FIRST INTERVIEW FOR ROLLING STONE By Jonathan Cott/November 23, 1968
The interview took place at John Lennon and Yoko Ono's
temporary basement flat in London - flat where Jimi Hendrix,
Ringo Starr and William Burroughs, among others, have stayed.
But the flat seemed as much John and Yoko's as the Indian
incense that took over the living room. The walls were covered
with photos of John, of Yoko, a giant Sgt. Pepper ensign,
Richard Chamberlain's poster collage of news clippings of the
Stones bust, the Time magazine cover of the Beatles.
We arrived at five on the afternoon of September 17, said hello to gallery owner Robert Fraser, who had arranged the interview, and to John and Yoko, sitting together, looking "très bien ensemble." We sat down around a simple wooden table covered with magazines, newspapers, sketch paper, boxes, drawings, a beaded necklace shaped in the form of a pentangle.
John said he had to be at a recording session in half an hour, so we talked for a while about John's show at the Fraser Gallery.
When we arrived the next afternoon, September 18, John was walking around the room, humming what sounded like "Hold Me Tight" - just singing the song to the air. Old Fifties 45s were scattered about the floor, and John played Rosie and the Originals' version of "Give Me Love." We talked about the lyrics of Gene Vincent's "Woman Love." In spite of having slept only two hours, John asked us to sit down on the floor and begin the interview.
Any suspicions that John would be ornery, mean, cruel or brutish - feelings attributed to him and imagined by press reports and various paranoiac personalities - never arose even for the purpose of being pressed down. As John said simply about the interview: "There's nothing more fun than talking about your own songs and your own records. I mean, you can't help it, it's your bit, really. We talk about them together. Remember that."
Wasn't it about the time of Rubber Soul that you moved away from the old records to something quite different?
Yes, yes, we got involved completely in ourselves then. I think it was Rubber Soul when we did all our own numbers. Something just happened. We controlled it a bit. Whatever it was we were putting over, we just tried to control it a bit.
Are there any other versions of your songs you like?
Charles' version of "Yesterday" - that's beautiful. And "Eleanor
Rigby" is a groove. I just dig the strings on that. Like
Thirties strings. Jose Feliciano does great things to "Help!"
and "Day Tripper."
"Got To Get You Into My Life" - sure, we were doing our Tamla Motown bit. You see, we're influenced by whatever's going. Even if we're not influenced, we're all going that way at a certain time. If we played a Stones record now, and a Beatles record - and we've been apart - you'd find a lot of similarities. We're all heavy. Just heavy. How did we ever do anything light?
What we're trying to do is rock & roll, with less of your philosorock, is what we're saying to ourselves. And get on with rocking because rockers is what we really are. You can give me a guitar, stand me up in front of a few people. Even in the studio, if I'm getting into it, I'm just doing my old bit - not quite doing Elvis Legs but doing my equivalent. It's just natural. Everybody says we must do this and that but our thing is just rocking - you know, the usual gig. That's what this new record is about. Definitely rocking. What we were doing on Pepper was rocking - and not rocking.
"A Day in the Life" - that was something. I dug it. It was a good piece of work between Paul and me. I had the "I read the news today" bit, and it turned Paul on. Now and then we really turn each other on with a bit of song, and he just said "yeah" - bang bang, like that. It just sort of happened beautifully, and we arranged it and rehearsed it, which we don't often do, the afternoon before. So we all knew what we were playing, we all got into it. It was a real groove, the whole scene on that one. Paul sang half of it and I sang half. I needed a middle-eight for it, but that would have been forcing it. All the rest had come out smooth, flowing, no trouble, and to write a middle-eight would have been to write a middle-eight, but instead Paul already had one there. It's a bit of 2001, you know.
Songs like "Good Morning, Good Morning" and "Penny Lane" convey a child's feeling of the world.
We write about our past. "Good Morning, Good Morning," I was never proud of it. I just knocked it off to do a song. But it was writing about my past so it does get the kids because it was me at school, my whole bit. The same with "Penny Lane." We really got into the groove of imagining Penny Lane - the bank was there, and that was where the tram sheds were and people waiting and the inspector stood there, the fire engines were down there. It was just reliving childhood.
You really had a place where you grew up.
Oh, yeah. Didn't you?
Well, Manhattan isn't Liverpool.
Well, you could write about your local bus station.
Sure, why not? Everywhere is somewhere.
In "Hey, Jude," as in one of your first songs, "She Loves You," you're singing to someone else and yet you might as well be singing to yourself. Do you find that as well?
Oh, yeah. Well, when Paul first sang "Hey, Jude" to me - or played me the little tape he'd made of it - I took it very personally. "Ah, it's me!" I said. "It's me." Hey says, "No, it's me." I said, "Check, we're going through the same bit." So we all are. Whoever is going through a bit with us is going through it, that's the groove.
In the Magical Mystery Tour theme songs you say, "The Magical Mystery Tour is waiting to take you away." In Sgt. Pepper you sing, "We'd like to take you home with us." How do you relate this embracing, come-sit-down-on-my-lawn feeling in the songs with your need for everyday privacy?
I take a
narrower concept of it, like whoever was around at the time
wanting to talk to them talked to me, but of course it does have
that wider aspect to it. The concept is very good and I went
through it and said, "Well, okay. Let them sit on my lawn." But
of course it doesn't work. People climbed in the house and
smashed things up, and then you think, "That's no good, that
doesn't work." So actually you're saying, "Don't talk to me,"
We're all trying to say nice things like that but most of the time we can't make it - ninety percent of the time - and the odd time we do make it, when we do it, together as people. You can say it in a song: "Well, whatever I did say to you that day about getting out of the garden, part of me said that but, really, in my heart of hearts, I'd like to have it right and talk to you and communicate." Unfortunately we're human, you know - it doesn't seem to work.
Do you feel free to put anything in a song?
Yes. In the
early days I'd - well, we all did - we'd take things out for
being banal, clichés, even chords we wouldn't use because we
thought they were clichés. And eve just this year there's been a
great release for all of us, going right back to the basics. On
"Revolution" I'm playing the guitar and I haven't improved since
I was last playing, but I dug it. It sounds the way I wanted it
It's a pity I can't do it better - the fingering, you know - but I couldn't have done that last year. I'd have been too paranoiac. I couldn't play dddddddddddd. George must play, or somebody better. My playing has probably improved a little bit on this session because I've been playing a little. I was always the rhythm guitar anyway, but I always just fiddled about in the background. I didn't actually want to play rhythm. We all sort of wanted to be lead - as in most groups - but it's a groove now, and so are the clichés. We've gone past those days when we wouldn't have used words because they didn't make sense, or what we thought was sense.
But of course Dylan taught us a lot in this respect.
Another thing is, I used to write a book or stories on one hand and write songs on the other. And I'd be writing completely free form in a book or just on a bit of paper, but when I'd start to write a song I'd be thinking dee duh dee duh do doo do de do de doo. And it took Dylan and all that was going on then to say, oh, come on now, that's the same bit, I'm just singing the words.
With "I Am the Walrus," I had "I am he as you are he as we are all together." I had just these two lines on the typewriter, and then about two weeks later I ran through and wrote another two lines and then, when I saw something, after about four lines, I just knocked the rest of it off. Then I had the whole verse or verse and a half and then sang it. I had this idea of doing a song that was a police siren, but it didn't work in the end [sings like a siren]: "I-am-he-as-you-are-he-as . . ." You couldn't really sing the police siren.
Do you write your music with instruments or in your head?
On piano or guitar. Most of this session has been written on guitar 'cause we were in India and only had our guitars there. They have a different feel about them. I missed the piano a bit because you just write differently. My piano playing is even worse than me guitar. I hardly know what the chords are, so it's good to have a slightly limited palette, heh heh.
What did you think of Dylan's "version" of "Norwegian Wood"? ("Fourth Time Around.")
I was very paranoid about that. I remember he played it to me when he was in London. He said, "What do you think?" I said, "I don't like it." I didn't like it. I was very paranoid. I just didn't like what I felt I was feeling - I thought it was an out-and-out skit, you know, but it wasn't. It was great. I mean, he wasn't playing any tricks on me. I was just going through the bit.
Is there anybody besides Dylan you've gotten something from musically?
Oh, millions. All those I mentioned before - Little Richard, Presley.
Are they dead? Well, nobody sustains it. I've been buzzed by the Stones and other groups, but none of them can sustain the buzz for me continually through a whole album or through three singles even.
You and Dylan are often thought of together in the same way.
Yeah? Yeah, well we were for a bit, but I couldn't make it. Too paranoiac. I always saw him when he was in London. He first turned us on in New York actually. He thought "I Want to Hold Your Hand" - when it goes "I can't hide" - he thought we were singing "I get high." So he turns up with Al Aronowitz and turns us on, and we had the biggest laugh all night - forever. Fantastic. We've got a lot to thank him for.
Do you ever see him anymore?
No, 'cause he's living his cozy little life, doing that bit. If I was in New York, he'd be the person I'd most like to see. I've grown up enough to communicate with him. Both of us were always uptight, you know, and of course I wouldn't know whether he was uptight, because I was so uptight. And then, when he wasn't uptight, I was - all that bit. But we just sat it out because we just liked being together.
What about the new desire to return to a more natural environment? Dylan's return to country music?
Dylan broke his neck and we went to India. Everybody did their bit. And now we're all just coming out, coming out of a shell, in a new way, kind of saying, remember what it was like to play.
Do you feel better now?
Yes . . . and worse.
What do you feel about India now?
I've got no regrets at all, 'cause it was a groove and I had some great experiences meditating eight hours a day - some amazing things, some amazing trips - it was great. And I still meditate off and on. George is doing it regularly. And I believe implicitly in the whole bit. It's just that it's difficult to continue it. I lost the rosy glasses. And I'm like that. I'm very idealistic. So I can't really manage my exercises when I've lost that. I mean, I don't want to be a boxer so much. It's just that a few things happened, or didn't happen. I don't know, but something happened. It was sort of like a [click] and we just left and I don't know what went on. It's too near - I don't really know what happened.
You just showed me what might be the front and back album photos for the record you're putting out of the music you and Yoko composed for your film Two Virgins. The photos have the simplicity of a daguerreotype. . . .
Well, that's because I took it. I'm a ham photographer, you know. It's me Nikon what I was given by a commercially minded Japanese when we were in Japan, along with me Pentax, me Canon, me boom-boom and all the others. So I just set it up and did it.
For the cover, there's a photo of you and Yoko standing naked facing the camera. And on the backside are your backsides. What do you think people are going to think of the cover?
got that to come. The thing is, I started it with a pure . . .
it was the truth, and it was only after I'd got into it and done
it and looked at it that I'd realized what kind of scene I was
going to create. And then suddenly, there it was, and then
suddenly you show it to people and then you know what the
world's going to do to you, or try to do. But you have no
knowledge of it when you conceive it or make it.
Originally, I was going to record Yoko, and I thought the best picture of her for an album would be her naked. I was just going to record her as an artist. We were only on those kind of terms then. So after that, we got together, it just seemed natural for us, if we made an album together, for both of us to be naked.
Of course, I've never seen me prick on an album or on a photo before: "Whatnearth, there's a fellow with his prick out." And that was the first time I realized me prick was out, you know. I mean, you can see it on the photo itself - we're naked in front of a camera - that comes over in the eyes, just for a minute you go!! I mean, you're not used to it, being naked, but it's got to come out.
How do you face the fact that people are going to mutilate you?
Well, I can take that as long as we can get the cover out. And I really don't know what the chances are of that.
You don't worry about the nuts across the street?
No, no. I know it won't be very comfortable walking around with all the lorry drivers whistling and that, but it'll all die. Next year it'll be nothing, like miniskirts or bare tits. It isn't anything. We're all naked really. When people attack Yoko and me, we know they're paranoiac. We don't worry too much. It's the ones that don't know, and you know they don't know - they're just going round in a blue fuzz. The thing is, the album also says: Look, lay off will you? It's two people - what have we done?
Lenny Bruce once compared himself to a doctor, saying that if people weren't sick, there wouldn't be any need for him.
That's the bit, isn't it? Since we started being more natural in public - the four of us - we've really had a lot of knocking. I mean, we're always natural. I mean, you can't help it. We couldn't have been where we are if we hadn't done that. We wouldn't have been us either. And it took four of us to enable us to do it; we couldn't have done it alone and kept that up. I don't know why I get knocked more often. I seem to open me mouth more often, something happens, I forget what I am till it all happens again. I mean, we just get knocked - from the underground, the pop world - me personally. They're all doing it. They've got to stop soon.
Couldn't you go off to your own community and not be bothered with all of this?
Well, it's just the same there, you see. India was a bit of that, it was a taste of it - it's the same. So there's a small community, it's the same gig, it's relative. There's no escape.
Your show at the Fraser Gallery gave critics a chance to take a swipe at you.
Oh, right, but putting it on was taking a swipe at them in a way. I mean, that's what it was about. What they couldn't understand was that - a lot of them were saying, well, if it hadn't been for John Lennon nobody would have gone to it, but as it was, it was me doing it. And if it had been Sam Bloggs it would have been nice. But the point of it was - it was me. And they're using that as a reason to say why it didn't work. Work as what?
Do you think Yoko's film of you smiling would work if it were just anyone smiling?
Yes, it works with somebody else smiling, but she went through all this. It originally started out that she wanted a million people all over the world to send in a snapshot of themselves smiling, and then it got down to lots of people smiling, and then maybe one or two and then me smiling as a symbol of today smiling - and that's what I am, whatever that means. And so it's me smiling, and that's the hang-up, of course, because it's me again. But they've got to see it someday - it's only me. I don't mind if people go to the film to see me smiling because it doesn't matter, it's not harmful. The idea of the film won't really be dug for another fifty or a hundred years probably. That's what it's all about. I just happen to be that face.
it's too bad people can't come down here individually to see how you're living.
Well, that's it. I didn't see Ringo and his wife for about a month when I first got together with Yoko, and there were rumors going around about the film and all that. Maureen was saying she really had some strange ideas about where we were at and what we were up to. And there were some strange reactions from all me friends and at Apple about Yoko and me and what we were doing - "Have they gone mad?" But of course it was just us, you know, and if they are puzzled or reacting strangely to us two being together and doing what we're doing, it's not hard to visualize the rest of the world really having some amazing image.
International Times recently published an interview with Jean-Luc Godard . . .
Oh yeah, right, he said we should do something. Now that's sour grapes from a man who couldn't get us to be in his film [One Plus One, in which the Stones appear], and I don't expect it from people like that. Dear Mr. Godard, just because we didn't want to be in the film with you, it doesn't mean to say that we aren't doing any more than you. We should do whatever we're all doing.
But Godard put it in activist political terms. He said that people with influence and money should be trying to blow up the establishment and that you weren't.
What's he think we're doing? He wants to stop looking at his own films and look around.
Time magazine came out and said, look, the Beatles say "no" to destruction.
There's no point in dropping out because it's the same there and it's got to change. But I think it all comes down to changing your head and, sure, I know that's a cliché.
What would you tell a black-power guy who's changed his head and then finds a wall there all the time?
can't tell him anything 'cause he's got to do it himself. If
destruction's the only way he can do it, there's nothing I can
say that could influence him 'cause that's where he's at,
really. We've all got that in us, too, and that's why I did the
"Out and In" bit on a few takes and in the TV version of
"Revolution" - "Destruction, well, you know, you can count me
out, and in," like yin and yang.
I prefer "out." But we've got the other bit in us. I don't know what I'd be doing if I was in his position. I don't think I'd be so meek and mild. I just don't know.
ULTIMATE INTERVIEW FOR ROLLING STONE By Jonathan Cott / December 5, 1980
the inner sanctum!" says John Lennon, greeting me with high-spirited,
mock ceremoniousness in Yoko Ono's beautiful cloud-ceilinged
office in their Dakota apartment. It's Friday evening, December
5, and Yoko has been telling me how their collaborative new
album, Double Fantasy, came about: Last spring, John
and their son, Sean, were vacationing in Bermuda while Yoko
stayed home "sorting out business," as she puts it. She and John
spoke on the phone every day and sang each other the songs they
had composed in between calls.
"I was at a dance club one night in Bermuda," John interrupts as he sits down on a couch and Yoko gets up to bring coffee. "Upstairs, they were playing disco, and downstairs, I suddenly heard 'Rock Lobster' by the B-52's for the first time. Do you know it? It sounds just like Yoko's music, so I said to meself, 'It's time to get out the old axe and wake the wife up!' We wrote about twenty-five songs during those three weeks, and we've recorded enough for another album."
"I've been playing side two of Double Fantasy over and over," I say, getting ready to ply him with a question. John looks at me with a time and interview-stopping smile. "How are you?" he asks. "It's been like a reunion for us these last few weeks. We've seen Ethan Russell, who's doing a videotape of a couple of the new songs, and Annie Leibovitz was here. She took my first Rolling Stone cover photo. It's been fun seeing everyone we used to know and doing it all again - we've all survived. When did we first meet?"
"I met you and Yoko on September 17, 1968," I say, remembering the first of our several meetings. I was just a lucky guy, at the right place at the right time. John had decided to become more "public" and to demystify his Beatles persona. He and Yoko, whom he'd met in November 1966, were preparing for the Amsterdam and Montreal bed-ins for peace and were soon to release Two Virgins, the first of their experimental record collaborations. The album cover - the infamous frontal nude portrait of them - was to grace the pages of Rolling Stone's first anniversary issue. John had just discovered the then-impoverished, San Francisco-based magazine, and he'd agreed to give Rolling Stone the first of his "coming-out" interviews. As "European editor," I was asked to visit John and Yoko and to take along a photographer (Ethan Russell, who later took the photos for the Let It Be book that accompanied the album). So, nervous and excited, we met John and Yoko at their temporary basement flat in London.
First impressions are usually the most accurate, and John was graceful, gracious, charming, exuberant, direct, witty and playful; I remember noticing how he wrote little reminders to himself in the wonderfully absorbed way that a child paints the sun. He was due at a recording session in a half-hour to work on the White Album, so we agreed to meet the next day to do the interview, after which John and Yoko invited Ethan and me to attend the session for "Back in the U.S.S.R." at Abbey Road Studios. Only a performance of Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre might have made me feel as ecstatic and fortunate as I did at that moment.
Every new encounter with John brought a new perspective. Once, I ran into John and Yoko in 1971. A friend and I had gone to see Carnal Knowledge, and afterward we bumped into the Lennons in the lobby. Accompanied by Jerry Rubin and a friend of his, they invited us to drive down with them to Ratner's delicatessen in the East Village for blintzes, whereupon a beatific, long-haired young man approached our table and wordlessly handed John a card inscribed with a pithy saying of the inscrutable Meher Baba. Rubin drew a swastika on the back of the card, got up and gave it back to the man. When he returned, John admonished him gently, saying that that wasn't the way to change someone's consciousness. Acerbic and skeptical as he could often be, John Lennon never lost his sense of compassion.
years later, I am again talking to John, and he is as gracious
and witty as the first time I met him. "I guess I should
describe to the readers what you're wearing, John," I say. "Let
me help you out," he offers, then intones wryly: "You can see
the glasses he's wearing. They're normal plastic blue-frame
glasses. Nothing like the famous wire-rimmed Lennon glasses that
he stopped using in 1973. He's wearing needle-cord pants, the
same black cowboy boots he'd had made in Nudie's in 1973, a
Calvin Klein sweater and a torn Mick Jagger T-shirt that he got
when the Stones toured in 1970 or so. And around his neck is a
small, three-part diamond heart necklace that he bought as a
make-up present after an argument with Yoko many years ago and
that she later gave back to him in a kind of ritual. Will that
"I know you've got a Monday deadline," he adds," he adds, "but Yoko and I have to go to the Record Plant now to remix a few of Yoko's songs for a possible disco record. So why don't you come along and we'll talk in the studio."
"You're not putting any of your songs on this record?" I ask as we get into the waiting car. "No, because I don't make that stuff." He laughs and we drive off. "I've heard that in England some people are appreciating Yoko's songs on the new album and are asking why I was doing that 'straight old Beatles stuff,' and I didn't know about punk and what's going on - 'You were great then; "Walrus" was hip, but this isn't hip, John!' I'm really pleased for Yoko. She deserves the praise. It's been a long haul. I'd love her to have the A side of a hit record and me the B side. I'd settle for it any day."
"It's interesting," I say, "that no rock & roll star I can think of has made a record with his wife or whomever and given her fifty percent of the disc."
"It's the first time we've done it this way," John says. "It's a dialogue, and we have resurrected ourselves, in a way, as John and Yoko - not as John ex-Beatle and Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band. It's just the two of us, and our position was that, if the record didn't sell, it meant people didn't want to know about John and Yoko - either they didn't want John anymore or they didn't want John with Yoko or maybe they just wanted Yoko, whatever. But if they didn't want the two of us, we weren't interested. Throughout my career, I've selected to work with - for more than a one-night stand, say, with David Bowie or Elton John - only two people: Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono. I brought Paul into the original group, the Quarrymen; he brought George in and George brought Ringo in. And the second person who interested me as an artist and somebody I could work with was Yoko Ono. That ain't bad picking."
When we arrive at the studio, the engineers being playing tapes of Yoko's "Kiss Kiss Kiss," "Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him" (both from Double Fantasy) and a powerful new disco song (not on the album) called "Walking on Thin Ice," which features a growling guitar lick by Lennon, based on Sanford Clark's 1956 song, "The Fool."
Which way could I come back into this game?" John asks as we settle down. "I came back from the place I know best - as unpretentiously as possible - not to prove anything but just to enjoy it."
"I've heard that you've had a guitar on the wall behind your bed for the past five or six years, and that you've only taken it down and played it for Double Fantasy. Is that true?"
"I bought this beautiful electric guitar, round about the period I got back with Yoko and had the baby," John explains. "It's not a normal guitar; it doesn't have a body; it's just an arm and this tubelike, toboggan-looking thing, and you can lengthen the top for the balance of it if you're sitting or standing up. I played it a little, then just hung it up behind the bed, but I'd look at it every now and then, because it had never done a professional thing, it had never really been played. I didn't want to hide it the way one would hide an instrument because it was too painful to look at - like, Artie Shaw went through a big thing and never played again. But I used to look at it and think, 'Will I ever pull it down?'
"Next to it on the wall I'd placed the number 9 and a dagger Yoko had given me - a dagger made out of a bread knife from the American Civil War to cut away the bad vibes, to cut away the past symbolically. It was just like a picture that hangs there but you never really see, and then recently I realized, 'Oh, goody! I can finally find out what this guitar is all about,' and I took it down and used it in making Double Fantasy.
"All through the taping of 'Starting Over,' I was calling what I was doing 'Elvis Orbison': 'I want you I need only the lonely.' I'm a born-again rocker, I feel that refreshed, and I'm going right back to my roots. It's like Dylan doing Nashville Skyline, except I don't have any Nashville, you know, being from Liverpool. So I go back to the records I know - Elvis and Roy Orbison and Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis. I occasionally get ripped off into 'Walruses' or 'Revolution 9,' but my far-out side has been completely encompassed by Yoko.
"The first show we did together was at Cambridge University in 1968 or '69, when she had been booked to do a concert with some jazz musicians. That was the first time I had appeared un-Beatled. I just hung around and played feedback, and people got very upset because they recognized me: 'What's he doing here?' It's always: 'Stay in your bag.' So, when she tried to rock, they said, 'What's she doing here?' And when I went with her and tried to be the instrument and not project - to just be her band, like a sort of like Turner to her Tina, only her Tina was a different, avant-garde Tina - well, even some of the jazz guys got upset.
"Everybody has pictures they want you to live up to. But that's the same as living up to your parents' expectations, or to society's expectations, or to so-called critics who are just guys with a typewriter in a little room, smoking and drinking beer and having their dreams and nightmares, too, but somehow pretending that they're living in a different, separate world. That's all right. But there are people who break out of their bags."
"I remember years ago," I say, "when you and Yoko appeared in bags at a Vienna press conference."
"Right. We sang a Japanese folk song in the bags. 'Das ist really you, John? John Lennon in zee bag?' Yeah, it's me. 'But how do we know ist you?' Because I'm telling you. 'Vy don't you come out from this bag?' Because I don't want to come out of the bag. 'Don't you realize this is the Hapsburg palace?' I thought it was a hotel. 'Vell, it is now a hotel.' They had great chocolate cake in that Viennese hotel, I remember that. Anyway, who wants to be locked in a bag? You have to break out of your bag to keep alive."
"In 'Beautiful Boys,' " I add, "Yoko sings: 'Please never be afraid to cry . . . / Don't ever be afraid to fly . . . / Don't be afraid to be afraid.' "
"Yes, it's beautiful. I'm often afraid, and I'm not afraid to be afraid, though it's always scary. But it's more painful to try not to be yourself. People spend a lot of time trying to be somebody else, and I think it leads to terrible diseases. Maybe you get cancer or something. A lot of tough guys die of cancer, have you noticed? Wayne, McQueen. I think it has something to do - I don't know, I'm not an expert - with constantly living or getting trapped in an image or an illusion of themselves, suppressing some part of themselves, whether it's the feminine side or the fearful side.
"I'm well aware of that, because I come from the macho school of pretense. I was never really a street kid or a tough guy. I used to dress like a Teddy boy and identify with Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley, but I was never really in any street fights or down-home gangs. I was just a suburban kid, imitating the rockers. But it was a big part of one's life to look tough. I spent the whole of my childhood with shoulders up around the top of me head and me glasses off because glasses were sissy, and walking in complete fear, but with the toughest-looking little face you've ever seen. I'd get into trouble just because of the way I looked; I wanted to be this tough James Dean all the time. It took a lot of wrestling to stop doing that. I still fall into it when I get insecure. I still drop into that I'm-a-street-kid stance, but I have to keep remembering that I never really was one."
"Carl Jung once suggested that people are made up of a thinking side, a feeling side, an intuitive side and a sensual side," I mention. "Most people never really develop their weaker sides and concentrate on the stronger ones, but you seem to have done the former."
"I think that's what feminism is all about," John replies. "That's what Yoko has taught me. I couldn't have done it alone; it had to be a female to teach me. That's it. Yoko has been telling me all the time, 'It's all right, it's all right.' I look at early pictures of meself, and I was torn between being Marlon Brando and being the sensitive poet - the Oscar Wilde part of me with the velvet, feminine side. I was always torn between the two, mainly opting for the macho side, because if you showed the other side, you were dead."
"On Double Fantasy," I say, "your song 'Woman' sounds a bit like a troubadour poem written to a medieval lady."
" 'Woman' came about because, one sunny afternoon in Bermuda, it suddenly hit me. I saw what women do for us. Not just what my Yoko does for me, although I was thinking in those personal terms. Any truth is universal. If we'd made our album in the third person and called it Freda and Ada or Tommy and had dressed up in clown suits with lipstick and created characters other than us, maybe a Ziggy Stardust, would it be more acceptable? It's not our style of art; our life is our art. . . . Anyway, in Bermuda, what suddenly dawned on me was everything I was taking for granted. Women really are the other half of the sky, as I whisper at the beginning of the song. And it just sort of hit me like a flood, and it came out like that. The song reminds me of a Beatles track, but I wasn't trying to make it sound like that. I did it as I did 'Girl' many years ago. So this is the grown-up version of 'Girl.'
"People are always judging you, or criticizing what you're trying to say on one little album, on one little song, but to me it's a lifetime's work. From the boyhood paintings and poetry to when I die - it's all part of one big production. And I don't have to announce that this album is part of a larger work; if it isn't obvious, then forget it. But I did put a little clue on the beginning of the record - the bells . . . the bells on 'Starting Over.' The head of the album, if anybody is interested, is a wishing bell of Yoko's. And it's like the beginning of 'Mother' on the Plastic Ono album, which had a very slow death bell. So it's taken a long time to get from a slow church death bell to this sweet little wishing bell. And that's the connection. To me, my work is one piece."
way through your work, John, there's this incredibly strong
notion about inspiring people to be themselves and to come
together and try to change things. I'm thinking here, obviously,
of songs like 'Give Peace a Chance,' 'Power to the People' and
'Happy Xmas (War Is Over).' "
"It's still there," John replies. "If you look on the vinyl around the new album's [the twelve-inch single "(Just Like) Starting Over"] logo - which all the kids have done already all over the world from Brazil to Australia to Poland, anywhere that gets the record - inside is written: ONE WORLD, ONE PEOPLE. So we continue.
"I get truly affected by letters from Brazil or Poland or Austria - places I'm not conscious of all the time - just to know somebody is there, listening. One kid living up in Yorkshire wrote this heartfelt letter about being both Oriental and English and identifying with John and Yoko. The odd kid in the class. There are a lot of those kids who identify with us. They don't need the history of rock & roll. They identify with us as a couple, a biracial couple, who stand for love, peace, feminism and the positive things of the world.
"You know, give peace a chance, not shoot people for peace. All we need is love. I believe it. It's damn hard, but I absolutely believe it. We're not the first to say, 'Imagine no countries' or 'Give peace a chance,' but we're carrying that torch, like the Olympic torch, passing it from hand to hand, to each other, to each country, to each generation. That's our job. We have to conceive of an idea before we can do it.
"I've never claimed divinity. I've never claimed purity of soul. I've never claimed to have the answer to life. I only put out songs and answer questions as honestly as I can, but only as honestly as I can - no more, no less. I cannot live up to other people's expectations of me because they're illusionary. And the people who want more than I am, or than Bob Dylan is, or than Mick Jagger is. . . .
"Take Mick, for instance. Mick's put out consistently good work for twenty years, and will they give him a break? Will they ever say, 'Look at him, he's Number One, he's thirty-six and he's put out a beautiful song, "Emotional Rescue," it's up there.' I enjoyed it, lots of people enjoyed it. So it goes up and down, up and down. God help Bruce Springsteen when they decide he's no longer God. I haven't seen him - I'm not a great 'in'-person watcher - but I've heard such good things about him. Right now, his fans are happy. He's told them about being drunk and chasing girls and cars and everything, and that's about the level they enjoy. But when he gets down to facing his own success and growing older and having to produce it again and again, they'll turn on him, and I hope he survives it. All he has to do is look at me and Mick. . . . I cannot be a punk in Hamburg and Liverpool anymore. I'm older now. I see the world through different eyes. I still believe in love, peace and understanding, as Elvis Costello said, and what's so funny about love, peace and understanding?"
"There's another aspect of your work, which has to do with the way you continuously question what's real and what's illusory, such as in 'Look at Me,' your beautiful new 'Watching the Wheels' - what are those wheels, by the way? - and, of course, 'Strawberry Fields Forever,' in which you sing: 'Nothing is real.' "
"Watching the wheels?" John asks. "The whole universe is a wheel, right? Wheels go round and round. They're my own wheels, mainly. But, you know, watching meself is like watching everybody else. And I watch meself through my child, too. Then, in a way, nothing is real, if you break the word down. As the Hindus or Buddhists say, it's an illusion, meaning all matter is floating atoms, right? It's Rashomon. We all see it, but the agreed-upon illusion is what we live in. And the hardest thing is facing yourself. It's easier to shout 'Revolution' and 'Power to the people' than it is to look at yourself and try to find out what's real inside you and what isn't, when you're pulling the wool over your own eyes. That's the hardest one.
"I used to think that the world was doing it to me and that the world owed me something, and that either the conservatives or the socialists or the fascists or the communists or the Christians or the Jews were doing something to me; and when you're a teenybopper, that's what you think. I'm forty now. I don't think that anymore, 'cause I found out it doesn't fucking work! The thing goes on anyway, and all you're doing is jacking off, screaming about what your mommy or daddy or society did, but one has to go through that. For the people who even bother to go through that - most assholes just accept what is and get on with it, right? - but for the few of us who did question what was going on. . . . I have found out personally - not for the whole world! - that I am responsible for it, as well as them. I am part of them. There's no separation; we're all one, so in that respect, I look at it all and think, 'Ah, well, I have to deal with me again in that way. What is real? What is the illusion I'm living or not living?' And I have to deal with it every day. The layers of the onion. But that is what it's all about.
"The last album I did before Double Fantasy was Rock 'n' Roll, with a cover picture of me in Hamburg in a leather jacket. At the end of making that record, I was finishing up a track that Phil Spector had made me sing called 'Just Because,' which I really didn't know - all the rest I'd done as a teenager, so I knew them backward - and I couldn't get the hang of it. At the end of that record - I was mixing it just next door to this very studio - I started spieling and saying, 'And so we say farewell from the Record Plant,' and a little thing in the back of my mind said, 'Are you really saying farewell?' I hadn't thought of it then. I was still separated from Yoko and still hadn't had the baby, but somewhere in the back was a voice that was saying, 'Are you saying farewell to the whole game?'
"It just flashed by like that - like a premonition. I didn't think of it until a few years later, when I realized that I had actually stopped recording. I came across the cover photo - the original picture of me in my leather jacket, leaning against the wall in Hamburg in 1962 - and I thought, 'Is this it? Do I start where I came in, with "Be-Bop-A-Lula"?' The day I met Paul I was singing that song for the first time onstage. There's a photo in all the Beatles books - a picture of me with a checked shirt on, holding a little acoustic guitar - and I am singing 'Be-Bop-A-Lula,' just as I did on that album, and there's a picture in Hamburg and I'm saying goodbye from the Record Plant.
"Sometimes you wonder, I mean really wonder. I know we make our own reality and we always have a choice, but how much is preordained? Is there always a fork in the road and are there two preordained paths that are equally preordained? There could be hundreds of paths where one could go this way or that way - there's a choice and it's very strange sometimes. . . . And that's a good ending for our interview."
Jack Douglas, coproducer of Double Fantasy, has arrived and is overseeing the mix of Yoko's songs. It's 2:30 in the morning, but John and I continue to talk until four as Yoko naps on a studio couch. John speaks of his plans for touring with Yoko and the band that plays on Double Fantasy; of his enthusiasm for making more albums; of his happiness about living in New York City, where, unlike England or Japan, he can raise his son without racial prejudice; of his memory of the first rock & roll song he ever wrote (a takeoff on the Dell Vikings' "Come Go with Me," in which he changed the lines to: "Come come come come / Come and go with me / To the peni-tentiary"); of the things he has learned on his many trips around the world during the past five years. As he walks me to the elevator, I tell him how exhilarating it is to see Yoko and him looking and sounding so well. "I love her, and we're together," he says. "Goodbye, till next time."
is really said and done / The two of us are really one," John
Lennon sings in "Dear Yoko," a song inspired by Buddy Holly, who
himself knew something about true love's ways. "People asking
questions lost in confusion / Well I tell them there's no
problem, only solutions," sings John in "Watching the Wheels," a
song about getting off the merry-go-round, about letting it go.
In the tarot, the Fool is distinguished from other cards because it is not numbered, suggesting that the Fool is outside movement and change. And as it has been written, the Fool and the clown play the part of scapegoats in the ritual sacrifice of humans. John and Yoko have never given up being Holy Fools. In a recent Playboy interview, Yoko, responding to a reference to other notables who had been interviewed in that magazine, said: "People like Carter represent only their country. John and I represent the world." I am sure many readers must have snickered. But three nights after our conversation, the death of John Lennon revealed Yoko's statement to be astonishingly true. "Come together over me," John had sung, and people everywhere in the world came together.