17 December 2009
In December 1968, a year rocked by revolutionary upheaval, Maurice
Hindle and a fellow student hitch-hiked to John Lennon's home in
Surrey in search of the Beatle and his new partner, Yoko Ono. Here,
for the first time, we publish their interview
In 1968, I was 23 and approaching the end of my first term at Keele
University. On the afternoon of 2 December, I emerged with Daniel
Wiles, a fellow student, from Weybridge railway station into the
wintry stillness of Surrey's stockbroker belt, having hitch-hiked all
the way from Staffordshire. We were there to interview John Lennon
and Yoko Ono.
I had read about their first performance-art event together back in
June, when they planted acorns for peace at Coventry Cathedral, and
continued to be intrigued by the couple's exploits. Since then, John
and Yoko had been getting flak in the British press. That October,
they had been caught in a drugs bust at a flat in London belonging to
Ringo Starr. In the aftermath, Tariq Ali's radical newspaper Black
Dwarf published an angry "open letter", which accused Lennon of
selling out to the establishment and claimed that the Beatles' music
had "lost its bite". I felt it was time to counter the growing
feeling against John and Yoko, so I wrote to Lennon, via the magazine
Beatles Monthly, outlining my ideas for an interview. To my surprise,
Outside Weybridge station, a Mini Cooper with smoked-glass windows
skidded to a halt, like something out of The Italian Job. In the
driver's seat was Lennon, looking much as he does in the colour
photograph included with the Beatles' 1968 White Album: faded blue
Levi's jacket, white T-shirt and jeans, dirty white sneakers, his
shoulder-length hair parted in the middle, and wearing the now famous
"granny glasses". We students crammed into the back of the Mini and
John drove us up the bumpy private road that led to his house, Kenwood.
In the sitting room at the back of the house, we sat down on
thick-pile Indian carpets around a low table, cross-legged. Yoko said
little, as we all knew this was primarily John's day - and he said a
lot. Apart from a short break, when Yoko fed us macrobiotic bread and
jams she had made, Lennon talked continuously for six hours. A short
extract from the interview was printed in UNIT, the Keele University
student magazine, but what follows has never previously been published.
What's your response to the attack on you and the Beatles in the
Black Dwarf letter?
He says "Revolution" was no more revolutionary than Mrs Dale's Diary.
So it mightn't have been. But the point is to change your head - it's
no good knocking down a few old bloody Tories! What does he think
he's gonna change? The system's what he says it is: a load of crap.
But just smashing it up isn't gonna do it.
We will be posting further extracts, including Lennon's views on the
Rolling Stones, on our arts and books blog Cultural Capital. But to
read the full version of this interview, pick up a copy of the New
Statesman Christmas Special, available in all good newsagents.
The Feud: Lennon v the revolutionaries
In August 1968, the Beatles released the song "Revolution", in which
John Lennon expressed his unease at the violence of student
protesters who had taken to the streets across Europe and the US. Its
most telling couplet read: "When you talk about destruction/Don't you
know that you can count me out."
That October, Tariq Ali's Black Dwarf newspaper published a piece by
John Hoyland, an anti-Vietnam war campaigner, that accused the Beatle
of selling out. "Now do you see what's wrong with your record
'Revolution'?" asked Hoyland, referring to Lennon's recent arrest on
drugs charges. "In order to change the world we've got to understand
what's wrong with the world and then destroy it ruthlessly."
Incensed, Lennon demanded Black Dwarf publish his response, which
took Hoyland to task for his "patronising" tone, and ended with the
defiant challenge: "You smash it - and I'll build around it."