Christmas with John and Yoko
by Maurice Hindle, New Statesman, 17 Dec 2009
In December 1968, a year rocked by revolutionary upheaval, Maurice Hindle and a fellow student hitch-hiked to John Lennon’s home in Surrey in search of the Beatle and his new partner, Yoko Ono. Here, for the first time, The New Statesman published their interview (December 2009).
In 1968, I was 23 and approaching the end of my first term at Keele University. On the afternoon of 2 December, I emerged with Daniel Wiles, a fellow student, from Weybridge railway station into the wintry stillness of Surrey’s stockbroker belt, having hitch-hiked all the way from Staffordshire. We were there to interview John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
I had read about their first performance-art event together back in June, when they planted acorns for peace at Coventry Cathedral, and continued to be intrigued by the couple’s exploits. Since then, John and Yoko had been getting flak in the British press. That October, they had been caught in a drugs bust at a flat in London belonging to Ringo Starr. In the aftermath, Tariq Ali’s radical newspaper Black Dwarf published an angry “open letter”, which accused Lennon of selling out to the establishment and claimed that the Beatles’ music had “lost its bite”. I felt it was time to counter the growing feeling against John and Yoko, so I wrote to Lennon, via the magazine Beatles Monthly, outlining my ideas for an interview. To my surprise, he replied.
Outside Weybridge station, a Mini Cooper with smoked-glass windows skidded to a halt, like something out of Theltalian Job. in the driver’s seat was Lennon, looking much as he does in the colour photograph included with the Beatles’ 1968 White Album: faded blue Levi’s jacket, white T-shirt and jeans, dirty white sneakers, his shoulder-length hair parted in the middle, and wearing the now famous “granny glasses”. We students crammed into the back of the Mini and John drove us up the bumpy private road that led to his house, Kenwood.
In the sitting room at the back of the house, we sat down on thick-pile Indian carpets around a low table, cross-legged. Yoko said little, as we all knew this was primarily John’s day – and he said a lot. Apart from a short break, when Yoko fed us macrobiotic bread and jams she had made, Lennon talked continuously for six hours. A short extract from the interview was printed in UNIT, the Keele University student magazine, but what follows has never previously been published.
What’s your response to the attack on you and the Beatles in the Black Dwarf letter?
He says “Revolution” was no more revolutionary than Mrs Dale’s Diary. So it mightn’t have been. But the point is to change your head – it’s no good knocking down a few old bloody Tories! What does he think he’s gonna change? The system’s what he says it is: a load of crap. But just smashing itu p isn’t gonna do it.
So what’s your approach to change? Is there any political angle at all?
My angle is what I am, you know – that’s my “angle”. And all the statements I make are in my songs or in the things that I do. You can change people you know, change their heads. I’ve changed a lot of people’s heads and a lot of people have changed my head – just with their records, apart from anything else they do. I believe in change. That’s what Yoko ‘s and my scene is: to change it like that.
But don’t you see this age we’re in as different from any other?
Yeah, I do. I believe that it is different this time. And that’s why I don’t believe that [Black Dwarf] will be it – because that’s the same old game. I mean, smashing it up – who’s gonoa run it? Who’s gonna take over? The ones who are the biggest smashers. They’ll be the ones who get in first, like in Russia. They’ll take over again. I don’t know what the answer is.
I think it’s just down to people. He [John Hoyland, the author of the “open letter”] wants to just practise communicating with somebody he knows, and see how well he does that, before he smashes up the feller’s house. He’s saying in that letter about the Mop Tops, and that. OK, so we [the Beatles] Mop-Topped it to get where I am – I’m here. But what’s he doing? That’s the point.
There have been millions of changes, of course, but I’m still doing exactly the same thing I was doing at school, or at art school, and as a Beatle. The Mop Top image was the kind of thing that happens when you’re finally cornered in school, and you either had to just get smashed completely – [or] I’m not going to get myself crucified, if can help it, and so I’ve compromised. But I just want to see someone who hasn’t and who’s still alive!
Are you optimistic?
I vary. I’m still a cynic. But 1 believe [that] with all the student bit, and everything that’s going on, we do have a better chance now, just because we can communicate with Czechoslovakia and everywhere – and just touch them a bit, even if it’s just from a record or a poster, or whatever. So I can’t believe we can all get beaten down again, with all that communication between us.
It can only get better?
I believe it gets better. The Buddhists said it gets better, but only after you’re dead or something. I believe in reincarnation and that each time, it’s better. Even if you had a shit time this time, the next time will be just a little less shit. You’ve got to go through it. You can’t forget it – I’ve tried that one. And you can’t do it all in a sort of holy buzz – I’ve tried that one.
And I’ve tried the other one when I was younger: let’s smash it and kick it down. I agree with taking the schools over and never let[tingJ any tutors in; you don’t need ’em. If you really want to learn all that crap, you can get it out of books. So that kind of smashing up, I agree with. But you may as well keep the building and the books, otherwise you’re gonna have to learn it from some old guy, one way or an other. You may as well keep what they’ve got, and just change it.
I’ve always said that: “Don’t drop out, man, just stay in and subvert it! ” I mean, what we did as Beatles was subvert, even if we nearly got submerged while we were doing it. We got an MBE, which is one of the biggest jokes in the history of this island, probably. But that’s subversion, and that’s revolution.
YOKO: Yes, I believe in that, too. I don’t think that anything I do is compromise really – but if you’re a monk, just sitting there …
JOHN: It’s easier to be a monk than to stay out here. And the point is, we all really know the compromise we’re talking about is the one where you “sell out”. So everybody thinks everybody else has sold out. But there’s even guys just in business that don’t think they’ve compromised, and really they haven’t. They’re secretly trying to do what everyone else is trying to do, but they don’t know it half the time.
I was talking to that guy Lord Beeching, and I was saying: “We want help with Apple [the record label set up by the Beatles in 1968], but we don’t want any creeps, we’re idealists.” I was giving it to him straight, saying how we wanted a happy office, and all that. But he rightly said: “listen, man, they’re not a complete set of fascists – there’s one or two human beings in the City!”
Which I hadn’t allowed for, with my great open-minded awareness and all that. I just hadn’t allowed for any human beings in the banks – but there are some human beings there. There’s probably some in [Harold Wilson’s] government, though I still find it hard to believe that somewhere, in that pile of slush, there might be. There’s people everywhere of the same mind.
Even among ourselves, we can’t communicate, which is the hard bit, among the people that really agree. [But] I believe that when you talk, it sets up a vibration that goes on infinitely. You know, it just goes on and on and on. So every thought-wave you have just goes on and on and on. It doesn’t end here, just because we can’t hear it, or see it, or smell it. So it’s a lot of hokey pokey and magic. But I believe in that, too – I believe in everything, till it’s disproved.
Don’t you think people are too absorbed in materialistic things to change?
If people were just different, regardless of what material things they want and have, they’d see what material things were anyway. And I’ve found out by having it. It took me having it to find out you don’t need it.
My goal in life wasn’t to succeed and have ten cars and a house on the stinking hill. But there was always that, “Mmm, I’m going that way, I wouldn’t mind.” I thought, “I’ll be miserable in comfort!” That’s what one of my aunties used to say: “I’d sooner be miserable in comfort.” So I thought riches would sort of get me out. It did get me out, but it only got me out of Liverpool.
I used to think anybody can write songs and be a pop star. I think we even said it in the Beatles book by Hunter Davies. I’ve changed that much since then – I don’t believe it now. I made it ‘cos I’m me, and I have that thing that makes that music, and makes those things up. I believe everybody’s got something; it ‘s just they’ve got to bring it out.
You can come from anywhere and have it. Like Yoko and I are like that, mentally [holds up fore and middle fingers together and hums]. She comes from some kind of high-class Japanese banking family that wouldn’t even let me sweep the floor, and I come from Liverpool east/west, all the symbolic bit. And she’s the nearest thing to me I’ve ever come across in me life!
I believed before that you could come from the working class, or be born royal, and still make it. Even though I think that’s harder, to be born into that situation and be taught that you’re superior. Yoko’s hardest thing was being brought up to believe that she and her class were special and that you don’t [need to] communicate or worry. But at least if you’re born at the bottom, you are told that you’re nothing, and you either accept it or you try and set out and do something about it.
Have money and success brought any of the other Beatles happiness?
No, no. They’re all in the same boat, the rich people I’ve met. The ones that are so-called happy with it are happy in the way that the woman in the semi-detached is happy. We used to live in a row of about 20 houses, and the ones at the end who had two cars were so-called happy, supposed to be happier than those of us with no phone or car, or whatever. But I’ve never met anyone completely happy. I don’t believe it exists. There’s always got to be the positive/ negative, yin/yang bit. There’s no such thing as just happiness, pure, like that.
I think you can reach a certain state of consciousness, a state where you’re not aware of anything. I’ve had that playing. I mean, anybody that paints, draws, or anything, the bit about “being” is the same – or almost the same, I’m not sure – as when you play in a groove. Every time there’s a good session and the musicians are playing well, they’re out of it. That’s when you’re just being. The happiest people are those who are being, more times a week than anybody else. It’s just down to that.
Let’s talk about “Revolution 9” on the new Beatles album. You can be heard intoning, “Again and again and again…” What came across to me was a sense of how violent revolution inevitably produces more violence, that there’s no way of avoiding that outcome.
Yeah, that’s right, there is no way out by smashing it, or whatever. But all the words on “Revolution 9” were just random talking – nothing written down, like a script or anything. I think it was just George, Yoko and I. I did a lot of it with loops and bits of old Beethoven that were lying around EMI, any bits and pieces – and stuck them together. We did some sort of “priming the canvas” tracks. We had the tape on, a bit of echo and a cup of tea or something [rattles a teacup in the saucer] and George and I just talked for about 20 minutes about anything. We’ve been doing it on tape around the world for years. Just an ” …and so, brother, I’d like to say welcome” just any rambling.
And then I got all the loops and basic tracks on different machines. So it was like a big organ or something, where I knew vaguely which track will come up if I did that. And I just tried to get the bits of conversation in that I liked, that seemed to say something, like “Do what you can, brother”, or anything like that, and tried to pull out the ones I didn’t like.
I think I did it in one go: I just got it, and I did some slight editing after that. So most of it is completely random in that respect – it’s like throwing the dice, or the I-Ching, or whatever. But there’s no such thing as random really. It’s random compared with sitting down and writing: “It’s been a hard day’s night/And I’ve been working like a dog.” But even that’s random.
With this latest Beatles album, do you feel you'” moved on from the earlier records, which you’ve said were “self-conscious”?
On this album, we rid ourselves of the self-conscious bit. We’re doing what we were doing earlier on, but with a better knowledge and technique of recording.
Quite a few of the tracks are just straight takes of us playing. “Yer Blues” was recorded in a smaller room just for a change from the big studio. We just did it. And “I Will”, “Julia” and all them, it’s just us singing like that. But the technique makes it a bit better than one of us just singing in the early days; it’s just we know the technique of recording better.
If we did the first album again, with “Twist and Shout” and all those things on, it would be the same. But we sound more like we sounded then, on this record, than we do on the first record. You know, people who heard us in Liverpool and Hamburg before we turned into a mass scream – that’s how we played, just heavy rock. But when it was put down on the early records, there was never enough bass in it, the guitar solo never came through, and generally we just didn’t know about recording. So now we know how to record a bit.
What are the other Beatles doing right now?
They’re all doing their bit. George is out in the States reconnecting with Dylan and a few people out there that we’ve lost touch with, seeing who we can pick up for the label. There’s a great record he’s got, God knows how we’re gonna release it: “The King of Fuck” [issued by Apple in 1969 as “The King of Fuh”]. lt’s just fantastic, by a feller called Brute Force. “Hail, the fucking” [laughter]. So we’re hoping to put that out soon, one way or another. [Sings] “All hail the King of Fuck!”
Did your recent drugs bust happen because you’d been friends with the establishment?
Oh, thatwas in the Black Dwarf thing. Well, he’s probably right. Earlier on, the Mop Top thing was preventing us from getting busted, because we were open about it years ago – it was common knowledge. I don’t know the reason why they suddenly busted me. Probably because I’ve been waving my flag a bit, that’s all, like Two Virgins [John and Yoko’s 1968 album of experimental music, which feature s a nude photo of the couple on the sleeve] and various other things. But this guy [John Hoyland] is one of those “The Rolling Stones are changing it and you’re not” types.
In fact, the Stones and I are great mates. I’m sick of this Sort of petty thing. It’s been going on for years. It used to be “The Stones do this, and you do that” with the fans and that. But now it’s all down to these revolutionaries, y’know. And the thing is, the Stones and I are close.
YOKO [who had been outofthe room]: I haven’t seen that, have I?
JOHN: Oh, this is the one in the Black Dwarf – it’ll get you going!
It’s about street-fighting groups versus the capitalistic Beatles …
JOHN: Yeah, well. They’ll see – I’m not here to change them. They can get on with it. Let them break down people’s places and see where it gets ’em. But I’ll tell you what – if those people start the revolution, me and the Stones’ll probably be the first ones they’ll shoot.
[Reads through the Black Dwarf letter again] He talks about the Stones and the Who, how they came “bursting out”. He’s forgotten to mention that if it wasn’t for us, the Stones and the Who wouldn’t have been allowed out. Amazing. These people are so bitter, they’re holding the whole thing back.
They’re showing with what they write, and how they say it, how they can never run a new scene, because before we’ve even done anything, they’re already quibbling about who’s doing what, and who’s the ethnic one, and who isn’t. And let them go and talk to the Stones, the Who, Dylan, me, Yoko, Andy Warhol: anybody doing anything doesn’t think like this.
And what none of ’em can understand is that they’re the ones who are holding it back by breaking it up in the ranks already. Before anything has moved forward even half an inch, there’s some fool like this trying to get it into another bag, before we’ve even burst the old bag.
[He goes back to reading the Black Dwarf letter] I think he might get his wish here – that I get so fucked up with the money that … he might be right.
Were you ever unhappy when you and the Beatles were rushing around making money?
Oh, that was the most miserable time of our lives. The Mop Top, MBE, cop-out period was torture. And that’s why we dropped touring.
But it’s brought you here.
But it’s put me back where I started, y’know. That’s why l’m saying it wasn’t worth the drum – it wasn’t worth the MBE and that, or whatever happened then. You know, anybody listening, or [who’s] gonna read it: Don’t bother, ‘cos you’re back where you started. Just play it by ear, but forget about making it, ‘cos there’s nothing to make.
And I could never have done it alone. There always had to be one of us [Beatles] carrying it at the time, to do the compromise – everyone else was in such a state, that we had to take it in turns to be the Mop Top.
Some people were quite upset the Beatles stopped touring.
Yeah, but I mean, they’d want us to carry on like Flanagan and Allen [the English vaudeville act], wheeling ’em on at 81.
They still haven’t realised that we’re not your all-round-boy-next-door entertainers. I mean, that’s what they want, the Crazy Gang [another English vaudeville act] or the Marx Brothers, or something.
How do you go about writing your songs?
Well, we haven’t written together since (Sergeant] Pepper, really. Vaguely in India, we were writing a bit together. But this album we wrote least of all together, just’ cos of circumstances and all that. Or maybe we didn’t feel like it, I don’t know what.
We do it any way, any combination you can think of. We do it from a line, from nothing – like “Birthday” was written in the studio, from nothing. There’s no way of describing it, unless I go into ” …and when we wrote this, I was on piano and he was on guitar”. It’s all right, that kind of talk, but l’ve said it all somewhere or other, and it’s just a bit of a hassle to say it.
YOKO: Did you know about some of the things we did this year, like the Coventry thing?
Planting the acorns for peace at Coventry Cathedral? Yes, you were invited to take part in a major exhibltlon of British sculpture, but when the organisers heard of your plan to plant live acorns, they said it wasn’t sculpture and banned it from the main exhibit area.
JOHN: Can we give ’em some of the handouts if we’ve got them?
YOKO: Yes, we should have some. The thing is… well, that’s actually the most important thing we did this year, creatively.
JOHN: It was the first thing we did together. She just said there’s a sculpture show on, and why don’t you come in it? So I thought I’d just put an acorn in – it’s living sculpture, y’know? And they said, “Yeah, come along, come along.” They wanted something, so we gave them a seat round it, for when the tree grows, just to sit on it and wait for it to grow.
But we had such a bloody hassle getting it in; the organisers didn’t want it shown alongside the Henry Moores, a real battle. And then we finally buried it, the acorns and that. See, her piece was pinching the acorn idea from me, so we put two in. It was pretty good – it’s the best thing we’ve done, y’know …•
Maurice Hindle works for the Open University. He is currently writing a book, “Singing His Heart and Speaking His Mind: the Songworld of John Lennon” mauricehindle.com
The feud: Lennon v the revolutionaries
In August 1968, the Beatles released the song “Revolution”, in which John Lennon expressed his unease at the violence of student protesters who had taken to the streets across Europe and the US. Its most telling couplet read: “When you talk about destruction/Don’t you know that you can count me out.” That October, Tariq Ali’s Black Dwarf newspaper published a piece by John Hoyland, an anti-Vietnam war campaigner, that accused the Beatle of selling out. “Now do you see what’s wrong with your record ‘Revolution’?” asked Hoyland, referring to Lennon’s recent arrest on drugs charges. “In order to change the world we’ve got to understand what’s wrong with the world and then destroy it ruthlessly.”
Incenced, Lennon demanded Black Dwarf publish his response, which took Hoyland to task for his “patronising” tone, and ended with the defiant challenge: “You smash it and I’ll build around it.”
I interviewed John Lennon, and he was no ultra-left radical
by Maurice Hindle, The Guardian, Tuesday 2 February 2010
You reported on the 1968 interview with John Lennon that I published in the New Statesman, which revolved around Lennon’s “furious” response to a letter attacking him and his song Revolution for being “unfavourably compared to the BBC radio drama Mrs Dale’s Diary” (Day in the life: Lennon’s six-hour interview with student revealed, 17 December).
The article says Lennon was “enraged” by the letter, in “Tariq Ali’s radical journal” Black Dwarf. As you say, “The Beatles might have changed their image, but had lost none of their fire, [Lennon] insisted.” And in January 1969, in his own letter to the magazine, Lennon expressed irritation at being “ticked off” by “brothers in endless fucking prose”.
But in the actual conversation – triggered when I showed him the letter, which was so patronising I knew it was bound to get him going – Lennon’s response was initially dismissive, unsurprising given that this was the first time he’d seen it. He was not a regular reader of Ali’s ultra-left paper: in fact the open letter to him had appeared a month before the interview.
But the idea that by the time John Lennon was shot dead in 1980 he “had long since made his peace with Tariq Ali, and regained his radical laurels”, is wrong. It is true that Lennon flirted with the left in the early 70s, mainly in New York, employing his song-writing and rhetorical talents in the cause of justice and the promotion of peace.
It is therefore perhaps apt that you quote from the interview Lennon did with Ali and Robin Blackburn for Red Mole in 1971, to the effect that “Lennon agreed with Ali that he was becoming ‘increasingly radical and political'”.
But that was 1971. Lennon’s political radicalism was in fact a relatively short-lived affair, as readers of his collection of (mostly) late 1970s writings, Skywriting by Word of Mouth, will know.
Lennon much regretted his earlier association with the radical left, as the contents of the chapter entitled “We’d all love to see the plan” (quoting from the song Revolution) make clear.
Writing in 1978, he stated: “The biggest mistake Yoko and I made in that period was allowing ourselves to become influenced by the male-macho ‘serious revolutionaries’, and their insane ideas about killing people to save them from capitalism and/or communism (depending on your point of view). We should have stuck to our own way of working for peace: bed-ins, billboards, etc.”
Lennon’s primary gift was for writing and recording songs that communicate with millions in ways that no ideologically driven political creed – whether of the left or right – ever could.
In the book I am writing about the relationship between Lennon’s songs and his life, I explore the communicating power of his music. The book also draws on my recollections of the 75% of the Lennon interview that has yet to be revealed – your reporter could not know that what appeared in the New Statesman is far from being “the full version”.
Lennonism by Tariq Ali
Our first direct contact in 1969 was formal. I was editing The Black Dwarf, a radical politico-cultural magazine. We had published “an open letter to John Lennon” – a savage review of The Beatles’ song Revolution by John Hoyland, our music/popular culture critic. John Lennon had been busted by the cops. The Black Dwarf used the occasion to discuss the lyrics of the Revolution song seriously. Hoyland wrote:
Above all: perhaps now you’ll see what it is you’re (we’re) up against. Not nasty people, not even neurosis or spiritual undernourishment. What we’re confronted with is a repressive, vicious, authoritarian system. A system which is inhuman and immoral, because it deprives 99 percent of humanity of the right to live their lives their own way. A system which will screw you if you step out of line and behave just a tiny bit differently from the way those in power want.
Such a system—such a society—is so racked by contradiction and tension and unhappiness that all relationships within it are poisoned. You know this. You know, from your own experience, how little control over their lives working-class people are permitted to have. . . . How can love and kindness between human-beings grow in such a society? It can’t. Don’t you see that now? The system has got to he changed before people can live the full, loving lives that you have said you want.
Now do you see what was wrong with your record Revolution? That record was no more revolutionary than Mrs. Dale’s Diary. In order to change the world we’ve got to understand what’s wrong with the world. And then, destroy it. Ruthlessly. . . . There is no such thing as a polite revolution.
The tone of the letter was undoubtedly patronizing, and we thought he would ignore it. But a week later he sent a reply to John Hoyland with a covering note hoping I would publish it. We did:
Who do you think you are? What do you think you know? I’m not only up against the establishment but you, too, it seems. I know what I’m up against—narrow minds—rich/poor. All your relationships may he poisoned—it depends how you look at it. What kind of system do you propose and who would run it?
I don’t remember saying Revolution was revolutionary—fuck Mrs. Dale. Listen to all three versions (Revolution 1, 2 and 9) then try again, dear John. . . .
You’re obviously on a destruction kick. I’ll tell you what’s wrong with the world—people, so do you want to destroy them? Ruthlessly? Until we change your/our heads—there’s no chance. Tell me of one successful revolution. Who fucked up Communism . . . ? Sick Heads and nothing else. Do you think all the enemy wear capitalist badges so that you can shoot them? It’s a bit naive, John. You seem to think it’s just a class war. . . .
Look man, I was/am not against you. Instead of splitting hairs about the Beatles and the Stones—think a little bigger—look at the world we’re living in and ask yourself, why? And then—come and join us.
PS—You smash it—I’ll build around it.
As these extracts suggest, it was a spirited exchange.
After that there was a long silence. And, as was also common in those days, there was soon a split in the Black Dwarf. How strange it seems now and how stupid and destructive, but that’s the way we were. The Leninists left to set up Red Mole and moved from swinging Soho to proletarian Pentonville Road, a seedy zone near Kings Cross station in London.
One day John rang and we talked. He suggested a meeting and a week later he and Yoko showed up at my bed-sit in North London with a delicious Japanese take-away as supper. We discussed the state of the world, including the state of the student movement in Japan. John’s views had sharpened considerably since the letters in the Black Dwarf. He told me that, like Mick Jagger, he had wanted to march on the big anti-Vietnam war demos but the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, had forbidden any such outing. Epstein was fearful that the group might be denied visas to the States, which would be a commercial disaster. John always regretted having obeyed his manager, but that was in the past.
The biggest and best influence in his life was now Yoko Ono. I was in no doubt that Yoko had radicalized him further on the artistic and the political front. She had also been accused of breaking up the Beatles and we laughed a great deal at the suggestion. He was angered by the racist gibes against Yoko in the tabloid press. I suggested they should be taken as compliments. It would be awful if the creeps who attacked her decided to turn their coats. Before they left, I suggested an interview with both of them and he agreed, wondering aloud whether it would be appropriate since “Red Mole was very serious and interviewing me might lower the tone.” He wasn’t joking, but I assured him that an interview would be enormously helpful for our little newspaper. I asked if I could bring my colleague Robin Blackburn—more attuned to popular culture than myself—to which he readily agreed.
A week later, a large limo pulled up outside our offices to the astonishment of bystanders. Robin and I piled in and were driven to Tittenhurst. We spoke for most of the day, saw one of Yoko’s avant-garde films (which Robin Blackburn simply adored) and were driven back to London. The interview had gone extremely well. Both John and Yoko had been disarmingly frank. All that was now left was the editing.
The very next morning John rang. He had been so inspired by our interview that he had written a new song. Could he sing it on the phone? He could. That was how I first heard “Power to the People.”
We met several times after that, sometimes before a recording session at the Abbey Road Studios, more often at Tittenhurst. Robin and I took a French friend, Regis Debray, to one of these sessions. I first heard the words of “Imagine” at the kitchen table in Tittenhurst.
“The Politburo approves, John,” I joked at the time, wondering whether I would have been in a minority on the Politburo on this question. His lyrics had moved beyond matrimonial moonings. Love and happiness now became a feminist call for a new way of life. Here again, Yoko’s influence was visible. The fantastic, as well as the surreal, were given a rest. Lennon, as Epstein feared, had become ultrasubversive and political. “Working Class Hero” and “The Luck of the Irish” did not please the conservative critics, but were enormously popular.
It was on one of these visits to Tittenhurst that he told me how fed up they were with England. It was too parochial and racist, Yoko hated it and so did he and they were moving to New York. I could understand all this, but did warn him that there were too many kooks in that country and he should be careful. During his first year in New York we spoke on the phone, but soon lost touch. Computers, alas, had not yet been invented.
Together with the rest of the world, one felt a great deal of pain the day he died. I think the tribute he would have loved was the spontaneous grief in Moscow as kids rushed to the Lenin Hills and sang “Back in the U.S.S.R.” I thought of him during the giant global demonstrations against the Bush-Blair war on Iraq. His spirit was marching with us.
Tariq Ali is a noted journalist, historian and activist. He interviewed John Lennon and Yoko Ono for his underground magazine Red Mole in 1971.