Executive Honorary Members
Sir Paul McCartney
Sir George Martin
(The Original Quarrymen):-
1940 - 1980
The Playboy Interview
John Lennon and Yoko Ono
The final interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono was published in the January 1981 issue of The Playboy Magazine. I was most fortunate to be aware of this forthcoming interview in September of 1980, and had ordered three copies of the January 1981 issue of Playboy. The entire interview, together with Playboy’s introduction is here for you to read.
Part 1. Introduction to Interview.
To describe the turbulent history of The Beatles, or the musical and cultural mileposts charted by John Lennon, would be an exercise in the obvious. Much of the world knows that Lennon was the guiding spirit of The Beatles, who were themselves amongst the most popular and profound of influences in the sixties before their bitter break-up in 1970. Some fans blamed the break-up on Yoko Ono, Lennon’s Japanese-born second wife; who was said to have wielded a disproportionate influence over Lennon, and with whom he had collaborated throughout the Seventies.
In 1975 the Lennon’s became unavailable to the press, and after much speculation only emerged to dispel rumours – and to cut a new album – a couple of months ago. The Lennon’s decided to speak with PLAYBOY in the longest interview they had ever granted. Free-lance writer David Sheff was tapped for the assignment, and when he and a Playboy editor met with Ono to discuss ground rules, she came on strongly, responding to a reference made to other notables who had been interviewed in Playboy. Ono said, "People like Carter represent only their country. John and I represent the world." However, by the time the interview was concluded several weeks later, Ono had joined the project with enthusiasm. Here is Sheff’s report.
"There was an excellent chance that this interview would never take place. When my contacts with the Lennon-Ono organisation began, one of Ono’s assistants called me and asked seriously "What is your sign?" The interview apparently depended on Yoko’s interpretation of my horoscope, just as the stars reportedly guide many of the Lennon’s business decisions. I could imagine explaining to my Playboy editor "Sorry, but my moon is in Scorpio – the interview’s off!" It was clearly out of my hands. I supplied the following information: December 23rd, three P.M., Boston.
The call came in and the interview was tentatively on. Thank my lucky stars!!! I soon found myself in New York, passing through the ominous gates and numerous checkpoints at the Lennon’s headquarters, the famed Dakota apartment building on Central Park West where the couple dwells, and where Yoko Ono holds court, beginning at eight o’clock each morning.
Ono is one of the most misunderstood women in the public eye. Her mysterious image is based upon some accurate and some warped accounts of her philosophies and her art statements, and upon the fact that she never smiles. It is also based – perhaps unfairly – upon resentment of her as the Sorceress/Svengali who controls the very existence of John Lennon. This image has remained through the years since she and John met, primarily because she has not chosen to correct it – nor has she chosen to smile. As I removed my shoes before treading on her fragile carpet – those were the instructions – I wondered what the next test might be.
Between interruptions from her two male assistants, busy screening the constant flow of phone calls, Yoko gave me the once-over. She finally explained that the stars had indeed said it was right – very right, in fact. Who was I to argue? And so it was the following day I found myself sitting across a couple of cups of cappuccino opposite John Lennon.
Lennon, still bleary-eyed from lack of sleep and scruffy from lack of shave, waited for the coffee to take hold of a system otherwise used to operating on sushi and sashimi – ‘dead fish’ as he calls them, French cigarettes and Hershey bars with almonds.
Within the first hour of the interview Lennon put every one of my pre-conceived ideas about him to rest. He was far more open, candid and witty than I had any right to expect. He was prepared, once Yoko had given the initial go-ahead, to frankly talk about everything. Explode was more like it. If his sessions in primal-scream therapy were his emotional and intellectual release ten years ago, this interview was his more recent vent. After a week of conversations with Lennon and Ono, separately as well as together, we had apparently established some sort of rapport, which was confirmed for me early one morning.
"John wants to know how fast you can meet him in the apartment" announced the by then familiar voice of a Lennon-Ono assistant. A short cab ride later Lennon briefed me quickly. "A guy’s trying to serve me a subpoena and I just don’t want to deal with it today. Will you help me out?" We sneaked into John’s limousine and streaked toward the recording studio, three hours before he was due to arrive. Lennon told his driver to slow to a crawl as we approached the studio, and instructed me to lead the way inside after making sure the path was safe. "If anybody comes up with papers knock them down" he said. "As long as they don’t touch me, it’s OK!!"
Before I left the car Lennon pointed to a sleeping wino leaning against the studio wall. "That could be him" Lennon warned. "They’re masters of disguise." Lennon high-tailed it into the elevator, dragging me along with him. When the elevator doors finally closed he let out a nervous sigh, and somehow the ludicrousness of the morning dawned on him. He burst out laughing. "I feel like I’m back in ‘Hard Day’s Night’ or ‘Help’" he said!!!
As the interview progressed the complicated and misunderstood relationship between Lennon and Ono emerged as the primary factor in both of their lives. "Why don’t people believe us when we say we’re simply in love?" John pleaded. The enigma called Yoko Ono became accessible, as the hard exterior broke down – such as the morning when she let out a hiccup right in the middle of a heavy discourse on capitalism. Non-plussed by her hiccup, Ono giggled. With that giggle, she became vulnerable and cute and shy, and not at all the creature that came from the Orient to brainwash John Lennon.
Ono was born in 1933 in Tokyo where her parents were bankers and socialites. In 1951 her family moved to Scarsdale, New York. She attended Sarah Lawrence College. In 1957 Yoko was married for the first time to Toshi Ichiyanagi, a musician. They were divorced in 1964 and, later that year, Yoko married Tony Cox, who fathered her daughter Kyoko. She and Coxwere divorced in 1967, two years before she married Lennon.
The Lennon half of the couple was born in October 1940. His father left home before John was born to become a seaman and his mother, incapable of caring for the boy, turned John over to his aunt and uncle when he was four and a half. They lived several blocks away from his mother in Liverpool, England. Lennon, who attended Liverpool’s private schools, met a kid named Paul McCartney in 1956 at the Woolton Parish Church Festival in Liverpool.
The following year the two formed their first band, The Nurk Twins. In 1958 John formed The Quarrymen, named after his high school. He asked Paul to join the band and agreed to audition a friend of Paul’s called George Harrison. In 1959 The Quarrymen disbanded but later re-grouped as Johnny and The Moondogs, who subsequently became The Silver Beetles. They played in clubs backing strippers, and eventually got their foot in the door of Liverpool’s showcase Cavern Club. Pete Best was signed on as drummer and the group left England for Hamburg where they played eight hours a night at the Indra Club.
The Silver Beetles became The Beatles and by 1960, when they returned to England, the band had become the talk of Liverpool. In 1962 John married Cynthia Powell, who later gave birth to their son Julian. (John and Cynthia were divorced in 1968). Later in 1962 Richard Starkey – or Ringo Starr – replaced Pete Best as The Beatles’ drummer, and the rest – as Lennon often sarcastically says "is pop history."