By Jonathan Cott / December 5, 1980
"Welcome to the inner sanctum!" says John Lennon, greeting me with high-spirited, mock ceremoniousness in Yoko Ono's beautiful cloud-ceilinged office in their Dakota apartment. It's Friday evening, December 5, and Yoko has been telling me how their collaborative new album, Double Fantasy, came about: Last spring, John and their son, Sean, were vacationing in Bermuda while Yoko stayed home "sorting out business," as she puts it. She and John spoke on the phone every day and sang each other the songs they had composed in between calls.
"I was at a dance club one night in Bermuda," John interrupts as he sits down on a couch and Yoko gets up to bring coffee. "Upstairs, they were playing disco, and downstairs, I suddenly heard 'Rock Lobster' by the B-52's for the first time. Do you know it? It sounds just like Yoko's music, so I said to meself, 'It's time to get out the old axe and wake the wife up!' We wrote about twenty-five songs during those three weeks, and we've recorded enough for another album."
"I've been playing side two of Double Fantasy over and over," I say, getting ready to ply him with a question. John looks at me with a time and interview-stopping smile. "How are you?" he asks. "It's been like a reunion for us these last few weeks. We've seen Ethan Russell, who's doing a videotape of a couple of the new songs, and Annie Leibovitz was here. She took my first Rolling Stone cover photo. It's been fun seeing everyone we used to know and doing it all again - we've all survived. When did we first meet?"
"I met you and Yoko on September 17, 1968," I say, remembering the first of our several meetings. I was just a lucky guy, at the right place at the right time. John had decided to become more "public" and to demystify his Beatles persona. He and Yoko, whom he'd met in November 1966, were preparing for the Amsterdam and Montreal bed-ins for peace and were soon to release Two Virgins, the first of their experimental record collaborations. The album cover - the infamous frontal nude portrait of them - was to grace the pages of Rolling Stone's first anniversary issue. John had just discovered the then-impoverished, San Francisco-based magazine, and he'd agreed to give Rolling Stone the first of his "coming-out" interviews. As "European editor," I was asked to visit John and Yoko and to take along a photographer (Ethan Russell, who later took the photos for the Let It Be book that accompanied the album). So, nervous and excited, we met John and Yoko at their temporary basement flat in London.
First impressions are usually the most accurate, and John was graceful, gracious, charming, exuberant, direct, witty and playful; I remember noticing how he wrote little reminders to himself in the wonderfully absorbed way that a child paints the sun. He was due at a recording session in a half-hour to work on the White Album, so we agreed to meet the next day to do the interview, after which John and Yoko invited Ethan and me to attend the session for "Back in the U.S.S.R." at Abbey Road Studios. Only a performance of Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre might have made me feel as ecstatic and fortunate as I did at that moment.
Every new encounter with John brought a new perspective. Once, I ran into John and Yoko in 1971. A friend and I had gone to see Carnal Knowledge, and afterward we bumped into the Lennons in the lobby. Accompanied by Jerry Rubin and a friend of his, they invited us to drive down with them to Ratner's delicatessen in the East Village for blintzes, whereupon a beatific, long-haired young man approached our table and wordlessly handed John a card inscribed with a pithy saying of the inscrutable Meher Baba. Rubin drew a swastika on the back of the card, got up and gave it back to the man. When he returned, John admonished him gently, saying that that wasn't the way to change someone's consciousness. Acerbic and skeptical as he could often be, John Lennon never lost his sense of compassion.