September 11th & 24th, 1971
Back in the day we had loads of talk show hosts, in the afternoon or early evenings, and these were populated by laid-back, conservatively dressed gentlemen in suits and ties. They were respective to their audience; these shows were not circuses like Jerry Springer or any idjit on Fox News. David Frost and Dick Cavett were the cream of talk show interviewers.
Talk shows like this take me back to a time when people on these shows could sit down and listen, when people often had intelligent things to say. Of course in those days in the United States, and everywhere actually, we had but three major television networks, PBS and a handful of UHF channels that nobody tuned into. We didn’t have 500+ channels to surf, and we never suffered from short attention spans. Well, that’s enough grump-old-man stage for now.
This would be John Lennon’s first interview on American television since the breakup of the Beatles the year before. Admittedly it was mostly to promote clips from their avant-garde films and new albums. Ironically this show was broadcast on September 11, thirty years before that date became significant. A clip from this show was employed in the film Forrest Gump; specifically, at approximately 16 minutes in, Yoko was CGI’d out and replaced by Tom Hanks.
As the couple crossed to the stage and sat down, the house band played a low-key snippet of “Come Together”. The beginning talk centered on their hair, which John & Yoko had cut short a year earlier to auction off. John was nervous and sarcastic at first; both of them chain-smoked throughout the interview, another sign of how times have changed. Once he found that he couldn’t bait Cavett, John relaxed a bit and was more forthcoming after that.
At one point John commented that he never expected to sing the same silly love songs in his old age. “So a long time ago I said that I didn’t want to be singing ‘She Loves You’ when I’m thirty. I said that when I was about twenty-five or something…Imagine being like fifty and still singing ‘Yesterday’.”
John also admitted to the influence of James Thurber on his art. Throughout the show John made every effort to share the spotlight with Yoko. The first of their clips to be screened was part of Yoko’s avant-garde film Fly; apparently the network censors only allowed a shot of the lady’s foot. We never got to the fly crawling on the more interesting parts. Cavett remarked, “When the censor found out that the movie was called The Fly, you can’t imagine what he thought.”
The talk drifts to Bagism, in which the couple had held press conferences in Austria, in a bag, in 1969. ‘There’s no prejudice when people are in bags,” John said, “It’s total communication.” After the commercial break, they invited members of the audience to come up and get in a bag. “Let us know when you’re through voting!” Cavett quipped.
The lights came down for the premiere of the promotional clip for Yoko’s first solo single, “Mrs. Lennon”, which debuted on this show. It was a sort of sad dirge that she carried very well. The second film, Erection, was not exactly what you’d think, you dirty minded folks. The film follows the slow-motion coverage of a skyscraper being constructed. Well, with Yoko, umm, in the background…
“I don’t care what happens when I’m dead,” John said, just tossing it into the conversation. Only with hindsight had that become a tragic, chilling observation. Finally, comes the debut for the clip for “Imagine”, probably the first time anyone had heard the song outside of the studio, a song soon to be iconic.
John got to explain, yet again, that “Lucy in The Sky with Diamonds” was NOT about drugs, it was about a drawing his son Julian had shown him. He said he got a recorded birthday greeting from Janis Joplin, but it didn’t get to him until after she had died. To the question of drug overdoses, John had to ask why people are using drugs or alcohol or whatever. “Is there something wrong with society that (we) have to use these things to guard ourselves against it? People take drugs or alcohol so they don’t feel what’s going on around them.”
The session was so enjoyable, John said he’d love to come back and do a live performance. It went so far over the allotted time that the following episode, the week of Sept. 24, Cavett introduced three additional segments from John & Yoko’s appearance. Discussion roamed over the subjects of Indians and Red Indians (properly Native Americans nowadays), abuse through the ages, the Bed-Ins for Peace and the surprising reaction against them, while also taking questions from the audience.
In fact, John would have the chance to perform less than a year later. And that’s another blog.