It's interesting that no rock & roll star I can think of has made an album with his wife or whomever and given her 50 percent of the disc.
It's the first time we've done it this way. I know we've made albums together before, like Live Peace in Toronto 1969 where I had one side and Yoko had the other. But Double Fantasy is 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, or 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.
Right now, the public is our only criterion: You can aim for a small public, a medium public, but for meself, I like a large public. And I made my decision in art school, if I'm going to be an artist of whatever description; I want the maximum exposure, not just paint-your-little-pictures-in-the-attic-and-don't-show-them-to-anybody.
When I arrived in art school, there were lots of artsy-fartsy guys and girls, mainly guys, going round with paint on their jeans and looking just like artists. And they all had lots to talk about and knew all about every damn paintbrush, and they talked about aesthetics, but they all ended up being art teachers or Sunday painters. I got nothing from art school except for a lot of women, a lot of drink and the freedom to be at college and have fun. I enjoyed it like hell, but for art, I never learned a damn thing.
You've always had a unique, playful drawing style – just think of your book "In His Own Write" or the album cover and inner sleeve of Walls and Bridges or your immediately identifiable "Lennonesque" cartoons.
I did the Walls and Bridges drawings when I was 10 or 11. But I found at art school that they tried to knock it out of me. They tried to stop me from drawing how I draw naturally, which I wouldn't let them do. But I never developed it further than cartoons. Somebody once said that cartoonists are people with a good creative gift who are scared of failure as painters, so they make it comedic, My cartoons, to me, are like Japanese brush paintings – if you can't get it in one line, rip it up. Yoko got me into that notion a little when we met, and when she saw that I drew, she'd say, "That's how they do it in Japan, you don't have to make changes.… This is it!"
Yoko and I come from different kinds of backgrounds, but basically, we both need this communication. I'm not interested in small, elite groups following or kowtowing to me. I'm interested in communicating whatever it is I want to say or produce in the maximum possible way, and rock & roll is it, as far as I'm concerned. It's like that image of watching a giraffe going by the window. People are always just seeing little bits of it, but I try and see the whole, not just in my own life, but the whole universe, the whole game. That's what it's all about, isn't it? So whether I'm working with Paul or Yoko, it's all toward the same end, whatever that is – self-expression, communication or just being like a tree, flowering and withering and flowering and withering.
On Yoko's song "Hard Times Are Over," there seems to be what sounds like a gospel group singing behind Yoko's voice.
There is a gospel group [the Benny Cummings Singers and the Kings Temple Choir] singing on it. They were beautiful. Just before the take, they suddenly all took each other's hands, and Yoko was really crying, and I was emotional because it's right up our alley – whether it's Jesus or Buddha, for us it's all right, either one will do, any of them are all right by us. So there they were, holding hands before the take, and they were singing "Thank you, Jesus, thank you, Lord," and I was like, "Put the tape on! Are you getting this?" And that's what you hear, exactly as it happened – "Thank you, Jesus, thank you, Lord" – and then they go right into singing the song.
At the end of the session, they thanked God, they thanked our co-producer; Jack Douglas, they thanked us for bringing them the work, and we thanked them. And it was the nearest I've ever been to a gospel church service – Phil Spector used to tell me about them – and I always wanted to go and experience it, but I was too scared to go. And that was the nearest I've ever been, and it was just beautiful. It was a great working day, with the pressure on – get in the studio and get out – and all the children were there, kids and food and cookies and singing and "Praise the Lord." It was glorious. Putting the gospel choir on that song was a highlight of the session.
On Double Fantasy, I noticed a mysterious and magical little sound collage that segues between your song "Watching the Wheels" and Yoko's charming, Thirties-like "Yes, I'm Your Angel." One hears what seem to be a hawker's voice, the sounds of a horse-driven carriage, then a door slamming and a few musical phrases played by a piano and violin in a restaurant.
I'll tell you what it is. One of the voices is me going, "God bless you, man, thank you, man, cross my palm with silver, you've got a lucky face," which is what the English guys who beg or want a tip say, and that's what you hear me mumbling. And then we re-created the sounds of what Yoko and I call the Strawberries and Violin Room – the Palm Court at the Plaza hotel. We like to sit there occasionally and listen to the old violin and have a cup of tea and some strawberries. It's romantic. And so the picture is, there's this kind of street prophet, Hyde Park-corner-type guy who just watches the wheels going around. And people are throwing money in the hat. We faked that in the studio. We had friends of ours walking up and down, dropping coins in a hat. And he's saying, "Thank you, thank you," and then you get in the horse carriage and you go around New York and go into the hotel and the violins are playing and then this woman comes on and sings about being an angel.
In "Yes, I'm Your Angel," Yoko sings, "I'm in your pocket/You're in my locket/And we're so lucky in every way. "And then what follows is your beautiful song, "Woman," which sounds a bit like a troubadour poem written to a medieval lady.
"Woman" came about because, one sunny after-noon in Bermuda, it suddenly hit me what women do for us. Not just what my Yoko does for me, although I was thinking in those personal terms . . . but any truth is universal. What 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. It's a "we" or it ain't anything. The song reminds me of a Beatles track, though I wasn't trying to make it sound like a Beatles track. I did it as I did "Girl" many years ago – it just sort of hit me like a flood, and it came out like that. "Woman" is the grown-up version of "Girl."
I know that Yoko is deeply interested in ancient Egyptian art and antiques, and that you have a small collection of it in your home. Regarding "the other half of the sky," it's interesting that in ancient Egyptian mythology, the Sky was personified as a goddess – she wasn't Mother Earth – and the Earth was personified as a god.
But I do call Yoko "Mother," like our president-elect [Ronald Reagan] calls his wife "Mommy." And for those childless people who find that peculiar, it's because, in general, when you have a child around the house, you tend to refer to each other that way. Yoko calls me "Daddy" – it could be Freudian, but it could also mean that Sean refers to me as "Daddy." Occasionally I call her "Mother," because I used to call her "Mother Superior" – if you check your Beatles Fab Four fucking records, "Happiness Is a Warm Gun." She is Mother Superior, she's Mother Earth, she's the mother of my child, she's my mother, she's my daughter. . . . The relationship goes through many levels, like most relationships. But it doesn't have any deep-seated strangeness about it.
People are always judging or criticizing you, or focusing on 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 Double Fantasy – the bells on "(Just Like) Starting Over." The head of the album 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.
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