“It was Elton really,” says a potbellied-but-wiry Lennon from his cluttered Soho office, where he recently devoted a month’s worth of weekly podcasts to anti-fracking screeds that, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard. “He and Sean and Julian really wore me down, bastards. I know I said I’d never host, but the planets have aligned and I’ve changed me mind. And yeah, Paul, with another fucking silly love song about Mother Earth, which, I will freely admit, is catchy, especially with my harmony on the chorus. And fracking’s something we actually agree on, me and the old sot, and Sean’s very active in that arena. And when that kid bootlegged and remixed me podcast into the most popular YouTube video since that Korean geezer, I just got all Buddhist and 12 step and said, ‘Let go and let God.’ Hosting the show will raise a lot of awareness. And it’s me birthday!”
Lennon’s ex-wife but still-frequent collaborator – their most recent LenOno Free Arts Center just opened in San Francisco – also points a finger at Sir Elton John. “Elton is a rock and roll miracle worker, definitely,” she said in an email. “But when John gets passionate about something and the right outside influence gets involved, he can make things happen. That’s always been true.”
Indeed, after narrowly escaping death in 1981, when an assassin slipped on a gob of Lennon’s spit and shot himself in the crotch – an incident immortalized in Lennon’s execrable, ill-advised, 1982 synth-heavy “Ball-less Chap Man” – the Smart Beatle surprised many by heading to what he calls “the trenches,” where, over time, he has affected more change and raised more money than any rock icon, doing for gun control and the Green Party what Bono has done for famine and AIDS relief in Africa. You may not care for his sporadically released, increasingly dark albums, and he’s taken considerable flack for refusing to contribute to “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (“Awful, awful song,” he said, unapologetically.) But one cannot deny his power. He gleefully cites his enemies: gun rights advocates and what he famously referred to (again and again – you’ve seen the meme, of course) in a 1990 Charlie Rose interview as “Imperio-Fascists.”
“But all that – gun control, war protests – doesn’t mean anything if we continue raping the Earth,” he says over Tetley tea and Chocolate Olivers, served by his fourth wife, the transgender icon, hemp fashion magnate, and mainstream media irritant Maddy Wilde. Wilde, freshly shorn, pops in an out in various ensembles throughout our interview. Indeed, insiders say Wilde’s oddly effective – some say witchy – influence on both conservatives and right-wing-leaning Democrats effectively shut down the Keystone pipeline, and influenced Lennon immeasurably. But, as usual, considering yours truly is from an “official” media outlet, s/he will not even acknowledge me. But s/he kisses her husband at least five times while I’m there.
Those kisses seem to have both an energizing and calming effect on Lennon, who grows expansive, speaking on record at last regarding the very public dispute with David Geffen and Paul McCartney over the now-classic 1992 live acoustic album Lennon-McCartney at the Living Room. After a debacle on Good Morning America, which Lennon has blamed partially on McCartney and partially on “a bad prescription,” he swore (again) he’d never collaborate with McCartney (again). Yet here they are, making nice (again). Now, he says, with a beatific smile, “Maddy’s got me on the right track these days. It’s like with the Buddha, y’know, when he was enlightened, his main fear wasn’t that the people wouldn’t get it ’cause it was complicated, he worried they wouldn’t get it ’cause it’s so simple. We are all connected. Fucking act like it. Stop whining.” He can’t resist a dig: “Don’t ‘Live and Let Die,’ ha ha, live and let LIVE.”
The SNL episode is expected to be the most-watched in history, with viewership exceeding the 1995 Beatles reunion episode, which Lennon will not discuss in depth except to say, “It was shit. I had flu. Wasn’t gettin’ on with Paul, of course, since the GMA thing. Ringo was the best thing about that. And George, rest his soul, that guitar solo was bloody brilliant, yeah? But Paul and me, we look like fuckin’ Angela Lansbury and Larry David, and we sounded like crack whores who’d been up all night screaming at each other. I can’t watch it.”
For the upcoming episode, Lennon says he’ll appear in a skit or three, which fans of his various cameos in indie films will appreciate. But he will not give details. Lorne Michaels says he’s not been this excited about a musical performance since Kurt Cobain’s 2000 comeback appearance with Rasputina. The trio of Elton John, McCartney, and Lennon, backed by Sean Lennon on bass, Julian Lennon on Hammond B-3 organ, and Ringo’s son Zak on drums (on loan from The Who) is, of course, expected to play McCartney’s irresistibly catchy, return-to-form “Love Your Mother,” which has already raised 125 million dollars for the Green Party and changed the way people download music. The second song, Lennon says, will be a live version of his famous podcast chant, but instead of looping the phrase, “You will not rape the Earth, not while we’re watching, AND WE ARE WATCHING!!!”, he’ll sing it – and shout it – live, with 15-year-old Hudson, NY remix master Terra Byte (aka Heather McShane) creating a soundscape.
“I’ve been so blessed,” Lennon says as his Pilates instructor arrives. “And with every good thing that’s come my way, I’ve felt an urge to give back, which I thought meant I didn’t deserve everything, but now I see in a different light, y’know? Of course I’ve failed a lot. I’ve made mistakes, just ask my loved ones. Big ones that still hurt, y’know. But I’m still here, and Maddy and me kids and me lovely ex and me geezer friends have all helped me to this point. I will not go quietly into that good night. I’ve still got work to do, and me friends and I, we are still full of surprises. And hope. All you need is hope.”
“Hey,” he smiles that Tetley-stained smile again. “That’s catchy.”