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Lennon Remembers, Part One

In a raw, candid interview, he talks about Beatles’ breakup, Yoko, and why ‘John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band,’ is “the best thing I’ve ever done”

John Lennon being interviewed on the street, New York, circa 1970.

Art Zelin/Getty Images

This interview took place in New York City on December 8th, shortly after John and Yoko finished their albums in England. They came to New York to attend to the details of the release of the album, to make some films, and for a private visit. Those who aided in the transcribing and editing were Jonathon Cott, Charles Perry, Sheryl Ball and Ellen Wolper.

What do you think of your album?
I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I think it’s realistic and it’s true to the me that has been developing over the years from my life. “I’m a Loser,” “Help,” “Strawberry Fields,” they are all personal records. I always wrote about me when I could. I didn’t really enjoy writing third person songs about people who lived in concrete flats and things like that. I like first person music. But because of my hang-ups and many other things; I would only now and then specifically write about me. Now I wrote all about me and that’s why I like it. It’s me! And nobody else. That’s why I like it. It’s real, that’s all.

I don’t know about anything else, really, and the few true songs I ever wrote were like “Help” and “Strawberry Fields.” I can’t think of them all offhand. They were the ones I always considered my best songs. They were the ones I really wrote from experience and not projecting myself into a situation and writing a nice story about it. I always found that phony, but I’d find occasion to do it because I’d be so hung up, I couldn’t even think about myself. 

On this album, there is practically no imagery at all.
Because there was none in my head. There were no hallucinations in my head.

There are no “newspaper taxis.”
Actually, that’s Paul‘s line. I was consciously writing poetry, and that’s self-conscious poetry. But the poetry on this album is superior to anything I’ve done because it’s not self-conscious, in that way. I had least trouble writing the songs of all time.

Yoko: There’s no bullshit.

John: There’s no bullshit.

The arrangements are also simple and very sparse.
Well, I’ve always liked simple rock. There’s a great one in England now, “I Hear You Knocking.” I liked the “Spirit in the Sky” a few months back. I always liked simple rock and nothing else. I was influenced by acid and got psychedelic, like the whole generation, but really, I like rock and roll and I express myself best in rock. I had a few ideas to do this with “Mother” and that with “Mother” but when you just hear, the piano does it all for you, your mind can do the rest. I think the backings on mine are as complicated as the backings on any record you’ve ever heard, if you’ve got an ear.

Anybody knows that. Any musician will tell you, just play a note on a piano, it’s got harmonics in it. It got to that. What the hell, I didn’t need anything else.

How did you put together that litany in “God”?
What’s “litany?”

“I don’t believe in magic,” that series of statements.
Well, like a lot of the words, it just came out of me mouth. “God” was put together from three songs almost. I had the idea that “God is the concept by which we measure pain,” so that when you have a word like that, you just sit down and sing the first tune that comes into your head and the tune is simple, because I like that kind of music and then I just rolled into it. It was just going on in my head and I got by the first three or four, the rest just came out. Whatever came out.

When did you know that you were going to be working towards “I don’t believe in Beatles”?
I don’t know when I realized that I was putting down all these things I didn’t believe in. So I could have gone on, it was like a Christmas card list: where do I end? Churchill? Hoover? I thought I had to stop.

Yoko: He was going to have a do it yourself type of thing.

John: Yes, I was going to leave a gap, and just fill in your own words: whoever you don’t believe in. It had just got out of hand, and Beatles was the final thing because I no longer believe in myth, and Beatles is another myth.

I don’t believe in it. The dream is over. I’m not just talking about the Beatles, I’m talking about the generation thing. It’s over, and we gotta – I have to personally – get down to so-called reality.

When did you become aware that that song would be the one that is played the most?
I didn’t know that. I don’t know. I’ll be able to tell in a week or so what’s going on, because they [the radio] started off playing “Look At Me” because it was easy, and they probably thought it was the Beatles or something. So I don’t know if that is the one. Well, that’s the one; “God” and “Working Class Hero” probably are the best whatevers – sort of ideas or feelings – on the record.

Why did you choose or refer to Zimmerman, not Dylan.
Because Dylan is bullshit. Zimmerman is his name. You see, I don’t believe in Dylan and I don’t believe in Tom Jones, either in that way. Zimmerman is his name. My name isn’t John Beatle. It’s John Lennon. Just like that.

Why did you tag that cut at the end with “Mummy’s Dead”?
Because that’s what’s happened. All these songs just came out of me. I didn’t sit down to think, “I’m going to write about Mother” or I didn’t sit down to think “I’m going to write about this, that or the other.” They all came out, like all the best work that anybody ever does. Whether it is an article or what, it’s just the best ones that come out, and all these came out, because I had time. If you are on holiday or in therapy, wherever you are, if you do spend time . . . like in India I wrote the last batch of best songs, like “I’m So Tired” and “Yer Blues.” They’re pretty realistic, they were about me. They always struck me as – what is the word? Funny? Ironic? – that I was writing them supposedly in the presence of guru and meditating so many hours a day, writing “I’m So Tired” and songs of such pain as “Yer Blues” which I meant. I was right in the Maharishi’s camp writing “I wanna die . . . “

“Yer Blues,” was that also deliberately meant to be a parody of the English blues scene?
Well, a bit. I’m a bit self-conscious – we all were a bit self-consci