ABOUT THIS INTERVIEW:
In Late September 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were busy promoting the new reprinting of Yoko's original 1963 book entitled 'Grapefruit.' It was during this time
that they granted an exclusive interview to Michael Watts. The conversation would take place at the Apple Offices in London, and would be published in Melody Maker's
Oct 2nd 1971 issue.
Topics of discussion include Yoko's art, John and Yoko's bed-in for peace, and the differences in how they had been treated in the United States versus in England.
John's latest album, 'Imagine' had already been released earlier that month in the US, and would be released in the UK on October 8th.
- Jay Spangler, www.beatlesinterviews.org
There's a glint of spectacles. Gathering recognition as the sandy hair, short and unfamiliar registers. Take in the smart grey trousers and the conventional
shirt. Well, who'd have guessed it. The head disappears. Do you like jokes? Jokes that are meant to be taken seriously, I mean. Because much later, when we
find ourselves in the same room, we are shown a little metal box with a lid. It says, 'Box of Smiles.'
"Look inside," he urges. Hawk-eyes behind the pale tints fastened on you. Open up expecting a spring with a boxing glove. Instead, it's your own stony reflection
in the shiny bottom surface. Obviously the first move in the game. Anyway, he looks pleased. And she looked gleeful. "The man from the Times," he says, "was very
sensitive. He asked us to look in it before he would."
She is wearing hot pants, a tight top and uncomfortable-looking clogs as she sits behind the desk with him. Cigarette smoke curling past her sleek, dark hair.
Creamy complexion. Hard, bright eyes like coal chips. He is a working class hero of 30 -- a vocalist, artist and some claim, filmmaker. Desmond Morris was it not,
who called him the most important figure of the 60's.
She is excitable, garrulous, argumentative, nervous, intense and self-assured. He is funny, aggressive, sardonic, egomanic, rude, likable and laconic. He cuts
into a conversation like a meat clever on a chopping block. She chatters frequently while he's talking. She is serious. He jokes. And often teases.
She: "I feel very lucky that I have a husband who understands these problems."
He: "Yes, dear."
She: "You know, he was in a very tough showbiz world."
He: "Yes, dear."
She: "Oh, come on!" (Kisses him)
He: "Hee hee. I wondered when you'd catch on."
You could say they got on well together. They may not be the world's sweethearts, but they're certainly this generation's Liz and Richard. All the best things
come in pairs, you know. And this is the closest pair I've ever interviewed. They appear to be two halves of an indissoluable entity. Their answers and remarks
intertwine and overlap like bat on changes. This hand always knows what the other one is doing.
I was under the impression I was there to interview him. He is under the impression I am there to interview her, about her book which has just been reprinted.
She's under that impression, too. No matter. We talk about art.
He says, "Don't you think her work is surreal? The box? Or what about the book itself? I have a house full of her work. It's very far out. The first thing you
do is come to a door and it says, 'this is not a door.' "
He says she calls what she does 'con art,' short for concept art, which takes the view that "the idea behind the piece is more important than whatever the piece
of paper is." He thinks that as a way of life, her book stands up with the Bible and I Ching. "There are people -- because this book came out ten years ago -- whose
whole way of life has changed. They go 'round performing the works. It's in the curriculum of many universities in America."
In terms of music, John is now consciously seeking out the more avant garde artists. He has great admiration for Fluxus,a group of 30 New York experimentalists
whose founder member is George Marcuinas. He's used Joe Jones from the group on his new album. Jones has assembled a Tone Deaf Music Company, which consists of
a variety of musical instruments and electrical gadgets that play themselves. His toy violins were used as the string backing on 'Imagine,' the new album.
What hurts and frustrates John is that he can achieve acceptance as an artist abroad and with such experimental groups, whereas here he is little
more than an ex-Beatle.
"Most people in Britain think I'm somebody who won the pools, you know," he says drily, drawing on a Gauloise. "Won the pools and married a Hawaiian dancer or
actress somewhere. Whereas in the States, we're treated like artists. Which we are! Or anywhere else for that matter," he added. "But here, it's like, the lad
who knew Paul, got a lucky break, won the pools and married the actress."
Perhaps the reason for the refusal of the British to take him more seriously than they did lay in what they believed was just pure gimmickry and showmanship, I
said, and referred to bagism and the nude album cover. John is conscious of that attitude of conservatism. It's a stance that he seems to have been fighting all
his life. He refutes it by referring back to Dadaism. What they had been doing were events. In his eyes, the event of the bed-in was one of the great happenings
of this century. His logic is simple and sane -- the fact that every Western world newspaper had as its front page that John and Yoko got married and went to bed.
"It's the world that is illogical," he suggests.
"It's a scream that two married people lying in bed can hit the news like that." He relishes the memories. "When we took 'Rape' to Vienna to show it on Austrian TV,
we did a press conference in a bag and it was a fantastic experience for us and for the people that experienced it -- whether they know it or not -- askin' a bag what
it's wearing underneath, and was it really us, and how're you getting on with Paul and that... This bag's talking! They're all holding mikes to the bag! It was beautiful."
And would he call that art? Yes, he would. It was an event, communication. And art is communication. "Of course it's art! Look, Yoko says a woman can create, a man
can destroy, but an artist reevaluates."
Yes, but what if it had been Fred and Elsie Smith in bed and not John and Yoko? He has an answer for that, too. "If Fred and Elsie Smith had done the bed-in in
Yorkshire, the Yorkshire Post would've done it and it might've been picked up by the Daily Mail or Mirror. I'm tellin' you, anybody could've done that bed event.
If somebody suddenly appeared who had got married in a bag in the local church, it'd be everywhere! You see things like that. Who were those people... Old Lady Docker
and her husband used to be the last couple that had all the events in England. The English are famous eccentrics. I'm just another one from a long line of eccentrics."
I wondered if he had a general philosophy of life that he could expound on. He had said earlier that he was consistent in his madness. He had indeed, he replied. His
philosophy was, in a nutshell, the existential one of 'you are here.' That had been the title, in fact, of a show he did at the Robert Fraser gallery two years ago when
he met Yoko. All the Bibles, Jesuses, gurus, poets and artists, he claims, have ever said to people is that this minute is the one that counts -- not tomorrow or yesterday.
"That's the whole game. There's no other time but the present. Anything else is a waste of time. Like Yoko says, most people spend so much time trying to be proper, they
waste all their energy. People wonder where we get all our energy from. We're like children -- we don't spend any time trying to be proper."
Source: Transcribed by www.beatlesinterviews.org from original magazine issue