John Lennon Day, 40th Anniversary of getting his green card
Original story by Chris Jenkins (2015-10-01)
On July 29, 2015 the city of New York hosted John Lennon Day on Ellis Island, the 40th Anniversary of Lennon getting his green card. During that event, Bono spoke and the transcription of his words follows. Also included is the introduction of Bono by Bill Shipsey.
Intro by Bill Shipsey, Founder of Art for Amnesty
The last time I acted as the warm-up act for a singer, it was for Annie Lennox. I read a Seamus Heaney poem, and after the event a lot of old dears in the St. Martin-in-the-Field’s Church in London, who came to the event, came up to thank me, “Mr. Heaney.” I didn’t have the courage, the honesty, or the integrity to deny it, I said, “You’re very welcome.”
I also had the honor two nights ago to go to Madison Square Garden to see U2 reinvent the rock concert as they have done so many times in their career. But it was a moving and it was a very personal concert, and Bono talked of U2 as a family. And you know that he meant it when he said U2 were a family. The four band members of U2 have been together now for almost forty years. Well over thirty of those forty years, they have been a very important part of the Amnesty International family. I’m not sure if Bono remembers this, but he literally hoisted the first Amnesty flag for Amnesty International in Radio City Music Hall on the 1st of December 1984[ i]. And we thank him for that. Since then they have never let us down, they have never given up, and they have never wavered in their support for Amnesty. Edge made a promise to me in 2004. In fact, it was the year that Yoko came to Dublin to open our “In the Time of Shaking” Art Exhibition in Dublin.[ii] And after it, in typical gracious Edge form, he said that he would do anything for me and for Amnesty, and then, there was a little pause, as long as it didn’t get him kicked out of the band. It is a promise that he probably regrets making since then, but he did make it and it’s also a promise that he and they have kept for all those years. And I want to publicly thank U2, and all the team around them — there’s Brian Celler, there’s Jesse. There’s just too many people to mention because U2 is a family. It’s a big family. And all of them have always been very supportive of Amnesty, and I’m sure there are times when it would be easier to act for artists who didn’t have the conviction, and the interest, and the integrity that U2 have in relation to the causes they support.
A number of years ago Bono wrote in the New York Times about America not being just a country, but about being an idea.[iii] I heard him repeat that the other night in Madison Square Garden. He also said humorously that Americans want to be loved, and that we Irish, he said, we just like to be listened to. What he forgot perhaps was that we Irish, and certainly we Irish of the Catholic disposition, we also like to confess. And so, I have a confession to make, which will perhaps surprise everyone here, except maybe Brian Celler, and that is that in May 2012 after I had persuaded Aung San Suu Kyi to come to Dublin for a concert we wanted to organize on her behalf and to give her the Ambassador of Conscience Award that Bono had announced in Croke Park in Dublin three years previously,[iv] and what I had to do to my shame was I had to lie to her for two weeks that, quote, “Of course Bono was coming and would sing.” You Bono were in New York at the time celebrating a significant birthday[v] and not immediately easy to reach. But I made this calculation, I reckoned that if you knew that Daw Suu was committed to coming to Dublin to hear you sing, that you would need to be either on your death bed or working in a refugee camp in South Sudan not to show up. Thankfully I was right. You did show up, and you did give that remarkable Burmese leader a night in Dublin neither he, she, nor we will ever forget. You literally Walked On.
I want to finish my introduction of you on a poetic note. This is, as many Irish people, and maybe not only Irish people, in the audience know, the 150th anniversary of the birth of our great poet, W.B. Yeats. Bono himself is something of a poet, and in Madison Square Garden the other night, he said that U2 had two modes or speeds, he said they have “kick ass” and “kiss ass.” I think, however, that what he forgot was that he, Edge, and the band, and what they have done with their art and ardency in the cause of human rights, what they’ve done is they have fulfilled Mr. Yeats’s ambition for all great art and indeed for life, and that is “to hold in a single thought reality and justice,”[vi] ladies and gentlemen, my friend, and along with Edge, arguably Amnesty International’s best friend, Bono.
Bono, Rock Star
So do you want your ass kissed or kicked? Um, yeah, I was just talking about the people who serve justice and equality, and we kiss their ass, and people who get in its way, on behalf of our audience, we kick it. But, thank you Shalil,[vii] thank you Bill — you’re incredible, both of you. And, Kuoth, you’re, you’re, you’re amazing. Myself and Edge are grateful to be here, we’re very humbled really to stand in the presence of Lady Liberty. And, of course, I’m referring to Yoko when I say that. And, in fact, in honor of Yoko, and I think myself, I think we should put sunglasses on the great statue. And, uh, I’ve got loads to spare.
And, now, it’s not hanging here for you to see, but Peter Sis[viii] — the tapestry is a work of art, but I have to confess to the artist that Edge and myself first thought it was a whale that we were looking at. And, you’ll see this shortly. And we thought the one eye was peeping through the Strawberry Fields of Central Park. We thought this is – what is it? It’s… It’s a… This is Moby Dick, you know, chased up the Hudson by Captain Trump? What… What… What is this vision? But Moby Dick was white, not yellow, and he didn’t have a Beatle sticking out of his blowhole.
And I love that pictured on this work of art we have that little John Lennon there with two fingers in a “V” — in a peace sign, where myself and Edge come from we are more used to seeing the peace sign from behind. But this is the very same pose that John Lennon struck[ix] while standing on this island all those years ago.[x] It’s a famous shot. And, ah, The Statue of Liberty and John. It’s a famous image of a famous immigrant, and that’s why it’s fitting to do this here, because John Lennon was an immigrant. He didn’t sail across the Atlantic in an ocean liner or a Yellow Submarine. He didn’t come in on a third class ticket looking for a job in Hell’s Kitchen. He didn’t climb up out of steerage with all his potatoes in a single suitcase, but John Lennon was an immigrant all the same.
When I think of New Yorkers, when I think of the musician John Winston Ono-Lennon[xi], born in Liverpool, England. When I think of the ocean child,[xii] Yoko Ono, born in Tokyo, Japan. When I think of the artist, Peter Sis, born in Brno, in the then Czechoslovakia. When I think of the actress Kuoth Weil, born in Itang, Ethiopia, an honorary New Yorker. When I think of Speaker, Mark-Viverito[xiii] and her journey, the first Puerto Rican to hold a city-wide elected position. When I think of Annie Moore from Cobh in Cork, Ireland. The first immigrant processed through Ellis Island. The first immigrant came from Cobh, Cork in Ireland, and it was New Year’s Day, 1892. When I think of New Yorkers — and sometimes I’m one — I think of this spot.
Now, I am also resisting the temptation, only barely, to claim John Lennon as one more Irish immigrant to an island that’s crawling with Irish immigrants. But I’m going to actually. Let’s claim him. In fact, let’s claim all The Beatles — not as immigrants, but as Irish. The Beatles, I am here today to tell you, were Irish! And I said this once in Liverpool in front of Paul McCartney and I wasn’t thrown off the stage so it must be true. Now, all Irish parentage. All four, as Paul corrected. I thought it was just three. Lennon was certainly an Irish surname before it became an English one. It comes from Ó Leannáin[xiv] or Ó Lionáin[xv] Either way, he’s one of ours. John’s grandfather, also named John Lennon was born in Dublin. OK? And while other Irish went west to America and “turned left at Greenland,”[xvi] the O’Lennon’s turned right to England, and it took them another century to end up here, and then the cruel irony of John having to fight like hell to stay here. The FBI, the INS, an alphabet soup of government agencies, trying to push him out, push him back to England.
In the mid-70s John told people that New York taxi drivers always asked him two questions: “When are the Beatles getting back together, John?” and “What’s the latest in your immigration case?” In a TV interview in 1975, Tom Snyder[xvii] asked “John, like why are you still going through with this fight, all the harassment, the lawyers, everything, why put up with it?” Snyder said. And John sort of leaned in and said, “Because I’d like to live in the land of the free, Tom. I’d like to be here ‘cause this is where music came from — this is what influenced my whole life, and got me where I am today, and I love the place. This is where I want to be, you know? The Statue of Liberty says, ‘Welcome.’”[xviii] Great moment of television. We’ve all seen it. Well, I have, several times — only this morning. And then, of course, John raises his eyebrow and he goes, “And I’ve brought me own cash,” which is cool. In the end they let him stay, the Judge said, “Lennon’s four-year battle to remain in the country is testimony to his faith in this American Dream.”[xix] They let him stay, and he is here still. He is here still here. Yoko, he is here still.
If I’m honest, I can’t say that any of this really registered with myself and Edge at fourteen and fifteen years old in St. Margaret’s Park or Cedarwood Road in Dublin. We were listening to The Beatles, and John Lennon records. We were overwhelmed by the music, but we weren’t probably following the immigration appeal. We were too wrapped up in the songs. Not to mention the reason for writing the songs: girls.[xx] Puberty was the only real entertainment in Ireland in the late seventies if you were a teenager. But I did have as a teenager, and I mean this very seriously, I had John Lennon whispering in my ear, “Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right?”[xxi] Telling me that, “All you need is love.” And, “Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time, it’s easy. Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time, it’s easy.”[xxii] Though of course he knew it wasn’t easy. It hadn’t been for him.
But John Lennon offered all this to kids like me. Not as a balm, but as a kind of dare. Love is a challenge. Love is an ideal. Something to reach for – a provocation of a peaceful kind. An invitation, an incitement to non-violence. Whether John Lennon was going to be a British subject or an American citizen was a question that mattered a great deal to him and Yoko, and New York, and a lot of other people, but what mattered to me most right then as a teenager was the music. The message wrapped inside of John’s melodies slipped into your consciousness without effort, they just seized you, but his lyrics and his politics demanded something of you, and they still do. Give peace a chance – there’s another dare: will we?
Amnesty International insists that we ask ourselves that question again today. That’s what Salil speaks of. And, Ellis Island is a good place for us to do it. Here in the shadow of the Mother of Exiles[xxiii], waves of immigrants washed onto this teeming shore. Breaking waves of twelve million people– that’s how many passed through here, twelve million people. But twelve million also happens to be the number of people dislocated or cast out as refugees by the war that’s happening now in and around Syria. Exterior and exterior displacements, adding up to twelve million. They too are tired and poor, they too are huddled masses yearning to breathe free, but they’ve got no tickets to anywhere, not even third class, so the question is just as relevant today: Are we going to give peace a chance? John Lennon is here and he’s still asking that question. He has an answer too. The answer is love.
Now, Yoko would you say a few words about…
[ i] U2 played Philadelphia that night, Radio City Music Hall was two nights later December 3rd 1984.
[iii] October 18, 2009.
[iv] July 27, 2009.
[v] Probably his own 52nd.
[vi] A Vision (1925) by W.B. Yeats
[vii] Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International
[viii] The artist who made the tapestry, which is a map of the island of Manhattan made to look like the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.
[ix] Piece on the photographer that includes the picture: http://www.grammy.com/news/exposing-rock-and-roll
[x] Title of a George Harrison song
[xi] John took Yoko’s name when they married.
[xii] The translation of “Yoko” – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoko_%28name%29
[xiii][xiii] Melissa Mark-Viverito
[xiv][xiv] Derived from “lover” (leannán) according to wikipedia
[xv] Derived from “blackbird (Lonán) according to wikipedia
[xvi] A line from A Hard Day’s Night – “How did you find America?” John – “Turn left at Greenland”
[xvii] Who also did U2’s first US TV interview. Here’s the Lennon interview: https://youtu.be/b0T-4wbUbAU. U2’s: https://youtu.be/KI2SQsIZE.
[xviii] Not an exact quote, but fairly close.
[xix] Judge Irving Kaufman on October 7, 1975.
[xx] Watch the Snyder – Lennon interview.
[xxi] Revolution by The Beatles
[xxii] All You Need is Love by The Beatles
[xxiii] One of his references to the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, which is present on a plaque in the Statue of Liberty:
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!“”