Is there anything left to say about the immigration case?
I don't know what to say anymore. It stands no different from the time Rolling Stone did it last. It's going from court to court and I'm getting no relief, as the legal term puts it. They're still playing that attitude that, you know, we're treating you like this because of this law. Sure, the law exists. And so do all the Nazis here and the drug dealers that are not American born and all the killers that are allowed in here. They're still pretending that they're doing it on the strict letter of the law.
You know, I can resurrect it and do more press, and keep appealing to the American people. But they're human. People get bored with hearin' about Lennon's immigration case. I'm bored with hearin' about it. The only interesting thing is when I read these articles people write that were not instigated by me. I learn things I didn't know anything about. I didn't know about Strom Thurmond. I had no idea – I mean I knew something was going on, but I didn't have any names. I'm just left in the position of just what am I supposed to do? There doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it. It's just . . . bloody crazy. Terry Southern put it in a nice sort of way. He said, "Well, look, y'keep 'em all happy, ya see? The conservatives are happy 'cause they're doin' somethin' about ya and the liberals are happy 'cause they haven't thrown you out. So everybody's happy! [pause] Except you!" (laughter) I'm happy I'm still here. I must say that. And I ain't going. There's no way they're gonna get me out. No way. They're not gonna drag me in chains, right? So I'm just gonna have to keep paying. It's bloody ridiculous. It's just . . . beyond belief.
So nothing has changed with the departure of Nixon.
I'm even nervous about commenting on politics, they've got me that jumpy these days. But it's a bit of an illusion to think 'cause Old Nick went that it's all changed. If it's changed, prove it, show me the change. In all honesty, it's a political decision. No matter how many letters the immigration people write to newspapers saying it isn't, it's a political decision. Somebody's gotta make up their mind either to let this go on or to leave me alone. It could be that it's an embarrassing situation for the government, because they started the thing. It might just be embarrassing to them if someone just made a call to someone to pull the dogs off. What's Lennon gonna do then? Is he gonna say, ha ha, I tole yiz? What does it entail if they give in? If they relax about it? How much constituency does Lennon have? And his friends? What does it mean to the public in general? But they also know that the public forgets.
When you heard that Thurmond and these other creeps were making a guinea pig out of you in the immigration case, what was your gut reaction?
My gut reaction was ha ha ha, I told you so. And I'd like to thank Rolling Stone for their pieces on immigration. They helped bring it all out again. They were great.
Does the case get in the way of your work?
It did. It did. There's no denying it. In '72, it was really gettin' to me. Not only was I physically having to appear in court cases, it just seemed like a toothache that wouldn't go away. Now I just accept it. I just have a permanent toothache. But there was a period where I just couldn't function, you know? I was so paranoid from them tappin' the phone and followin' me ... How could I prove that they were tappin' me phone? There was no way. And when they were followin' me, I went on Dick Cavett and said they were followin' me and they stopped followin' me. But when they were followin' me, they wanted me to see they were following me. I was so damned paranoid . . . And what with the Rubins, and the people I met through that school of music, and as I traveled around the country, I got more information about every one of those politicos, so that I couldn't trust anybody. This was pre-Watergate. Even when I said it to reporters, or on the Cavett show, that people were following me, they'd look and say, "Don't be an egomaniac, we know you've got a problem, but who's gonna chase you? You're not that important." And I wish I wasn't. I wish they didn't find it such an important thing.
Give me an example of how the case has affected the work.
Well, there was a period when I was hangin' out with a group called Elephant's Memory. And I was ready to go on the road for pure fun. I didn't want to go on the road for money. That was the time when I was standing up in the Apollo with a guitar at the Attica relatives' benefit or ending up on the stage at the John Sinclair rally. I felt like going on the road and playing music. And whatever excuse – charity or whatever – would have done me. But they kept pullin' me back into court! I had the group hangin' 'round, but finally I had to say, "Hey, you better get on with your lives." Now, the last thing on earth I want to do is perform. That's a direct result of the immigration thing. In '71, '72, I wanted to go out and rock me balls off onstage and I just stopped.
Have you made any kind of flat decision not to ever go on the road again?
No. I've stopped making flat decisions. I change me mind a lot. My idea of heaven is not going on the road. And this was before George's tour.
What groups do you listen to these days?
I'm still a record man. There's nobody – including meself – on earth that I can sit down and listen to a whole album. Nobody. The same voice going on . . . Nobody can sustain it. Even as a rock 'n' roll fan of 15, there were very few albums I could sit through. Even Elvis, and I adored him, or Carl Perkins or Little Richard. There were always a couple of tracks to miss and go on to the next ones. So I don't sit 'round and listen to artists' albums. Unless they're friends of mine. I like records. I like "Shame, Shame, Shame." Shirley and the gang. Some of this disco stuff. Great. I like just individual records. One of me favorites last year was "I Can Help." Billy Swan. A real old Elvis imitation kind of record. I like singles. I like jukebox music. That was the thing that turned me on. That's the thing I like.
What was the Grammy show like?
It was great fun. It was chaos backstage. But I enjoyed it. I was hoping Elton would win. Nothing against Olivia. I hope it didn't show on me face when they announced it. I opened the thing and somehow I was expecting to see Elton John, y'know, and I went . . . uh. . . and here is Olivia. . . Newton. . . John. And I thought, oh, me face has dropped, hehe.
Will you ever be free of the fact that you were once a Beatle?
I've got used to the fact – just about – that whatever I do is going to be compared to the other Beatles. If I took up ballet dancing, my ballet dancing would be compared with Paul's bowling. So that I'll have to live with. But I've come to learn something big this past year. I cannot let the Top Ten dominate my art. If my worth is only to be judged by whether I'm in the Top Ten or not, then I'd better give up. Because if I let the Top Ten dominate my art, then the art will die. And then whether I'm in the Top Ten is a moot point. I do think now in terms of long term. I'm an artist. I have to express myself. I can't be dominated by gold records. As I said, I'm 34 going on 60. The art is more important than the thing and sometimes I have to remind meself of it. Because there's a danger there, for all of us, for everyone who's involved in whatever art they're in, of needing that love so badly that . . . In my business, that's manifested in the Top Ten.
So this last year, in some ways, was a year of deciding whether you wanted to be an artist or a pop star?
Yeah. What is it I'm doing? What am I doing? Meanwhile, I was still putting out the work. But in the back of me head it was that: What do you want to be? What are you lookin' for? And that's about it. I'm a freakin' artist, man, not a fucking race horse.
Pete Hamill has written two novels, a journalism collection and numerous magazine pieces and is currently working on a filmscript with Billy Friedkin.
This story appeared in the June 5, 1975 issue of Rolling Stone.
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