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. Part 3 was featured in issue 264 published on 26th April 1969 – see below.
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.
(continued from last issue)
HILTON HOTEL — AMSTERDAM
Interview by Izbor editor Konstantin MILES with the most famous Beatle JOHN LENNON (part 3)
“He died in a bag!“
J. LENNON: — Don’t think that we haven’t thought about it and discussed it. Just don’t think that any intellectual snobbery or the thought of doing something “square” would deter us from the intention of getting married, a real marriage. We’ve talked about it a lot, Yoko and me. You know, many things that the Establishment does are bad, awful and disgusting, but there are also many things that ordinary people do, and they are disgusting, ugly and wrong. On the other hand, the Establishment also has its positive sides, it has some foundations, so to speak, which are built on good intentions. I think that the wedding ritual is essentially a good ritual: symbolically and emotionally. Intellectually, spiritually, Yoko and I were “married” even before this. We lived like it for a year. Before we got our divorces, we were happy (sic). But one day, when that happened, a guy came and told us: “There, now you’re finally free!” Until that moment, we didn’t know that we weren’t free before that. And yet, when that man told us that, we felt as if we got rid of a burden, the burden of not belonging to ourselves but to others: me to my first wife, her to her husband, do you understand? Something opposite and similar to that happened when we got married the other day. The ceremony itself, the very ritual of our marriage, all of that — although it all came down to the fact that the man asked me: “Do you take this woman to be your wife?” to which I replied: “Yes, I do!” — the ceremony itself, that ritual, it was all very emotional. So emotional that Yoko cried and I only just held back the tears. Yeah, I almost burst into tears. I mean: love should not be approached intellectually. Love is an emotional process and the emotional part of getting married… I mean the ritual itself and putting on the ring… that was just wonderful. I think that marriage and putting on of rings… that these are things that existed before the Establishment and before “squares” existed. I think that it is a primal ritual deeply innate to man, and therefore something beautiful. And not only beautiful but also functional. It gives, it offers a man something intangible, something that cannot be described in words. When we got married, Yoko and I suddenly felt different. That evening when we flew and arrived in Paris, we felt different. And that’s just because some stranger said: “Now you are man and wife!” We lived together for a year before that. Both before and after our divorces, we felt good, very good. And yet, when we got married, something happened. Maybe some kind of superstition, maybe some kind of deep-rooted prejudice that was smouldering in us. Something changed and we suddenly became happier and somehow calmer.
K. MILES: — You didn’t, of course, get married in a church?
J. LENNON: — No, no! But, if we were attracted to the church ritual, maybe we would get into that too. In fact, I somewhat prefer the church to the state, to some extent. Although they are essentially one and the same.
K. MILES: I don’t think there is that well-known psychological love-hate relationship between you and your audience. Because you don’t allow the audience to press you with their tyranny. You refuse to conform to the image that the audience has of you, and so you are constantly freeing yourself from its influence and tyranny. Tell me: do you really care about your audience?
J. LENNON: — I care about myself first, and only then about the audience. I can’t do the reverse. I know what happens to stars who give in to the public. I had the opportunity to see such things. I saw Elvis Presley and many others spin in circles because they’re afraid of the audience because they’re afraid of how they’ll react if they change their style and I don’t know what. I’m always rushing forward, ahead of the audience. But don’t think that this is some sort of “policy” or “tactic” of mine, because then it would again be about yielding to the tyranny of the audience in a slightly different way. I believe that every artist must constantly go forward for his own sake, that he must not stop at any moment. A few years ago, we The Beatles experienced first-hand what it means to go round in circles. There is something you must not pay attention to, something you must not worry about: the fear that you might lose the audience. I lost a lot of my audience when I started living with Yoko, and now I’ll lose even more because I married her. I lost a lot of the audience before, before when I was just a Beatle. Just remember my statements about Christ! (Lennon said that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ. K. M.) But I can’t care about the opinions of 12-year-old girls. That would be a waste of time.
K. MILES: — But 12-year-old girls are no longer your audience anyway…
J. LENNON: — Yeah, yeah, of course, they are not, but they used to be. When we left Liverpool, we lost the audience. The Liverpudlians thought that we were theirs, that they owned us, and they got very angry when we went to Manchester. And the people of Manchester were not happy when we went to London, just as later the English were not happy when we went to America. The Americans were angry when we, instead of America, preferred to go on tour in Japan. Everyone wants to own us, but of course, they can’t, because we don’t allow it. Amongst other things, and that’s why, because as soon as someone owns you, they start to despise or belittle you. And that’s why, because then you depend on their mercy. That’s why, to return to the question you asked me, I don’t pay much attention to the audience. I create songs, and so let the audience buy them if they like them or not buy them if they don’t agree with them… I already know that I will come up with something that will please both me and the audience.
K. MILES: — Yes, of course, you’ve always succeeded so far. But let’s go back to your success. When Napoleon was crowned, he showed the crown to Paulina, his slightly silly and cheerful sister, with whom he got along the best… he showed her the crown, winked and said: “We did it, little sis!” It’s just like he said: “It worked!” or “We’re on our way!” I think this is one of the most humane and sympathetic anecdotes about Napoleon.
J. LENNON: — Yeah, yeah.
K. MILES: — So now tell me nicely how you reacted when you realised that it “worked” for you on a global scale, huh?
Everyone can become their own Napoleon
J. LENNON: — Well, it was like this. Our fame escalated. When one of our records reached the top of the charts in England for the first time, we thought that we were at the peak of success, that we had “pulled it off.” Then we thought the same thing when we conquered America… we thought: “Now we really are at the top! We can’t go any further!” And when we thought that, we threw ourselves into buying anything and everything: we bought cars, we bought massive amounts of chewing gum, you know. We thought we’d succeeded. But then we realised that we hadn’t succeeded, you understand: that we hadn’t… how can I say… that we hadn’t reached the end. We realised that it is not enough to succeed, that you can’t stop, that you’re not allowed to stop… you understand. Well, just last night, just last night, Yoko and I talked about our act, I mean about our marriage and about this happening of ours for peace… we weighed up everything positive and everything negative about it, the good and bad. We talked about it for ages. And then this morning, around five o’clock, before dawn, Yoko and I winked at each other and said: “We succeeded!” But, we know that this is also something temporary, you understand. That in three months we will have to do something completely new. It’s good that you mentioned Napoleon. In his time, to “succeed” meant to gain control, the physical control over a situation. I’m going after something else. Actually, I’m not “going” but striving. I would like to gain influence over people’s opinions…
K. MILES: — Thought control…
J. LENNON: — No, that’s not what I want. I wouldn’t like to gain power or control over people’s thoughts, but something the other way around. I would like people to free themselves from the control to which they are subjected in the modern world. I’d like to free them from that. And I think that today everyone can become their own Napoleon. Just if they want.
K. MILES: — I have to ask you about something you yourself said. Please don’t think my question is rude. I read that one of your “projects” — and that is a very brutal and raw word — that one of your projects is to conceive a child right now, during these seven days that you are demonstrating for peace. You said that yourselves, and so that gives me the right to ask without too much risk of appearing indiscreet.
J. LENNON: — So (he laughs) it’s not really a “project.” I had journalists at a big press conference here in Amsterdam the other day (there were probably two hundred of them)… so the journalists asked me all kinds of questions and I thought it would be appropriate to tell them what Yoko and I will do here in Amsterdam, we’ll conceive a child. But, I must tell you immediately that we are not making any special efforts. (he laughs). I don’t really know what the special efforts to conceive a child would be. But, I think it would be poetic and romantic to conceive during our public event, which is dedicated to peace. And it would also be wonderful if Yoko fell pregnant in these circumstances, in these conditions, when we are physically and spiritually in such excellent shape. In seven days, we will return to everyday life, to our everyday routine and duties, to a completely different life. A person is not always in the same mood, in the same good mood. Everyone, even during the same day, goes through periods of good and bad moods. We are in an excellent mood constantly now. And that’s why we think it would be nice to conceive a child right now. Only, as I said before, we’re not making any special efforts to do it (he laughs).
YOKO LENNON: — I actually received a nice letter today. Some married couple asked us that, if we make a child now, we should definitely write to them about how we did it. (Yoko Ono, John Lennon and K. Miles all laugh).
K. MILES: — We laugh at that, but maybe that letter is also touching. It must have been written by some people who can’t have children. It exudes touching naivety and even goodness.
J. LENNON: — And I got a different letter: that two people, who get along as well as Yoko and me, that such people should not have children. One more myth. In any case, we’ll wait and see.
K. MILES: — I don’t know if you have “seen through me” yet. You know I love your music, I love it very much. I feel, I know that it means a lot, that it represents a lot. But I don’t know much about music. I understand just a little bit. Besides, I’m not an artist but a journalist.
J. LENNON: — But working in journalism too… let’s take creating questions for an interview like this… that’s an art too. I wouldn’t know how to do that.
K. MILES: — If you tried, you’d see that you can. But, tell me what does music actually mean to you?
J. LENNON: — I think that music for me… how can I say… is my secondary activity. Paul and I often say that music is our hobby. Of course, I’m exaggerating a bit. I would say, to be completely honest, this: music is simply a part of me, a part of my being, a natural part of me, like, let’s say, my hair. But it is nothing special to me. And that’s why, even though you don’t understand music, we can communicate nicely.
K. MILES: — You’ve said something like this several times: “People can’t live without illusions!” But what are your illusions? And can they even be illusions if you know that they are just that?
J. LENNON: — Admittedly, I don’t remember saying that, but I believe in it, so I guess I said it. And as for illusions… I don’t know what to think… well, I think that maybe everything is an illusion… that the Buddhists are right when they say that the whole world is an illusion… that man exists only if he believes in himself and, first of all, if someone else believes in him. There, that’s what I think. And I also think that everyone needs illusions so that we can communicate.
Why does he consider this interview more important than 20 others?
K. MILES: — Let me now ask you a question that I don’t really like to ask, but in this case, I will make an exception, because I am really interested in your answer. What do you know about my country? Do you have any impression about it?
J. LENNON: — I know that you have President Tito and that you are different from other communist countries, that you do not allow anyone to give you orders, that you are independent, that you are creating your own type of socialism. I think that Yugoslavia is the best of the socialist countries. You know, I believe in socialism, and not in capitalism.
K. MILES: — Derek Taylor told me that…
J. LENNON: — I believe in socialism and I believe in the politics of coexistence. I believe in your country and that’s why I consider this interview more important than twenty others. I believe absolutely in socialism, and I believe that I could have lived happily in Yugoslavia if the dice of fate had determined that I should be born there instead of in England.
K. MILES: — Perhaps this could be said about you: you are a socialist by conviction, and a citizen of the world by your actions and by how you feel about that, eh?
J. LENNON: — Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Just to be clear: I don’t consider Harold Wilson to be a socialist (laughs). I believe in true socialist principles.
K. MILES: — Do you have a vision of a world where you could be completely happy?
J. LENNON: I do not believe in the possibility of achieving absolute, complete happiness unless you unite with god or whatever we are used to calling god. I think god is electricity.
K. MILES: — Electricity?
J. LENNON: — Yes, I believe that god is a force, a natural force, no way and by no means a being. It is a state… if you like… the only state in which total happiness is possible.
K. MILES: — You seem to believe in some kind of pantheism, ha?
J. LENNON: — What is that?
K. MILES: — Pantheism?
J. LENNON: — Yeah, pantheism.
K. MILES: — Well, how can I explain it to you: it is, let’s say, when god is everything, when he is not a specific being, something like that…
J. LENNON: — I think that god is a force, like electricity or magnetism. It’s a force… you know like a natural physical force… and there are forces everywhere… in god or Tom Jones, you know. The closest thing we could do here, in this world, to get closer to “god”, would be to create lasting peace. Peace and social equality.
K. MILES: — But, tell me about the craziest thing you’ve read in the newspapers lately.
J. LENNON: — I don’t know, to be honest, I don’t know. Crazy? In which sense? Let me think about it, because I think I’m starting to get the point. So, the craziest thing that appeared in the newspapers lately was the reaction to the marriage of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. I mean to say: it was an absolutely crazy idea to write about it in the newspapers. And they even put photos. Imagine: printing photos of two people in bed on a honeymoon. Totally crazy! (he laughs)
K. MILES: — Today we have quite an interesting social phenomenon in the field of men’s fashion. Older “squares”, and that… please… who else but American businessmen… people from whom one would least expect it… try to dress like the Beatles, wear “the Beatles look” and so on. How does that affect your sense of humour?
J. LENNON: — So, at first, it made me laugh, but then I thought about it. I think that it’s good, I think it also breaks down the Establishment. Otherwise, everyone should dress how they want.
K. MILES: — Even American businessmen?
J. LENNON: — Yeah, even them too. This can only help them to get out of the straitjacket that they live in, to get rid of the shackles.
K. MILES: — OK, would you like to describe your typical day, if there is such a thing? The question is not meant to be particularly deep…
J. LENNON: — So, my typical day really doesn’t really. For example, when I’m in London, it looks something like this: I open my eyes around 10 o’clock, then I read the newspapers, then I go to the office, see what’s new in the office, then I make films, then I check how those films are going, then I check how our records are doing, then I check how my books are doing. I return home around 9 o’clock in the evening, stare at the television, go to sleep, open my eyes at 10 o’clock… and so on, and so on.
K. MILES: — In one interview you said this: “I don’t really know what talent is. The most important thing in success is willpower. Everyone can succeed.” Sorry, but that is pure Horatio Alger.
J. LENNON: — Horatio Alger? Who is that?
K. MILES: — You are too young to know. He was the author of a series of novels that propagated the American dream that any shoeshine can become a billionaire. Americans honestly used to believe that. Not today though.
J. LENNON: — Now I understand. I wanted to say that everyone can become what they want, if they just want it hard enough and if they are given the chance. Otherwise, I really believe that talent is a myth.
K. MILES: — Don’t, please! I wouldn’t be able to compose any kind of song even if you threatened to kill me!
J. LENNON: — You would, you would, if you just wanted hard enough and sincerely enough to compose it and if you wanted to communicate with someone in that way.
K. MILES: — Maybe I could write some kind of poem… if I really wanted to pass on something, and poetry is still the strongest medium of communication…
J. LENNON: — I think that film is.
K. MILES: — You just reminded me. What’s happening with your 8 film projects? You’ve been getting some nasty criticism recently.
J. LENNON: — So, Yoko and I made four films together that will be shown soon. We’re having difficulties with their distribution because they are not commercial. But, we believe that we’ll show them soon. Apart from that, The Beatles will probably finally make a film this year, where they will all perform. It just needs the most appropriate form, you know… Making films is the most important thing to me. The music just comes after that.
“Mr and Mrs Christ…”
K. MILES: – It is said that you will play Christ in one film.
J. LENNON: — No, I haven’t received any offer in that sense. I only know about that because I read it in the newspapers. I think it went like this. That man, who was supposed to make that film… it’s something for British television, did that man (as I think) really intend to offer me that role at first? Only, he didn’t say anything to me, but he let it leak to the press as a rumour… like a test balloon. When he saw how the Establishment reacted wildly to it, when he saw how the press reacted…
K. MILES: — … he shat himself…
J. LENNON: — That’s right. In any case, I’m just guessing, because I didn’t talk about it with him, that man, he didn’t contact me in any way. Shame, because I think I would have accepted the role.
K. MILES: — Why?
J. LENNON: — Because I think it is an interesting story, you know, and then (laughs) I look like him… and we are somehow the same age.
K. MILES: — He was, if I’m not wrong, 33.
J. LENNON: — I’m 28, but that’s not important. In any case, I think I would very, very happily do it.
K. MILES: — Well, when I look at you like this, I think you’d be very suitable for that role. Besides that, there was a theory published recently that he was also married.
J. LENNON: — Yeah, I read that. The film could have been called: Mr and Mrs Christ.
K. MILES: — But, there is talk about the breakup of your group, I mean, The Beatles?
J. LENNON: — That’s been talked about since we’ve existed, you know. A few years ago I made my own film, Paul wrote the music on his own for his film, George was in India, where he studied Indian music, and where Ringo’s been, I don’t know. In any case, we’ve been flying all over the place, and even then there were rumours that we were falling apart. It’s like that now. There’s no question about any Beatles break-up. We would never think of looking a gift horse in the mouth, as the English proverb says. We believe that The Beatles still have great potential as a band, that there are many reasons why we should stay together.
K. MILES: — We’ve come to the end of the interview. Would you like to give me a definition of John Lennon?
J. LENNON: — Well (laughs) I would say that Lennon is a shaggy, grumpy “peacenik” (nickname for a “hippy” who demonstrates for peace K. M.)
K. MILES: — And your epitaph?
J. LENNON (laughs): — He died how he lived: shaggy and grumpy. Or: “He died in a bag!”
(Co Studio And K. MILES. Recordings / photos: ANP, Amsterdam)
I am very grateful to Vanja Radovanović in Zagreb for providing me the scans of the interview from his copy of this issue of Studio magazine – more here. Without his help, I would not have realised that there were two preceding issues that contained the rest of the interview, and therefore I would not have been able to complete the whole translation.
(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.