(This is how John looked when I met him, and he's standing by the pool at Lou Adler's house where we conducted the interview. I found this pic on the internet, and it was most probably taken by May Pang.)
Back in LA, I stayed in Phil’s flat for two more months and wrote more about the musicians of LA on Phil Ochs’ portable typewriter, sitting in his den opposite a page from a newspaper, cut out and Sellotaped to the wall, that advertised the best ‘round the world’ in Hollywood. I never found out what ‘round the world’ was but the illustration on the advert suggested it involved a female tongue and would probably make Queen Victoria blush.
I also wrote about English acts passing through: The Who on their problematic Quadrophenia tour, Rod Stewart & The Faces at the height of their powers but soon to be laid waste as Rod’s ambition destroyed their unity, and Slade, desperate to get a foothold in America but somehow fated to wind up also-rans, at least until many years later when MTV could showcase them in their true colours. My biggest catch, though, was John Lennon, on the run from Yoko and other assorted demons, who was shacking up with Yoko’s lovely Chinese assistant May Pang at a Bel Air mansion owned by Ode Records boss Lou Adler. By chance, I was introduced to John for the first time in mid-October. He was carousing in the private club above the Rainbow Bar & Grill with May and Tony King, a smooth-talking gay PA to rock stars, now in John’s employ, whom I already knew because he used to work for Elton.
“I’m working for John now,” he told me at the bar. “Would you like to meet him?”
“Doesn’t everybody?” I replied.
Tony led me over to where John and May were sitting. He was wearing dark blue jeans and a faded blue denim shirt and he seemed much smaller than I’d imagined him to be (isn’t that always the case?), thinner too, with small round glasses perched on his narrow, pointed nose. Although it covered his ears, his hair wasn’t particularly long, quite smartly cut in fact. Tony introduced us and John seemed pleased to meet a writer from Melody Maker, especially one lately arrived from London. His voice, that light Scouse accent, was unmistakably Lennon and I was entranced. He began quizzing me about life in London, what was happening on the London rock scene, what Paul (McCartney) was up to, what the weather was like, what the government was doing, how much a pint of milk cost and even how the royal family were getting on. I got the impression that he seemed to be very isolated; or rather he had chosen to isolate himself. It was almost as if he was homesick, though he would later deny that. He was just curious about what was going on back home.
John was very friendly and I did my best to answer his questions. As it happened, I’d interviewed Paul in the past 18 months and twice seen his group Wings, so I was able to debrief him on these matters. Chatting to John Lennon like this, casually and without prior notice, seemed a bit like a hallucination to me. After all, I could have stayed in to watch TV that night. Nevertheless, I thought it unwise to mention to him that this was actually the second time I’d seen him in person, the first on the evening of December 21, 1963, at the Gaumont Cinema in Bradford, the nearest city to where I was born. Closing a bill that included a host of other Merseybeat acts, The Beatles were on stage for only 25 minutes and they were drowned out by relentless screaming from delirious girls all around me. I couldn't hear a word they sang or a note they played, even though I was quite near the front, on Paul's side, but it was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen in my life, an unbelievable experience, and one that in many ways prompted me to take the road to where I was now. Here I was, almost ten years later, sat at a table opposite the man who stood on the right of the stage that night, belting out ‘Twist And Shout’ before scarpering from the theatre lest the mob tear him and his fellow Beatles apart. And now here he was, asking me about the bloke on the left with the violin-shaped bass.
After a few drinks I plucked up the courage to request a formal interview with John. He told me to ring Tony King in the morning and, over the phone the following day, I arranged another meeting with John for the following Monday, October 22. It took place by the pool at the Lou Adler-owned Bel Air mansion where John was staying with May, whom I would come to know better as the years went by. The house was a single-storey spread set well apart from the neighbours, and as I walked through the rooms to meet John on the patio I noticed a dark red Gibson Melody Maker guitar leaning against a sofa. It seemed like a good omen for what turned out to be one of the best interviews I ever did for MM.
The only problem was the noise from low-flying aircraft on their way to LA Airport. John and I talked for ninety minutes by the side of Lou Adler’s pool, sipping cokes and smoking English cigarettes. It was a wide-ranging conversation: his new album Mind Games, his love for America, the state of his marriage to Yoko, his immigration problems, his thoughts about recent Beatles greatest hits packages, his lack of live appearances, his views on the current music scene and, of course, his relationship with the other ex-Beatles.
My last question, inevitably, was whether or not The Beatles might get back together again.
“There’s always a chance,” John replied. “As far as I can gather from talking to them all, nobody would mind doing some work together again. There’s no law that says we’re not going to do something together, and no law that says we are. If we did do something I’m sure it wouldn’t be permanent. We’d do it just for that moment. I think we’re closer now than we have been for a long time. I call the split the divorce period and none of us ever thought there’d be a divorce like that. That’s just the way things turned out. We know each other well enough to talk about it.”
And then he leaned over and switched off my tape machine.
The informal manner in which I arranged this interview with the boss Beatle set the tone for all my subsequent dealings with him, two further interviews in New York, a couple of chats on the phone and the odd social meeting, of which much more later. But I never did get around to telling John about seeing The Beatles in Bradford.