Imagine this: You’re a college student, and you write a letter to your favorite rock hero asking to interview him for your school paper. It’s a long shot, but you’re young, you’re hopeful, and you have nothing to lose. But the response is better than your wildest dreams. Not only does the rock star agree, but he invites you over to his house to hang out for the day! It sounds like pure fantasy, but it actually came true for Maurice Hindle. Oh yeah, and the rock hero in question happens to be John Lennon.
The remarkable story begins in the tail end of 1968, when Hindle was attending Britain’s Keele Unversity. He wrote a letter to the Beatles Monthly fan magazine requesting to speak with Lennon, who at that time had reached the absolute zenith of his creativity and influence. The note was forwarded along to Lennon himself by the fan club’s secretary, who was impressed not only with Hindle’s rather gutsy proposition but also his consummate professionalism. Apparently so was Lennon, because he responded to the young man personally, inviting him and others ’round to Kenwood, his Surrey estate.
On December 2nd, Lennon, his new girlfriend Yoko Ono, Hindle and his tape recorder-weilding friend Daniel gathered in the Beatle’s glassed-in sun room for six hours of conversation that touched on everything from politics, macrobiotic cooking, success, songwriting, and even a potential tour in 1969. Perhaps disarmed by the youth of his interviewer, or perhaps simply tired of giving a damn, it’s Lennon unfiltered, unapologetic, and unrelenting. As a historical document it’s invaluable, and for anyone who loves the band, it’s incredible.
The multi-hour audio tapes of the interview were acquired by Hard Rock in 1987, who lovingly restored and unveiled them for all to hear on the 50th anniversary of the Fab Four’s first visit to the U.S. Now for the very first time, you can listen to this long lost interview in its entirety on Hard Rock’s website, as well as read full transcripts, get insightful commentary, and peruse a gallery of memorabilia. For those of us who weren’t lucky enough to spend a leisurely afternoon chatting with the music icon, this warm and candid recording is the next best thing.
Although fascinating on its own, we’re just as curious about how the interview came to happen in the first place. As life long fans, a part of us wants to know what Maurice Hindle said that got Lennon’s attention! For answers, we turned to leading Hard Rock Historian and Memorabilia Expert Jeff Nolan.
“Maurice was a student that wasn’t writing to him asking, ’I want to interview you because I’m a Beatles fanatic and I want to know what your favorite color is.’ Maurice is very much an intellectual. He was obsessed at the time with [Canadian philosopher] Marshall McLuhan and was drawing some parallels between the work of contemporary rock artists that had something to say like John and [Bob] Dylan, and people like McLuhan.” McLuhan’s theories on communication and ’The Media Is The Message’ mantra is something that would resonate strongly with Lennon while embarking on his world-wide campaign for peace in the years to come. “Maurice was clearly asking to interview him as a serious kind of piece as opposed to a fan piece. I think that a lot of it also was dumb luck and timing.”
Indeed, timing is everything. Thanks to a unique set of circumstances, Hindle’s tape captures Lennon at the most open and revealing he ever allowed himself to be while still with the band. The only other time he had truly spoken his mind to the press up to that point was in the March 1966 profile by journalist Maureen Cleave, bringing forth the infamous “Bigger Than Jesus” quote. The line was taken out of context in the United States, leading to burnings and death threats across the Southern Bible Belt. Clearly John’s words carried an absurd amount of weight, and he felt the need to self-censor for the good of the group.
But nearly three years later, times had changed. He had plumbed his inner depths with an intensive Transcendental Meditation course in India, come to grips with the death of manager Brian Epstein and dissolution of his first marriage, and just released the sprawling White Album two weeks before. Emboldened by new love Yoko, John was ready open his heart and mind once more. “They just decided, ’Sure, let’s do this,” Jeff tells us. “There were no bodyguards or handlers, there was nothing like that. It was just, ’C’mon over.'” It’s a scenario absolutely unthinkable in today’s stage-managed PR-savvy world. It speaks not only to a very different time, but also the kind of man Lennon was. Not just any international figure would let a random college student into their home, essentially unattended.
But we don’t need to read between the lines to get Lennon’s personality -we’ve got hours of tapes! And John wasn’t holding back, providing rare observations from within the eye of the Beatle hurricane. He discusses the progression of their music, from the savage young stompers to 20th century maestros.
“On records we went through the childish, tribal bit, which is the early records,” says Lennon. “The self-conscious bit, which is Rubber Soul, say pre-Pepper, coming out of Pepper. And now on self-consciousness, I think as humans as what we’re doing we’ve been a bit, the tribal bit, childlike. And now we’re suddenly becoming aware of something and becoming self- conscious and going through all the hassles you go through in self-consciousness, where you’re so self- conscious you can’t do anything. And then to come out of that is the next stage, which I think we’re going into; being self-conscious but realizing you can handle it, you know?”
He also expands on the band’s songwriting process, which runs the gamut from totally independent to complete collaboration with the other three. “We haven’t written together since Pepper, really. Cause we sort of, vaguely in India we were writing a bit together. This album [The White Album] we wrote least of all together. Just cause of circumstances and all that, or maybe we didn’t feel like it. I don’t know what. We do it any way, any combination you can think of, we do it. From a line, from nothing – like “Birthday” was written in the studio from nothing, ’Let’s do one like that.’ We just did it.”
By 1968, the days of being the lovable cheeky lads from Liverpool were far behind them. They had ceased live performances two years earlier, and their personal and musical styles had evolved considerably (and individually) since then. The White Album was truly when major cracks began to appear in the once-impenetrable Fab Four facade, and John was quick bemoan the indignities he had suffered during the whirlwind life of Beatlemania. “Oh, that was the most miserable time of our lives, the mop top, MBE, cop-out period. It was torture. And that’s why I dropped touring…It was the thing we were put through to get that, what we earned.” But despite these negative experiences, he still possessed an overall positive feeling about the band as they attempted to find ways to coexist as a unit. He even mentions a potential set of live dates in the year to come -a tantalizing glimpse of a future that never was. “We might make a live album next, around January. And then we just let whoever gets there in free, properly. It’ll just be that. And we’ll still probably do a tour of the States free for charity.”
A major part of the discussion centered around a little-known leftist newspaper called Black Dwarf. The publication had recently run an angry open letter to Lennon, essentially accusing him of selling out, disappointing the youth revolution, and (most damningly) that his music had “lost it’s bite.” Far from kow-towing to the living legend, Maurice Hindle brought a copy of the scathing letter for John to comment upon. It was a risky move, but turned out to be a good technique for riling John up and getting one hell of an interview.
“I’ve changed a lot of people’s heads,” Lennon said indignantly. “I believe in change. That’s what Yoko and my scene is, to change it like that. And you’re not preaching to the converted. Well, what are they doing? What can they do? [Referencing the Black Dwarf letter] All I’m saying is I think you should do it by changing people’s heads and they’re saying, ’Well we should smash the system.’ Now, the system smashing scene’s been going on forever, y’know? What’s it done?” John sent off his own rebuttal letter to Black Dwarf several weeks later.
In addition to the broad social commentary and politics, there are smaller confessional moments where the humility of the conversation is occasionally hilarious. “Do you ever sort of lie in bed at night and think, ’Christ, what the hell is going on?'” Hindle asks. Lennon’s response? “Oh yeah. Yeah, about once a week!” It’s important to remember that just a a few short years before, the internationally renowned superstar was working the German club circuit seven nights a week, sleeping in a windowless room behind a movie theater with his three band-mates.
Jeff Nolan puts it in vivid perspective. “It’s December of 1968. John is 28-years-old and he hasn’t just been successful for four of five years, he’s been unprecedentedly successful. He’s not that far removed from a punk-rock king in Hamburg or at the Cavern in Liverpool. When we think about John now, he could not be farther removed from that era. It’s all mythology now. But that one little exchange, talking about how he’s still reeling from all this success and power that he’s been given, it freaks him out. I think it’s telling.”
As the interview draws to a close, John expresses one major regret. He laments that his fame prevents him from venturing out in public and living a normal life. “It matters a lot to me not to be able to go around. And I keep dreaming of the time I might be able to get out. Now, I could cut all my hair off and get around for a few weeks, till they spotted me. Or I could disguise myself, but I don’t want [to]. I’m me, and I look like this because I like being like this… I don’t enjoy it at all, y’know, not being able to do things. Well that’s the price. It’s too late to change it.” Eventually this desire to come and go as he pleased led him to abandon the walls of his Kenwood estate, and even his native England.
“I think that’s one of the things that attracted him to New York many years later,” says Nolan. “He could kind of go out more. You think about how his life ended, it’s a poignant little moment.” He liked being outside, among the people. John’s openness and approachable nature made him a great man -and it proved his tragic undoing. On December 8th, 1980, he was assassinated by a mentally disturbed fan as he walked unguarded into his Upper West Side apartment building. But a dozen years earlier this same friendly and accessible quality provided an unforgettable moment for young Maurice Hindle, thankfully preserved for all time. His priceless tape provides us with a vibrant snapshot of a man with his imagination in peak form, bent on changing the world -one head at a time. It’s truly a day in the life of one of the 20th century’s great luminaries. Press play, relax and float downstream.
[Photo: Getty Images]