31.7.14

JOHN LENNON INTERVIEW, October 1973 - Part 1

Elsewhere on Just Backdated I write about my relationship with John and here is the interview I did with him in Los Angeles in October 1973. This is the unabridged version, as it appeared in Melody Maker, dated November 3. It’s in three parts.

Where Doheney cuts Sunset at the edge of the Beverley Hills estate, there’s a tobacconist’s shop that carries all makes and brands. It’s called Sunset Smokes and it’s one of the few places in LA that sells English cigarettes. When my duty-free allocation burned up, I went there to re-stock, deciding ultimately on a carton of Rothmans to satisfy my nicotine habit
         “You English?” inquired the shop assistant, who was probably in her late forties. I replied in the affirmative.
         “We got Piccadilly now,” she informed me. “I’ll tell you something,” she continued. “When The Beatles were The Beatles and they were staying in Los Angeles, they were in here every day asking for Piccadilly. We couldn’t get them then, but we’ve got them now. If you see one of them, tell them.”
         Three days later I saw one. He smoked only Gauloises. “I’ve been smoking these for years,” said John Lennon, in the bustle of the Rainbow Club, situated on the Strip not a stone’s throw away from Sunset Smokes.
         John was sat in the quietest corner of the noisiest club, curled up on a seat among a constant stream of well-wishers and others seeking an audience. In the company was Lou Adler, self-made music millionaire, part-owner of the Roxy Club next door, mentor to Carole King and owner of the Bel Air mansion where Lennon is staying on this rare excursion out of New York and rare separation from Yoko.
         About a week later, after a series of ‘phone calls and messages, I spent an afternoon at the same Bel Air mansion in the company of John. I took along three recent copies of the MM, a token gift which he eagerly accepted.
         John Lennon today seems smaller and thinner than he’s ever been. His hair is cropped short and he wears tiny round glasses similar to the type that are provided with sun-ray lamps to protect the eyes from the blinding glare. He sips beer on the terrace and talks willingly about any subject I bring up. He’s very friendly and very open.
         The reason for his visit to Los Angeles is to put the finishing touches to his next album Mind Games which is due out in November. But as often as not he’s out on the town. Nightly it seems, he’s been socialising at the Rainbow, catching an act at the Roxy and even spending a weekend in Vegas where he stopped off to see Fats Domino.
         But, he explains, the problems of being John Lennon are always there. Whenever he’s spotted, a crowd gathers just to gawk at this little man who, probably more than anyone else, gave popular music the biggest kick in the ass it’s ever had. Once a Beatle, always a Beatle.
         We talked for over an hour – about his new record, his love of the States, his dodgy visa situation, his thoughts on the recent Beatle re-release double albums, his lack of live appearances, his views on the current music scene, and, of course, his relationship with the other former Beatles.
         “Tell me about the new album,” I asked him first.
         “Well,” said John in his thick Liverpool accent, “it’s finished. I’m out here in LA to sit on Capitol, to do the artwork and see to things like radio promotion. The album’s called Mind Games, and its, well... just, an album.
         “It’s rock at different speeds. It’s not a political album, or an introspective album. Someone told me it was like Imagine with balls, which I liked a lot. I’ve used New York musicians, apart from Jim Keltner on drums.
         “There’s no deep message about it. I very rarely consciously sit down and write a song with a deep message. Usually, whatever lyrics I write are about what I’ve been thinking over the past few months. I tend not to want to change an idea once it’s in my mind, even if I feel diferently about it later.
         “If I stated in a song that water was the philosophy to life, then people would assume that was my philosophy for ever – but it’s not, it’s forever changing.”
         Yoko is not involved in the new album, although John played some guitar on her last record. The two of them, says John, have decided to keep their careers separate for a while. “Now that she knows how to produce records and everything about it, I think the best thing I can do is keep out of her hair.
         “We get a little tense in the studio together, but that’s not to say we won’t ever do another album. If we do an album, or a film, or a bed-in or whatever, that’s just the way we feel at that moment.
         “We’re just playing life by ear, and that includes our careers. We occasionally take a bath together and occasionally separately, just however we feel at the time. Yoko has just started a five-day engagement in a club in New York, and I ain’t about to do five days in a New York club.
         “She’s over there rehearsing and I’m letting her get on with it her own way.”
         The current temporary separation between them, says John, is the longest there has ever been – but he’s quick to deny the inevitable rumours that they have parted.
         “We have been apart more than people think, for odd periods over the years, and now I know people are calling from England suggesting we’ve split up. It’s not so. The last time that happened was when we spent one night apart at Ascot and somebody, started off rumours.
         “All that scares us about being apart is whether something happens to us. Our minds are tied in together and there’s always the telephone, but one of us could have a plane crash or something. We’ve been together five years or more now, but we’ve really been together for more than ten years in most people’s terms.
         “Her output and energy is so much greater than mine that I just let her get on with things.”

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