By TARIQ ALI
and ROBIN BLACKBURN
Editors' Note: It was twenty-five years ago today that John Lennon was murdered outside the Dakota building on Central Park West in New York City. We doubt many CounterPunchers have read the following 1971 interview with Lennon done by CounterPunchers Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn. It's a lot more interesting that the interminable Q and A with Lennon done by Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner. Tariq and Robin allowed Lennon to talk and spurred him on when he showed signs of flagging. Lennon recounts about how he and George Harrison bucked their handlers and went on record against the Vietnam War, discusses class politics in an engaging manner, defends country and western music and the blues, suggests Dylan's best songs stem from revolutionary Irish and Scottish ballads and dissects his three versions of "Revolution". The interview ran in The Red Mole, a Trotskyist sheet put out by the British arm of the Fourth International. As you'll see, those were different days. The interview is included in Tariq Ali's Streetfighting Years, recently published by Verso. AC / JSC
Tariq Ali: Your latest record and your recent public statements, especially the interviews in Rolling Stone magazine, suggest that your views are becoming increasingly radical and political. When did this start to happen?
John Lennon: 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.
I mean, it's just a basic working class thing, though it begins to wear off when you get older, get a family and get swallowed up in the system.
In my case I've never not been political, though religion tended to overshadow it in my acid days; that would be around '65 or '66. And that religion was directly the result of all that superstar shit--religion was an outlet for my repression. I thought, 'Well, there's something else to life, isn't there? This isn't it, surely?'
But I was always political in a way, you know. In the two books I wrote, even though they were written in a sort of Joycean gobbledegook, there's many knocks at religion and there is a play about a worker and a capitalist. I've been satirising the system since my childhood. I used to write magazines in school and hand them around.
I was very conscious of class, they would say with a chip on my shoulder, because I knew what happened to me and I knew about the class repression coming down on us--it was a fucking fact but in the hurricane Beatle world it got left out, I got farther away from reality for a time.
TA: What did you think was the reason for the success of your sort of music?
JL: Well, at the time it was thought that the workers had broken through, but I realise in retrospect that it's the same phoney deal they gave the blacks, it was just like they allowed blacks to be runners or boxers or entertainers. That's the choice they allow you--now the outlet is being a pop star, which is really what I'm saying on the album in 'Working class hero'. As I told Rolling Stone, it's the same people who have the power, the class system didn't change one little bit.