By David Sheff / September 8-28, 1980
PLAYBOY: The album obviously reflects your new priorities. How have things gone for you since you made that decision?
LENNON: We got back together, decided this was our life, that having a baby was important to us and that anything else was subsidiary to that. We worked hard for that child. We went through all hell trying to have a baby, through many miscarriages and other problems. He is what they call a love child in truth. Doctors told us we could never have a child. We almost gave up. "Well, that's it, then, we can't have one. . . ." We were told something was wrong with my sperm, that I abused myself so much in my youth that there was no chance. Yoko was 43, and so they said, no way. She has had too many miscarriages and when she was a young girl, there were no pills, so there were lots of abortions and miscarriages; her stomach must be like Kew Gardens in London. No way. But this Chinese acupuncturist in San Francisco said, "You behave yourself. No drugs, eat well, no drink. You have child in 18 months." And we said, "But the English doctors said. . . ." He said, "Forget what they said. You have child." We had Sean and sent the acupuncturist a Polaroid of him just before he died, God rest his soul.
PLAYBOY: Were there any problems because of Yoko's age?
LENNON: Not because of her age but because of a screw- up in the hospital and the fucking price of fame. Somebody had made a transfusion of the wrong blood type into Yoko. I was there when it happened, and she starts to go rigid, and then shake, from the pain and the trauma. I run up to this nurse and say, "Go get the doctor!" I'm holding on tight to Yoko while this guy gets to the hospital room. He walks in, hardly notices that Yoko is going through fucking convulsions, goes straight for me, smiles, shakes my hand and says, "I've always wanted to meet you, Mr. Lennon, I always enjoyed your music." I start screaming: "My wife's dying and you wanna talk about my music!" Christ!
PLAYBOY: Now that Sean is almost five, is he conscious of the fact that his father was a Beatle or have you protected him from your fame?
LENNON: I haven't said anything. Beatles were never mentioned to him. There was no reason to mention it; we never played Beatle records around the house, unlike the story that went around that I was sitting in the kitchen for the past five years, playing Beatle records and reliving my past like some kind of Howard Hughes. He did see "Yellow Submarine" at a friend's, so I had to explain what a cartoon of me was doing in a movie.
PLAYBOY: Does he have an awareness of the Beatles?
LENNON: He doesn't differentiate between the Beatles and Daddy and Mommy. He thinks Yoko was a Beatle, too. I don't have Beatle records on the jukebox he listens to. He's more exposed to early rock 'n' roll. He's into "Hound Dog." He thinks it's about hunting. Sean's not going to public school, by the way. We feel he can learn the three Rs when he wants to -- or when the law says he has to, I suppose. I'm not going to fight it. Otherwise, there's no reason for him to be learning to sit still. I can't see any reason for it. Sean now has plenty of child companionship, which everybody says is important, but he also is with adults a lot. He's adjusted to both. The reason why kids are crazy is because nobody can face the responsibility of bringing them up. Everybody's too scared to deal with children all the time, so we reject them and send them away and torture them. The ones who survive are the conformists -- their bodies are cut to the size of the suits -- the ones we label good. The ones who don't fit the suits either are put in mental homes or become artists.
PLAYBOY: Your son, Julian, from your first marriage must be in his teens. Have you seen him over the years?
LENNON: Well, Cyn got possession, or whatever you call it. I got rights to see him on his holidays and all that business, and at least there's an open line still going. It's not the best relationship between father and son, but it is there. He's 17 now. Julian and I will have a relationship in the future. Over the years, he's been able to see through the Beatle image and to see through the image that his mother will have given him, subconsciously or consciously. He's interested in girls and autobikes now. I'm just sort of a figure in the sky, but he's obliged to communicate with me, even when he probably doesn't want to.
PLAYBOY: You're being very honest about your feelings toward him to the point of saying that Sean is your first child. Are you concerned about hurting him?
LENNON: I'm not going to lie to Julian. Ninety percent of the people on this planet, especially in the West, were born out of a bottle of whiskey on a Saturday night, and there was no intent to have children. So 90 percent of us -- that includes everybody -- were accidents. I don't know anybody who was a planned child. All of us were Saturday-night specials. Julian is in the majority, along with me and everybody else. Sean is a planned child, and therein lies the difference. I don't love Julian any less as a child. He's still my son, whether he came from a bottle of whiskey or because they didn't have pills in those days. He's here, he belongs to me and he always will.
PLAYBOY: Yoko, your relationship with your daughter has been much rockier.
ONO: I lost Kyoko when she was about five. I was sort of an offbeat mother, but we had very good communication. I wasn't particularly taking care of her, but she was always with me -- onstage or at gallery shows, whatever. When she was not even a year old, I took her onstage as an instrument -- an uncontrollable instrument, you know. My communication with her was on the level of sharing conversation and doing things. She was closer to my ex-husband because of that.
PLAYBOY: What happened when she was five?
ONO: John and I got together and I separated from my ex- husband [Tony Cox]. He took Kyoko away. It became a case of parent kidnapping and we tried to get her back.
LENNON: It was a classic case of men being macho. It turned into me and Allen Klein trying to dominate Tony Cox. Tony's attitude was, "You got my wife, but you won't get my child." In this battle, Yoko and the child were absolutely forgotten. I've always felt bad about it. It became a case of the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral: Cox fled to the hills and hid out and the sheriff and I tracked him down. First we won custody in court. Yoko didn't want to go to court, but the men, Klein and I, did it anyway.
ONO: Allen called up one day, saying I won the court case. He gave me a piece of paper. I said, "What is this piece of paper? Is this what I won? I don't have my child." I knew that taking them to court would frighten them and, of course, it did frighten them. So Tony vanished. He was very strong, thinking that the capitalists, with their money and lawyers and detectives, were pursuing him. It made him stronger.
LENNON: We chased him all over the world. God knows where he went. So if you're reading this, Tony, let's grow up about it. It's gone. We don't want to chase you anymore, because we've done enough damage.
ONO: We also had private detectives chasing Kyoko, which I thought was a bad trip, too. One guy came to report, "It was great! We almost had them. We were just behind them in a car, but they sped up and got away." I went hysterical. "What do you mean you almost got them? We are talking about my child!"
LENNON: It was like we were after an escaped convict.
PLAYBOY: Were you so persistent because you felt you were better for Kyoko?
LENNON: Yoko got steamed into a guilt thing that if she wasn't attacking them with detectives and police and the FBI, then she wasn't a good mother looking for her baby. She kept saying, "Leave them alone, leave them alone," but they said you can't do that.
ONO: For me, it was like they just disappeared from my life. Part of me left with them.
PLAYBOY: How old is she now?
ONO: Seventeen, the same as John's son.
PLAYBOY: Perhaps when she gets older, she'll seek you out.
ONO: She is totally frightened. There was a time in Spain when a lawyer and John thought that we should kidnap her.
LENNON: [Sighing] I was just going to commit hara-kiri first.
ONO: And we did kidnap her and went to court. The court did a very sensible thing -- the judge took her into a room and asked her which one of us she wanted to go with. Of course, she said Tony. We had scared her to death. So now she must be afraid that if she comes to see me, she'll never see her father again.
LENNON: When she gets to be in her 20s, she'll understand that we were idiots and we know we were idiots. She might give us a chance.
ONO: I probably would have lost Kyoko even if it wasn't for John. If I had separated from Tony, there would have been some difficulty.
LENNON: I'll just half-kill myself.
ONO: [To John] Part of the reason things got so bad was because with Kyoko, it was you and Tony dealing. Men. With your son Julian, it was women -- there was more understanding between me and Cyn.
PLAYBOY: Can you explain that?
ONO: For example, there was a birthday party that Kyoko had and we were both invited, but John felt very uptight about it and he didn't go. He wouldn't deal with Tony. But we were both invited to Julian's party and we both went.
LENNON: Oh, God, it's all coming out.
ONO: Or like when I was invited to Tony's place alone, I couldn't go; but when John was invited to Cyn's, he did go.
LENNON: One rule for the men, one for the women.
ONO: So it was easier for Julian, because I was allowing it to happen.
LENNON: But I've said a million Hail Marys. What the hell else can I do?
PLAYBOY: Yoko, after this experience, how do you feel about leaving Sean's rearing to John?
ONO: I am very clear about my emotions in that area. I don't feel guilty. I am doing it in my own way. It may not be the same as other mothers, but I'm doing it the way I can do it. In general, mothers have a very strong resentment toward their children, even though there's this whole adulation about motherhood and how mothers really think about their children and how they really love them. I mean, they do, but it is not humanly possible to retain emotion that mothers are supposed to have within this society. Women are just too stretched out in different directions to retain that emotion. Too much is required of them. So I say to John----
LENNON: I am her favorite husband----
ONO: "I am carrying the baby nine months and that is enough, so you take care of it afterward." It did sound like a crude remark, but I really believe that children belong to the society. If a mother carries the child and a father raises it, the responsibility is shared.
PLAYBOY: Did you resent having to take so much responsibility, John?
LENNON: Well, sometimes, you know, she'd come home and say, "I'm tired." I'd say, only partly tongue in cheek, "What the fuck do you think I am? I'm 24 hours with the baby! Do you think that's easy?" I'd say, "You're going to take some more interest in the child." I don't care whether it's a father or a mother. When I'm going on about pimples and bones and which TV shows to let him watch, I would say, "Listen, this is important. I don't want to hear about your $20,000,000 deal tonight!" [To Yoko] I would like both parents to take care of the children, but how is a different matter.
ONO: Society should be more supportive and understanding.
LENNON: It's true. The saying "You've come a long way, baby" applies more to me than to her. As Harry Nilsson says, "Everything is the opposite of what it is, isn't it?" It's men who've come a long way from even contemplating the idea of equality. But although there is this thing called the women's movement, society just took a laxative and they've just farted. They haven't really had a good shit yet. The seed was planted sometime in the late Sixties, right? But the real changes are coming. I am the one who has come a long way. I was the pig. And it is a relief not to be a pig. The pressures of being a pig were enormous. I don't have any hankering to be looked upon as a sex object, a male, macho rock-'n'-roll singer. I got over that a long time ago. I'm not even interested in projecting that. So I like it to be known that, yes, I looked after the baby and I made bread and I was a househusband and I am proud of it. It's the wave of the future and I'm glad to be in on the forefront of that, too.
ONO: So maybe both of us learned a lot about how men and women suffer because of the social structure. And the only way to change it is to be aware of it. It sounds simple, but important things are simple.
PLAYBOY: John, does it take actually reversing roles with women to understand?
LENNON: It did for this man. But don't forget, I'm the one who benefited the most from doing it. Now I can step back and say Sean is going to be five years old and I was able to spend his first five years with him and I am very proud of that. And come to think of it, it looks like I'm going to be 40 and life begins at 40 -- so they promise. And I believe it, too. I feel fine and I'm very excited. It's like, you know, hitting 21, like, "Wow, what's going to happen next?" Only this time we're together.
ONO: If two are gathered together, there's nothing you can't do.
PLAYBOY: What does the title of your new album, "Double Fantasy," mean?
LENNON: It's a flower, a type of freesia, but what it means to us is that if two people picture the same image at the same time, that is the secret. You can be together but projecting two different images and either whoever's the stronger at the time will get his or her fantasy fulfilled or you will get nothing but mishmash.
PLAYBOY: You saw the news item that said you were putting your sex fantasies out as an album.
LENNON: Oh, yeah. That is like when we did the bed-in in Toronto in 1969. They all came charging through the door, thinking we were going to be screwing in bed. Of course, we were just sitting there with peace signs.
PLAYBOY: What was that famous bed-in all about?
LENNON: Our life is our art. That's what the bed-ins were. When we got married, we knew our honeymoon was going to be public, anyway, so we decided to use it to make a statement. We sat in bed and talked to reporters for seven days. It was hilarious. In effect, we were doing a commercial for peace on the front page of the papers instead of a commercial for war.
PLAYBOY: You stayed in bed and talked about peace?
LENNON: Yes. We answered questions. One guy kept going over the point about Hitler: "What do you do about Fascists? How can you have peace when you've got a Hitler?" Yoko said, "I would have gone to bed with him." She said she'd have needed only ten days with him. People loved that one.
ONO: I said it facetiously, of course. But the point is, you're not going to change the world by fighting. Maybe I was naive about the ten days with Hitler. After all, it took 13 years with John Lennon. [She giggles]
PLAYBOY: What were the reports about your making love in a bag?
ONO: We never made love in a bag. People probably imagined that we were making love. It was just, all of us are in a bag, you know. The point was the outline of the bag, you know, the movement of the bag, how much we see of a person, you know. But, inside, there might be a lot going on. Or maybe nothing's going on.
PLAYBOY: Briefly, what about the statement on the new album?
LENNON: Very briefly, it's about very ordinary things between two people. The lyrics are direct. Simple and straight. I went through my Dylanesque period a long time ago with songs like "I am the Walrus:" the trick of never saying what you mean but giving the impression of something more. Where more or less can be read into it. It's a good game.
PLAYBOY: What are your musical preferences these days?
LENNON: Well, I like all music, depending on what time of day it is. I don't like styles of music or people per se. I can't say I enjoy the Pretenders, but I like their hit record. I enjoy the B-52s, because I heard them doing Yoko. It's great. If Yoko ever goes back to her old sound, they'll be saying, "Yeah, she's copying the B-52s."
ONO: We were doing a lot of the punk stuff a long time ago.
PLAYBOY: Lennon and Ono, the original punks.
ONO: You're right.
PLAYBOY: John, what's your opinion of the newer waves?
LENNON: I love all this punky stuff. It's pure. I'm not, however, crazy about the people who destroy themselves.
PLAYBOY: You disagree with Neil Young's lyric in "Rust Never Sleeps" -- "It's better to burn out than to fade away...."
LENNON: I hate it. It's better to fade away like an old soldier than to burn out. I don't appreciate worship of dead Sid Vicious or of dead James Dean or of dead John Wayne. It's the same thing. Making Sid Vicious a hero, Jim Morrison -- it's garbage to me. I worship the people who survive. Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo. They're saying John Wayne conquered cancer -- he whipped it like a man. You know, I'm sorry that he died and all that -- I'm sorry for his family -- but he didn't whip cancer. It whipped him. I don't want Sean worshiping John Wayne or Sid Vicious. What do they teach you? Nothing. Death. Sid Vicious died for what? So that we might rock? I mean, it's garbage, you know. If Neil Young admires that sentiment so much, why doesn't he do it? Because he sure as hell faded away and came back many times, like all of us. No, thank you. I'll take the living and the healthy.
PLAYBOY: Do you listen to the radio?
LENNON: Muzak or classical. I don't purchase records. I do enjoy listening to things like Japanese folk music or Indian music. My tastes are very broad. When I was a housewife, I just had Muzak on -- background music -- 'cause it relaxes you.
PLAYBOY: Do you go out and buy records?
ONO: Or read the newspaper or magazines or watch TV? No.
PLAYBOY: The inevitable question, John. Do you listen to your records?
LENNON: Least of all my own.
PLAYBOY: Even your classics?
LENNON: Are you kidding? For pleasure, I would never listen to them. When I hear them, I just think of the session -- it's like an actor watching himself in an old movie. When I hear a song, I remember the Abbey Road studio, the session, who fought with whom, where I was sitting, banging the tambourine in the corner----
ONO: In fact, we really don't enjoy listening to other people's work much. We sort of analyze everything we hear.
PLAYBOY: Yoko, were you a Beatles fan?
ONO: No. Now I notice the songs, of course. In a restaurant, John will point out, "Ahh, they're playing George" or something.
PLAYBOY: John, do you ever go out to hear music?
LENNON: No, I'm not interested. I'm not a fan, you see. I might like Jerry Lee Lewis singing "A Whole Lot a Shakin'" on the record, but I'm not interested in seeing him perform it.
PLAYBOY: Your songs are performed more than most other songwriters'. How does that feel?
LENNON: I'm always proud and pleased when people do my songs. It gives me pleasure that they even attempt them, because a lot of my songs aren't that doable. I go to restaurants and the groups always play "Yesterday." I even signed a guy's violin in Spain after he played us "Yesterday." He couldn't understand that I didn't write the song. But I guess he couldn't have gone from table to table playing "I am the Walrus."
PLAYBOY: How does it feel to have influenced so many people?
LENNON: It wasn't really me or us. It was the times. It happened to me when I heard rock 'n' roll in the Fifties. I had no idea about doing music as a way of life until rock 'n' roll hit me.
PLAYBOY: Do you recall what specifically hit you?
LENNON: It was "Rock Around the Clock," I think. I enjoyed Bill Haley, but I wasn't overwhelmed by him. It wasn't until "Heartbreak Hotel" that I really got into it.
ONO: I am sure there are people whose lives were affected because they heard Indian music or Mozart or Bach. More than anything, it was the time and the place when the Beatles came up. Something did happen there. It was a kind of chemical. It was as if several people gathered around a table and a ghost appeared. It was that kind of communication. So they were like mediums, in a way. It's not something you can force. It was the people, the time, their youth and enthusiasm.
PLAYBOY: For the sake of argument, we'll maintain that no other contemporary artist or group of artists moved as many people in such a profound way as the Beatles.
LENNON: But what moved the Beatles?
PLAYBOY: You tell us.
LENNON: All right. Whatever wind was blowing at the time moved the Beatles, too. I'm not saying we weren't flags on the top of a ship; but the whole boat was moving. Maybe the Beatles were in the crow's-nest, shouting, "Land ho," or something like that, but we were all in the same damn boat.
ONO: The Beatles themselves were a social phenomenon not that aware of what they were doing. In a way----
LENNON: [Under his breath] This Beatles talk bores me to death.
ONO: As I said, they were like mediums. They weren't conscious of all they were saying, but it was coming through them.
LENNON: We tuned in to the message. That's all. I don't mean to belittle the Beatles when I say they weren't this, they weren't that. I'm just trying not to overblow their importance as separate from society. And I don't think they were more important than Glenn Miller or Woody Herman or Bessie Smith. It was our generation, that's all. It was Sixties music.
PLAYBOY: What do you say to those who insist that all rock since the Beatles has been the Beatles redone?
LENNON: All music is rehash. There are only a few notes. Just variations on a theme. Try to tell the kids in the Seventies who were screaming to the Bee Gees that their music was just the Beatles redone. There is nothing wrong with the Bee Gees. They do a damn good job. There was nothing else going on then.
PLAYBOY: Wasn't a lot of the Beatles' music at least more intelligent?
LENNON: The Beatles were more intellectual, so they appealed on that level, too. But the basic appeal of the Beatles was not their intelligence. It was their music. It was only after some guy in the "London Times" said there were Aeolian cadences in "It Won't Be Long" that the middle classes started listening to it -- because somebody put a tag on it.
PLAYBOY: Did you put Aeolian cadences in "It Won't Be Long?"
LENNON: To this day, I don't have any idea what they are. They sound like exotic birds.
PLAYBOY: How did you react to the misinterpretations of your songs?
LENNON: For instance?
PLAYBOY: The most obvious is the "Paul is dead" fiasco. You already explained the line in "Glass Onion." What about the line in "I am the Walrus" - - "I buried Paul"?
LENNON: I said "Cranberry sauce." That's all I said. Some people like ping-pong, other people like digging over graves. Some people will do anything rather than be here now.
PLAYBOY: What about the chant at the end of the song: "Smoke pot, smoke pot, everybody smoke pot"?
LENNON: No, no, no. I had this whole choir saying, "Everybody's got one, everybody's got one." But when you get 30 people, male and female, on top of 30 cellos and on top of the Beatles' rock-'n'-roll rhythm section, you can't hear what they're saying.
PLAYBOY: What does "everybody got"?
LENNON: Anything. You name it. One penis, one vagina, one asshole -- you name it.
PLAYBOY: Did it trouble you when the interpretations of your songs were destructive, such as when Charles Manson claimed that your lyrics were messages to him?
LENNON: No. It has nothing to do with me. It's like that guy, Son of Sam, who was having these talks with the dog. Manson was just an extreme version of the people who came up with the "Paul is dead" thing or who figured out that the initials to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" were LSD and concluded I was writing about acid.
PLAYBOY: Where did "Lucy in the Sky" come from?
LENNON: My son Julian came in one day with a picture he painted about a school friend of his named Lucy. He had sketched in some stars in the sky and called it "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," Simple.
PLAYBOY: The other images in the song weren't drug-inspired?
LENNON: The images were from "Alice in Wonderland." It was Alice in the boat. She is buying an egg and it turns into Humpty Dumpty. The woman serving in the shop turns into a sheep and the next minute they are rowing in a rowing boat somewhere and I was visualizing that. There was also the image of the female who would someday come save me -- a "girl with kaleidoscope eyes" who would come out of the sky. It turned out to be Yoko, though I hadn't met Yoko yet. So maybe it should be "Yoko in the Sky with Diamonds."
PLAYBOY: Do you have any interest in the pop historians analyzing the Beatles as a cultural phenomenon?
LENNON: It's all equally irrelevant. Mine is to do and other people's is to record, I suppose. Does it matter how many drugs were in Elvis' body? I mean, Brian Epstein's sex life will make a nice "Hollywood Babylon" someday, but it is irrelevant.
PLAYBOY: What started the rumors about you and Epstein?
LENNON: I went on holiday to Spain with Brian -- which started all the rumors that he and I were having a love affair. Well, it was almost a love affair, but not quite. It was never consummated. But we did have a pretty intense relationship. And it was my first experience with someone I knew was a homosexual. He admitted it to me. We had this holiday together because Cyn was pregnant and we left her with the baby and went to Spain. Lots of funny stories, you know. We used to sit in cafs and Brian would look at all the boys and I would ask, "Do you like that one? Do you like this one?" It was just the combination of our closeness and the trip that started the rumors.
PLAYBOY: It's interesting to hear you talk about your old songs such as "Lucy in the Sky" and "Glass Onion." Will you give some brief thoughts on some of our favorites?
PLAYBOY: Let's start with "In My Life."
LENNON: It was the first song I wrote that was consciously about my life. [Sings] "There are places I'll remember/all my life though some have changed. . . ." Before, we were just writing songs a la Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly -- pop songs with no more thought to them than that. The words were almost irrelevant. "In My Life" started out as a bus journey from my house at 250 Menlove Avenue to town, mentioning all the places I could recall. I wrote it all down and it was boring. So I forgot about it and laid back and these lyrics started coming to me about friends and lovers of the past. Paul helped with the middle eight.
LENNON: Well, we all know about "Yesterday." I have had so much accolade for "Yesterday." That is Paul's song, of course, and Paul's baby. Well done. Beautiful -- and I never wished I had written it.
PLAYBOY: "With a Little Help from My Friends."
LENNON: This is Paul, with a little help from me. "What do you see when you turn out the light/I can't tell you, but I know it's mine ..." is mine.
PLAYBOY: "I am the Walrus."
LENNON: The first line was written on one acid trip one weekend. The second line was written on the next acid trip the next weekend, and it was filled in after I met Yoko. Part of it was putting down Hare Krishna. All these people were going on about Hare Krishna, Allen Ginsberg in particular. The reference to "Element'ry penguin" is the elementary, naive attitude of going around chanting, "Hare Krishna," or putting all your faith in any one idol. I was writing obscurely, a la Dylan, in those days.
PLAYBOY: The song is very complicated, musically.
LENNON: It actually was fantastic in stereo, but you never hear it all. There was too much to get on. It was too messy a mix. One track was live BBC Radio -- Shakespeare or something -- I just fed in whatever lines came in.
PLAYBOY: What about the walrus itself?
LENNON: It's from "The Walrus and the Carpenter." "Alice in Wonderland." To me, it was a beautiful poem. It never dawned on me that Lewis Carroll was commenting on the capitalist and social system. I never went into that bit about what he really meant, like people are doing with the Beatles' work. Later, I went back and looked at it and realized that the walrus was the bad guy in the story and the carpenter was the good guy. I thought, Oh, shit, I picked the wrong guy. I should have said, "I am the carpenter." But that wouldn't have been the same, would it? [Singing] "I am the carpenter...."
PLAYBOY: How about "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window?"
LENNON: That was written by Paul when we were in New York forming Apple, and he first met Linda. Maybe she's the one who came in the window. She must have. I don't know. Somebody came in the window.
PLAYBOY: "I Feel Fine."
LENNON: That's me, including the guitar lick with the first feedback ever recorded. I defy anybody to find an earlier record -- unless it is some old blues record from the Twenties -- with feedback on it.
PLAYBOY: "When I'm Sixty-Four."
LENNON: Paul completely. I would never even dream of writing a song like that. There are some areas I never think about and that is one of them.