These rarely seen photographs by acclaimed photographer Kishin Shinoyama were taken over the course of several days in September of 1980 for John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s album Double Fantasy. It was the last studio recording by Lennon before his tragic murder in December of 1980 and these photographs are particularly bittersweet in light of what was to come.
Kishin Shinoyama and Yoko Ono are releasing a book of photo essays called Double Fantasy published by Taschen this month in a limited edition of 1,980 copies (1980). Money can’t buy you love but it can buy you this book for $700. If you’re a fan it may be some kind of love.
Here are photographs from the book and a video on Shinoyama and Ono’s collaboration on its making.
People who knew Don Van Vliet said he had strange gifts, and I’m not talking about his musical talents. Lester Bangs told this story:
Once in Detroit I walked into a theatre through the back door while he was onstage performing. At the precise moment I stepped to the edge of the curtains on stage right, where I could see him haranguing the audience, he said, very clearly, “Lester!” His back was to me at the time. Later he asked me if I had noticed it. I was a little shaken.
And the music historian and critic Robert Palmer reported:
Sitting in the Manhattan living room of the guitarist Gary Lucas, who is the Magic Band’s newest member, Don Van Vliet shut his eyes, squinted, and said, “It’s going to ring.” The telephone rang as if on cue. Mr. Lucas laughed nervously and said that sort of thing happens all the time.
Palmer was one of a number of journalists who met with Van Vliet at Lucas’ apartment in the autumn and winter of 1980. Van Vliet was giving interviews there on the night of December 8 when John Lennon was shot outside the Dakota. Lucas recalls:
In the middle of an interview, at eight or nine o’clock as I remember, Don said, “Wait a minute, man, did you hear that?’ He put his hand over his ear, but we didn’t hear anything. He said, “Something really heavy just went down. I can’t tell you what it is exactly, but you will read about it on the front page of the newspapers tomorrow.” We said, “Well, what?” and he said, “I dunno.” Then the guy left and another journalist came. We were in the middle of another interview and about eleven, the first guy called me and said, “Did you hear the news? Something just happened, John Lennon was shot.” And I couldn’t believe it. It really seemed like Don predicted this. So I told him and he just looked at me and went, “See? Didn’t I tell you?” That was really eerie.
Richard “Midnight Hatsize” Snyder, the Magic Band member who played bass, marimba and viola on Ice Cream for Crow, gave a similar account of that evening’s events in a 1996 interview:
While we were in New York, Don was being interviewed by some magazine on the night that John Lennon was killed. At one point during the interview, Don stopped speaking, closed his eyes and then opened them again, saying to the interviewer: “Something big is happening tonight—something horrible. You’ll read about it in your papers tomorrow.” Knowing full well that the doubting Thomases among you will say: “Ah, yes—but he wasn’t specific about the event. The way the world is, you could say something like that any day and still be right more times than not.” Nevertheless, it was the strangest coincidence—if indeed, that was all it was.
A Beefheart fan who was in the audience at the Captain’s Irving Plaza show the following night writes that Van Vliet opened the set with a soprano sax solo, which he dedicated to Sean Lennon: “That was from John, through Don, for Sean.”
For his part, Lennon was a fan of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band’s debut album, Safe As Milk. Note the “Safe As Milk” stickers prominently displayed on the cabinet doors in the sunroom of Kenwood, the house where Lennon lived from 1964 to 1968.
Below, video of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band’s set at the Mudd Club on December 10, 1980:
Before John Lennon began his self-imposed exile in 1975, he had a few professional obligations to fulfill, ending with an appearance at a tribute show for the man he had been battling in court for years. Why did Lennon even perform at such an event? What’s with the masks his mysterious backing band is wearing on the backs of their heads? And why in the world did the former Beatle wear a red jumpsuit?! Even now, nearly forty years on, the reasons are cloudy, but it clearly resulted in Lennon’s weirdest performance as a solo artist—it was also his last.
Sir Lew Grade was a powerful media mogul with roots in cabaret and variety shows (he was initially known for his super-fast Charleston). To many, this British tycoon was a larger-than-life figure, known for his cigar smoking (he was once told by his doctor to cut down to seven a day) and for climbing on top of tables—even past age seventy—to show off his dance moves.
Lew Grade and his ever-present cigar
Grade was knighted in 1969, and that same year his entertainment company, Associated TeleVision (ATV), purchased a majority stake in the rights to Northern Songs and Maclen Music—the songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In the ensuing years, Grade filed separate lawsuits against both Lennon and McCartney (with Lennon countersuing). In the McCartney case, the court sided with Paul, but John ended up settling, with ATV becoming the co-publisher of all new Lennon songs in 1974.
The Salute to Sir Lew took place in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in New York City on April 18th, 1975. This shindig was very much a star-studded affair, a variety show (Sir Lew wouldn’t have had it any other way) featuring performances by such notables as Julie Andrews, Tom Jones, Peter Sellers, and John Lennon. A who’s who of the old Hollywood elite were in the house to pay their respects, with Lauren Bacall, Kirk Douglas, Gene Kelly, and Orson Welles amongst those in attendance.
Playing acoustic guitar and singing live to backing tracks, Lennon performed three songs at the Sir Lew tribute: Little Richard’s “Slippin’ and Slidin,’” and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” both from his recent covers LP, Rock ‘n’ Roll, closing with his signature solo tune, “Imagine.” His band that night was a little-known group called BOMF (a/k/a Brothers of Mother Fuckers). Perhaps the censors weren’t comfortable with this moniker, so the ensemble is credited as “John Lennon, Etcetera” during the broadcast (though “BOMF” can still be seen on the bass drum head).
When Lennon comes out from behind the curtain for “Slippin’ and Slidin,’” his attire is head scratching to say the least. Since the late ‘60s, he was generally in casual dress both on and off the stage, so to see him waving to the crowd in a fashionable red jumpsuit (did he raid David Bowie’s closet?) is pretty startling. Perhaps this was his attempt to come across as more showbiz, but he and BOMF—with their shaved heads and “two-faced” masks (believed to have been designed by Lennon to reflect his view of Grade)—look more like aliens compared to the conservative acts on the rest of the bill. I can’t help but think the mischievous Lennon just wanted to ruffle the feathers of the stuffed shirts—and that includes the guest of honor.
So why did Lennon play a tribute to a man he had been embroiled in lawsuits with? In his journal, John wrote of looking forward to the event, and on an audience recording can be heard dedicating “Imagine” to both Yoko and Sir Lew (surprisingly removed for the broadcast version), so he must have had at least some affection for the man, but I didn’t unearth any definite reason. Perhaps it was nothing more than a diplomatic gesture towards his new business partner.
Salute to Sir Lew – The Master Showman aired on June 13th, 1975 (“Stand By Me” was also left for the cutting room floor). Though he re-emerged in 1980 with Double Fantasy, the Grade tribute would mark the final time the public saw John Lennon on a stage—red jumpsuit and all.
Here’s a nice composite of the show’s intro, the two Lennon clips, a dancing Sir Lew, as well as John’s curtain call:
More of John Lennon’s final public performance after the jump…
Although it is usually referred to as an “Off-Broadway” production—when it is referred to at all—the 1974 musical Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road, in fact, ran for 66 performances at the Beacon Theatre, which as any Westsider can tell you, is smack-dab on Broadway itself, even if it’s a cab ride away from “the Great White Way” theater district.
Likewise, I suppose it’s a bit disingenuous to say that this show was “John Lennon’s flop,” but Lennon was involved and aside from co-writing the music (duh) he attended several rehearsals and performances and helped promote the play. Paul McCartney on the other hand, may have never even seen it.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road was conceived by Tom O’Horgan, the “Busby Berkeley of the acid set” as the New York Times described him in his 2009 obituary. O’Horgan was a proponent of experimental “total theater” and had directed Jean Genet’s The Maids at La MaMa in the East Village before moving uptown to the Broadway successes of Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar and Lenny.
From the surviving evidence of the show, it looked like it was totally insane. TIME magazine hated it, their review was titled “Contagious Vulgarity” and it went out of its way to excoriate O’Horgan’s style of musical theater. Other reviewers were much kinder and even enthusiastic, but the show which opened on November 17, 1974 was still closed by late January.
Ted Neeley, the actor long synonymous with the title role in Jesus Christ Superstar here played the Candide-like “Billy Shears.” The sexy siren “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was played by Alaina Reed (“Olivia” from Sesame Street), while the role of “Sgt. Pepper” went to David Patrick Kelly an actor best known for uttering the immortal line “Warriors…come out to play-ee-ay!!”
And then there were the dancers whose hair don’ts and dresses are a direct rip-off of Divine’s look in Female Trouble!
Apparently there’s very little documentation of the production. Opening night attendees included Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger, Lennon who went with May Pang, “Papa” John Phillips (whose own flop Broadway musical, Man on the Moon, produced by Andy Warhol would open two months later) and Yoko Ono who gamely supported her estranged husband.
While researching this post, I discovered that John Lennon at one point was offered the, er… Ted Neeley role in Jesus Christ Superstar but when he insisted that Yoko play Mary Magdalene, the offer was withdrawn. The jokes about her breaking up the twelve disciples would have written themselves…
One of the associate producers, Howard Dando, put together a slideshow plus some footage of opening night taken from John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” promo film. Although the producer was Bee Gees manager Robert Stigwood, who also produced the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film, there was apparently not much of the O’Horgan’s musical play that made its way into the derided movie.
Thank you kindly Chris Campion of Palm Springs, CA! Mr. Campion is presently engaged writing the authorized biography of “Papa” John Phillips.
John Lennon reads “The General Erection” from his second book of collected (nonsense) writing A Spaniard in the Works:
Azure orl gnome, Harrassed Wilsod won the General Erection with a very small marjorie over the Totchies. Thus pudding the Labouring Partly into powell after a large abcess. This he could not have done withoutspan the barking of thee Trade Onions, heady by Frenk Cunnings (who noun has a SAFE SEAT in Nuneating thank you and Fronk (only 62) Bowells hasn’t.)
This is Lennon’s version of the 1964 UK General Election, when Harold Wilson became Prime Minister with a very small…. you get the picture.
With his first book In My Own Write, Lennon had been feted as a modern Edward Lear with his nonsense tales and inventive Joycean puns. The book’s success saw Lennon invited to a Foyle’s Literary Lunch at the Dorchester Hotel, where he famously failed to deliver a speech only saying:
Er, thank you all very much, and God bless you.
Many (snobs) consider Lennon’s failure to entertain for his dinner as a dreadful snub, though of course it wasn’t—he had turned up expecting to eat, not speak.
As his then-wife Cynthia Lennon later explained in her memoir A Twist of Lennon, the happy couple had been out the night before and were very hungover when they arrived at the Dorchester:
We did our best to make ourselves presentable, but the bloodshot eyes and shaky hands were a bit of a giveaway. We told ourselves that the event would soon be over and we could go home to collapse.
What neither of us had realized was that the media would be there in force and that John was expected to make a speech. Doyens of the literary establishment rubbed shoulders with upmarket Lennon fans and everyone was waiting with bated breath to hear the words of the ‘intelligent’ Beatle.
As we were ushered through the lobby of the Dorchester, hordes of press and TV crews following us, I knew John wanted to turn and run, but we had to keep smiling. We couldn’t even see what was going on properly because neither of us was wearing our glasses.
When we walked into the enormous dining room hundreds of people stood up and applauded. We fumbled our way to our places and found we were at opposite ends of the top table, denied even the reassurance of squeezing hands. I was sitting between the Earl of Arran and pop singer Marty Wilde, who was almost as nervous as I was. I was terrified, until the earl put me at ease with a string of witty stories and friendly chat. I even began to enjoy myself - until we reached the last course and dozens of TV and press cameras were pointed in our direction. “What’s going on?” I whispered to the earl.
“I believe your husband is about to give a speech,” he whispered back, and politely averted his eyes from the horror written on my face. I looked at John and my heart went out to him. He was ashen and totally unprepared. Never lost for words in private, a public speech was beyond him - let alone to a crowd of literary top dogs, and especially with a hangover.
As John was introduced silence fell. The weight of expectation was enormous. John, more terrified than I’d ever seen him, got to his feet. He managed eight words, “Thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure,” then promptly sat down again. There was a stunned silence, followed by a few muted boos and a smattering of applause. The audience was disappointed, annoyed and indignant. Both John and I wished we were on another planet. John tried to make up for it by signing endless copies of the book afterward.
John’s Foyle’s “speech” went down in history as a typical Lennon gesture, a snub to the establishment from a pop star rebel, when it was anything but. He had panicked.
As Lennon explains in this seldom seen clip from the BBC’s Tonight program, he had always been a writer, long before he picked up a guitar or joined a band. His second reading is “The Wumberlog (or The Magic Dog)” which begins:
Whilst all the tow was sleepy
Crept a little boy from his bed
To fained the wondrous peoble
Wot lived when they were dead
The interviewer is Kenneth Allsop, and the interview was broadcast on June 18th, 1965.
A selection of Lennon’s drawings and poems after the jump…
John Lennon and Miles Davis shooting a game of H-O-R-S-E and both failing miserably. Lennon is particularly bad, missing the backboard, even, but any commenters blaming his lack of game on Yoko will be banned from DM for life!
A crappy looking version of this has made the Internet rounds for a while, but it was so blurry that it was too hard to watch and ultimately uninteresting considering what’s actually there under the layers of VHS video murk. Here’s a superior version where you can actually see what’s happening.
This was apparently shot by Jonas Mekas at a party at Allen Klein’s house in the Bronx in June 1971. Ringo Starr, Allen Ginsberg, Phil Spector, Phil Ochs and Andy Warhol were also said to have been in attendance. The gorgeous woman with Davis is actress Sherry “Peaches” Brewer, who was in Shaft! and later married Seagram’s heir Edgar Bronfman, Jr.
In 1969 John Lennon and Yoko Ono became very interested in a convicted murderer who had been hanged for a heinous crime seven years earlier. In Britain it was one of the most famous crimes and trials of the era.
What is not in doubt is that in 1961 an individual raped Valerie Storie and murdered Michael John Gregsten, who just a little while earlier had been occupying a car together on the A6 highway in the vicinity of Bedfordshire. Storie was paralyzed from the waist down, while Gregsten, having suffered two point-blank bullets to the head, had died instantly. It does not appear to have been a robbery gone wrong or anything like that, just brutality for brutality’s sake.
There was an initial suspect named Peter Alphon, whom the police held briefly before letting him go. Many people feel that he is the likely murderer. The eventual defendant, the man who would hang for the crime, was James Hanratty. A lot of the ins and outs of the evidence-gathering phase hinged on police lineups. The trial was said to have been the longest in British history for a single murder defendant. The evidence against Hanratty was somewhat circumstantial but also not all that weak either, as far as I can tell. The jury deliberated for an unusually long time and sought clarifications from the judge in the process. Eventually the jury yielded a verdict of guilty. Six weeks later, Hanratty was executed.
A lot of social norms were changing fast in Britain—in 1965 the death penalty was outlawed in Britain for the crime of murder. The excitement over the “A6” crimes never really died down during that era, it had captured the public’s imagination. There were several books exploring the idea of Hanratty’s innocence. Hanratty’s parents and brother appear to have campaigned tirelessly on behalf of his innocence, and they were exceptionally sympathetic.
In late 1969 Hanratty’s parents visited a wealthy friend in Ascot named John Cunningham, who promptly introduced them to his pal John Lennon who lived nearby. John and Yoko quickly seized the case as another opportunity for peculiar protest; they were very much in their “Bed-In” phase.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono with the parents of James Hanratty
Together with Hanratty’s parents, John and Yoko announced their intention to make a film to back the campaign for an enquiry at an Apple press conference on December 10, 1969. Apple Films released a documentary with the title Did Britain murder Hanratty? This movie is universally referred to as “John Lennon’s movie” and yet it’s unclear how involved he was. His name isn’t on the movie, and it’s not listed in his credits on IMDb. Well, whatever sells, right?
The single public screening of the 40-minute movie eventually took place in the crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, London, on February 17, 1972.
The fight to outlaw capital punishment in Britain was a large topic of the day, even after it had happened; it was on the minds of a lot of people. Hanratty had a pretty serious criminal record before the A6 crimes, he had spent the bulk of the previous seven years in prison for burglary and auto theft. In 2002 DNA tests apparently confirmed Hanratty’s guilt, although Hanratty’s defenders question that result based on the use of a spoiled sample.
On John & Yoko’s “Live Jam” album (recorded December 15, 1969), which was released with Some Time in New York City, Yoko can be heard shouting “Britain, you killed Hanratty, you murderer!” and then chanting Hanratty’s name throughout the opening bars of “Don’t Worry Kyoko.”
Among the surreal imagery, Lewis Carroll references, and fanciful wordplay in The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” is the mention of the Eggman. This has long been known to refer to The Animals’ singer Eric Burdon, who was given the nickname by John Lennon. According to Bob Spitz in The Beatles: The Biography Lennon bestowed the nickname in “a reference to a 1966 orgy he attended with Eric Burdon, who earned the nickname for breaking raw eggs on girls during sex.”
However, it turns out that the commonly told tale is actually 180 degrees off. The fabled egger Burdon was actually the eggee. (There is a technical term for the raw egg paraphilia, but I can’t find it and can’t face another list of fetishes.)
Burdon set the record straight in his 2002 autobiography, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, co-written with Jeff Marshall Craig:
It may have been one of my more dubious distinctions, but I was the Eggman - or, as some of my pals called me, ‘Eggs’.
The nickname stuck after a wild experience I’d had at the time with a Jamaican girlfriend called Sylvia. I was up early one morning cooking breakfast, naked except for my socks, and she slid up beside me and slipped an amyl nitrate capsule under my nose. As the fumes set my brain alight and I slid to the kitchen floor, she reached to the counter and grabbed an egg, which she cracked into the pit of my belly. The white and yellow of the egg ran down my naked front and Sylvia slipped my egg-bathed cock into her mouth and began to show me one Jamaican trick after another. I shared the story with John at a party at a Mayfair flat one night with a handful of blondes and a little Asian girl.
“Go on, go get it, Eggman,” Lennon laughed over the little round glasses perched on the end of his hook-like nose as we tried the all-too-willing girls on for size.
“You wanna snort, Steve? A toot? It’s goin’ round.”
With the recent reunion of Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney on the Grammy Awards, I was reminded of A Toot and a Snore in ‘74 a bootleg album of the sole recording session that John Lennon and Paul McCartney participated in after the break-up of The Beatles.
Lennon, who was in his “lost weekend” phase of drinking and drugging—and living with May Pang in Los Angeles—was producing Harry Nilsson’s Pussy Cats album at Burbank Studios. On the first night of the sessions, March 28, 1974, Paul and Linda McCartney showed up. Also present were Stevie Wonder, Harry Nilsson, Jesse Ed Davis, May Pang, saxophonist Bobby Keys and record producer Ed Freeman (who had been working with Don McLean in the next door studio).
There was a bit of a “convivial” scene going on, as one might gather from the bootleg’s title. McCartney later remarked that the “session was hazy… for a number of reasons.”
In his 2006 biography, McCartney, Christopher Sandford described the situation:
“The room froze when McCartney walked in, and remained perfectly silent until Lennon said, ‘Valiant Paul McCartney, I presume?’ McCartney responded: ‘Sir Jasper Lennon, I presume?’ (Valiant Paul and Sir Jasper were characters played by the two, in a televised Christmas play early in the Beatles’s career). McCartney extended a hand, Lennon shook it, and the mood was pleasant but subdued, cordial but not especially warm, at least initially.”
May Pang’s 1983 book, Loving John offered more detail:
Our first session was scheduled for the day after we moved in and it went beautifully- so beautifully that it only took four hours to lay down the basic rhythm track and vocal to “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. When the tracks were finished, the musicians did not want to go home, so they hung out, jamming with each other or practicing their own licks. At midnight, however Keith [Moon] and Ringo left. It was time for them to hit the town.
The jam continued for another half hour, then visitors arrived. The visitors were Paul and Linda McCartney.
Paul headed straight for John. “Hello John,” he said eagerly.
John however was a study in casualness.
“How are you Paul?” he replied softly.
“Fine, how about you?”
“Hi duckie,” Linda said to John, kissing him on the cheek.
John and Paul made small talk as if they had been speaking on the phone two or three times a day and had spoken a few hours earlier. It was one of the most casual conversations I had ever heard. They couldn’t be the two men who not only had been trading vicious attacks with each other in public but also had squadrons of lawyers poised in battle against each other while they carved up their multimillion-dollar empire. They looked like any old pair of friends having a pleasant low-key reunion.
The small talk continued; then Paul, like a man possessed, suddenly bounced up and headed straight for Ringo’s drum kit and began to bash the drums.
“Let’s play!” he exclaimed. Linda immediately headed for the organ. “Let’s play.” She echoed. They couldn’t be stopped.
John strapped on his guitar and began to play “Midnight Special,” one of the numbers the Beatles used to jam on when they first began to record together. So did Jesse Ed Davis and Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, while Harry sang along.
Then we had another visitor, Stevie Wonder, who was also recording at the Record Plant.
“Stevie, Paul is here, and we’re going to jam,” John called out.
“Okay,” said Stevie. He went to the electric piano.
“Let’s record it,” said John.
“Yeah,” Paul agreed. John suddenly became very enthusiastic.
“We need a bass player,” he told the startled producer in the control booth of the studio next to ours. “Paul and I are jammin’ together.”
“I play bass!” the producer exclaimed. He dashed from his session to join ours.
“Fung Yee, I want you to play,” John told me. “Grab a tambourine.” I got up and joined the musicians
“Let it rip,” said John
That was the first time John and Paul had played together since Abbey Road in 1969, and it sounded wonderful. The team of Lennon and McCartney had been reunited with amazing ease. After they’d run down the song, John turned to Paul and said “Could you please tell your organist [Linda] to turn down the volume? I can’t hear Mr. Wonder”
John and Paul played it again, and it sounded even better. They made joyous music together that night. That was the only time John and Paul backed by Stevie Wonder and Harry Nilsson played together after the break- up.
I’m supposing that May Pang wrote the above from memory, because what’s on the actual tapes is not quite the stellar music a line-up such as this one might be expected to produce: It’s basically just a drunk, coked-up jam session, yet still a drunk, coked-up jam session of great historical significance.
You can read a transcript at Bootleg Zone. To be perfectly honest, it’s easier than listening to it!
Martin Perlich interviewed Frank Zappa eight times on his “Electric Tongue” program on the Los Angeles progressive rock radio station KMET. Although Zappa was well-known to be a difficult interviewee, Perlich knew what he was talking about and always got the best out of him. In this excellent and wide-ranging 1972 talk, Perlich and Zappa discuss classical music, the philosophical role of music in society and “modernism” in a general sense. There is a great section where they discuss how to explain to kids what they’re seeing on television isn’t necessarily true and Zappa predicts that there will be another monumental media innovation within the next several decades that will will cause or require the human brain to have to rewire itself again in the same way that television had. Heady stuff and exactly what you want from a vintage Frank Zappa interview…
Interesting to note that Zappa sticks up for (the then chart-topping) Grand Funk Railroad more than once during the interview, a group he would later (improbably) go on to produce. Zappa also talks about the 20 piece orchestra that he would be performing with soon at the Hollywood Bowl (and recording The Grand Wazoo with) and tells the story of having a deranged “fan” push him into the orchestra pit at the Rainbow Theatre in London.
At a certain point, John Lennon and Yoko Ono come in for some withering comments regarding their “jam session” at the Fillmore East. For whatever reason, Lennon re-titled the Zappa composition “King Kong, ” the centerpiece of the Mothers’ live act for years and a song that took up an entire side of the Uncle Meat album, as “Jamrag” and credited it to Lennon/Ono on their 1972 Sometime In New York City live album. Zappa’s own mix of this material, radically different from the Phil Spector-produced tracks on John and Yoko’s record came out on his Playground Psychotics live set in 1992. Zappa tells the full story in the interview.
Below, John Lennon and Yoko Ono onstage with The Mothers of Invention at the Fillmore East, June 4, 1971. The Mothers at this time were comprised of Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman on vocals; Bob Harris, keyboards; Don Preston, Minimoog; Ian Underwood, keyboards, alto sax; Jim Pons, bass, vocals; and Aynsley Dunbar on drums.
This probably qualifies as one of the least original ideas for a post I’ve ever had—a full-length nationally broadcast interview with one of the most magnetic rock stars of the twentieth century—but what the hell: this is darn good footage and it deserves to be part of the Dangerous Minds archive one way or another. It’s John Lennon’s appearance on The Tomorrow Show hosted by Tom Snyder, which, according to The John Lennon Encyclopedia by Bill Harry, was taped on April 8, 1975, and was aired on April 28, 1975. Tom Snyder is as idiosyncratic and dorky as ever, but this is an awfully good conversation, such as it is, full of the charm of Lennon engaging with an interviewer who at least isn’t dumb and is fully focused on the topic at hand—you could do a lot worse.
Snyder himself, in 1980, avers somewhat tentatively that this seems to be the last television interview Lennon ever gave. That claim, while surprising, has not been strenuously challenged, at least not in my nugatory attempts to research the issue. Lennon more or less dropped out of sight in 1975, and if he felt like not giving TV interviews to support his album Double Fantasy, which had come out in October, then so be it. It’s useful to remember that he didn’t do any live shows either—for his last concert, you have to go back even farther, to 1974. The man was semi-retired.
In 1975 one of the topics that was consuming John Lennon was his lengthy legal problems with the U.S. Immigration Service, which had gone to some lengths to block John and Yoko’s attempts to establish residency in the United States. Lennon’s attorney, Leon Wildes, appears late in the telecast and explains that the U.S government’s issues with Lennon obscurely stemmed from the days of Watergate,when Strom Thurmond passed a memo to Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell or some such.
(True story: My dad briefly worked as a journalist in DC in the early 1970s, and he was present at a press conference John and Yoko held about their immigration case around 1972 at the National Press Club—actually, if anyone has any documentation of that event, I’d be awfully interested to hear more about that. My dad was a jazz nut and, while glancingly impressed by the idea of seeing a Beatle give a press conference close up, he didn’t give it all that much thought.)
It’s apparent that the immigration case was a pretty big topic in the media at the time, and in fact it was settled in Lennon’s favor a few months later, in October. Of course the irony, that Lennon fought so hard to live in the city in which he would be killed at the early age of 40, is awful to contemplate.
This video is actually a rebroadcast of the interview that was aired on December 9, 1980, and I’m sure many of you out there don’t need me to tell you the significance of that date. Of course, John Lennon was shot and killed the day before, and Snyder introduces the 1975 interview and then interviews music journalist Lisa Robinson and producer Jack Douglas, who worked on Imagine and Double Fantasy (which was then quite a new album, and also the first John Lennon album in five years). The 1975 footage is of course presented in the light of this horrifying tragedy, and it’s interesting to hear Robinson’s and Douglas’s thoughts—Douglas in particular is understandably very emotional about having lost his dear friend. It strikes me that, in our current era, you would never see interviews quite like this after an event like the sudden death of a major star, today you’d have a lot of talking heads weighing in and everyone would somehow be angling for top dog on the subject, and there’d just be a lot of spin. This isn’t to say that Robinson and Douglas didn’t know they were on TV or weren’t choosing their words carefully, but it just seems a lot less mediated, they were invited to give their thoughts, and they did so in a relatively unfussy way.
As for Lennon himself, it’s wonderful to be reminded of the intelligent charm of the man—shit, I’d love to hang out with that guy for an hour or two. As much as Lennon “signified” and no matter how grandiose his political or artistic of philosophical concepts could be, at bottom he was a witty, cheerful, sassy, sarcastic Liverpudlian with a lot of sensible and sharp ideas in his head. Snyder several times mentions Lennon’s humility—that doesn’t quite seem like the right word but I understand entirely what Snyder meant by it. Lennon spent his entire adult life as the object of unremitting adulation, praise, and (if you will) love, and something in him inevitably saw the preposterousness in it—as I’m sure all the Beatles did after a few months of Beatlemania. Listen to Lennon address the idea of a John Lennon anti-drug PSA; if anyone understood the limits of celebrity advocacy, it would surely be John Lennon. He figured kids would say, “Well who the hell are you to say I shouldn’t smoke pot?” and he was surely dead right about that.
As for the rest of the interview, be sure to tune in. Snyder might get on your nerves but even Lennon says himself that he’s a fan! Lennon’s thoughts on the breakup of the Beatles, the absurdity of Beatlemania, his affection for New York, his admiration for reggae, none of it is groundbreaking or new, but it’s still well worth a look.
He wasn’t the messiah, he was just a very naughty boy.
John Lennon’s school detention sheets, detailing the Beatle’s bad behavior in class, will go up for auction, where they are expected to sell for between $3000 and $4000.
The reports list a series of incidents from Lennon’s time at Liverpool’s Quarry Bank School between 1955 and 1956, when he was in Class 3B and Class 4C. Lennon’s crimes include “fighting in class,” “talking,” “silliness,” “shouting,” “shoving,” having “just no interest whatsoever,” and (most interestingly) “sabotage.” On one occasion Lennon received three punishments in a single day.
The detention sheets were rescued by a teacher, who had been requested to burn the reports in the 1970s, but when he spotted the name “Lennon,” he kept them thinking they might have some pop cultural importance.
Canadian dentist and tooth collector Michael Zuk spent more than $31,000 to purchase one of John Lennon’s rotten molars at an auction in 2011, but he’s no mere collector—he wants to use the DNA to regenerate a whole new John Lennon.
In the last week it has been reported that Zuk has come to an agreement with “U.S. researchers” to see what can be done with DNA extracted from the tooth. “I am nervous and excited at the possibility that we will be able to fully sequence John Lennon’s DNA, very soon I hope. With researchers working on ways to clone mammoths, the same technology certainly could make human cloning a reality.”
Zuk continued: “To potentially say I had a small part in bringing back one of rock’s greatest stars would be mind-blowing.”
Lennon gave the molar to Dorothy “Dot” Jarlett, who worked as his housekeeper at his home in Weybridge, Surrey, according to her son, Barry. Jarlett, who worked for Lennon between 1964 and 1968, developed a warm relationship with the famous songwriter, her son said.
If you would like to follow this story in the future, be sure to check regularly at the John Lennon DNA website, which greets visitors with a very silly rendition of, er, “Love Me Tooth.”
If TMZ (and the Internet) had been around in the 1960s, you can bet that D.A. Pennebaker’s infamous film of John Lennon and Bob Dylan “both on fucking junk” (Lennon’s words) in the back of Dylan’s limo would have made it to their blog, Gawker and Huffington Post within a New York minute. But it wasn’t until the mid-1980s, when the VHS tape trading underground really took off, that copies of this insane, historically important for all the wrong reasons meeting started making their way into collectors eager hands (I had a copy). Now it’s easy to see, of course, on YouTube.
I’d always just assumed that Dylan and Lennon were both just extremely hungover, but maybe they were on something stronger. Lennon himself would know, right? It would certainly explain Dylan’s odd behavior and all that vomit talk, wouldn’t it?
“I just remember we were both in shades and both on fucking junk. ... I was nervous as shit. I was on his territory, that’s why I was so nervous.”
Whatever surreal flights of rock god verbal fantasy they had planned for this filming, the results were something rather less than coherent after Dylan shared his stash! Lennon told Jann Wenner that he was “frightened as hell” and “paranoid” that Dylan had just invited him to be in the film to put him down.
Without stating the obvious, (or perhaps he didn’t know) D.A. Pennebaker told Gadfly magazine:
It was not exactly a conversation by any means. Dylan was so beside himself and in such a terrible state that after a while I don’t think he knew what he was saying. He hauled him up the stairs of the hotel, and when he got to his room he was really sick.
Dylan is clearly out of his flipping mind on something and makes little, if any sense. From the way that he starts off fairly jovial in the first part to the slurred-voiced, nodding-off, face-scratching torpor and talk of vomiting that begins part three, Dylan’s behavior is consistent with a junk user and the viewer practically gets to witness the drug’s effect on him IN REAL TIME! The transformation is something to see. Lennon seems a little embarrassed, and yes, fucked up, but is still willing to play along until their failed attempts at witty wordplay dissolve into nonsense and Dylan seeming to wonder if they’ll make it all the way back to the hotel in time before he pukes his guts out. If John Lennon’s own word is to be trusted, they were both on junk in this footage. This is two of the world’s most famous people, ever, in the entire history of the world, and this is (most probably) them fucked up on heroin together!
How crazy, right?
This is history, baby. Not like great history or anything, but history nonetheless. It’s assumed by most people that they only spent a few minutes in the limo together because that’s what you see in the film and that’s normally what gets posted on YouTube, but they spent more than 20 minutes being shot in that limo. Although it’s fairly excruciating to watch, it is worth it to sit through all of it, once.
Yoko Ono’s films tend to deal with themes of sexuality, intimacy, and the navigation of public life. 1969’s Rape is arguably her most famous work, a disturbing first-person perspective from the eyes of the film crew, who chase, harass, and assault a German woman as she flees through the streets of London. No doubt the film is a commentary on the sudden media onslaught she experienced in the initial stages of her relationship with John Lennon. It’s an incredibly compelling piece.
It’s also 77 damn minutes long, and since I know you’re all reading this at work, I’ll hook you up with one of Ono’s briefer film experiments.
In Freedom, we see a shot of Ono’s chest in a silky purple bra. Faceless, she attempts to unhook the front claps in slow motion to the sound of modulating, electronic drone, (provided by John Lennon, of course). While it’s not unheard of to see a close-up of breasts on celluloid, the speed and sounds of the shot transform a mundane ritual of taking off a bra into a sort of post-modern dirge. The bra is never removed on camera, and the audience is left in a state of anticipation, as the clinical, hypnotic feel of the film belies all the general comfort we associate with breasts, whether maternal or sexual.