John Lennon and Yoko Ono
After moving back to Michigan in January 1971 at 15 I found the area obsessed with the call to FREE JOHN SINCLAIR. It was the cause celebre of the time. Sinclair had been imprisoned for giving pot to an undercover agent among many other charges and suspicions. He was suspected of planting bombs and trying to start the revolution of young people to over throw the US government.
The posters were everywhere promoting free concerts in Gallup Park and as a teenager rock music is what we lived for. The politics not so much. Basically my age group didn't care if John Sinclair was in prison or not, we wanted to go to see free concerts....
I have just finished reading Pun Plamondon's autobiography (LOST FROM THE OTTAWA; THE JOURNEY BACK) this weekend which took me in the way back machine to the year of 1971.
Having left my parents in Georgia at Ft. Benning, I moved back up north to finish the 9th grade in my home town of Ypsilanti.
When I arrived the Christmas of 1970 kids were all going to the big Catholic church in town for concerts on Friday nights. These were so exciting and there were hundreds of kids at these shows. It was the coolest place to be seen as I recall.
The hippie movement was on it's decline and we all thought Flower Power was ridiculous but colorful and fun. We all took on the look of long dragging on the ground jeans, long hair straight parted down the middle, tee shirts, fringed leather bags for purses, moccasins, and peace signs.
In my school Free John was not carved into our desks, we thought about ourselves mostly and what concert/party we would go to on the weekends.
The winter was spent mostly having fun and then that summer my step father was killed in action in Vietnam June 22, 1971 and cynicism set in for me and the whole scene would never feel the same.
Next door to Ypsilanti was the city of Ann Arbor. A whole different world and light years away from the rest of the area. Smoking pot in 1970 was a big crime and people who smoked it would drive way out in the country to do it. After the Free John summer of 1971, smoking pot was everywhere and out in the open. People would fire up a joint and drive in their cars, stand on corners, and fill concert arenas with pot smoke.
When the news spread the following December of 71 that John Lennon was coming to Ann Arbor to play at a benefit to Free John we all had to be there. A friend and I went and I don't remember buying tickets but we were there in the huge crowd of people. We used the time when the radicals were making speeches to go get something to drink or use the restroom. Some of the older college kids were into the scene but we were not. We wanted to see Lennon.
As it turned out I never got to see Lennon play as they didn't take the stage until 3:00 am and I had to be home long before that. Did see Bob Seger, Stevie Wonder, Teegarden and Vanwinkle that was pretty fantastic. Not alot of video on that show worth showing.
Just recently I met John Sinclair at a fundraiser for Artist Gary Grimshaw at Bohemian house in Detroit. I met Gary last summer when Machinegun Thompson the drummer of the MC5 and I interviewed Gary and his wife Laura at the People's Art festival at Russell Center.
We didn't pay much attention... we were teens with our own agendas and giving our allowances and babysitting money to John Sinclair was not part of it. Pun was quite a good speaker and we did watch him with fascination, but never did we drop money in the passed around buckets to Free John.
At that time, Sinclair and Plamondon were the OLDER generation to us! We thought their causes were mostly self promotion more than saving the world. Turns out that was pretty much the case.
Here is a great story on the show that talks about the events of that time.
"Free John Sinclair!" click the link to read the whole story, it is really accurate.
by James Tobin
At the ragged end of the 1960s, perhaps no slogan was scrawled on more bathroom walls or carved into more classroom desks in southeastern Michigan than "Free John Sinclair!" It was a slogan that eventually pitted John Lennon against J. Edgar Hoover one early morning in December, 1971, at Crisler Arena.