Week in Rock History: John Lennon Sues the FBI

Plus: Bowie sells out seven nights at Radio City

john lennon
Tom Hanley/Redferns
John Lennon in the Apple Corps office in London.
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This week in rock history, the T.A.M.I. show taped in California, David Bowie spent a week at Radio City Music Hall, John Lennon sued the United States government, Stone Roses singer Ian Brown was sent to jail and beloved DJ John Peel passed away.

October 28-29, 1964: The T.A.M.I. Show was recorded in Santa Monica, California
One of the first – and still definitive – rock and roll concert movies, The T.A.M.I. Show was a giddy portrait of many of the biggest acts in pop history, including the Rolling Stones, James Brown, the Beach Boys, the Supremes and Chuck Berry. Its audience shots captured the bliss of being a young rock and roll fan in that era, and its deft camerawork stylistically inspired music videos for decades to come.

The T.A.M.I. Show (referenced inconsistently as both the Teenage Awards Music International and the Teen Age Music International in the show's publicity) was taped over two days at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Southern California. The surf-pop duo Jan and Dean emceed the event, interspersing glib puns and boyish charm between artists' sets. Notable performances included Chuck Berry, flanked by teen dancers and looking borderline perturbed through "Johnny B. Goode," Marvin Gaye crooning "Can I Get a Witness" to screaming female fans, teen queen Lesley Gore staunchly singing her soon-to-be feminist anthem "You Don't Own Me" and the fresh-faced Beach Boys harmonizing through their hits "Surfin' USA" and "I Get Around."

The show reached its pinnacle when James Brown and the Famous Flames stormed the stage with "Out of Sight," "Night Train" and two other tracks. Brown was an incomparable showman: at one point, he feigned exhaustion and collapsed, then rushed back onstage dancing madly, inciting the crowd to complete hysteria. After him, the Rolling Stones closed the show ably with "Time Is On My Side" and "It’s All Over Now," though Keith Richards said later that following Brown was the biggest mistake of the band's career.

 

October 24, 1973: John Lennon sues the U.S. government for wiretapping his phone
John Lennon’s simple and most enduring message, "Give peace a chance," roused many fans to protest the Vietnam War alongside him in the late 1960s and 1970s. It also caused the United Stated government to suspect him of being a radical threat, and soon enact a thorough surveillance program on him.

After Lennon and Yoko Ono held their famed "bed-ins" in Montreal and Amsterdam, which nonviolently protested the war, the FBI began keeping elaborate records on the Beatle, including taking notes on his media appearances and wiretapping his phone. Their efforts culminated in an attempt to have Lennon deported to England, especially as he became more vocal about rallying young voters against Richard Nixon on the eve of the 1972 election.

Lennon, in turn, sued the FBI for the illegal wiretapping. The FBI denied the charge; as excerpted in historian Jon Wiener's book Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files, officials pointed out that there were no wiretapping logs in their Lennon surveillance file (unlike Martin Luther King, Jr.'s file). It was a suspicious defense, but enough for Lennon to scale back his activity in the anti-Nixon movement to avoid deportation. He secured his green card to stay in America in 1976.

 

October 28, 1974: David Bowie plays the first of seven sold-out nights of his Diamond Dogs tour at Radio City Music Hall
When the Thin White Duke took his dystopian concept album Diamond Dogs on the road, it was a riveting spectacle: an entire post-apocalyptic society recreated nightly. The sprawling set design included large-scale skyscrapers, moving bridges and twisting streets – less a projection of George Orwell's novel 1984, as Bowie envisioned originally, and more his own fragmented, glamorous spin on the end of days.

The Diamond Dogs tour was extensive, even by Bowie's standards: it launched in June of 1974 in Montreal, Canada and continued uninterrupted until December. His residency in New York City was a landmark: seven consecutive nights at the austere Radio City Music Hall, each performance sold out. It was the only weeklong stay of the tour aside from an earlier stint at the Universal Amiptheatre in Los Angeles, though Bowie had been plagued by vocal problems during the West Coast stretch of the tour. The tour remains one of the last indelible moments of Bowie's glam-rock period.

 

October 23, 1998: Stone Roses singer Ian Brown is jailed for four months for threatening behavior
Last week's announcement of the unforeseen Stone Roses reunion thrilled British guitar-pop fans – and hopefully, singer Ian Brown will be on his best behavior for his return. He certainly wasn't in 1998, when he attacked a flight attendant on a trip from Paris to Manchester.

According to the attendant, Christine Cooper, Brown threatened graphically to "chop [her] hands off" after she offered him duty-free drinks by mistake. As she told Manchester police later, she apologized when she realized that he had not gestured for the cocktails, yet he continued pointing and yelling at her, then followed her to the cockpit and banged menacingly on the door.

Brown was arrested when the plane landed. He retold the story to authorities as a joking and innocuous incident, then claimed that the pilot had antagonized him. He was sentenced to four months in prison and lost his appeal for a reduced sentence, forcing him to cancel a solo tour through the United Kingdom and Japan.

 

October 25, 2004: DJ John Peel died
One of Britain's most indefatigable champions for rock and roll, John Peel was a tastemaking voice of BBC Radio 1 from the 1960s until his death. Throughout his career, he discovered and enthusiastically spun dozens of groundbreaking bands, including the Cure, David Bowie, Joy Division and the Strokes.

The eclectic, witty DJ (and former pirate radio operator) was the host of the famous Peel Sessions, live in-studio performances by artists that could cement their stardom in the rock world. He also served as a presenter of Top of the Pops, founded Dandelion Records and managed the psychedelic rock band the Misunderstood.

Peel's pure curiosity for new musicians shaped rock and roll throughout his career. Young bands across the world plied him with their demo tapes, knowing that he would listen to them with kindness and sincerity. He died at age 65 while on a working vacation in Cusco, Peru.

LAST WEEK: Three Members of Lynyrd Skynyrd Die in Plane Crash