Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Private Talk with John Lennon: 1970

By Ritchie Yorke/June 28, 1970

You've been talking lately about the fact that the Beatles aren't the musical group they were two or three years ago - that you are now all pursuing completely separate directions - Yoko's and your scene, for example. In fact, you are virtually all competing with one another.

Yes, well, the thing is that because there's no room on an album, we've got to have other outlets and I'm using the Plastic Ono Band. George will use whatever, Ringo's got an album in the can and Paul's doing Mary Hopkin or whoever he decides to do on his own. We still might make Beatles' products - right now, I just don't know. But we need more room - the Beatles are just too limited. That's where the trouble is.

When you're working on a new Beatles album, how many songs would you personally come up with, and then how many would you get to use in the end?

Probably at least seven or eight each and there's only fourteen tracks on an album, so you can imagine what it's like. So you have to choose the ones you like best or the ones that are easiest to get across to the others. That's the trouble.

Do you dislike writing a song and not being able to record it immediately?

I can't stand it. I can't stand having songs lying around for years. It just annoys me, and I think it annoys all of us. I cut "Revolution 2" - the one that's on the album - and "Revolution 9" with them, but they went away, and I wanted it out as a single 'cause it was revolution and there was a lot of violence going on and I wanted to get it out fast. But the others came back from holiday and said we don't think it's commercial or not good enough or some crap like that. And we waited and waited and we got "Hey Jude," but we would have had both if we hadn't waited.
That kind of thing I can't wait for. They let me put "The Ballad of John and Yoko" out, but I wanted it out as news, not as something like the film of the event. I wanted the video of the event happening then and that's it really. I can't wait.
I offered "Cold Turkey" to the Beatles but they weren't ready to record a single, so I did it as the Plastic Ono Band. I don't care what it goes out as, as long as it goes out.

Have you ever thought of writing songs for other artists as another possible solution?

No, not specifically for them because if I write a particularly good song, or one I like, I want to do it myself. But I often think of giving somebody I like a song, or something like that, but I usually don't get around to it. But the thing is with all our songs, remixing it is as important as writing it.

When you are about to record a new Beatles album, do you feel very excited about it? Does that old excitement still permeate the sessions?

Oh yeah, sure, sure. Every time you go in the studio you get the whole thing all over . . . the nerves and the light goes on and everything. It's still the same battle every time and the same joy.

One gets the impression that you are the most active of the Beatles while the others are quite content to take it easy.

That's not always like that . . . only at the moment because I'm active in peace. For a couple of years, Paul was the one who was hustling us together. Saying, "C'mon, record" and we'd go, "Ah, c'mon, we don't feel like it," and all that. Now I've got something other than just recording to think about and that's what's made me active.
I was really losing interest in just doing the Beatles' bit and I think we all were, but Paul did a good job in holding us together for a few years while we were sort of undecided about what to do.
And I found out what to do and it didn't really have to be with the Beatles. It could have been if they had wanted. But it got that I couldn't wait for them to make up their minds about peace or whatever, about committing themselves, just the same as the songs, so I'd gone ahead and I'd have liked them to have come along.

Did you ever try to get them into the peace scene?

I did a little at first, but I think it was too much like Yoko and me and what we're doing and trying to get them to come along and I think they reacted. I hassled them too much, so I'm really leaving them alone. Maybe they'll come along, wagging their tails behind them, and if not, good luck to them.

If I just mentioned the Sixties, what sort of things come to mind?

I don't think in terms of that. The Sixties I suppose was, I dunno, my early twenties for me, and the Fifties were the good old days, your teenage days. That's what they are to me personally. I don't think much about it; I don't think about this or that decade until people start asking me.

What about new product . . . the Plastic Ono Band, John and Yoko, the Beatles.

Ah, well, the next thing that's sort of in the can is the next John and Yoko "freak" album and one side of it is laughing and the other side is whispering . . . so far anyway. We got John and Yoko and a few engineers - whoever was at EMI at the time - and the guy who cuts our records at Apple and the top EMI Beatles superengineer . . . and we put on funny noses and all that and we got stoned and laughed for track over track. And, of course, all the guys, even the ones working for us but originally from EMI (we sort of infiltrated and took all the people we liked, the young people), they were all shouting their own in-jokes.
It's a scream just hearing the in-jokes. It's like when the Beatles used have the sort of in-jokes. Everybody gets into that sort of humor if you're with them for a long time, so this is like we're sort of sending out that in-joke even though it's everybody's joke. And it makes you laugh, you know.
And then we started whispering the piece that Yoko had done. You like to whisper to one person and they have to pass it on to the next person and by the time it gets back it's gobbledy-gook. Yoko had done this at a theater and there were about two hundred or three hundred people and they passed the whisper right on through the theater, and the guy comes to her at the end to tell her what it is after climbing up the balcony and running all the way down, and she said, "Don't tell me." So that was a scream. And we were doing this whisper thing at the session, and they filmed us doing it. We just got screaming, you know.
People just couldn't get it together. They couldn't even pass a whisper along, they were laughing so much. So it really makes you giggle. It'll start Year One off with a laugh.
The Beatles' stuff is in the can. It comes out in February . . . Get Back. And I've got a couple of songs I'll try to make into singles for the Plastic Ono. I keep trying to finish the ones I have when I get an opportunity because I keep writing one line, which always gets me because I can't forget it and I have to keep going back to it. So I've got six or seven that I could call songs and another six or seven that are one or two lines or a thought. But it's getting around to them, with all this going on. But I'll do it, all right, because I like recording. It's something I need.

In the aftermath of the week in Canada with the meetings with Trudeau and Munro, how do you feel about the results?

Well, the meetings, of course, made it really well worthwhile. It was worthwhile anyway but there were about three big turn-ons - one was Dick Gregory, the other was Trudeau and the other was Munro and the other was the men from the drug commission. That's about four actually.
We felt that we'd made a communication with the Establishment and it was, like, surprising to find that they were straight. Of course, it is snobbery to assume that the whole Establishment is one big thing - like it is the same to assume that all Jews are this and all blacks are that. We all are guilty of that.
These people are trying and they're driving a very big machine and there's lots of copilots and they've got to be very careful how they do it.
But it certainly gives us hope that there are straights in there who are trying to communicate with us and all the youth. They do want to know, but they're not sure how to approach us, so we must stretch our hand as they're beginning to try and stretch theirs. No compromise, but, you know, communicate.

You were saying to Health Minister Munro that you were a little worried about talking to so-called Establishment people can appear to be copping out in the eyes of some young people and that you were worried about the danger of this.

It wasn't so much a matter of being worried as of being aware of it. It's just like when the Beatles left Liverpool. Some people thought we'd sold out by leaving Liverpool or leaving even one particular club - the Cavern. It worked even on a dance-hall level.
If you left one dance hall to play at another, you lost a few people. And so when we left Liverpool we lost a few but gained a lot more. And when we left London and England - we lost a few in England because they thought we'd sold out to America. So I'm aware that that'll happen. But we're just about at the stage - John and Yoko and the peace thing - where we're just about to leave England and have just done "The Ed Sullivan Show" and it's just beginning - Year One A.P.

Do you feel confident that the new year, Year One, is going to be a positive year for peace?

Yeah, well, like we think that this decade was a positive decade, not a depressing one. It's the decade of all the music, the generation, and the freedom and the sort of awareness and all the jazz and the moratoriums and the Woodstocks and the Isle of Wights and everything. This is just the beginning. What we've got to do is keep hope alive. Because without it we'll sink.

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