John Lennon and Yoko Ono Interview, Ontario, Canada (1969, December 19)
|In an interview filmed in Missisauga, Ontario on December 19th 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono spoke about their latest peace effort - the controversial 'War Is Over' billboard campaign. The interview was conducted by author and media theorist Marshall McLuhan.
McLuhan is widely regarded as one of the most important 20th-century communications theorists, whose books include 'Understanding Media' (1964), 'The Medium Is the Massage' (1967), and 'War and Peace in the Global Village' (1968).
McLuhan: "Can you tell me? I just sort of wonder how the 'War Is Over,' the wording... the whole thinking. What happened?"
John: "I think the basic idea of the poster event was Yokoís. She used to do things like that in the avant garde circle, you know. Poster was a sort of medium, media, whatever."
John: "and then we had one idea for Christmas, which was a bit too vast, you know."
Yoko: "We wanted to do it."
John: "We wanted to do it, but we couldnít get it together in time."
Yoko: "Maybe next year."
John: "and to do something specifically at Christmas. and then it got down to, well, if we canít do that event..."
Yoko: "We did this."
John: "...what weíll do is a poster event. and then how do you get posters stuck all around the world, you know. Itís easier said than done. So we just started ringing up and find it out. and at first weíre gonna have... we had some other wording, didnít we, like, 'Peace Declared.' and it started up, thereís a place in New York, where you can have your own newspaper headline, you know. Thereís a little shop somewhere in Times Square. and we were wondering how to, sort of like, get it in the newspapers as if it had happened, you know. and it developed from that. Well, we couldnít get the front page of each newspaper to say war was over, peace declared or whatever."
Yoko: "We thought maybe just one newspaper, you know."
John: "Well, in the end it worked. It worked like that. But we wanted, remember the Orson Welles thing, where he did something like that, you know. Like, on TV or something but it was too hard to get together."
Yoko: "Telstar, weíre thinking."
John: "Yeah, try and get live Telstar and then bam. But maybe next year."
Yoko: "Oh yeah."
McLuhan: "You arenít gonna tell us what next year is."
Yoko: "No, no, we canít. We canít tell you that."
John: "No, no, we canít even think that far ahead. I mean, July is about the furthest I ever thought ahead. and thatís six months."
McLuhan: "When did all this happen? This sort of the War Is Over idea. In the fall or..."
Yoko: "No, no. It was sometime around summer, just late summer."
McLuhan: "So youíve been working on it quite a while."
John: "Yes, yes."
McLuhan: "Guess, youíre in Toronto, and you chose Canada, and I know youíve been asked again and again why Canada. But why Canada and not London? Why?"
John: "Oh, whenever weíve done anything weíve done it out of London, Ďcuz they donít take it seriously in England. Thatís all. They treat us like their children, you know. Itís that mad, insane guy, you know. and he should be tapdancing on the Palladium rather than talking about war and peace. Like Quintin Hoggs said, the philosopher. I donít know what word he used, you know. Some word, you know, as if politicians had..."
Yoko: "Why youíre an entertainer."
John: "'Youíre an entertainer, boy, now get back on the boards,' you know. So weíre treated like that in England. So we did the Bed event originally in Amsterdam and then the second one in Montreal. and Canada is just a place we seem to, whatever weíre trying to do, whether itís a War poster or a Bed event or a film or anything, we seem to end up in Canada without even having to think about it, you know. Because we made a lot of good contacts here. Weíre offered help, you know. We donít often get much help about campaigns. Itís usually people wanting help. A few Canadians... we had offers that they help us, you know. So we just come like a shop then."
Yoko: "and also many people are starting to help us."
John: "So I mean, if I say for instance, sell this album we just brought out, which was our live concert in Toronto, folks... which we did a few months back... well then I can afford to carry on, you know. I donít care if I just make money to break even to do a peace campaign, you know. So far, Iím quite good at making money. and Iíll make, as long as I break even, Iíll go on spending all the time, you know. and of course, if we make it, say we got amount of money for something, then we could do what other charities do or what other people do and say... 'Would you want to match this,' you know, to some really rich person. and we could get into that, you know. I donít mind going round begging. and weíll do things like that. But until we can convince people or convert peace into something economic, well, weíll pay for it. Itís like with our films. Weíve made about eight films. We can only show them to students at the moment and on a very limited things. So weíve used our own money to make the films rather than wait for people to catch on. Itís like as a Beatle. If we had had money to afford recording before, Ďcuz we went 'round every studio trying to get, you know, get in. and if we had been able to afford to make the record first and then show them, what we would have done is... and then thatís what weíre doing with peace, is like making the record and then taking it round trying to sell it, to pay for the tapes later."
McLuhan: "What about peace. Peace is a pretty big word."
McLuhan: "You mean Vietnam, you mean Biafra, you mean..."
John: "Yeah, we mean all forms of violence weíre against. That includes my own violence, Yokoís violence, you know, violence on the street, any form of violence. Of course, Vietnam and Biafra are like manifestations of all our violence, you know. Thatís why we say itís all, everybodyís responsibility. We really believe that those wars are manifestations of the whole worldís violence. Not just Americaís or just the communists."
McLuhan: "Yeah, thatís the problem, Ďcuz the minute youíve got long hair and the minute youíre popular with the kids, the whole adult on the other side of the gap says, you know, youíre a bunch of left wing communists and that."
John: "Well, the communist fear is that and the American paranoia mainly, itís not too bad in Europe, itís a joke, you know. I mean, we laugh at Americaís fear of communists. Itís like, the Americans arenít going to be overrun by communists. Theyíre gonna fall from within, you know. and thatís a point. People say, why have you got long hair or why did, when you gave the MBE back, you know, we... I had... I worded it against, Iím returning this MBE because of Britainís part, in protest against Britainís participation in the Biafra Nigeria thing, you know, thatís the way I speak. I just wrote it as I speak. and Britainís policy supporting US in Vietnam and Cold Turkey slipping down the charts. A lot of people say, now, if you had only done it straight, it would have been much more effective. and itís the same as if youíd only get your hair cut and wear a straight suit, youíd be more effective. One, Iíd be... I wouldnít be myself. Two, I donít believe people believe politicians, especially the youth. Theyíve had enough of short hair and suits saying this is, as if, you know... Itís like all, is every priest a holy man just Ďcuz heís got a dog collar on, you know. Nobody believes that anymore. and we do this intuitively. But after weíve done it for a few times, we always had some irrelevancy or something in the campaign, you know. and Yokoís telling me about this ancient Chinese book that tells you how to conduct a battle. and it says the castle always falls from within. Never from without, you know, hardly ever, like America. and it also says, donít have all the doors closed when youíre fighting, you know. Donít have every door shut. ĎCuz the enemy will put all the pressure on and you might crumple. Always leave one door open and the enemy will concentrate their fire there and then youíll know where itís coming. So our door open is long hair, nudism, nudity whatever the word is, mentioning Cold Turkey in such a serious thing as Biafra and Vietnam, you know, and let the people point their finger, you know. 'Oh heís... theyíre naked,' you know. 'They look like freaks.' But it doesnít interfere with the campaign, you know. Nobody attacks peace."
McLuhan: "Five years ago, when you first came to Toronto with the Beatles, there was a news conference. I remember asking a question using radio taping. All of you gave three word answers. A Reporter said, 'Donít you guys answer anything more than a minute' and somebody said, 'What is he, a wise guy or something?' --Ringo or somebody. Did you change a lot in five years?"
John: "Well, those days the questions werenít sort of anything to give a lot of long answers to, really. and there was more pressure, and people were always wisecracking to us, you know. Especially journalists and newscasters. I mean, theyíre all satyrical with one eyebrow raised and all that. So we answered them in the vein that we were asked, you know."
McLuhan: "But what I really mean is the change in you, I know thatís something, I donít mean any of that seriously, but the change in your thinking."
John: "Yeah, Iím just sort of, I say Iíve grown up, you know. In Britain they keep writing up, saying, 'Grow up, you naive child,' you know and all that. Even my auntie who brought me up. and the family keep writing saying, alright, so you want peace, but youíre not growing up yet, you know. You must understand that, you know. They donít know from Adam whatís going on. and the, thatís... I think Iíve just matured, you know. I mean, Iíve done the fame bit. Iíve got all the money I needed and what was it all about. There was nothing to do, you know. I mean, having money didnít answer the problem. Heís running out of film, arenít you."
McLuhan: "Ok, before 20th century technology knocked us off, we were talking about you and the change in your past five years. Sort of maturing.
John: "Yes, yes. It was, like the Beatles made, they had all the fame and the money they wanted and that was four years ago, when we gave up touring. and we, we sat back on it and thought, 'Well, weíve made it, now what you do,' you know. 26 is something, what are you gonna do for the rest of your life? Just, I mean, my auntie always said, 'Itís better to be miserable in luxury,' you know. and that was a point, you know. But there was nothing to do. There didnít seem to be any reason behind it or any hope or, you know. and then we were sort of, we hid away for two years. No press, nobody saw us for two years. and then we started coming out. Weíre just coming out of a two year depression. When I met Yoko and we started to pool our resources and say, sort of say, 'What do we have in common besides being in love,' you know. Because she came from a completely different world for me. and we decided it was love and peace, you know. So what are we gonna do about it. and then, as I said, we got this letter from this guy, which we like to call a paper in reverse, was saying, 'All you people with access to communication media, oh, you know, itís your duty to do something about it, to try and change the world.' and I was saying, well, Iíve sang 'All You Need Is Love' to 20,000,000 people on live TV, you know. and the Beatles were always for love. and Yoko was saying, well, 'I was in Trafalguar Square in a black bag' and all that, you know. and we try to rationalize, well, what can you do about it, you know. I mean, weíre only us no matter how much publicity we could get. and all that, and what can you do. Whatís the point, you know. Itís been going on for millions of years. and we decided itís better to do something than nothing. So we started doing something. Here we are, you see. (comically) Ta da, ta da la da da dum ta da."
McLuhan: "What an actor on our back. What about Yoko. Just watching you, the two of you, the last couple of days. Sheís the silent partner in a way. But I donít think sheís silent and Iíve got a feeling sheís a real influence on you."
John: "She is. She is."
McLuhan: "How do you fit in the picture?"
Yoko: "Oh, I mean, you know, weíre doing it together and itís very... I mean, it makes more sense when we do it together, you know. I wasnít working with anybody before that. Always doing things myself. and somehow I find it easier now, because, well, I was getting into a point that it was so much tension and all that. There was very little hope so that I said, well, if I stand in front of White House, you know... and if I get shot, then the world might start to think about peace. Thatís how difficult it is to communicate, you know. and, of course, John has much more access to communication, you know, and all that. So, weíre using that. and then idealwise, the both of us come up with ideas, you know, together. and itís easier that way."
John: "Sheís certainly not but the woman behind the man bit. In these interviews and things, in the press, obviously they direct more towards me, Ďcuz Iím the famous Beatle. But any shows that we get into any depth, I have a hard time keeping up for that, you know. I rely on her, because sheís highly intelligent, very strong woman, you know."
Yoko: "Thank you."
John: "and I think a few times, you know, Iím more of a pessimist than she is, you know."
Yoko: "But, I mean, both think, you know, over."
Yoko: "Itís the first stage, after..."
John: "Sheís always like, 'we' think. We, as we said at the press conference, we intend to prevent cancer, not cure it. We understand the problem of cancer or drugtaking. But the problem isnít the fact that the kids are taking speed and things like that. The problem is the society in which they live under that pressure, that makes everybody, all the adults are on alcohol, sleeping pills and barbituates, all the kids are on pot and methadrine or whatever it is. and the problem isnít what they take or the drug problem. The problem is the society which makes all of us have to smoke cigarettes, drink, take drugs or whatever. That is the problem. and weíre for prevention, not cure. We like to be able to do both, you know. But we plumped for cure... Prevention, sorry. Not cure."
Yoko: "and also, you know, this is just a start, you know. Thatís why the cynics think, well, you havenít done anything yet. Of course not, because this is just a start."
Source: Audio copy of film footage