you turned out to be. The FBI also
seemed to just collect some interesting left-wing gossip, and I'd like you to
read an excerpt of a document that's a good example of that. This is on page
253. This is really a memo about Jerry Rubin and how a lot of people he was
working with thought that his ego had just gotten too big and they really
needed to put him in his place.

Mr. WIENER: "We listed our bitches to him. His superstar ego which enables
him to appear to lead while he does none of the work yet gets the credit.
Number two, financial deals that have netted him money in the past that he
made in the name of Yippie but then used for himself. Three, his BO and other
bad habits. Four, his feud with Tom and other Zip people."

GROSS: That's Tom Hayden, right?


GROSS: Maybe not. Maybe not.

Mr. WIENER: The Zippies were a split from the Yippies, so I think this--this
is not Tom Hayden's world.


Mr. WIENER: Tom was a sober type. He was not a Zippy. Shall I continue?

GROSS: Please.

Mr. WIENER: "He said that he would do anything and we should just tell him
what we wanted. They told him they wanted money and they told him that they
wanted him to get signatures for the Armstrong position. They also told him
that we would stop badrapping him"--I think it's supposed to be--"in
accordance with how well he performs his assignments. We will make no
interferences in his affairs, political or otherwise, as long as he didn't
claim leadership in Zip or Yip. He will have no decision-making powers. If
he or Abbie"--Abbie Hoffman--"want responsibility in the new party, they will
have to earn them like everyone else. The fact that they are superstars and
can get coverage of events does not impress us at all. They are a liability
within the movement. They have turned too many people off."

GROSS: Now there's an example of the FBI doing some interesting historical
work for us.

Mr. WIENER: Yes, this is certainly--you know, this is the kind of record
keeping that doesn't exist anywhere else, and it's the reason that historians
practice the Freedom of Information Act. I doubt that there were minutes
taken at this meeting which someone filed and are now located in an archive.
The FBI's the only institution that had the energy and the resources,
excessive as they were, to keep these kind of documents. On the other hand,
my attorneys in the ACLU cited this passage in arguing that the FBI lacked a
legitimate law enforcement purpose in gathering this information. The whole
thing was illegitimate, and they shouldn't have been doing it in the first

GROSS: Now you actually got to meet the person who was the source for that
document. You met the informant and the informant ended up helping you in
your fight to get the FBI files.

Mr. WIENER: Well, I talked to her on the phone. This was one of the more
unexpected developments. Ten years or so into this case, I got a phone call
one day from a woman named Julie Maynard in Mantham, Wisconsin, who said that
she was the full-time paid confidential informant who had provided the FBI
with information about Lennon, and she had had a change of heart. She had
split with the FBI, and she wanted to join our side. This is something that
has hardly ever happened in history. So we were, you know, pretty excited
about it, but also we were a little skeptical because, you know, you can never
be sure if the information that informants provide is completely true or
accurate. Their whole occupation depends on convincing their employers that
they are unique sources of extremely valuable information even if it isn't
very unique or very valuable. Julie signed an affidavit saying she wanted the
FBI to turn over all of her materials that she provided on Lennon to us. This
was quite important because the FBI was maintaining at the time that they were
obligated to withhold confidential informants' reports from us to protect the
identity of the sources. Here for the first time, I believe, in FOIA
litigation, one of the sources said they didn't want their identity protected.
Initially, the FBI rejected Julie Maynard's affidavit, which they called
irrelevant. It was extremely relevant, but eventually a few years later, they
did release all of her confidential informant reports, and we found out that
indeed she was the author of this. She was the one who was at the meeting.
After the case finally settled in 1997, I called up Julie to tell her, you
know, what had happened, that we'd gotten her documents at last. I learned
that she had died just a few months before.

GROSS: Mmm. Let's get to the sentence that you describe as the most
remarkable sentence in all of the confidential information that you finally
got from the FBI. What is the sentence?

Mr. WIENER: This is from the same document that Julie Maynard provided,
confidential informant report, a meeting planning demonstrations at the
Republican National Convention in 1972. The FBI claimed that they had a
legitimate law enforcement purpose in investigating Lennon, namely that he
planned to participate in violent, disruptive demonstrations at this
Republican National Convention, which would have been a violation of the
anti-riot act passed after the demonstrations at the '68 Democratic National
Convention. Julie Maynard's report on this meeting concludes that Lennon
said, quote, "He will come to the conventions if they are peaceful," close
quote. In other words, the FBI's own paid confidential informants were giving
them information that contradicted what they claimed as the basis for their
investigation of Lennon. We argued therefore, they lacked legitimate law
enforcement purpose, that they knew they lacked legitimate law enforcement
purpose, and therefore they should release the files to us.

GROSS: And was that a key point in getting the files released?

Mr. WIENER: Well, no, they never told us their reasoning about why they
finally released them. They maintained throughout all the litigation that
their fears were legitimate and times are different now and it's hard to
appreciate today how tense the world was in 1972 and it's the FBI's job to
protect the president and they were doing their job. And now times are
different, is their view.

GROSS: Did you find anything in the FBI files that were released to you that
indicated that the FBI went beyond surveillance, that they ever tried to set
Lennon up?

Mr. WIENER: Yeah, there's like a couple of documents. Their concern was
that Lennon would participate in some kind of concert, rally, anti-war
demonstration outside the Republican National Convention. And there's a memo
from J. Edgar Hoover to the head of the Miami FBI office that suggests that
if Lennon could be arrested on possession of narcotics charges, he would
become more immediately deportable. Now this seems to me an effort to set
Lennon up for a drug bust. The FBI doesn't enforce possession of narcotics
charges. That's a state offense. This is not part of what the FBI's supposed
to be doing.

I then filed a Freedom of Information request with the Miami FBI office asking
for their files on Lennon to see what their response to this was. They
replied to me that their John Lennon file had been destroyed as a part of a
routine file destruction procedure.


Mr. WIENER: Now I have to note that Lennon files were collected in five
other cities, and none of those places destroyed their Lennon files. So we
wonder what was in the Miami Lennon file that was destroyed.

BIANCULLI: Historian Jon Wiener, speaking with Terry Gross in 2000. He sued
the FBI over access to John Lennon's FBI files. We'll hear more of their
interview in the second half of the show.

I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.



I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross and back with historian Jon Wiener.
The new documentary "The US vs. John Lennon" tells the story of the
government's attempts to silence Lennon. Wiener sued the FBI in 1983 to get
Lennon's files released under the Freedom of Information Act. Fourteen years
later, after the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, the FBI settled
and released all but 10 documents. The FBI had Lennon under surveillance from
1971 to 1972. Terry spoke with Wiener in 2000 about the John Lennon FBI

GROSS: Now you have the FBI document that explains why the FBI stopped its
surveillance of Lennon. Would you summarize and read an excerpt of that
document for us?

Mr. WIENER: This is dated August 30th, 1972. This is, like, two months
before the presidential election. This is a memo to the acting director--now
that's L. Patrick Gray--J. Edgar Hoover had died in May--from the special
agent in charge of the New York FBI office. It says, `For the past several
months, there has been no information received to indicate that the subject is
active in the New Left.' Then it indicates what the sources are. `All advised
that during the month of July 1972 that the subject has fallen out of favor of
activists Jerry Rubin, Stuart Albert and Rene Davis due to subject's lack of
interest in committing himself to involvement in anti-war and New Left
activities. In view of this information, the New York Division is placing
this case in a pending, inactive status.'

GROSS: Now is that true of the whole FBI or just the New York Division?

Mr. WIENER: Well, New York was the office of origin, the OO, as it's called
in the files. They're the ones who are responsible for conducting the
investigation. I mean, what this really is saying here is that the
Immigration Service and the FBI have succeeded in pressuring Lennon to cancel
his plans for this national concert tour and to withdraw from anti-war
activity. His lawyers told him that his case for fighting deportation was a
pretty weak one. In fact, they'd never seen anyone win a case under these
terms and, therefore, the legal advice was, `Don't do anything more that would
further provoke the Nixon administration.' He really wanted to stay in the
United States. Yoko was involved at that point in a custody dispute over her
daughter from a previous marriage, her daughter Kyoko. So John--if he had
been deported, Yoko would've stayed behind. He didn't want to be separated
from Yoko, so he canceled the plans for the concert tour, he dropped out of
movement activity, and the FBI is reporting that they've accomplished their

GROSS: So in that sense, the FBI did succeed in neutralizing, as they like to
put it--in neutralizing John Lennon.

Mr. WIENER: Yeah, `neutralizing' is one of the scary words which appear in
the file. Some people think this refers, you know, to assassination plans or
something like that. I don't think that's the case. Neutralizing means
silencing him, getting him out of the picture through this deportation threat.
And there's no question that Lennon was silenced as a spokesman of the
anti-war movement.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jon Wiener. He's a historian
and author of the new book "Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files. He
tried to get those files for about 14 years in a series of lawsuits.

Why did you initially want to get the John Lennon FBI files?

Mr. WIENER: Well, after Lennon was killed in December 1980--I'm a historian.
I teach history at the University of California, Irvine and I'm also a
journalist, and I wanted to--you know, I was a Lennon fan--and I wanted to
write something or do something, and it actually started as a radio program on
KPXK Pacific Radio in Los Angeles. I was going to do their tribute to John
Lennon that was going to focus on his peace movement activity, and at that
time, the Martin Luther King FBI files had just come to light and been
published, and historians everywhere were amazed to discover how complete the
FBI records were on Martin Luther King, much more detailed that anything in
King's own archives, and I just wondered whether there might be something like
that for John Lennon, since I knew that Nixon had tried to deport him in 1972,
so I filed a Freedom of Information Request just, you know, the way historians
do who have biographical projects early in 1981. They do what they always do.
They sent me some pages and blacked out a lot of other pages. I was lucky
enough to get the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern
California in filing a lawsuit in 1983, and then we spent the next 15 years in

GROSS: Now you got some documents that had a lot blacked out in them
initially, and then when you won your case, a lot of those blacked out parts
were actually printed. What were some of the things that were blacked out the
first time around that you got to read later on.

Mr. WIENER: Well, about two thirds of all of the Lennon papers --there's
about 400 pages in all the different parts of the Lennon FBI files. Initally
in 1981 about two thirds of those were blacked out, mostly under the claim
that releasing them would endanger the national security of United States, you
know. Now, the book contains almost clean versions of almost all of those
pages. Some of those, you know, what we discovered was the contents of J.
Edgar Hoover's letter to Haldeman, showing the direct White House involvement.
We found the proposal for setting up for a drug bust, which seems a clear
abuse of the FBI's authority. We found all these trivial documents, which
suggested that the FBI didn't have any legitimate law enforcement purpose in
investigating Lennon. Basically, we found a lot of evidence that this was not
a criminal investigation, what the FBI is supposed to be doing. This was
political surveillance and political harassment of a critic of the president.
That's what Lennon had said back in 1972 when he was in the immigration
hearings but, you know, it's nice to see the historical documents that confirm
what you argued and suspected in the past.

GROSS: Now your lawsuit took about 14 years. You sued, appealed and so on
and finally went to the Supreme Court. How did it end up going that high?

Mr. WIENER: Well, we lost in US District Court in Los Angeles, then we
appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and there we got a strong and
unanimous ruling from a three-judge panel that the FBI's procedure for
describing the contents of the files they were withholding was unacceptable
and that they had to completely revise their procedures for processing the
Freedom of Information withholding. They claimed this imposed what they
called an intolerable burden on them and they--the FBI appealed to the Supreme
Court to free them from this intolerable burden. The Lennon files only 400
pages but there are other files that are, you know,40,000 pages, 400,000
pages. The Supreme Court to our amazement and delight agreed with the ACLU
position that it was not an intolerable burden, that it was required by the
Freedom of Information Act and even the Reagan appointees, you know, Rehnquist
and Scalia joined in supporting the ACLU position and opposing the FBI's
position. So then it was sent back to district court in LA, and the judge was
ordered to start over at the beginning.

GROSS: Well, one of the things very interesting about the Supreme Court
decision is that this is where Kenneth Starr enters the John Lennon story.
The Kenneth Starr who was the independent counsel.

Mr. WIENER: I noticed that, too. Yeah, the Justice Department briefs to the
Supreme Court explaining why they shouldn't have to redo their entire
procedures because of the findings of the John Lennon FBI file case are
submitted by Kenneth Starr, solicitor general. Of course, I had no idea who
Kenneth Starr, solicitor general, was when all this is happening in 19--when
was it?--1989, 1990. In retrospect, it's just one of those strange historical

GROSS: So Kenneth Starr was representing the FBI?

Mr. WIENER: Yeah, well, it turns out--I mean, the lawyer said, `Well,
Kenneth Starr files all the government briefs with the Supreme Court. That's
his job as solicitor general, to represent the FBI before the Supreme Court.
Nothing unusual about that.'

BIANCULLI: Historian Jon Wiener, speaking with Terry Gross about the John
Lennon FBI files.

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview with historian Jon Wiener. He
sued the FBI over access to John Lennon's FBI files and is the author of the
book "Gimme Some Truth."

GROSS: How much do you think John Lennon knew about the FBI surveillance of

Mr. WIENER: Well, he understood that this whole deportation thing was
politically motivated. He complained publicly on TV shows, on "The Mike
Douglas Show," on "The Dick Cavett Show," you know, these criminal
enterprises, that too many people were coming to fix his phones down on Bank
Street in the West Village and that there were strange men outside in suits
who followed him around. He eventually sued the FBI, claiming he had been the
target of illegal wiretapping. Part of his FBI file is the FBI's own response
to that charge.

They replied that they could find no evidence of authorized wiretapping in
their files. Now this seems to me like a typical Nixon-era non-denial denial.
They said they could find no evidence, but maybe they didn't look very hard.
They said they could find no evidence of authorized wiretapping, but it
could've been unauthorized. It's also possible that the wiretapping was not
done by the FBI but was done by the New York Police or some other agency. So
Lennon sometimes thought he was just being paranoid. He would say, you know,
he wasn't important enough to be the target of this kind of surveillance. At
other times he, you know, loudly proclaimed that he was the target of
government persecution. It turns out it's the second that was correct, but he
never was sure in his own time that it was the FBI that was after him.

GROSS: Do you have evidence that his phone really was tapped?

Mr. WIENER: There are no wiretapping logs in the Lennon FBI file of the kind
that there are, say, in the Martin Luther King file. So this remains an open
question. I mean, he lived next door to John Cage on Bank Street, and
whenever he needed...


Mr. WIENER: make a--well, you know, it's the '60s. It's the West
Village in the '60s. Whenever he needed to make, you know, a secure
conversation, they would go next door and use John Cage's phone in the belief
that the FBI didn't know who John Cage was. They were probably right about

GROSS: Right. The FBI wasn't interested in chance music, huh?

Mr. WIENER: Probably not.

GROSS: Has reading all the files about John Lennon, the FBI files, changed
your impressions of Lennon? I mean, there are insights from these informant
documents. Has it added to your knowledge of John Lennon the man, added to
your knowledge of his character, how he behaved in the world?

Mr. WIENER: Well, you know, this is a period which people don't pay very
much attention to anymore when they're remembering Lennon. You know, it was
really less than 12 months, but reading these files, you get a sense of just
what an intense and devastating period this was for Lennon. I mean, he starts
out full of enthusiasm, high hopes, going to do this concert tour. He hadn't
performed live for five years. You know, excited to be in New York, you know,
the center of the universe.

Within a couple of months, he is feeling the heavy hand of the government of
the most powerful country in the world which, you know, wants to get rid of
him, wants to kick him out. And it really--I think it ruined his life for the
next few years. And it's easier to see, you know, what happened to him. And
the next year his music kind of falls apart as a couple of albums that he
makes here are, you know, pretty much the worst of his career. He breaks up
with Yoko, moves out to LA, the so-called lost weekend, living the life of a
kind of over-the-hill rock star. I think all of this is--I mean, I don't know
how much he understood at the time, but this is sort of the time when he's
lost his optimism, he's lost his hope, he's been punished for not doing very
much. And he paid a heavy price, both as a creative person and in his own

GROSS: You know, you say in your book that one of the things you really find
fascinating about these FBI files is that they document an era when rock music
seemed to have real political force. Say some more about that.

Mr. WIENER: Well, you know, it's a little hard to believe today that a
president would fear the power of a rock star. Rock stars often today have
political causes but they're always--they're often--they're usually the safe
ones, you know, save the rain forest or fight breast cancer or something like
that, issues that nobody is going to, you know, try to deport you for
advocating. It's still hard to figure out whether the effort to deport Lennon
was complete paranoia on Nixon's part. After all, Nixon did win the 1972
election by an overwhelming landslide. His opponent, George McGovern,
carried--What?--two or three states, something like that? So maybe the whole
thing was just paranoia on the part of Nixon matched by paranoia on the part
of Lennon and his friends.

On the other hand, all of this was put in motion long before that presidential
election, you know, in the winter beforehand. And at that point, I don't
think it was clear to anybody that Nixon was going to win in a landslide.
Nixon was concerned about this youth vote and how that might affect the
elections. It wasn't clear that McGovern was going to be the candidate.

You know, there's a lot of reasons not to like Richard Nixon. I don't--never
liked him very much myself, but, you know, he was one of the most successful
political candidates in recent history. So I'm kind of willing to accept
Nixon's judgement that Lennon's political plans for 1972 were significant,
were interesting and, you know, did merit some kind of presidential response.

GROSS: And that's something that you find interesting about the times and
something that you admire Lennon for.

Mr. WIENER: Yeah. I mean, Lennon really took risks here of a kind that you
hardly see anybody ever taking. How many people in the entertainment world
have faced deportation because of their political actions? I mean, what,
Charlie Chaplin was sort of run out of the United States. Paul Robeson left.
It was sort of the opposite where he was denied the right to travel and then
he left, you know, anyway. You know, Bertolt Brecht fled after being quizzed
by HUAC. This is a very small group of people, so I think it underscores the
intensity of Lennon's commitment. I mean, I don't think he knew the risks he
was taking, but, you know, that's sort of what he was like. He was a risk
taker. He wanted to stand up for what he believed in. He wasn't going to
play it safe. It wasn't a safe age, so I think that's admirable.

GROSS: Has reading all the files about John Lennon, the FBI files, changed
your impressions of Lennon? I mean, there are insights from these informant
documents? Has it added to your knowledge of John Lennon, the man, added to
your knowledge of his character or how he behaved in the world?

Mr. WIENER: Well, no, this is a period which people don't pay very much
attention to anymore when they're remembering Lennon. You know, it was really
less than 12 months. But reading these files, you get a sense of just what an
intense and devastating period this was for Lennon, that he starts out full of
enthusiasm, high hopes, going to do this concert tour. He hadn't performed
live for five years. You know, excited to be in New York, you know, the
center of the universe.

Within a couple of months, he is feeling the heavy hand of the government of
the most powerful country in the world which, you know, wants to get rid of
him, wants to kick him out. And it really--I think it ruined his life for the
next few years. And it's easy--it's easier to see, you know, what happened to
him. In the next year, his music kind of falls apart, his couple of albums
that he makes here are, you know, pretty much the worse of his career, he
breaks up with Yoko, moves out to LA and the so-called "lost weekend," living
the life of the kind of over-the-hill rock star. I think all of this is--I
mean, I don't know how much he understood at the time, but this is sort of the
time when he's lost his optimism, he's lost his hope. He's been punished for
not doing very much, and he paid a heavy price both as a creative person and
in his own life.

GROSS: Jon Wiener, I thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. WIENER: My pleasure.

BIANCULLI: Historian Jon Wiener, speaking with Terry Gross in 2000. He sued
the FBI over access to John Lennon's FBI files and is the author of the book
"Gimme Some Truth." The new documentary "The US vs. John Lennon" about the
government's attempts to silence Lennon will be released in New York and LA
today and nationwide later this month.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Preview of this year's fall television season

And now I'd like to shift gears and shift duties to TV critic. And boys and
girls, I'd like to start with a little story.

Once upon a time, back in the 1960s, there were three commercial broadcast
networks--CBS, NBC and ABC--and that was it. No satellite, no cable, no
Internet. The broadcast networks were unbelievably dominant then. They
supplied most of the TV to America, just like Detroit supplied most of the
cars. The car manufacturers rolled out their new models in September and
wanted as many people as possible to watch their advertisements. So somewhere
along the line--the assembly line, that is--the networks and the car companies
came up with the idea of the fall TV season. The networks could roll out
their new models, too, all in the same week, and that would attract lots of
viewers to the truly important stuff, the ads for the new cars.

Well, kiddies, it's a very different world today, but some old traditions have
remained. New car models still come out in the fall, and even though the Fox
network jumped the gun this year by previewing its new shows the past few
weeks, there's still an official fall TV season. It starts Monday. Next week
alone, eight new series premiere on network TV. The big trend this fall is
that all the networks are betting more than ever on serialized dramas. With
the success of the Fox series "24" and the ABC series "Lost" and "Desperate
Housewives," the network sees these involved season-long story arcs as one
possible way to attract and hook an audience. It doesn't matter that last
year most of those attempts failed. Loyal viewers of such shows as
"Invasion," "Threshold," "Surface" and "Reunion" were abandoned in midstory
with no sense of closure. But since another new serialized drama, "Prison
Break," worked for Fox, all the networks are willing to try, try again.

There are so many new ones this season, though, that oversaturation is
inevitable. There are only so many books people can keep on their nightstands
at one time, and serialized TV dramas require the same type of focus and
commitment. If you're already looking forward to new chapters of "Lost" and
"Grey's Anatomy" or of "24" and "Veronica Mars," how many new weekly dramas
can you make room for? Well, from the new fall season, I'd suggest making
room for a few. Especially ABC's "The Nine," which is about nine people
caught up, in one way or another, in a midday bank robbery. The show
premieres October 4th, right after the season premiere of "Lost," and it's the
same kind of character-driven mystery series, with lots of flashbacks and
missing pieces to its puzzle. In fact, in "The Nine," we don't initially see
the robbery or what happens during it. That'll come later, bit by bit. In
the pilot, we see only the aftermath and scenes of the moments leading up to
the robbery, such as this scene in which Timothy Daly plays Nick, a cop being
chewed out by his boss.

(Soundbite of "The Nine)

PETE: You haven't been going to your GA meetings.

Mr. TIMOTHY DALY: (As Nick) The department mandated six. I did my six.

PETE: So you're cured.

Mr. DALY: (As Nick) Come on, Pete. This screwed things up enough for me.

PETE: What?

Mr. DALY: (As Nick) Haven't made a bet in three months. Haven't even bought
a lotto ticket.

PETE: All I'm saying is, with your history, you don't have a lot...

Mr. DALY: (As Nick) Leave my father out of this.

PETE: This has nothing to do with your father. I'm just looking out for you,

Mr. DALY: (As Nick) Well, I'm the guy with the most collars last year. If
you're really looking out for me, shouldn't we be talking about the promotion
I was promised?

PETE: We were ready to give you that promotion until you blew it with your
little gambling mishap. I'm not the one who keeps shooting you in the foot
here, Nick. You do a pretty good job of that yourself.

Mr. DALY: (As Nick) OK. I'm going to go deposit my paycheck--in my savings

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: Other cast members of "The Nine" include Kim Raver from "24," John
Billingsley from "Prison Break," and Scott Wolf from "Party of Five," all
serialized dramas. "The Nine" is a very crisp pilot and one of the three new
shows I recommend most enthusiastically this year.

The other two, as I noted months ago when the fall pilots were screened for
critics, are both from NBC and both are behind-the-scenes looks at network TV
sketch comedy shows. The one from Aaron Sorkin, his first series since "The
West Wing," is called "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" and premieres Monday.
It stars Bradley Whitford, Matthew Perry and Amanda Peet and features a
can't-miss opening appearance by Judd Hirsch.

The other TV show about a TV show is called "30 Rock" and comes from Tina Fey
of "Saturday Night Live." She stars in it too, along with Alec Baldwin and SNL
veteran Tracy Morgan. The show's being reworked with Jane Krakowski from
"Ally McBeal" added to the cast. But the parts being worked on are the parts
that needed work, and the rest is hilarious. And I adore Jane Krakowski. So
watch for "30 Rock," too, but be patient because it doesn't show up until
October 11th.

Other new shows worth sampling this season include "Kidnapped," an NBC drama
that starts Wednesday and plans to take the whole season to explore one crime,
and ABC's "Ugly Betty," a comedy that's an American take on a successful
telenovella. It starts September 28th. And ABC's "The Knights of
Prosperity," a serialized comedy series about a group of first-time, inept
criminals. It starts October 17th and used to be known by a much better
title: "Let's Rob Mick Jagger." And yes, Mick Jagger appears in it, at least
in the pilot.

That's a pretty good start. Add the quality returning shows and some of the
other new ones that have promise and you've got a much better than average
fall TV season. And even if nothing here strikes your fancy, there's always
midseason. One of the replacements due to arrive in January is "The Black
Donnellys," written by Paul Haggis of "Crash." The last TV projects created by
Haggis were two of my all-time favorites: "Due South" and "EZ Streets."

(Soundbite of music)


BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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