In March of 1966, John Lennon spoke with The New Musical Express about the reason for the unexpected break from work in their otherwise busy schedules. In what would be a brief but enlightening interview, he also describes his interest in electronic music and tape loops. John shares his expectation that their next album should be very different from the Beatles output to date.
This chat took place at 'a nice little caff in Soho,' and was published in the March 11th 1966 edition of NME with the teaser 'LENNON TALKS!' on the front page. Asking the questions was Chris Hutchins...
SETTING THE SCENE:
John Lennon and I tried something unusual last week - we went to lunch. Unusual for him because he never lunches out and unusual for me because I normally eat before 3:30 pm. But then journalists have to get up earlier than Beatles do. John arrived (on time) to test the new experience and we moved away in style in the luxury of his Rolls-Royce Phantom V, surveying Mayfair from behind darkened windows that allow you to see out but no one to see in. It's something like traveling in an ambulance, but ambulances are rarely fitted with TV and fridge. The phone in the back of the car hummed: 'Can't be for me,' said John, 'No one's got the number.' We arrived at the restaurant in Regent Street and John sent the car away, asking the driver to return in 90 minutes. Only when it had gone did we discover that the restaurant, where our table was booked for 3:15, closes at 3. ''Ere, it's John Lennon,' said a woman to her friend, but before her friend had turned round we were in the back of a taxi. The driver said he knew a nice little caff in Soho and that sounded better than sandwiches and tea at NEMS (the Epstein Emporium) so off we went. The place was empty and the food smelt good, though sherry in the soup was the closest we could get to alcohol at that time of day, much to the regret of our waiter. John asked for a paper serviette as he'd forgotten a handkerchief and removed his PVC mac ('Bought it in Tahiti for fifteen bob') and the Lennon interview began.
Q: "You have often said that you don't want to be playing in a pop group when you reach 30. You are now in your 26th year. The only firm date in the Beatles' 1966 diary seems to be the NME Poll Winners Concert on May 1. Is this therefore the start of the retirement process?"
JOHN: "No. We're going to Germany, America and Japan this year. It's an accident that we're not working now. We should have just had two weeks holiday after Christmas and then started on the next film, but it isn't ready and won't be for months. We want to work and we've got plenty to do - writing songs, taping things and so on. Paul and I ought to get down to writing some songs for the new LP next week. I hope he and Jane (Asher) aren't going away or God knows when we'll be ready to record. George thought we'd written them and were all ready. That's why he came dashing back from his honeymoon and we hadn't got a thing ready. We'll have to get started. There's been too much messing 'round. But I feel we've only just finished 'Rubber Soul' and I keep looking for the reviews - then I realize we did it months ago. We're obviously not going to work harder than we want to now, but you get a bit fed up of doing nothing."
Q: "Now that you've got all the money you need and plenty of time on your hands, don't you ever get the urge to do something different?"
JOHN: "I've had one or two things up my sleeve. I was going to make recordings of some of my poetry, but I'm not high-powered. I just sort of stand there and let things happen to me. I should have finished a new book. It's supposed to be out this month but I've only done one page. I thought why should I break me back getting books out like records?
Q: "Do you ever worry that the money you have won't be enough to last your lifetime?"
JOHN: "Yes. I get fits of worrying about that. I get visions of being one of those fools who do it all in by the time they're 30. Then I imagine writing a series for the 'People' saying 'I was going to spend, spend, spend...' I thought about this a while back and decided I'd been a bit extravagant and bought too many cars, so I put the Ferrari and the Mini up for sale. Then one of the accountants said I was all right, so I got the cars back. It's the old story of never knowing how much we've got. I've tried to find out but with income tax to be deducted and the money coming in from all over the place, the sums get too complicated for me, I can't even do my times table. Every now and again the accountant clears some money of tax and puts it into my account saying: 'That's there and it's all yours but don't spend it all at once!' The thing I've learned is that if I'm spending £10,000 I say to myself: 'You've had to earn £30,000 before tax to get that.'
Q: "What sort of people are your guests at home in Weybridge?"
JOHN: "We entertain very few. (P.J.) Proby was there one night and George Martin another. I think those are the only two we've specifically said 'Come to dinner' to, and made preparations. Normally I like people to drop 'round on the off chance. It cuts out all that formal entertaining business. We've just had Ivan and Jean down for a weekend - they're old friends from Liverpool, and Pete Shotton. The fellow who runs my supermarket came round on Saturday."
Q: "Is the house at Weybridge a permanent home?"
JOHN: "No, it's not. I'm dying to move into town but I'm waiting to see how Paul gets on when he goes into his town house. If he gets by alright then I'll sell the place at Weybridge. Probably to some American who'll pay a fortune for it! I was thinking the other night though that it might not be easy to find a buyer. How do you sell somebody a pink, green and purple house? We've had purple velvet put up on the dining room walls. It sets off the old scrubbed table we eat on. Then there's the 'funny' room upstairs. I painted that all colors changing from one to another as I emptied each can of paint. How do you show somebody that when they come to look the place over? And there's the plants in the bath. I suppose I could have a flat in town but I don't want to spend another £20,000 just to have somewhere to stay overnight when I've had too much bevy to drive home."
Q: "What kind of TV programs do you watch?"
JOHN: "'The Power Game' is my favorite. I love that. And next to it 'Danger Man' and 'The Rat Catchers.' Did you see that episode the other night when that spy, the clever one, shot a nun by mistake? I love that and I was so glad it happened to the clever one."
Q: "What's going to come out of the next recording sessions?"
JOHN: "Literally anything. Electronic music, jokes... One thing's for sure - the next LP is going to be very different. We wanted to have it so that there was no space between the tracks - just continuous. But they wouldn't wear it. Paul and I are very keen on this electronic music. You make it clinking a couple of glasses together or with bleeps from the radio, then you loop the tape to repeat the noises at intervals. Some people build up whole symphonies from it. It would have been better than the background music we had for the last film. All those silly bands. Never again!"
The Beatles were writing songs in between their next tour...
It was a quiet day 50 years ago today (that we know of)
During this 3 month hiatus, 1966 would mark the last year that the Beatles would be tied to their classic "Mop-Top" image (although their hair was noticeably longer by this time) and all-together unified look. During this break, each member of the group coincidentally grew a moustache without consulting the others. Lennon began wearing his signature "granny" glasses during the filming of How I Won the War, cut his hair (he played the role of a soldier in that movie) and switched to wearing colourful paisley suits. They were never again filmed performing with a unified look, with the exception of a mocking scene in the promo for the 1967 song, Hello Goodbye.
On this day Paul McCartney and his girlfriend Jane Asher flew to Switzerland for a two-week skiing holiday.
The couple rented a chalet in the mountains about half a mile from the town of Klosters. During their stay McCartney worked on musical ideas for The Beatles' next album.
I can remember more about writing Revolver than about recording it. I was in Switzerland on my first skiing holiday. I'd done a bit of skiing in Help! and quite liked it, so I went back and ended up in a little bathroom in a Swiss chalet writing For No One. I remember the descending bass-line trick that it's based on, and I remember the character in the song - the girl putting on her make-up.
The couple returned to England on March 20, 1966, after which McCartney moved into his house at 7 Cavendish Avenue, London.
Reporter Maureen Cleave, a good friend of John Lennon's, wrote a personality article about him that would be published in the March 4th 1966 edition of the London Evening Standard. Cleave's piece was intended to present a portrait of the behind-the-scenes Lennon, and was entitled 'How Does A Beatle Live? John Lennon Lives Like This.' The article contained a number of Lennon musings, remarks and random thoughts from a recent conversation she had with him at his home in Weybridge, including John's personal view of the current state of religion: "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about 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."
A separate article with different content, including portions of the Jesus quote out of context from the original article, was published in the American teen fanzine 'Datebook' just before the Beatles' 1966 American tour.
Word-of-mouth rumors in America about John Lennon's Jesus quote spread quickly among anti-Beatle factions, even further out of context, as the ridiculous egocentric headline: 'John says Beatles are bigger than Jesus.' The outrage and reaction mostly seemed to be coming from the 'bible belt' in America.
John would later remark during a press conference in Chicago on August 12th during the Beatles' 1966 North American tour, "We could've just sort of hidden in England and said, 'We're not going, we're not going!' You know, that occured to me when I heard it all. I couldn't remember saying it. I couldn't remember the article. I was panicking, saying, 'I'm not going at all,' you know. But if they sort of straighten it out, it will be worth it, and good."
Lennon continued, "When it came out in England it was a bit of a blab-mouthed saying anyway... A few people wrote into the papers, and a few wrote back saying, 'So what, he said that. Who is he anyway,' or they said, 'So, he can have his own opinion.' And then it just vanished. It was very small. But... you know, when it gets over here and then it's put into a kid's magazine, and just parts of it or whatever was put in, it just loses its meaning or its context immediately... and everybody starts making their own versions of it." John would be asked many times during the 1966 tour to clarify what he had intended to say. Lennon explained in Chicago: "My views are only from what I've read or observed of christianity and what it was, and what it has been, or what it could be. It just seems to me to be shrinking. I'm not knocking it or saying it's bad. I'm just saying it seems to be shrinking and losing contact."
In some cities, reporters would ask Lennon to explain the Jesus comment repeatedly -- even multiple times within a single press conference -- baiting him to become upset or to say something even further inflammatory. Knowing their game, John kept his cool.
The public outcry against Lennon had been coming from a rather small minority of the population, but once the national media fanned the flames as much as they were able, reports of negative public reaction made it appear more widespread than it really was. For the minority of Americans who had been moved from religious outrage to action, the fallout did involve Beatle record burnings arranged by christian radio stations, Ku Klux Klan protests, and anonymous death threats. It also gave the older generation a sense of vindication that the Beatles were somehow bad role models for the youth of America.
With some hindsight perspective, John clarified the remark perhaps best during his December 1966 Look magazine interview: "I said we were more popular than Jesus, which is a fact. I believe Jesus was right, Buddha was right, and all of those people like that are right. They're all saying the same thing, and I believe it. I believe what Jesus actually said -- the basic things he laid down about love and goodness -- and not what people say he said."
John's then-wife Cynthia would state years later in her 1978 book, A Twist Of Lennon: "His views were totally misconstrued. John was very bewildered and frightened by the reaction that his words created in the States. Beatle albums were burnt in a mass orgy of self-righteous indignation. Letters arrived at the house full of threats, hate and venom."
The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein announced on this day the group's plans to tour Germany, Japan, the Philippines and the United States.
The final live dates took place between June and August 1966, and were to be The Beatles' final scheduled concerts. Their last show was at San Francisco's Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966.