Review, 'Days That I'll Remember: Spending time with John Lennon and Yoko Ono'

Days That I'll Remember: Spending time with John Lennon and Yoko Ono

By Jonathan Cott
242 pages, hardbound

In the world of that ancient thing called "journalism," you were not supposed to hang out too much with the people you wrote about.

"You cannot … make friends … with the rock stars," Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) admonished a young William Miller (Patrick Fugit) in Almost Famous, based on the life of writer-director Cameron Crowe. But, as Bangs knew too well, keeping your distance is not always easy; sometimes, chemistry between two people happens and things get personal.

Los Angeles Times' legendary pop music critic Robert Hilburn (my editor for five years in the '90s, and the man Bono rightly put in the same league with Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs) was the symbol of the puritan, uncompromising ethical approach of old-time journalism. But even he admitted he couldn't resist considering Lennon a friend (which didn't stop him from writing that Walls & Bridges was "forgettable"). He used to tell me of his fondness for the ex-Beatle and, as he explained in his amazing book Corn Flakes with John Lennon and Other Tales from a Rock 'N' Roll Life, Lennon used to call him the night before an important business meeting in order to avoid a hangover (Hilburn never drank anything stronger than Diet Coke).

"I've experienced hundreds of memorable concerts and interview moments, so it's hard to rank them in any particular order," Hilburn said in his book. "But my final hours with John in New York are certainly on the short list. Of the hundreds of musicians I've met, John was among the most down-to-earth."

Something similar happened to Jonathan Cott (Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The New Yorker), who first interviewed Lennon in 1968. His last conversation with him was on December 5, 1980, three days before his murder. It was Lennon's last major interview.

All conversations are published in complete form for the first time ever in Days That I'll Remember, a jewel of a book that confirms the description given by Hilburn and others of late-era Lennon — a man as happy as ever, with his creative juices flowing, and always unafraid to change.

"I used to think that the world was doing it to me and the world owed me something, and that either the conservatives or the socialists or the fascists or the communists or the Christians or the Jews were doing something to me," Lennon told Cott in December 1980. "When you're a teenybopper, that's what you think. But I'm 40 now, and I don't think that anymore, 'cause I found out it doesn't fucking work! The thing goes on anyway, and all you're doing is jacking off, screaming what your mommy or daddy did … but one has to go through all that."

Or, as Joe Strummer once said, "Forget about your parents and deal with this."

Lennon and Ono were able to deal with this relying on each other, and you can't separate one from the other. Not surprisingly, the presence of "Mother," the affectionate nickname Lennon used to address his beloved, is felt throughout the book. In 2012, Ono and Cott met in Sweden especially for this book and she told him a story that adds fuel to the never-ending LennOno legend.

"[I first met John] when I was having my first show in London at the Indica Gallery," Ono told Cott, referring to the well-publicized story about when John climbed the stairs in Ono's installation and read "Yes" on the ceiling. "John had just come to the gallery directly from 3 Abbey Road — that's the address of Abbey Road Studios — and the number 3 in numerology stands for music. And I was at number 6 Masons Yard, which was the address of the Indica Gallery — and the number 6 stands for love. So on that very day music came to love."

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