By Pete Hamill / June 5, 1975
Do you think much of yourself as an artist at fifty or sixty?
I never see meself as not an artist. I never let meself believe that an artist can "run dry."
I've always had this vision of bein' sixty and writing children's books. I don't know why. It'd be a strange thing for a person who doesn't really have much to do with children. I've always had that feeling of giving what Wind in the Willows and Alice in Wonderland and Treasure Island gave to me at age seven and eight. The books that really opened my whole being.
Is there anything left to say about the immigration case?
People get bored with hearin' about Lennon's immigration case. I'm bored with hearin' about it. The only interesting thing is when I read these articles people write that were not instigated by me. I learn things I didn't know anything about. I didn't know about Strom Thurmond. I had no idea - I mean I knew something was going on, but I didn't have any names. I'm just left in the position of just what am I supposed to do? There doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it. It's just . . . bloody crazy. Terry Southern put it in a nice sort of way. He said, "Well, look, y'keep 'em all happy, ya see? The conservatives are happy 'cause they're doin' somethin' about ya and the liberals are happy 'cause they haven't thrown you out. So everybody's happy! [pause] Except you!" [laughter] I'm happy I'm still here. I must say that. And I ain't going. There's no way they're gonna get me out. No way. They're not gonna drag me in chains, right? So I'm just gonna have to keep paying. It's bloody ridiculous. It's just . . . beyond belief.
So nothing has changed with the departure of Nixon.
I'm even nervous about commenting on politics. They've got me that jumpy these days. But it's a bit of an illusion to think 'cause Old Nick went that it's all changed. If it's changed, prove it, show me the change.
Does the case get in the way of your work?
It did. It did. There's no denying it. In '72, it was really gettin' to me. Not only was I physically having to appear in court cases, it just seemed like a toothache that wouldn't go away. Now I just accept it. I just have a permanent toothache. But there was a period where I just couldn't function, you know? I was so paranoid from them tappin' the phone and followin' me. How could I prove that they were tappin' me phone?
There was a period when I was hangin' out with a group called Elephant's Memory. And I was ready to go on the road for pure fun. I didn't want to go on the road for money. That was the time when I was standing up in the Apollo with a guitar at the Attica relatives' benefit or ending up on the stage at the John Sinclair rally. I felt like going on the road and playing music. And whatever excuse - charity or whatever - would have done me. But they kept pullin' me back into court! I had the group hangin' 'round, but I finally had to say, "Hey, you better get on with your lives." Now, the last thing on earth I want to do is perform. That's a direct result of the immigration thing. In '71, '72, I wanted to go out and rock my balls off onstage and I just stopped.
Have you made any kind of flat decision not to ever go on the road again?
No. I've stopped making flat decisions. I change me mind a lot. My idea of heaven is not going on the road.
Will you ever be free of the fact that you were once a Beatle?
I've got used to the fact - just about - that whatever I do is going to be compared to the other Beatles. If I took up ballet dancing, my ballet dancing would be compared with Paul's bowling. So that I'll have to live with. But I've come to learn something big this past year. I cannot let the Top Ten dominate my art. If my worth is only to be judged by whether I'm in the Top Ten or not, then I'd better give up. Because if I let the Top Ten dominate my art, then the art will die. And then whether I'm in the Top Ten is a moot point. I do think now in terms of long term. I'm an artist. I have to express myself. I can't be dominated by gold records. As I said, I'm thirty-four going on sixty. The art is more important than the thing and sometimes I have to remind meself of it. Because there's a danger there, for all of us, for everyone who's involved in whatever art they're in, of needing that love so badly that. . . . In my business, that's manifested in the Top Ten.
So this last year, in some ways, was a year of deciding whether you wanted to be an artist or a pop star?
Yeah. What is it I'm doing. What am I doing? Meanwhile, I was still putting out the work. But in the back of me head it was that: What do you want to be? What are you lookin' for? And that's about it. I'm a freakin' artist, man, not a fuckin' racehorse.