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Lennon Remembers, Part Two

Page 7 of 9

Why Warhol?
Because he is an original, and he's great. He is an original great and he is in so much pain. He's got his fame, he's got his own cinema and all of that. I don't dig that junkie fag scene he lives in; I don't know whether he lives like that or what. I dig Heinz Soup cans. That was something, that wasn't just a pop art, or some stupid art. Warhol said it, nobody's else has said it – Heinz Soup. He's said that to us, and I thanked him for it.

What do you think of Fellini?
Fellini's just like Dalí, I suppose. It's a great meal to go and see Fellini, a great meal for your senses.

Like Citizen Kane, that's something else, too. Poor old Orson, he goes on Dick Cavett, and says "Please love me, now I'm a big fat man, and I've eaten all this food, and I did so well when I was younger, I can act, I can direct, and you're all very kind to me, but at the moment I don't do anything."

Do you see a time when you'll retire?
No. I couldn't, you know.

Yoko: He'll probably work until he's eighty or until he dies.

John: I can't foresee it. Even when you're a cripple you carry on painting. I would paint if I couldn't move. It doesn't matter, you see, when I was saying what Yoko did with "Greenfield Morning" – took half an inch she taped and none of us knew what we were doing, and I saw her create something. I saw her start from scratch with something we would normally throw away. With the other stuff we did, we were all good in the backing and everything went according to plan, it was a good session, but with "Greenfield Morning" and "Paper Shoes" there was nothing there for her to work with. She just took nothing – the way Spector did – that's the way the genius shows through any media. You give Yoko or Spector a piece of tape, two inches of tape, they can create a symphony out of it. You don't have to be trained in rock and roll to be a singer; I didn't have to be trained to be a singer: I can sing. Singing is singing to people who enjoy what you're singing, not being able to hold notes – I don't have to be in rock and roll to create. When I'm an old man, we'll make wallpaper together, but just to have the same depth and impact. The message is the medium.

What is holding people back from understanding Yoko?
She was doing all right before she met Elvis. Howard Smith announced he was going to play her music on FM and all these idiots rang up and said "Don't you dare play it, she split the Beatles." She didn't split the Beatles and even if she did what does that have to do with it or her fucking record. She is a woman, and she's Japanese; there is racial prejudice against her and there is female prejudice against her. It's as simple as that.

Her work is far out, Yoko's bottom thing is as important as Sgt. Pepper. The real hip people know about it. There are a few people that know; there is a person in Paris who knows about her; a person in Moscow knows about her; there's a person in fucking China that knows about her. But in general, she can't be accepted, because she's too far out. It's hard to take. Her pain is such that she expresses herself in a way that hurts you – you cannot take it. That's why they couldn't take Van Gogh, it's too real, it hurts; that's why they kill you.

How did you meet Yoko?
I'm sure I've told you this many times. How did I meet Yoko? There was a sort of underground clique in London; John Dunbar, who was married to Marianne Faithful, had an art gallery in London called Indica and I'd been going around to galleries a bit on my off days in between records. I'd been to see a Takis exhibition, I don't know if you know what that means, he does multiple electro-magnetic sculptures, and a few exhibitions in different galleries who showed these sort of unknown artists or underground artists. I got the word that this amazing woman was putting on a show next week and there was going to be something about people in bags, in black bags, and it was going to be a bit of a happening and all that. So I went down to a preview of the show. I got there the night before it opened. I went in – she didn't know who I was or anything – I was wandering around, there was a couple of artsy type students that had been helping lying around there in the gallery, and I was looking at it and I was astounded. There was an apple on sale there for 200 quid, I thought it was fantastic – I got the humor in her work immediately. I didn't have to sort of have much knowledge about avant garde or underground art, but the humor got me straight away. There was a fresh apple on a stand, this was before Apple – and it was 200 quid to watch the apple decompose. But there was another piece which really decided me for-or-against the artist, a ladder which led to a painting which was hung on the ceiling. It looked like a blank canvas with a chain with a spy glass hanging on the end of it. This was near the door when you went in. I climbed the ladder, you look through the spyglass and in tiny little letters it says "yes".

So it was positive. I felt relieved. It's a great relief when you get up the ladder and you look through the spyglass and it doesn't say "no" or "fuck you" or something, it said "yes."

I was very impressed and John Dunbar sort of introduced us – neither of us knew who the hell we were, she didn't know who I was, she'd only heard of Ringo I think, it means apple in Japanese. And John Dunbar had been sort of hustling her saying "that's a good patron, you must go and talk to him or do something" because I was looking for action, I was expecting a happening and things like that. John Dunbar insisted she say hello to the millionaire, you know what I mean. And she came up and handed me a card which said "Breathe" on it, one of her instructions, so I just went (pant). That was our meeting.

Then I went away and the second time I met her was at a gallery opening of Claes Oldenberg in London. We were very shy, we sort of nodded at each other and we didn't know – she was standing behind me, I sort of looked away because I'm very shy with people, especially chicks. We just sort of smiled and stood frozen together in this cocktail party thing.

The next thing was she came to me to get some backing – like all the bastard underground do – for a show she was doing. She gave me her Grapefruit book and I used to read it and sometimes I'd get very annoyed by it; it would say things like "paint until you drop dead" or "bleed" and then sometimes I'd be very enlightened by it and I went through all the changes that people go through with her work – sometimes I'd have it by the bed and I'd open it and it would say something nice and it would be alright and then it would say something heavy and I wouldn't like it. There was all that and then she came to me to get some backing for a show and it was half a wind show. I gave her the money to back it and the show was, this was in a place called Lisson Gallery, another one of those underground places. For this whole show everything was in half: there was half a bed, half a room, half of everything, all beautifully cut in half and all painted white. And I said to her "why don't you sell the other half in bottles?" having caught on by then what the game was and she did that –  this is still before we'd had any nuptials – and we still have the bottles from the show, it's my first. It was presented as "Yoko Plus Me" – that was our first public appearance. I didn't even go to see the show, I was too uptight.

When did you realize that you were in love with her?
It was beginning to happen; I would start looking at her book and that but I wasn't quite aware what was happening to me and then she did a thing called Dance Event where different cards kept coming through the door everyday saying "Breathe" and "Dance" and "Watch all the lights until dawn," and they upset me or made me happy depending on how I felt.

I'd get very upset about it being intellectual or all fucking avant garde, then I'd like it and then I wouldn't. Then I went to India with the Maharoonie and we were corresponding. The letters were still formal but they just had a little side to them. I nearly took her to India as I said but I still wasn't sure for what reason, I was still sort of kidding myself, with sort of artistic reasons, and all that.

When we got back from India we were talking to each other on the phone. I called her over, it was the middle of the night and Cyn was away, and I thought well now's the time if I'm gonna get to know her anymore. She came to the house and I didn't know what to do; so we went upstairs to my studio and I played her all the tapes that I'd made, all this far out stuff, some comedy stuff, and some electronic music. She was suitably impressed and then she said well let's make one ourselves so we made "Two Virgins." It was midnight when we started "Two Virgins," it was dawn when we finished, and then we made love at dawn. It was very beautiful.

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“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

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