On 28th March 1969, just days after their wedding in Gibraltar, Konstantin Miles spent three hours interviewing John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the Hilton Amsterdam Hotel during their first bed-in for peace. This interview was published in the Yugoslav weekly TV, radio and entertainments magazine Studio (similar to the BBC’s Radio Times) over three issues starting on 12th April 1969.
This interview has never been available in English, so I salvaged all the relevant magazines and translated it.
Official photographs of the meeting are online here – although there is no mention of Konstantin, and the photos are dated to 25th March – yet in the interview Miles says he met Lennon on a Friday – which would have been the 28th.
INTERVIEW BY KONSTANTIN MILES
Editor of Izbora Konstantin Miles recently had an interview with John Lennon in Amsterdam, the most prominent of The Beatles. K. Miles is the first journalist from any socialist country to interview The Beatles.
A CONVERSATION WITH JOHN LENNON
I had prepared for this interview for a full four months. It was promised to me right away during my first attempt to do it back in November of last year when I first visited the headquarters of The Beatles, Apple Corps. However, at that time, The Beatles were not giving any interviews to anyone, absolutely no one, for some reasons that were convincingly explained to me and which I accepted as being personal.
At the end of January, I again visited Derek Taylor, the all-powerful Beatles’ press officer. I had only come to make arrangements for a later meeting. At that time Taylor told me: “Do you want to meet John today? You know, he’s thrilled with the idea of being interviewed by a communist journalist.” I said no. “I don’t want to do just anything.” I phoned Taylor in mid-March, a few days after returning from Paris. I said that I would be in London again in the last week of March.
However, when I arrived at Apple I was in for a shock. Lennon had suddenly decided to get married and travelled from England to Gibraltar, whilst Taylor’s wife gave birth to their seventh (sic) child the night before I arrived. At Apple, only the regular secretaries remained on the scene, and they could not tell me when Lennon would return to London. The next day I got Lennon’s message from Taylor saying that I should wait for him in London or that I should fly to Amsterdam. I decided to travel to Birmingham the following day, for a day, for an interview with Richard Chamberlain, the former Doctor Kildare, and the day after that I took an English plane to Amsterdam. That was on Thursday. On Friday, around four o’clock in the afternoon, I found Lennon in an apartment in the Hilton Hotel, the only large building that uglifies beautiful Amsterdam.
Lennon surprised me. He has a very sharp and intelligent look, a voice as if made for some kind of political tribune, a voice that amazes with its energy and penetration, but that did not surprise me, but something else: his unusually mild appearance. At times, Lennon turns into an almost curious boy. This man with no complexes does not hesitate to ask such questions that might give the impression that he is ignorant. Only, he can afford it. Both as a brilliant composer and as an excellent poet. And (if it even matters) as one of the most famous people on our planet.
KONSTANTIN MILES: — A few months ago, London’s Daily Telegraph published the results of a poll about the most influential British people today. It wasn’t just some run-of-the-mill survey with hundreds of thousands of readers, but with the most prominent journalists, sociologists and publicists who were questioned. That poll showed that The Beatles are the most influential, by far the most influential British people today… influential where it is felt, where it counts: influencing the way of life and thinking. Far behind you, the famous television interviewer David Frost took second place. Harold Wilson was, I think, ninth or tenth, I don’t remember exactly. This is, let’s say, detail number 1. Detail number 2: the American weekly Time (and you or I can think what we want about it) wrote: “Only Hitler has affected people this way. When The Beatles speak, hundreds of millions listen.” Detail number 3: a few months ago, you published a photograph of yourself and your current wife on the album cover of Two Virgins. You were both naked, from the front and the back. Of course, these three details are not connected, but still… I’d like to ask you my first burst of questions. The first question would be something like this. The result of the Daily Telegraph poll actually represents what the English call an “understatement”… let’s say a half-truth… because you are amongst the most influential people on our planet.
JOHN LENNON: — Thank you.
K. MILES: — I know or I assume that you are not consciously trying to be influential. So when that’s the case, tell me how your sense of humour reacted to the results of that British poll and the article in Time (if you read any of it)?
J. LENNON: — So it’s really funny to be compared to Hitler. On the other hand, it’s not at all wrong for me to have that influence that you’re talking about… right now. Because I definitely want and try to use it… right now, specifically now, for the cause of peace. But otherwise, no offence, don’t pay too much attention to what your colleagues write…
K. MILES: — I certainly can’t accuse myself of harbouring any illusions about…
J. LENNON: — You know, one week they write one thing, the next week another. Maybe in a few days, they will start writing that we are the most unpopular and least influential people in the world.
K. MILES: — But, what about you, John Lennon, what about you as a person — or as an artist or as a global figure… what pleases you the most… what do you like the most about the influence you have? Of course, you cannot deny that influence.
J. LENNON: — I don’t deny it. I also don’t deny that I use it, you know. I like that I have it, and I like it because it, that influence, gives me the possibility to use it to achieve some things that I consider good.
K. MILES: — One is the fight to preserve world peace, I know that. But I guess there are also other things that you are fighting for with your influence?
J. LENNON: — I think peace is the most important thing of all. And after peace, there are some things, some other goals.
K. MILES: — For example?
J. LENNON: — Some social things. That, first of all, that.
K. MILES: — More precisely, please. What for example?
J. LENNON: — Well, for example, I would like to change the way people eat and to change the education system. In the old days, in the past, people in power kept the people in submission in such a way that they did not educate them. Today they oppress them in other ways. For example, they oppress them by feeding them bad food and so prevent the development of human abilities, human intellect, and spirit. Maybe the bigwigs don’t know that the capacity of the human spirit can be increased with a better diet, maybe they know it, but they won’t increase it, because they want to keep people in submission. However, if one day they realise that if they feed people properly instead of feeding them with chemicals, production will increase… maybe they will do something to improve the diet of the masses.
K. MILES: — However, you didn’t tell me how that poll in The Daily Telegraph affected your sense of humour… the English humour, whose first rule is that no one should take themselves too seriously. I was thinking about that.
J. LENNON: — That struck a nerve with my sense of humour, especially when I heard that comparison to Hitler.
K. MILES: — And now we come to the famous photograph. I saw it… I even saw a huge enlargement of it on the wall of an office at Apple, at Derek Taylor’s. So, it seems to me that there is something almost… let’s say… something almost philosophical about that photograph (which I don’t consider lascivious at all, because you both look so ordinary, so everyday, so average, that the photograph seems almost modest). So, I think that this photograph has a message, a very primal message, connected to a deep-rooted human instinct… one real universal instinct: a primal man shows his contempt for ‘X’ or ‘Y’ by showing them his bare backside, to “photograph” him as our children say. But, in today’s photo-sexual escalation, the buttocks are no longer interesting at all. That’s why you took the photograph of the two of you from the front… to show contempt, defiance… isn’t it?
J. LENNON: It is obvious that a living person can be photographed in many ways. It is also obvious that everything that you do can be interpreted in a hundred ways. Let’s say, you can be photographed like this or like that… let’s take it like we did… and then let it be known: “Shame on you who think this is an obscene photograph!” Do you understand? I don’t think that photograph was obscene. It only became that in the eyes and heads of those who are themselves obscene. On the other hand, in it, in that photograph, there is indeed contempt, you noticed it exactly, absolutely right. It in there is contempt for the philistine attitudes towards nudity. In it there is contempt for human stupidity and prejudices. And that means… therefore… that in it there is contempt for the “Establishment” (the ruling class) because the Establishment also thinks dirty.
K. MILES: — But also, when we’re already talking about your enormous influence, I have to quote you something that you won’t really like. It’s about something that I read about you in Ramparts, one of the few American magazines that I respect. Only, I’m afraid you won’t like this quote.
J. LENNON: — Just read it nicely.
K. MILES: — So Ramparts writes: “The Beatles come out in front of the world with their whining sayings of their harmless values — All You Need is Love — whilst the kids are building barricades in the streets, and cops are smashing their heads in with truncheons and rifle butts!”
J. LENNON: — We’re telling the protesting youth that we do not believe in violence, physical violence, that we do not believe in a revolution that is created by violence. There have been various revolutions so far in history. They achieved certain successes, they helped people to improve their standard of living in a certain way, to a certain extent. But, at the same time that was not all. From a spiritual view, they did not achieve what they might have wanted to achieve. In fact, I don’t think that any revolution has achieved exactly what it set out to achieve, what it was carried out for. That’s why I say to the youth of the world: If you are already protesting, and you have to protest, do it in a peaceful way, without violence. My role models are Gandhi, Dr Martin Luther King and Christ… and some others. I believe in the law of action and reaction, one of the fundamental laws of nature and the world. I believe that the motivations of the children who are erecting barricades in the streets, I believe that their motivations are good and noble, absolutely correct, and I am completely on their side. I’m on their side, and I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have done the same if I were in their situation. But, I believe that violence begets violence… and if the violence is not started by cops, someone in the crowd will start it. I think like this: the ruling system needs to be changed, but by infiltrating it and draining it from the inside. Don’t break it… er… don’t tear it down, smash it, break it, because this generation can’t afford to spend half of its life or more building what’s broken. It is necessary to act from the inside, inside the system. After all, most of the people who make up the Establishment today will be dead in 15 to 20 years, and then we, us, will be the Establishment, and we will rule. And because of that, what sense does it make to build barricades, and break pavements to get projectiles, what sense does it make to riot against the cops when the main goal, the main target of the fight, is the system itself? The system and common way of thinking of most people. That needs to change. By that, I don’t mean to say that the way people dress or live or spend their leisure time should be changed. These are all just superficial things. The way people think needs to change, the spirit of the people needs to change, you have to get into the Establishment, infiltrate it, and then from there start building a new world. (Editor’s note: Perhaps with this Lennon explained why the Establishment accepted and even supported The Beatles).
K. MILES: — I think I understood you. I just have to warn you about something. There is no real revolution without violence, without the use of violence. Everything else is just an illusion. What you said about revolutions, it can pass… only revolutions do not bear fruit to the first generation, but to the second, the third. But, we were talking about the cops, the police. In connection with them, I must ask you to explain to me a somewhat strange phenomenon. In the last few months, the cops have been frequent, almost regular visitors to your London flat…
J. LENNON (laughing): — Oh yeah, yeah, that’s right…
K. MILES: — …so the cops come regularly to your flat, but also the flats of the other three Beatles. They come with their dogs that then sniff through your home looking for cannabis…
J. LENNON: — Yeah, they sniff, damned sniffing (laughing).
K. MILES: — So, they sniff around looking for cannabis and most of the time they find nothing…
J. LENNON: — Well, it can’t really be said, they sometimes find something too… albeit a little, very little (laughing).
K. MILES: — Yes, I read: a gram, or so. OK. But how do you explain these frequent visits to yourself, ha? Did it occur to you that these police officers might actually be your secret but passionate admirers, cops who are simply taking advantage of their position and their rights to get close to their heroes, ha?
J. LENNON (laughing): — Of course, you’re joking. No, I don’t think that this new phenomenon has such a nice and funny explanation, although your theory is by no means “irrelevant.” I think it’s about something deeper. You know, to tell you the truth, the cops and whoever from the Establishment commands them… er… they have known for a long time that we take drugs. It was never any kind of secret. We’ve said it publicly, clearly and loudly. And yet, nothing happened to us. Someone in the command chain, someone was protecting us… of course for some reason of their own and some motives of their own. And then that protection that we enjoyed, that protection from the top that allowed us to publicly admit that we were taking drugs without anyone calling on us… then that protection was suddenly suspended, quashed, lifted. Why did it happen? Because we showed them our real flag! And now about the cops who come to us as regular visitors. It’s really about the same cops, but maybe that’s because they only have ten cops who know something about cannabis and only two dogs that can smell it. In the whole of the police force: ten cops and two dogs. We already know these cops and the dogs well. But let’s get back to your theory. I think that the main cop who is chasing and hunting us, I think that the main cop is one of those cops who collect scalps, that he is a scalp hunter. He’s got the Rolling Stones’ scalp. He wants people to say about him: “He catches them all, they can’t escape him.” He only chases scalps. He doesn’t care what happens to us after he’s caught us. The main thing for him is that he caught you, that he has just caught you. He gets fame as the bounty hunter of famous people.
K. MILES: — You know, when I asked you this question, I actually wanted to paraphrase something that the late Brian Epstein had said to the press when you didn’t want to perform in the Philippines at an event organised by the president of the republic there. Epstein had then said: “Uh, these statesmen! Those guys only care about making themselves important in front of their kids by knowing The Beatles and how they talked to them!” I wanted to paraphrase what Epstein had said and relate it to the cops who so regularly… let’s say… visit you.
J. LENNON: — Yeah, it’s a similar thing. Because those cops are really hunting for scalps, the scalps of famous people. There are plenty of people who smoke cannabis in London, and the cops know it well. However, for the policemen, it’s better to arrest John Lennon or George Harrison, you know. He becomes more famous that way.
“OK! We opened the windows and created a draught…”
K. MILES (laughing): — But let’s get back to your great, huge influence. No one, not even your worst enemies… but you actually have no enemies, because even the Establishment loves and adores you…
J. LENNON: — Hey, easy, you’re not right there!
K. MILES: — How am I not right?
J. LENNON: — There are many people who hate us and who would prefer to liquidate us, who can’t wait to get rid of us.
K. MILES: — OK, there are plenty of people who hate you. But still, even your greatest enemy cannot deny that the changes that you have brought about through your influence are substantial, indeed great. At the very least (and I’m leaving your music aside) you freed the youth from the shackles of social traditions, you brought refreshing suspicion and doubt towards the God-given authorities, you taught the youth to despise conventions, to fight against hypocrisy. Let’s be clear: a moment ago I actually quoted an American, to put it mildly, conservative magazine. In fact, and these are my words, I think it could almost be said that: The Beatles opened the windows and brought in the fresh air of social change, but they didn’t even touch the building itself. It would almost be said that you were afraid of your own influence and that’s why you fled to Indian philosophy, to guruism, to transcendental meditation, to some… I must say… crazy projects about buying some Greek island… and that… please… after a colonel’s coup d’état. In your semi-official biography, someone said about you: “The biggest change in John is the drop in his aggressiveness.” Maybe this question isn’t fair, maybe it will seem mean to you, but I don’t think I can pass it by.
J. LENNON: — So, that’s a hell of a big question, by God! Let me think. What was that at the beginning…
K. MILES: — I was saying that with your influence you’ve helped the youth to free themselves…
J. LENNON: — OK. So, we opened the windows…
K. MILES: —… but you didn’t even touch the building…
J. LENNON: — Yes. I think you noticed that correctly. Only, it is consistent with our policy of infiltrating enemy structures rather than demolishing them. OK, let’s go back. So, we opened the windows, created a draught, so that the fresh air of change enters the house. OK! We also opened the door and let all the people, the young people, enter the house after us. OK. However, after some time, after a period, after we made a good draught, the wind caught us and carried us in a circle. That lasted several years. And then we stood still for two years, we were static, you understand? That happened to us… yeah… that happened to us. And that’s when it was the most dangerous for us. That we almost got lost in the Establishment… that we almost let them suffocate us… suffocate us as people, as individuals, do you understand? You need to know this to understand the incident with the Maharishi and the search for islands to buy and live on: we were doing all of this just to find ourselves again. Because we were lost in everything that happened with us when we became a concept, a global concept, as The Beatles, do you understand? And so that’s how we were searching for ourselves. We didn’t run away from anyone or anything. We could have found ourselves simply by looking in the mirror, but we didn’t want to. We looked for ourselves elsewhere, searched alone for ourselves, followed our sense of smell, our nose. And that took us to India. You know… no matter what was said and written… India benefited us a lot. Granted, George and I were the only two Beatles who actually stayed there. The other two didn’t. They just visited us and then went home, you know. George and I stayed there for three full months during which we meditated for hours and hours every day. And that turned out to be useful. No, it cannot be denied that it was a great spiritual exercise for both of us. Besides that, it taught me many things, which I did not know before. First of all, I learned that everyone is their own “guru”… you know: “guru” means “teacher”… so, everyone is their own teacher. After all, didn’t Christ and Muhammad… if I’m not mistaken… didn’t they say, teach something similar: that everyone can be a prophet? Yes, we are all prophets, we the people. OK. So, I had an excellent spiritual time in India, staying in my room for hours every day and meditating. It was great after two years of furiously rushing around. I came home spiritually refreshed, and then I met Yoko and, as you know, I began a new career.
The difference between The Beatles and The Stones
K. MILES: — When I asked my question, I was actually interested in some other things. However, it doesn’t matter. This is how I found out some interesting information about you, and we will come back to that later, when we talk about The Rolling Stones. However, you’ve started having a falling out with the authorities, that is, with the Establishment, only recently. Just a few years ago, Paul McCartney was the announcer at a concert attended by the Queen. In his announcement, he said something very nice: “Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands, and the rest of you if you’d just rattle your jewellery!”
J. LENNON: — Paul didn’t say that. I said that.
K. MILES: — In any case, it was a great “stunt.” That’s how those who were asked to rattle their jewellery understood it. They just enjoyed it! You were their darlings, their pets, and if you had bored them, they would take it as something extremely witty and great. On the other hand, The Rolling Stones were brutally persecuted from the very beginning. They are, I know, your friends. Come on, honestly: why the difference? Why were The Rolling Stones pariahs, “outcasts” from the very beginning, and you weren’t?
J. LENNON: — In fact, in the beginning, no one persecuted The Rolling Stones. They appeared a short time behind us and were met with more or less the same reaction. At that time, we were also called “long-haired,” “shaggy,” and “grubby,” do you understand? However, we infiltrated the Establishment stronger and deeper than they did, or if you will, we made greater compromises… in order to gain more power, do you understand? You know: we’re not The Stones. We are different, you know. The Stones are perhaps street fighters. I am not, you know. That was the basic difference between us. And so the Stones performed their moves in front of the public, you know. Only, they don’t do it like they used to. Trust me… although it may not look so… but they always used to play their cards, they knew how to play them, just like us. This is exactly why they should be thankful that they are still on the scene, that the Establishment did not manage to liquidate them. In any case, they expertly used all the publicity that it brought them. If today you compare The Stones with, let’s say, Jim Morrison, if you compare American and English bands today, The Stones come out as — reactionaries. Why? Because those bands came after them. So it happened that we looked slightly more reactionary than The Stones because they came a little after us. And everyone who appeared after The Stones made The Stones look like reactionaries compared to them, you understand?
(To be continued)
Copyright by Studio. Photographs: United Press (today ANP)
In this issue both George Harrison (with Pattie Boyd) and Ringo Starr appeared:
(Of course my translation will not be a perfect representation of Konstantin’s original transcript/audio recording since this has seemingly been lost.) Apparently Konstantin did send a final draft of the interview to John for approval – see below:
In July 1985 the interviewer Konstantin Miles was interviewed by Denis Kuljiš in Studio magazine:-
DK: Surely your most famous interview was with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
KM: I had two interviews with them. The first was when I found out through some fellow journalists in London that Lennon was travelling to Amsterdam with his wife. I was just about to buy a Burberry coat, but instead, I spent that money on a plane ticket and went to the Netherlands. I was asked for a visa at the airport there, but I didn’t have one. They took me to a supervisor who was a civilized native of Papua, very kind, who allowed me to stay. I found Lennon in a hotel, through his press manager, who allowed me to stay for ten minutes and talk about the act of lying in bed by which John Lennon and Yoko Ono were protesting for world peace… However, I stayed for three hours. I somehow managed to get a very good vibe from him, he was a very bright, and actually very handsome man. When I told him he was a pantheist, he didn’t hesitate at all to ask what that was. Yoko Ono was lying in her nightgown, and he was in his pyjamas, we were talking, whilst the head of the press kept winking at me to go out… Then Lennon threw him out of the room.
DK: When did you have the next interview?
KM: The Beatles had just split up, and Lennon had bought a house in Epson. In the beautiful ambiance, there was a white piano – Lennon played on it with one finger and sang to me. I intended to go and meet him in New York, for a third interview, but he was murdered in the meantime. He was pleased with our first conversation, he had said that it was one of the best he had given for a newspaper. I did send him a translation of the interview, it was about 40-50 pages long…
DK: Has everything been published?
KM: Only one part.
DK: Did you ever think of publishing a book of your interviews?
KM: Nobody made me an offer, and I didn’t want to. I’m quite lazy.
(Konstantin Miles died in 1989, he had no heirs because his son and daughter died before he did, both committing suicide. Konstantin’s widow died in 2017)
On a lighter note, in 1969 John and Yoko posted 2 acorns to Yugoslavia’s President Tito (1 of 50 world leaders at the time) to be planted as part of their quest for world peace.