John talks about what he likes about living in America and how he deals with missing England. He also speaks of his relationship with band members, whether the band will perform again and the journey he took to creating his last album.
John Lennon Interview Transcription
Bob Harris: John, let’s talk about New York, first of all.
John Lennon: Alright, Bob.
Bob Harris: Ok, because you’ve been here a good long time now and had a good long time to sort of digest the city. How do you feel about New York as a city? Do you enjoy it here?
John Lennon: I still love it, I’ve been here 3 and a half or four years, something like that. Probably three and a half and the thing I like best about it is that A: it’s 24 hours. And people always say, “What’s an American?” Well, people aren’t always saying it; I’m saying it. But there is no such this in a place like New York. I don’t know about the Mid-West and those kinds of places; that’s what – you know- is America I suppose. But New York is a bit like Lindon only more so. Meaning everybody is a foreigner, you know. Nobody even speaks… There’s no set language. You get in a cab and you say, “I want to go to West 44th Street” and they say, “What you say?”, you know. So it’s that bit that I like; there’s all the different nationalities here. And sometimes in the summer it’s like being in Calcutta or something, you can cut the heat with a knife. And you’re always hearing congas going on in the park all the time. It is like a festival going on. And I just dig it.
Bob Harris: How different is life in New York by comparison with life in London? I don’t know New York very well at all but the first impression I get from say a 34th-story window, I mean the city looks amazing! But it feels very tense down on the street.
John Lennon: I don’t know. To me, it’s no tenser that Liverpool or London was. I mean in the street in Liverpool, unless you’re in the suburbs, you have to walk close to the wall to get to the cabin- for those of you who remember all that. It was no easy matter; even at lunchtime sometimes. I mean it’s a tense place. And Glasgow and New Castle, London had it. When I first got to London it was pretty nerve-wracking. We were all putting our ; we’re from Liverpool and we’re tough bit’ but there were some hard knocks down in London, you know. ANd I think that’s what you feel, it’s almost the difference between Liverpool and London, London and New York. It has that tenseness; it’s just that it’s going at a tremendous speed. I don’t know why but it is. So people have that kind of tenseness, you know.
Bob Harris: What about the music business in New York, John? Say for example places to play because there seems to be so much more activity here in that respect as well.
John Lennon: Well the whole music business that was here a lot of it has moved to the West Coast. A lot of people like to go and lie out so a lot of the industry has gone down there. But there are still plenty of studios and musicians. It’s almost cliques which I’m not keen on that’s why I like to use a few different people from different areas. There’s a lot of action here, a lot of good musicians and of course, all the English musicians pass through here and thy cut tracks or they goof around. So there’s always input coming in, you know?
Bob Harris: I get the impression really too, that there is a much greater kind of general awareness of rock music in this country. I mean I saw on the television yesterday that those (3:01-3:03 inaudible) and their gig at
Madison Square Gardens the other night. Is there a greater awareness of rock music over here?
John Lennon: Well, then…Profit isn’t too dirty a word here. As they say… Madison Square is the place, you know. I mean when anybody tours America or comes from England – wherever they come from – they have to hit Madison Square Garden and the place in LA which I can’t remember. That’s the one that counts, the rest is just travel. And it’s a big event and the local newsmakers – 4 or 5 channels of news – there are 3 big ones and then there’s a couple thrown in of local stations and then there’s sort of the BBC one – I call it the WNET. They (inaudible) news and they are all looking for something to say. So they always cover the big events especially Madison Square whether it’s Muhammad Ali or Jethro Tull and it’s a big event. And the industry is a multibillion-dollar industry so it’s …I think it’s bigger than the film industry now. And I think they’re getting aware of that.
Bob Harris: There seems also John to be a really big difference between the American singles and the album charts and the charts in Britain.
John Lennon: That’s what I’m finding out to my detriment.
Bob Harris:(laughing) Yes.
John Lennon: So what I did was I had a person at my office keep sending me the top 10 from England because I have to find out what’s going on, don’t I? But I mean, if I fighting ‘If’ by Telly Savalas well I’ve got a long battle.
Bob Harris: What did you think then of the stuff that you’ve heard – the local stuff from Britain?
John Lennon: Well, I like it because it sounds like rock and roll you see. The 1first batch I got I said, “I’ve got to check out what’s going on over there. I had a feeling that this rock and roll album would do better than the old stuff but after I heard it I had the first top 10 sent over and I listened to it – it was over Christmas – they were all of a sudden imitating Elvis and rock and roll stuff and I thought “Aha! oh, that’s what it is.” It really is changing.
Bob Harris: Are you missing England very much, John?
John Lennon: I try not to you know. Like I had your friend here bring me the chocolate olivers. It’s little things you miss like black pudding and chocolate olivers and I don’t allow myself to miss it that much because then I couldn’t carry on fighting about my green card. I’m going to win that one first and then I keep telling myself that it will be there. I will take another 18 months to get the card, maybe 2 years; it is going to be there, ain’t going nowhere.
Bob Harris: How did the involvement with David Bowie coming back?
John Lennon: Well, he sort of seems to be in New York, right and I seem to be the guy in New York that all the Englishmen say, “Hi” to. No, it is good, the mix in town, halls in town. Anybody comes, I love it. All the rockers come and say, “Hey, what’s happening?”. I’m supposed to show them what’s happening. Or they already know – most of them anyway. I got to know David through Mick really although I had met him once before. And the next minute he says, “Hello John! I’m doing ‘Across the Universe’. Do you wanna come on down?” So I said, “Alright”, I live here, I’ll pop down”. I played rhythm. And then he had this lick. We’d finished ‘Across the Universe’ and this guitarist had a lick so we sort of wrote this song, you know? It was no big deal; we just sort of boom, boom, boom. It wasn’t like sitting down to write a song. So we made this lick into a song, that is what happened. And that’s how it happened and there it is. And people are saying, “What’s he doing with Elton John and David Bowie?” I’m doing it because its fun, you know? We used to have Brian Jones of ‘You Know My Name’ a Beatles number, he playing in that playing sax. In those days you couldn’t tell; you were not supposed to tell. So we’d have a lot of people on our sessions, the Beatle sessions and nobody would know who was on because weren’t allowed to tell. Then it went through the phase where you said, Johnny Öhlin is playing guitar’ or “George O Harris”…Your George has some name; he’s played ion everybody’s records. Now you just put your name on it as long as the company knows and it’s cool especially if you’re doing nothing.
Bob Harris:Yeah because you seem to have really enjoyed the things you did with Elton.
John Lennon:Oh yeah. Well, Elton and I are very close. David, I know him quite well but I don’t know him as well as Elton. It was just, “What do you say? I’m doing your song, you want to come?” “Alright, I’ll come.”
Bob Harris:Did the life think that you did with Elton prompt you to start thinking about going on the road again?
John Lennon:No. My quote was when I came off ” I enjoyed it a lot but I wouldn’t like to do it for a living”. If I can live without doing it, I’ll do it. if I get the urge to perform, I’ll do it. And if I do a tour ever I’ll wait for my green card and do a tour of the world. I don’t think you should go around in circles but I may as well do it all. I always was a record man, you know. I like the studio always best once I got the hang of it and the control of it. I like it because it’s complete control and even as a fan when I was younger, I wasn’t that mad on seeing the artiste live. I like the record. I like the record of ‘Be-bop-a-Lula’ say. I’m not particularly mad on seeing Gene Vincent everytime he came to town. I wasn’t that upset that Elvis never came to England. I’d go for the records – the pre-army records. So records are what I was hooked on. If they came around I might go see, you know?
Bob Harris:The inevitable question….
John Lennon:Are they ever going to get back together?
Bob Harris:Yeah, I mean, first of all, is there any possibility? But secondly much more importantly, do you think that it is a good idea?
John Lennon: Well, that’s another point altogether, whether it’d be a good idea or not. You see it’s strange because at one period when they were asking me I was saying, “Nah! Never! What the hell? Go back? No, not me.” And then there came a period when I thought, “Well, why not? If we felt like making a record or doing something”. Everyone always envisages the stage shows! For me, if we were together in the studio again…Stage show- something else. If we’ve got something to say in a studio – OK. Now when I am saying that, I turn the paper and George is saying, “Well, not me”. It,s never gotten to the position where each one of us has wanted to do it at the same time. I think over the period of being apart we’ve all thought, “Oh that wouldn’t be nice, that wouldn’t be bad”. I mean, I’ve worked with Ringo, I’ve worked with Ringo and George. I haven’t worked with Paul because we had a more difficult time but now we’re pretty close. So it’s…. and the other question is would it be worth it? That is answered by if we wanted to do it. if we wanted to do it then it would be worth it. If we got into a studio together and thought we turn each other on again then it would be worth it. And sod the critics, you know? They’ve got nothing to do with it. The music is the music; if we make a piece that we think was worthwhile, it goes out. It’s pie in the sky. I don’t care either way. If someone wants to pull it together I’ll go along. I’m not in a mood to pull it together, that’s for sure. I’ve got too much – I think we all have- got too much to do ourselves. But if they were all in town I’d say, “Come on down”, put them on my record and then it’d be a Beatles record, But if they were around… I jammed with Paul, I did actually play with Paul. We did a lot of stuff in LA. There were 50 other people playing too and they were all just watching me and Paul.
Bob Harris: You must be pleased with what Paul is doing, John.
John Lennon:I’m pleased that everybody is doing well, you know? I’m more pleased that Ringo is doing well. That he’s got himself a good niche. Because I know that Paul would be alright. Why the hell would I worry about him if I know he’s going to be alright.
Bob Harris:In retrospect now, do you regret (inaudible)
John Lennon:No. Somebody said the other day, “It’s about me”. I regret that it was so…not those songs. Two things that I regretted: one is that there was so much talk about Paul that they missed a song that was a good track. And I should have kept my mouth shut, not on the song it could have been about anybody. And when you look at them back, Dylan said it about his stuff that he found that most of it is about him. I wrote a sort of sum about how do you sleep on walls and bridges, kind of. The name is ‘Steel and Glass’ which I thought was about a few people but then I realized, ‘No, it’s me again!’. So it’s not about Paul, it’s about me, you know? I’m really attacking myself. But I regret the association. I don’t want to regret; he lived through it. The only thing that matters is how he and I feel about those things and not about what the writer or the commentator thinks about it. He and I are OK so I don’t care what they say about that. I can go through my thing. I’ve always been a little different – ‘Lennon Blast Hollies’ – that was one of the early steps. I’ve always been that. Our first national press was me beating up a disc jockey at Paul’s 21st party; that was the first Beatles national press we got – the back page of the mirror. I ‘ve always been a little loose. I hope it will change because I am fed up with waking up in the papers. But if it doesn’t, you know, my friends are my friends whatever way.
Bob Harris: Let’s talk about the new album, John, because the recording (you did in Europe) spanned quite a lot of time.
John Lennon:It spanned many eons, Bob, many eons. Well the rock and roll album, folks, started in ’73 after I finished ‘Mind Games’ and I was really in the middle of whats going on and ‘Uh, all the life, help!’. And I’d just done ‘Mind Games’ and I thought “How could I have some fun instead of all this writing my feeling in all these songs?” Being the writer and the artiste I thought “What can I do to break that regime of writing the song?” ‘John Lennon writes a new song, is it about him or is it about Paul or whatever? So I thought, ‘I know!’ I’m always in between takes with the Beatles too. We’d always break into be-bop-a-lula or you know, we’d always jam those songs. They’re my favourite songs – a lot of them and I never did them because I admired the original so much I wouldn’t dare touch them. But by now people are ruining everything so I thought, ‘Why can’t I do it? They’re all doing it so what the hell?” So I thought, ‘I know! Who shall I use? The great Phil Spector!’ I’d used him before but I’d always controlled it and been co-producer. But this one took me 3 weeks to talk him into being the producer. I said, “Look, I’m Ronnie on this one, alright? I just want to sing, I don’t want to know nothing about nothing”. So we started the sessions and they went well and then they gradually collapsed into mania. That’s one way of putting it. It definitely got crazy! Now there were 28 guys playing at night and 15 of them were out of their minds including me. And the sessions broke down. We broke them down pretty well – Phil and I. They got really balmy, I’m not even going to say what happened, some of it was ridiculous. That’s the first time I ever let an album out of my control since the first Beatle album and I’ll never do it again. Next minute, I didn’t have the tapes and Phil had a car accident. That’s all I heard. I waited 8 months in LA, waiting for him to recover.
Bob Harris:Where was he at that point, John?
John Lennon:He’s mysterious man his woodwork to perform, my dear. Phill works in such mysterious ways, his woodwork to perform. He’s a great artiste but like all artiste it….. Anyway, all I knew is that I was sitting around waiting in LA for the tape to finish the album. So I got fed up…That’s how I ended up doing Harry. I was just hanging out with guys and all we do is get drunk and waking up sick. So, that’s how I said to Harry, “Forget this. Let’s do something”. So after that, I came home to New York and I by then I had straightened myself out and I was ready to do ‘Walls and Bridges’ and I was straight – no drink. And I thought, ‘I’m ready to record’. The before I go in to record I get the tapes back. We finally made a deal- it had to do with deals as usual. I get the Phill Spector tapes back and they’re about 8 tracks. Half of them we couldn’t use for one reason or another. Like if you’ve got 10 people playing out of and the other…You know, ‘Angel Baby’ is a phenomenal track. So, I sorted out the best of the Spector stuff – what I thought was the best and decided the best way to finish it was to go in and finish it. So I did the rest of it by myself using the basic unit that I usually use, of about 8 guys. I did it in about 5 days – 3 tracks a night. I just said, “Rock and roll! OK, rock!” We just went in and rehearsed them a couple of days beforehand so that they were loose. And we just went in and did like take 1- ‘Stand By Me’, take 2 -‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’, you know? The opposite of what wasgoing on down on the West Coast and this was a year later. I did that after ‘Walls and Bridges’. I took a couple of weeks off and then it was a choice of either just leaving it forever and never putting it out or trying to find some format for 4 or 5 Spector tracks which I didn’t think were singles. They might but I couldn’t tell. I was so sick of the whole thing. So I thought, ‘Now what do I do? Just leave it in the can?’ I hate leaving stuff in the can. I’ve got no stuff in the can – not even the Beatles. And I thought, “OK, finish it off and see what it is.’ So I finished it off and i played it around to a few people that weren’t me. I played it to the record company, I didn’t know what to do with it. I said, i don’t know whether to release it even. I’ve got it off my chest, I’ve finished it.’ And they all said, “This is alright, it’s alright. Let’s put it out!” I said, “It’s alright, is it? OK, we’ll put it out”. And then once it went out I felt,’Great, it’s out!’, you know? It’s out because I’ve never been so long on an album in my life. It was longer than ‘Sergeant Pepper’, you know? I normally take 8 weeks to make an album – from start to finish – out in the shops otherwise I get bored and this had been going on and on.
Bob Harris:Presumably, when the green card comes through, we will see you in England?
John Lennon:Oh, you bet. Of course! I’ve got family in England. I’ve got a child who has to keep traveling. Hello Julian. Got it in already. I’ve got my auntie Mimi. Hello Mimi and all my other relatives who are furious at me but we won’t say why. I’ll tell you Mimi isn’t.
Bob Harris:Let’s stop there, John. Thanks very much indeed. A very great pleasure to meet you.
John Lennon:And you. Hello England! Keep sending those chocolate olivers. Keep your chin up. We’ll meet again. I don’t know where. I don’t know when