Tuesday, December 1, 2015

John Lennon's Last Interview - Part I

As John was putting on his jacket to leave the photo session with Annie Leibovitz - and to head downstairs to the Dakota offices where he was already running late for the RKO interview - Leibovitz said, "Ooh, can I have one with the jacket?" The result [above] was one of the most famous images of the Leibovitz photo session.

In preparing the transcript of the last John Lennon interview, I tried to record every word. I have kept the Liverpudlian facets of John's speech patterns [meself instead of myself, for example].

Also, John and Yoko were both chain smokers. I have, therefore, noted those places in the interview where John audibly lights a cigarette, to convey as accurately as possible just what the atmosphere was like that afternoon.

John absolutely dominates the conversation. Many times, he speaks while Yoko is speaking, or the two of them talk over one another. I have tried to record both of their comments during such instances, whenever possible.

The RKO interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono itself was set to begin at 2:00 pm on Monday, December 8, 1980. Present were RKO disc-jockey Dave Sholin, producer Laurie Kaye, KFRC-FM engineer Ron Hummel, and Warner Brothers promotion director Bert Keane. While John and Yoko were the first artists to sign on with David Geffen when he founded Geffen Records, Warner Brothers was contracted by Geffen to do the actual distribution of Double Fantasy.

By 2:00 pm, however, John was still upstairs being photographed by Annie Leibovitz. So, the RKO crew switched on their tapes to do some chatting with Yoko until John’s arrival. As the tape starts rolling, Yoko has just taken a phone call. Although we can only hear her side of the conversation, it sounds as if she is speaking with an assistant. Hanging up, the interview begins.

Now, I am certainly not a Yoko-hater by any stretch. In my book, she has preserved and grown John’s legacy above and beyond what most widows would have had the emotional strength to do – let alone a widow who witnessed her husband’s murder. That being said, the interview with John and Yoko together is long enough; I’ve decided to skip transcribing Yoko’s solo interview. Suffice it to say, the conversation was about Yoko turning to “the business” while John raised Sean.

After about 30 minutes of just speaking with Yoko, we hear a loud voice – muffled at first – from outside of the office – unmistakably, it is John’s. We hear the door open, and although Yoko continues answering the question, John begins speaking:

JOHN: “Ah..I’m sorry I’m late. I kept expecting her [an assistant] to buzz me but she [Annie Leibovitz] kept sayin’ ‘One more, one more [photo].’ Are we on?”
YOKO: “Yes dear, we’re on, we’re on.”
JOHN: “Well, what do I do? Are you [disc-jockey Dave Sholin] doing one and then the other? Or…”
YOKO: “No, it’s because we were just waiting…”
JOHN: “Oh, I’m sorry. I’d just put on me jacket to leave and she [Leibovitz] said, ‘Ooh, can I have one with the jacket?’ So we took one with the jacket. [Approaching Yoko, he dramatically kisses her]: “Dahling!” [To Sholin, Laurie Kaye, Bert Keane and Ron Hummel], “Well, hello.”

Engineer Hummel hands John a microphone to clip on his shirt.

JOHN: “What’s that! Oh, it’s a microphone. Oh, well then, let me get relaxed… Hello, hello. Testing, testing….”

John shakes hands with Sholin, Kaye and Keane.

JOHN: “Which one of you is the talker? Oh, you’re both the talker [speaking to Sholin and Kaye, who also have microphones].”

Keane introduces himself as ‘Bert’.

JOHN: “Not the John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert – not that Bert? Oh, I know that Bert.”

John then breaks into an impersonation of the Sesame Street Muppet, Ernie.

JOHN: “Ok, Bert. Oh, Bert. Bert.”

Keane says his toddler son gets a kick out of his daddy’s name being Bert.

JOHN: “Oh, well, I get a lot of Sesame Street, me and Sean, so I know all the characters.”

Sholin then tells John the schedule of Sesame Street in California.

JOHN:” Oh, well, we get it on channel G from seven ‘till eight. From nine ‘till ten on PBS. And evenings, some time or the other.”

After solving a problem with John’s microphone, they continue.

JOHN: “Ok.”
Sholin: “Here we are.”
JOHN: “Yeah, well, whenever you’re ready, whatever. [Turning to Yoko] Sorry to interrupt.”
YOKO: “You weren’t interrupting”
Sholin: “This one is for both of you. What is a typical day – I think the listeners would like to hear this one. What is a typical day in the life of you?”
YOKO [to John]: “Why don’t you explain it? Your side of it.”
JOHN: “Well, yeah, there’s a sort of basic day – they vary slightly. If we’re making records, that’s different. But, when we’re not making records and bein’ up late. I get up about six. Go to the kitchen. Get a cup of coffee. Cough a little. Have a cigarette. The papers arrive at seven. Sean gets up 7:20, 7:25. I oversee his breakfast – don’t cook it anymore. [Using deep voice]: Got fed up with that one. [Back to regular voice] But I make sure I know what he’s eating. Yoko, if she’s not really, really busy - sometimes I wake up and she’s already down here in this office – but if it’s not that kind of pressure goin’ on, she might pass through the kitchen on her way to the office, where I’ll make her a cup of espresso to get her down the elevator good [laughs]. And then, I’ll hang around there until about nine and Sean’s sort of had his breakfast and him and his nanny, Helen, are deciding what to do for the day, you know. I make sure he watches PBS and not the cartoons with the commercials – I don’t mind cartoons but I won’t let him watch the commercials. So, if he’s going to watch something that morning, it’s going to be Sesame Street. Then, uh, Sean and the nanny will go off somewhere and do something, and I’ll go back to me room – it’s the bedroom but I mean I have everything there, I have instruments and records, and…whatever I do I always do…I used to say [using deep voice] ‘if you can’t do it in bed you can’t do it anywhere’. [Back to regular voice] I’m a bit like Hugh Hefner, it’s all like the bed controls the whole thing. Then, if, I’ll buzz down to see what Yoko’s doin’ downstairs. Because we have the intercom running between upstairs and downstairs. If the day’s not too hectic we can meet for lunch. Go out to lunch. If not, I’ll, if I haven’t got anything outside of the house to do, I would go back in at twelve to see that Sean gets a good lunch. And be with him while he eats, even if I don’t eat. And then it just goes on like that, and she’s [Yoko] still in the office. And after lunch he [Sean] usually goes and does something else with the nanny, you know – that’s presuming they’ve come in for lunch. They normally do. And then I will have – from maybe one ‘till five - I’ll take for myself to do whatever I want to do. Stay in, go out, read, write, whatever. Five, five-thirty I start coming looking ‘round to see if Sean’s got back again. You know, if he’s back from wherever he’s gone, or it’s getting’ time for dinner. [John lights a cigarette and continues]. Six we eat dinner – usually Yoko’s still down in the office so then we have dinner. Seven o’clock: bath – this is Sean [laughs] my life revolves around Sean. Seven o’clock: bath. Daddy goes in to watch Walter Cronkite. Seven-thirty there’s usually some kids stuff on, right? I let him watch commercial TV if I’m there because when the commercials come on, I just flick my little switch, which goes onto radio. So I don’t mind if he watches them without hearing ‘em; it’s different. Seven-thirty ‘till eight he watches something. I take him to his bedroom. Kiss him goodnight. The nanny probably reads him a story – whatever they get up to in there. He’s in bed by eight. Then I’ll give a buzz down there [to Yoko in the office] sayin’ ‘What the hell are you doin’ down there? Are you still down there?’ If I’m lucky, maybe she’ll come up and we’ll do something but she’s a workaholic – she’s liable go on until…sometimes she’ll come on back up at ten o’clock at night to take two hours of sort of rest. And then start work again at twelve midnight, ‘cause she’s always callin’ the West Coast, or England or somewhere or Tokyo or some Godforsaken place that’s on a different time zone from us. And that’s a regular day.”
Sholin: “How do you feel the two of you – you and Sean – have grown from your extreme, close relationship?”
JOHN: “I don’t know if it’s because he was born on the same day as me – which, that in itself was quite strange – he was born on October the 9th – which I was – so we’re almost like twins. It’s a funny thing, if he doesn’t see me for a few days or if I’m really, really busy and I just get a glimpse of him, or if I’m feelin’ depressed – without him even seeing me – he sort of picks up on it. And he starts gettin’ that way. So, it’s like I can no longer afford to have artistic depressions, which usually produced a miserable song but it was something I could use, you know? So if I start goin’ really deep – wallowing in a depression, sort of enjoying it, or whatever one does with them, best you can – he’ll start comin’ down with stuff. You know? So I’m sort of obligated to keep ‘up’. But sometimes I can’t, because something will make me depressed and there’s no way I can deal with it, and then sure as hell he’ll get a cold or trap his finger in the door – something will happen, you know? So, now I have sort of more reason to stay healthy and bright. I can no longer wallow in it, and say [using deep voice] ‘well I guess this is how artists are supposed to be I suppose, you know, write the blues…’ [Back to regular voice] So, that’s it, pretty regularly like that. And like, this weekend was a big deal because he went off with his nanny to Pennsylvania so I could slob around, and I didn’t have to, you know…”
JOHN: “...So I could eat when I wanted to eat,‘cause I never really want to eat at the same time, I’m never hungry at the same time. So it was very quiet in the apartment.”
Sholin: “Did you still get up early on Saturday?”
JOHN: “Well, I tend to get up early anyway – I got up at six this morning anyway, because I’m just tuned to that.“
Sholin: “I’m interested as to why you don’t want him to watch commercials."
JOHN: “Because they hypnotize you – I don’t want him asking for junk food every ten minutes because his basic diet is pretty health-food oriented, although I don’t make him suffer, you know? And he can get his ice cream – preferably Haagen Dazs, maybe once a week. I try to discourage it in the winter because its…you know, winter. And his nanny is not a health-food girl, and she’s – I call her the ‘dairy queen’ – you know I try to limit the amount of dairy he takes because it creates mucus. But, if he goes to friends’ houses he eats what they eat, and things like that. But with the commercials – I love commercials as an art form, I really do. The way they’re made as films and I really admire them. I think the best directors are in there – not making movies, they’re making commercials. But that constant repetition. I’ve tried letting it go for a bit and he can’t help it, even though we discuss it, he can’t help wanting things he doesn’t really want. And it’s hard enough bringing up a kid without dealing with these requests for garbage all the time, you know? He can go to McDonald’s occasionally. I don’t want him goin’ there every day and livin’ on junk food. So, that’s basically it. They’re selling the sugar – we don’t eat sugar, mainly. Although, I’m guilty of it when I make records, because it gives me energy. But for the most part, since I met Yoko – 1966 – I have not taken sugar as part of my diet. And, the damned commercials…the programs are great for kids. I’ve no even qualms about violent cartoons because he understands cartoons as opposed to film. It’s that constant sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar. And the only break is hamburger, cheeseburger, hamburger, cheeseburger, sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar. And I think it destroys the child’s physical health. And therefore effects his mental health."
Sholin: “Do you consider yourself fortunate to spend the amount of time – both of you, really …”
JOHN: “I do consider myself fortunate. But I took the time. Any, any star or whatever it is where you come under…and I'm not gonna name any names but many of them that had problems with their kids - either killin’ themselves or, in various ways … I don’t buy that bit about, you know, quality over quantity. You know, like, an hour a week of intense rollin’ in the hay together is better than, you know, twenty minutes every day of you bein’ bitchy, and just bein’ yourself around him. So I don’t try to be the God Almighty kind of figure that never … is always smiling and is this wonderful father. I’m not putting out an image of this person who knows all about…nobody knows about children, that’s the thing. You look in the books, there’s no real experts. Everybody’s got a different opinion. You learn by default, in a way. And I made a lot of mistakes already, but what can you do? But I think it’s better for him to see me as I am. If I’m grumpy, I’m grumpy. If I’m not, I’m not. If I want to play, I’ll play. If I don’t, I don’t. I don’t kow-tow to him. I’m as straight with him as I can be. And, yes I can afford to take the time. But anybody with a working wife might be able to take the time, if he doesn’t have a working wife because they're poor and they both have to work, with the cost of living. But I know lots of dads that aren’t working that hard, in an office all day to avoid life, you know. Or sitting behind desks, doin’ nothing, just shuffling paper, right, waiting for lunchtime to get a cocktail. But I don’t buy that, you know, ‘my career is so important that I’ll deal with the kids later’ bit. Which I already did with my first marriage and my first child – and I kind of regret it. And now him [Julian] and me have problems. And, God-willing, I won’t or we won’t [John and Sean]... won’t have problems later on – or maybe we will, I don’t know. I’m just hoping that whatever I give now, which is time, I won’t have to pay… cause I think you can’t cheat kids, 'cause if you cheat ‘em when they’re children, they’ll make you pay when they’re 16 or 17, by revolt [sic] against you or hate you or all those so-called ‘teenage problems’; I don’t really think that’s an in-born, nature thing. I think that’s – finally when they get old enough to stand up to you and tell you what a hypocrite you’ve been all this time; ‘you’ve never given me what I really wanted: which was you’. So I’m hoping that…I’m really looking at it in a calculating way, really: give him now, maybe he won’t be so frantic when he’s 16 or 17….
Sholin: “Do you think that’s what’s happening in society now?”
JOHN: “I think that’s what happened to all of us. I think that idea of ‘no breast feeding; don’t touch them, you’ll spoil them’ – I think that’s all lunacy from some lunatic….you see, I know it’s almost the same in America, but male children in England were brought up to defend the country. I mean, that was about it, you know? You had to have discipline and not kow…not touch the kid. He had to be hard…a boy was really programmed to go into the army, that was about it, you know. And, you had to be tough and you’re not supposed to cry and you’re not supposed to show emotion. And, I know Americans show more emotion, they’re more open than English people, but it’s pretty similar over here. There’s that Calvinist Protestant Anglo-Saxon ethic which is, ‘don’t touch, don’t react, don’t feel’ And I think that’s what screwed us all up. And I think it’s time for a change."

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