Revisiting John Lennon’s Legendary, Career-Spanning Interview
John Lennon was always known as the most outspoken member of the Beatles. Whether it was issues related with racism, sexism or comparing his band’s popularity to Jesus Christ, he was never one to hold back in the press. In December 1970, less than a year after the Beatles' breakup, Lennon sat down with Jann Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone, for his most extensive and revelatory interview.
Lennon and Rolling Stone already had a good relationship heading into the interview. The bespectacled Beatle adorned the magazine’s inaugural issue on Nov. 9, 1967, in character as Private Gripweed from the movie How I Won the War. That relationship was solidified when Rolling Stone published an unedited picture of the infamous nude cover to Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Two Virgins album.
In the introduction to the book Lennon Remembers, which is comprised of the full and unedited transcript of this historic conversation that took place at the end of 1970, Wenner recalled that “the publication of these interviews was the first time that any of the Beatles, let alone the man who had founded the group and was their leader, finally stepped outside of that protected, beloved fairy tale and told the truth. ... He was bursting and bitter about the sugarcoated mythology of the Beatles and Paul McCartney’s characterization of the breakup.”
True to Wenner’s description, the lengthy interview, which was actually split into two parts and printed separately at the beginning of 1971, finds Lennon in a completely candid mood, tearing apart the feel-good public perception of the group and slamming his former songwriting partner. “Paul would say ‘Speak to my lawyer, I don’t want to speak about business anymore,'’” Lennon revealed about the recent state of the group’s financial affairs and his relationship with McCartney. “Which meant, ‘I’m going to drag my feet and try and f--- you.’”
Among swipes at Bob Dylan (“Dylan is bulls---. Zimmerman is his name”) and the state of music (“Rock 'n' roll is going like jazz, as far as I can see, and the bulls---ters are going off into that excellentness which I never believed in”), Lennon revealed his that the Beatles, as far as he was concerned, were over for good. “I’m not going to record with another egomaniac," he declared. "There is only room for one on an album nowadays. There is no point, there is just no point at all. There was a reason to do it at one time, but there is no reason to do it anymore.”
When the issue hit the newsstands, the extensive feature was an immense bubble-bursting peek into the tumultuous inner-workings of the biggest group on the planet, but in subsequent years, it's grown into one of the most vital glimpses we have into the mind of one of the greatest talents of the 20th century. “My name isn’t John Beatle,” he pointed out at one point. “It’s John Lennon.” Indeed.