This is the final installment of a transcript, edited for clarity, of the questions asked at my Nowhere Man event at Subterranean Books in St. Louis. Transcription courtesy of Laurel Zito.
What did John write in his diary that was most revealing about his relationship with Paul McCartney that was not publicly known?
One of the main parts of Nowhere Man is my description of John Lennon's relationship with Paul McCartney based on my memory of his journals. John didn't see much of Paul, but he thought about him virtually every day. He was angry at Paul because Paul wanted a Beatles reunion and John wanted no part of that. He felt that reuniting the Beatles was going backward, and he wanted to move forward. The Beatles were his childhood, his adolescence, his 20s. He was a 40-year-old man with a family. He wanted to leave the past behind. And Paul was just a constant reminder of that past: "Let's reunite the Beatles! Let's reunite the Beatles!" John made it absolutely clear that he didn't want to do that. He said he loved Paul like a brother but he couldn't stand being around him.
While John was in seclusion, doing nothing, not recording music, not writing music, Paul was out there recording song after song, hit after hit, and John was extremely jealous. He felt that the only way he could get Paul's attention was if Yoko did something like sell a cow for a quarter-million dollars, and that would make the papers. And Yoko sold a cow for a quarter-million dollars, which at the time was a record-setting price for a cow. There was a big story about it in the papers, and John wrote in his journal that it was a great victory over the McCartneys.
In early 1980, Paul was getting ready to go on tour with Wings. He stopped by New York on his way to Japan and called John at the Dakota. He said he had some good weed and, you know, would you like me to come by and we'll smoke some weed together. And John said no. Then he found out that in Japan Paul was planning to stay in the Presidential Suite at the Okura Hotel, in Tokyo. John and Yoko considered that their private suite and he was outraged and repulsed that Paul and his wife, Linda, would be staying there. He told Yoko that we can't let this happen, that she's got to stop McCartney from going on tour and staying in our suite and "ruining our hotel karma."
"Yoko did it!!! Paul busted in Japan!!!"
He wrote in his journals about how Yoko practices magic. They both were into all this occult stuff: magic, tarot, numerology, you name it. They had a full-time tarot-card reader, Charlie Swan—his real name was John Green. Yoko and Swan went to Colombia, in South America, where Swan hooked her up with a powerful bruja, a witch. And she paid the witch $60,000 to teach her how to cast magic spells. And Yoko told John that she was going to use her magic to stop McCartney from staying in their hotel suite. And what happened was—you might remember this—in 1980, when Paul arrived in Japan, he was stopped at customs smuggling marijuana. He was arrested; he spent 10 days in jail; and the tour was ruined. And when John found out about this, it was the happiest moment of 1980 for him up to that point. Because his life was just kind of adrift, and he was doing nothing. Even his journals were really fragmented. He just wasn't writing coherently. But when Paul was busted he wrote, "Yoko did it!!! Paul busted in Japan!!!" And then he quotes the thing from Monopoly: "Go to jail, go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200." He was thrilled.
John also thought he had a psychic connection with Paul. Anytime Paul was in town he said he heard McCartney's music in his head. And then finally, in Bermuda, in the summer of 1980, John started writing music again, serious music, for the first time in five years. And, yeah, he was really struggling to get back in gear and to connect with his muse and write something inspired. What really got John going was that McCartney had just released an album called McCartney II. And one of the songs on there is "Coming Up." The whole song is addressed directly to John, and McCartney's calling for a Beatles reunion. One of the lyrics in "Coming Up" is "I know that we can get together/Stick around and see." John would play "Coming Up" over and over again. It inspired him and he started writing a song that was really a response to "Coming Up." That song was "I Don't Wanna Face It." It has autobiographical lyrics like "You want to save humanity/But it's people that you just can't stand" and "You're looking for oblivion/With one eye on the Hall of Fame." Even though Paul wasn't there, John was collaborating with him by listening to "Coming Up" and responding to it. Some of John's best writing was when he was collaborating with Paul. Which is not to say his solo songs were bad, but his best work was with the Beatles.
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