Excerpts from "I Read the News..."
I was downtown on Fifth Avenue [in New York]. The first bit of news I got, I thought, "He'll make it." You know, "It's just a flesh wound." And then, later on, the news really came. He wasn't just a mate of mine, he was a mate of everybody's, really. He was a funny guy. And you realize that you're stunned. You really don't believe it. And you think, "God, why can't I do anything about it?"
I got well drunk on it. And I had another one for John. Then there was the confusion, the phone calls, trying to find out if Yoko was OK.
There were the Beatles, and there was John. As a band, they were a great unit. But John, he was his own man. We got along very well. We didn't see each other very often, but he would sort of turn up at your hotel. Usually, if I was in the city, I'd stay at the Plaza. If John turned up, that meant John wanted to party. He didn't come there to discuss, you know, philosophy - although it would end up like that. I would just get into town, and there'd be a knock at the door: "Hey, man, what is going on around here?" We would get the guitars down and sing. And, in our spare time, discuss world domination.
He's rubbed off on me as much as anybody. A bit of me rubbed off on John, too, you know. He took it with him. My father just passed away, and he winked at me just before he died. I really feel a lot better about death now. I'm getting off on that wink. I'd give the wink to John.
I first met him in London in 1963. The Ronettes were the top group in England at the time. He saw us and got in touch with our manager, and there was this party and we danced all night with all the fellas, taught them the New York dances. He liked me for more than just my voice. As the party winded down, we started talking. I was just nineteen years old, and starting to make it big, and he knew things. He told me, "It's all going to change, you're going to start riding in limousines," and I'm like, "You're kidding me!"
I met him in the street years later. He called my name: "Ronnie!" and I turned around; it was so fucking cool. When he called my name, everyone turned around and saw him [and recognized him], and he didn't care. He got shot right after that.
When he was shot, I was so devastated, I stayed in bed for a week. I was in the studio when I heard; I just dropped the phone - it broke my heart. I always think of John Lennon every time I'm in the recording studio. I can't help it. He's my spirit talking to me, saying, "Don't give up."
Lennon's was one of the first voices I emulated when I began to sing. When we held tryouts in my pal's dad's living room for the singer in our band, I sang a Beatles song that Lennon sang. There is something about the timbre of his voice, something that it conveys, that still gets to me. The quality and the poetry of his lyrics. The wry sense of humor. And the boyishness, in the beginning. There are a great many things that touch me about him. I sang "In My Life" to my wife at our wedding in 1995.
I was at the home I had then on Mulholland Drive [in Hollywood], and the news came over the television that John Lennon had been murdered. I remember the months after that as being a very dark time. There was an incomprehensible sense of loss. I remember the waves of fear and paranoia it sent through the musical community; a great many people hired security after that. Lennon was somebody who seemed like a member of the family, who was indestructible. That event stayed with me for a long time - when I hear the name Mark David Chapman, I shiver.
Lennon was, to put it in his own words, a "working-class hero." One particular lyric I cherish is "Imagine." If you think about it, it could have been something very controversial. You hardly heard anybody remark on the line "Imagine there's no heaven/It's easy if you try/No hell below us. . . ." He is disputing all the tenets of Christianity. Nobody made a fuss about it, not like the time he said, "We're more popular than Jesus." Probably technically not false, but they really came down on him for that. "Imagine" is about all the war and strife that religion has caused, and saying, "Let's do away with all that." Which I think is a very brave and wonderful thing to say.
It was my twelfth birthday, and I was walking home from school. I guess I would have been young enough to not see death as being entirely disastrous. The nature of my own personality is that I don't see death as a disastrous thing. It's just a door that opens, and somebody goes somewhere else.
Lennon had a sense of everybody's right to stir shit. He was very brave and vulnerable, and saw that it was brave to show one's vulnerability.
He would probably love the rap movement. In a lot of ways, rap is where his voice can still be heard. People underestimate the subliminal impact of not just his music but the things he was doing publicly, like the shit-stirring. All of that had a huge influence on rap, and on little, bold, big-mouthed Irish singers. You almost forget how sexy he was. Plus, he [was] wonderful and gorgeous and sexy.
I was in Miami, and I think the Police had come offstage at around 10:15. I was told that he'd been shot, and I had the reaction that everybody had: disbelief, shock, horror. What happens when people like him die is that the landscape changes. You know, a mountain disappears; a river is gone. And I think his death was probably as significant as that. The Beatles were formative in my upbringing, my education. They came from a very similar background: the industrial towns in England, working class; they wrote their own songs, conquered the world. That was the blueprint for lots of other British kids to try to do the same. We all miss him, and I think about him every time I walk by that building.
I had just gotten into a minicab in London when the news came on, and then they played all John Lennon songs. The first song was "A Day in the Life." I was completely shocked but, in a way, not that surprised.
The most amazing time I ever had with John Lennon is when we went to see the Maharishi [Mahesh Yogi, a popular Indian guru and spiritual adviser], and that's when I really got closest to him. He was so funny. I was always a bit frightened of him because he was so incredibly clever. The weekend we went to Bangor [Wales, where the Maharishi was delivering a lecture] was very intense because we all went on the train there: the Beatles and me and Mick Jagger and the Maharishi. Then, over the weekend, we got the news that Brian Epstein [the Beatles' manager] had overdosed. John was devastated. I wish I'd gone on the retreat in India - not because I liked the Maharishi, because I didn't. Just to be there to hear Lennon's asides and to watch the whole thing unravel - because it did. I would have loved to be there for that.
His legacy? It's hard to put into words. I mean, it's nothing, really: He just changed the face of popular music forever, didn't he?
I have a newborn son, so I've been listening a lot to Lennon's "Beautiful Boy." John wrote it for Sean, and it's a lovely song to a child. It's been bringing back all of those times for me, in the Sixties and Seventies, when the Beatles and Lennon meant so much. And with the election coming up, I'm reminded of how politics today could really use John Lennon - his truthfulness. He's needed.
I was watching Monday Night Football at the University of Missouri. Howard Cosell announced Lennon's death. He basically denounced the importance of the game and proclaimed that one of this generation's icons had been killed. In the band that most influenced music and, moreover, culture, he represented the rock & roll attitude of rebellion, dissatisfaction and social consciousness - the idea that we as people can expand our minds, grow, live together and love in peace. He tried to incorporate those ideals in his music and his life. His influence is everywhere - in every rock & roll singer-songwriter.
I was only five when he died. I just remember, when I discovered the Beatles, feeling sad because the one that I loved so much wasn't here. It was the early Eighties, and then I didn't listen to the Beatles for a few years after that. I really got into them again when I was sixteen, and it's been all I've listened to since then. That's when I really started falling in love with John Lennon. Every song he sings, I freak. I feel like I can't speak eloquently enough. Anything in life, whatever your question is for the universe, if you put on a John Lennon song, he will answer you.
I think "Watching the Wheels" is the song I love the most, because it is so true. I completely feel like that song. I feel like sometimes he's saying that the people he's talking about are himself - himself looking at himself. And just how perfect a song it is for how we feel inside our own minds: We're trying to go on these paths that feel right and good to us, but we're always questioning how it's affecting others along the way.
He gave everyone great music to be sad to and make love to and laugh to and drive to, and every sort of thing that you live in the world. If you put his music on to anything that you're doing in life, it fits right alongside of it. He was just the raddest.
I met Yoko Ono and Sean on my first tour. For my birthday one year, Yoko gave me one of John's shirts. It's black, one of those disco roller-skating shirts; he used to wear those tight, glittery shirts.
Today, I think John would be doing some cutting-edge hardcore music. His first solo record is one of the most hardcore pieces of music ever recorded. And at the end of "Mother," when he's saying, "Mama, don't go, Daddy, come home," his soul is just spilling out, and it's so hardcore.
I was plowing the snow from my driveway in Montana in the morning, and I went inside and heard on the news that he had been shot the night before. I couldn't imagine why somebody would want to shoot someone who had done so much explaining of our lives through his art.
I met the Beatles individually in 1965, then spent a couple of days with them. We took LSD at my house. I knew John was having trouble with me. We put on a movie of Jane's, and he was upset. There was too much Fonda going on: my dad, myself, my sister. But as the trip wore on, he became easier with me. I was right there with him the whole time. We ended up in the bathroom, in a big sunken tub - fortunately not filled with water - playing electric guitars that were amplified by the room, singing songs.
Out of that experience came "She Said, She Said." John said in Rolling Stone that I had something to do with that song. I thought it was so far out that he had made something of it. He used the exact words [I said] to George, who thought he was dying during the acid trip. I had said, "I know what it's like to be dead." John and George are sitting at the table with me, and John says, "How do you know what it's like to be dead?" And I said, "I shot myself when I was a boy." But by accident. Everything was all right in my mind. Of course, it wasn't. Then I hear the song: "When I was a boy/Everything was right."
I see Lennon's influence in my children. They think of "Imagine" as an anthem. How can you beat that? There's a generational zap there. The Beatles wrote these crowd-pleasing dance songs, which evolved into songs of our moments on this planet. Thank God we had him, that his essence didn't float by us to some other place. We got lucky.
I was lying on my bed watching Monday Night Football - it was Miami and the New England Patriots - when I heard the news. Howard Cosell broke the news. Apart from being very, very upset by the loss of someone whom I had met many times, the first thing that occurred to me was wondering how many songs we were never going to get to hear, that were working around in his head.
I'd been acquainted with John since about 1958, before the Beatles. The first time I actually met him was at the Cavern in Liverpool in, like, 1962, when the Hollies were playing on the same bill as the Beatles. John was always on the front edge - it's very much the same as what Neil [Young] does. All those incredible people are always on the front edge. And sometimes they fall, and sometimes they fly. John's legacy is that he gave as much dignity to the common man as he could. He stood for dignity and respect and songs that had a reason for being.
I don't remember where I was at the time. I just remember being very depressed, because I loved him very deeply. We were friends. I found him to be smart, acerbic, shrewd, witty and a good guy. He and the other Beatles were all very kind to us when we came over to England as the Byrds. They kind of took us under their wing, and from that point forward, we saw each other a lot. Whenever they came to the United States, I would go to the gigs and hang out with them. For me, John Lennon's legacy is his songs - all those brilliant, beautiful, incredible pieces of work. John was a very fierce guy - he wasn't a shy little human being. He was a guy with strong opinions, and he had no problem expressing them.
I remember the day John Lennon died. I was recording at Criteria Studios in Miami, making my Scissors Cut album. I was doing vocals that night, and the second engineer interrupted and said, "I have terrible news to tell you." I took a long pause, and I tried to carry on, and I failed, and I came into the control room, and I said, "That's it for tonight; I can't work. I can't speak - I don't know what to say."
I knew him a little bit, and he was unbelievably engaging. At the Dakota once, after dinner, he pulls me into the bedroom, so I'm sitting on the end of his bed, and he says, "I want you to tell me about your work with Paul [Simon], because I understand you just recorded in Nashville together." We had just done "My Little Town." "I'm getting calls from my Paul," he said, "who's doing an Allen Toussaint project. And he wants to know if I'm available for the recording. What should I do?" Can you imagine how I felt? John Lennon asking me for my advice? I could have pinched myself at that moment, because it made me realize in a flash: No wonder he captivated the whole goddamned world - he's so commercial. He knew what to say to me that was connected and human and real and grounded and fascinating. And that's what he did with the whole planet earth. He was a hit record - his very being was like a hit. And I said to him, "John, I would do it because - put all personality aside and go with the fun of the blend. Make music with somebody you have made a sound with. A great pleasure is the thing to stick with." He didn't take my advice.
I blocked out where I was when I heard - I kind of just traveled in my mind to where it happened. I was so familiar with that spot, because I had lived in the building next door. There was a building that Carly Simon and James Taylor, the Beatles and Mick Jagger had lived in at various times, and it was right around the block. The whole area - and that building where John lived in particular - was very familiar territory. I imagine how safe he must have felt going in and out of there, because I know I did. Even though it had been years since I had lived there, it was kind of like finding out that it had happened to somebody on your block.
The Beatles meant everything to me growing up, and John was part of that. I loved Lennon's persona. He knew who he was, and he knew what he represented to a worldwide public. John knew he had the floor; he knew he had to parlay that into something. I think he incited and inspired a whole group of youth to speak out and say what they felt.
I was in eighth grade when John Lennon died. The way I felt when I heard was similar to the way I felt when I was on a plane, and the plane was going to crash into the tarmac. We pulled out within the last second, and I said to myself, "That's weird." It was the same thing when he died. I remember thinking about New York and how fucked up it was. I remember he had that new york city T-shirt. I thought about the pornography of it - that he was shot in front of his wife. And the irony that he loved the city and felt comfortable there.
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