Friday, March 11, 2011

2001: The Covert War Against Rock

Speaking of crackpot conspiracy theories, I got a million of them. While it's certainly valid that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, it's also the case that the Official Story from the government is often a most extraordinary claim without a great deal of supporting evidence. Which, of course, requires us to theorize about what really happened.....

From the beginning, rock music has been about rebellion, sexuality and racial intermingling. And right from the beginning, there have been powerful forces utterly freaked out by that agenda. It's the premise of Alex Constantine's book The Covert War Against Rock (Feral House, 2000) that those folks didn't exactly shrink from the occasional use of lethal force.

Doubtless for some of you that thesis is relatively near-fetched. But we do live in a culture where information conglomerates still try to convince us that powerful political figures of the sixties were taken out by a series of Lone Nuts. Corporate media pundits invoke the magic words "conspiracy theory" to settle any argument. But Constantine marshals an impressive range of evidence in chronicling the suspicious circumstances regarding some famous exits. The wordy subtitle reads "What You Don't Know About the Deaths of Jim Morrison, Tupac Shakur, Michael Hutchence, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Phil Ochs, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, John Lennon and The Notorious B.I.G."

Covert War starts by looking at the overlapping worlds of government intelligence agencies, organized crime, and virulent right-wing wackos - noting helpfully that each group has had a hand in the music business from time to time. They've worked together in the past to take out common enemies, both foreign and domestic; many such cases are discussed in my own book The CIA's Greatest Hits (Odonian, 1994). The Agency is particularly adept at terminating inconvenient humans using coroner-baffling methods that mimic natural causes. And if they can apply such skills to politicians (and, erm, journalists), well, hey, what's a rock star or two for good measure?

Neither secret police, nor mobsters, nor neo-Nazis have ever been particularly fond of charismatic young figures who sing about revolution and happen to control vast sums of wealth. They're even less thrilled when the star is African-American. For those who argue that most rock stars don't seem to need too much help when it comes to prematurely returning to room temperature, two words: Brian Jones.

As the author notes, just a few years ago, it would have been ludicrous to suggest that Jones's death was anything other than another case of a drug-addled rocker whose own wretched excess led to his accidental death. But today, his murder is a proven fact. One of the killers has confessed, and eyewitnesses who were too intimidated to come forward at the time have now corroborated the story. Not only was much of his wealth siphoned off post-mortem, but Brian's killing (for the record, after he'd been off drugs for weeks) came in the context of ongoing official harassment of British rock stars in general and the Stones in particular.

As it turns out, the Jones murder is the most conclusive case in the book - okay, aside from Tosh, gunned down in his home by a death squad. With the others, there are more questions than answers. But what all ten dead rockers have in common is that they were politically active, and subject to considerable intimidation from various powers that be. Not to mention very rich, dead or alive. Hutchence, too, had his estate drained by Mob figures, and Hendrix lived in mortal fear of his well-connected manager, who cheated Jimi's heirs of millions.

Taking a leaf from the study of political assassinations, Constantine posits that the cover-up proves the crime. The INXS singer is supposed to have hung himself, possibly in an auto-erotic context, we have been told. But his face was beaten and bloody, and his hand was broken. How, exactly, did he beat the crap out of himself and then knot a belt around his neck with one good hand? And how is it that Jimi Hendrix's lungs were literally filled with red wine? These are just some of the major contradictions in the Official Story, which aren't too widely reported in the mainstream press. But said media have often been conduits for disinformation and character assassination after the fact, leaked to give the impression that the deceased was a junkie dirtbag whose self-indulgent passing no one should mourn.

Thus lies and distortions have been spread about Lennon, Hendrix and Morrison, suggesting that the constant surveillance and harassment they complained of while alive was nothing more than druggie paranoia. But as the saying goes, even paranoiacs have real enemies - and none more so than Mr. Lennon and Mr. Marley. Both were, arguably, political leaders as well as entertainers, and both paid a price for their leadership.

Lennon's murder reads like a textbook covert action, with the Lone Nut well-connected to various intelligence fronts, and the authorities covering up crucial evidence. But once again, this comes in the context of an ongoing vendetta that stretches back at least as far as the London police raids, with a well-documented paper trail of official malice from the likes of Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover and Strom Thurmond. Constantine also details the infiltration of Lennon's staff, both before and after his death, which resulted in the embezzlement of priceless diaries and archives.

Marley, it's true, died from cancer - but only after surviving a death squad shooting in his home, just like the one that claimed Peter Tosh. Leave aside the fact that people have been convicted in court of using cancer as a murder weapon. Leave aside, if you wish, the story that the cancer first appeared in his foot after a known CIA agent presented him with a pair of boots. Even if the cancer were naturally occurring, Marley's death was hastened and assured by a Nazi doctor, a onetime colleague of Josef Mengele, who made the singer's final days far more painful than necessary.

The deaths of Marley and Tosh, like those of Tupac and Biggie, came in the context of centuries of violent repression against black nationalism. The Official Story has it that both rappers were casualties of a gang-banger feud, but in each case the cover-up is so flimsy it serves mainly as an overt warning to those who would dare emulate the late rappers. Eyewitnesses were never questioned, while the constant police surveillance of both men somehow looked the other way at the crucial moments. Shakur, in particular, came from a well-known family of framed and murdered resistance figures. Doubtless he will not be the last such victim.

There are those who believe that rock music can change the world - that it helped to topple the Berlin Wall, catalyze the civil rights movement, stir up opposition to the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, those who believe that rock can be a revolutionary force are not always fans. The Covert War Against Rock is a cautionary tale, with a valuable lesson: when you push for justice, sometimes you get pushed back.

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