Joan Chen
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 again?

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 meaningless way.

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 so.

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!

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 years. 

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. 


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 suppressed. And— 

AMY GOODMAN: How do you know that now? 

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 markers. 

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. 


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?*


In 1936, the American writer and well-known dramatist Tennessee Williams wrote a play called "Candles to the Sun."
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:

** Source: Interview with Sarah Moon, author of 'Light Comes', in:


Regarding the power of the media, the concentration of ownership in a  few hands,  and the close connection between owners of the media and the leading political figures (if not the entire classe politique), see the discussion of the French example in: Le Monde diplomatique:

Link: http//

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