Monday, July 20, 2009

John Lennon: 1968

By Jonathan Cott/November 23, 1968

I've listed a group of songs that I associate with you, in terms of what you are or what you were, songs that struck me as embodying you a little bit: "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," "Strawberry Fields," "It's Only Love," "She Said She Said," "Lucy in the Sky," "I'm Only Sleeping," "Run for Your Life," "I Am the Walrus," "All You Need Is Love," "Rain," "Girl."

The ones that really meant something to me - look, I don't know about "Hide Your Love Away," that's so long ago - probably "Strawberry Fields," "She Said," "Walrus," "Rain," "Girl," there are just one or two others, "Day Tripper," "Paperback Writer," even. "Ticket To Ride" was one more, I remember that. It was a definite sort of change. "Norwegian Wood" - that was the sitar bit. Definitely, I consider them moods or moments.

There have been a lot of philosophical analyses written about your songs, "Strawberry Fields," in particular . . .

Well, they can take them apart. They can take anything apart. I mean, I hit it on all levels, you know. We write lyrics, and I write lyrics that you don't realize what they mean till after. Especially some of the better songs or some of the more flowing ones, like "Walrus." The whole first verse was written without any knowledge. And "Tomorrow Never Knows" - I didn't know what I was saying, and you just find out later. I know that when there are some lyrics I dig I know that somewhere people will be looking at them. And I dig the people that notice that I have a sort of strange rhythm scene, because I've never been able to keep rhythm on the stage. I always used to get lost. It's me double off-beats.

What is Strawberry Fields?

It's a name, it's a nice name. When I was writing "In My Life," - I was trying "Penny Lane" at that time - we were trying to write about Liverpool, and I just listed all the nice-sounding names, just arbitrarily. Strawberry Fields was a place near us that happened to be a Salvation Army home. But Strawberry Fields - I mean, I have visions of Strawberry Fields. And there was Penny Lane, and the Cast Iron Shore, which I've just got in some song now, and they were just good names - just groovy names. Just good sounding. Because Strawberry Fields is anywhere you want to go.

Pop analysts are often trying to read something into songs that isn't there.

It is there. It's like abstract art really. It's just the same really. It's just that when you have to think about it to write it, it just means that you labored at it. But when you just say it, man, you know you're saying it, it's a continuous flow. The same as when you're recording or just playing. You come out of a thing and you know "I've been there," and it was nothing, it was just pure, and that's what we're looking for all the time, really.

How much do you think the songs go toward building up a myth of a state of mind?

I don't know. I mean, we got a bit pretentious. Like everybody, we had our phase and now it's a little change over to trying to be more natural, less "newspaper taxis," say. I mean, we're just changing. I don't know what we're doing at all, I just write them. Really, I just like rock & roll. I mean, these [pointing to a pile of Fifties records] are the records I dug then, I dig them now and I'm still trying to reproduce "Some Other Guy" sometimes or "Be-Bop-A-Lula." Whatever it is, it's the same bit for me. It's really just the sound.

The Beatles seem to be one of the only groups who ever made a distinction between friends and lovers. For instance, there's "baby" who can drive your car. But when it comes to "We Can Work It Out," you talk about "my friend." In most other groups' songs, calling someone "baby" is a bit demeaning compared to your distinction.

Yeah, I don't know why. It's Paul's bit that - "Buy you a diamond ring, my friend" - it's an alternative to baby. You can take it logically, the way you took it. See, I don't know really. Yours is as true a way of looking at it as any other way. In "Baby, You're a Rich Man" the point was, stop moaning. You're a rich man and we're all rich men, heh, heh, baby!

I've felt your other mood recently: "Here I stand, head in hand" in "Hide Your Love Away" and "When I was a boy, everything was right" in "She Said She Said."

Yeah, right. That was pure. That was what I meant all right. You see, when I wrote that I had the "She said she said," but it was just meaning nothing. It was just vaguely to do with someone who had said something like he knew what it was like to be dead, and then it was just a sound. And then I wanted a middle-eight. The beginning had been around for days and days and so I wrote the first thing that came into my head and it was "When I was a boy," in a different beat, but it was real because it just happened.
It's funny, because while we're recording we're all aware and listening to our old records and we say, we'll do one like "The Word" - make it like that. It never does turn out like that, but we're always comparing and talking about the old albums - just checking up, what is it? like swatting up for the exam - just listening to everything.

Yet people think you're trying to get away from the old records.

But I'd like to make a record like "Some Other Guy." I haven't done one that satisfies me as much as that satisfied me. Or "Be-Bop-A-Lula" or "Heartbreak Hotel" or "Good Golly, Miss Molly" or "Whole Lot of Shakin'." I'm not being modest. I mean, we're still trying it. We sit there in the studio and we say, "How did it go, how did it go? Come on, let's do that." Like what Fats Domino has done with "Lady Madonna" - "See how they ruhhnnn."

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