Monday, November 30, 2009

John Lennon: 1980

By Jonathan Cott / December 5, 1980

"All the way through your work, John, there's this incredibly strong notion about inspiring people to be themselves and to come together and try to change things. I'm thinking here, obviously, of songs like 'Give Peace a Chance,' 'Power to the People' and 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over).' "

"It's still there," John replies. "If you look on the vinyl around the new album's [the twelve-inch single "(Just Like) Starting Over"] logo - which all the kids have done already all over the world from Brazil to Australia to Poland, anywhere that gets the record - inside is written: ONE WORLD, ONE PEOPLE. So we continue.

"I get truly affected by letters from Brazil or Poland or Austria - places I'm not conscious of all the time - just to know somebody is there, listening. One kid living up in Yorkshire wrote this heartfelt letter about being both Oriental and English and identifying with John and Yoko. The odd kid in the class. There are a lot of those kids who identify with us. They don't need the history of rock & roll. They identify with us as a couple, a biracial couple, who stand for love, peace, feminism and the positive things of the world.

"You know, give peace a chance, not shoot people for peace. All we need is love. I believe it. It's damn hard, but I absolutely believe it. We're not the first to say, 'Imagine no countries' or 'Give peace a chance,' but we're carrying that torch, like the Olympic torch, passing it from hand to hand, to each other, to each country, to each generation. That's our job. We have to conceive of an idea before we can do it.

"I've never claimed divinity. I've never claimed purity of soul. I've never claimed to have the answer to life. I only put out songs and answer questions as honestly as I can, but only as honestly as I can - no more, no less. I cannot live up to other people's expectations of me because they're illusionary. And the people who want more than I am, or than Bob Dylan is, or than Mick Jagger is. . . .

"Take Mick, for instance. Mick's put out consistently good work for twenty years, and will they give him a break? Will they ever say, 'Look at him, he's Number One, he's thirty-six and he's put out a beautiful song, "Emotional Rescue," it's up there.' I enjoyed it, lots of people enjoyed it. So it goes up and down, up and down. God help Bruce Springsteen when they decide he's no longer God. I haven't seen him - I'm not a great 'in'-person watcher - but I've heard such good things about him. Right now, his fans are happy. He's told them about being drunk and chasing girls and cars and everything, and that's about the level they enjoy. But when he gets down to facing his own success and growing older and having to produce it again and again, they'll turn on him, and I hope he survives it. All he has to do is look at me and Mick. . . . I cannot be a punk in Hamburg and Liverpool anymore. I'm older now. I see the world through different eyes. I still believe in love, peace and understanding, as Elvis Costello said, and what's so funny about love, peace and understanding?"

"There's another aspect of your work, which has to do with the way you continuously question what's real and what's illusory, such as in 'Look at Me,' your beautiful new 'Watching the Wheels' - what are those wheels, by the way? - and, of course, 'Strawberry Fields Forever,' in which you sing: 'Nothing is real.' "

"Watching the wheels?" John asks. "The whole universe is a wheel, right? Wheels go round and round. They're my own wheels, mainly. But, you know, watching meself is like watching everybody else. And I watch meself through my child, too. Then, in a way, nothing is real, if you break the word down. As the Hindus or Buddhists say, it's an illusion, meaning all matter is floating atoms, right? It's Rashomon. We all see it, but the agreed-upon illusion is what we live in. And the hardest thing is facing yourself. It's easier to shout 'Revolution' and 'Power to the people' than it is to look at yourself and try to find out what's real inside you and what isn't, when you're pulling the wool over your own eyes. That's the hardest one.

"I used to think that the world was doing it to me and that the world owed me something, and that either the conservatives or the socialists or the fascists or the communists or the Christians or the Jews were doing something to me; and when you're a teenybopper, that's what you think. I'm forty now. I don't think that anymore, 'cause I found out it doesn't fucking work! The thing goes on anyway, and all you're doing is jacking off, screaming about what your mommy or daddy or society did, but one has to go through that. For the people who even bother to go through that - most assholes just accept what is and get on with it, right? - but for the few of us who did question what was going on. . . . I have found out personally - not for the whole world! - that I am responsible for it, as well as them. I am part of them. There's no separation; we're all one, so in that respect, I look at it all and think, 'Ah, well, I have to deal with me again in that way. What is real? What is the illusion I'm living or not living?' And I have to deal with it every day. The layers of the onion. But that is what it's all about.

"The last album I did before Double Fantasy was Rock 'n' Roll, with a cover picture of me in Hamburg in a leather jacket. At the end of making that record, I was finishing up a track that Phil Spector had made me sing called 'Just Because,' which I really didn't know - all the rest I'd done as a teenager, so I knew them backward - and I couldn't get the hang of it. At the end of that record - I was mixing it just next door to this very studio - I started spieling and saying, 'And so we say farewell from the Record Plant,' and a little thing in the back of my mind said, 'Are you really saying farewell?' I hadn't thought of it then. I was still separated from Yoko and still hadn't had the baby, but somewhere in the back was a voice that was saying, 'Are you saying farewell to the whole game?'

"It just flashed by like that - like a premonition. I didn't think of it until a few years later, when I realized that I had actually stopped recording. I came across the cover photo - the original picture of me in my leather jacket, leaning against the wall in Hamburg in 1962 - and I thought, 'Is this it? Do I start where I came in, with "Be-Bop-A-Lula"?' The day I met Paul I was singing that song for the first time onstage. There's a photo in all the Beatles books - a picture of me with a checked shirt on, holding a little acoustic guitar - and I am singing 'Be-Bop-A-Lula,' just as I did on that album, and there's a picture in Hamburg and I'm saying goodbye from the Record Plant.

"Sometimes you wonder, I mean really wonder. I know we make our own reality and we always have a choice, but how much is preordained? Is there always a fork in the road and are there two preordained paths that are equally preordained? There could be hundreds of paths where one could go this way or that way - there's a choice and it's very strange sometimes. . . . And that's a good ending for our interview."

Jack Douglas, co-producer of Double Fantasy, has arrived and is overseeing the mix of Yoko's songs. It's 2:30 in the morning, but John and I continue to talk until four as Yoko naps on a studio couch. John speaks of his plans for touring with Yoko and the band that plays on Double Fantasy; of his enthusiasm for making more albums; of his happiness about living in New York City, where, unlike England or Japan, he can raise his son without racial prejudice; of his memory of the first rock & roll song he ever wrote (a takeoff on the Dell Vikings' "Come Go with Me," in which he changed the lines to: "Come come come come / Come and go with me / To the peni-tentiary"); of the things he has learned on his many trips around the world during the past five years. As he walks me to the elevator, I tell him how exhilarating it is to see Yoko and him looking and sounding so well. "I love her, and we're together," he says. "Goodbye, till next time."

"After all is really said and done / The two of us are really one," John Lennon sings in "Dear Yoko," a song inspired by Buddy Holly, who himself knew something about true love's ways. "People asking questions lost in confusion / Well I tell them there's no problem, only solutions," sings John in "Watching the Wheels," a song about getting off the merry-go-round, about letting it go.

In the tarot, the Fool is distinguished from other cards because it is not numbered, suggesting that the Fool is outside movement and change. And as it has been written, the Fool and the clown play the part of scapegoats in the ritual sacrifice of humans. John and Yoko have never given up being Holy Fools. In a recent Playboy interview, Yoko, responding to a reference to other notables who had been interviewed in that magazine, said: "People like Carter represent only their country. John and I represent the world." I am sure many readers must have snickered. But three nights after our conversation, the death of John Lennon revealed Yoko's statement to be astonishingly true. "Come together over me," John had sung, and people everywhere in the world came together.

1 comment:

steve said...

John Lennon fans might want to check out the new book, “The Cynical Idealist: A Spiritual Biography of John Lennon,” by author and artist Gary Tillery (Quest Books).

In the book, Tillery credits Lennon with making significant contributions to many modern spiritual movements, including men’s liberation, guided meditation (”Imagine”), and global peace.

An excerpt from the book ponders, "What Would John Lennon Do?" in response to current events. You can read the excerpt at Amazon or