By Gil Kaufman
It was 30 years ago today that former Beatle John Lennon was murdered by a crazed fan outside his home in New York. To mark that tragic event, fans around the world are planning commemorations of the singer's life and legacy on Wednesday (December 8), remembering his message of peace and love and paying tribute to one of the premier songwriters of the modern era.
As part of that celebration of Lennon's life, Rolling Stone magazine has devoted its final 2010 issue to a nine-hour interview the singer did just three days before his death on December 8, 1980. Select excerpts from the interview writer Jonathan Cott conducted with Lennon ran in a tribute issue put out by the magazine in January 1981, but the full talk sat on a shelf in Cott's closet for nearly 30 years.
"Earlier this year I was cleaning up to find some files in the recesses of my closet when I came across two cassette tapes marked 'John Lennon, December 5th, 1980,'" Cott told the magazine about Lennon's final print interview. "It had been 30 years since I listened to them, and when I put them on, this totally alive, uplifting voice started speaking on this magical strip of magnetic tape."
On the tapes, Cott found a Lennon who was still angry at fans and critics who had taken him to task for a five-year musical hiatus, during which the singer devoted his time to raising his son Sean with wife Yoko Ono and decompressing from more than 15 years in the intense media spotlight. "These critics with the illusions they've created about artists — it's like idol worship. They only like people when they're on their way up," he said. "I cannot be on the way up again. What they want is dead heroes, like Sid Vicious and James Dean," he added in an eerily prescient screed. "I'm not interested in being a dead f---ing hero ... so forget 'em, forget 'em."
With Bruce Springsteen then the face of rock's future, Lennon expressed fear that the Boss would fall victim to the same kind of pressures as he did. "And God help Bruce Springsteen when they decide he's no longer God. ... They'll turn on him, and I hope he survives it."
Seemingly recharged after his hiatus, Lennon also contemplated going back out on the road to play some shows. "We just might do it," he said. "But there will be no smoke bombs, no lipstick, no flashing lights. It just has to be comfy. But we could have a laugh. We're born-again rockers, and we're starting over. ... There's plenty of time, right? Plenty of time."
In audio excerpts from the interview on Rolling Stone's website, Lennon laments, "I cannot live up to other people's expectations of me, because they're illusory," he said of his efforts to include positive messages of hope and togetherness in his music and the pressure to live up to his legacy. "Give peace a chance, not shoot people for peace ... I only put out songs and answer questions ... I cannot be 18 and a be a punk ... I see the world through different eyes. I still believe in love, peace and understanding, as Elvis Costello says."
At the time of his murder, Lennon, then 40, had just released what would be his final album, Double Fantasy. In excerpts from the Rolling Stone tapes, he discusses the musical hiatus he took before that time, going on at length about an electric guitar he had purchased before the Fantasy sessions and how it had never seen any "professional" work until he used it on the album. The ex-Beatle sounds at times reflective and whimsical when discussing the winding road he took back to music, while also hitting on a note of bitterness about the loss of innocence and privacy he's endured as part of the biggest band in music history.
Ono released a statement on Tuesday night in tribute to her late husband, telling fans, "On this tragic anniversary, please join me in remembering John with deep love and respect," Ono said. "In his short-lived life of 40 years, he has given so much to the world. The world was lucky to have known him. We still learn so much from him today. John, I love you!"