What did being from Liverpool have to do with your art?
It was a port. That means it was less hick than somewhere in the English Midlands, like the American Midwest or whatever you call it. We were a port, the second biggest port in England, between Manchester and Liverpool. The North is where the money was made in the Eighteen Hundreds, that was where all the brass and the heavy people were, and that's where the despised people were.
We were the ones that were looked down upon as animals by the Southerners, the Londoners. The Northerners in the States think that people are pigs down South and the people in New York think West Coast is hick. So we were hicksville.
We were a great amount of Irish descent and blacks and Chinamen, all sorts there. It was like San Francisco, you know. That San Francisco is something else! Why do you think Haight-Ashbury and all that happened there? It didn't happen in Los Angeles, it happened in San Francisco, where people are going. L.A. you pass through and get a hamburger.
There was nothing big in Liverpool; it wasn't American. It was going poor, a very poor city, and tough. But people have a sense of humor because they are in so much pain, so they are always cracking jokes. They are very witty, and it's an Irish place. It is where the Irish came when they ran out of potatoes, and it's where black people were left or worked as slaves or whatever.
It is cosmopolitan, and it's where the sailors would come home with the blues records from America on the ships. There is the biggest country & western following in England in Liverpool, besides London – always besides London, because there is more of it there.
I heard country and western music in Liverpool before I heard rock and roll. The people there – the Irish in Ireland are the same – they take their country and western music very seriously. There's a big heavy following of it. There were established folk, blues and country and western clubs in Liverpool before rock and roll and we were like the new kids coming out.
I remember the first guitar I ever saw. It belonged to a guy in a cowboy suit in a province of Liverpool, with stars, and a cowboy hat and a big dobro. They were real cowboys, and they took it seriously. There had been cowboys long before there was rock and roll.
What do you think of America?
I love it, and I hate it. America is where it's at. I should have been born in New York, I should have been born in the Village, that's where I belong. Why wasn't I born there? Paris was it in the Eighteenth Century, London I don't think has ever been it except literary-wise when Wilde and Shaw and all of them were there. New York was it.
I regret profoundly that I was not an American and not born in Greenwich Village. That's where I should have been. It never works that way. Everybody heads toward the center, that's why I'm here now. I'm here just to breathe it. It might be dying and there might be a lot of dirt in the air that you breathe, but this is where it's happening. You go to Europe to rest, like in the country. It's so overpowering, America, and I'm such a fuckin' cripple, that I can't take much of it, it's too much for me.
Yoko: He's very New York, you know.
John: I'm frightened of it. People are so aggressive, I can't take all that I need to go home, I need to have a look at the grass. I'm always writing about my English garden. I need the trees and the grass; I need to go into the country, because I can't stand too much people.
Right after Sergeant Pepper George came to San Francisco.
George went over in the end. I was all for going and living in the Haight. In my head, I thought, "Acid is it, and let's go, I'll go there." I was going to go there, but I'm too nervous to do anything, actually. I thought I'll go there and we'll live there and I'll make music and live like that. Of course, it didn't come true.
But it happened in San Francisco. It happened all right, didn't it. I mean it goes down in history. I love it. It's like when Shaw was in England, and they all went to Paris; and I see all that in New York, San Francisco and London, even London. We created something there – Mick and us, we didn't know what we were doing, but we were all talking blabbing over coffee, like they must have done in Paris, talking about paintings. . . . Me, Burdon and Brian Jones would be up night and day talking about music, playing records, and blabbing and arguing and getting drunk. It's beautiful history, and it happened in all these different places. I just miss New York. In New York they have their own cool clique. Yoko came out of that.
This is the first time I'm really seeing it, because I was always too nervous, I was always the famous Beatle. Dylan showed it to me once on sort of a guided tour around the Village, but I never got any feel of it. I just knew Dylan was New York, and I always sort of wished I'd been there for the experience that Bob got from living around here.
What is the nature of your relationship with Bob?
It's sort of an acquaintance, because we were so nervous whenever we used to meet. It was always under the most nervewracking circumstances, and I know I was always uptight and I know Bobby was. We were together and we spent some time, but I would always be too paranoid or I would be aggressive or vice versa and we didn't really speak. But we spent a lot of time together.
He came to me house, which was Kenwood, can you imagine it, and I didn't know where to put him in this sort of bourgeois home life I was living; I didn't know what to do and things like that. I used to go to his hotel rather, and I loved him, you know, because he wrote some beautiful stuff. I used to love that, his so-called protest things. I like the sound of him, I didn't have to listen to his words, he used to come with his acetate and say "Listen to this, John, and did you hear the words?" I said that doesn't matter, the sound is what counts – the overall thing. I had too many father figures and I liked words, too, so I liked a lot of the stuff he did. You don't have to hear what Bob Dylan's is saying, you just have to hear the way he says it.
Do you see him as a great?
No, I see him as another poet, or as competition. You read my books that were written before I heard of Dylan or read Dylan or anybody, it's the same. I didn't come after Elvis and Dylan, I've been around always. But if I see or meet a great artist, I love 'em. I go fanatical about them for a short period, and then I get over it. If they wear green socks I'm liable to wear green socks for a period too.
When was the last time you saw Bob?
He came to our house with George after the Isle of Wight and when I had written "Cold Turkey."
Yoko: And his wife.
John: I was just trying to get him to record. We had just put him on piano for "Cold Turkey" to make a rough tape but his wife was pregnant or something and they left. He's calmed down a lot now.
I just remember before that we were both in shades and both on fucking junk, and all these freaks around us and Ginsberg and all those people. I was anxious as shit, we were in London, when he came.
You were in that movie with him, that hasn't been released.
I've never seen it but I'd love to see it. I was always so paranoid and Bob said "I want you to be in this film." He just wanted to me to be in the film.
I thought why? What? He's going to put me down; I went all through this terrible thing.
In the film, I'm just blabbing off and commenting all the time, like you do when you're very high or stoned. I had been up all night. We were being smart alecks, it's terrible. But it was his scene, that was the problem for me. It was his movie. I was on his territory, that's why I was so nervous. I was on his session.
You're going back to London, what's a rough picture of your immediate future, say the next three months.
I'd like to just vanish just a bit. It wore me out, New York. I love it. I'm just sort of fascinated by it, like a fucking monster. Doing the films was a nice way of meeting a lot of people. I think we've both said and done enough for a few months, especially with this article. I'd like to get out of the way and wait till they all. . . .
Do you have a rough picture of the next few years?
Oh no, I couldn't think of the next few years; it's abysmal thinking of how many years there are to go, millions of them. I just play it by the week. I don't think much ahead of a week.
I have no more to ask.
Well, fancy that.
Do you have anything to add?
No, I can't think of anything positive and heartwarming to win your readers over.
Do you have a picture of "when I'm 64"?
No, no. I hope we're a nice old couple living off the coast of Ireland or something like that – looking at our scrapbook of madness.
This story is from the February 4th, 1971 issue of Rolling Stone.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
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