A Christmas Memory: A John Lennon Memoir — 1969
One of his causes was peace for the world and in this season of giving and peace, let’s remember him.
Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison, aka The Beatles, have recorded a new hit song with a man who has been dead for 15 years. If that doesn’t smack of high-tech, nothing does. The release of the new song and the new-found interest in The Beatles led me to thinking about the time I had an unexpected private interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
For those of you who missed this three years ago, I’m publishing it again and this time, it includes something really special — a contact sheet of photos of me, John Lennon and Yoko Ono during our interview in Toronto, Canada.
Once upon another lifetime, I worked for a major US publishing magazine and I decided that we weren’t giving enough attention to the publishers to the north of us; the Canadians. I began attending a yearly meeting of Canadian publishers and on one of my first visits I was booked into the same hotel as John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
Lennon had just published a book and I thought it might be fun to get an interview for the magazine. How do you get an interview with a rock superstar when everyone in Toronto is clamoring for five minutes with them.
It’s Not What You Know, It’s WHO You Know
Well, if you’re inordinately lucky, you have a relative who is a very good friend of a close friend of theirs. Follow? Then you take a large measure of chutzpah, pen an anything-but-memorable note which states that your relative, friend of so-and-so, says hello. You leave it with the clerk at the desk and go to your room.
A few hours later, the phone rang and a man with a strong British accent asked, “Would you like to come up to the suite to talk to John?” Could there have been any questions?
They decided that I could come up later in the afternoon and I grabbed for a Toronto yellow pages to look up photographers. I can't imagine what the photographer I called thought when I told him that I had an exclusive interview with John Lennon, wanted him to meet me in the lobby, and not to tell anyone. He agreed and an hour later I met someone I didn’t know and had no idea whether he could use a camera or not and we went up to the suite.
I knew the popularity of The Beatles, but I wasn't prepared for what met us when the elevator door opened on the floor where Lennon had his suite. Wall to wall screaming girls, who couldn’t have been any older than 12 or 13, packed the hall and we literally had to wade our way through as they begged for us to take them in with us.
The Door Is Opened
The door was opened by someone, I don’t know who, and then the fellow who had called, Derek Taylor, introduced himself and led us into a room where a table, complete with a white tablecloth, had been set up.
On top of it were bottles of Coke and a pot of tea. Over in the corner, near the windows, stood a man in a dreadful dark green silk suit (Alan Klein?) who looked at us with all the enthusiasm of a sated turtle.
We sat, the photographer fiddled with his equipment and the man still stood sullenly in the corner, looking out the window and occasionally looking around at us. A camera crew with a mini-cam began filming and Derek explained that they were filming everything on this trip. John was thinking of making a film of it all.
So, I was immortalized in a film with John Lennon and Yoko Ono and the gang and God knows where it's lying today. Probably in someone's trunk waiting to be rediscovered by someone looking for something else. Clear on that one?
John Enters Quietly and Introduces Himself
Without any notice, like trumpets or an announcement or something, John stepped into the room, followed by Yoko. I looked at him with his long hair and round glasses and impeccable white pants and shirt and all I could think was, “He’s not tall. He’s very thin and not tall”.
I didn’t know what he’d be like and, not being a Beatles fan, I thought the worst. He faked me out. Coming over, he said, “How do you do. So nice of you to come”.
Then he offered me a Coke or some tea and I found I wasn’t prepared for this interview. Somehow, I thought it would flow, that he would talk and talk as everyone always did and all I would have to do is take some really good quotes down.
He waited and as he did; I noticed how attentive he was to Yoko. How he touched her hair — that explosion of hair that seemed to stand out from her head. Where did that woman get all that hair spray?
He seemed so enamored of her. He was really head over heels in love with this woman. She, on the other hand, seemed somewhat cool and distant, as though she expected it from him.
He turned. Looking at me and speaking to Yoko, he asked, “Doesn’t she look like Shirley MacLaine? I think she looks like Shirley MacLaine.” She agreed somewhat quietly, and I made some forgettable retort.
The two photographers kept clicking off shots and shooting videotape while I fumbled for something to ask. What about his book, his writing, what?
He was pleasant and shortly, Derek signaled that the interview had to end because Jacqueline Susann was coming up for a chat with John and Yoko.
A large, muscular man came to the room. A little Oriental girl, perhaps four or five, was brought in and the man took her hand. She was going for a walk with a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. Couldn’t want a more reliable child walker, if you wanted one.
The little girl was Yoko’s daughter by a previous marriage. Many years later, while in New York, I would see her horsing around on Fifth Avenue with Sean Lennon, her half-brother. That was light-years before that fatal night on Central Park West how many years ago?
The interview was over. John thanked me for coming and I left. The memories remain as does the single proof sheet of black-and-white photos from the shoot. I keep it framed on the wall in my living room.
When I met him, he floored me because I was expecting a brash rock & roller and he wasn’t anything like that. I found him to be extremely polite, quiet, thoughtful, and devoted to his wife.
I came away with a very different opinion of him and I expect that he must have affected other people the same way. I think that he was quite bright and was really interested in helping the cause of world peace.
As I recall, that Christmas or soon thereafter, he took out a huge billboard on Broadway to wish everyone a Happy Christmas (the usual British greeting).
For sure, John Lennon, we lost you way too soon.