Student's meeting with member of the Beatles in 1968 reveals furious
response to claims the group had sold out
17 December 2009
It took more than 40 years, but John Lennon has finally got in his
furious response at having Revolution, one of his most famous songs
with the Beatles, unfavourably compared to the BBC radio drama Mrs
The jibe that the Beatles had sold out to the establishment was made
in 1968 in a letter to Tariq Ali's radical journal Black Dwarf
which had concluded that the Beatles' mortal rivals, the Rolling
Stones, had superior radical credentials.
Now, an apparently forgotten interview reveals how Lennon felt about
the criticism at the time. "It's no good knocking down a few old
bloody Tories!" Lennon raged, at the end of a year when Europe had
been convulsed by student, trade union and political demonstrations
and strikes. "The system's a load of crap. But just smashing it up
isn't gonna do it."
Today's music fans will be stunned by the circumstances of the
interview: Lennon spoke for six hours at his home in Surrey,
sustained only by macrobiotic bread and jam made by Yoko Ono, to an
overawed first-year student from Keele University who had hitchhiked
hundreds of miles to meet him after applying by a letter sent to a
A snippet was duly published in the Keele student magazine, but most
of the material stayed in the files of Maurice Hindle, now an author
completing a book on Lennon and an academic at the Open University
until today, when he finally publishes the full version in the New Statesman.
"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 a 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 jam
she had made, Lennon talked continuously for six hours."
Lennon was enraged by the open letter by John Hoyland published in
Black Dwarf. The Beatles might have changed their image, but had lost
none of their fire, he insisted.
"OK so we mop-topped it to get where I am I'm here," he said.
"There have been millions of changes, of course, but I'm still doing
exactly the same thing I was doing at school, or at art school, and
as a Beatle. "I'm not going to get myself crucified if I can help it,
and so I've compromised. But I just want to see someone who hasn't,
and who's still alive.""I've always said that 'don't drop out man
just stay in and subvert it!'"
Memories of the altercation were revived last year when most of the
surviving protagonists were interviewed for various documentaries
marking the anniversary of the 1968 protests and uprisings.
John Lennon died on December 8 1980, shot on the doorstep of his
Dakota building home in New York by Mark Chapman - but by then had
long since made his peace with Tariq Ali, and regained his radical
laurels.The American journal Counterpunch four years ago finally
published in full a long 1971 interview by Ali and Robin Blackburn,
originally for the Trotskyist Red Mole, in which Lennon agreed with
Ali that he was becoming "increasingly radical and political".
There was nothing new about this, Lennon insisted. "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."