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Lennon Remembers, Part One

Page 3 of 7

It says on the album that Yoko does wind?
Yes. Well, she plays wind, she played atmosphere. She has a musical ear, and she can produce rock and roll. She can produce me, which she did for some of the tracks. I'm not going to start saying that she did this and he did that. But when Phil couldn't come at first . . . you don't have to be born and bred in rock, she knows when a bass sound is right, and when a guy is playing out of rhythm and when the engineer – she had a bit of trouble – the engineer thinks well, who the hell is this? What does she know about it? So, she did that for me.

"Working Class Hero" sounds like an early Dylan song.
Anybody that sings with a guitar and sings about something heavy would tend to sound like this. I'm bound to be influenced by those, because that is the only kind of real folk music I really listen to. I never liked the fruity Judy Collins and Baez and all of that stuff. So the only folk music I know is about miners up in Newcastle, or Dylan. In that way I would be influenced, but it doesn't sound like Dylan to me. Does it sound like Dylan to you?

Only in the instrumentation.
That's the only way to play. I never listen that hard to him.

Did you put in "fucking" deliberately on "Working Class Hero?"
No. I put it in because it fit. I didn't even realize that there were two in the song until somebody pointed it out. When I actually sang it, I missed a verse which I had to add in later. You do say "fucking crazy"' that is how I speak. I was very near to it many times in the past, but, I would deliberately not put it in, which is the real hypocrisy, the real stupidity.

What is November 5th?
In England it's the day they blew up the Houses of Parliament so we celebrate by having bonfires every November 5th, Guy Fawkes Day. It just was an ad lib: it was about the third take, and I got to remembering, and it begins to sound like Frankie Laine, you know, when you sing, (sings) "Remember the Fifth of November." I just broke up, and it went on for about another seven or eight minutes. We started ad libbing and goofing about, but then I cut it there and just exploded, it was a good joke. Haven't you ever heard of Guy Fawkes? I thought it was just poignant that we should blow up the Houses of Parliament.

Do you get embarrassed sometimes when you hear the album, when you think about how personal it is?
I get embarrassed. You see, sometimes I can hear it and be embarrassed just by the performance of either the music or the statements, and sometimes I don't. I change daily, you know. Like just before it's coming out, I can't bear to hear it in the house or play it anywhere, but a few months before that, I can play it all the time. It just changes all the time.

Sometimes I used to listen to something, Buddy Holly or something, and one day the record will sound twice as fast as the next day. Did you ever experience that on a single? I used to have that: one day "Hound Dog" would sound very slow and one day it would sound very fast. It was just my feeling towards it. The way I heard it. It can do that. That's where you have to make your artistic judgment to say well, this is the take and this isn't. That's the way you have to make the decision: when it sounds reasonable.

"Isolation" and "Hold On John" are rough remixes. I just mixed them on 7 1/2 [ips, a conventional home tape recorder speed] to take home to play and see what else I was going to do with them. Then I didn't even put them onto 15 [ips – the speed at which professional taping is done], so the quality is a bit off on them.

What is your concept of pain?
I don't know what you mean, really.

On the song "God" you start by saying: "God is a concept by which we measure our pain. . . . "
Well, pain is the pain we go through all the time. You're born in pain. Pain is what we are in most of the time, and I think that the bigger the pain, the more God you look for.

There is a tremendous body of philosophical literature about God as a measure of pain.
I never heard of it. You see, it was my own revelation. I don't know who wrote about it, or what anybody else said, I just know that's what I know.

Yoko: He just felt it.

John: Yes, I just felt it. It was like I was crucified, when I felt it. So I know what they're talking about now.

What is the difference between George Martin and Phil Spector?
George Martin . . . I don't know. You see, for quite a few of our albums, like the Beatles' double albums, George Martin didn't really produce it. In the early days, I can remember what George Martin did.

What did he do in the early days?
He would translate . . . If Paul wanted to use violins he would translate it for him. Like "In My Life" there is an Elizabethan piano solo in it, so he would do things like that. We would say "play like Bach" or something, so he would put 12 bars in there. He helped us develop a language, to talk to musicians.

I was very, very shy, and there are many reasons why I didn't like very much go for musicians. I didn't like to have to see 20 guys sitting there and try to tell them what to do. Because they're all so lousy anyway. So, apart from the early days – when I didn't have much to do with it – I did it myself.

Why did you use Phil now instead of George Martin?
Well it's not instead of George Martin. That's nothing personal against George Martin. He's more Paul's style of music than mine. But I don't know, really . . . it's a drag to do both. To go in the recording studio and then you run back and say did you get it?

Did Phil make any special contribution?
Yes, yes. Phil, I believe, is a great artist and like all great artists he's very neurotic. But we've done quite a few tracks together, Yoko and I, and she'd be encouraging me in the other room and all that, and – at one point in the middle we were just lagging – Phil moved in and brought in a new life. We were getting heavy because we had done a few things and the thrill of recording had worn off a little. So you can hear Spector here and there. There is no specifics, you can just hear him.

I read a little interview with you done when you went to the Rock and Roll Revival over a year ago in Toronto. You said you were throwing up before you went on stage.
Yes. I just threw up for hours until I went on. I even threw up . . . I read a review in Stone, the one about the film [Toronto Pop, by D.A. Pennebaker] I haven't seen yet, and they were saying I was this and that. I was throwing up nearly in the number, I could hardly sing any of them, I was full of shit.

Would you still be that nervous if you appeared in public?
Always that nervous, but what with one thing and another, it just had to come out some way. I don't think I'll do much appearing, it's not worth the strain, I don't want to perform too much for people.

What do you think of George's album?
I don't know . . . I think it's all right, you know. Personally, at home, I wouldn't play that kind of music, I don't want to hurt George's feelings, I don't know what to say about it. I think it's better than Paul's.

What did you think of Paul's?
I thought Paul's was rubbish. I think he'll make a better one, when he's frightened into it. But I thought that first one was just a lot of . . . Remember what I told you when it came out? "Light and easy," You know that crack. But then I listen to the radio and I hear George's stuff coming over, well then it's pretty bloody good. My personal tastes are very strange, you know.

What are your personal tastes?
Sounds like "Wop Bop a Loo Bop." I like rock and roll, man, I don't like much else.

Why rock and roll?
That's the music that inspired me to play music. There is nothing conceptually better than rock and roll. No group, be it Beatles. Dylan or Stones have ever improved on "Whole Lot of Shaking" for my money. Or maybe I'm like our parents: that's my period and I dig it and I'll never leave it.

What do you think of the rock and roll scene today?
I don't know what it is. You would have to name it. I don't think there's. . . . 

Do you get any pleasure out of the Top Ten?
No, I never listen. Only when I'm recording or about to bring something out will I listen. Just before I record, I go buy a few albums to see what people are doing. Whether they have improved any, or whether anything happened. And nothing's really happened. There's a lot of great guitarists and musicians around, but nothing's happening, you know. I don't like the Blood, Sweat and Tears shit. I think all that is bullshit. Rock and roll is going like jazz, as far as I can see, and the bullshitters are going off into that excellentness which I never believed in and others going off ... I consider myself in the avant garde of rock and roll. Because I'm with Yoko and she taught me a lot and I taught her a lot, and I think on her album you can hear it, if I can get away from her album for a moment.

What do you think of Dylan's album?
I thought it wasn't much. Because I expect more – maybe I expect too much from people – but I expect more. I haven't been a Dylan follower since he stopped rocking. I liked "Rolling Stone" and a few things he did then; I like a few things he did in the early days. The restof it is just like Lennon-McCartney or something. It's no different, its a myth.

You don't think then it's a legitimate "New Morning"?
No, It might be a new morning for him because he stopped singing on the top of his voice. It's all right, but it's not him, it doesn't mean a fucking thing. I'd sooner have "I Hear You Knocking" by Dave Edmonds, it's the top of England now.

It's strange that George comes out with his "Hare Krishna" and you come out with the opposite, especially after that.
I can't imagine what George thinks. Well, I suppose he thinks I've lost the way or something like that. But to me, I'm like home. I'll never change much from this.

Let's re-approach that: always the Beatles were talked about – and the Beatles talked about themselves – as being four parts of the same person. What's happened to those four parts?
They remembered that they were four individuals. You see, we believed the Beatles myth, too. I don't know whether the others still believe it. We were four guys . . . I met Paul, and said, "You want to join me band?" Then George joined and then Ringo joined. We were just a band that made it very, very, big that's all. Our best work was never recorded.

Why?
Because we were performers – in spite of what Mick says about us – in Liverpool, Hamburg and other dance halls. What we generated was fantastic, when we played straight rock, and there was nobody to touch us in Britain. As soon as we made it, we made it, but the edges were knocked off.

You know Brian put us in suits and all that, and we made it very, very big. But we sold out, you know. The music was dead before we even went on the theater tour of Britain. We were feeling shit already, because we had to reduce an hour or two hours' playing, which we were glad about in one way, to 20 minutes, and we would go on and repeat the same 20 minutes every night.

The Beatles music died then, as musicians. That's why we never improved as musicians; we killed ourselves then to make it. And that was the end of it. George and I are more inclined to say that; we always missed the club dates because that's when we were playing music, and then later on we became technically, efficient recording artists – which was another thing – because we were competent people and whatever media you put us in we can produce something worthwhile.

How did you choose the musicians you use on this record?
I'm a very nervous person, really, I'm not as big-headed as this tape sounds, this is me projecting through the fear, so I choose people that I know, rather than strangers.

Why do you get along with Ringo?
Because in spite of all the things, the Beatles could really play music together when they weren't uptight, and if I get a thing going, Ringo knows where to go, just like that, and he does well. We've played together so long, that it fits. That's the only thing I sometimes miss is just being able to sort of blink or make a certain noise and I know they'll all know where we are going on an ad lib thing. But I don't miss it that much.

How do you rate yourself as a guitarist?
Well, it depends on what kind of guitarist. I'm OK, I'm not technically good, but I can make it fucking howl and move. I was rhythm guitarist. It's an important job. I can make a band drive.

How do you rate George?
He's pretty good. (Laughter) I prefer myself. I have to be honest, you know. I'm really very embarrassed about my guitar playing, in one way, because it's very poor, I can never move, but I can make a guitar speak.

I think there's a guy called Richie Valens, no, Richie Havens, does he play very strange guitar? He's a black guy that was on a concert and sang "Strawberry Fields" or something. He plays like one chord all the time. He plays a pretty funky guitar. But he doesn't seem to be able to play in the real terms at all. I'm like that.

Yoko has made me feel cocky about my guitar. You see, one part of me says yes, of course I can play because I can make a rock move, you know. But the other part of me says well, I wish I could just do like B. B. King. If you would put me with B. B. King, I would feel real silly. I'm an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I'll bring you something out of it.

You say you can make the guitar speak; what songs have you done that on?
Listen to "Why" on Yoko's album I Found Out. I think it's nice. It drives along. Ask Eric Clapton, he thinks I can play, ask him. You see, a lot of you people want technical things; it's like wanting technical films. Most critics of rock and roll, and guitarists, are in the stage of the Fifties when they wanted a technically perfect film, finished for them, and then they would feel happy.

I'm a cinema verite guitarist, I'm a musician and you have to break down your barriers to hear what I'm playing. There's a nice little bit I played, they had it on the back of Abbey Road. Paul gave us each a piece, there is a little break where Paul plays, George plays and I played. And there is one bit, one of those where it stops, one of those "carry that weights" where it suddenly goes boom, boom, on the drums and then we all take it in turns to play. I'm the third one on it. 

I have a definite style of playing. I've always had. But I was over-shadowed. They call George the invisible singer. I'm the invisible guitarist.

You said you played slide guitar on "Get Back."
Yes, I played the solo on that. When Paul was feeling kindly, he would give me a solo! Maybe if he was feeling guilty that he had most of the "A" side or something, he would give me a solo. And I played the solo on that. I think George produced some beautiful guitar playing. But I think he's too hung up to really let go, but so is Eric, really. Maybe he's changed. They're all so hung up. We all are, that's the problem. I really like B. B. King.

Do you like Ringo's record, his country one?
I think it's a good record. I wouldn't buy any of it, you know. I think it's a good record, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear "Beaucoups of Blues," that song you know. I thought, good. I was glad, and I didn't feel as embarrassed as I did about his first record.

It's hard when you ask me, it's like asking me what do I think of . . . ask me about other people, because it looks so awful when I say I don't like this and I don't like that. It's just that I don't like many of the Beatles records either.

My own taste is different from that which I've played sometimes, which is called "cop out" to make money or whatever. Or because I didn't know any better.

I would like to ask a question about Paul and go through that. When we went and saw Let It Be in San Francisco, what was your feeling?
I felt sad, you know. Also I felt . . . that film was set-up by Paul for Paul. That is one of the main reasons the Beatles ended. I can't speak for George, but I pretty damn well know we got fed up of being side-men for Paul.

After Brian died, that's what happened, that's what began to happen to us. The camera work was set-up to show Paul and not anybody else. And that's how I felt about it. On top of that, the people that cut it, did it as if Paul is God and we are just lyin' around there. And that's what I felt. And I knew there were some shots of Yoko and me that had been just chopped out of the film for no other reason than the people were oriented for Englebert Humperdinck. I felt sick.

How would you trace the break-up of the Beatles?
After Brian died, we collapsed. Paul took over and supposedly led us. But what is leading us, when we went round in circles? We broke up then. That was the disintegration.

When did you first feel that the Beatles had broken up? When did that idea first hit you?
I don't remember, you know. I was in my own pain. I wasn't noticing, really. I just did it like a job. The Beatles broke up after Brian died; we made the double album, the set. It's like if you took each track off it and made it all mine and all George's. It's like I told you many times, it was just me and a backing group, Paul and a backing group, and I enjoyed it. We broke up then.

Where were you when Brian died?
We were in Wales with the Maharishi. We had just gone down after seeing his lecture first night. We heard it then, and then we went right off into the Maharishi thing.

Where were you?
In Wales. A place called Bangor, in Wales.

Were you in a hotel or what?
We were just outside a lecture hall with Maharishi and I don't know . . . I can't remember, it just sort of came over. Somebody came up to us . . . the press were there, because we had gone down with this strange Indian, and they said "Brian's dead" and I was stunned, we went in to him. "What, he's dead," and all were, I suppose, and the Marharishi, we went in to him. "What, he's dead," and all that, and he was sort of saying oh, forget it, be happy, like an idiot, like parents, smile, that's what the Maharishi said. And we did.

What was your feeling when Brian died?
The feeling that anybody has when somebody close to them dies. There is a sort of little hysterical, sort of hee, hee, I'm glad it's not me or something in it, the funny feeling when somebody close to you dies. I don't know whether you've had it, but I've had a lot of people die around me and the other feeling is, "What the fuck? What can I do?"

I knew that we were in trouble then. I didn't really have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music and I was scared. I thought, "We've fuckin' had it."

What were the events that sort of immediately happened after Brian died?
Well, we went with Maharishi . . . I remember being in Wales and then, I can't remember though. I will probably have to have a bloody primal to remember this. I don't remember. It just all happened.

How did Paul react?
I don't know how the others took it, it's no good asking me . . . it's like asking me how you took it. I don't know. I'm in me own head, I can't be in anybody else's. I don't know really what George, Paul or Ringo think anymore. I know them pretty well, but I don't know anybody that well. Yoko, I know about the best. I don't know how they felt. It was my own thing. We were all just dazed.

So Brian died and then you said what happened was that Paul started to take over.
That's right. I don't know how much of this I want to put out. Paul had an impression, he has it now like a parent, that we should be thankful for what he did for keeping the Beatles going. But when you look back upon it objectively, he kept it going for his own sake. Was it for my sake Paul struggled?

Paul made an attempt to carry on as if Brian hadn't died by saying, "Now, now, boys, we're going to make a record." Being the kind of person I am, I thought well, we're going to make a record all right, so I'll go along, so we went and made a record. And that's when we made Magical Mystery Tour. That was the real . . . 

Paul had a tendency to come along and say well he's written these ten songs, let's record now. And I said, "well, give us a few days, and I'll knock a few off," or something like that. Magical Mystery Tour was something he had worked out with Mal and he showed me what his idea was and this is how it went, it went around like this, the story and how he had it all . . . the production and everything.

Paul said, "Well, here's the segment, you write a little piece for that," and I thought bloody hell, so I ran off and I wrote the dream sequence for the fat woman and all the thing with the spaghetti. Then George and I were sort of grumbling about the fuckin' movie and we thought we better do it and we had the feeling that we owed it to the public to do these things.

When did your songwriting partnership with Paul end?
That ended . . . I don't know, around 1962, or something, I don't know. If you give me the albums I can tell you exactly who wrote what, and which line. We sometimes wrote together. All our best work – apart from the early days, like "I Want to Hold Your Hand" we wrote together and things like that – we wrote apart always. The "One After 909," on the Let It Be LP, I wrote when I was 17 or 18. We always wrote separately, but we wrote together because we enjoyed it a lot sometimes, and also because they would say well, you're going to make an album get together and knock off a few songs, just like a job.

Whose idea was it to go to India?
I don't know . . . I don't know, probably George's, I have no idea. Yoko and I met around then. I lost me nerve because I was going to take me ex-wife and Yoko, but I don't know how to work it. So I didn't quite do it.

"Sexy Sadie" you wrote about the Maharishi?
That's about the Maharishi, yes. I copped out and I wouldn't write "Maharishi what have you done, you made a fool of everyone." But, now it can be told, Fab Listeners.

When did you realize he was making a fool of you?
I don't know, I just sort of saw him.

While in India or when you got back?
Yes, there was a big hullaballo about him trying to rape Mia Farrow or somebody and trying to get off with a few other women and things like that. We went to see him, after we stayed up all night discussing was it true or not true. When George started thinking it might be true, I thought well, it must be true; because if George started thinking it might be true, there must be something in it.

So we went to see Maharishi, the whole gang of us, the next day, charged down to his hut, his bungalow, his very rich-looking bungalow in the mountains, and as usual, when the dirty work came, I was the spokesman – whenever the dirty work came, I actually had to be leader, wherever the scene was, when it came to the nitty gritty, I had to do the speaking – and I said "We're leaving."

"Why?" he asked, and all that shit and I said, "Well, if you're so cosmic, you'll know why."

He was always intimating, and there were all these right-hand men always intimating, that he did miracles. And I said, "You know why," and he said, "I don't know why, you must tell me," and I just kept saying "You ought to know" and he gave me a look like, "I'll kill you, you bastard," and he gave me such a look. I knew then. I had called his bluff and I was a bit rough to him.

Yoko: You expected too much from him.

John: I always do, I always expect too much. I was always expecting my mother and never got her. That's what it is, you know, or some parent, I know that much.

You came to New York and had that press conference.
The Apple thing. That was to announce Apple.

But at the same time you disassociated yourselves from the Maharishi.
I don't remember that. You know, we all say a lot of things when we don't know what we're talking about. I'm probably doing it now, I don't know what I say. You see, everybody takes you up on the words you said, and I'm just a guy that people ask all about things, and I blab off and some of it makes sense and some of it is bullshit and some of it's lies and some of it is – God knows what I'm saying. I don't know what I said about Maharishi, all I know is what we said about Apple, which was worse.

Will you talk about Apple?
All right.

How did that start?
Clive Epstein, or some other such business freak, came up to us and said you've got to spend so much money, or the tax will take you. We were thinking of opening a chain of retail clothes shops or some balmy thing like that . . . and we were all thinking that if we are going to have to open a shop, let's open something we're interested in, and we went through all these different ideas about this, that and the other. Paul had a nice idea about opening up white houses, where we would sell white china, and things like that, everything white, because you can never get anything white, you know, which was pretty groovy, and it didn't end up with that, it ended up with Apple and all this junk and The Fool and all those stupid clothes and all that.

What happened to Magic Alex?
I don't know, he's still in London.

Did you all really think he had those inventions?
I think some of his stuff actually has come true, but they just haven't been manufactured – maybe one of them is a salable object. He was just another guy. who comes and goes around people like us. He's all, right, but he's cracked, you know.

When did you decide to close that down?
I don't know. I was controlling the scene at the time, I mean, I was the one going in the office and shouting about. Paul had done it for six months, and then I walked in and changed everything. There were all the Peter Browns reporting behind my back to Paul, saying, "You know, John's doing this and John's doing that, that John, he's crazy," I was always the one that must be crazy, because I wouldn't let them have status quo.

Well, Yoko and I together, we came up with the idea to give it all away, and stop fuckin' about with a psychedelic clothes shop, so we gave it all away. It was a good happening.

Were you at the big giveaway?
No, we read it in the papers. That was when we started events. I learned events from Yoko. We made everything into events from then on and got rid of it.

You gave away your M.B.E.?
I'd been planning on it for over a year and a bit. I was waiting for a time to do it.

You said then that you were waiting to tag it to some event, then you realized that it was the event.
That's the truth.

You also said then that you had another thing you were going to do.
I don't know what it was.

Do you remember?
Yes, I do. Well, we always had . . . we always kept them on their toes, during our events period. I don't know, but we said we had some other surprise for them later. I can't remember what it was.

Yoko: Probably War Is Over, the poster event.

To go back to Apple and the breakup of the Beatles, Brian died, and one thing and another. . . . 
I didn't really want to talk about all this . . . go on.

Do you mind?
Well, we're half-way through it now, so let's do it.

You said you quit the Beatles first.
Yes.

How?
I said to Paul "I'm leaving."

I knew on the flight over to Toronto or before we went to Toronto: I told Allen I was leaving, I told Eric Clapton and Klaus that I was leaving then, but that I would probably like to use them as a group. I hadn't decided how to do it – to have a permanent new group or what – then later on, I thought fuck, I'm not going to get stuck with another set of people, whoever they are.

I announced it to myself and the people around me on the way to Toronto a few days before. And on the plane – Klein came with me – I told Allen, "It's over." When I got back, there were a few meetings, and Allen said well, cool it, cool it, there was a lot to do, businesswise you know, and it would not have been suitable at the time.

Then we were discussing something in the office with Paul, and Paul said something or other about the Beatles doing something, and I kept saying "No, no, no" to everything he said. So it came to a point where I had to say something, of course, and Paul said, "What do you mean?"

I said, "I mean the group is over, I'm leaving."

Allen was there, and he will remember exactly and Yoko will, but this is exactly how I see it. Allen was saying don't tell. He didn't want me to tell Paul even. So I said, "It's out," I couldn't stop it, it came out. Paul and Allen both said that they were glad that I wasn't going to announce it, that I wasn't going to make an event out of it. I don't know whether Paul said "Don't tell anybody," but he was darned pleased that I wasn't going to. He said, "Oh, that means nothing really happened if you're not going to say anything."

So that's what happened. So, like anybody when you say divorce, their face goes all sorts of colors. It's like he knew really that this was the final thing; and six months later he comes out with whatever. I was a fool not to do it, not to do what Paul did, which was use it to sell a record.

You were really angry with Paul?
No, I wasn't angry.

Well, when he came out with this "I'm leaving."
No, I wasn't angry – shit, he's a good P.R. man, that's all. He's about the best in the world, probably. He really does a job. I wasn't angry. We were all hurt that he didn't tell us that was what he was going to do.

I think he claims that he didn't mean that to happen but that's bullshit. He called me in the afternoon of that day and said, "I'm doing what you and Yoko were doing last year." I said good, you know, because that time last year they were all looking at Yoko and me as if we were strange trying to make our life together instead of being fab, fat myths. So he rang me up that day and said I'm doing what you and Yoko are doing, I'm putting out an album, and I'm leaving the group too, he said. I said good. I was feeling a little strange, because he was saying it this time, although it was a year later, and I said "good," because he was the one that wanted the Beatles most, and then the midnight papers came out.

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Song Stories

“Santa Monica”

Everclear | 1996

After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

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