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Power To The People

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JOHN LENNON & YOKO ONO talk to Robin Blackburn & Tariq Ali (Reprinted from RED MOLE, London, England)

MOLE:Your latest record and your recent public statements, especially the interviews in ROLLING STONE magazine, suggest that your views are becoming increasingly radical and political. When did this start to happen ?

JOHN: I've always been politically-minded, you know, and against the status quo. It's pretty basic when you're brought up, like I was, to hate and fear the police as a natural enemy and to despise the army as something that takes everybody away and leaves them dead somewhere. I mean, it's just a basic working class thing, though it begins to wear off when you get older, get a family and get swallowed up in the system. In my case I've never not been political, though religion tended to overshadow it in my acid days; that would be around '65 or '66. And that religion was directly the result of all that superstar shit--religion was an outlet for my repression. I thought, "Well, there's something else to life, isn't there? This isn't it, surely?" But I was always political in a way, you know. In the two books I wrote, even though they were written in a sort of Joycean gobbledegook, there's many knocks at religion and there is a play about a worker and a capitalist. I've been satirizing the system since my childhood. I used to write magazines in school and hand them around. I knew about the class repression coming down on us--it was a fucking fact but in the hurricane Beatle world it got left out--I got farther away from reality for a time.

MOLE: When did you start breaking out of the role imposed on you as a Beatle ? 

JOHN: Even during the Beatle heyday I tried to go against it, so did George. We went to America a few times and Epstein always tried to waffle on at us about saying nothing about Vietnam. So there carne a time when George and I said I "Listen, when they ask next time, we're going to say we don't like that war and we think they should get right out." That's what we did. At that time I this was a pretty radical thing to do, especially for the "Fab Four." It was the first opportunity I personally took to wave the flag a bit. But you've got to remember that I'd always felt repressed. We were all so pressurized that there was hardly any chance of expressing ourselves, especially working at that rate, touring continually and always kept in a cocoon of myths and dreams. It's pretty hard when you are Caesar and everyone is saying how wonderful you are and they are giving you all the goodies and girls, it's pretty hard to break out of that, to say "Well, I don't want to be king. I want to be real." So in its way the second political thing I did was to say "The Beatles are bigger than Jesus." That really broke the scene, I nearly got shot in America for that. It was a big trauma for all the kids that were following us. Of course, going to America increased the build up on me, especially as the war was going on there. In a way we'd turned out to be a Trojan Horse. The Fab Four moved right to the top and then sang about drugs and sex and then I got into more and more heavy stuff and that's when they started dropping us. The continual awareness of what was going on made me feel ashamed I wasn't saying anything. I burst out because I could no longer play that game any more it was just too much for me.

MOLE: In a way you were even thinking about politics when you seemed to be knocking revolution?

JOHN: Ah, sure. Revolution. There were two versions of that song but the underground left only picked up on the one that said "count me out". The original version which ends up the LP said "count me in" too; I put in both because I wasn't sure. There was a third version that was just abstract, musique concrete, kind of loops and that, people screaming. I thought I was painting in sound a picture of revolution--but I made a mistake, you know. The mistake was that it was anti-revolution. On the version released as a single I said "when you talk about destruction you can count me out". I didn't want to get killed. That was how I felt--I was really asking a question. As someone from the working class I was always interested in Russia and China and everything that related to the working class, even though I was playing the capitalist game.

MOLE: A lot of Beatle songs used to be about childhood. Though they were very good there was always a missing element. . .

JOHN: That would be reality, that would be the missing element. Because I was never really wanted. The only reason I am a star is because of my repression. Nothing else would have driven me through all that if I was "normal"...

YOKO: . . . and happy. . .

MOLE: But then you had success beyond most people's wildest dreams. . .

JOHN: Oh, Jesus Christ, it was a complete i oppression. I mean we had to go through humiliation upon humiliation with the middle classes and showbiz and Lord Mayors and all that. They were so condescending and stupid. Everybody trying to use us. It was a special humiliation for me because I could never keep my mouth shut and I'd always have to be drunk or pilled to counteract this pressure. It was really hell. . .

YOKO: It was depriving him of any real experience, you know. . .

JOHN: It was very miserable. I mean apart from the first flush of making it--the thrill of the first number one record, the first trip to America -moving forward was the great thing, but actually attaining it was the big let-down. I found I was having continually to please the sort of people I'd always hated when I was a child. This began to bring me back to reality. I began to realize that we are all oppressed which is why I would like to do something about it, though I'm not sure where my place is.

MOLE: Well, in any case, politics and culture I are linked, aren't they? I mean, workers are repressed by culture not guns at the moment. . .

JOHN: . . . they're doped. . .

MOLE: And the culture that's doping them is one the artist can make or break. . .

JOHN: That's what Im trying to do on my albums and in these interviews. What I'm trying to do is to influence all the people I can influence. All those who are still under the dream and just put a big question mark in their mind.

MOLE: Even in the past, you know, people would use Beatle songs and give them new words. Yellow Submarine for instance had a number of versions. One that strikers used to sing began "We all live on bread and margerine."

JOHN: I like that. I was also pleased when the movement in America took up Give peace a chance because I had written it with that in mind really. I hoped that instead of singing We Shall Overcome from 1800 or something they would have something contemporary. I would like to compose songs for the revolution now. . .

MOLE: We only have a few revolutionary songs and they we e composed in the nineteenth century. Do you find anything in our musical traditions which could be used for revolutionary songs?

JOHN: When I started, Rock and Roll itself was the basic revolution to people of my age and situation. We needed something loud and clear to break through all the unfeeling and repression that had been coming down on us kids. They sort of said shake your arse, or your prick, which was an innovation really.

MOLE: Now you're trying to swim against the stream of bourgeois society, which is difficult. . .

JOHN: Yes, they own all the newspapers and they control all distribution and promotion. If you're an unknown artist you're lucky to get an hour in the studio -- it's a hierarchy and if you don't have hits, you don 't get recorded again. We tried to change that with Apple but in the end we were defeated. They still control everything. EMI killed our album Two Virgins because they didn't like it. With the last record they've censored the words of the songs printed on the record sleeve. Fucking ridiculous and hypocritical; they have to let me sing it but they don't dare let you read it. Insanity.

YOKO: We are very lucky, really, because we can create our own reality, John and me, but we know the important thing is to communicate with other people.

JOHN: The more reality we face, the more we realize that unreality is the main program of the day. The more real we become, the more abuse we take, so it does radicalize us in a way, like being put in a corner. But it would be better if there were more of us.

MOLE: Communications is vital for building a movement, but in the end it's powerless unless you also develop popular force. No ruling class in the whole of history has given up power voluntarily and I don't see that changing.

JOHN: You can't take power without a struggle. . .

MOLE: That's the crucial thing.

JOHN: Because when it comes to the nitty gritty they won't let the people have any power. They'll give all the rights to perform and to dance for them, but no real power. . . And the women are very important, too, we can't have a revolution that doesn't involve and liberate women. It's so subtle the way you're taught male superiority. It took me quite a long time to realize that my maleness was cutting off certain areas for Yoko. She was quick to show me where I was going wrong, even though it seemed to me that I was just acting naturally. That's why I'm always interested to know how people who claim to be radical treat women. It's ridiculous. How can you talk about power to the people unless you realize the people is both sexes.