What do you think rock and roll will become?
Whatever we make it. If we want to go bullshitting off into intellectualism with rock and roll then we are going to get bullshitting rock intellectualism. If we want real rock and roll, it's up to all of us to create it and stop being hyped by the revolutionary image and long hair. We've got to get over that bit. That's what cutting hair is about. Let's own up now and see who's who, who is doing something about what, and who is making music and who is laying down bullshit. Rock and roll will be whatever we make it.
Why do you think it means so much to people?
Because the best stuff is primitive enough and has no bullshit. It gets through to you, it's beat, go to the jungle and they have the rhythm. It goes throughout the world and it's as simple as that, you get the rhythm going because everybody goes into it. I read that Eldridge Cleaver said that Blacks gave the middle class whites back their bodies, and put their minds and bodies together. Something like that. It gets through; it got through to me, the only thing to get through to me of all the things that were happening when I was 15. Rock and roll then was real, everything else was unreal. The thing about rock and roll, good rock and roll – whatever good means and all that shit – is that it's real and realism gets through to you despite yourself. You recognize something in it which is true, like all true art. Whatever art is, readers. OK. If it's real, it's simple usually, and if it's simple, it's true. Something like that.
Rock and roll finally got through to Yoko.
Yoko: Classical music was basically 4-4 and then it went into 4, 3, 2, which is just a waltz rhythm and all of that, but it just went further and further away from the heartbeat. Heartbeat is 4-4. Rhythm became very decorative, like Schoenberg, Webern. It is highly complicated and interesting – our minds are very much like that – but they lost the heartbeat.
I went to see the Beatles' session in the beginning, and I thought, Oh well. So I said to John, "Why do you always use that beat all the time? The same beat, why don't you do something a bit more complicated?"
John: If somebody starts playing that intellectual on me, I'm going to start thinking. I'm a very shy person; if somebody attacks, I shrink. Yoko is an intellectual, a supreme intellectual, so I really know what I'm talking about; they have to have sort of a math formula.
You feel basically the same way about rock and roll at 30 as you did at 15.
Well, it will never be as new and it will never again do what it did to me then, but like "Tutti Fruitti" or "Long Tall Sally" is pretty avant garde. A friend of Yoko's in the village was talking about Dylan and "the One Note" as though he just discovered it. That's about as far out as you can get.
The blues are beautiful because it's simpler and because it's real. It's not perverted or thought about: It's not a concept, it is a chair; not a design for a chair but the first chair. The chair is for sitting on, not for looking at or being appreciated. You sit on that music.
How would you describe "Beatle music"?
It means a lot of things. There is not one thing that's Beatle music. How can they talk about it like that? What is Beatle music? "Walrus" or "Penny Lane"? Which? It's too diverse: "I Want to Hold Your Hand" or "Revolution Number Nine?"
What was it in your music that turned everyone on at first? Why was it so infectious?
We didn't sound like everybody else. We didn't sound like the black musicians because we weren't black and we were brought up on an entirely different type of music and atmosphere. So "Please, Please Me" and "From Me To You" and all of those were our version of the chair. We were building our own chairs, that's all, and they were sort of local chairs.
The first gimmick was the harmonica. There had been "Hey, Baby" with a harmonica and there was a terrible thing called "I Remember You" in England. All of a sudden we started using it on "Love Me Do." The first set of tricks was double tracking on the second album. I would love to remix some of the early stuff, because it is better than it sounds.
What do you think of those concerts like the Hollywood Bowl?
It was awful, I hated it. Some of them were good, but I didn't like Hollywood Bowl. Some of those big gigs were good, but not many of them.
In an interview with Jon Cott a year or so ago, you said something about your favorite song being "Ticket to Ride."
Yeah, I liked it because it was a slightly new sound at the time. But it's not my favorite song.
In what way was it new?
It was pretty fuckin' heavy for then. It's a heavy record, that's why I like it. I used to like guitars.
In "Glass Onion" you say, "The Walrus is Paul," yet in the new album you admit that you were the Walrus.
"I Am the Walrus" was originally the B side of "Hello Goodbye"! I was still in my love cloud with Yoko and I thought, well, I'll just say something nice to Paul: "It's all right, you did a good job over these few years, holding us together." He was trying to organize the group, and organize the music, and be an individual and all that, so I wanted to thank him. I said "the Walrus is Paul" for that reason. I felt, "Well, he can have it. I've got Yoko, and thank you, you can have the credit."
But now I'm sick of reading things that say Paul is the musician and George is the philosopher. I wonder where I fit in, what was my contribution? I get hurt, you know, sick of it. I'd sooner be Zappa and say, "Listen, you fuckers, this is what I did, and I don't care whether you like my attitude saying it." That's what I am, you know, I'm a fucking artist, and I'm not a fucking P.R. Agent or the product of some other person's imagination. Whether you're the public or whatever, I'm standing by my work whereas before I would not stand by it.
That's what I'm saying: I was the Walrus, whatever that means. We saw the movie Alice in Wonderland in L.A. and the Walrus is a big capitalist that ate all the fuckin' oysters. If you must know, that's what he was even though I didn't remember this when I wrote it.
What did you think of Abbey Road?
I liked the "A" side but I never liked that sort of pop opera on the other side. I think it's junk because it was just bits of songs thrown together. "Come Together" is all right, that's all I remember. That was my song. It was a competent album, like Rubber Soul. It was together in that way, but Abbey Road had no life in it.
What was it like recording "Instant Karma" with Phil? It was the first thing you did together.
It was great. I wrote it in the morning on the piano. I went to the office and sang it many times. So I said "Hell, let's do it," and we booked the studio, and Phil came in, and said, "How do you want it?" I said, "You know, 1950's." He said, "right," and boom, I did it in about three goes or something like that. I went in and he played it back and there it was. The only argument was that I said a bit more bass, that's all; and off we went.
You see Phil is great at that; he doesn't fuss about with fuckin' stereo or all the bullshit. Does it sound all right? Then let's have it, no matter whether something's prominent or not prominent. If it sounds good to you as a layman or a human, take it, don't bother whether this is like that or the quality of this, just take it.
When did you first become aware of the idea of stereo, being able to work with stereo?
Oh, some time or other. There was a period when we started realizing that you could go and remix it yourself. We started listening to them and started saying, "Well, why can't you do that?" We'd be just standing by the board saying, "Well, what about that?" And George Martin would say, "Well, how do you like this?" In the early days, they just would present us with finished product. We would ask what happened to the bass or something. And they would say "oh, that's how it is, you can't . . . " That kind of thing. It must have been a gradual thing.
What do you think of "Give Peace A Chance?"
As a record?
The record was beautiful.
Did you ever see Moratorium Day in Washington, D.C.?
That is what it is for, you know. I remember hearing them all sing it – I don't know whether it was on the radio or TV – it was a very big moment for me. That's what the song was about.
You see, I'm shy and aggressive so I have great hopes for what I do with my work and I also have great despair that it's all pointless and it's shit. You know, how can you beat Beethoven or Shakespeare or whatever? In me secret heart I wanted to write something that would take over "We Shall Overcome." I don't know why. The one they always sang, and I thought, "Why doesn't somebody write something for the people now, that's what my job and our job is."
I have the same kind of hope for "Working Class Hero." It's a different concept, but I feel it's a revolutionary song.
In what respect?
It's really just revolutionary. I think its concept is revolutionary, and I hope it's for workers and not for tarts and fags. I hope it's what "Give Peace A Chance" was about, but I don't know. On the other hand, it might just be ignored.
I think it's for the people like me who are working class – whatever, upper or lower – who are supposed to be processed into the middle classes, through the machinery, that's all. It's my experience, and I hope it's just a warning to people. I'm saying it's a revolutionary song; not the song itself but that it's a song for the revolution.
[Here we took a break, during which John and Allen Klein went out to discuss the possibility of a single. We began talking again, alone with Yoko, about that.]
Do you have a feeling for a Number One record?
I keep thinking "Mother" is a commercial record, because all the time I was writing it, it was the one I was singing the most, it's the one that seemed to catch on in my head. I'm convinced that "Mother" is a commercial record.
You agree? Well, thank you, but you said "God."
No, I didn't.
They're all playing "God" or "Isolation."
Well, you're right about "Mother" because it's the one I have in my head most of the time.
It's the politics in it, too. Politics will prepare the ground for my album, same as "My Sweet Lord" prepared the ground for George's. I'm not going to get hits just like that; people are not just going to buy my album just because Rolling Stone liked it, or because they're going to play it tonight, or because Pete's a good pusher. People have got to be hyped in a way, they've got to have it presented to them in all the best ways that are possible. Maybe "Love" is the best way. I like the song "Love"; I like the melody and the words and everything, I think its beautiful, but I'm more of a rocker. I originally conceived of "Mother" and "Love" as being a single, but now, I think that "Mother" is too heavy. Maybe Allen's right. "Love" will do me more good.
I don't think so. I think "trust your own instinct." The thing with "Mother" is that's what the album's about. What will stay in your head the longest?
I'm opening a door for John Lennon, not for music or for the Beatles or for anybody or anything.
Capitol is now trying to say that this is John Lennon, one of the Beatles and therefore, it's a different deal. When they were on the McCartney bandwagon, which they were on, and they thought that I was just an idiot pissing about with a Japanese broad, they didn't want to put out the music we were making like "Toronto" because they didn't like the idea. They were content to let me be a "Plastic Ono Band" and give me a special release I have to get, because the Beatles are tied up as Beatles.
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