the debut of john lennon's "imagine" -- 9/11/17

Today's selection -- from Never a Dull Moment by David Hepworth. In 1971, hip talk show host Dick Cavett interviewed John Lennon and Yoko Ono:

"On September 11, 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono appeared on Dick Cavett's TV chat show. The US late night talk format had only recently reached the UK with the launch of Michael Parkinson's show in June, but in the United States it was well enough established to have spawned many different varieties. Cavett's reputation was for being hipper and more big city sophisticated than [Johnny] Carson. He regularly hosted music stars such as Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, who had a reputation for being difficult to keep on track. ...

"On the night of September 11, the entire show was devoted to the couple that Cavett had been instructed to introduce as 'John Ono Lennon and Yoko Ono.' Lennon entered wearing a military shirt, white bell-bottoms, and polished black boots. Ono was in hot pants, black tights, a beret, and a velour shirt slit to her navel. Lennon care­fully placed her between him and the host in order to make sure that he wasn't the main focus of the interview. He did this because, as was evident to all concerned, including himself, he was the main focus of the interview.

"Lennon chewed, fidgeted, and smoked throughout the next hour, which unfolded apparently without structure, as most interviews did at the time. There was no sense that a researcher had sat down with the couple and elicited a number of stories that the interviewer would then tee up at prearranged times. It was anything but a collec­tion of polished anecdotes. By modern standards it was rambling, desultory, even dull. The anxiety all three were clearly feeling­ -- Lennon because he was always nervous, Ono because she was the woman who had broken up the Beatles, Cavett because he wanted to look as if he wasn't impressed by having such a star guest -- was hidden behind a mask of unconcern. The conversation meandered around various subjects: hair, drugs, politics, Japan, England, other chat shows, and the apparent gulf between the alternative world and the straight one. Much of the agenda had been set by the interview that Lennon had given to Rolling Stone earlier in the year.

"While nothing was delivered in terms of new information, this appearance might have set the template for the hundreds of subse­quent occasions when rock gods have descended from Olympus and entered a TV studio, concealing the nervousness they are dearly feeling behind a display of fake casualness. Most of Lennon's answers trail off into shrugs, non sequiturs, and funny voices. The studio audience laugh nervously as if they don't quite know how this is supposed to work. The main value is in the opportunity it affords to watch these exotic creatures at close quarters. As the playwright Alan Bennett observed, watching people behave is nothing special; watching them trying to behave is always fascinating.

"Yoko had been brought there because she was Lennon's consort and also because she could be employed as a human shield to ensure that Lennon didn't have to talk too much about the things that people wanted to know about. This set up a curious dynamic between them. Throughout the interview he set her up to tell sto­ries and then, like so many practiced show-offs, couldn't stop him­self telling them himself. He'd been socialized in a group in which nobody deferred to the other members, perfecting a form of choral banter that got them through all interview situations. Nobody could ever compete with that, particularly Yoko, who was curiously uncharismatic and certainly not ready for prime time. After an hour, during which they showed clips from two of Yoko's art films, Cavett said what a shame it was that Lennon couldn't perform a song from the album he had come in to promote, Imagine, which was released that day. Lennon apologized that he couldn't find the time to rehearse a band and instead introduced an excerpt from a TV film he promised people would be able to see soon. The excerpt began with the couple walking through the garden of the house in Tittenhurst Park and then Lennon playing the white grand piano in the garden room and singing. The audience, who had not heard the song before, paid close attention to the words. They may have been struck by the contrast between the grandeur of the house and some of the lines, particularly the one that went, 'Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can.' "



David Hepworth


Never a Dull Moment: 1971 The Year That Rock Exploded


Henry Holt and Co.


Copyright 2016 by David Hepworth


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