Screens

PBS' "Lennon NYC"

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Lennon NYC
9 p.m. Monday (Nov. 22)
WFYI (Channel 20)

Bigger-than-Jesus John Lennon didn't need the Beatles to create a stir. As the highly worthwhile American Masters documentary Lennon NYC reminds us, Lennon spent most of the last nine years of his life in New York City – "the greatest place on earth," in his words – as war protester, activist, musician, talk-show guest, bold-faced name, persona non grata to the Nixon administration and devoted househusband.

He never stopped mattering. And even 30 years after his murder, he still does.

Over these two hours, you'll be reminded of his gritty, electrifying solo songs like "Attica State," "Cold Turkey" and "John Sinclair," hear a song called "Make Love Not War" morph into "Mind Games" and live (or relive) the anti-war years, the drunken L.A. years, the playful years and the daddy years.

I'm not a Lennon completist by any means, so portions of this documentary that are new to me may be old news to others. I don't think anyone will be terribly bothered, though.

There's enough here to keep even casual fans intrigued. Just don't look for illumination from Yoko Ono. She's featured throughout the film, but she says nothing new or eye-opening – even about why she kicked John out in the early part of the decade. As an aside, let me say I'm not generally a Yoko basher. I'm just genuinely surprised at how little she shares. We actually learn more in an audio clip from John, talking about his dazed-and-confused period in California: "I needed somebody to love me and there was nobody there for me."

The film begins in the recording studio Aug. 7, 1980, during the Double Fantasy sessions. "I'm really talking to the people who grew up with me," Lennon says, explaining the nature of the songs. It works its way backward to 1971, when he and Yoko moved to New York. Throughout, we hear from musicians and producers (Earl Slick and Jack Douglas are particularly good) and see plenty of behind-the-scenes footage.

But the best part of Lennon NYC is getting to spend some time with Lennon again. And the most enjoyable clip comes from a radio interview he did with Dennis Elsas on New York's WNEW-FM in 1974. Lennon reads the weather, talks music and has a great time. To hear him speak and sing, to see him enjoying new-found freedom that allows him to venture into public in relative peace, is to be reminded of what a positive influence he had on the world.

I'd forgotten how much I missed him. I'm glad to have this time to remember.

ALSO ON WFYI

Despite its makes-me-wanna-slit-my-wrists title, Lead Paint: The Poisoning of Indiana's Children (7:30 p.m. Thursday, WFYI) is a thorough, informative examination of an issue most of us probably haven't thought much about.

But producer Shannon Cagle has, and she reports there are 13,000 Indiana children who either have lead-poisoning or are at-risk. She introduces us to a few – including the daughter of Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle – gives us background and lets us know what we can do to prevent exposure to lead.

If you have children under age 7 (the most at-risk for lead poisoning) and live in a home built before 1978 (when the state banned use of lead-based paint in residences), you'll absolutely want to tune in.

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