An Interview with John Lennon
John Winston Lennon was born on October 9, 1940 in Liverpool, England, the son of Julia and Freddie Lennon. In 1960 Lennon began the formation of a music combo that would become The Beatles. The group disbanded in 1970 but not before The Beatles had become one of the most successful and well-known bands in the history of music.
Lennon's mortal life came to an end on December 8, 1980 when Mark Chapman shot and killed Lennon in New York City. Lennon was married twice and had two sons. This interview took place in January 2001, during the off-season. Lennon was in his office at Strawberry Fields working on the team's lineup for the new season.
Cosmic Baseball Association How embarrassing was it to get swept in the Cosmic Universal Series last season?
JOHN LENNON Not embarrassing at all really. Remember, mate, it was our first Series appearance, most of the chaps were just glad to be there.
CBA Are there many roster changes for the Woodsox next season?
LENNON We drafted two rookies: Lou Gottlieb, a wonderful musician and commune founder. And we signed Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Gottlieb plays secondbase and he's going to replace Owsley Stanley who was deactivated at the end of last season. Lou's going to be our everyday man at secondbase. I just don't know where to put him in the batting lineup. The Maharishi is a utility infielder with a good arm and he can play second, third or shortstop and he could even catch if necessary. The pitching rotation is going to stay the same.
CBA You were once quoted as saying, ""Listen, if anything happens to Yoko [Ono, Lennon's second wife] and me, it was not an accident." Have you read Fenton Bresler's book Who Killed John Lennon? His main thesis is that the United States government was responsible for your death; that your assassin was a victim of "Manchurian Candidate" programming. Do you think there is any truth to that? Wasn't your assassin just a mentally deranged soul?
LENNON Yes, but who deranged him? It's no secret the United States government didn't like me, was bloody worried about me in fact. Isn't it possible that they might have wanted me permanently out of the picture? The New York City policeman who commanded the precinct that handled my murder investigation said, "If you program an amateur to do the job, a so-called 'nut', very few questions are asked." On balance I'm inclined to think that there was a conspiracy to kill me.
CBA You started experimenting with LSD around 1966. Were drugs a major influence on your work?
LENNON Actually my first LSD trip was an accident. It was sometime in the Spring of 1965. I was with Cynthia [Lennon's first wife, nee Powell], George [Harrison], and Patti [Boyd. Harrison's girlfriend and future wife]. A dentist chum of George's spiked our coffee with LSD and we all started tripping.
CBA What was the first song you ever wrote under the influence of LSD?
LENNON That would have been "I Am The Walrus."
CBA And "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is not about LSD. Is that true?
LENNON We recorded that song on March 1 and 2 in 1967. It's true I had already been experimenting with acid [LSD] so perhaps there was something subliminal going on. But my conscious inspiration for the song was a school drawing made by Julian [John and Cynthia's son] who was then five and had a chum named Lucy [O'Donnell, daughter of a London journalist.] It was Julian who described his drawing as "Lucy in the sky with diamonds."
CBA Does the name "Beatles" have any reference to the Beat Generation of Jack Kerouac? Over the years you and other band members have provided a number of sometimes conflicting explanations for the group's name. Can you straighten this issue out for us now?
LENNON Let me try. This name thing is getting vague for me but let's see what I can recall. When my art school roommate Stu Sutcliffe joined the band that we had been calling The Quarrymen in January 1960 he suggested we call ourselves The Beetles. He was mostly trying to make a connection with The Crickets, Buddy Holly's band. Somebody mis-spelled his suggestion and so we were now The Beatals. Sometime around May in 1960 Allan Williams was more or less managing us and he decided he didn't like The Beatals name so he changed it to The Silver Beetles. Stu and I liked the mis-spelling. "Beat" made a nice connection to the idea of the new "beat" everyone was experiencing in the Liverpool clubs. Stu had already read Allen Ginsberg's poetry and we were familiar with Beat Generation ideas so maybe secondarily it reinforced our preference for the Beat spelling. But mostly it was about musical beat, not the American Beats. In July we compromised with Williams on the name and became the Silver Beatles. I remember we did one gig on May 14 as The Silver Beats.
CBA So the "flaming pie vision" story is bullshit?
LENNON Right. That got started in 1961 when Bill Harry published "Mersey Beat" and quoted me as saying the name came to me in a " vision--a man appeared in a flaming pie and said unto them 'From this day on you are Beatles with an A'. "
CBA What about the connection with the movie Wild One. George Harrison seems to suggest that the idea for the Beatles name came from the movie?
LENNON You mean because one of the motorcycle gangs in the film is called The Beetles. Well in 1960 I don't think any of us had seen the movie since it was banned in England for fifteen years [The Wild One was released in 1954]. But maybe Stu, who knew a lot of things, knew something about the film by then. I don't remember
CBA Of course the Beatles in their own right influenced Allen Ginsberg, a Beat Generation paragon. You were dead nearly four years when he wrote "Improvisation in Beijing" which includes the line, "I write poetry inspired by youthful cheerful Beatles's songs grown old."
LENNON I never heard that line but it's nice. When did he write that?
CBA In 1984. John, you have on your team one of the most controversial characters from the 1960s. Of course, I'm talking about starting pitcher Charles Manson. How does Manson get along with his teammates?
LENNON Charlie won 15 games for us last year and he certainly helped us out in the early going of the post-season. So, you know the old saw "everyone loves a winner." Charlie gets on well with his teammates. He's very respectful with me although I don't like him singing his songs in the clubhouse and I had to tell him that.
CBA In the Playboy interview that Hefner published just before your were killed the interviewer asked if you took any responsibility for Manson's interpretation of Beatles' songs like "Helter Skelter" and "Piggies." Do you remember what your answer was?
LENNON I said something like, it has nothing to do with me. I remember thinking that Manson was just an extreme version of the people who came up with the "Paul is dead" thing or who figured out that the initials to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" were LSD and concluded I was writing about acid. I don't see how me or any creative bloke can take responsibility for other people's analysis of creative work.
CBA Do you and Manson ever discuss his understanding of your songs?
LENNON No, we keep clear of discussing that. We talk about baseball. How to pitch to different batters.
CBA You mentioned earlier that the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is a rookie on the team for the coming season. He was also a rather controversial figure in your life. How did he end up on the team.
LENNON The Maharishi is certainly a notable character from the 1960s so his qualifications begin there as far as being a Woodsox player. I'm the one who went to Julius [Hofmann. General Manager of the Woodsox and presiding judge at the trial of the Chicago 8] and recommended we get him.
CBA Was his uncalled for sexual advances on Mia Farrow the reason you and the others began to distance yourself from him in the 1960s?
LENNON That got a lot of attention but no, what happened was my realization that all these father figures which are the "isms" people get into overwhelm the messages they are trying to convey. Somebody comes along with a good piece of truth. Instead of the truth being looked at, the person who brought it is looked at. The messenger is worshiped, instead of the message. It's always about the person and never what he says.
CBA But John that's called hero-worship. And you were and are a hero to a lot of worshippers.
LENNON Right and it bloody well fucked me up. It's not a good thing, not for the hero and not for the worshipper.
CBA That makes me think of the Beatles-Jesus Christ fiasco. Remember that?
LENNON One of the worst times of my life was that day [August 11,1966] when we were in Chicago on our last U.S. tour. I was trying to explain and apologize for the misunderstanding. What I originally said [on March 6, 1966] to Maureen [Cleave, the interviewer for the London Evening News] was that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus now" and that was said in the context of deploring the culture's lack of spirituality. Some dopey teen magazine [Datebook Magazine, July 29, 1966] in the states yanked the comment out of context and misquoted me by claiming I said the Beatles were "bigger" than Jesus meaning we must be better than Jesus. Lots of people, especially in South Africa and Spain and in the United States were pissed at me. In Chicago, five months after the interview was published I tried apologizing for something I didn't say and for something I never meant.
CBA Well, of course you are right. If you read the quote in context it does vindicate your attitude.
LENNON What I said exactly was that Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that - I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first -rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me. And I still believe those words are true. Even today, in the new millennium, the 21st Century, Beatles music is probably more popular than Jesus. People haven't become more spiritual in the new age. At least I don't see it.
CBA Maybe that's because the so-called developed nations of the world are all built by cultures ruled by commerce and gain.
LENNON It's a bloody shame and even worse there doesn't seem to be any avenues of attack anymore. Everything's been co-opted by the megalith: music, art, writing. I remember Ginsberg wrote somewhere, "Money has reckoned Amerika."
CBA Do you have any spiritual communication with your widow, Yoko Ono?
LENNON Do you mean do I communicate with her from the world of the dead?
LENNON No we don't talk that way. We interact at various meetings like the Rookie Drafts and in late February I'll probably see her when we play the Virgins in a pre-season game.
CBA Did you know that Yoko was having an affair with [New York Art Historian] Sam Green shortly before you were killed?
LENNON Did you know that termites are completely monogamous? Yoko and I were not termites.
CBA Do you think if you were still alive you would still be married to Yoko?
LENNON I don't know. Maybe, maybe not.
CBA Her bible-ripping escapade in May 1986 during a concert with Sean [John and Yoko's son] was reminiscent of the Beatles Bigger than Jesus fiasco.
LENNON I don't know too much about that event. Did she apologize?
CBA Yes, she apologized after [spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York] Joseph Zwelling called the action "inappropriate." She said, "I am sorry. I did not mean to offend them by distributing the words of God."
LENNON Yoko can be very provocative.
CBA I get the feeling you are ready to get back to working on figuring out the batting lineup for the team. Do you expect to be the best in the Middleleague again?
LENNON Absolutely. The team is basically in tact except for the change at secondbase. I expect our pitchers will do as good if not better. Coach [Spiro] Agnew has been working in the offseason with the hitters. I think we'll be better overall.
CBA Well, okay. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions and good luck on the cosmic baseball field this season.
LENNON Thanks. I'll look forward to reading the interview.
The Psychedelphia Woodstockings season opens at home on March 15 when they play the Bolex Poetics.