You Can’t Do That

 After their breakup the deal was that John could say things about Paul, but if YOU did –if anyone said anything bad about Paul, John would take a swing at you. He’d say, “You can’t talk about Paul like that.” Paul was his best buddy. If you were talking to Paul, and you said something derogatory about John, he’d get up and leave. Paul was more of a peaceful guy, but John had that hot head, and he would say, ‘You wanna talk about Paul? Let’s go.’ You weren’t allowed to say anything bad about Paul or John to each one of them. They would defend each other to the nth degree – which I liked. I thought that was great. You knew that they were connected at the hip.

–Alice Cooper

(from a you tube video that I forgot to bookmark and now can’t find for the life of me.)

Ringo Speaks

STARR: When John went, I was in the Bahamas. I was getting a phone call from my stepkids in L.A. saying, “Something’s happened to John.” And then they called and said, “John’s dead.” And I didn’t know what to do. And I still well up that some bastard shot him. But I just said, “We’ve got to get a plane.” We got a plane to New York, and you don’t know what you can do. We went to the apartment. “Anything we can do?” And Yoko just said, “Well, you just play with Sean. Keep Sean busy.” And that’s what we did. That’s what you think: “What do you do now?”

The interesting thing is this guy Jack Douglas, the producer, brought this track of John’s to me [“Grow Old With Me,” from Lennon’s 1980 “Bermuda Tapes” demos] just this year; I’d never heard it. So he’s still in my life. And so it’s on the new album. But why he gave me this CD is [because] at the beginning, John says, “Oh, that would be great for Richard Starkey.

I well up every time I think [about it] — he’s talking about me. He says [imitates Lennon], “Hey, Ringo, this’d be great for you.” And I can’t help myself. [He chokes up.] I’m emotional now thinking of him 40 years ago talking about me on his tape and thinking of me. The four of us were great friends with a couple of side issues. And it was far out. So anyway, I didn’t know how to act. And then I got back to L.A., and I grieved, and then of course you always go through the grief.

GROHL:  What’s it like to lock in with Paul McCartney?

STARR: Oh, he is an incredible bass player. The most melodic bass player and inventive bass player.

GROHL It’s funny, the few times that I’ve jammed with him, I think people forget about his musicianship because they’re so blown away with the Beatles side of things. And then he puts on the instrument, and you’re like, “Jesus, he’s fucking good.” He really is. I mean, like, the bass line to “Hey Bulldog,” what is that?!

Ringo Starr and Dave Grohl interview, Rolling Stone, October 2019

A Day In The Life

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Posing for the camera.

was twenty-one and already shooting pictures for two years as a pro when Crawdaddy, the pioneering rock ’n’ roll magazine, precursor to Rolling Stone and Creem, opened a bureau in Los Angeles and installed an editor by the name of Patrick Snyder; nom de plume Scumpy. I cold-called to ask if I could show him my work.  Scumpy did call days later asking, “What are you doing Thursday?” I waited a beat. “Not much,” I replied, faking nonchalance. Surprise! He asked me if I could meet him at an address in the hoity-toity West LA enclave of Bel-Air at 9AM next Thursday morning to accompany him on an interview with John Lennon. Well, okay.

That Liverpudlian lingo! Those round and wire-rimmed tinted glasses! I tried not to act starstruck. He was not much shorter than my six feet, but wearing colorfully embroidered cowboy boots, giving him an extra inch or so. He wore a black cashmere sportcoat over a knitted black turtleneck sweater and bell-bottom blues; jeans that is, à la Derek and the Dominos, with tiny flowers and butterflies appliquéd on the exaggerated wide cuffs.

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I don’t think John’s playing air guitar.

Lennon pulled himself together quickly for the interview, considering the empties littered around the house; evidence of the previous night’s debauchery. Spliffs were lined up on a coffee table, next to a note reminding John to “[buy] jeans for Julian,” written in broad strokes with a Sharpie on the back of a catalog. The musicians, with whom he had apparently stayed up all night, had all taken off but one. I met Jesse Ed Davis on his way out that morning.

I may have been a young wise-ass, but I like to think I may have saved the day by suggesting that John could finish the interview with the help of a ventriloquist dummy lying to his right on an end table. It was just there, one of many tchotchkes Lou Adler left lying about the furnishings. Inspired by contemporaneous goings-on with the Nixon-Watergate scandal and the concept of deniability, I told John he could disavow any quotations that might give him second thoughts, later on, by blaming them on the dummy. He bought it. Throughout the rest of the interview, maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, John kept the dummy on his lap, working its mouth up and down with a string in the back.

1*cVUVa7A4kXK-e4WnHunbvQ-2John was forcibly 86-ed for obnoxiously heckling the Smothers Brothers, during their comedy act, and assaulting a waitress. “I got drunk and shouted,” Lennon later remembered. “It was my first night on Brandy Alexanders — that’s brandy and milk, folks. I was with Harry Nilsson, who didn’t get as much coverage as me, the bum. He encouraged me. I usually have someone there who says ‘Okay, Lennon. Shut up.’”Lennon lost his trademark eyeglasses after punches were thrown curbside, on the way out, according to Tommy Smothers, whose wife ended up with the spectacles. Actress Pam Grier (decades later of “Jackie Brown” fame, the Tarantino adaptation of an Elmore Leonard story) was near Lennon when the commotion started. She was ejected too. Tommy and Dick Smothers, graciously defended Lennon, saying that they had egged him on by engaging with his antics while they were onstage. They also said the press blew the incident out of proportion.Lennon and Nilsson reportedly sent flowers to Tommy and Dick Smothers the next day. Lennon wrote an apology to Grier. Meanwhile, the waitress who claimed that Lennon assaulted her, whose name regrettably seems lost, dropped the charges. Tommy Smothers reported that Lennon, without his glasses, couldn’t tell that the figure he threw a punch at was a woman. Lennon, however, said, “There was some girl who claimed that I hit her, but I didn’t hit her at all, you know. She just wanted some money; and I had to pay her off because I thought it would harm my immigration. So I was drunk. When it’s Errol Flynn, the showbiz writers say, Those were the days when men were men. When I do it, I’m a bum. So it was a mistake, but hell, I’m human.”It wasn’t the first time, however, that Lennon raised hell at the Troubadour. A month earlier, Rolling Stone ran a similar story about him, on hand for a performance by singer “I Can’t Stand the Rain” Ann Peebles. Prancing on a tabletop up with a sanitary napkin stuck to his forehead. He may not, yet, have met Brandy Alexander, but something obviously addled his reason. “Do you know who I am?” he was reported to have asked another waitress who admonished him for not leaving a tip on his way out. “Yeah,” she shot back, “You’re some asshole with a Kotex on your head.”1*-IU_kMc1VUr6gkbSL-cO3A

Lennon’s lost eyeglasses turned up at another auction decades after that night at the Troubadour. My photographs of him wearing them were used as proof of provenance to close the sale. I didn’t get paid for that either.

I sure would like to hear that tape, though, because I’d get to hear my own, young self suggest to Lennon that he should let the dummy speak on his behalf. And I’d get to hear John Lennon talking to me.

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Excerpts from Tom Zimberoff’s A Day With John Lennon, during the Lost Weekend, photos courtesy of Tom Zimberoff.

Sanitized John

In fact, the Lennonesque character depicted in Yesterday was an exact opposite of John…an alter-ego existing in the alternative universe of the film. Part saint, part sailor, part crusty curmudgeon full of forgiveness and sage advice, the cleverly tweaked Lennon strolled about, dispensing politically correct advice to the lovelorn. And although it was great to “see him again,” the sanitized version of John bore very little resemblance to the razor-wit who lashed and spat and fought for what he believed.

I find this anti-John everywhere. He is someone borrowing John’s voice to spout opinions that John never endorsed. He is someone using John’s name to Tweet things John never said. To many today, he is a cardboard character, The Quintessential Peacemaker, quietly gobbling up the authentic Lennon, the real John who felt quite at home in the Garston Blood Baths, the brothels of Hamburg, and the stench and grit of The Cavern. Today’s John is artfully airbrushed into a “shite-r shade of pale.” And this changes truth — rewrites history. That is not only tragic…it is a genuine loss.

Jude Southerland Kessler, discussing the (ridiculous) portrayal of John Lennon in the movie Yesterday. 

Trendy To Be Bisexual

John’s self-interview, published in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, 1974.

 

Q. Well, er, John it’s been a long time no speak….

A. Has it been that long?

Q. Probably, anyway, what have you been doing since we last talked?

A. Oh, the usual…….

Q. I see, well, weren’t you supposed to be making an oldies album with Phil (for is it he) Spector?

A. Yes, we started in ‘73, but it never ended, even Alex beeinhisbonnet Bennett noticed that.

Q. Then suddenly, as it were, you were working with that great radio star, Harry (Buckminster) Nilsson.

A. Quite right! I produced his album, “Pussycats” out now, at a reasonable discount, then went on to make my own reasonably wonderful album, “Walls And Bridges” out now, which includes the fast rising single, “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” featuring my close friend and fiancee, Elton John, on piano and vocal harmony.

Q. Do you feel that you new album, “Walls And Bridges” is a step forward in your never ending search for artistic fulfillment, the struggle of the lonely……..

A. I went to party in L.A., just to look at Liz Taylor, was I thrilled to meet her, and on top of everything, who, but who, do you think was all over her armpit? None other than the great, great show, David The Bowie! Wow! Was I thrilled to see that they were both smaller than me!

Q. The track I liked best was that miserable one about “Nobody loves you when…….”

A. And Brian Wilson was there too and Ringo and Elton, and it was somebody’s 21st…….

Q. Do you mean smaller physically?

A. I feel quite happy about the album. “Walls And Bridges” out now, the title of which, was sent from above in the guise of a public service announcement.

Q. How How! I was meaning to ask you, John, what you thought of the Beatlefest, and why you didn’t go, and are you getting back together again, how’s your immigration, and is it true about you and…….

A. Great. Nervous. You never know. Very appealing. If you want to help, write your congressperson, or some such similar…..

Q. About those dreadful stories that came out of L.A. with you and Harry, etc…..

A. Mostly fiction, with a grain of alcohol….

Q. I mean you don’t have to answer, but did you rape a waitress in the Rainbow…..?

A. I never actually laid a hand on anyone, in fact, it was impossible, I was carried out…

Q. But…. But…. Todd Rudgren said that you…….

A. That’s what you get for reading fanzines.

Q. Do you like glitter?

A. Yes.

Q. Talking of the Beatlefest, didn’t you find it strange that David Peel and Alex Beeinhisbennet were both there playing 5th Beatle?

A. Yes! Considering that the day before I’d seen Peel on cable TV screaming about the Beatles ripping people off etc. etc… Alex? Well, he’s sooo controversial! He’s just getting into Andy Warhol you know, he’s very deep.

Q. Didn’t you produce an album of Peel’s for Apple?

A. Yes, one of the highlights of my career!

Q. Who else have you produced records for in you astonishing but sometimes perfectly ordinary life?

A. Elephant’s Memory, Yoko, Harry… myself.

Q. Now that you’ve been living in N.Y. 3 years, do you still….

A. If you look closely at the wonderful “Walls And Bridges”, out now, album package, you will notice a little notice saying, “I saw a U.F.O…” why don’t you ask me about that?

Q. Oh, I hadn’t noticed, did you really… where you drunk? high? having a primal?

A. No. Actually I was very straight. I was lying naked on my bed, when I had this urge…

Q. Don’t we all…?

A. So I went to the window, just dreaming around in my usual poetic frame of mind, to cut a long short story, there, as I turned my head, hovering over the next building, no more than a hundred feet away was this thing… with ordinary electric light bulbs flashing on and off round the bottom, one non-blinking red light on top…. what the Nixon is that! I says to myself (for no one else was there)… Is it a helicopter? No! It makes no noise… ah then, it must be a ballon! (Frantically trying to rationalize it, in all my too human way) but no!! Balloons don’t look like that, nor do they fly so low, yes folks, it was flying (very slow, about 30 m.p.h.,) below…. I repeat, below most roof tops (i.e. higher than the ‘old building’ lower than the ‘new’.) all the time it was there, I never took my eyes off it, but I did scream to a friend who was in another room “Come and look at this” etc. etc. My friend came running and bore witness with me. Nobody else was around. We tried to take pictures (shit on my polaroid, it was bust) with a straight camera. We gave the film to Bob Gruen to develop, he brought back a blank film…. said it looked like it had been thru the radar at customs…. well, it stayed around for a bit, then sailed off…….

Q. Did you check to see…….

A. Yeh, yeh, the next day Bob (is it in focus) Gruen rang the Daily News, Times, police to see if any one else reported any thing. Two other people and or groups of/ said they too saw something….. anyway I know what I saw…….

Q. Aren’t you afraid of people won’t believe you…. crazy Lennon/Maharishi/etc….

A. That’s just one of the many burdens I will have to bear in this day of waterbabies, inflation, generation crap, highly influential but not untidy….

Q. That’s very brave of you, John, talking of Marharishi, what is the concept behind your new album, “Walls And Bridges,” out now?

A. It’s an unconcept album….

Q. But it has to have one…….

A. No it doesn’t.

Q. Yes it does.. take the first track for instance “Going Down On Love,” that seems to be saying something….

A. Next you’ll be asking me who “Steel And Glass” is about (3rd track side 2..).. I can tell you who it isn’t about, for instance, it’s not about Jackie Kennedy, Mort Sahl, Sammy Davis, Better Midler… Eartha Kitt, it’s not about her either….

Q. It’s not Paul again… is it? I mean you two are like… I mean grow up…

A. Wrong again.

Q. Everyone’s saying this is your best album since Imagine… how do you feel?

A. I prefer the “Mother/Working Class Hero” then “Imagine” album myself.. Anyway, I suppose anything you do is either better or worse than something or other, I mean, that’s how we seem to categorize things….. it’s probably the way we remember…. it helps us remember… “this fish tastes as good as the fish we had in St. Tropez, but not as nice as the one Arthur caught off Long Island, do you remember that fish and chip shop in Blackpool…”

Q. I’m supposed to keep this up for a few more pages… when actually I’d finished the whole thing on “do you like glitter?”

A. Yes.

Q. It’s so hard to think of questions to ask you, I mean, you must have been asked nearly everything over that last few year… is there anything you’d like to say, you know, instead of just answering these dumb… I mean you can say ANTYTHING YOU WANT…. I’m sure you mus have something to say that you haven’t said already…….

A. Not really…….

Q. Oh…….

A. I’ll ask you one. Why does Roman Polansky always wear the same suit?

Q. I’m stumped.

A. To get to the other side! Silly!

Q. My turn… What happened between you and Klein?

A. He was unfaithful…….

Q. I mean, you always seem to get in so DEEP, with things, then the next minute…

A. To get to the other side! Silly!

Q. That’s deep… do you see much of the other ex Beatles? Or is it a sore point?

A. I love my little Beatles… I’ve seen a lot of Ringo… cause he comes to America a lot, as you know, I can’t leave here or they’d do a Charlie Chaplin on me and I don’t want an award at sixty, telling me how wonderful I used to be, but not quite wonderful enough to be allowed to live here now…. Paul, Ringo and I spent some nice afternoons in L.A. He (Paul and Linda) also came to visit in New York recently, and we had a great evening reminiscing.. in fact, it was two great evenings… which reminds me… only yesterday… to coin a phrase…. he and lovely Linda sent me a heartwarming telegram about my new album, “Walls And Bridges,” out now…

Q. Don’t you ever stop name dropping and plugging your album, “Walls And Bridges,” out now?

A. Not if I can help it!

Q. It is rather gross, John….

A. 20% in fact….

Q. How cute! I see you never mentioned George… is there something….

A. No it’s just that he hasn’t been here in such a long time.

Q. Is it true you and Ringo are going to appear with him on his upcoming tour?

A. Not on your nelly! Just another rumour Dr…..

Q. Why not? It sounds like fun…

A. No one ever asked… and he probably wants all the loot for himself…

Q. That’s a little bitter sounding, John, people might get the wrong idea….

A. No, it’s just a pleasant reality, my dear, nothing more nothing less..

Q. Todd Rundgren said you were a “fucking idiot” in an english rock paper, what do you have to say to that?

A. I appreciate his concern…

Q. Is that all you’re going to say.. I mean aren’t you going to be bitingly witty or something?

A. Well.. I did write a little something… I sent it to the Melody Maker.. the trouble it…. I quite like the little rabbit….

Q. Have you any plans to go on tour? Like it’s a long time since… what was it… Geraldo?..

A. I haven’t got a band. It’s not that easy without a band, I mean, you’ve got to start from scratch… I get a lot of offers to do benefits.. it makes me guilty to refuse… trouble is… the people that ask, don’t understand the business…

Q. That sounds like a copout, John, if you don’t mind me saying so…

A. Well, you’re entitled to your opinion… I also get BIG MONEY offers too… but that doesn’t make the job easier… slightly more interesting but…

Q. I HEAR YOU’VE BEEN DOING A LOT OF RADIO…….

A. In connection with my new album, “Walls And Bridges,” out now…

Q. How do you like being a d.j.?

A. Actually… I really enjoy it.. I was brought up on it… Radio, I mean,.. I’ve been thinking of doing something regular… for a few years now…I don’t mean just playing records… but like, making tapes and… I wouldn’t like to get stuck in there, you know, with formats and such… I thought the best thing to do would be to, you know, just make tapes and put them on W.B.A.I., Pacifica or whatever, they could have any money etc.. and I’d have fun… maybe I will…. I just never seem to get around to it…. tho I was talking to an old ex radio friend, Elliot (after dinner) Mintz, on the west coast, he said he’d love to help…. you know… well who knows….

Q. I’m sure a lot of people would love to….

A. Yes, yes quite.

Q. Talking of radio, I heard that you and… of all people… Howard Cosell… were going to do something together…

A. On radio, yes, I only heard about it today myself… hmmmm.. interesting..

Q. It’s your birthday soon and you will be 34.. doesn’t that worry you… you know ‘aging pacifist, rock star crinkles before our eyes’.. that kind of thing..

A. 9th of October… send presents to Lennon Music, 1370 Ave. of the Americas, 6th floor… I quite like feeling the way I do, since thirty etc., in fact, it feels better than say 24… it’s the sound of it, it SOUNDS sort of scary… you know.. life simply flashing by… and me still trying to get in the top ten and all… but it feels ok.

Q. Do you think you’ll make any more movies, I mean, appear in them, like that Dick Lester thing… “How I Won The War?”

A. The main thing I learned from that… when was it 66/67? was that it’s BORING, sitting ‘round waiting for the director.. he has all the fun… not that I’m actually inundated with offers… but the things that do come my way are sort of… I think shit is the word I’m looking for.

Q. How about writing music for movies?

A. Well obviously I get offered more of that kind of thing, but it would have to really interest me.

Q. Why are you typing this as if someone was here with you, asking all these things?

Q. It makes a change… anyway, I enjoy typing… I only learned it last year… but my neck IS beginning to hurt and it’s getting a bit boring..

Q. I’m sorry. Just a few more questions MR. LENNON, I’m sure you understand I have a deadline… my editor… etc..

A. Alright then, GET ON WITH IT!

Q. Have you ever fucked a guy?

A. Not yet, I thought I’d save it til I was 40, life begins at 40 you know, tho I never noticed it.

Q. It is trendy to be bisexual and you’re usually ‘keeping up with the Jones’, haven’t you ever… there was talk about you and PAUL…

A. Oh, I thought it was about me and Brian Epstein… anyway I’m saving all the juice for my own version of THE REAL FAB FOUR BEATLES STORY etc.. etc..

Q. It seems like you’re saving quite a lot for when you’re 40..

A. Yes, there might be nothing better to do, tho I don’t believe it.

Q. Your life must be so glamorous being a superstar and meeting people like Howard Cosell and Mayor Beame…

A. I havent met either of them…

Q. Well, you know what I mean… because of my association with you, people are always asking me ‘What’s he really like,’ how can I them you’re just a beautiful, shy, modest, amazingly creative, paranoid pop star?

A. Shucks! You dont have to do that, just listen to my new album, “Walls And Bridges,” out now..!

Q. Of course, on the other hand, you’re a fucking ego maniac…

A. Of course, but who isn’t?

Q. Off hand I can’t name one…

A. Well, if you find one let’s go and interview him/her/it…

Q. What a jolly idea. Perhaps we could get a commission.. you know a sort of wandering Jill Johnston.

A. I bought her a pair of shoes once, she’s never forgiven me! Didn’t somebody buy the Village Voice? It seems to have changed a litte, mainly in the way they squash the front page up… does Jan Wenner own it or what?

Q. No, it’s just keeping up…

A. With the Times… we all know that one… I don’t care what Lori Sebastian says, I’ve had enough of this… anyway it’s not as if I’m on the cover or anything, I mean jeeze, I love Andy and everything, but this is it!

With that Mr. Lennon showed me the door, which was white. He was wearing jeans and a Mick Jagger tee-shirt. I wore a certain look.

Kind Of Good

Despite his accomplishments with The Beatles and as a solo artist, Douglas says Lennon was overly critical of his own work and hyper-sensitive to his limitations as a musician. While self-consciousness was a constant struggle, it also allowed Lennon some distance from his work. Lennon knew he couldn’t be objective until he heard a finished project; that’s why he put his trust in Douglas to craft the arrangements for Double Fantasy.

Going into Double Fantasy, Lennon thought his career might be over. He thought he was out of good songs and everything he had written towards the album was substandard.

“On the demos, there’s narration,” Douglas recalls. “[Lennon would say] ‘Oh, here’s another crappy piece of shit. And when something would be ‘kind of good’ [in Lennon’s opinion], he would say, ‘You know what? This one’s for Ringo.’ I gave those tapes to Ringo (laughs).”

Jack Douglas, talking about working with John Lennon