Would you take it all back?
Being a Beatle?
If I could be a fuckin’ fisherman I would. If I had the capabilities of being something other than I am, I would. It’s no fun being an artist. You know what it’s like, writing, it’s torture. I read about Van Gogh, Beethoven, any of the fuckers. If they had psychiatrists, we wouldn’t have had Gauguin’s great pictures. These bastards are just sucking us to death; that’s about all that we can do, is do it like circus animals.
I resent being an artist, in that respect, I resent performing for fucking idiots who don’t know anything. They can’t feel. I’m the one that’s feeling, because I’m the one that is expressing. They live vicariously through me and other artists, and we are the ones . . . even with the boxers – when Oscar comes in the ring, they’re booing the shit out of him, he only hits Clay once and they’re all cheering him. I’d sooner be in the audience, really, but I’m not capable of it.
One of my big things is that I wish to be a fisherman. I know it sounds silly – and I’d sooner be rich than poor, and all the rest of that shit – but I wish the pain was ignorance or bliss or something. If you don’t know, man, then there’s no pain; that’s how I express it.
What do you think the effect was of the Beatles on the history of Britain?
I don’t know about the “history”; the people who are in control and in power, and the class system and the whole bullshit bourgeoisie is exactly the same, except there is a lot of fag middle class kids with long, long hair walking around London in trendy clothes, and Kenneth Tynan is making a fortune out of the word “fuck.” Apart from that, nothing happened. We all dressed up, the same bastards are in control, the same people are runnin’ everything. It is exactly the same.
We’ve grown up a little, all of us, there has been a change and we’re all a bit freer and all that, but it’s the same game. Shit, they’re doing exactly the same thing, selling arms to South Africa, killing blacks on the street, people are living in fucking poverty, with rats crawling over them. It just makes you puke, and I woke up to that too.
The dream is over. It’s just the same, only I’m thirty, and a lot of people have got long hair. That’s what it is, man, nothing happened except that we grew up, we did our thing – just like they were telling us. You kids – most of the so called “now generation” are getting a job. We’re a minority, you know, people like us always were, but maybe we are a slightly larger minority because of maybe something or other.
Why do you think the impact of the Beatles was so much bigger in America than it was in England?
The same reason that American stars are so much bigger in England: the grass is greener. We were really professional by the time we got to the States; we had learned the whole game. When we arrived here we knew how to handle the press; the British press were the toughest in the world and we could handle anything. We were all right.
On the plane over, I was thinking “Oh, we won’t make it,” or I said it on a film or something, but that’s that side of me. We knew we would wipe you out if we could just get a grip on you. We were new.
And when we got here, you were all walking around in fuckin’ bermuda shorts, with Boston crew cuts and stuff on your teeth. Now they’re telling us, they’re all saying, “Beatles are passé and this is like that, man.” The chicks looked like fuckin’ 1940 horses. There was no conception of dress or any of that jazz. We just thought “what an ugly race,” it looked just disgusting. We thought how hip we were, but, of course, we weren’t. It was just the five of us, us and the Stones were really the hip ones; the rest of England were just the same as they ever were.
You tend to get nationalistic, and we would really laugh at America, except for its music. It was the black music we dug, and over here even the blacks were laughing at people like Chuck Berry and the blues singers; the blacks thought it wasn’t sharp to dig the really funky music, and the whites only listened to Jan and Dean and all that. We felt that we had the message which was “listen to this music.” It was the same in Liverpool, we felt very exclusive and underground in Liverpool, listening to Richie Barret and Barrett Strong, and all those old-time records. Nobody was listening to any of them except Eric Burdon in Newcastle and Mick Jagger in London. It was that lonely, it was fantastic. When we came over here and it was the same – nobody was listening to rock and roll or to black music in America – we felt as though we were coming to the land of its origin but nobody wanted to know about it.
“Eleanor Rigby” I wrote a good half of the lyrics or more.
When did Paul show you “Yesterday”?
I don’t remember – I really don’t remember, it was a long time ago. I think he was . . . I really don’t remember, it just sort of appeared.
Who do you think has done the best versions of your stuff?
I can’t think of anybody.
Ray Charles doing “Yesterday”?
That was quite nice.
I never went much for the covers. It doesn’t interest me, really. I like people doing them – I’ve heard some nice versions on “In My Life,” I don’t know who it was, though. [Judy Collins], José Feliciano did “Help” quite nice once. I like people doing it, I get a kick out of it. I thought it was interesting that Nina Simone did a sort of answer to “Revolution.” That was very good – it was sort of like “Revolution,” but not quite. That I sort of enjoyed, somebody who reacted immediately to what I had said.
Who wrote “Nowhere Man”?
Did you write that about anybody in particular?
Probably about myself. I remember I was just going through this paranoia trying to write something and nothing would come out so I just lay down and tried to not write and then this came out, the whole thing came out in one gulp.
What songs really stick in your mind as being Lennon-McCartney songs?
“I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “From Me To You,” “She Loves You” – I’d have to have the list, there’s so many, trillions of ’em. Those are the ones. In a rock band you have to make singles, you have to keep writing them. Plenty more. We both had our fingers in each others pies.
I remember that the simplicity on the new album was evident on the Beatles double album. It was evident in “She’s So Heavy,” in fact a reviewer wrote of “She’s So Heavy”: “He seems to have lost his talent for lyrics, it’s so simple and boring.” “She’s So Heavy” was about Yoko. When it gets down to it, like she said, when you’re drowning you don’t say “I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,” you just scream. And in “She’s So Heavy,” I just sang “I want you, I want you so bad, she’s so heavy, I want you,” like that. I started simplifying my lyrics then, on the double album.
A song from the ‘Help’ album, like “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” How did you write that? What were the circumstances? Where were you?
I was in Kenwood and I would just be songwriting. The period would be for songwriting and so every day I would attempt to write a song and it’s one of those that you sort of sing a bit sadly to yourself, “Here I stand, head in hand. . . .”
I started thinking about my own emotions – I don’t know when exactly it started like “I’m a Loser” or “Hide Your Love Away” or those kind of things – instead of projecting myself into a situation I would just try to express what I felt about myself which I’d done in me books. I think it was Dylan helped me realize that – not by any discussion or anything but just by hearing his work – I had a sort of professional songwriter’s attitude to writing pop songs; he would turn out a certain style of song for a single and we would do a certain style of thing for this and the other thing. I was already a stylized songwriter on the first album. But to express myself I would write Spaniard in the Works or In His Own Write, the personal stories which were expressive of my personal emotions. I’d have a separate song-writing John Lennon who wrote songs for the sort of meat market, and I didn’t consider them – the lyrics or anything – to have any depth at all. They were just a joke. Then I started being me about the songs, not writing them objectively, but subjectively.
What about on Rubber Soul, “Norwegian Wood”?
I was trying to write about an affair without letting me wife know I was writing about an affair, so it was very gobbledegook. I was sort of writing from my experiences, girls’ flats, things like that.
Where did you write that?
I wrote it at Kenwood.
When did you decide to put a sitar on it?
I think it was at the studio. George had just got the sitar and I said “Could you play this piece?” We went through many different sort of versions of the song, it was never right and I was getting very angry about it, it wasn’t coming out like I said. They said, “Well just do it how you want to do it” and I said, “Well I just want to do it like this.” They let me go and I did the guitar very loudly into the mike and sang it at the same time and then George had the sitar and I asked him could he play the piece that I’d written, you know, dee diddley dee diddley dee, that bit, and he was not sure whether he could play it yet because he hadn’t done much on the sitar but he was willing to have a go, as is his wont, and he learned the bit and dubbed it on after. I think we did it in sections.
You also have a song on that album “In My Life.” When did you write that?
I wrote that in Kenwood. I used to write upstairs where I had about ten Brunell tape recorders all linked up, I still have them, I’d mastered them over the period of a year or two – I could never make a rock and roll record but I could make some far out stuff on it. I wrote it upstairs, that was one where I wrote the lyrics first and then sang it. That was usually the case with things like “In My Life” and “Universe” and some of the ones that stand out a bit.
Would you just record yourself and a guitar on a tape and then bring it in to the studio?
I would do that just to get an impression of what it sounded like sung and to hear it back for judging it – you never know ’til you hear the song yourself. I would double track the guitar or the voice or something on the tape. I think on “Norwegian Wood” and “In My Life” Paul helped with the middle eight, to give credit where it’s due.
From the same period, same time, I never liked “Run For Your Life,” because it was a song I just knocked off. It was inspired from – this is a very vague connection – from “Baby Let’s Play House.” There was a line on it – I used to like specific lines from songs – “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man” – so I wrote it around that but I didn’t think it was that important. “Girl” I liked because I was, in a way, trying to say something or other about Christianity which I was opposed to at the time.
Why Christianity in that song?
Because I was brought up in the church. One of the reviews of In His Own Write was that they tried to put me in this satire boom with Peter Cook and those people that came out of Cambridge, saying well he’s just satirizing the normal things like the church and the state, which is what I did in In His Own Write. Those are the things that you keep satirizing because they’re the only things. I was pretty heavy on the church in both books, but it was never picked up although it was obviously there. I was just talking about Christianity in that – a thing like you have to be tortured to attain heaven. I’m only saying that I was talking about “pain will lead to pleasure” in “Girl” and that was sort of the Catholic Christian concept – be tortured and then it’ll be alright, which seems to be a bit true but not in their concept of it. But I didn’t believe in that, that you have to be tortured to attain anything, it just so happens that you were.
Let me ask you about one on the double album, “Glass Onion.” You set out to write a little message to the audience.
Yeah, I was having a laugh because there’d been so much gobbledegook about Pepper, play it backwards and you stand on your head and all that.
Even now, I just saw Mel Torme on TV the other day saying that “Lucy” was written to promote drugs and so was “A Little Help From My Friends” and none of them were at all – “A Little Help From My Friends” only says get high in it, it’s really about a little help from my friends, it’s a sincere message. Paul had the line about “little help from my friends,” I’m not sure, he had some kind of structure for it and – we wrote it pretty well 50-50 but it was based on his original idea.
Why did you make “Revolution”?
There’s three of them.
Starting with the single.
When George and Paul and all of them were on holiday, I made “Revolution” which is on the LP and “Revolution #9.” I wanted to put it out as a single, I had it all prepared, but they came by, and said it wasn’t good enough. And we put out what? “Hello Goodbye” or some shit like that? No, we put out “Hey Jude,” which was worth it – I’m sorry – but we could have had both.
I wanted to put what I felt about revolution; I thought it was time we fuckin’ spoke about it, the same as I thought it was about time we stopped not answering about the Vietnamese War when we were on tour with Brian Epstein and had to tell him, “We’re going to talk about the war this time and we’re not going to just waffle.” I wanted to say what I thought about revolution.
I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India. I still had this “God will save us” feeling about it, that it’s going to be all right (even now I’m saying “Hold on, John, it’s going to be all right,” otherwise, I won’t hold on) but that’s why I did it, I wanted to talk, I wanted to say my piece about revolution. I wanted to tell you, or whoever listens, to communicate, to say “What do you say? This is what I say.”
On one version I said “Count me in” about violence, in or out, because I wasn’t sure. But the version we put out said “Count me out,” because I don’t fancy a violent revolution happening all over. I don’t want to die; but I begin to think what else can happen, you know, it seems inevitable.
“Revolution #9” was an unconscious picture of what I actually think will happen when it happens; that was just like a drawing of revolution. All the thing was made with loops, I had about thirty loops going, fed them onto one basic track. I was getting classical tapes, going upstairs and chopping them up, making it backwards and things like that, to get the sound effects. One thing was an engineer’s testing tape and it would come on with a voice saying “This is EMI Test Series #9.” I just cut up whatever he said and I’d number nine it. Nine turned out to be my birthday and my lucky number and everything. I didn’t realize it; it was just so funny the voice saying “Number nine”; it was like a joke, bringing number nine into it all the time, that’s all it was.
Yoko: It also turns out to be the highest number you know, one, two, etc., up to nine.
John: There are many symbolic things about it but it just happened you know, just an engineer’s tape and I was just using all the bits to make a montage. I really wanted that released.
So that’s my feeling. The idea was don’t aggravate the pig by waving the thing that aggravates – by waving the Red flag in his face. You know, I really thought that love would save us all. But now I’m wearing a Chairman Mao badge.
I’m just beginning to think he’s doing a good job. I would never know until I went to China. I’m not going to be like that, I was just always interested enough to sing about him. I just wondered what the kids who were actually Maoists were doing. I wondered what their motive was and what was really going on. I thought if they wanted revolution, if they really want to be subtle, what’s the point of saying “I’m a Maoist and why don’t you shoot me down?” I thought that wasn’t a very clever way of getting what they wanted.
You don’t really believe that we are headed for a violent revolution?
I don’t know; I’ve got no more conception than you. I can’t see . . . eventually it’ll happen, like it will happen – it has to happen; what else can happen? It might happen now, or it might happen in a hundred years, but. . . .
Having a violent revolution now might just be the end of the world.
Not necessarily. They say that every time, but I don’t really believe it, you see. If it is, OK, I’m back to where I was when I was 17 and at 17 I used to wish a fuckin’ earthquake or revolution would happen so that I could go out and steal and do what the blacks are doing now. If I was black, I’d be all for it; if I were 17 I’d be all for it, too. What have you got to lose? Now I’ve got something to lose. I don’t want to die, and I don’t want to be hurt physically, but if they blow the world up, fuck it, we’re all out of our pain then, forget it, no more problems!
You sing, “Hold on world. . . .”
I sing “Hold on John,” too, because I don’t want to die. I don’t want to be hurt, and “please don’t hit me.”
You think by holding on it will be all right?
It’s only going to be all right – it’s now, this moment. That’s all right this moment, and hold on now; we might have a cup of tea or we might get a moment’s happiness any minute now, so that’s what it’s all about, just moment by moment; that’s how we’re living, cherishing each day and dreading it, too. It might be your last day – you might get run over by a car – and I’m really beginning to cherish it. I cherish life.
“Happiness is a Warm Gun” is a nice song.
Oh, I like that one of my best, I had forgotten about that. Oh, I love it. I think it’s a beautiful song. I like all the different things that are happening in it. Like “God,” I had put together some three sections of different songs, it was meant to be – it seemed to run through all the different kinds of rock music.
It wasn’t about “H” at all. “Lucy In The Sky” with diamonds which I swear to God, or swear to Mao, or to anybody you like, I had no idea spelled L.S.D. – and “Happiness” – George Martin had a book on guns which he had told me about – I can’t remember – or I think he showed me a cover of a magazine that said “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.” It was a gun magazine, that’s it: I read it, thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say. A warm gun means that you just shot something.
When did you realize that those were the initials of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”?
Only after I read it or somebody told me, like you coming up. I didn’t even see it on the label. I didn’t look at the initials. I don’t look – I mean I never play things backwards. I listened to it as I made it. It’s like there will be things on this one, if you fiddle about with it. I don’t know what they are. Everytime after that though I would look at the titles to see what it said, and usually they never said anything.
You said to me “Sgt. Pepper is the one.” That was the album?
Well, it was a peak. Paul and I were definitely working together, especially on “A Day In The Life” that was a real . . . The way we wrote a lot of the time: you’d write the good bit, the part that was easy, like “I read the news today” or whatever it was, then when you got stuck or whenever it got hard, instead of carrying on, you just drop it; then we would meet each other, and I would sing half, and he would be inspired to write the next bit and vice versa. He was a bit shy about it because I think he thought it’s already a good song. Sometimes we wouldn’t let each other interfere with a song either, because you tend to be a bit lax with someone else’s stuff, you experiment a bit. So we were doing it in his room with the piano. He said “Should we do this?” “Yeah, let’s do that.”
I keep saying that I always preferred the double album, because my music is better on the double album; I don’t care about the whole concept of Pepper, it might be better, but the music was better for me on the double album, because I’m being myself on it. I think it’s as simple as the new album, like “I’m So Tired” is just the guitar. I felt more at ease with that than the production. I don’t like production so much. But Pepper was a peak all right.
Yoko: People think that’s the peak and I’m just so amazed. . . . John’s done all that Beatle stuff. But this new album of John’s is a real peak, that’s higher than any other thing he has done.
John: Thank you, dear.
Do you think it is?
Yeah, sure. I think it’s “Sergeant Lennon.” I don’t really know how it will sink in, where it will lie, in the spectrum of rock and roll and the generation and all the rest of it, but I know what it is. It’s something else, it’s another door.
Yoko: That you don’t even know yet or realize it.
John: I’m sneakingly aware of it, but not fully, until it is all over like anyone else. We didn’t really know what Pepper was going to do or what anything was going to do. I had a feeling, but, I don’t know whether it’s going to settle down in a minority position. The new album could do that because, in one way it’s terribly uncommercial, it’s so miserable in a way and heavy, but it’s reality, and I’m not going to veer away from it for anything.
Yoko: I was thinking that Tom Jones is like medium without message, but John’s stuff is like the message is the medium; it’s the message. He didn’t need any decorative sound, or decorativeness about it. That is why in some songs it seems that the accompaniment is simple but it’s like an urgent message, I feel.
John: Thank you and good night.
How did you get in touch with Allen Klein?
I got various messages through various people that Allen Klein would like to talk to you. Really, it was Mick who got us together. I mean I knew who he was. I didn’t want to talk. I had heard about him over the years; the first time I heard about him was that he said one day he would have the Beatles, and this was when Brian was with us. He had offered Brian this good deal, which in retrospect was something Brian should have done. This was years ago. I had heard about all these dreadful rumors about him but I could never coordinate it with the fact that the Stones seemed to be going on and on with him and nobody ever said a word. Mick’s not the type to just clam up, so I started thinking he must be all right.
But still, when I heard he wanted to see me, I got nervous, because “some business man wants to see me, it’s going to be business and business makes me nervous.” Finally I got a message from Mick – Allen had really set up the whole deal you know, Mick and us nearly went into Apple together a few years back and we had big meetings and discussions about the studios and all of that, but it never happened – and Allen would have come in that way. That was after Brian died, but it didn’t happen. All these approaches were coming from all over the place, and then I met him at the “Rock and Roll Circus” [the TV film] which has never been seen, with John and Yoko performing together for the first time with a crazy violinist and Keith on bass and all that–I always regret that – and I met him there. I didn’t know what to make of him; we just shook hands and then . . . Yoko, what happened next?
Yoko: Then one day we finally decided to meet him, you remember. . . .
John: I don’t know, we just decided to meet him. Did we call him or did we accept his call? He called me once, but I never accepted it; I never accepted the call at the house; I think in Kenwood once he called, and I didn’t take it, I was too nervous.
I don’t like talking to strangers as it is, strangers want to talk about reality, or something else, so I didn’t accept the call. Then finally did we accept the call or did I put a call through? He’ll tell you.
Do you know he knows the lyrics to every fuckin’ song you could ever imagine from the Twenties on? I was with him last night eating, and I was just singing a few things – Yoko thinks I know every song, I know millions of songs – I’m like a juke box, thousands upon millions. G chords and so on – but Allen not only knows it, but he knows every fuckin’ word, even the chorus. He’s got a memory like that, so ask him. But then we met and it was very traumatic.
In what way?
We are both very nervous. He was nervous as shit, and I was nervous as shit, and Yoko was nervous. We met at the Dorchester, we went up to his room, and we just went in you know.
He was sitting there all nervous. He was all alone, he didn’t have any of his helpers around, because he didn’t want to do anything like that. But he was very nervous, you could see it in his face. When I saw that I felt better. We talked to him a few hours, and we decided that night, he was it!
What made you decide that?
He not only knew my work, and the lyrics that I had written but he also understood them, and from way back. That was it. If he knew what I was saying and followed my work, then that was pretty damn good, because it’s hard to see me, John Lennon, amongst that. He talked sense about what had happened. He just said what was going on, and I just knew.
He is a very intelligent guy; he told me what was happening with the Beatles, and my relationship with Paul and George and Ringo. He knew every damn thing about us, the same as he knows everything about the Stones. He’s a fuckin’ sharp man.
There are things he doesn’t know, but when it comes to that kind of business, he knows. And anybody that knew me that well – without having met me – had to be a guy I could let look after me.
So I wrote to Sir Joe Lockwood that night. We were so pleased, I didn’t care what the others might say. I told Allen, “You can handle me.“
Yoko had become my advisor so that I wouldn’t go into Maharishi’s anymore. It was Derek and Yoko and I interviewing people coming in to take over Apple when we were running it at Wigmore Street, and Yoko would sit behind me and I’d play me games and she would tell me what they were doing when I blinked, and how they were in her opinion, because she wasn’t as stupid or emotional as me. And I’ve never had that except when the Beat