Monday, May 09, 2005

1975 Interview with John Lennon

via The poster notes that he thinks its circa 1975-76. It certainly has a mid-70s feel. Some fascinating stuff here...

"Game" was a magazine concerned with "men's interests" which was published in the 70s. I think it was a Paul Raymond publication. I only bought it for the articles, of course, which is amply proved by the fact that this cutting is all I have of the original mag. Undated, but probably 1975. I don't know if it was ever published anywhere else.


talks to Penny Grant about the Beatles, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Salvador Dali and many others

JOHN LENNON is, without a doubt, one of the most charismatic and interesting people one could wish to meet. He's had more success than even today's pop stars can imagine, enough publicity to gratify the most go-getting publicist, and by no means least has more than a decade of beautiful music to his credit.

Lennon is currently a voluntary prisoner in the U.S.A. still fighting an interminable legal battle with the authorities over his presence. And until he gets a 'green card' or the final thumbs down that's where he'll stay. At present the legal climate seems to be becoming less harsh with a general feeling that a drugs bust shouldn't automatically make you a second class citizen; and at least one influential American columnist has gone on recordas saying that he thinks Lennon's struggle will be successful.

John himself can only watch and wait, and keep making music. 'It's still very much in the melting pot. I'm at some stage of appeal I believe. I have a lawyer who's doing it all and keeps me in touch. He tells me from time to time that this happened or that happened, then we talk about it. It seems to be going on and on. I wish they'd make up their minds.

'I miss England, but I'm not going to walk away from it all now! I've spent so much effort on it... I keep telling myself "When I get the green card" I'll do all sorts of things.'

A happy and relaxed Lennon is talking to me in his office, which looks down on the New York he's made his home. Looking at him, it's hard to believe that this is the so-called rebel with the awe-inspiring reputation for being 'difficult'. He's disarmingly friendly, intelligent and articulate, and above all sometimes painfully honest. He also seems delighted to see someone from 'home' - it would be an exaggeration to say he's homesick but one can detect a certain wistfulness when he talks of his native land.

'I just want to go back to Britain and see it, and have a cup of tea - not to perform or anything, just to be there. I know the English love me, and I love them. I'm one of them, no matter where I'm living.

'I know it's a bit hard if you've never left England and someone's living abroad, you can't really understand it. You think "why are they abroad, why have they left us? Why is so and so living in the South of France?" and wonder why John Osborne got furious at England, left and said such nasty things, and then came back and loved it ?

An Englishman is an Englishman wherever he lives. There are great colonies of English people in Spain and they have their ''real English pubs" and allit. Even if I took out American citizenship it would make no difference. I'd still be English, there ain't nothing going to change that.Even if I became Swahili, I'd be an English Swahili!'

It's been a long time since Lennon has been back to his native land, and thus since his friends and fans here have seen him 'live'. But they've not forgotten him: 'I get letters from England - I don't answer them too much because I'm lazy - saying "Don't forget get us". There's no way I could forget them, even if I tried or wanted to.'

But, of course, John now has many friends in the States too. 'People are so kind : they come up to me and say "Hi, John, how's your immigration ?" If it was up to them, I'm sure I'd be allowed to stay here. They don't really understand what all the fuss is about. There are still some places where they've got this crazy idea that the Beatles are all junkies, but mostly people know what's going on and they seem to be on side. If it was down to them I'd be given a passport if I wanted it.'

In the rock 'n' roll business many people commute between the States and England. This does provide Lennon with an opportunity to see many ex-colleagues and contemporaries. One in particular epitomises the sort of life John would like to lead if he was free to do so : 'Mick (Jagger) lives officially in France, but I see him every couple of months-he's always laughing about me being stuck here! He says "I've just come from Nicaragua, or from Paris, Munich or even London". That's how I'd be living if I was living anywhere: I'd have my base here because that's where all my stuff is now, but I wouldn't live permanently anywhere, I'd be moving around. I'd like a place in London too, if you're allowed to without actually "living" there, that is. There are so many regulations.'

Lennon's home in New York is a beautiful flat off Central Park in which he's lived for some time.

'I guess it's pretty good . . . it's in an old building that's really very European, on the park, and most of the rooms face the park. It's large enough to get a little lost in. Apartments are good: you don't have the
responsibility of the roof and gardens. My garden's Central Park and New York owns and looks after it for me!'

Unlike many of his fellow musicians, Lennon has chosen to make New York his home rather than Los Angeles. And it seems likely that if the US immigration authorities finally decide in his favour he'll retain a home there. Why live in New York rather than on the much warmer West coast where a flourishing colony of musicians already exists?

"It suits me here, and I'm more of a city person anyway. I always think it's easier to go from the city to the country than the other way round. If I went back to England I'd live in the heart of London. The only reason I left the centre of London where I once lived was because of the "Hard Day's Night"-that's what I call the Beatles' days. It got so bad I couldn't step outside the door. So I moved out to Ascot and Weybridge and all those places. I know I could live in town again now'

He tells some stories of events he's attended which confirmed his view that the less public functions he attended the better he liked it. The preview of the 'Sergeant Pepper' film was one.

'I thought to myself "I'm in town so I might as well go". You can get away with some of those things if they don't know you're going. But with that one it was deja vu-they'd built up this idea that I was gonna be there and that's when it happened.

'It was pretty wild. You've got to get out of the car and get clawed-like I said, a "Hard Day's Night". You know, at the Pepper thing most of the audience were watching me. They were even popping off with flashbulbs at me.

'At something like the Grammy Awards it's not quite so bad. There, anyone who's famous will do. It doesn't matter who you are, if you arrive in a big black car you must be somebody.'

'After the Pepper thing I didn't go to the "Tommy" thing although I was invited. I just couldn't face another one.'

This fear, or what one might almost call shyness has stopped Lennon doing many other things, including one he'd dearly like to do. To go and see Elvis Presley.

'I'm too embarrassed to go and see him. I'm scared it might be in Vegas or somewhere and they'd say "and sitting in the audience is ..." I wouldn't know where to put myself.'

The topic of Mr Presley had come up in conversation while we were discussing other musicians that he might like to work with, at times when he's not involved in his own personal musical project - on a production basis for example.

'I have occasionally got involved with other people-mostly Ringo on his albums. I'd love to do Elvis but I'd be too shy, I'd fall apart. I'd just be quivering. "Could you do it again Elvis?*' Can you imagine it? I just couldn't do it.' John laughs loudly at the very thought.

'I wouldn't mind doing Dylan -I wouldn't be scared of him. I think he needs a producer ... if you're reading this, Bob!'

One artist John did produce an album for was Harry Nilsson-a friend.

'I get offers, oh boy do I get offers-but I either have to respect an artist or he has to be a friend. I tend to go for friends. I did Harry because we were both getting drunk, and in the papers- only I was getting in the papers more than he was. So I said "hey, this won't do, let's do something creative. This is no sort of life here, lying on the floor of the Beverley Wilshire with headaches and glasses all around."

'So we did it. But unfortunately the guy had lost his voice. So I had the great Harry Nilsson talking (or more to the point singing) like Frogman Henry or Wolfman Jack!'

Of course, the artists most people would like to see him get involved with are the other ex-Beatles - preferably all at once and on a permanent basis! John has been asked so many times about the possibilities and probabilities of this happening that a smile of resignation comes on to his face at the mention of the others.

'It's strange the way people talk about them, as if we were enemies. You know, they were good blokes-I liked them, and I still do. You have to get on I with the people in your group if you choose to stay with them for all that time!

'When they come to the States I usually see them. Ringo and George are here a lot of the time and Paul sometimes comes via New York on his way to L.A. I've worked with Ringo and George both together and separately, and played with Paul- there were a lot of other people there too but everybody seemed
to be watching us!

'I was going down to New Orleans to help out on Paul's last album "Venus and Mars", but I was too busy being happy at the time. If you're reading this Paul, I'm sorry I couldn't make it ...

'Anyway, George has got his own label-Dark Horse, or whatever it's called-and Ringo's got his label. Do I want a label of my own? Not me. I don't want no more record companies. It's the label idea I like best. I like the idea of having a special little label on my records, but that's just artistic. I don't care who puts them out as long as they do it, sell them, and put their best efforts behind it. I'm just not interested, I wasn't really interested at the beginning, I just went along.

'You see what this business is here?' he queried, waving an expansive arm at the small office. "Just a phone in an office to look after the sheet music. I will not be a corporation -I'm Lennon music and that's it. But I'm pleased for the other two because that's what they wanted.

'As for our getting together again, I doubt it. For one thing we're hardly ever in the same place at the same time, and even if we were I doubt if we'd be in the same state of mind about it. I wouldn't mind though, I'll do anything for the money. Seriously though, folks. I just can't see it happening on any sort of permanent basis: we all lead such different lives now.'

Although each of that once legendary band is still very much on his musical feet, and the musicians themselves seem to have got over any personal animosities, it took a long time to sort out the legal position.

However, early "75 saw a settlement which finally sorted out some of the legal tangle. To musicians like Lennon no business matter is something they relish, so the interminable legal wrangling must have become a source of both inconvenience and frustration. Now much of it's over John has no reservations about discussing it:

'All it did actually was to get us paid directly-the main thing about the settlement was to release the monies to ourselves. It did not break all our ties with each other, because it's a bit more complicated than that and we're pretty well tied up in many ways.

'It was nice having the money come to me at last that I'd actually earned-although a lot of it's locked in England by laws until '77. We'll just have to hope the pound is still around in '77, or the dollar for that matter.

'Apple is now just a bank. It won't take artists-it can't function that way: it was hard enough to make it work while we were together. We certainly can't make it work the way we are now, so far apart. None of us could be in charge of looking after the artists.

'Have you seen the Apple building in Savile Row? I understand it's only a shell now, and they're doing all sorts of things to it. I don't want to see it-it was such a lovely old building. I don't even want to hear about it, it's so sad. Queen Anne, or whoever it was who "slept" there must be turning in her grave.'

Unlike many musicians, Lennon doesn't mind talking about money. He admits that 'as long as I've got enough to let me do what I want to do' it's not his prime concern, and wants to make it quite clear that money wasn't the reason he decided to live in the States.

'I didn't leave for tax reasons. In fact I was an idiot, I just came over here, and after I'd been here about six months decided to stay. If I'd done it properly I should have informed all the right authorities and I would have got one year's drop-out tax-some vast amount of money. I think I got some kind of a bargain later on but I missed the big bargain that everyone else leaves for. I just never thought about it ... goofy here missed it.

'You know, I recently heard a great malapropism 'Time wounds all heels"-very funny.

Anyway, I missed a million pounds or something. What I'm saying is, it'll come some other way, I'm not going to sweat about it.'

The Beatles' legal settlement was just one of the things to happen around that period which confirmed that a lot of the bad times were at an end-for John at least. 1974 had not been a good year.

'To me '74 was hell, and I'm glad to be out of it and still alive. Personally speaking it certainly was rough, and a lot of my friends thought it was pretty bad too.'

Much of that year was spent by John in Los Angeles, waiting for Phil Spector to 'recover' and give him back the tapes of eight tracks they'd recorded together for Lennon's 'Rock 'N' Roll' album.

'We did the first part in '73, then it sort of fell apart. Phil and I ... well, you could say we went barmy. Then Phil had a car accident . . .'

Which left Lennon at a loose end in L.A., getting drunk and hanging out with the rock fraternity-not wanting to leave in the belief that he stood a better chance of getting the tapes back by staying there.

So John waited and waited for the somewhat eccentric genius to emerge from what Lennon calls 'his castle-if you've ever seen his house you'll know what I mean'. It was a musically sterile period, and Lennon's personal life was also in a bad state. For he'd split up with his wife Yoko- a circumstance hardly calculated to enhance his good mental state.

'If I'm having a bad period then I just can't do anything right!'

Happily for all concerned, especially John, everything turned out well in the end. He got the tapes back and the 'Rock 'N' Roll" album was eventually finished-to be released not long after an album of his own work which many consider to be his finest ever. "Walls And Bridges'.

And then, of course, there's Yoko.

'We are back together now. and happier than over before. It's the old, old story-when you get someone back that you've lost its better than ever.'

It was the reconciliation which so involved John that he couldn't tear himself away to work with McCartney in New Orleans. And without wishing to sound starry eyed, Lennon looked like a man in love and at peace with the world when he spoke about Yoko. In fact it's rather like a fairy tale with a happy ending for the couple because Yoko was expecting their first baby (although they both have one child by a previous marriage) when I spoke to John. Although she has had miscarriages before, and 42 isn't the ideal age to have a child, they hope that this time will be the lucky one.

As if to prove that there are no hard feelings on any side, when I last saw her the beautiful May Pang (with whom Lennon was 'seen" during the marital rift) was still working for John as his secretary, although I understand she's not still doing so.

The way Yoko has been treated by many people has been a cause of considerable anger and unhappiness to John.

There was all this "John leaving his nice English wife and taking up with a mad Jap stuff"... the press especially were vicious. Linda had a lot of trouble with them too. but at least she looks a bit more like your traditional English wife, blonde hair, blue eyes and all that. There's definitely a lot of racism in it. Let's face it.

They said things about her in the press that were unbelievable. For one thing they called her an "ugly Jap"-she's not ugly, I don't marry ugly people. I, and as it happens a lot of my friends, think she's a beautiful woman. Secondly, even if she was ugly and I'd decided to marry a very ugly woman the press wouldn't normally say so. The most garbage looking person is usually written up as attractive, so why not Yoko even if she was ugly?

'Naturally I feel bitter about it. And I don't forget it just because they've forgotten it.'

John himself has come in for an awful lot of criticism over the years, so I asked what his attitude is to personal criticism and whether that upsets him as much.

'Let's take Salvador Dali for an example-I take him because he's a big exposed artist too (we won't discuss his work). So he puts his work on display or has an opening, and the reviewer reviews what he's wearing! Or the fact that he fell over drunk, or hit a fellow with a stick. That to me is irrelevant.

'One music paper reviewer whose name I don't know, gets hysterical about me whatever I do. Obviously he loves me-loves me so much he hates me. So whatever he reviews that's anything to do with me he just goes on and on, rambling about anything but the music. Because of that, what he says is invalid. I am a musician.

It's funny, you know, people think I can't take criticism because I sometimes write letters. I might write and say "hey, what do you mean, you dummy" because I like writing letters if I'm in the mood. I do dig
criticism, especially if it's to do with my work. It's helpful to know someone's watching. And if the praise is just praise for being John Lennon then it's just as invalid as non praise just because I'm John Lennon.

'Although it's easier to accept praise than hatred . . .'

In his time John has had to accept a lot of both of those, as well as adulation and bureaucratic victimisation. Recently there's been a spate of a strange type of flattery-the desire to immortalise John and the other Beatles before any of them are even dead. Take for example the stage play 'John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert':

'Obviously I haven't had a chance to see it, although I sent them a happy opening message on tape. I don't know what it is or how the hell it is, or why it is, I just know it is. It makes me feel dead if you wanna know.
People writing things like that about us gives me the feeling that I've died already, but I haven't.'

Despite his personal trepidation about going, John didn't mind the 'Sergeant Pepper' film:

'1 enjoyed it, because I'd never seen the guy's work before. I think they reproduced the music well, very well in fact. And while we're talking about films, what about "Stardust"? It was written by Ray Connolly-white house indeed, with white bedrooms. Guess where he got that from? Ascot, where he always visited me and Yoko!'

Many artists try to immortalise themselves or their lives in their songs. Lennon may not be striving for any particular niche in posterity (although there's little doubt that he'll have one) but most of his music is personal.

'Yes, all my stuff's personal. It always has been, even "Help" was personal-a cry from the heart you might say. Maybe the lyrics got more refined as I became older, and got to the point more quickly, but they're
still just as personal.'

Thus beautiful if melancholy songs like 'Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out" speak volumes about Lennon"s state of mind at the time-in this instance in 1974. that dreadful year. But, perhaps surprisingly, none of the Beatles have tried to follow in the footsteps of contemporary Pete Townshend with 'Tommy'.

'We did "Sergeant Pepper" and that'll do! Impressing people with the name "opera" doesn't interest me. To me it is, and probably always will be, the song I find interesting'

So there'll be no Lennon magnum opus, but a great many more brilliant and poignant songs if 'Walls And Bridges' is anything to go by.

1975 was a good year in contrast to its predecessor. Perhaps one of the best yet. Shortly after I saw John he and Yoko retired from public life to stay in a friend's house and await their baby.

By now you should know whether the happy event was indeed just that. A million and more fans hope that it will be, as a confirmation of their happy reunion. And ironically if there is another little Lennon it may do a lot to help John's immigration problems, for the child will be a U.S. citizen . . .

For the New Year John has a message for all, 'I said stay alive in '75-and that goes for '76 too.'

As we go to press we hear that John Lennon has won his appeal and has got his green card. This means he can now stay in America, or more to the point, he can leave America and return. Nice one John.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

THis is definitely in the running for your BEST posting yet. Thank you, FHB!

A lifetime Lennon fan