By Jonathan Cott/November 23, 1968
You just showed me what might be the front and back album photos for the record you're putting out of the music you and Yoko composed for your film Two Virgins. The photos have the simplicity of a daguerreotype. . . .
Well, that's because I took it. I'm a ham photographer, you know. It's me Nikon what I was given by a commercially minded Japanese when we were in Japan, along with me Pentax, me Canon, me boom-boom and all the others. So I just set it up and did it.
For the cover, there's a photo of you and Yoko standing naked facing the camera. And on the backside are your backsides. What do you think people are going to think of the cover?
Well, we've got that to come. The thing is, I started it with a pure . . . it was the truth, and it was only after I'd got into it and done it and looked at it that I'd realized what kind of scene I was going to create. And then suddenly, there it was, and then suddenly you show it to people and then you know what the world's going to do to you, or try to do. But you have no knowledge of it when you conceive it or make it.
Originally, I was going to record Yoko, and I thought the best picture of her for an album would be her naked. I was just going to record her as an artist. We were only on those kind of terms then. So after that, we got together, it just seemed natural for us, if we made an album together, for both of us to be naked.
Of course, I've never seen me prick on an album or on a photo before: "Whatnearth, there's a fellow with his prick out." And that was the first time I realized me prick was out, you know. I mean, you can see it on the photo itself - we're naked in front of a camera - that comes over in the eyes, just for a minute you go!! I mean, you're not used to it, being naked, but it's got to come out.
How do you face the fact that people are going to mutilate you?
Well, I can take that as long as we can get the cover out. And I really don't know what the chances are of that.
You don't worry about the nuts across the street?
No, no. I know it won't be very comfortable walking around with all the lorry drivers whistling and that, but it'll all die. Next year it'll be nothing, like miniskirts or bare tits. It isn't anything. We're all naked really. When people attack Yoko and me, we know they're paranoiac. We don't worry too much. It's the ones that don't know, and you know they don't know - they're just going round in a blue fuzz. The thing is, the album also says: Look, lay off will you? It's two people - what have we done?
Lenny Bruce once compared himself to a doctor, saying that if people weren't sick, there wouldn't be any need for him.
That's the bit, isn't it? Since we started being more natural in public - the four of us - we've really had a lot of knocking. I mean, we're always natural. I mean, you can't help it. We couldn't have been where we are if we hadn't done that. We wouldn't have been us either. And it took four of us to enable us to do it; we couldn't have done it alone and kept that up. I don't know why I get knocked more often. I seem to open me mouth more often, something happens, I forget what I am till it all happens again. I mean, we just get knocked - from the underground, the pop world - me personally. They're all doing it. They've got to stop soon.
Couldn't you go off to your own community and not be bothered with all of this?
Well, it's just the same there, you see. India was a bit of that, it was a taste of it - it's the same. So there's a small community, it's the same gig, it's relative. There's no escape.
Your show at the Fraser Gallery gave critics a chance to take a swipe at you.
Oh, right, but putting it on was taking a swipe at them in a way. I mean, that's what it was about. What they couldn't understand was that - a lot of them were saying, well, if it hadn't been for John Lennon nobody would have gone to it, but as it was, it was me doing it. And if it had been Sam Bloggs it would have been nice. But the point of it was - it was me. And they're using that as a reason to say why it didn't work. Work as what?
Do you think Yoko's film of you smiling would work if it were just anyone smiling?
Yes, it works with somebody else smiling, but she went through all this. It originally started out that she wanted a million people all over the world to send in a snapshot of themselves smiling, and then it got down to lots of people smiling, and then maybe one or two and then me smiling as a symbol of today smiling - and that's what I am, whatever that means. And so it's me smiling, and that's the hang-up, of course, because it's me again. But they've got to see it someday - it's only me. I don't mind if people go to the film to see me smiling because it doesn't matter, it's not harmful. The idea of the film won't really be dug for another fifty or a hundred years probably. That's what it's all about. I just happen to be that face.
It's too bad people can't come down here individually to see how you're living.
Well, that's it. I didn't see Ringo and his wife for about a month when I first got together with Yoko, and there were rumors going around about the film and all that. Maureen was saying she really had some strange ideas about where we were at and what we were up to. And there were some strange reactions from all me friends and at Apple about Yoko and me and what we were doing - "Have they gone mad?" But of course it was just us, you know, and if they are puzzled or reacting strangely to us two being together and doing what we're doing, it's not hard to visualize the rest of the world really having some amazing image.
International Times recently published an interview with Jean-Luc Godard . . .
Oh yeah, right, he said we should do something. Now that's sour grapes from a man who couldn't get us to be in his film [One Plus One, in which the Stones appear], and I don't expect it from people like that. Dear Mr. Godard, just because we didn't want to be in the film with you, it doesn't mean to say that we aren't doing any more than you. We should do whatever we're all doing.
But Godard put it in activist political terms. He said that people with influence and money should be trying to blow up the establishment and that you weren't.
What's he think we're doing? He wants to stop looking at his own films and look around.
Time magazine came out and said, look, the Beatles say "no" to destruction.
There's no point in dropping out because it's the same there and it's got to change. But I think it all comes down to changing your head and, sure, I know that's a cliché.
What would you tell a black-power guy who's changed his head and then finds a wall there all the time?
Well, I can't tell him anything 'cause he's got to do it himself. If destruction's the only way he can do it, there's nothing I can say that could influence him 'cause that's where he's at, really. We've all got that in us, too, and that's why I did the "Out and In" bit on a few takes and in the TV version of "Revolution" - "Destruction, well, you know, you can count me out, and in," like yin and yang.
I prefer "out." But we've got the other bit in us. I don't know what I'd be doing if I was in his position. I don't think I'd be so meek and mild. I just don't know.