Exclusive: Comic-Book Superstar Grant Morrison Channeled John Lennon. Hear the Song They Wrote
When comic-book legend Grant Morrison met up with me in their hometown of Glasgow, Scotland, for an in-depth Rolling Stone profile back in 2011, they ended up dropping what would become a widely cited quote on the absurdities of asking for realism in superhero stories: “You give an adult fiction,” said Morrison, who created the beloved, reality-warping, The Matrix-influencing cult series The Invisibles and has had acclaimed runs on every major superhero comic you could name, “and the adult starts asking really fucking dumb questions like… ‘Who pumps the Batmobile’s tires?’ It’s a fucking made-up story, you idiot! Nobody pumps the tires!”
But Morrison, who is both a longtime practitioner of a form of ritual magic and a former rock musician, also revealed to Rolling Stone that they once conducted an elaborate ritual to summon John Lennon, and wrote a song in the process, while also receiving ideas that ended up in The Invisibles. “I got this image, this thing, like a huge Lennon head made out of music,” said Morrison, who uses they/them pronouns. “It gave me a song – it’s a pretty convincing John Lennon song.”
Morrison has recently been combing through archives for their latest project, an eclectic, fascinating Substack called Xanaduum, and found a four-track demo made in 1995 for the “Lennon” song with their former band, the Mixers, who once opened for Primal Scream. With an arrangement by their friend Danny Vallely, Morrison thinks it sounds like a “Rutles B-side,” or maybe something the Beatles would’ve thrown onto a Christmas fan club release. “I think it’s quite interesting,” Morrison says now. We’re debuting it above, and Morrison’s Substack will also feature a newer acoustic version of the song, recorded at his friend Gerard Way’s studio with producer Doug McKean (who also just worked on My Chemical Romance’s comeback single, “Foundations of Decay”).
Morrison, who has their first novel, Luda, due in September, spoke via Zoom from rural Scotland to discuss the Lennon ritual, their time writing TV over the past decade (Happy, Brave New World), the state of superheroes, why they’re baffled by the recent accusations against their onetime collaborator Ezra Miller (they worked on a potential Flash screenplay a few years back), and more.
So, how did you channel John Lennon again?
I think it was October the 9th, 1993, which would have been Lennon’s 53rd birthday if he hadn’t been shot. And I was about to start on the Invisibles comic, and I wanted to launch with this kind of magical experiment. I wanted to see if I could start off by summoning a spirit of psychedelic inspiration for the project. I figured there was a way of using John Lennon as a psychedelic God because, you know, I’d always been a Beatles fan. At the time, there was an upsurge of Sixties-style stuff again, Creation Records and acid house, eventually Oasis. So I thought, well, I’ll take Lennon, and the idea of Lennon — if I treat them like the way you would a god or a demon or an angel — I may be able to summon a spirit of Lennon. And again, this wasn’t the real Lennon, the problematic Lennon — this was the idea of Lennon as a kind of psychedelic avatar and as a kind of creative source.
I got all my Beatles shit on — a paisley shirt, and I had the Chelsea boots. I had this white 12-string Rickenbacker, and I put “Tomorrow Never Knows” on a loop on headphones, and laid down all the albums and images around a magic circle and basically just summoned Lennon the way that you would summon a god in a ritual. You are crowding everything from consciousness that doesn’t make you think of John Lennon… And this demo is an exact record of this bizarre moment where I did the ritual and summoned Lennon, and I got the Invisibles out of it, and I got this crazy little song. It’s a bizarre artifact.
You worked with Flash actor Ezra Miller, who is facing a series of ever-wilder accusations, from clashes with police in Hawaii to a family accusing him of grooming their child (which she denies). What do you make of their current situation?
I know they’ve had these problems. I haven’t spoken to them for a while, and the last time I spoke was long, long before this. All I can say is that it’s just not the person I know. I’ve heard stories just like everyone else. I just don’t know. Ezra cut off contact from pretty much everyone for a while. It’s not the person they were. They weren’t aggressive in any way. I just thought Ezra was a super-intelligent kid with so many talents. So all I can say is that I didn’t see that side in any way with them.
And what was the deal with the ultimately unused Flash screenplay you wrote with Ezra?
Well, there had been a few versions, and as far as I remember, Ezra just wasn’t quite happy with what they were getting at the time. And Ezra had a lot of ideas; they came to me with a book of ideas. And then we worked together. It really was just the two of us. They came over here to Scotland and hung out, and we wrote this thing. I really liked it. Warner Bros. only gave us two weeks! It was cruelty, you know. It was hardcore. We had to be like the Flash to get this thing done, and they were looking for something quite different. I got paid, and it was good fun. It didn’t do the job they were looking for, which was to franchise things and set things up, and bring other characters in. It was a Flash story, so it wasn’t where they wanted to go with multiverse and stuff. And that was the end of it.
You spent decades on your own writing boundary-pushing comic books and then spent time in the 2010s working in Hollywood. What was that change like for you?
I really loved it. I had been lucky that I just did my stuff, and DC published it. You know, it’s like being Bob Dylan or something. But then you go to the television and movie world, and there’s so much collaboration. It’s like being in a band again. I learned so much, you know, just from watching how other people work. I hated the routine and the travel, but the in-between was great fun. If you don’t have an idea that day, someone else will. There’s a lot less control over the finished project, but I loved it, and I’m happy to do it again.
Did you ever have any contact with Marvel Studios?
Way back at the start, before even [current president] Kevin Feige was involved — I knew those guys back then — and I pitched Dr. Strange, and I pitched them Moon Knight. But they just never took us seriously because we were comic-book guys. It was just always, “we need to get our own people to do this.” They’ve got the formula now, and it really works well, but back then, it was very much, “Hollywood people should be doing this stuff, not you freaky comic guys.” But you know, that never stopped them from stealing our stuff [laughs]. They’re quite happy to put their hands in our pockets for whatever they needed to! I had a great Doctor Strange pitch, but obviously, they went their own way.
In your 2011 book Supergods, you basically predicted the current level of superhero dominance at the box office.
There are great ones. I’m really looking forward to Thor [Love and Thunder]. I love the colorful ones — the ones that are more like the actual Marvel source. I’m not so keen on the street-level Marvel stuff. But it was obvious this was going to happen. Utopian images of a future are few and far between; we’ve talked ourselves into a world where there is no future. So I think people still are clinging on to that last rope — “who knows, maybe we’ll become superhuman, maybe we’ll get through this.” But the truth is, these images are very infantile, and the fear of the future is driving that return to the past. Everyone’s recycling stories and recycling characters that were at their best a long time ago. It’s emblematic of cultural stagnation. At the same time, I think it’s the last flicker of light in a lot of ways in mainstream popular culture, which is still trending towards the dark. But we need something new.
The current vogue for multiverses suggests both hunger for better worlds and also corporate enthusiasm for an obvious way to expand their toy boxes, right?
I definitely agree. In terms of the capitalist owners of all the franchises, I said back in the day that the multiverse would become huge because, basically, it’s Diet Coke and original Coke. It’s the same thing, but just different enough that they can resell it to you.
It’s weird that they can’t make Superman work on screen, isn’t it?
It’s baffling. But I think it’s an American problem particularly. The best Superman I’ve read recently is Tom King’s Superman [2020’s comic book Up in the Sky]; that’s the best writing I’ve seen by an American on Superman over the last few years. But I think there was there was a loss of faith and innocence that ran through America from the Seventies onwards, and the notion of Superman got caught up in that. Superman himself became seen as an outmoded fantasy version of America’s self-image — this notion of the global policeman with supreme power, but you know, using it wisely and driven by his simplistic moral code instilled by his upbringing in the grain fields of Kansas. And so Superman became more questioning and less confident. And Superman doesn’t work when he’s questioning and less confident. And more and more, he became seen as something from the past, like Felix the Cat or Betty Boop. But I think writers from outside the U.S. saw Superman as not having to represent the United States, and we didn’t need him to have feet of clay. He can represent a model of what we might be, and I’ve yet to see anyone even try that in a movie… I think that would make a great movie rather than this doomed melancholy Jesus figure who’s utterly unappealing.
Would you mind speaking a bit about your gender identity?
I did an interview [in 2020] with a friend of mine, and I said, if these words had been around when I was a kid, which they weren’t, I would be genderqueer. I’d be non-binary. And, “isn’t it great that kids now have words with which to talk about these experiences.” And this got picked up on as some kind of coming out, even though it wasn’t the first time I talked about it… I hated for it to be seen as something I’ve just finally figured out. I’m 62 years old — I had my sexuality shit figured out a long time ago! I used to walk around town, and this was who I was, I didn’t dress as a boy or a girl. I don’t feel like any gender, and I never have. I just feel like what I am. But people picked up on it [in 2020], and it gave a lot of people support and encouragement. The “they” thing was kind of given to me, and I’ve accepted it as a badge of honor.
Finally, tell me a little more about September’s Luda, which will be your first novel, and is apparently about drag queens and magic, among other things.
It’s two drag queens, basically a younger one and an older one. And it’s telling a very old story, but it’s also me versus the novel. It plays a lot of tricks, and it’s a thriller as well. I think I managed to do something experimental and commercial, and I’ve spent my life trying to do something like that.
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