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Marx and Duchamp for Beginners 

Wednesday, Jul 22 1998
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You've probably heard of the aberration referred to as "the '60s" (which actually ended sometime in the mid-'70s), when the impossible seemed imminent. Threats to dump hallucinogens in big-city reservoirs by wild-haired anarchists may have turned out to be tongue-in-cheeky scare tactics, but the secondhand smoke of a billion burning reefers did indeed seep up the noses of the squares. True subversion - the kind that stems from the notion that capitalism sucks and art for art's sake is a noble concept - even got its 15 minutes from the mainstream media.

Which brings us to the new release of The Mike Douglas Show With John Lennon and Yoko Ono (Rhino Home Video). The five-video box set chronicles the week of February 14-18, 1972, during which the revolution was televised by the First Couple of the Counterculture for the edification of horrified housewives, cannabinoided college kids and, as we now know, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Lennon's appearance contributed to his near deportation.

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Mike Douglas was a former big-band crooner who hosted one of the most popular daytime talk shows of the era. Airing weekdays at 4:30 p.m., Douglas appealed mainly to pre-liberation homemakers whose days were spent on soap - of the opera and laundry-detergent varieties. While having the Two Virgins co-host with him was clearly a ratings ploy, Douglas is to be commended for gamely, if not without some distaste, playing along with these avant-garde radicals.

For the five-day run, Yoko and John introduced Fluxus performance art to the Silent Majority. All guests were asked to sign or draw on a canvas that was to be auctioned off for charity. On Day 1, they displayed a broken china cup, which they proceeded to repair until it was whole again by Day 5. "If we can mend the world together like this, we can mend anything," explained Yoko. With Douglas and comedian Louis Nye, they randomly picked names from telephone books and called people to tell them they loved them. In another segment, they encouraged audience members to touch the person sitting next to them in order to create a daisy chain of good vibrations.

Musical guests included the Chambers Brothers (black gospel-rock), Yellow Pearl (Asian-American folk-protest), Vivian Reed (pop-soul) and David Rosenboom (Moog synthesizer hooked up to guests' alpha waves). Chuck Berry performed "Johnny B. Goode" and "Memphis" with Lennon. It's doubtful even eMpTy-V would have the temerity to air anything as bizarre as Chuck Berry duck-walking next to John, while Yoko caterwauls, head Yippie Jerry Rubin beats a hand drum, and extremely hirsute N.Y. rockers Elephant's Memory play backup. John and Yoko also performed several songs from Imagine, Fly and what would eventually be Sometime in New York City, and premiered clips from their film, also titled Imagine, which predated rock videos by a decade.

Feminism was discussed by Rena Uviller, a juvenile-crime lawyer, and Barbara Loden, a pioneering director-actress, whose film Wanda was a brilliant slice of life from a working-class woman's perspective. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader and Peace Corps honcho Joseph Blatchford spoke up for mainstream activism, while Rubin and Black Panther Bobby Seale (with two African-American student revolutionaries) represented the fiery New Left. Interestingly, the latter duo downplayed their more extreme views, with Seale dwelling on the Panthers' free food and shoe programs and sickle-cell-anemia clinics, while Rubin advocated voting to depose Nixon. Other highlights included hippie humor from George Carlin and the Ace Trucking Company, seaweed-eggroll assembly by a hippie macro chef, and biofeedback research presented by a hippie from Harvard.

It was clearly John and Yoko's intention to paint a vision of a Unified Freak Field. After all, Lennon was the walrus who'd sung, "I'd love to turn you on." And there were prescient moments, like Douglas asking Nader if he'd ever run for president. (Nader uncomfortably evaded the question.) Of course, much of this might seem painfully dated to the hopelessly jaded; at the very least, though, present-day lounge-music aficionados will be kitsched pink by Douglas' warbling of "Michelle" and "With a Little Help From My Friends."

Throughout all, Lennon and Ono were obviously stoned, as evidenced by their frequent displays of short-term memory loss. (The rampant toking is confirmed in Stephen K. Peeples' excellent accompanying booklet.) The couple were not particularly articulate, but what they lacked in lucidity they made up for with poignant passion. "People think somebody's gonna come out of the blue and save them," says Lennon on Day 5. "Only people can save us, only us all deciding to do something or just making that decision to do something is a start."

Imagine.

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