John Lennon's lost six-hour interview
John Lennon's lost six-hour interview
Student's meeting with member of the Beatles in 1968 reveals furious response to claims the group had sold out.
It took more than 40 years, but John Lennon has finally got in his furious response at having Revolution, one of his most famous songs with the Beatles, unfavourably compared to the BBC radio drama Mrs Dale's Diary.
The jibe that the Beatles had sold out to the establishment was made in 1968 in a letter to Tariq Ali's radical journal Black Dwarf – which had concluded that the Beatles' mortal rivals, the Rolling Stones, had superior radical credentials.
Now, an apparently forgotten interview reveals how Lennon felt about the criticism at the time. "It's no good knocking down a few old bloody Tories!" Lennon raged, at the end of a year when Europe had been convulsed by student, trade union and political demonstrations and strikes. "The system's a load of crap. But just smashing it up isn't gonna do it."
Today's music fans will be stunned by the circumstances of the interview: Lennon spoke for six hours at his home in Surrey, sustained only by macrobiotic bread and jam made by Yoko Ono, to an overawed first-year student from Keele University who had hitchhiked hundreds of miles to meet him after applying by a letter sent to a fan magazine.
A snippet was duly published in the Keele student magazine, but most of the material stayed in the files of Maurice Hindle, now an author completing a book on Lennon and an academic at the Open University – until today, when he finally publishes the full version in the New Statesman.
"Outside Weybridge station a Mini Cooper with smoked-glass windows skidded to a halt like something out of The Italian Job. In the driver's seat was Lennon, looking much as he does in the colour photograph included with the Beatles 1968 White Album faded blue Levi's jacket, white T-shirt and jeans, dirty white sneakers, his shoulder-length hair parted in the middle, and , wearing the now famous granny glasses.
"We students crammed into the back of the Mini and John drove us up the bumpy private road that led to his house, Kenwood. In a sitting room at the back of the house we sat down on thick-pile Indian carpets around a low table, cross-legged. Yoko said little, as we all knew this was primarily John's day – and he said a lot.
Apart from a short break, when Yoko fed us macrobiotic bread and jam she had made, Lennon talked continuously for six hours."
Lennon was enraged by the open letter by John Hoyland published in Black Dwarf. The Beatles might have changed their image, but had lost none of their fire, he insisted.
"OK so we mop-topped it to get where I am – I'm here," he said. "There have been millions of changes, of course, but I'm still doing exactly the same thing I was doing at school, or at art school, and as a Beatle. "I'm not going to get myself crucified if I can help it, and so I've compromised. But I just want to see someone who hasn't, and who's still alive.""I've always said that 'don't drop out man – just stay in and subvert it!'"
Memories of the altercation were revived last year when most of the surviving protagonists were interviewed for various documentaries marking the anniversary of the 1968 protests and uprisings.
John Lennon died on December 8 1980, shot on the doorstep of his Dakota building home in New York by Mark Chapman - but by then had long since made his peace with Tariq Ali, and regained his radical laurels.The American journal Counterpunch four years ago finally published in full a long 1971 interview by Ali and Robin Blackburn, originally for the Trotskyist Red Mole, in which Lennon agreed with Ali that he was becoming "increasingly radical and political".
There was nothing new about this, Lennon insisted. "I've always been politically minded, you know, and against the status quo. It's pretty basic when you're brought up, like I was, to hate and fear the police as a natural enemy and to despise the army as something that takes everybody away and leaves them dead somewhere."
Christmas with John and Yoko
Published 17 December 2009
In December 1968, a year rocked by revolutionary upheaval, Maurice Hindle and a fellow student hitch-hiked to John Lennon’s home in Surrey in search of the Beatle and his new partner, Yoko Ono. Here, for the first time, we publish their interview
In 1968, I was 23 and approaching the end of my first term at Keele University. On the afternoon of 2 December, I emerged with Daniel Wiles, a fellow student, from Weybridge railway station into the wintry stillness of Surrey's stockbroker belt, having hitch-hiked all the way from Staffordshire. We were there to interview John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
I had read about their first performance-art event together back in June, when they planted acorns for peace at Coventry Cathedral, and continued to be intrigued by the couple's exploits. Since then, John and Yoko had been getting flak in the British press. That October, they had been caught in a drugs bust at a flat in London belonging to Ringo Starr. In the aftermath, Tariq Ali's radical newspaper Black Dwarf published an angry "open letter", which accused Lennon of selling out to the establishment and claimed that the Beatles' music had "lost its bite". I felt it was time to counter the growing feeling against John and Yoko, so I wrote to Lennon, via the magazine Beatles Monthly, outlining my ideas for an interview. To my surprise, he replied.
Outside Weybridge station, a Mini Cooper with smoked-glass windows skidded to a halt, like something out of The Italian Job. In the driver's seat was Lennon, looking much as he does in the colour photograph included with the Beatles' 1968 White Album: faded blue Levi's jacket, white T-shirt and jeans, dirty white sneakers, his shoulder-length hair parted in the middle, and wearing the now famous "granny glasses". We students crammed into the back of the Mini and John drove us up the bumpy private road that led to his house, Kenwood.
In the sitting room at the back of the house, we sat down on thick-pile Indian carpets around a low table, cross-legged. Yoko said little, as we all knew this was primarily John's day - and he said a lot. Apart from a short break, when Yoko fed us macrobiotic bread and jams she had made, Lennon talked continuously for six hours. A short extract from the interview was printed in UNIT, the Keele University student magazine, but what follows has never previously been published.
What's your response to the attack on you and the Beatles in the Black Dwarf letter?
He says "Revolution" was no more revolutionary than Mrs Dale's Diary. So it mightn't have been. But the point is to change your head - it's no good knocking down a few old bloody Tories! What does he think he's gonna change? The system's what he says it is: a load of crap. But just smashing it up isn't gonna do it.
The Feud: Lennon v the revolutionaries
In August 1968, the Beatles released the song "Revolution", in which John Lennon expressed his unease at the violence of student protesters who had taken to the streets across Europe and the US. Its most telling couplet read: "When you talk about destruction/Don't you know that you can count me out."
That October, Tariq Ali's Black Dwarf newspaper published a piece by John Hoyland, an anti-Vietnam war campaigner, that accused the Beatle of selling out. "Now do you see what's wrong with your record 'Revolution'?" asked Hoyland, referring to Lennon's recent arrest on drugs charges. "In order to change the world we've got to understand what's wrong with the world and then destroy it ruthlessly."
Incensed, Lennon demanded Black Dwarf publish his response, which took Hoyland to task for his "patronising" tone, and ended with the defiant challenge: "You smash it - and I'll build around it."
John Lennon on the Rolling Stones
Posted by Jonathan Derbyshire - 18 December 2009 11:55
The Beatle says he and the Stones were "great mates"
In Maurice Hindle's exclusive, previously unpublished interview, John Lennon dismisses the standard account of the relationship between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Referring to John Hoyland's fulminations in Tariq Ali's radical newspaper Black Dwarf, Lennon says:
[T]his guy [John Hoyland] is one of those "The Rolling Stones are changing it and you're not" types. In fact, the Stones and I are great mates. I'm sick of this sort of petty thing. It's been going on for years. It used to be "The Stones do this, and you do that". But now it's all down to these revolutionaries, y'know. And the thing is, the Stones and I are close . . . [Reads through the Black Dwarf letter again] He talks about the Stones and the Who, how they came "bursting out". He's forgotten to mention that if it wasn't for us, the Stones and the Who wouldn't have been allowed out. These people are so bitter, they're holding the whole thing back . . . [L]et them go and talk to the Stones, the Who, Dylan, me, Yoko, Andy Warhol: anybody doing anything doesn't think like this.
--We will be posting further extracts, including Lennon's views on the Rolling Stones, on our arts and books blog Cultural Capital. But to read the full version of this interview, pick up a copy of the New Statesman Christmas Special, available in all good newsagents.
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