Daily Archives: December 8, 2010

Northrop Frye and John Lennon: “War is Over — If You Want It”


Today is the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon’s death (1940-1980).

It is a pleasure to commemorate him with local talent — Kori Pop performing “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” filmed just over a week ago by Mitch Fillion of Southern Souls.  This is a sneaks-up-beside-you rendition of the song in a simply conceived but beautiful video.

In “The Quality of Life in the ’70s,” Frye picks up on Lennon’s theme, “War is over — if you want it,” a phrase that appeared on billboards during the Christmas season forty years ago in cities all over the world, including Toronto:

One of the more genuinely attractive aspects of the protest movements of the late 1960s has been the insistence with which they have raised the question of “Why not?”  Some time ago one of the Beatles put up advertisements over Toronto saying “War is over–if you want it.”  It was not perhaps a very successful enterprise, but what it said was true enough.  War is over if we want it, and so is the whole nightmare of human folly and tyranny.  It will probably not be over in the 1970s, but there is nothing in the will of God, the malice of the devil, or the unconsciousness of nature to prevent it from going.  What prevents it are the bogies and demons inside us.  We have been calling these demons up pretty frequently during the past few years of confused and infantile illusions, and they have never failed to respond to our call.  But they have no power except what they get from us, and certainly no power to stop us, if we want it, from making the 1970s an era of grace, dignity, and peace.  (CW 11, 296)

The footnote to this paragraph in the Collected Works reads:

NF is referring to John Lennon’s Christmas 1970 release Happy Christmas (War is Over).  Lennon himself paid for a billboard on Yonge St. that proclaimed this message to the citizens of Toronto.  (CW 11, 376)

Video for “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” after the jump.  Also, the remix by George Martin of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” interpolating “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “Helter Skelter.”  Really needs to be heard to be appreciated.  Finally, a photo of Lennon with the 19th century circus poster that inspired the song.  Lennon claimed the entire thing came from that poster.  In any event, if you look hard enough Pablo Fanques and the Hendersons will all be there.  (While, of course, Henry the Horse dances the waltz.)

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