Monday, June 09, 2008

All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview With John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Conducted by David Sheff

Includes a New Introduction by David Sheff with Yoko Ono

Twenty years ago David Sheff climbed the back steps of the Dakota into the personal thoughts and dreams of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Moving from their kitchen to the studio, Sheff recorded twenty hours of tape, discussing everything from their childhoods to the Beatles.

"This will be THE reference book."

Sheff gives a rare and last glimpse of John and Yoko, one that seemed to look beyond the kitchen table to the future of the world, with startling premonitions of what was to come.

"Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King are great examples of fantastic nonviolents who died violently. I can never work that out. We're pacifists, but I'm not sure what it means when you're such a pacifist that you get shot. I can never understand that."

David Sheff's articles and interviews have appeared in Playboy, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Wired, Outside, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, and Esquire, as well as The Observer Magazine in England, Foreign Literature in Russia, and Playboy (Shueisha) in Japan. He also writes for and is West Coast editor of Yahoo! Internet Life magazine.

Other Sheff interviews, including those with Ansel Adams, nuclear physicist Ted Taylor, Gore Vidal, Steve Jobs, Tom Hanks, Scott Peck, Betty Friedan, and Keith Haring, received wide recognition, as did his "Portrait of a Generation" in Rolling Stone. His documentaries for National Public Radio on John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird won several awards.

A Literary Guild Selection when it first appeared in 1981, Sheff's Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono has been described as "historic," "compelling and compassionate," and "definitive."

"A fascinating, detailed glimpse into the workings of a musical genius...A valuable piece of work."
--The New York Times Book Review

"David Sheff's sympathetic questions evoked so much of the Beatle past and of Lennon's intellectual past and present and future plans that the interview would hardly have been less engrossing and important even if it were not illuminated by tragedy." --Los Angeles Times

"The interview is lively proof that some of the best Lennon/Ono art was their life." --Time magazine


At the Dakota, the elderly guard, more a fixture than a comfort in front of the gray, ghostly apartment house, opened the car doors for us. John greeted the man by name and hastily but gently smiled for some snapshots posed with a fan who had been waiting up late just on the off chance of meeting him. After two quick flashes of the bulbs, John blindly headed for the entryway. Blinking to regain his eyesight, he stopped short. "Oooop, dear, I hope you have your house key. I forgot mine." Yoko didn't answer but used her key to call the elevator. John looked sheepishly at me. "I needn't have asked," he grinned.

Within the apartment, John guided me through a hall covered with photographs to the kitchen, where he instructed me to wait while he freshened up. Yoko was off in a different part of the apartment. As I looked around the huge, freshly painted kitchen, stocked with containers of tea and coffee, spices and grains, I heard voices from a distant bedroom: a child's giggling and a father's mock scolding. "So, you rascal, why aren't you asleep? Ahh haa! Well, I would have kissed you goodnight even if you were sleeping, silly boy."

John came tripping back into the kitchen, wholly revitalized, and, while putting a pot of water on to boil, he explained that their child Sean wasn't used to his and Yoko's new schedule, working on the album all hours. Before this project, John had been home virtually all the time.

Yoko entered the kitchen, wearing a kimonolike robe, and John poured three cups of tea. "Well, shall we start?" he asked as he sat down.

I looked at the two of them, waiting intently, and began. "The word is out: John Lennon and Yoko Ono are back--"

John interrupted immediately, and laughingly nudged Yoko. "Oh, really?" he joked. "From where?"

I smiled and continued: "--in the studio, recording again for the first time since 1975, when they vanished from public view. What have you been doing?"

John turned playfully to Yoko. "Do you want to start, or should I start?" he asked.

"You should start," she replied firmly.

"I should? Really? OK . . ." John leaned back in his chair, his hands clasped tightly around the cup of tea. He watched the steam float upward as he began.

LENNON: I've been baking bread.


LENNON: And looking after the baby.

PLAYBOY: With what secret projects going on in the basement?

LENNON: Are you kidding? There were no secret projects going on in the basement. Because bread and babies, as every housewife knows, is a full-time job. There ain't no space for other projects.

After I had made the loaves, I felt like I had conquered something. But as I watched the bread being eaten, I thought, Well, Jesus! Don't I get a gold record or knighted or nothing?

And it is such a tremendous responsibility to see that the baby has the right amount of food and doesn't overeat and gets the right amount of sleep. If I, as housemother, had not put him to sleep and made sure that he was in the bath by 7:30, no one else would have. It's a tremendous responsibility. Now I understand the frustration of those women because of all the work. And there is no gold watch at the end of the day . . .

PLAYBOY: What about the little rewards--the pleasure of watching somebody eat the bread or the baby sleep?

LENNON: There is great satisfaction. I took a Polaroid of my first loaf. [Yoko laughs.] I was overjoyed! I was that excited by it. I couldn't believe it! It was like an album coming out of the oven. The instantness of it was great. I was so into it, so thrilled with it, that I ended up cooking for the staff! Every day I was cooking lunch for the drivers, office boys, anybody who was working with us. "Come on up!" I loved it.

But then it was beginning to wear me out, you see. I thought, What is this? Screw this for a lark. I'd make two loaves on Friday and they'd be gone by Saturday afternoon. The thrill was wearing off and it became the routine again. So the joy is still there when I see Sean. He didn't come out of my belly but, by God, I made his bones, because I've attended to every meal, and to how he sleeps, and to the fact that he swims like a fish. That's because I took him to the "Y." I took him to the ocean. I'm so proud of those things. He is my biggest pride, you see.

PLAYBOY: Why did you become a househusband?

LENNON: It was a case of heal thyself.

ONO: It was asking, "What is more important in our life?"

LENNON: It was more important to face ourselves and face that reality than to continue a life of rock 'n' roll show biz, going up and down with the winds of either your own performance or the public's opinion of you. And it was something else, too. Let's use Picasso as an example. He just repeated himself into his grave. It's not to take away from his great talent, but his last forty years were a repetition. It didn't go anywhere. What do you call that? Living on your laurels.

You see, I found myself in my midthirties in a position where, for whatever reason, I had always considered myself an artist or musician or poet or whatever you want to call it and the so-called pain of the artist was always paid for by the freedom of the artist. And the idea of being a rock 'n' roll musician sort of suited my talents and mentality, and the freedom was great. But then I found I wasn't free. I'd got boxed in. It wasn't just because of my contract, but the contract was a physical manifestation of being in prison. And with that I might as well have gone to a nine-to-five job as to carry on the way I was carrying on. Rock 'n' roll was not fun anymore. So there were the standard options in my business: going to Vegas and singing your greatest hits--if you're lucky--or going to hell, which is where Elvis went.

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