|Art and Artists Subjected to What?
Intimidation? Blacklisting? Censorship?
Draft for a Case Study
John Lennon was killed in New York
City. By a crazy person? And unnoticed by the FBI when John was under surveillance,
and knew he couldn't leave New York, couldn't leave the U.S.A. because
the immigration authorities had orders not to let him enter the States
There are so many "crazy ones" they
present us. The killer of Kennedy's supposed murderer, the killer of Martin
Luther King Jr., the killer of Olaf Palme. In a film we could see years
ago how that quintessential sheriff in a little Southern town in the U.S.A.
knows exactly whom to arrest when a murder has happened. "The usual suspects."
Never "Caucasian ones." Never members of the upper class. Did those who
must have had some pretty good understanding of how John Lennon, an immensely
popular "pop star" in the U.S. at the time, was "coming out" as a
supporter of the American peace movement, begin to see him as a "security
risk"? A man whose word, whose opinion did not go unheard among the young
people of America? A man perhaps a thousand, no ten thousand times more
effective than any SDS activist? More, much more than Mario Savio in Berkeley?
And did these guys "know" which killer they had to incite to do the job?
Or which "killer" they'd best present if they decided to do the job themselves?
It's a bunch of suggestive questions,
perhaps a vague hypothesis - no more than that. But it is curious to see
that a man under surveillance by the FBI was killed in that supposedly
By the way, what do we not know
about the supposed "suicide" of Jean Seberg, an actress who was a political
activist at the time? There are those who tell a disconcerting story. How
"the facts" presented in the course of the reconstruction of her "suicide"
don't fit together.
And why did Bob Dylan suddenly change
his course, toning down the "political" part of his singer-songwriter activities?
Did he have a visit by a few guys in trenchcoats, telling him it would
be healthier to stop fiddling around with politics? Did Columbia Records
"warn" him? Did he do it "of his own accord"? A bit scared? Or just tired
and fed up with it?
The questions asked above smell
of something not digested willingly by sophisticated people: they
don't like those crazy "theories" that dream up conspirations. And rightly
But take the case of Canadian Native-American
singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie. I'll offer a small excerpt of her
conversation with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!
It's hardly necessary to comment on
this. It speaks for itself. "I ... wish that people at the time had
been able to hear the songs... I think music can make a difference," Apparently
that's what some people in the FBI, in the Nixon and in the Johnson administration
thought, too. So they simply made sure that a lot of people wouldn't hear
Buffy's songs. The anti-war songs. The songs that inspired people in the
American Indian Movement, and that could have aroused sympathies for the
cause embraced by AIM, among "White" people. They made sure that
Buffie Sainte-Marie dropped from the top of the charts and became
a singer not much heard of, for a time. "O land of the free and home of
the brave..." Don't these guys in trenchcoats sing it with all their heart?
You bet they do. What do they think when they sing it?*
AMY GOODMAN: Singer-songwriter
Buffy Sainte-Marie. After hitting the
top of the charts in the early ’60s, the outspoken performer suddenly disappeared
from the mainstream airwaves during the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon
AMY GOODMAN: The ’60s and ’70s,
Johnson, Nixon—what about music and culture at that time? How was it affected?
BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE: Well, at
the time, we didn’t know about it, but a lot of us were being blacklisted.
Our music was being suppressed.
AMY GOODMAN: How?
BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE: Letters
were being sent to radio stations, acknowledging and giving pats on the
back for broadcasters who were refusing to play music that ought to be
AMY GOODMAN: How do you know
BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE: Well, I only
found out about it maybe twenty years after the fact, when a
broadcaster in Toronto brought it to my attention. He had a letter on White
House stationery, you know, commending him for having suppressed music
that deserved to be suppressed, and it was about me. Eartha Kitt was affected.
Taj Mahal was affected. A lot of people were affected.
But when I found out about it,
I went and got my FBI files, and I was just appalled. I mean, the Freedom
of Information Act, at that time, anyway, was just a crock. In the first
place, they ask you to come in and be with an FBI agent in the FBI offices.
And my lawyer said, “No, no, no. No, you can send somebody to our offices.”
So I looked at the files, and they were all crossed out, big fat magic
And then, a couple years ago,
on the internet, a former CIA agent came forward, as well, and talked about
the suppression of music in the ’60s. And so, these—
AMY GOODMAN: How did you feel
it at the time?
BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE: When I first
found out about it, I was just surprised, I was just flabbergasted, because
I had never known that there was anything going on like that. I didn’t
know that records were not being—not
showing up at their destinations, so there’d be no records in town when
I had a big concert. So I was mystified. It
had never occurred to me.
And then later on, you know,
a couple years ago, when I found out about the Nixon administration, as
well, doing things like that, according to the CIA agent, anyway, you know,
it bothers me, but it’s not the kind of thing that I’ve made a career of
being mad about, because where are Johnson and Nixon now, anyway? I have
a new record and a great life, and I only
wish that people at the time had been able to hear the songs that I thought
were reflecting their feelings. I think it would have made a difference,
because I think music can make a difference.
In 1936, the American writer and
well-known dramatist Tennessee Williams wrote a play called "Candles to
Like others, among them James Agee
and Sherwood Anderson, he had started to be a committed writer - an effect,
in a way, of the Great Depression perhaps, and of the misery it brought
to millions of ordinary Americans.
The play was performed only once,
in 1937, in St. Louis, then dropped from sight for decades.
As Sarah Moon recalled in an interview,
published in the Journal Appalachian History, it had its
"third ever known production" in 2006 when he company staged it again in
Louisville, Kentucky. Sarah Moon notes that "[...] 'Candles to
the Sun' tells the story of a family living in the coal mining camps of
southern Appalachia in the 1930s." A topic that was too touchy? The
play 'hot' stuff, kind of too red for those who owned the theaters?
Did politicians intervene? Today, people return to it as the U.S. suffers
it most severe economic and social crisis since the 1930s. But will
the play get more than marginal attention? **
* Source: "Buffy Sainte-Marie. Democracy Now!Special:An Hour of Music
and Conversation with Legendary Native American Singer-Songwriter Buffy
Sainte-Marie", broadcast on the regular Democracy Now! program on October
12, 2009. Internet source, URL address: http://www.democracynow.org/2009/10/12/democracy_now_special_an_hour_of
** Source: Interview with Sarah Moon, author of 'Light Comes', in: