I think I jumped the gun posting my story about the hearing when John got his green card. This post really out to have preceded it. Sorry!
The informal manner in which my first interview with John Lennon was arranged at Lou Adler’s house in Los Angeles set the tone for all my subsequent meetings with him. John was never one for PRs and the formalities of the music business, preferring instead an ad-hoc approach to publicising his various works. Just before Christmas 1973 Melody Maker editor Ray Coleman told me to relocate to New York and in the early summer of that year, having decided that LA was no place for him, John too would relocate to the Big Apple.
I saw John a few more times socially over the coming months, at a Grammy Awards party, in Ashley’s bar, at the Pierre Hotel, once in the Oyster Bar at the Plaza Hotel when he was with Harry Nilsson, whom I’d met previously, and again at a small private party in someone’s apartment on the Upper East Side. I remember watching John autograph an Italian Beatles album at this party, and instead of just signing his name he added dialogue in bubbles coming from each of The Beatles’ mouths on the stage shot on the front. George’s bubble read: “Anyone fancy a curry after the show?” while Paul’s read: “Come on lads, we need to rehearse more.” Ringo’s read: “What song are we playing?” and in his bubble John wrote: “I’m leaving to form my own group.” Looking back, I can’t help but think how on-the-nail all this imagined dialogue is.
Somewhere along the line I felt sufficiently emboldened to ask John for his telephone number so that if I wanted to interview him I could simply ring him up directly instead of going through PRs or his record company. The only drawback with this was that John didn’t know his own phone number, probably never had. “Yoko’s always changing it,” he told me. But he did agree to phone me if I sent him a telegram with my number on it and thereafter if I ever wanted to get in touch with John Lennon I simply sent him a cable. “Hello Chris, it’s Johnny Beatle here,” was the manner in which he chose to announce himself whenever he called me in response to a telegram.
One of those calls involved a quick chat about his immigration situation. For years the US government had been trying to expel John, ostensibly because of his marijuana possession conviction in London in 1968. Of course, the real reason was because of his radical politics, in particular his vocal opposition to the Vietnam War. He was a hero to the youth of the US and the Nixon administration considered him a potential troublemaker, so the dope bust was simply an excuse. The reality was that they were paranoid – as well they might be with all that was going on undercover in the Nixon administration – and probably frightened of him, perhaps thinking he might lead a march on the White House. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. By 1975 John simply wanted a quiet life, to be left in peace with Yoko and, hopefully, to raise a child of their own.
In March 1975 I wrote a story for MM entitled “John’s No. 1 Dream”, and reported that John’s negotiations to remain in America would reach a climax within the next three months.
I talked to John’s lawyer, Leon Wildes, who said that he had: “information that shows that the Government deliberately ignored his application, actually locking the relevant document away in a safe. This was because of a memorandum which was circulated by an unknown Government agency to other Government agencies which stated that John and Yoko were to be kept under physical observance at all times because of possible political activities.” Leon said that he was currently trying to find the source of this document and if he did it would “break the case wide open and prove that there has been a miscarriage of justice”.
In the event it would be another year and three months before John was awarded his ‘green card’. Only then would he be able to travel outside of the United States in the certainty that he’d be allowed back in on his return, and the long legal battle cast further doubts on the integrity of the soon-to-be-disgraced Nixon administration.
The next interview I arranged on the phone with John took place later that same month at the Capitol Records offices on Sixth Avenue. The main purpose of this was to discuss his soon-to-be-released Rock’n’Roll album, and I’ll post extracts from it tomorrow.