Life as a Beatle for John Lennon was never as fab or gear in the days of Beatlemania as most people believed. Nor is life as a Beatle today all that pleasant for Lennon.
In fact, he said in interviews to the British pop press, a Beatle split-up is a possibility. “It just depends how much we all want to record together. I don’t know if I want to record together again. I go off and on it.”
John, talking to the New Musical Express, explained the problem: “In the old days, when we needed an album, Paul and I got together and produced enough songs for it. Nowadays, there’s three of us writing prolifically and trying to fit it all into one album. Or we have to think of a double album every time, which takes six months.
“That’s the hang-up we have. It’s not a personal, ‘the Beatles are fighting’ thing, so much as an actual, physical problem….None of us want to be background musicians most of the time. We didn’t spend ten years making it to have the freedom of recording studios, to be able to have two tracks on an album.
“It’s nothing new, the way things are. It’s human. I’m more interested in my songs, Paul’s more interested in his, and George is more interested in his, that’s always been. It’s just that usually in the past, George lost out because Paul and I are tougher.”
“We’ve always said we had fights,” Lennon said. “It’s no news that we argue.”
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Apparently the fighting goes pretty far back. In an interview with Melody Maker last week, Lennon discussed earlier peeves:
“In the beginning,” he said, “it was a constant fight between Brian (Epstein) and Paul on one side, and me and George on the other. Brian put us in neat suits and shirts, and Paul was right behind him. I didn’t dig that, and I used to try to get George to rebel with me. I’d say ‘Look, we don’t need these —— (a word blanked out by Melody Maker) suits. Let’s chuck them out of the window.’
“My little rebellion was to have my tie loose, with the top button of my shirt undone, but Paul’d always come up to me and put it straight.”
“I saw a film the other night,” he continued, “the first television film we ever did…and there we were in suits and everything … —it just wasn’t us, and watching that film I knew that that was where we started to sell out.
“We had to do a lot of selling out then. Taking the MBE was a sellout for me.” Lennon says he stalled on accepting the MBE when the Beatles first got notice from the Royal Palace of the award——”I chucked the letter in with all the fan-mail”——until Epstein and others persuaded the Beatles to accept.
It was hypocritical to take the MBE, Lennon said, “but I’m glad, really, that I did, because it meant that four years later I could use it to make a gesture.”
While the Beatles did accept the MBE in 1965, Lennon said, they did manage to refuse “all sorts of things that people don’t know about.” For example, the group did a Royal Variety Show and was asked to make it a yearly thing——”but we always said ‘stuff it.’ So every year there was a story in the papers saying: ‘Why no Beatles for the Queen?’ which was funny, because they didn’t know we’d refused it.”
The power to be different——and still be was among the greatest rewards of being a Beatle, said Lennon——”and conquering America was the best thing. You see, we wanted to be bigger than Elvis——that was the main thing. At first we wanted to be Goffin and King, then we wanted to be Eddie Cochran, then Buddy Holly, and finally we arrived at wanting to be bigger than the biggest——and that was Elvis.
“We reckoned we could make it because there were four of us. None of us would’ve made it alone, because Paul wasn’t quite strong enough, I didn’t have enough girl-appeal, George was too quiet, and Ringo was the drummer. But we thought that everyone would be able to dig at least one of us, and that’s how it turned out.”
But just as four distinct individuals pulled together to form the Beatles, the distinct individualism of each Beatle now seems to be pulling the group apart. Ringo has completed his second film role and is working on a solo album; George is increasing his volume of songwriting and has hitched up on a tour with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends; while Paul has become the isolated family man, estranged from Apple and Beatle activity.
The split between Paul and John is especially noticeable when Lennon discusses the Beatles:
“Paul and I have differences of opinion on how things should be run,” he told the New Musical Express. “But instead of it being a private argument about how an LP should be done, or a certain track, it’s now a larger argument about the organization of Apple itself.”
The major disagreements, Lennon said, are over Allen Klein, the Beatles’ business manager. “Paul was always waiting for This Guy to just appear and come and save us from the mess we were in. And we were in a mess, and only my saying it to the press that time enabled Klein to hear about it, and come over.
“It’s no use pretending we can be here all the time. But all my income was going into Apple and being wasted by the joy-riding people who were here. I just wanted it to stop. So we needed a business man.”
Now, John says, “Our job is to put the creative side into Apple. If the Beatles never recorded together again, but each put their creative efforts through Apple…that at least would be better than me having a company, Paul having a company, George having a company, and Ringo having a company. Together we at least have that much more power.”
The Beatles never cutting a record together again sounds like a distinct possibility to John. “I can see it happening,” he said. “The Beatles can go on appealing to a wide audience as long as they make albums like Abbey Road, which have nice little folk songs like ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ for the grannies to dig.”
Lennon music, more and more, is Plastic Ono Band music. When he wrote, in his letter explaining why he was returning to his MBE, that part of the reason was “Cold Turkey” slipping down the charts, the tongue was only half in cheek.
“Cold Turkey” was important to John, he said, for a simple reason: “Because it’s my record. When I wrote it, I went to the other three Beatles and said, ‘Hey, lads, I think I’ve written a new single.’ But they all said, ‘Ummm…arrr…welll,’ because it was going to be my project, and so I thought, ‘Bugger you, I’ll put it out myself.’
“But that had happened once before, when I was wanting to put ‘Revolution’ out as a single, but ‘Hey Jude’ went out instead.”
“I don’t bother so much about the others’ songs,” John said. “For instance, I don’t give a damn about how ‘Something’ is doing in the charts——I watch ‘Come Together’ (the flip side) because that’s my song.
“That is why I’ve started with the Plastic Ono and working with Yoko…to have more outlet. There isn’t enough outlet for me in the Beatles. The Ono Band is my escape valve. And how important that gets, as compared to the Beatles for me, I’ll have to wait and see.”
If the Beatles can loosen up——a la Plastic Ono, Ginger Baker’s new Air Force, and Delaney and Bonnie, John will be more likely to stay at it. “I always wanted to have other people on our records,” he said, “like the Stones and our other friends. But some of the others wanted to keep it tight——just the Beatles, you know? But you —it’s starting to get looser, and there should be some fantastic sessions in the next few years. That’s what I wanted all along.”