Forty years after the musician’s death, a writer repeats conversations with the former Beatle about the long period of seclusion and self-reflection that inspired his breakthrough as a solo artist and as a person

Could there possibly be a benefit to the long, stressful periods of isolation so many people experienced during the 2020 pandemic lockdown? When we emerge, will we see the world in a new way? Could there even be a silver lining in these months of quiet life and self-reflection?

Four decades ago I heard firsthand how a long period of loneliness changed an extraordinary character determined to give meaning to his life: John Lennon, who died Tuesday the 40th Anniversary of his murder, is mourned by millions

There wasn’t a pandemic in late 1975 when Lennon and Yoko Ono, the most public figure, retired from interviewing and recording for a five-year hiatus after the birth of their son Sean, but there was a lot of existential fear and actual fear for Lennon

He lived in New York City, still looking for a green card, and battling deportation.Although the Beatles had stopped making music, it would take years to break legal ties and the band’s shadow enveloped his life A collection of classic Beatles songs recycled the Fab Four’s biggest hits, leaving Lennon worried if he could ever live up to the public call for the Dream Band to reunite.Paul McCartney rose to the charts with Wings, but Lennon had no no 1 album since “Walls and Bridges” in 1974, with Elton John’s assistant on “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” ”

It was time for him to start over. He later told me that his mind was musically cluttered, filled with static electricity like a car radio “The news was as confused as it went”

In early 1976, he and Yoko went into a self-imposed lockdown. His movements were not limited and his finances were secure, but he shut out the outside world to find his purpose again

During those years when Ono took over the business and dealt with the attorneys from her downstairs office in Dakota, where they lived on the Upper West Side, Lennon was the ultimate homebody the staff at the seventh-floor apartment remember reminiscent of how he happily played the white piano and sang Beatles songs in the couple’s white living room overlooking Central Park

He’s made his days around Sean, he said, until 6am “Have a cup of tea – no caffeine – and plan what Sean will have for breakfast and he’ll come out, we’ll communicate, and then I think about the next meal like Mrs. Higgins in Wisconsin, ”he said

His revelation came in 1979 after Ono suggested traveling alone to Hong Kong and Singapore to reconnect with the non-god – the person he had been rather than the celebrity he became, as he explained the isolation led to a breakthrough not only as an artist but also as a person

And in August 1980, as abruptly as it started, the two ended their seclusion and returned to the studio to record an album together.They gave me their first interview in five years for Newsweek magazine, which I was a one in was a young pop music writer (Ono asked for my date of birth and said I had checked out numerologically) “Double Fantasy” was full of Lennon’s vulnerable love songs (written to his wife and son) and Onos au courant dance rock

“Hello, I’m Howard Garbo, or is it Greta Hughes today, mother?” Lennon quipped when Ono told us two months before he was 40 Birthday at Hit Factory presented a plate of sushi in greeting. For five days, they ate eel and rice in the recording studio (where a picture of Sean’s beaming smile was always shown), drank in a macrobiotic restaurant near Carnegie Hall Coffee with a Zen mix or sat in the all-white Dakota in the room, he talked about creativity, being a father, his album with Yoko and free from the Beatles – “the four boys who used to be this group, but can never be this group again even if they wanted to ”

“The air is clear and I am clear,” he said. These are edited excerpts from the conversations, some of which appeared in Strawberry Fields Forever: John Lennon Remembered (1980, Bantam Books)

Sean is turning 5 and I wanted to give five solid years to be there all the time I hadn’t seen my first son Julian grow up and now a 17 year old man is on the phone about motorcycles I wasn’t there at all for childhood I was on tour And my childhood was different. If I don’t pay him attention from zero to five, I fucking have to get it from 16 to 20 – they’re going to get that attention somehow

He’s not an independent thing yet, but I let him come to the [studio] where I work. He’ll be a part of it too if he wants

Have you decided to withdraw from making music yourself or from the pressure to be John Lennon? The lawsuits, the immigration problems –

A little bit of both Year of life under contract and should always do it “I should write 100 songs by Friday, a single by Saturday I realized that the reason I became an artist was because of freedom; because I couldn’t fit into the classroom, college, society But suddenly I was committed to a record company, committed to the media, committed to the public, every time someone came across me on the street I know freedom is on my mind, but I couldn’t clear my mind so it was time to regroup

Once with Maharishi in the Himalayas and all the press wrote about was: “Look at these idiots, but I sat still, as they call it in the I-Ching. When the Beatles came back from Hamburg and we were deported, I got them Another not contacted for a month I withdrew to see if it was worth continuing George and Paul were mad at me But knowing when to stop is my survival for me

The fear in the music business is that if you are not on the charts, you won’t exist

At first it was very difficult not to do anything musical It wasn’t a question of clarity and wanting to do it because I should. The real music, the music of the spheres, the music beyond comprehension comes to me and I am just a channel But to reopen that clear channel I had to stop recording every radio station in the world in the universe. When I turned away from that, I began to heal again

There was a tough phase of withdrawal that people went through at 65 and then I started being a househusband and turned my attention to Sean and then I realized I shouldn’t be doing anything, I am doing something and then was I free

[snappy] Picasso didn’t go to the museums He painted or ate or [had sex] Picasso lived where he lived and people came to visit. That’s what I did. Picasso went to a studio to watch people paint?

The only person I ever saw in London in the Swinging Sixties was Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan on the Isle of Wight I was too busy watching other people The competition just interests me when it’s phenomenal and then it lasts longer than a night in a club Every cast I’ve ever seen, from Little Richard to Jerry Lee Lewis, has always been disappointed I preferred the record

The music industry made you feel like your creative life ended with the Beatles for years. Were you afraid of taking risks?

For the past five years, I’ve found that I was John Lennon before the Beatles and John Lennon after the Beatles, and so be it

The moment I remembered who I was, I was in a room in Hong Kong because Yoko had sent me on a world tour by myself and I hadn’t done anything myself since I was 20! I didn’t know how to call room service or check into a hotel – if anyone reads this they think these [explosive] artists or those bloody pop stars, and they don’t understand the pain of being a freak

She said, “Why don’t you do this?” I said, “Really? Alone? Hong Kong? Singapore? But what if ”

I had to isolate myself and use Being Famous as an immense excuse for never seeing anything. Because I was famous, I can’t go to the movies. I can’t go to the theater. But then I sit in this [hotel] room and take a bath, which Yoko noticed Every time I got nervous – I must have had about 40 baths – I look out over Hong Kong Bay and something rings. It’s like, what is it? And then I got very, very relaxed. And it was like an acknowledgment: that’s me! I am that relaxed person! I remember this guy from before I know who I am – it doesn’t depend on any outside agency, recognition or achievement or track record.It’s absolutely irrelevant if the teacher loves me, hates me, I’m still me He know how to do things, he knows how to get around wow! So I called Yoko and said, “It’s me”

I loved it There is a difference between being alone and loneliness. This is what I’ve learned over the past five years. I rediscovered [in Hong Kong] the feeling I had as a teenager when I was walking with an aunt in the mountains of Scotland You know you go [gesturing quickly] and the ground starts to go under you and the heather and clouds moving over you and you think, ah, that’s the feeling they always talk about, that that they talk about makes you paint it or put it in poetry because you can’t describe it any other way I realized that this feeling had been with me all my life The feeling was with me before the Beatles

This time should restore me as myself That’s why I’m free from The Beatles Because I’ve taken the time to mentally break free from it and see what it is And now I know So here I am, right? It’s beautiful you know It’s like walking through these hills

John Lennon

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