I just read both interviews, Part 1 and 2 of Jann Wenner’s Rolling Stone Interview of 1971. It sounds as though John and the other Beatles DID have a realistic gripe about Paul taking over, directly projects, handing out musical assignments, etc., etc. and I’m sure he had the ego by this point to match! I would probably have become irritated by Paul as well. And no hints or even reading between the lines of John being emotionally hurt by Paul with regard to loss of intimate relationship.Our Tumblr Asks
Hello and thanks for writing in, Listener!
First, I’d like to point out that we haven’t reached the Lennon Remembers portion of our Break-up Series, and will dig into it much more thoroughly in a future episode (stay tuned!).
Presumably this ask isn’t in response to anything we’ve actually discussed on the podcast, in which case I feel that I should explain that what we do on our show is reevaluate conventional wisdom and contextualize public statements within the realities of actual behaviors. In other words, not taking things like Lennon Remembers at face value is AKOM 101.
If what we were doing on this podcast was as easy as simply reading the most infamous interview John Lennon ever gave (the one upon which the conventional story of the Beatles break-up is founded), it wouldn’t be much of a podcast or a very groundbreaking analysis, would it?
Second, I’d like to mention that listeners/readers can hear the entire (3.5 hours!) interview on You Tube. Very evocative with audio! Wenner’s editing in the print versions often make John sound more coherent and less vitriolic towards everyone but Paul than the audio reveals (i.e. the shitty comments about Paul are always printed but the ones about George, Brian, etc often aren’t).
Next, we’d like to state the usual disclaimer (which everyone is probably already aware of but is a good reminder anyway!): John later disavowed this interview. In fact, he was so angry at Jann Wenner for publishing it as a book, it apparently created a permanent rift between the two. You may choose to view/value this interview as John being super honest, but please consider that in this allegedly “truthful” book/interview, John:
- claims George is musically/creatively inferior to John
- declares the McCartney album “rubbish”
- reveals his belief that he and Paul’s confidence levels are intrinsically, inversely related to one another
- says George was so aggressively rude to Yoko that John wished he would’ve punched him over it
- proudly admits that he “maneuvered” the other Beatles to get Klein in as manager
- bemoans the fact that everyone says Brian Epstein was so great “just because he’s dead” and that Brian cheated and robbed the Beatles
- makes derisive comments about “fags” at least five times in the printed version alone and calls Lee Eastman “a wasp Jew, man, that’s the worst kind of person on earth.”
- admits to lying in interviews and deflects accountability on the basis of being “just a guy” who mouths off about stuff
As for Paul, John is admittedly all over the place, swinging fairly wildly from nostalgic (reminiscing about having “a good mind like Paul’s” on his side and co-writing with their “fingers in each others’ pies”) to bitter (”Paul thought he was the Beatles,” etc).
As for the accusations that Paul was tyrannical, we’ve addressed these before (particularly in Break-Up Episode 2). Just as Geoff Emerick, Michael Lindsay Hogg and Doug Sulpy (and even John, when he was feeling more generous) have articulated, we too feel that Paul stepped up and led the band in a time of need and deserves unequivocal credit for that. We believe much of the subsequent complaining from the other Beatles is akin to the kind of griping one directs at a colleague who gets promoted (“who died and made you king!?”) and while some of it was likely based in genuine irritation at Paul’s communication style, much of it was probably petty. This is why we are looking at the situation from all angles, to get a better sense of what is reality v. spin. In any case, we don’t dispute that there were power struggles within the band.
Any reader is free to choose John’s side in any/all of these battles. But our overall takeaway from this particular interview is that John was unloading a lot of pent-up rage; against teachers, fans, Aunt Mimi, his mum, critics, Paul and anyone else who didn’t properly recognize his genius and praise him for it.
“That’s what makes me what I am. It comes out, the people I meet have to say it themselves, because we get fuckin’ kicked. Nobody says it, so you scream it: look at me, a genius, for fuck’s sake! What do I have to do to prove to you son-of-a-bitches what I can do, and who I am? Don’t dare, don’t you dare fuckin’ dare criticize my work like that. You, who don’t know anything about it.”
Based solely on Lennon Remembers, one could reasonably believe John didn’t like anyone but Yoko and Allen Klein (of whom he also speaks with reverence). Fortunately, John gave a million other interviews in his lifetime, so even though this one is given a disproportionate amount of weight (probably b/c it is the most inflammatory and “raw”) we can compare John’s comments, behavior and art over a broad spectrum of time. We feel this gives us a better, more thorough and more authentic portrait of John’s POV. This is a good idea with ANY public figure, but especially important in John’s case, since, by his own admission he has a tendency to say what he feels in the moment and doesn’t necessarily stand by his own statements afterwards.
John in 1976: “I get a bit absolute in my statements. [laughs] Which sometimes get me into deep water, and sometimes into the shallow.”
To your other point, our overall impressions about John’s feelings regarding “loss of an intimate relationship” with Paul certainly do not hinge on Lennon Remembers, nor have we ever suggested they do. In fact, LR is commonly used as the primary proof-point by McCartney detractors and Lennon/McCartney deniers (those who willfully and sometimes passionately ignore and/or deny the deep love between John and Paul, as described by John and Paul themselves and everyone in their lives) that Paul was a tyrant who destroyed the Beatles with his massive ego.
We have never disputed the existence of Paul’s ego. But consider this: John refers to himself as an egomaniac REPEATEDLY throughout this interview. Why is there a loud faction of people who consider John being an avowed egomaniac perfectly reasonable (sexy even!), but find it unforgivable that Paul is the same way? Consider these excerpts from Lennon Remembers:
Do you think you will record together again?
I record with Yoko, but I’m not going to record with another egomaniac. There is only room for one on an album nowadays.
How would you assess George’s talents?
[…] Maybe it was hard for him sometimes, because Paul and I are such egomaniacs, but that’s the game.
Who do you think is good today? In any arts…
The unfortunate thing about egomaniacs is that they don’t take much attention of other people’s work. I only assess people on whether they are a danger to me or my work or not.
But the Beatles were artists, and all artists have fucking’ big egos, whether they like to admit it or not […]
Yes, John rants repeatedly about Paul’s ego during this interview- while he simultaneously declares his own genius and artistic superiority over others. We find it mind-boggling how this irony continues to evade some people, but there it is.
George Harrison has repeatedly complained about BOTH John & Paul’s egos (and their shared ego IRT “Lennon/McCartney”), but again, this is often ignored in favor of singling out Paul as the villain.
Furthermore, it’s helpful to bear in mind when consuming Lennon Remembers that John and Yoko had received training in media-messaging by this point and were very savvy at Public Relations. We know from people close to them that they drafted their stories in advance before offering them to the public. This fact, combined with Lennon’s tendency to “mouth off” means we have the right and responsibility to question and examine John’s claims rather than simply parrot them mindlessly.
If you are genuinely interested in our take, we recommend our Break-Up Series. We think you will find it well-researched and thoughtful, even if you disagree with some of our conclusions.
Or if you simply dislike McCartney and find him “irritating,” that’s fine too. Not everyone has to like everyone!
For additional discussion/analysis of Lennon Remembers, I recommend any of several threads on Erin Torkelson Weber’s site, the Historian and the Beatles.
the flawed lens of Lennon v. McCartney
Jann Wenner’s bio
how Rolling Stone shaped the breakup
discussing a podcast appearance
Thank you so much for this ask! It is always a pleasure to share information. Have a wonderful day.
-The AKOM crew