John Lennon: The Last Interview

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There's another aspect of your work, which has to do with the way you continually question what's real and what's illusory, such as in "Look at Me," your new "Watching the Wheels" and, of course, "Strawberry Fields Forever," in which you sing, "Nothing is real."
In a way, no thing is real, if you break the word down. As the Hindus or Buddhists say, it's an illusion. It's Rashomon. We all see it, but the agreed-upon illusion is what we live in. And the hardest thing is facing yourself.

I used to think that the world was doing it to me and 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 teeny-bopper, that's what you think. But I'm 40 now, and I don't think that anymore, because 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 and your daddy did. . . . But one has to go through that. For the people who even bother to go through that – most assholes just accept what it is anyway and get on with it, right? – but for the few of us who did question what was going on . . . well, I've found out for me personally – not for the whole world – that I am responsible for me, as well as for 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, 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.

"Looking through a glass onion."
That's what it's about, isn't it?

Yoko now comes into the room to say that she and John have to leave for the Record Plant – the legendary, now-defunct recording studio on West 44th Street where albums like Electric Ladyland and Born to Run were recorded, and where, for the past couple of weeks, John and Yoko have been remixing some of Yoko's old songs and putting finishing touches on her new single, "Walking on Thin Ice." They'll be working there throughout the night . . . and why didn't I join them? It's around 10 p.m. when we leave the Dakota and get into the waiting car. Arriving at the Record Plant a half-hour later, we enter the main studio and are greeted by a sonic blast: Out of the speakers comes the shattering cascade of Yoko's inimitable, primordial voice – intersected by John's forward and backward guitar tracks – screaming out the words "Open your box/Open your trousers/Open your thighs/Open your legs. . . . Open your ears/Open your nose/Open, open, open, open." And over the next six hours, as two sound engineers and producer Jack Douglas remix a number of Yoko's songs ("Open Your Box," "Kiss Kiss Kiss," "Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him"), John and I continue our conversation till four in the morning, by which time Yoko is napping on a studio couch.

Is Yoko thinking of putting out a disco album?
I can't really verify what we're doing yet, because with Yoko, you never know until it's done. But we did come in here to make this string of songs that might go to the rock and disco clubs.

And what about your new songs?
No, because I don't make that stuff [laughs]. I mean, what way could I come back into this game? I came back from where I know best, as unpretentious as possible . . . and with no experimentation, because I was happy to be doing it as I did it before. My song "Starting Over" – I call it "Elvis-Orbison" [sings: "Only the lonely/Know why I cry/Only the lonely"].

There's a bit of slap-back echo on your recording.
Well, the tape echo is from the Fifties. Almost every record I made had the same echo on it . . . all the way back to "Rock and Roll Music." I love it. And my voice has always sounded pretty much the same. I'm going right back to the roots of my past. It's like Dylan going to do Nashville Skyline. But I don't have any Nashville, being from Liverpool, so I go back to the records I knew, which is Elvis and Roy Orbison and Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis. I occasionally get tripped off into a "Revolution 9," but my far-out side has been completely encompassed by Yoko.

You know, the first show we did together was at Cambridge University in 1969. She had already been booked to do a concert with some jazz musicians. That was the first time I had appeared un-Beatled. I had an amp and played feedback, and people got very upset because they recognized me: "What's he doing with you?" 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 Ike 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 pen or 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 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. "Veil, it is now a hotel." They had great chocolate cake in that Vienna hotel, I remember that. Anyway, who wants to be locked in a bag? You have to break out of your bag to keep alive.

[The studio engineers play a tape of Yoko's new song "Walking on Thin Ice."]

Listen to this, Jonathan. We were thinking that this song is so damn good that she should put her own single out, with me on the B side. I'd love to be on the B side of a hit record after all these years. I'd love to be the guitarist – I'm playing backwards guitar on this song. I'd settle for it any day. Yoko deserves it, it's been a long haul. I wouldn't fight about it at all.

Speaking of fighting – and this will make you laugh – Andy Warhol once wanted Yoko and me to wrestle at Madison Square Garden, and he'd film it!

You must be kidding. He wanted you two to wrestle? Maybe a sumo contest!
Anything. Just to show the great "love and peace" people having a good fight onstage – it might have been great!

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