Rolling Stone Interview
With John Lennon
by Jonathan Cott
September 28, 1968
Published November 23, 1968
Other Rolling Stone Interviews
With John Lennon
Rolling Stone Interview
With John Lennon
by Jonathan Cott
Rolling Stone Interview
With John Lennon
by Pete Hamill
"I've listed a group of songs that I associate
with you, in terms of what you are or what you
were, songs that struck me as embodying you a
little bit: 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away,'
'Strawberry Fields,' 'It's Only Love,' 'She Said
She Said,' 'Lucy in the Sky,' 'I'm Only Sleeping,'
'Run for Your Life,' 'I Am the Walrus,' 'All You
Need Is Love,' 'Rain,' 'Girl.'"
"The ones that really meant something to
me... Look, I don't know about 'Hide Your Love
Away,' that's so long ago. Probably 'Strawberry
Fields,' 'She Said,' 'Walrus,' 'Rain,' 'Girl,'
there are just one or two others, 'Day Tripper,'
'Paperback Writer,' even. 'Ticket To Ride' was
one more, I remember that. It was a definite sort
of change. 'Norwegian Wood' ...that was the sitar
bit. Definitely, I consider them moods or moments."
"There have been a lot of philosophical analyses
written about your songs, 'Strawberry Fields,'
"Well, they can take them apart. They can
take anything apart. I mean, I hit it on all levels,
you know. We write lyrics, and I write lyrics
that you don't realize what they mean till after.
Especially some of the better songs or some of
the more flowing ones, like 'Walrus.' The whole
first verse was written without any knowledge.
And 'Tomorrow Never Knows' ...I didn't know what
I was saying, and you just find out later. I know
that when there are some lyrics I dig I know that
somewhere people will be looking at them. And
I dig the people that notice that I have a sort
of strange rhythm scene, because I've never been
able to keep rhythm on the stage. I always used
to get lost. It's me double off-beats."
"What is Strawberry Fields?"
"It's a name, it's a nice name. When I was
writing 'In My Life,' I was trying 'Penny Lane'
at that time. We were trying to write about Liverpool,
and I just listed all the nice-sounding names,
just arbitrarily. Strawberry Fields was a place
near us that happened to be a Salvation Army home.
But Strawberry Fields-- I mean, I have visions
of Strawberry Fields. And there was Penny Lane,
and the Cast Iron Shore, which I've just got in
some song now, and they were just good names--
just groovy names. Just good sounding. Because
Strawberry Fields is anywhere you want to go."
"Pop analysts are often trying to read something
into songs that isn't there."
"It is there. It's like abstract art really.
It's just the same really. It's just that when
you have to think about it to write it, it just
means that you labored at it. But when you just
say it, man, you know you're saying it, it's a
continuous flow. The same as when you're recording
or just playing. You come out of a thing and you
know 'I've been there,' and it was nothing, it
was just pure, and that's what we're looking for
all the time, really."
"How much do you think the songs go toward
building up a myth of a state of mind?"
"I don't know. I mean, we got a bit pretentious.
Like everybody, we had our phase and now it's
a little change over to trying to be more natural,
less 'newspaper taxis,' say. I mean, we're just
changing. I don't know what we're doing at all,
I just write them. Really, I just like rock &
roll. I mean, these..." (pointing to a pile
of Fifties records) "...are the records I
dug then, I dig them now and I'm still trying
to reproduce 'Some Other Guy' sometimes. or 'Be-Bop-A-Lula.'
Whatever it is, it's the same bit for me. It's
really just the sound."
"The Beatles seem to be one of the only groups
who ever made a distinction between friends and
lovers. For instance, there's 'baby' who can drive
your car. But when it comes to 'We Can Work It
Out,' you talk about 'my friend.' In most other
groups' songs, calling someone 'baby' is a bit
demeaning compared to your distinction."
"Yeah, I don't know why. It's Paul's bit
that... 'Buy you a diamond ring, my friend' ...it's
an alternative to 'baby.' You can take it logically,
the way you took it. See, I don't know really.
Yours is as true a way of looking at it as any
other way. In 'Baby, You're a Rich Man' the point
was, stop moaning. You're a rich man and we're
all rich men, heh, heh, baby!"
"I've felt your other mood recently: 'Here
I stand, head in hand' in 'You've Got To Hide
Your Love Away,' and 'When I was a boy, everything
was right' in 'She Said She Said.'"
"Yeah, right. That was pure. That was what
I meant all right. You see, when I wrote that
I had the 'She said she said,' but it was just
meaning nothing. It was just vaguely to do with
someone who had said something like he knew what
it was like to be dead, and then it was just a
sound. And then I wanted a middle-eight. The beginning
had been around for days and days and so I wrote
the first thing that came into my head and it
was 'When I was a boy,' in a different beat, but
it was real because it just happened. It's funny,
because while we're recording we're all aware
and listening to our old records and we say, we'll
do one like 'The Word' ...make it like that. It
never does turn out like that, but we're always
comparing and talking about the old albums-- just
checking up. What is it... like swatting up for
the exam-- just listening to everything."
"Yet people think you're trying to get away
from the old records."
"But I'd like to make a record like 'Some
Other Guy.' I haven't done one that satisfies
me as much as that satisfied me. Or 'Be-Bop-A-Lula'
or 'Heartbreak Hotel' or 'Good Golly, Miss Molly'
or 'Whole Lot of Shakin.' I'm not being modest.
I mean, we're still trying it. We sit there in
the studio and we say, 'How did it go, how did
it go? Come on, let's do that.' Like what Fats
Domino has done with 'Lady Madonna'-- 'See how
"Wasn't it about the time of 'Rubber Soul'
that you moved away from the old records to something
"Yes, yes, we got involved completely in
ourselves then. I think it was 'Rubber Soul' when
we did all our own numbers. Something just happened.
We controlled it a bit. Whatever it was we were
putting over, we just tried to control it a bit."
"Are there any other versions of your songs
"Well, Ray Charles' version of 'Yesterday'
...that's beautiful. And 'Eleanor Rigby' is a
groove. I just dig the strings on that. Like Thirties
strings. Jose Feliciano does great things to 'Help!'
and 'Day Tripper.'"
To Get You Into My Life.' Sure, we were doing
our Tamla Motown bit. You see, we're influenced
by whatever's going. Even if we're not influenced,
we're all going that way at a certain time. If
we played a Stones record now, and a Beatles record--
and we've been apart-- you'd find a lot of similarities.
We're all heavy. Just heavy. How did we ever do
anything light? What we're trying to do is rock
'n roll, with less of your philosorock, is what
we're saying to ourselves. And get on with rocking
because rockers is what we really are. You can
give me a guitar, stand me up in front of a few
people. Even in the studio, if I'm getting into
it, I'm just doing my old bit-- not quite doing
Elvis Legs but doing my equivalent. It's just
natural. Everybody says we must do this and that
but our thing is just rocking, you know, the usual
gig. That's what this new record ('The White Album')
is about. Definitely rocking. What we were doing
on Pepper was rocking-- and not rocking."
Day in the Life'-- that was something. I dug it.
It was a good piece of work between Paul and me.
I had the 'I read the news today' bit, and it
turned Paul on. Now and then we really turn each
other on with a bit of song, and he just said
'yeah'-- bang bang, like that. It just sort of
happened beautifully, and we arranged it and rehearsed
it, which we don't often do, the afternoon before.
So we all knew what we were playing, we all got
into it. It was a real groove, the whole scene
on that one. Paul sang half of it and I sang half.
I needed a middle-eight for it, but that would
have been forcing it. All the rest had come out
smooth, flowing, no trouble, and to write a middle-eight
would have been to write a middle-eight, but instead
Paul already had one there. It's a bit of 2001,
"Songs like 'Good Morning, Good Morning'
and 'Penny Lane' convey a child's feeling of the
"We write about our past. 'Good Morning,
Good Morning,' I was never proud of it. I just
knocked it off to do a song. But it was writing
about my past so it does get the kids because
it was me at school, my whole bit. The same with
'Penny Lane.' We really got into the groove of
imagining Penny Lane-- the bank was there, and
that was where the tram sheds were and people
waiting and the inspector stood there, the fire
engines were down there. It was just reliving
"You really had a place where you grew up!"
"Oh, yeah. Didn't you?"
"Well, Manhattan isn't Liverpool."
"Well, you could write about your local bus
"Sure, why not? Everywhere is somewhere."
"In 'Hey Jude,' as in one of your first songs,
'She Loves You,' you're singing to someone else
and yet you might as well be singing to yourself.
Do you find that as well?"
"Oh, yeah. Well, when Paul first sang 'Hey
Jude' to me... or played me the little tape he'd
made of it... I took it very personally. 'Ah,
it's me,' I said, 'It's me.' He says, 'No, it's
me.' I said, 'Check. We're going through the same
bit.' So we all are. Whoever is going through
a bit with us is going through it, that's the
"In the 'Magical Mystery Tour' theme song
you say, 'The Magical Mystery Tour is waiting
to take you away.' In 'Sgt. Pepper' you sing,
'We'd like to take you home with us.' How do you
relate this embracing, 'come sit down on my lawn'
feeling in the songs with your need for everyday
"I take a narrower concept of it, like whoever
was around at the time wanting to talk to them
talked to me, but of course it does have that
wider aspect to it. The concept is very good and
I went through it and said, 'Well, okay. Let them
sit on my lawn.' But of course it doesn't work.
People climbed in the house and smashed things
up, and then you think, 'That's no good, that
doesn't work.' So actually you're saying, 'Don't
talk to me,' really. We're all trying to say nice
things like that but most of the time we can't
make it-- ninety percent of the time-- and the
odd time we do make it, when we do it, together
as people. You can say it in a song: 'Well, whatever
I did say to you that day about getting out of
the garden, part of me said that but, really,
in my heart of hearts, I'd like to have it right
and talk to you and communicate.' Unfortunately
we're human, you know-- it doesn't seem to work."
"Do you feel free to put anything in a song?"
"Yes. In the early days I'd... well, we all
did... we'd take things out for being banal cliches,
even chords we wouldn't use because we thought
they were cliches. And even just this year there's
been a great release for all of us, going right
back to the basics. On 'Revolution' I'm playing
the guitar and I haven't improved since I was
last playing, but I dug it. It sounds the way
I wanted it to sound. It's a pity I can't do it
better... the fingering, you know... but I couldn't
have done that last year. I'd have been too paranoiac.
I couldn't play: ('Revolution' guitar intro) 'dddddddddddddd.'
George must play, or somebody better. My playing
has probably improved a little bit on this session
because I've been playing a little. I was always
the rhythm guitar anyway, but I always just fiddled
about in the background. I didn't actually want
to play rhythm. We all sort of wanted to be lead--
as in most groups - but it's a groove now, and
so are the cliches. We've gone past those days
when we wouldn't have used words because they
didn't make sense, or what we thought was sense.
But of course Dylan taught us a lot in this respect."
thing is, I used to write a book or stories on
one hand and write songs on the other. And I'd
be writing completely free form in a book or just
on a bit of paper, but when I'd start to write
a song I'd be thinking: dee duh dee duh do doo
do de do de doo. And it took Dylan and all that
was going on then to say, 'oh, come on now, that's
the same bit, I'm just singing the words.' With
'I Am the Walrus,' I had 'I am he as you are he
as we are all together.' I had just these two
lines on the typewriter, and then about two weeks
later I ran through and wrote another two lines
and then, when I saw something, after about four
lines, I just knocked the rest of it off. Then
I had the whole verse or verse and a half and
then sang it. I had this idea of doing a song
that was a police siren, but it didn't work in
the end (sings like a siren) 'I-am-he-as-you-are-he-as...'
You couldn't really sing the police siren."
"Do you write your music with instruments
or in your head?"
"On piano or guitar. Most of this session
has been written on guitar 'cuz we were in India
and only had our guitars there. They have a different
feel about them. I missed the piano a bit because
you just write differently. My piano playing is
even worse than me guitar. I hardly know what
the chords are, so it's good to have a slightly
limited palette, heh heh."
"What did you think of Dylan's version of
"I was very paranoid about that. I remember
he played it to me when he was in London. He said,
'What do you think?' I said, 'I don't like it.'
I didn't like it. I was very paranoid. I just
didn't like what I felt I was feeling-- I thought
it was an out-and-out skit, you know, but it wasn't.
It was great. I mean, he wasn't playing any tricks
on me. I was just going through the bit."
"Is there anybody besides Dylan you've gotten
something from musically?"
"Oh, millions. All those I mentioned before...
Little Richard, Presley."
"Are they dead? Well, nobody sustains it.
I've been buzzed by the Stones and other groups,
but none of them can sustain the buzz for me continually
through a whole album or through three singles
"You and Dylan are often thought of together
in the same way."
"Yeah? Yeah, well we were for a bit, but
I couldn't make it. Too paranoiac. I always saw
him when he was in London. He first turned us
on in New York actually. He thought 'I Want to
Hold Your Hand' - when it goes 'I can't hide'
- he thought we were singing 'I get high.' So
he turns up with Al Aronowitz and turns us on,
and we had the biggest laugh all night - forever.
Fantastic. We've got alot to thank him for."
"Do you ever see him anymore?"
"No, 'cuz he's living his cozy little life,
doing that bit. If I was in New York, he'd be
the person I'd most like to see. I've grown up
enough to communicate with him. Both of us were
always uptight, you know, and of course I wouldn't
know whether he was uptight, because I was so
uptight. And then, when he wasn't uptight, I was...
all that bit. But we just sat it out because we
just liked being together."
"What about the new desire to return to a
more natural environment? Dylan's return to country
"Dylan broke his neck and we went to India.
Everybody did their bit. And now we're all just
coming out, coming out of a shell, in a new way,
kind of saying, remember what it was like to play."
"Do you feel better now?"
"Yes... and worse."
"What do you feel about India now?"
"I've got no regrets at all, 'cuz it was
a groove and I had some great experiences meditating
eight hours a day-- some amazing things, some
amazing trips-- it was great. And I still meditate
off and on. George is doing it regularly. And
I believe implicitly in the whole bit. It's just
that it's difficult to continue it. I lost the
rosy glasses. And I'm like that. I'm very idealistic.
So I can't really manage my exercises when I've
lost that. I mean, I don't want to be a boxer
so much. It's just that a few things happened,
or didn't happen. I don't know, but something
happened. It was sort of like (snaps fingers)
and we just left and I don't know what went on.
It's too near-- I don't really know what happened."
"You just showed me what might be the front
and back album photos for the record you're putting
out of the music you and Yoko composed for your
film 'Two Virgins.' The photos have the simplicity
of a daguerreotype..."
"Well, that's because I took it. I'm a ham
photographer, you know. It's me Nikon what I was
given by a commercially-minded Japanese when we
were in Japan, along with me Pentax, me Canon,
me boom-boom and all the others. So I just set
it up and did it."
"For the cover, there's a photo of you and
Yoko standing naked facing the camera. And on
the backside are your backsides. What do you think
people are going to think of the cover?"
"Well, we've got that to come. The thing
is, I started it with a pure... it was the truth,
and it was only after I'd got into it and done
it and looked at it that I'd realized what kind
of scene I was going to create. And then suddenly,
there it was, and then suddenly you show it to
people and then you know what the world's going
to do to you, or try to do. But you have no knowledge
of it when you conceive it or make it. Originally,
I was going to record Yoko, and I thought the
best picture of her for an album would be her
naked. I was just going to record her as an artist.
We were only on those kind of terms then. So after
that, we got together, it just seemed natural
for us, if we made an album together, for both
of us to be naked. Of course, I've never seen
me prick on an album or on a photo before: 'What-on-earth,
there's a fellow with his prick out.' And that
was the first time I realized me prick was out,
you know. I mean, you can see it on the photo
itself - we're naked in front of a camera - that
comes over in the eyes, just for a minute you
go!! I mean, you're not used to it, being naked,
but it's got to come out."
"How do you face the fact that people are
going to mutilate you?"
"Well, I can take that as long as we can
get the cover out. And I really don't know what
the chances are of that."
"You don't worry about the nuts across the
"No, no. I know it won't be very comfortable
walking around with all the lorry drivers whistling
and that, but it'll all die. Next year it'll be
nothing, like miniskirts or bare tits. It isn't
anything. We're all naked really. When people
attack Yoko and me, we know they're paranoiac.
We don't worry too much. It's the ones that don't
know, and you know they don't know-- they're just
going round in a blue fuzz. The thing is, the
album also says: 'Look, lay off will you? It's
two people - what have we done?'"
"Lenny Bruce once compared himself to a doctor,
saying that if people weren't sick, there wouldn't
be any need for him."
"That's the bit, isn't it? Since we started
being more natural in public, the four of us,
we've really had a lot of knocking. I mean, we're
always natural. I mean, you can't help it. We
couldn't have been where we are if we hadn't done
that. We wouldn't have been us either. And it
took four of us to enable us to do it; we couldn't
have done it alone and kept that up. I don't know
why I get knocked more often. I seem to open me
mouth more often, something happens, I forget
what I am till it all happens again. I mean, we
just get knocked, from the underground... the
pop world... me personally. They're all doing
it. They've got to stop soon."
"Couldn't you go off to your own community
and not be bothered with all of this?"
"Well, it's just the same there, you see.
India was a bit of that, it was a taste of it.
It's the same. So there's a small community, it's
the same gig, it's relative. There's no escape."
"Your show at the Fraser Gallery gave critics
a chance to take a swipe at you."
"Oh, right, but putting it on was taking
a swipe at them in a way. I mean, that's what
it was about. What they couldn't understand was
that - a lot of them were saying, 'well, if it
hadn't been for John Lennon nobody would have
gone to it,' but as it was, it was me doing it.
And if it had been Sam Bloggs it would have been
nice. But the point of it was - it was me. And
they're using that as a reason to say why it didn't
work. Work as what?"
"Do you think Yoko's film of you smiling
would work if it were just anyone smiling?"
"Yes, it works with somebody else smiling,
but she went through all this. It originally started
out that she wanted a million people all over
the world to send in a snapshot of themselves
smiling, and then it got down to lots of people
smiling, and then maybe one or two and then me
smiling as a symbol of today smiling - and that's
what I am, whatever that means. And so it's me
smiling, and that's the hang-up, of course, because
it's me again. But they've got to see it someday...
it's only me. I don't mind if people go to the
film to see me smiling because it doesn't matter,
it's not harmful. The idea of the film won't really
be dug for another fifty or a hundred years probably.
That's what it's all about. I just happen to be
"It's too bad people can't come down here
individually to see how you're living."
"Well, that's it. I didn't see Ringo and
his wife for about a month when I first got together
with Yoko, and there were rumors going around
about the film and all that. Maureen was saying
she really had some strange ideas about where
we were at and what we were up to. And there were
some strange reactions from all me friends and
at Apple about Yoko and me and what we were doing--
'Have they gone mad?' But of course it was just
us, you know, and if they are puzzled or reacting
strangely to us two being together and doing what
we're doing, it's not hard to visualize the rest
of the world really having some amazing image."
"'International Times' recently published
an interview with Jean-Luc Godard..."
"Oh yeah, right, he said we should do something.
Now that's sour grapes from a man who couldn't
get us to be in his film..." ('One Plus One,'
in which the Stones appear) "...and I don't
expect it from people like that. Dear Mr. Godard,
just because we didn't want to be in the film
with you, it doesn't mean to say that we aren't
doing any more than you. We should do whatever
we're all doing."
"But Godard put it in activist political
terms. He said that people with influence and
money should be trying to blow up the establishment
and that you weren't."
"What's he think we're doing? He wants to
stop looking at his own films and look around.
'Time Magazine' came out and said, look, the Beatles
say 'no' to destruction. There's no point in dropping
out because it's the same there and it's got to
change. But I think it all comes down to changing
your head and, sure, I know that's a cliche."
"What would you tell a black-power guy who's
changed his head and then finds a wall there all
"Well, I can't tell him anything 'cuz he's
got to do it himself. If destruction's the only
way he can do it, there's nothing I can say that
could influence him 'cuz that's where he's at,
really. We've all got that in us, too, and that's
why I did the 'Out, and In' bit on a few takes
and in the TV version of 'Revolution'-- 'Destruction,
well, you know, you can count me out, and in,'
like yin and yang. I prefer 'out.' But we've got
the other bit in us. I don't know what I'd be
doing if I was in his position. I don't think
I'd be so meek and mild. I just don't know."
With John Lennon And Yoko Ono
by David Sheff
Rolling Stone Interview
With John Lennon
by Jonathan Cott
Rolling Stone Interview
With John Lennon
by Pete Hamill
of the Decade'
Interview With John Lennon