Q and A
Lennon: The Artist, The Beatle
John Lennon, the musician has been in the United States since 1971 shaping a new career, while fighting an on-going battle with the Immigration and Naturalization Services. He was interviewed in New York by Starnews staff writer William Jobes.
Q: Your immigration case has been going on for so long, has it distracted your concentration? Has it made your more sensitive to public exposure?
Lennon: No, there was a period when I was ready to go on the road. That was about two years ago, and I kept having to go to court about immigration and I could not think about forming a band, creating a package. You have to put your whole energy in a project, so I consider myself lucky to have still been able to just put out albums and work and I’ve enjoyed myself.
Q: Didn’t this distractions of the Beatlse as an industry contribute to the group’s breaking up?
Lennon: Yes, the business began to take over, because the Beatles were a helluva big business. I mean they were talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. And after our first manager died, it became appears to us that somebody’s got to run this thing. We were floundering about with all those vast problems. And it was a giant industry which we almost didn’t realize, we were so busy being the Beatles. And suddenly we found ourselves in charge of this vast array of complicated, complicated companies, within companies, within companies, within companies.
Q: But isn’t that what happens when you get into hundreds of millions of dollars?
Lennon: We weren’t conscious of that. We were out to be famous rock n rollers and play good music and have a bloody good time. I mean you start out with different intentions; you don’t’ know what fame is, you don’t know what being rich is ‘til you’re rich, you don’t know what any of it is. It just escalated onto a world scale and one-next minute we turned around and people are calling us for decisions on vast things that we have no clue what they’re talking about! “What do you mean, Beatles concessions on lunch boxes; what are you talking about?” We didn’t even know there were lunch boxes! I thought, hells, bells, I didn’t set out…I’m an artist. I always was an artist and an artist is what I’m going to be. So, just leave me enough air to breath and let me get on with it!
Q: Do you ever see the other guys: George, Ringo and Paul?
Lennon: Yeah, I see ‘em whenever they come to America.
Q: They’re not here much.
Lennon: Oh yeah, they’re here a lot more than people think. They just haven’t toured.
Q: Are you going to tour?
Lennon: I ain’t quite ready to do it. You see for me to tour, it involves creating a band. Not just creating it, but working it. Live, and getting myself back into live condition playing. It’s physical. I probably will, but when I’ll do it, I don’t know. But it’s more than just going on the road y’see especially if I’m suddenly on my own. I don’t have a band; you have to create it. Paul created a band, but it keeps changing. He’s been on tour a few times in Europe but it’s still that one guy wants to leave and…there Beatles weren’t formed overnight…and if I form a band, I really want a good one. I’ve had a good band before, so I’m not going around with a crummy band. But I do see them. They last one I saw was Paul: he was on his way to New Orleans and he’s recording there now, and I’ll probably go down and see him. I saw George when he was here on tour. I see Ringo more than the others ‘cause I was doing his sessions on the last album, Goodnight Vienna. I wrote him a song and I went down and played on it and all that.
Q: There’s a lot of press that says you guys don’t get along because of the Apple problems.
Lennon: No, we get on fine, we get on fine. I mean, we had tension when we split up, hells bells, anybody getting a divorce – and we refer to it as The Divorce – four guys got a divorce after being together for 10 or 15 years! I was 15 when I met Paul. And that was 1955. So, Paul and I have been together for the longest, but between us all we’d been together 12, 13 years. And just suddenly to break, separate, it’s a big emotional thing. People don’t’ understand that because they see it form their selfish point of view. But they must understand we had to see it from our selfish point of view. It was an emotional thing to split with people after you’ve practically lived in each other’s pockets for a long time.
We are friends. I think there’s none of us that wouldn’t say that the other three are their best friends. I blab me mouth off more than any of them, ‘cause I’m an emotional freak. So I was the one that did all the screaming, y’know, but they know me better. They say, “Sure he screams, but that’s his problem.” I got a letter from George yesterday: “Hi. What’s going on?” Just to say hello. I understand people must’ve said, “Wow, they must hate each other” or “Is it Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin?” It ain’t that. Even between pals, when it comes down to making a business deal, even when we played Monopoly we got serious.
Q: Everybody’s serious playing Monopoly.
Lennon: Right. So we’re playing Monopoly with real money and it gets serious. Right? But we just walk out and leave the lawyers to it sometimes and we have a laugh and then we go back in and lay Monopoly, it’s down to that.
Q: You’re probably the most respected figure in popular music today. When you say something people pay attention. Do you feel a big sense of responsibility about that?
Lennon: I became aware of it when I get a reaction to something I’ve said. Now, everything I say is NOT that important. The problem with being in this position I’m in, is that if I express a though and/or a feeling, emotional or otherwise, and I change my mind about it – six months later I have to rewrite what I’ve written because I’m suddenly aware of something I said two years ago.
Q: Not the way you wanted them to?
Lennon: Well, I don’t know even which way or other, but somehow the conversation has turned around. I’ve some ‘round to say, in the conversation of life, “Oh, by the way, eh, that thought I had about this, I’ve had second thoughts about it. I’m four years older now. I’m two years older and I’ve come to the conclusion that probably I was wrong about that. But I cannot spend my time then correcting what I’ve said, because that’s what I said when I said it. And growing up, or whatever you call it does change one’ s opinions, not one’s values I hope. If you paint the Battle of Trafalgar, or the Battle of New Orleans, for your American viewers, and then you paint a portrait, it’s subtler or more subliminal. I can’t think of the correct word. The artist is one minute painting a battle and maybe that picture makes a statement about battles from his point of view. But then when he paints a portrait, it doesn’t invalidate his battle picture. And he might get onto portraits for the next four years and then go on to paint balloons! But people come up to him and say, “why don’t you paint another battle picture?” He said, “Well, I’m interested in flowers at the moment, or I’m painting birds, or I’m painting tanks” y’know? Or I painting the boots of the soldiers of battle. I mean people tend to want to have what they’ve had before.
Q: To be reinforced: “Remind me of what I did before.”
Lennon: Yeah, give me another one of those. I felt good when I had that or I saw that. Can I have another please? But I didn’t think it’s the artist’s function to provide that kind of concern.
Q: What do you think the artist’s function is, then?
Lennon: The artist’s function is to be as true to himself, and therefore the people he communicates with through his art, as he can. And survive. Because artists are still---whatever form they take—lauded in some parts of society, but in general, artists are still a little bit of an… It’s either kooky or an accessory to society. But if people check back to the caves they’ll find that the artist is an integral, important part of society. It is not some bonus. It is not some chocolate on a cake. It is part of society that has to be. Society can’t function without artists. Artists can’t function without society.
I’m not saying we’re any better or worse than the man---than the farmer! I’m saying we are as important as the farmer, or the general, or the government. We are just an integral part. We might be one finger on the body, but you need that finger. Artists are a fact of life, and there’s still a bit of a feeling that, well, they’re sort of lazybones who really should’ve got a real job. But they ended up being artists. That feelings is still around, that we could do without them.
Q: Have your legal problems led you to think that that’s particularly the case in this country?
Lennon: I’m not saying I’ve been going around with tears in me eyes. I have a good time in this country and I want to be here, and I don’t think anything’s going to get me out. But I think it’s time to stop, man, it’s time they laid off. I’m not threat. I pay a lot of taxes. I’m a good citizen of any country. I do no harm, and I bring more people pleasure than I do pain, so what are they doing to me?
Why are they bothering? I mean look at Ingrid Bergman now, Charlie Chaplin. All the silly things that went down. I mean it is stupid. And they’re always proved wrong. It’s the same mentality that attacks artists. Artists will always be artists and do what people want. Do they want it to be like Russia where artists can only express government policy?
In 2004, Christie's Auction House auctioned off Jobes' cassette tapes of the Lennon interview and through the auction, we got to learn more about this interview:
JOBES: Tell me about working with Elton John
LENNON: I did not work with him a lot but I did work on Lucy...I did all the reggae, that was my contribution...There was not time for the legal department to okay my name for credits so I used Dr. Winston O'Reggae... In those days we all did.
JOBES: Is there a lot of that going around?
LENNON: It's true, yes we all did...Those days things were secretive, nowadays companies give other musicians credit...Just last night I played with David Bowie, and I am going to call EMI tomorrow to make sure I get the credit... But in the old days, we just did it.. You can hear Mick and Paul in Carly Simon's You're So Vain track.. Once you know it, you can always hear Mick...You can not miss it.
JOBES: Do you get bothered walking down the street?
LENNON: No, it's not 1965. Sure I get stopped for autographs...If you are having an opening or you have had a lot of publicity lately then its different... Like Led Zepplin is right now...But staged publicity generates the most...Take Sgt. Pepper's Opening...I will never forget it. It was an amazing experience...I could hardly get into the theatre. It was such a peculiar feeling.. For a while before that album, I forgot what it was like.. This is how it is?
JOBES: Tell me about your average day?
LENNON: I do not have an average day....I do all my composing and song writing at home....mostly on the piano.
JOBES What is happening to music now?
LENNON: I have no idea
JOBES: What was going through your head when you came here?
LENNON: Literally, I got off the plane in 1971 and Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were the first people that contacted me. Before I even knew it, I started performing at these rallies...Being an artist, I sort of go with the wind and the next thing I knew my phone was being bugged....I took them for face value..., I took them for what they said, we used to argue about peace and violence as Yoko and I were against the violence no matter what the revolution was about...And then an article in Rolling Stone came out that said Yoko and John heading a rally in San Diego during the Republican Convention..nothing had been confirmed, then the roof came down...A lot of discussion about it... The next minute there is noise on the phone and people outside my door, I realize my phone is being tapped... I was being followed... My feeling was I supposed to know as they did not try to hide...the thing that stopped it was I went on the Dick Cavett Show and told everyone... nervously and quickly .... think back, then there was no Watergate, and I was beginning to doubt my own sanity.... My friends told me I was a rock and roller and to stop being paranoid.
Jobes and Lennon then get into a discussion about John and Yoko's problems with immigration and the rest of the tape is basically a discussion between the two. Below are some of John's comments:
Immigration case said that they were just treating us the same.... They said they treated Yoko exactly the same but after she had been to court, spent money, they realized that she had no court case of marijuana in England, she did have a green card from her first husband and that we were just two peaceniks... They had nothing on her, rather then that she was my wife....we knew that instructions were coming from Washington even though they kept saying that it was a local case...but we found out that a letter was sent Strom Thruman.... Leon, our immigration lawyer was great, he knew from the start that they were not treating us like normal aliens.... lots of well to do Liberals helped us....some would tell us that if we got the right high powered lawyer in Washington then it would be over right away but if the case has to be solved by knowing someone, I do not want it to end that way... I have been wronged, I am not causing a riot, and I am basically a musician... I thought it over a lot...This has caused me a lot of bread, pain and harassment...I am scared to leave America.
I have paid since I have been here, a round figure about a half a million in tax just to live here and I saw in a few papers that Mr. Lennon is here because this is the land of milk and honey.. But I am paying my way...I employ people, I generate money and I pay my taxes... That's a lot of taxes considering I have not done much lately....I wanted to go on the road but Immigration held me back.. I have a good time in this country...I want to be here...I am not leaving....I am a good citizen..I bring people more pleasure then pain... Why are they doing this to me?..It's stupid.
I think Watergate is the best thing that has happened in the world. It could only happen here...That's why I love this country.. I love the energy and the people. ..I do not resent people...who can I resent? I am going to sit this out..
I love New York City...There is nothing in the world you can not find in New York City and most you can get on the phone..
I want to be liquid, not penniless, no big offices.... Lennon Music is a small office...there is one girl... I just want to make the music, write the songs... I no longer have the dream of wanting to be the record company... The Beatles were a huge business... A giant industry and suddenly we found ourselves involved in all these companies...We just wanted to be rock musicians and the next minute we turn around and people are asking us to make all these decisions...Can we use your image on a lunch box?... I am an artist and that's what I want to be... let me make the music...the record business is filled with lawsuits and the immigration is just one lawsuit. I would like to live life without litigation.
The Long and Winding road...It has its prophecy...I panicked after I wrote it that maybe I will end up broke...And not just about money... I did not want to be possessed by material goods. I did not want it to take over my life.