Saturday, June 10, 2006

John as Jesus

by Pete Shotton

Perhaps the most memorable evening I ever spent with John Lennon began routinely enough in the recording studio at the far end of his attic. We shared a piece of LSD, smoked a few joints, and idly amused ourselves with John's network of Brunell tape recorders.

Since John had recently become infatuated with the work of Karlheinz Stockhausen, one of our favorite pastimes at that particular juncture - May 1968 - was to improvise "music concrete" by fiddling about with feedback, running our recordings backwards, and constructing tape loops. This time we opened the windows to the spring air, and were shouting out whatever came into our heads at the uncomprehending trees while the tapes rolled in the room behind us. I, for one, had no inkling that this particular evening's lark was destined to be captured for posterity on the Beatles' "White Album," as part of "Revolution 9."

In due course we tired of "messing about with the tapes," and ended up sitting cross-legged on the floor. (Cyn, by the way, was off on holiday in Greece with Magic Alex.) Our conversation grew increasingly hushed and serious as John spoke of his disillusionment with the Maharishi, and with everyone else to whom he had ever looked for guidance. Then he lapsed into a long silence, leaving me to stare absent-mindedly at the wall, at a picture of Brigitte Bardot, thinking about the things I wouldn't have minded doing to her, flashing back to the way John and I used to talk about Brigitte when we were just kids.

Suddenly John began waving his arms in the air, making slow, swirling motions with his outstretched hands. And out of the blue he announced, in an awed whisper: "Pete, I think I'm Jesus Christ."

"What was that again, John?"

"Yeah," he said, and I could see he was dead serious. "I think I'm Jesus Christ. I'm . . . back again."

Accustomed as I was to the utter unpredictability of John Lennon, this was the one revelation I could never have anticipated. But, I said to myself, who am I to judge: even Jesus Christ had to decide he was Jesus Christ at some point. "Well, then," I finally ventured, "what are you gonna do about it?"

"I've got to tell everyone," he said, "I've got to let the world know . . . who I am."

"They'll fucking kill you," I said. "They won't accept that, John."

"That can't be hlped," he said firmly. "How old was Jesus when they killed him?"

"I'm not sure," I said. "I reckon he was about thirty-two."

Conquering his lifelong aversion to math, John paused a moment to make a simple calculation with his fingers. "Hell," he said, "at least I've got about four years."

"Well," I said. "What's brought all this on, then?"

"I just think this is it. This is my reason for being here on this earth." It was almost dawn, and John was growing increasingly agitated. I still felt at a total loss about what to make of John's latest vagary.

"Don't you think being John Lennon is enough?"


"You could do as much being John Lennon as being Jesus Christ. And look at all the trouble religion's caused. As John Lennon, you've been able to bring together people from all over the world, regardless of their religion, race, or creed."

But John was adamant, absolutely convinced he was Jesus. "First thing tomorrow," he concluded, "we'll go into Apple and tell the others."

The next thing we were aware of was the footsteps of Dot the housekeeper, who had just come in for the day. Somehow John and I had both managed to fall asleep in a heap on the floor, and opened our eyes as one to catch Dot gazing back at us.

Startled into wakefulness, John bounded to his feet. "Oh Christ," he said. "She'll think that we're fucking each other."

"Why on earth," I said groggily, "would she think something like that? We've got our clothes on, for a start."

Far from forgetting the previous night's metamorphosis, John quickly got down to business. The so-called inner circle - comprising the Beatles, Derek Taylor, Neil Aspinall, and myself - was summoned to a secret board meeting at Apple. All took their places in a state of keen suspence over the reason for this urgent conclave.

"Right," John began from behind his desk, "I've something very important to tell you all. I am . . . Jesus Christ come back again. This is my thing."

Paul, George, Ringo, and their closest aides stared back, stunned. I found the scene utterly surreal, and was half-laughing inwardly, thinking to myself with real affection, "What the fucking hell is he going to get up to next?" That was really the magic of the man - you never knew.

Even after regaining their powers of speech, nobody presumed to cross-examine John Lennon, or to make light of his announcement. On the other hand, no specific plans were made for the new Messiah, as all agreed that they would need some time to ponder John's announcement, and to decide upon appropriate further steps. The meeting was quickly adjourned, as it was also unanimously agreed that we should all have a drink and a bite to eat.

At the restaurant, while we were waiting for a table, an affable older fellow recognized John and said: "Really nice to meet you. How are you?"

"Actually," John replied, as sincere as I'd ever seen him, "I'm Jesus Christ."

"Oh, really," said the man blandly. "Well, I loved your last record. Thought it was great."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Interview: Derek Taylor - 1995

Bob Hieronimus: About eight years ago, in 1987, when the 20th anniversaries of Sgt. Pepper and the Summer of Love were being celebrated on Baltimore TV, I was part of a panel that included Derek Taylor, author of "It Was Twenty Years Ago Today," and certainly Derek was the most knowledgeable soul before the cameras, but to my dismay, he was being ignored by the talk-show host. I wasn't amused. But, Derek...

Derek Taylor: The more I'm ignored, the better.

BH: I wasn't amused. But Derek appeared unconcerned, just as you said. Imagine, coming three thousand miles to relate his unparalleled experience with the pop and rock scene in the '60's and not being pursued by the host, and yet, that's my image of Baltimore's media, and that's one reason why Zoh and I decided to launch 21st Century Radio, the very next year.

From 1963 to December 31st, 1966, when he decided to live up to his New Year's resolution and drop out, Derek Taylor served as Beatles' press officer. Coming out of retirement a few months later, he co-founded the legendary Monterey Pop Festival. Today, Derek still serves as press officer for Apple and I'm still searching for a copy of his, "Fifty Years Adrift," a deluxe autobiography of his life with the Beatles. It took me only eleven years, eleven years to locate a copy of one of his other books, "As Time Goes By," but, it kept me smiling for months. Welcome to 21st Century Radio's Hieronimus & Co. Derek.

DT: Thank you Bob.

BH: Well, during the mid- to late-60's, consciousness was focused on the attempt to end all wars, and in particular, those in southeast Asia, fortunately, the musicians from that era worked nearly unanimously towards world peace. Would you evaluate consciousness in the 90's compared to that of thirty years ago?

DT: Consciousness in the '90's seems to directed largely to people doing the very best they can for themselves. Lining their own pockets, paying hardly any tax, and generally being selfish. But there are, of course vast exceptions to that rule. These are not the '60's or the '70's. Students now are not students then. And there has been, I think, quite a move towards selfishness. We've begun with a drift towards the "Me Generation." And this is not unusual, most people have been like this for most of history I believe. We did have a window though then, when we believed that the world would be a much, much nicer place.

BH: We certainly did. I thought it was going to last a lot longer than it did Derek.

DT: Well, it just shows how starry-eyed and foolish we were. However,
I'm not a cynic.

BH: Well, neither am I, but still you've got to...

DT: Nor, indeed, a pessimist.

BH: But, you've got to face what's coming up here. Now, perhaps one of the most misunderstood aspects of the '60's, was the use of natural herbs and products to elevate consciousness. The use of marijuana and mescaline, in my opinion, did wonders to open up the consciousness of millions of souls to gain a greater grasp of what it is to be a human.

Today, these natural plants are outlawed, and in the United States, those that are caught with a joint could not only be sent to prison for decades, but lose all, all of their personal possessions as well. What's the difference in how natural drugs were used 30 years ago, and how they are used today, and why do you believe the established powers would prevent the personal use of marijuana and mescaline, when the United States Government for one, has used the sale of drugs, heroine and cocaine, to fund its secret wars in southeast Asia and central America and elsewhere? That was a long question for you, Derek.

DT: It is a long question. The answer is, I don't know. I don't know to what extent there's evidence of the latter part of your question-statement. I'm not sure about that, that's something you may have more information on. As to why cannabis is still illegal, I just don't know. Even in England, where we have less oppressive laws, there's still a very negative climate against it, and the Labor party, of which I'm a member, it's official policy is to, that it should remain illegal, though it is a class two drug, and possession is punished very lightly. And even the growing thereof, which is not widespread, not to the same extent that it is per se in Hawaii or northern California, again, is not punished too brutally.

There are moves now, including an increased fine, the fine's gone up from 500 to 2,500 to collaborate a bit more. Because it's a very popular, it's a very popular law, the law against cannabis. More people believe in a law against cannabis, than believe it should be decriminalized. So, until politicians can see that there's a huge ground swell of popular opinion against it, ... there is, and the rationality is, of course because alcohol and tobacco are not only legal, but advertised, in some ways encouraged and heavily taxed and people profit thereby in all manner of ways.

There's always been paradox and ambivalence, ambiguity, hypocrisy and all that in administrative decisions. I don't personally understand it. And a lot of people now have given up on the decriminalization of cannabis and their making their own personal decisions without the same, certainly in England, without the same courage that they were in the very early '60's, when people were quite severely punished. Now, I know things are different in America, and I know that there are some draconian laws there.

BH: We sure have them here. But, again, the use of marijuana and mescaline were used much differently back in the '60's than they are in the '90's.

DT: It very well may be for all I know.

BH: Well, perhaps it has something to do with the emphasis that came later in the '70's and '80's of "me first" kind of stuff. People kind of maybe looked at themselves and said, "You know, I don't particularly like myself."

DT: Well, we have to... The constant battle is the ugly against the beautiful. And the ugly part of it is that which seeks to line our pockets and adorn ourselves and our lives with our own possessions, to the exclusion of our fellow man. It's always been the same, that's why we have to have some kind of a belief in a higher power or attempt to manifest some kind of divinity within ourselves or at least try to be decent human beings. And it's tough because selfishness is such a raging instinct.

BH: Indeed.

DT: Isn't it?

BH: It sure is. It's unbearable here in this country.

DT: Why, in all of us, in all of us. "I need this," and "I need that," "I got to have this," "I've got to have a vacation." "I've got to have a raise." And not sort of necessarily going up to somebody you know and saying "You better have a raise," "You better have a vacation." It's, I'm afraid, to me, the first thing is raise. Anyway...

BH: Well, let's get to the...

DT: Let's get to nut of the matter, whatever it is. And the nut of the matter is why are we here? How did we get here and where are we going?

BH: Well, we're going to find that out in a second. Now, we hear time and again that the youth of the United States and elsewhere feel that they can do nothing to stop the oncoming world fascism of the New World Order. What would you say to them, is it possible at this time to offer hope to the younger people?

DT: Oh we have to, yes. The hope has to come from the younger people. But, of course, terrible things are happening every day. We lost, I believe, a very great statesman in Rabin, yesterday. I was greatly knocked back by that. I'm not Jewish, but I think he was a changed man, cause he was a man of war, turned to a man of peace.

And these are the, there is always some kind of awful public world discouragement, if you like, some decent human being gets bumped off. And others who seem to thrive and live on into old age doing more and more harm. But anyway, my idea is that the young must, in their immediate lives, this is really the best that you can hope for I think, and with so much power in so few hands, of world global power, the young have to attend to their own immediate, domestic situation. And really try hard to be pleasant, even in just small day to day things. It's very difficult taking on global concerns if you, actually are behaving quite selfishly or badly in your own immediate environment.

BH: Good point.

DT: We have got enormous power within, each of us, within ourselves there's enormous power. See, but we only have our own power and the power we can derive from some kind of spiritual values, in the long run. I was looking at the paper on the way to work, and seeing so many things that I could, you know there's a saying, "I feel a letter coming on." If you could write to so and so about.... No matter how many letters you'd write, in fact the more letters you write, the more insane you'd need to be. Particularly if you use green ink.

BH: You like to use green ink, huh?

DT: We do have the power, I mean, I can come in here in some kind of raging panic, cause there's so much work going on, but if I can be reasonably pleasant to the people around me, at least I can make their day a little bit better. I hate to be so pious, but we can do it here right now. And of course the big thing to realize, I think, when all is said and done, is we have to be here now. There's not a lot we can do about tomorrow, there's nothing we can do about yesterday, but we can make the immediate moment a good deal better than it already is, I believe by an active role. Be here now.

BH: Well, Baba Ram Dass wasn't too far off from that perspective. Now according to numerous humanistic and Transpersonal psychologists like, Dr. Roland May, Dr. Abraham Maslow, Joseph Campbell, etc., the foundation of a social ills, is a lack of meaning in one's personal life, which was usually supported by civilization's myths and symbols. They refer to symbols and myths as the glue holding society together, and like it or not, the Beatles' Yellow Submarine movie is such a symbol and a mythological system that has inspired millions of souls to greater hope. Why do you believe it proved to be so successful, even though the input by the Beatles was minimal, at best?

DT: Well, the input of the Beatles was conceptual and there was this zeitgeist around, which they represented, which was extremely warmly disposed to the human race and to the mode of goodness. And of course, the songs, and the central song, is "All You Need Is Love." The theme, the title song, we know about, and the overall message of that is that "We All Live in a Yellow Submarine," and all our friends are all aboard, and there's no limit to the number of friends we can have aboard.

It's really like a kind of ark, where, at least that's how I saw it, a Yellow Submarine is a symbol for some kind of vessel which would take us all to safety, but, be that as it may, the message in that thing is that good can prevail over evil, which is quite an old one. And there's enormous hope and reassurance and color and vitality in the movie. And a right clear delineation between the naughty people and the nice people, Blue Meanies and our heroes, and the charming old man and in the end, it ends on a very high note. It makes people feel extremely good and full of energy.

BH: Do you remember the first time you saw, because you weren't with the Beatles at that time, were you?

DT: I was, yes, it was '68. I was there in '68, in that summer, I went to the premiere, I think it was July of '68, I rejoined them in April that year.

BH: Oh, I see.

DT: So, I do remember, and I remember thinking it was a terrific film, and of course it was quite coolly received over here by the public, the masses and the critics. It was very warmly received in the United States.

BH: How was it received by the Beatles?

DT: Well, they like it, and there was a hippie, psychedelic epic in Yellow Submarine, which may have seen by mid-'68 to be somewhat passe', however, it's acknowledged now by the band, as far as I know to have been a worthy effort. Ringo certainly liked it very much in a recent interview I read.

BH: Well, he did a series of interviews, no, no, radio programs in America called the Yellow Submarine.

DT: Did he?

BH: Are you familiar with that?

DT: No, I'm not.

BH: Well, ...

DT: At the time, when it came out, of course, things were, all kinds of things were happening around Apple. It was getting extremely busy, I had taken on too much, and to endeavor to enable people to get recording contracts and bring in paintings. We'll help you to get your paintings hung, we'll get your books and poems published, we'll get music recorded and all the promises that were made, which we were trying to fulfill, by the summer of '68, when the Yellow Submarine came out, there were great strains and stresses around the Beatles and Apple.

So it was difficult to concentrate on Yellow Submarine then, for me too. It came and went, I have to say, as it might not have done had it been at quieter times. It was a time of, an awful lot of office stress. And stress in offices can be quite extreme. Because working hours and the number of calls coming in, and the number of callers in the Apple building, so it was not a propitious time for a movie to be around. It was not as if all their efforts had gone into making it. And most people, when they're making a movie, or contributing to a movie, that is all they're doing. It absorbs all their time, they can think of nothing else, they can see nothing else.

But Yellow Submarine, in a sense is coming along, moving along past them, on a parallel track way away, with Brodax and all those people who were putting it together. So I say it suffered, in our internal world, it suffered from a lack of attention, our response to it suffered from inattention to it. Because the thing was happening anyway, the songs had been provided, the essence of the Beatles was undoubtedly conveyed in that they meant well, they were cheerful and all this, but I think that also perhaps, they felt, it certainly has been said since, that there was a lack of delineation between the individual characteristics. But this was an animated feature, and it was a wonderful piece of work and it looks great today.

BH: It sure does.

DT: And it will live forever, there's no doubt, Yellow Submarine is a real piece of goods and here we have it, hey!

BH: Well, the planet is standing by for the Beatles anthology to be aired next week on ABC TV in America, locally here on WMAR TV, channel 2, now we're especially looking forward to hearing the first new Beatles recordings in 25 years, such as Free As A Bird, and Real Love, what can you tell us about how these songs were discovered, and how the Beatles were reunited technologically?

DT: Yes, well I'll tell you what I know. I didn't go to the sessions because as a rule I've tended not to go to recording sessions because there's nothing much to do for people who aren't recording. So, what happened was, I believe, that from what I read in the transcripts for the anthology, from which the interviews were taken, the ones you see on the street, that there was a feeling around 1993 that they should do incidental music. The linking music for sections of the anthology. And a few of them considered this at some length, and there's no doubt that when they do get together that they can pick up instruments and get to it right away. All of that remains, all of that relationship and many other aspects of the relationship have been renewed very well.

But, the one element missing was that John was no longer around. So, there could not be Beatles' music in his absence. So, somewhere around 1993, towards the end, I could see this coming through on the transcripts as I had been looking through them and editing them. There's no mention of a single in the interviews, but there is a mention of "We may do incidental music." Now I know that somewhere towards the end of 1993, sometime anyway, John's demos were offered to them. And I'm not sure that Paul wasn't the one who had collected them from Yoko.

At any rate, she offered two John and piano tracts, two at least, maybe more. There is talk of it, but there hasn't been, nothing's been done to a third. And they went to the studio and, well they heard them. They went to a studio in the south of England, in Paul's studio with Jeff Lynn and considered how best to do these things. John was at the piano, and they were in the studio with their instruments and their old Beatles feelings.

Now, there were four, albeit John only on tape. And one way or another, this is very vague, I wasn't there, I only know what I've read, they stripped out John's voice, and did what they assumed what he would have wanted them to do had he been going on holiday leaving them with this cassette. And it had been said, "Well, I'm off now, finish this thing off, it's a nice tune and nice words and I trust you to do what you think would be best for it." And that's what they did, they put their voices in there, extra words were written and they put their instrumentation on it and made a nice song of it. And it's truly a great Beatle record of today.

Difficult for them to define it, but it seems to be best defined by George by saying, "Well, you know, as it's made in 1995, it sounds like now, but of course, it's the first record we've done since Abbey Road, so it has some of that feeling too." And I think he mentions the song Because, there's a very great deal of heart and soul and emotion in it. It will be a truly great Beatles record, and of course it will be Number One too.

Real Love, which I've also heard, is a fine piece of goods as well. But there was less to do to that I believe. I have a feeling the words were complete of Real Love. I think that's on one of the nights of the Anthology in America, that will also be on television. They don't feature in the main body of the Anthology, they will have their own videos accompany them, and they will come on I think at the end of one of the segments. Legitimate Beatle records, oh, they would never have been allowed to escape the studio, if there weren't proper representation of these four people. And with their essence and being and the kind of whatever, ethic they're in.

"They interviewed us, Neil and me and George Martin a bit. And I started to take phone calls from the production office, whom I know, I've known some of those people there for years, and got very friendly with them. And then the press thing started to build up, inquiries started to come in, and articles needed to be written and fixed and so on. So I've been really working a seven-day week for about three months, under enormous pressure and it's very familiar. It has happened again. There's no doubt, that these people are beyond compare in the amount of interest they attract."

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Interview: Aunt Mimi Smith, Bournemouth - 1970

Aunt Mimi and John LennonQ: What do you really think of the Beatles?

Mimi Smith: The boys had talent, yes, but they also had a lot of luck as well. When they first played "Love Me Do" I didn't think much of it.

Q: How did you view the troubles the Beatles have been going through these last few years?

Smith: I don't know all this business between John and Paul is about and I don't dare ask John. I did ring Paul about it, and he told me things would straighten up. The boys have been friends so long. I remember them coming home from school together on their bikes, begging biscuits. I'm sure they'll get back together soon. This is just a phase they're passing through.

Q: These days your nephew is very involved in a variety of social, political, and avant-garde causes. How do you feel about that?

Smith: I've just quit reading the papers these days. Apple sends me his records, but I won't play them. And I've asked my friends not to tell me about them. The shameful album cover and that [erotic] art show of his. He's been naughty and the public doesn't like it, and he's sorry for it. Now he wants sympathy. That's why he's come out with all these fantastic stories about an unhappy childhood. It's true that his mother wasn't there and there was no father around, but my husband and I gave him a wonderful home. John didn't buy me these furnishings, my husband did. John, Paul, and George wrote many songs together sitting on the sofa you're sitting on now, long before you'd ever heard of the Beatles. Why, John even had a pony when he was a little boy! He certainly didn't come from a slum! None of the boys did. The Harrisons weren't as well off as the other families, perhaps, but George wasn't from a slum, either, the way the press had it. And that's why you never saw photographs of John's boyhood home. We certainly weren't impoverished, the way John's talking now?

Q: What do you think changed John so much from his early days as a carefree kid?

Smith: She's responsible for all this, Yoko. She changed him, and I'm sure she and Linda are behind the split between John and Paul. Cynthia was such a nice girl. When she and John were in art college, she'd come to my house and say, "Oh, Mimi, what am I going to do about John?" She'd sit there until he came home. Cynthia really pursued him. He'd walk up the road and back until she got tired of waiting and went home. I think he was afraid of her, actually.

Q: You realize, of course, that to many people John is something of a political leader with such songs as, "Power to the People," for example ...

Smith: Don't talk to me about such things! I know that boy. He doesn't know what he's saying! It's all an act. If there were a revolution, John would be the first in the queue to run! Why, he's scared to death of things like that! That's Yoko talking, not John! Yoko is not exactly right in the head. Every time John does something bad and gets his picture in the papers he rings up to smooth me over. See that new color television? It was a Christmas present, but he had it delivered early. A big present arrives every time he's been naughty. I usually have a huge photograph of John hanging in the lounge. When he's a good boy, it'll go back up again!