Available On: “The Luck of the Irish” and “John Sinclair” were anthologized twice, first on The John Lennon Anthology, CD 1’Ascot’ (1998); and later on John Lennon: Acoustic (2004).
The concert film, Ten For Two: The John Sinclair Benefit, may never see official commercial release. Previous attempts have met with opposition from Yoko Ono’s attorney. At times it has been free to view on YouTube, though one never knows when it might be yanked again.
Clips from Ten for Two opened the 2006 documentary, The U.S. vs. John Lennon, which chronicled the Nixon Administration’s campaign of harassment against the Lennons.
Everything changed with this performance. The show John and Yoko had done several months before with Frank Zappa had been pure spontaneity from inception to stage. The rally in support of activist John Sinclair was provocative to the powers that be, and the powers shoved back. This show put John Lennon firmly on Richard Nixon’s radar and incepted the four-year immigration battle to eject John forcibly from U.S. shores. Consequently it could be said to be the first stone pitched that inevitably led to his hiatus from music and an end to activism on both their parts.
Only four months had passed between the John Sinclair Freedom Rally and the Concert for Bangladesh initiated and hosted by fellow Beatle George Harrison. There was a world of difference between these two events. The Bangladesh shows were a warm and welcoming charitable event that set the standard for all rock benefits to come. The Freedom Rally was a political, even radical reaction against injustice.
Given that, it was still one of those events where music could still make a difference, could literally open doors to freedom, before the music industry eviscerated itself in our times.
Likewise, some Presidents improve with time, the more you read about them; sometimes their achievements overshadow the man’s myriad personal flaws and sins. Richard Nixon, to be sure, is not one of those men.
Beginning in 1968, poet and activist John Sinclair from Flint, Michigan pulled together a rumply band of associates to form the White Panther Party, cofounded with Pun Plamondon and his wife Leni Sinclair. The Party’s basic ideology was anti-racist, anti-capitalist as well as “fighting for a clean planet and the freedom of political prisoners”.
Among his associates were a group of young musicians, soon to be known as the MC5. (They released one album under his management, the classic live disc Kick Out the Jams in 1969, before Sinclair had his own problems to deal with). In 1969 Sinclair was arrested after offering two joints to an undercover narc and sentenced to ten years in prison. The severity of the sentence led to many counterculture protests, leading to this rally, which drew 15,000 people to Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The rally featured as many speeches as it had musical performances, from firebrands such as Black Panther Bobby Searle, Alan Ginsberg, Jerry Rubin, Rennie Davis and others. Among the many performers featured in the film Ten for Two were Ann Arbor’s own locals The Up, Bob Segar doing a raw, classic rendition of “Oh Carol” as well as jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp with trombonist Roswell Rudd (Nov. 17, 1935-Dec. 21, 2017).
Phil Ochs (who committed suicide five years later) offered an eerily prescient monologue before performing “Here’s To the State of Richard Nixon”, a song about Nixon’s future that could be held up as a mirror facing the Trump era. The most worrisome aspect of the anti-Nixon feeling at this concert was that Tricky Dick got re-elected by a landslide a year later, despite people knowing what the man was like and the terrible things he’d done In Cambodia and Vietnam.
A phone call from Sinclair in prison was intercut in the Ten For Two film with shots of the prison yard and the prison interior. Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen stepped up next to perform “Hot Rod Lincoln”. Then Sinclair’s wife Leni took the stage, bringing on the big guns: Sinclair’s mother, Elsie. “I can tell you young people, you can teach more to your parents than your parents can teach you.”
21-year-old Stevie Wonder took center stage to sing “For Once in My Life”. Now it’s scenes such as this that make these films like a time machine. it is so strange to see Stevie Wonder so young, so trim again. “This song goes out to any of the undercover agents who might be out in the audience,” he said by way of introducing the next number, “Somebody’s Watching You”. In closing he sang “Heaven Help Us All.”
David Peel and the Lower East Side came on with a satirical number, “The Ballad of Bob Dylan”, followed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono at 3 am in the morning. Peel and band stayed on as John’s backing group. This was John and Yoko truly unplugged, all acoustic. None of the songs they would perform that night had been committed to vinyl; all of them were new to the John Sinclair rallygoers. All four would appear six months later on Sometime in New York City, by which time certain songs would no longer be applicable.
Both John and Yoko wore black leather jackets and red undershirts, and they began with “Attica State”. “It was conceived on my birthday,” John said. “We adlibbed it, then we finished it off.”
The genesis of “Attica State” could be laid at John’s 31st Birthday party on October 9th, only two months prior to this event. After the opening of Yoko’s art exhibition This Is Not Here at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, a party was held at a nearby hotel. Composition of the song began before the party. All the guests joined in for a drunken all-star singalong captured on tape, like most of John and Yoko’s activities. Ringo Starr was a much better singer than anyone else at the party, his voice carrying much clearer–and less drunk, perhaps.
“Attica State” wasn’t much on the bootlegged tape, mostly the ‘Attica State’ tagline repeated over and over, like he was pulling the song out of thin air. There at Ann Arbor, John and Yoko harmonized while John was on acoustic guitar and Yoko accompanied him on a bongo drum tucked under her arm. They went right into “The Luck of the Irish”, which was as good or better than the studio version yet to come.
Yoko took over for “Sisters O Sisters”. “I wrote this song day before yesterday for (our) sisters in Ann Arbor, Michigan,” as Yoko put it. For the first time in a live performance we could hear what a gorgeous voice Yoko has–when she’s not shrieking. After that number, John commented, “We came here not only to help John and to spotlight what’s going on, but also to show and to say to all of you, that uh, apathy isn’t it, and that we can do something. OK, so flower power didn’t work, so what? We start again.”
John went electric for a bluesy slide guitar performance of “John Sinclair”, a lesser anthem in the vein of “Power to the People” that closed the show. This time, the gloves were off. He got the judge’s name wrong, but it’s all in the lyrics. Line by line it was a crucifixion; each line was an accusation. The strings twanged as he laid bare the sins of the State crushing down on one man for a minor infraction, and the crowd ate it up. That night John and Yoko left the stage on top and on message.
Ironically the song became irrelevant before it was officially recorded. Three days after the rally John Sinclair was released from prison, after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the state’s marijuana statutes were unconstitutional.
His case against the government for illegal wiretapping led to a monumental Supreme Court ruling, United States vs U.S. District Court (1972), which prohibited the U.S. government’s use of domestic wiretaps without a warrant.
Eventually Sinclair left the U.S. and moved to Amsterdam, where he continues to record and write. Since 2005 he’s hosted The John Sinclair Radio Show and other programming on his own radio station, Radio Free Amsterdam. For John Lennon, his troubles were only beginning…
–The MC5 and John Sinclair: The Rock & Roll Revolution Began in Detroit at PleaseKillMe.com:
–Why ‘Ten for Two’ is the John Lennon-Yoko Ono MusicDoc You Haven’t Seen at Lifersthemovie.com:
–John Sinclair-the Beatles Bible:
–Imdb entry for Ten For Two: the John Sinclair Freedom Rally:
–The Ann Arbor Chronocle: The Day a Beatle Came to Twon, from 2009: