Communist-run Cuba came full circle today to fete John Lennon, whose music was once frowned on as a decadent Western influence, as a “revolutionary” hero.
Official honors for the Beatles star on the 20th anniversary of his death included a documentary by President Fidel Castro’s personal cameraman, the unveiling of a bronze statue of Lennon in a Havana park and an open-air concert planned for tonight.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Beatles’ songs were considered “ideological diversionism” by Cuban authorities. Local music- lovers recount that the Fab Four were barely heard on the island, with the exception of clandestine parties where smuggled tapes might be listened to with the lights off.
Singer Gets a Makeover In the still tightly controlled but culturally more liberal Cuba of today, Lennon is now cast as a man who was a born rebel and a constant victim of U.S. harassment.
Today’s honors were intended to “integrate Lennon into the patrimony of the cultural values that our people admire and respect,” an official statement said.
“Declassified FBI documents have made public the aggression he suffered for his radical position against the Vietnam War during [former President] Richard Nixon’s administration,” it added.
While the majority of Cubans love the Beatles, and now listen to them openly, some were left scratching their heads at today’s celebration of the cultural about-face.
“What? Now they’re going to honor Lennon? I can’t believe it,” mused one self-styled former Cuban “hippy” as he stopped his bike opposite the arena where preparations were under way for the Lennon homage concert.
“You see this bump on my head? I got this when I was a kid for listening to the Beatles and playing their music!” he added with a laugh, showing a lump where he said his ideologically strict father had once smashed his guitar over his head.
Communist Party daily Granma last year included the Beatles on a list of the most “relevant” figures of the 20th century, below Castro, Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, and Argentine-born guerrilla Ernesto “Che” Guevara.