The Rip Post                                                                                              

From the Orange County Register
December 7, 2003


Burned babies. Bloated corpses. A boy in a hospital, shock in his eyes as he tries to comprehend the loss of his legs. Soldiers firing automatic weapons. Ten-year-olds wielding rifles. People fleeing in terror. People starving. Shallow graves. And tears, tears, tears.

Such is the new Christmas video from John Lennon and Yoko Ono---part of "Lennon Legend," a DVD of the late Beatle's solo career released last month.

"I think it's very important that we are reminded of what we're doing," Ono said last week in an interview. "It's like a mirror. We see a mirror every day, and that's all it is. I showed the video to friends, and they were very shaken up."

Small wonder. Scenes of war, maiming, starvation and death now illustrate what has become a holiday perennial, Lennon's 1971 single, "Happy Xmas (War is Over)." Gone are the touching shots from the song's original video, usually seen on MTV and VH-1, of Lennon and Ono singing with the Harlem Children's Choir.

Haunting close-ups of refugee children fill the screen as Lennon sings, "And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?" Then: a weeping Arab father carries the corpse of his child, wrapped in a beautiful red-and-white blanket. An African man lays the cloth-wrapped corpse of a baby next to other bodies on the ground. And as Ono and the children's choir break into the chorus of "A very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year War is over if you want it," a Vietnamese woman walks down a muddy road, carrying her dead son, his skin seared off by napalm.

The next three minutes of the video are rife with scenes from 9/11 in New York City, Hiroshima atom-bomb survivors, Iraq war victims, women's corpses in the streets of the Middle East, soldiers holding up "I love you" messages for wives back home, amputees hobbling, refugee children in the rain.

Not quite as sweet and uplifting as the first video.

"That was that, and it was good," said Ono, reached in New York City. "But right now, the message I'm putting out in the film is very important. So I just wanted to remind people of it."

But why do it so bluntly?

"Because that's what's happening," she said. "It's happening in a very blunt way! When you're killing and maiming kids, there's nothing gentle or soft about it."

The "Lennon Legend" DVD is a collection of 20 revised and new Ono-supervised videos of Lennon's most popular solo songs. Lennon, murdered Dec. 8, 1980, in New York City by a deranged "fan," is omnipresent this Christmas season - alone and with his old group. Aside from "Lennon Legend," there is the controversial "Let it Be ... Naked" Beatles album, and the Beatles' four appearances on the "Ed Sullivan Show" - the first of which will be 40 years ago in February - all of which have hit stores in recent weeks.

What's more, Rolling Stone magazine's new issue ranks "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" No. 1 on its "500 Greatest Albums" list, with three other Fab Four albums in the top 10. The new version of "Happy Xmas" seems to have slipped under the public radar. It has yet to be aired by any network, and is video No. 19 of 20 on "Legend," which is an otherwise lyrical series of biographical film essays about Lennon.

"Well, I suppose there is some policy that the networks feel that people don't want to see something that is harsh," said Ono. "And that people would like to see something more dreamlike and sweet, and that's what they go for. (Networks) want to present a message that the audience is more inclined to liking."

Commercial consideration, in other words.

"Yes, commercial consideration as well as political, maybe, but I think commercial consideration is the first one."

Ono often says that she feels Lennon's presence as she works, and in this project, the collaboration is pretty cut-and-dried: his song, her video. It's a true John and Yoko project, arguably their most-potent anti-war statement ever - and one which she says he would have approved.

"Yeah, sure! It's a message from him as well!" said Ono. "You know how he's saying in the song, 'and what have we done?' He's asking a question. This is not like 'White Christmas,' you know. It's a Christmas message, but there are lot of messages in the lyrics. War is over if you want it, you know?"

Lennon and Ono devoted much time in the early '70s to staging protests against the Vietnam war, which famously led to the ex-Beatle's investigation and harassment by the FBI. Would he find the bitter divisiveness in today's United States reminiscent of the Vietnam era? Would there be a place for his "Give Peace a Chance" cheerleading optimism? Ono speculated:

"John would have observed the big picture as a positive one. The dialogue is getting more severe than (in) the '60s. The anger level of the opposition is going over the top. This means that they are not happy at all that their way is not being appreciated by the world in general. People in general want world peace. That upsets the opposition totally. The Bush administration is the last throw of the right. In fact, we are winning ... in terms of awareness. Awareness will rapidly change into physical reality.

"John would have also appreciated the global communication through (the) Internet," she continued. "The global village we spoke about is here now in reality! He would have been sending messages to the world every day on the computer. He would have sung about e-mail power. He would have agreed with me that cynicism is a luxury we can't afford. We have to be wise, not clever ... and we will be. We will overcome the destructive force of the opposition, the cynicism of ourselves, and, finally, rescue ourselves and our planet. I think that is what John would like to tell us if he is here now."

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