John Lennon: Long Night's Journey into Day

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You went to one of George's concerts; what are your thoughts on his tour?

 It wasn't the greatest thing in history. The guy went through some kind of mill. It was probably his turn to get smacked. When we were all together there was periods when the Beatles were in, the Beatles were out, no matter what we were doing. Now it's always the Beatles were great or the Beatles weren't great, whatever opinion people hold. There's a sort of illusion about it. But the actual fact was the Beatles were in for eight months, the Beatles were out for eight months. The public, including the media, are sometimes a bit sheeplike and if the ball starts rolling, well, it's just that somebody's in, somebody's out. George is out for the moment. And I think it didn't matter what he did on tour.

George told Rolling Stone that if you wanted the Beatles, go listen to Wings. It seemed a bit of a putdown.
I didn't see what George said so I really don't have any comment. (pause) Band on the Run is a great album. Wings is almost as conceptual a group as Plastic Ono Band. Plastic Ono was a conceptual group, meaning that whoever was playing was the band. And Wings keeps changing all the time. It's conceptual. I mean, they're backup men for Paul. It doesn't matter who's playing, you can call them Wings, but it's Paul McCartney music. And it's good stuff. It's good Paul music and I don't really see the connection.

What do you think of Richard Perry's work with Ringo?
I think it's great. Perry's great, Ringo's great, I think the combination was great and look how well they did together. There's no complaints if you're number one.

George said at his press conference that he could play with you again but not with Paul. How do you feel?
I could play with all of them. George is entitled to say that, and he'll probably change his mind by Friday. You know, we're all human, we can all change our minds. So I don t take any of my statements or any of their statements as the last word on whether we will. And if we do, the newspapers will learn about it after the fact. If we're gonna play, we're just gonna play.

In retrospect, what do you think of the whole 'Lennon Remembers' episode?
Well, the other guys, their reaction was public. Ringo made some sort of comment that was funny which I can't remember, something like, "You've gone too far this time, Johnnie." Paul said (stuffy voice), "Well, that's his problem." I can't remember what George said. I mean, they don't care, they've been with me for 15 or 20 years, they know damn well what I'm like. It just so happens it was in the press. I mean, they know what I'm like. I'm not ashamed of it at all. I don't really like hurting people, but Jann Wenner questioned me when I was almost still in therapy and you can't play games. You're opened up. It was like he got me on an acid trip. Things come out. I got both reactions from that article. A lot of people thought it was right on. My only upset was Jann insisted on making a book out of it.

Walls and Bridges has an undertone of regret to it. Did you sit down consciously to make an album like that?
No, well . . . Let's say this last year has been an extraordinary year for me personally. And I'm almost amazed that I could get anything out. But I enjoyed doing Walls and Bridges and it wasn't hard when I had the whole thing to go into the studio and do it. I'm surprised it wasn't just all bluuuuuuggggghhhhh. (pause) I had the most peculiar year. And . . . I'm just glad that something came out. It's describing the year, in a way, but it's not as sort of schizophrenic as the year really was. I think I got such a shock during that year that the impact hasn't come through. It isn't all on Walls and Bridges though. There's a hint of it there. It has to do with age and God knows what else. But only the surface has been touched on Walls and Bridges, you know?

What was it about the year? Do you want to try talking about it?
Well, you can't put your finger on it. It started, somehow, at the end of '73, goin' to do this Rock 'n' Roll album [with Phil Spector]. It had quite a lot to do with Yoko and I, whether I knew it or not, and then suddenly I was out on me own. Next thing I'd be waking up drunk in strange places, or reading about meself in the paper, doin' extraordinary things, half of which I'd done and half of which I hadn't done. But you know the game anyway. And find meself sort of in a mad dream for a year. I'd been in many mad dreams, but this . . . It was pretty wild. And then I tried to recover from that. And (long pause) meanwhile life was going on, the Beatles settlement was going on, other things, life was still going on and it wouldn't let you sit with your hangover, in whatever form that took. It was like something – probably meself – kept hitting me while I was trying to do something. I was still trying to carry on a normal life and the whip never let up – for eight months. So ... that's what was going on. Incidents: You can put it down to which night with which bottle or which night in which town. It was just sort of a mad year like that. . . . And it was just probably fear, and being out on me own, and gettin' old, and are ye gonna make it in the charts? Are ye not gonna make it? All that crap, y'know. All the garbage that y'really know is not the be-all and end-all of your life, but if other things are goin' funny, that's gonna hit you. If you're gonna feel sorry for yourself, you're gonna feel sorry for everything. What it's really to do with is probably the same thing that it's always been to do with all your life: whatever your own personal problems really are, you know? So it was a year that manifested itself (switches to deep actor's voice) in most peculiar fashion. But I'm through it and it's '75 now and I feel better and I'm sittin' here and not lyin' in some weird place with a hangover.

Why do you feel better?
Because I feel like I've been on Sinbad's voyage, you know, and I've battled all those monsters and I've got back. (long pause) Weird.

Tell me about the Rock 'n' Roll album.
It started in '73 with Phil and fell apart. I ended up as part of mad drunk scenes in Los Angeles and I finally finished it off on me own. And there was still problems with it up to the minute it came out. I can't begin to say, it's just barmy, there's a jinx on that album. And I've just started writing a new one. Got maybe half of it written. . . .

What about the stories that Spector's working habits are a little odd? For example, that he either showed off or shot off guns in the studios?
I don't like to tell tales out of school, y'know. But I do know there was an awful loud noise in the toilet of the Record Plant West.

What actually did happen those nights at the Troubadour when you heckled the Smothers Brothers and went walking around with a Kotex on Lennon your head asking the waitress, "Do you know who I am?"
Ah, y'want the juice. . . . If I'd said, "Do you know who I am?" I'd have said it in a joke. Because I know who I am, and I know she knew, because I musta been wearing a Kotex on me head, right? I picked up a Kotex in a restaurant, in the toilet, and it was clean and just for a gag I came back to the table with it on me head. And 'cause it stuck there with sweat, just stayed there, I didn't have to keep it on. It just stayed there till it fell off. And the waitress said, "Yeah, you're an asshole with a Kotex on," and I think it's a good remark and so what? Tommy Smothers was a completely different night and has been covered a million times. It was my first night on Brandy Alexanders and my last. (laughs) And I was with Harry Nilsson who was no help at all. (laughs)

What's your relationship with Nilsson? Some critics say that he's been heavily influenced, maybe even badly screwed up by you.
Oh, that's bullshit.

. . . and that you've also been influenced by him.
That's bullshit too. I haven't been influenced by Harry, only that I had a lot of hangovers whenever I was with him. (laughs) I love him, he's a great guy and I count him as one of me friends. He hasn't influenced me musically. And there's an illusion going around about my production of Harry's album. That he was trying to imitate me on his album.

You mean that he'd gone into his primal period. . . .
That's it. They're so sheep-like – put this in – and childlike about trying to put a tag on what's going on. They use these expressions like "primal" for anything that's a scream. Brackets: Yoko was screaming before Janov was ever even heard of; that was her stint, usin' her voice like an instrument. She was screaming when Janov was still jackin' off to Freud. But nowadays, everything that's got a scream in it is called primal. I know what they're talkin' about: the very powerful emotional pitch that Harry reaches at the end of "Many Rivers to Cross" on the album I produced for him [Pussy Cats]. It's there, simply enough, because when you get to a certain point with your vocals, there ain't nowhere else to go. Was Little Richard primaling before each sax solo? That's what I want to know. Was my imitation Little Richard screams I used to put on all the Beatles records before the solo – we all used to do it, we'd go aaaaaarrrrrrrggggghhhh! Was that primaling? Right? And the other thing is about Harry becoming me on his album. That's the other illusion that all the little rock writers wrote about. It's bullshit. I go in to produce the guy, expecting to hear Harry Nilsson singing and the guy has no voice. We'd committed studio time and we did one track, virtually, and that's the end of his voice. So then I'm stuck with one of the best white singers in America – with no voice at all. Harry didn't tell me till nearly the end of the album that he was coughin' up blood.

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Song Stories

“Madame George”

Van Morrison | 1968

One of the first stream-of-consciousness epics to make it onto a Van Morrison record, his drawn-out farewell to the eccentric "Madame George" lasted nearly 10 minutes, combining ingredients from folk, jazz and classical music. The character that gave the song its title provoked speculation that it was about a drag queen, though Morrison denied this in Rolling Stone. "If you see it as a male or a female or whatever, it's your trip," he remarked. "I see it as a ... a Swiss cheese sandwich. Something like that."

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