On December 5th, 1980, writer Jonathan Cott interviewed John Lennon and Yoko Ono for Rolling Stone magazine. Three days later, the ex-Beatle would be shot dead on the streets of New York City. The final portrait of John and Yoko for the Jan 22, 1981 issue was taken by Annie Liebowitz and composed just twelve hours before he was murdered. I would guess many people of a certain age read that “final” interview when it was first published. Here, as part of Days that I’ll Remember: Spending Time with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, it is presented unedited: a thoughtful, engaging Lennon, discussing everything from the Beatles and songwriting, to his love affair and eventual immigration into New York City.
The book opens with Cott’s first 1968 encounter and interview with Lennon for Rolling Stone. It includes “the first extensive piece” on Yoko, also for Rolling Stone, written and edited in 1971, as well as recounting a “lively and unusual” dinner conversation in New York, also from 1971. The bulk of the book, however, is the 1980 interview, presented here greatly expanded and in its entirety. Finally, there is a 2012 interview with Yoko Ono, specifically for this book. The book does not have chapters, or specifically refer to time periods, but is told chronologically.
The strength of this book is John and Yoko’s obvious devotion to each other and each other’s work, as well as their connection to and affection for the author. When it is not a “formal” interview, the book is very conversational in tone, almost as if the reader is eavesdropping. John and Yoko are precisely "that" couple so enjoined that they finish each other’s thoughts and sentences. We get an intimate, unfiltered look into their relationship and insight into the making of their last album, Double Fantasy.
Unfortunately, the author has a penchant for, if not placing himself at the center of the story, injecting himself into the middle of the interview. At several points, Cott will follow-up the conversation by simply stating a song title — sometimes one of Lennon’s, sometimes someone else’s — that, in his mind, is relevant to the point at hand. At the end of John’s lengthy and thoughtful discussion on who he “is,” versus who the media thinks he is, he states “What is real What is the illusion I’m living or not living? I have to deal with it every day. The layers of the onion.” Cott’s follow-up? You guessed it: “Looking through a glass onion.”
The most egregious example, for me, comes during Lennon’s excitement about appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone again (in January 1981), similarly to the year 1968, when he also appeared to start the year.
Cott: “Look out kid, you’re doin’ it again.” Umm....really?
There are several other instances (quotes from “The Word,” “Strawberry Fields Forever “pop up), all of which I found annoying in a “aren’t I clever” manner and Cott is a better journalist than that. Perhaps it comes across more in print than it did conversationally, but I thought the recurring tactic brought the book down.
The accounts of Yoko Ono’s background throughout are quite fascinating and, in my mind, just the right length. Regardless of your position on Ono, hers is an interesting story and she comes off quite well. Unfortunately, Cott circles back to Ono for a “Coda” at the end of the book, a recent conversation that really drags on. In fact, I skipped good portions of it.
Lennon is so articulate and passionate, and the topics so wide-ranging that this book is worth the read. His commentary on the dangers of celebrity culture and the vicious games the press play to build you up, only to tear you down, seem more relevant than ever in today’s instant-celebrity, internet-obsessed world.
The duality of Lennon is omnipresent in his observations about performance art. For a guy who famously said “I thought ‘avant-garde’ was French for ‘bullshit,’” he spends a lot of time practicing and intelligently discussing and explaining fairly abstract concepts.
And, of course, knowing what comes in just a couple of short days, reading the book and hearing Lennon’s words makes it a bit melancholy; we’d all be the richer if the guy was still around.
Day’s That I’ll Remember is probably best approached as a Jonathan Cott memoir, rather than a Lennon bio. That’s hard to market, for sure, but I think it’s a more honest perspective. The very personal Lennon you get is no doubt due to the comfort zone he has with Cott, and is highly-readable. Ironically, my reading of the “unedited” conversations left me wanting more Lennon and less Cott. In other words, an editor.
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