ABOUT THIS INTERVIEW:
The September 29th 1980 issue of Newsweek featured an exclusive interview with John Lennon. Newsweek's conversation with Lennon, appearing in the music section of the magazine, is much shorter in length than his more famous 1980 interview in Playboy just a few months later. However the Newsweek article, entitled 'The Real John Lennon,' is an interesting and refreshing read. While there are no topics discussed here that are not covered in the Playboy interview, it is a bit more insight with a slightly different clarifying edge -- another welcome glimpse into Lennon's last year, just months before his death.
Barbara Graustark and John Lennon discuss his five-year break from the music scene, being a househusband, Paul McCartney, Yoko's influence on the Beatles break-up, and the upcoming 'Double Fantasy' album.
Double Fantasy would be released on November 17th 1980. Lennon would be tragically slain by the gunshots of a mentally-disturbed fan on December 8th.
- Jay Spangler, www.beatlesinterviews.org
Article ©1980 Newsweek Magazine
In the nine years since the Beatles broke up, John Lennon, their most brilliant and controversial member, has had a turbulent coming of age. After a flurry of post-Beatle albums of wildly uneven quality, a four-year fight with the Immigration Service to stay in the United States, a fifteen-month separation from his wife Yoko Ono, and the birth of their son Sean, Lennon disappeared from public view in 1975. Now on the eve of his 40th birthday, he is reemerging with the most eagerly awaited album of the year. Called 'Double Fantasy,' it is a 'Scenes From A Marriage' in fourteen songs - seven by Lennon, seven by Ono. Wide-ranging in style - from the rockin' boogie of Lennon's '(Just Like) Starting Over,' to Ono's gospel-tinged 'Hard Times Are Over,' from his starry-eyed 'Beautiful Boy' to her acid-tongued rock-disco 'Kiss, Kiss, Kiss' - the forthcoming album is full of unaffected gusto and is likely to appeal to the broadest tastes.
A few years ago, the couple switched roles: Lennon became a househusband - babysitting and baking bread, while Ono became the family's business manager. Their real-estate holdings are extensive - five cooperatives in Manhatten's legendary Dakota apartment house, half a dozen residences scattered from Palm Beach, Fla., to a mountain retreat in upstate New York, and four dairy farms.
Recently Lennon and Ono sat down with Newsweek's Barbara Graystark for his first major interview in five years. Whippet-thin in Levis and work shirt, smoking French cigarettes and nibbling sushi, the ex-Beatle talked expansively about himself, showing no sign of the inner demons that once haunted his songs.
Q: "Why did you go underground in 1975? Were you tired of making music, or of the business itself?"
JOHN: "It was a bit of both. I'd been under contract since I was 22 and I was always 'supposed to.' I was supposed to write a hundred songs by Friday, supposed to have a single out by Saturday, supposed to do this or that. I became an artist because I cherished freedom - I couldn't fit into a classroom or office. Freedom was the plus for all the minuses of being an oddball! But suddenly I was obliged to the media, obilged to the public. It wasn't free at all!
I've withdrawn many times. Part of me is a monk, and part a performing flea! The fear in the music business is that you don't exist if you're not at Xenon with Andy Warhol. As I found out, life doesn't end when you stop subscribing to Billboard."
Q: "Why five years?"
JOHN: "If you know your history, it took us a long time to have a live baby. And I wanted to give five solid years to Sean. I hadn't seen Julian, my first son (by ex-wife Cynthia), grow up at all. And now there's a 17-year-old man on the phone talkin' about motorbikes.
I'm an avid reader, mainly history, archeology and anthropology. In other cultures, children don't leave the mother's back until 2. I think most schools are prisons - A child's thing is wide open and to narrow it down and make him compete in the classroom is a joke. I sent Sean to kindergarten. When I realized I was sending him there to get rid of him, I let him come home... If I don't give him attention at 5, then I'm gonna have to give him double doses of it in his teenage years. It's owed."
Q: "Paul McCartney's theory is that you became a recluse because you'd done everything - but be yourself."
JOHN: "What the hell does that mean? Paul didn't know what I was doing - he was as curious as everyone else. It's ten years since I really communicated with him. I know as much about him as he does about me, which is zilch. About two years ago, he turned up at the door. I said, 'Look, do you mind ringin' first? I've just had a hard day with the baby. I'm worn out and you're walkin' in with a damn guitar!"
Q: "Give me a typical day in the life of John and Yoko."
JOHN: "Yoko became the breadwinner, taking care of the bankers and deals. And I became the housewife. It was like one of those reversal comedies! I'd say (mincingly), 'Well, how was it at the office today, dear? Do you want a cocktail? I didn't get your slippers and your shirts aren't back from the laundry.' To all housewives, I say I now understand what you're screaming about. My life was built around Sean's meals. 'Am I limiting his diet too much?' (The Lennons maintain a macrobiotic lifestyle, eschewing dairy products, liquor and meat.) 'Is SHE gonna talk business when she comes home from work?' I'm a rich housewife - but it still involves caring."
Q: "Yoko, why did you decide to take over as business manager?"
YOKO: "There's a song by John on the album called 'Clean-up Time' - and it really was that for us. Being connected to Apple (the Beatles' corporation) and all the lawyers and managers who had a piece of us, we weren't financially independent - we didn't even know how much money we had. We still don't! Now we are selling our shares (25 percent) of Apple stock to free our energy for other things. People advised us to invest in stocks and oil but we didn't believe in it. You have to invest in things you love. Like cows, which are sacred animals in India. Buying houses was a practical decision - John was starting to feel stuck in the Dakota and we get bothered in hotels. Each house that we've bought was chosen because it was a landmark that needed restoring."
Q: "John, how hard was it not to be doing something musical?"
JOHN: "At first, it was very hard. But musically my mind was just a clutter. It was apparent in 'Walls And Bridges' (his 1974 solo album), which was the work of a semisick craftsman. There was no inspiration, and it gave off an aura of misery. I couldn't hear the music for the noise in my own head. By turning away, I began to hear it again. It's like Newton, who never would have conceived of what the apple falling meant had he not been daydreaming under a tree. That's what I'm living for... the joy of having the apple fall on my head once every five years."
Q: "Did you just stop listening to music?"
JOHN: "I listened mostly to classical or Muzak. I'm not interested in other people's work - only so much as it affects me. I have the great honor of never having been to Studio 54 and I've never been to any rock clubs. It's like asking Picasso, has he been to the museum lately."
Q: "Why did you decide to record again?"
JOHN: "Because this housewife would like to have a career for a bit! On Oct. 9, I'll be 40 and Sean will be 5 and I can afford to say 'Daddy does something else as well.' He's not accustomed to it - in five years I hardly picked up a guitar. Last Christmas our neighbors showed him 'Yellow Submarine' and he came running in, saying, 'Daddy, you were singing... were you a Beatle?' I said, 'Well, yes. Right.'"
Q: "Why did you collaborate with Yoko on this LP?"
JOHN: "It's like a play and we're acting in it. It's John and Yoko - you can take it or leave it. Otherwise (laughing) it's cows and cheese, my dear! Being with Yoko makes me whole. I don't want to sing if she's not there. We're like spitiual advisors. When I first got out of the Beatles, I thought, 'Oh great. I don't have to listen to Paul and Ringo and George.' But it's boring yodeling by yourself in a studio. I don't need all that space anymore."
Q: "You've come a long way from the man who wrote, at 23, 'Women should be obscene rather than heard.' How did this happen?"
JOHN: "I was a working-class macho guy who was used to being served and Yoko didn't buy that. From the day I met her, she demanded equal time, equal space, equal rights. I said, 'Don't expect me to change in any way. Don't impinge on my space.' She answered, 'Then I can't be here. Because there is no space where you are. Everything revolves around you and I can't breathe in that atmosphere.' I'm thankful to her for the education."
Q: "People have blamed Yoko for wrenching you away from the band and destroying the Beatles. How did it really end?"
JOHN: "I was always waiting for a reason to get out of the Beatles from the day I filmed 'How I Won The War' (in 1966). I just didn't have the guts to do it. The seed was planted when the Beatles stopped touring and I couldn't deal with not being onstage. But I was too frightened to step out of the palace. That's what killed (Elvis) Presley. The king is always killed by his courtiers. He is overfed, overindulged, overdrunk to keep him tied to his throne. Most people in the position never wake up. Yoko showed me what it was to be Elvis Beatle, and to be surrounded by sycophant slaves only interested in keeping the situation as it was - a kind of death. And that's how the Beatles ended - not because she 'split' the Beatles, but because she said to me, 'You've got no clothes on.'"
Q: "How do you look back on your political radicalism in the early '70's?"
JOHN: "That radicalism was phony, really, because it was out of guilt. I'd always felt guilty that I made money, so I had to give it away or lose it. I don't mean I was a hypocrite. When I believe, I believe right down to the roots. But being a chameleon, I became whoever I was with. When you stop and think, what the hell was I doing fighting the American Government just because Jerry Rubin couldn't get what he always wanted - a nice cushy job."
Q: "Do you ever yearn for the good old days?"
JOHN: "Nah! Whatever made the Beatles the Beatles also made the 60's the 60's. And anybody who thinks that if John and Paul got together with George and Ringo, the Beatles would exist, is out of their skulls. The Beatles gave everything they had to give, and more. The four guys who used to be that group can never ever be that group again even if they wanted to be. What if Paul and I got together? It would be boring. Whether George or Ringo joined in is irrelevant because Paul and I created the music. OK? There are many Beatle tracks that I would redo - they were never the way I wanted them to be. But going back to the Beatles would be like going back to school... I was never one for reunions. It's all over."
Q: "Of all the new songs, only 'I'm Losing You' seems to harbor the famous Lennon demons. How did you come to write it?"
JOHN: "It came out of an overwhelming feeling of loss that went right back to the womb. One night, I couldn't get through to Yoko on the telephone and I felt completely disconnected... I think that's what the last five years were all about - to reestablish me for meself. The actual moment of awareness when I remembered who I was came in a room in Hong Kong because Yoko had sent me around the world to be by meself. I hadn't done anything by meself since I was 20. I didn't know how to check into a hotel... if someone reads this they'll think, 'These bloody popstars!' They don't understand the pain of being a freak. Whenever I got nervous about it I took a bath, and in Hong Kong I'd had about 40 baths. I was looking out over the bay when something rang a bell. It was the recognition - 'My God! This relaxed person is me from way back. HE knew how to do things. It doesn't rely on any adulation or hit record. Wow!' So I called Yoko and said, 'Guess who. It's me!'
I wandered around Hong Kong at dawn, alone, and it was a thrill. It was rediscovering a feeling that I once had as a younster walking the mountains of Scotland with an Auntie. The heather, the mist... I thought - aha! THIS is the feeling that makes you write or paint... It was with me all my life! And that's why I'm free of the Beatles, because I took time to discover that I was John Lennon before the Beatles, and will be after the Beatles. And so be it."
Source: Transcribed by www.beatlesinterviews.org from original magazine issue