John Lennon: The Last Interview

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In "Woman," you also sing, "Woman, I will try to express/My inner feelings and thankfulness/For showing me the meaning of success."
I'm not saying success as a famous artist and star is no good, and I'm not saying it's great. The thing about the "Working Class Hero" song that nobody ever got right was that it was supposed to be sardonic – it had nothing to do with socialism, it had to do with "If you want to go through that trip, you'll get up to where I am, and this is what you'll be." Because I've been successful as an artist, and have been happy and unhappy, and I've been unknown in Liverpool or Hamburg and been happy and unhappy. But what Yoko's taught me is what the real success is – the success of my personality, the success of my relationship with her and the child, my relationship with the world . . . and to be happy when I wake up. It has nothing to do with rock machinery or not rock machinery.

What am I supposed to be, some kind of martyr that's not supposed to be rich? Some asshole recently wrote a cover story about me in Esquire. [Journalist Laurence Shames' virulent article, "John Lennon, Where Are You?" appeared in the November 1980 issue of the magazine. In it, Shames wrote, "I was looking for the Lennon who had always shot his mouth off, who had offended everyone without having to try. My Lennon was a bitter clown, a man of extravagant error and vast resilience, a big baby, an often pathetic truth-seeker whose pained, goofy, earnest and paranoid visage was the emblem and conscience of his age. . . . The Lennon I would have found is a 40-year-old businessman who watches a lot of television, who's got $150 million, a son he dotes on and a wife who intercepts his phone calls. . .  . Is it true, John? Have you really given up?"] This guy spent 20 months looking at deeds and cows, and I'm making a record, and that asshole's looking at cows. For fuck's sake, man, what are they talking about? What should I have bought – slaves? Hookers? [Laughs] They've got minds like fucking sewers to sell magazines, to sell products that people can't afford to buy, that they don't need and have to replace every three months . . . and they're accusing me of what? That guy is the kind of person who used to be in love with you – you know, one of those people – and now hates you – a rejected lover. I don't even know the asshole, but he spent his whole time looking for an illusion that he created of me, and then got upset because he couldn't find it.

These critics with the illusions they've created about artists – it's like idol worship. Like those little kids in Liverpool who only liked us when we were in Liverpool – a lot of them dropped us because we got big in Manchester, right? They thought we'd sold out. Then the English got upset because we got big in . . . what the hell is it? They only like people when they're on the way up, and when they're up there, they've got nothing else to do but shit on them. I cannot be on the way up again. What they want is dead heroes, like Sid Vicious and James Dean. I'm not interested in being a dead fucking hero. . . . So forget 'em, forget 'em.

You know what Eugene O'Neill said about critics? "I love every bone in their head." You see, the only way to deal with critics is to go over their heads direct to the public. That's what we did with the bed-ins and with our Two Virgins and Plastic Ono albums, and that's what we're doing now. And we hear from all kinds of people. One kid living up in Yorkshire wrote this heartfelt letter about being both Oriental and English and identifying with John and Yoko. The odd kid in the class. There are a lot of those kids who identify with us – as a couple, a biracial couple, who stand for love, peace, feminism and the positive things of the world. But the press are always looking at the neck of the giraffe as it goes past the window – that's how the game goes. So there's absolutely no way they can ever keep up.

Most of the petty resentment is mainly from Sixties rock critics who are reaching that age where the beer belly is getting larger, and they haven't got the guts of someone like Jon Landau [music critic, record producer and Bruce Springsteen's manager] to get out there and do it. I admire Lester Bangs, who's a musician as well as a critic, and I'm sure there's many times he shit all over me, and I'm sure Landau must have, in his time, both praised and hated me. I've had it both ways from all the major critics. But at least some of them do it. And as I said in "Lennon Remembers," and as I said in art school, I'm a doer, not a voyeur . . . And I've got nothing to hide. Remember the song?

"Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey." It's one of my favorites: "Your inside is out, and your outside is in/Your outside is in, and your inside is out."
Right, but what did the critics say? "A bit simplistic, no imagery in it." Perhaps I should have said, "Your inside is like a whale juice dripping from the fermented foam of the teeny-boppers' VD in Times Square as I injected my white clown face with heroin and performed in red-leather knickers." Maybe then they'd like it, right?

That's great, that sounds like Allen Ginsberg.
Right, we can all do Ginsberg – and I like Ginsberg. But try shaving it all off and getting down to the nitty-gritty – that's what I always tried to write . . . except for the occasional "Walrus" bit. I'm not interested in describing a fucking tree. I'm interested in climbing it or being under it.

All the way through your work, there's this incredibly strong notion about inspiring people to be themselves and to come together to try to change things. I'm thinking here, obviously, of songs like "Give Peace a Chance," "Power to the People" and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)."
It's still there. If you look on the vinyl around the new record's logo [on the 12-inch single "(Just Like) Starting Over"] – which all the kids have done already all over the world from Brazil to Australia to Poland – inside is written one world, one people. So we continue. "Give Peace a Chance," not "Shoot People for Peace." "All You Need is Love": It's damn hard, but I absolutely believe it.

We're not the first to say "Imagine No Countries" or "Give Peace a Chance," but we're carrying that torch, like the Olympic torch, passing it hand to hand, to each other, to each country, to each generation . . . and that's our job. Not to live according to somebody else's idea of how we should live – rich, poor, happy, not happy, smiling, not smiling, wearing the right jeans, not wearing the right jeans.

I'm not claiming divinity. I've never claimed purity of soul. I've never claimed to have the answers to life. I only put out songs and answer questions as honestly as I can, but only as honestly as I can – no more, no less. I cannot live up to other people's expectations of me because they're illusionary. I cannot be a punk in Hamburg and Liverpool, because I'm older now. I see the world through different eyes now. But I still believe in peace, love and understanding. As Elvis Costello said, What's so fucking funny about peace, love and understanding? It's fashionable to be a go-getter and slash thy neighbor with a cross, but we're not one to follow the fashion.

It's like your song "The Word. . . . "
Yes, the word was "love."

'Why in the world are we here?/Surely not to live in pain and fear" – that's from "Instant Karma." And that's an idea in all of your and Yoko's work . . . as when she sings in her new song "Beautiful Boys": "Please never be afraid to cry. . . . Don't ever be afraid to fly. . . . Don't be afraid to be afraid." I found that beautiful.
That is beautiful. I'm often afraid, but I'm not afraid to be afraid, otherwise it's all scary. But it's more painful to try not to be yourself. People spend a lot of time trying to be somebody else, and I think it leads to terrible diseases. Maybe you get cancer or something. A lot of tough guys die of cancer, have you noticed? John Wayne, Steve McQueen. I think it has something to do – I don't know, I'm no expert – with constantly living or getting trapped in an image or an illusion of themselves, suppressing some part of themselves, whether it's the feminine side or the fearful side.

I'm well aware of that because I come from the macho school of pretense. I was never really a street kid or a tough guy. I used to dress like a Teddy boy and identify with Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley, but I never really was in real street fights or real down-home gangs. I was just a suburban kid, imitating the rockers. But it was a big part of one's life to look tough. I spent the whole of my childhood with shoulders up around the top of me head and me glasses off because glasses were sissy, and walking in complete fear, but with the toughest-looking face you've ever seen. I'd get into trouble just because of the way I looked. I wanted to be this tough James Dean all the time. It took a lot of wrestling to stop doing that, even though I still fall into it when I get insecure and nervous. I still drop into that I'm-a-street-kid stance, but I have to keep remembering that I never really was one.

That's what Yoko has taught me. I couldn't have done it alone – it had to be a female to teach me. That's it. Yoko has been telling me all the time, "It's all right, it's all right." I look at early pictures of me-self, and I was torn between being Marlon Brando and being the sensitive poet – the Oscar Wilde part of me with the velvet, feminine side. I was always torn between the two, mainly opting for the macho side, because if you showed the other side, you were dead.

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