Read an Excerpt
All We Are Saying
At the Dakota, the elderly guard, more a fixture than a comfort in front of the gray, ghostly apartment house, opened the car doors for us. John greeted the man by name and hastily but gently smiled for some snapshots posed with a fan who had been waiting up late just on the off chance of meeting him. After two quick flashes of the bulbs, John blindly headed for the entryway. Blinking to regain his eyesight, he stopped short. “Oooop, dear, I hope you have your house key. I forgot mine.” Yoko didn’t answer but used her key to call the elevator. John looked sheepishly at me. “I needn’t have asked,” he grinned.
Within the apartment, John guided me through a hall covered with photographs to the kitchen, where he instructed me to wait while he freshened up. Yoko was off in a different part of the apartment. As I looked around the huge, freshly painted kitchen, stocked with containers of tea and coffee, spices and grains, I heard voices from a distant bedroom: a child’s giggling and a father’s mock scolding. “So, you rascal, why aren’t you asleep? Ahh haa! Well, I would have kissed you goodnight even if you were sleeping, silly boy.”
John came tripping back into the kitchen, wholly revitalized, and, while putting a pot of water on to boil, he explained that their child Sean wasn’t used to his and Yoko’s new schedule, working on the album all hours. Before this project, John had been home virtually all the time.
Yoko entered the kitchen, wearing a kimonolike robe, and John poured three cups of tea. “Well, shall we start?” he asked as he sat down.
I looked at the two of them, waiting intently, and began. “The word is out: John Lennon and Yoko Ono are back—”
John interrupted immediately, and laughingly nudged Yoko. “Oh, really?” he joked. “From where?”
I smiled and continued: “—in the studio, recording again for the first time since 1975, when they vanished from public view. What have you been doing?”
John turned playfully to Yoko. “Do you want to start, or should I start?” he asked.
“You should start,” she replied firmly.
“I should? Really? OK…” John leaned back in his chair, his hands clasped tightly around the cup of tea. He watched the steam float upward as he began.
LENNON: I’ve been baking bread.
LENNON: And looking after the baby.
PLAYBOY: With what secret projects going on in the basement?
LENNON: Are you kidding? There were no secret projects going on in the basement. Because bread and babies, as every housewife knows, is a full-time job. There ain’t no space for other projects.
After I had made the loaves, I felt like I had conquered something. But as I watched the bread being eaten, I thought, Well, Jesus! Don’t I get a gold record or knighted or nothing?
And it is such a tremendous responsibility to see that the baby has the right amount of food and doesn’t overeat and gets the right amount of sleep. If I, as housemother, had not put him to sleep and made sure that he was in the bath by 7:30, no one else would have. It’s a tremendous responsibility. Now I understand the frustration of those women because of all the work. And there is no gold watch at the end of the day…
PLAYBOY: What about the little rewards—the pleasure of watching somebody eat the bread or the baby sleep?
LENNON: There is great satisfaction. I took a Polaroid of my first loaf. [Yoko laughs.] I was overjoyed! I was that excited by it. I couldn’t believe it! It was like an album coming out of the oven. The instantness of it was great. I was so into it, so thrilled with it, that I ended up cooking for the staff! Every day I was cooking lunch for the drivers, office boys, anybody who was working with us. “Come on up!” I loved it.
But then it was beginning to wear me out, you see. I thought, What is this? Screw this for a lark. I’d make two loaves on Friday and they’d be gone by Saturday afternoon. The thrill was wearing off and it became the routine again. So the joy is still there when I see Sean. He didn’t come out of my belly but, by God, I made his bones, because I’ve attended to every meal, and to how he sleeps, and to the fact that he swims like a fish. That’s because I took him to the “Y.” I took him to the ocean. I’m so proud of those things. He is my biggest pride, you see.
PLAYBOY: Why did you become a househusband?
LENNON: It was a case of heal thyself.
ONO: It was asking, “What is more important in our life?”
LENNON: It was more important to face ourselves and face that reality than to continue a life of rock ’n’ roll show biz, going up and down with the winds of either your own performance or the public’s opinion of you. And it was something else, too. Let’s use Picasso as an example. He just repeated himself into his grave. It’s not to take away from his great talent, but his last forty years were a repetition. It didn’t go anywhere. What do you call that? Living on your laurels.
You see, I found myself in my mid-thirties in a position where, for whatever reason, I had always considered myself an artist or musician or poet or whatever you want to call it and the so-called pain of the artist was always paid for by the freedom of the artist. And the idea of being a rock ’n’ roll musician sort of suited my talents and mentality, and the freedom was great. But then I found I wasn’t free. I’d got boxed in. It wasn’t just because of my contract, but the contract was a physical manifestation of being in prison. And with that I might as well have gone to a nine-to-five job as to carry on the way I was carrying on. Rock ’n’ roll was not fun anymore. So there were the standard options in my business: going to Vegas and singing your greatest hits—if you’re lucky—or going to hell, which is where Elvis went.
ONO: You can become a stereotype of yourself. We may have been heading that way. That is one thing we did not want to be. This is what I really despise about the art world. You get a tiny idea like, “All right, I’m an artist who draws circles.” You stick to that and it becomes your label. You get a gallery and patrons and all that. And that’s your life. And next year, perhaps you’ll do triangles or something. There’s such a poverty of ideas. Then if you go on and continue doing that for maybe ten years or something, people realize you are someone who continued ten years and you might get a prize. [Chuckling] It’s such a ridiculous sort of routine.
LENNON: You get the big prize when you get cancer and you’ve been drawing circles or triangles for twenty years.
ONO: And then you die.
LENNON: Right. The biggest prize is when you die—a really big one for dying in public. OK: Those are the things we are not interested in doing.
[John clutched a spoon as he spoke, tapping it lightly on the table, keeping a beat that his words seemed to follow.]
That’s why we ended up doing things like bed-ins, and Yoko ended up doing things like pop music. With our first attempts at being together and producing things together, whether they were bed-ins or posters or films, we crossed over into each other’s fields, like people do from country music to pop. We did it from avant-garde left field to rock ’n’ roll left field. We tried to find a ground that was interesting to both of us. And we both got excited and stimulated by each other’s experiences.
The things we did together were all variations on a theme, really. We wanted to know what we could do together, because we wanted to be together. We want to work together. We don’t just want to be together on weekends. We want to be together and live together and work together.
So the first attempts were the bed-ins. We attempted to make music together, but that was a long time ago. People still had this idea the Beatles were some kind of thing that shouldn’t step outside of its circle, and it was hard for us to work together then. We think either people have forgotten or they have grown up. Now we’ll make the foray into the place where she and I are together and it’s not some wondrous mystic prince from the rock world dabbling with this strange Oriental woman, which is the picture projected by the press before.
PLAYBOY: After all that, why now?
LENNON: Well, the spirit moved me. Yoko’s spirit never left her. But my spirit moved me to write suddenly, which I haven’t done for a long, long time. Also, I had been concentrating on being a househusband and I had sort of half-consciously wanted to spend the first five years of Sean’s life actually giving him all the time I possibly could.
ONO [to John]: I think that it’s not that the spirit moved you. [To me] I think that while he was sort of doing his thing about tuning in to Sean and tuning in to family and all that, or because of those things, his spirit rejuvenated. He did that instead of just dishing out records as he used to.
LENNON: Yeah, you’re right. I was trying to say that. Maybe I didn’t say it clearly. I could have continued being a craftsman, but I am not interested in being a craftsman, although I respect craftsmen and all the rest. I wasn’t interested in proving I could go on dishing things out every six months like—
PLAYBOY: Like Paul [McCartney]?
LENNON: Not only Paul. Like everybody. So the experience of being a full-time parent gave me the spirit again. I didn’t realize it was happening. But then I stepped back for a moment and said, “What has been going on? Here we are: I’m going to be forty, Sean’s going to be five. Isn’t it great! We survived!”
I am going to be forty, and life begins at forty, so they promise. Oh, I believe it, too. Because I feel fine. I’m, like, excited. It’s like twenty-one—you know, hitting twenty-one. It’s like: Wow! What’s going to happen next?
ALL WE ARE SAYING: THE LAST MAJOR INTERVIEW WITH JOHN LENNON AND YOKO ONO. Interviews copyright © 1981 by Playboy Enterprises, Inc.
Introduction copyright © 2000 by David Sheff.
The interviews previously appeared in The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono: copyright © 1981 by Playboy.