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IN 1972, the administration of President Richard M. Nixon launched efforts to deport John Lennon, who had taken up residence in the United States. Nixon feared that Lennon’s radical activities against America’s military engagement in Vietnam might lead to a mass mobilization of young voters that would in turn cost Nixon victory in that year’s presidential election. Nixon’s fears were groundless — he won in a landslide — but before the election, the Immigration and Naturalization Service ordered Lennon to leave the country within 60 days. Lennon fought the order for years, and after Nixon’s downfall in the Watergate scandal, his successor in the White House, Gerald Ford, showed little interest in pursuing the matter. The INS order was overturned in 1975, and the following year, Lennon received his green card.
As part of the defense effort, Lennon and his legal team gathered letters of support from numerous distinguished Americans — including Bob Dylan. Now unearthed by the historian Jon Wiener, a dear friend of www.seanwilentz.com, Dylan’s undated letter is a interesting document, revealing Dylan’s abiding disdain for the stifling mass media, as well his willingness to take a political as well as personal stand on behalf of his friends John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
The letter — which Dylan, unlike the other supporters, wrote by hand — reads:
JUSTICE for John & Yoko! John and Yoko add a great voice and drive to the country’s so-called ART INSTITUTION/ They inspire and transcend and stimulate and by doing so only help others to see pure light and in doing that, put an end to the mild dull taste of petty commercialism which is being passed off as artist art by the overpowering mass media. Hurray for John & Yoko! Let them stay and live here and breathe. The country’s got plenty of room and space. Let John and Yoko stay! Bob Dylan
For full details, see Wiener’s Op-Ed in today’s Los Angeles Times here.
The ever-reliable and eagle-eyed Annie writes in to say that she remembers seeing a manuscript Dylan letter along these lines on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC’s exhibit in 2009, “John Lennon: The New York City Years.” A search of the Websites about the show is inconclusive about whether the letter reproduced above was the one Annie remembers. But it appears as if Jon Wiener, in pulling the xerox copy from his files obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, may unknowingly have re-discovered an artifact of which the original, owned presumably by Yoko Ono, has already seen the light of day. It’s a pleasure, of course, to bring the letter to wider public attention, but if anyone has information about any of this, please add a comment. As soon as we know for sure, we will post any needed correction.