John, in fact, described himself similarly in Lennon Remembers: They [businessmen] play the game the way we play music, and it’s something to see. They play a game, first they have a ritual, then they create. Allen, he’s a very creative guy, you know, he creates situations which create positions for them to move in, they all do it, you know, and it’s a sight to see. We played our part, we both did. [...] I did a job on this banker that we were using, and on a few other people, and on the Beatles. I maneuver people. That’s what leaders do, and I sit and make situations which will be of benefit to me with other people, it’s as simple as that. I had to do a job to get Allen in Apple. I did a job, so did Yoko.
What's really interesting to me is the conversation between John and Yoko that follows:
Yoko: You do it with instinct, you know.
John: Oh. God, Yoko, don't say that. Maneuvering is what it is, let's not be coy about it. It is a deliberate and thought-out maneuver of how to get a situation the way we want it. That's how life's about, isn't it, is it not?
Yoko: Well, you're pretty instinctive.
John: Instinctive doesn't . . . isn't Dick James – so is Lew Grade – they're all instinctive, so is he, if it's instinctive – but it's maneuvering. There's nothing ashamed about it. We all do it, it's just owning up, you know, not going around saying "God Bless you, Brother," pretending there is no vested interest.
Yoko: The difference is that you don't go down and bullshit and get them. But you just instinctively said that Allen is the guy to jump into it.
John: That's not the thing, the point I'm talking about is creating a situation around Apple and the Beatles in which Allen could come in, that is what I'm talking about, and he wouldn't have gotten in unless I'd done it, and he wouldn't have gotten in unless you'd done it, you made the decision, too.
One thing that really strikes me about this is Yoko defending John, against his insistence, but not herself. She's insisting that he's not manipulative in the way those businessmen are - but she doesn't object to the idea that she's manipulative. Of course, John gets the last word - whenever I've seen John and Yoko have a disagreement in an interview, John gets the last word.
John's insistence at he is, in fact, as cynical and manipulative as any banker flies directly in the face of the image John was apparently going for in that interview: that of a honest, candid guy who is trying to resist selling out, as opposed to his supposedly money-obsessed ex-bandmate McCartney. John certainly jusitifies himself - this is something everyone does, leaders do it, etc. Others did not share that opinion. After John's death, Paul, commenting on this interview, claimed that he didn't remember anyone engaging in his maneuvering both John signed with Allen Klein.
Maybe it's the fact that John was so negative in that that people saw him as being honest. I've noticed that negativity is sometimes taken as truth just because it's negative. For example, I've heard about people describing John's musical attack on Paul, "How Do You Sleep?", as honest - a song where John claims that Paul never did anything but Yesterday and has no musical talent, directly in contradiction even with the interviews John was giving at the time. To express negative feelings without apparent shame, perhaps, is seen as honest. It doesn't matter if those feelings are expressed in the form of cruel lies.
But I think John's self-contradiction - that he could one minute be the socialist advocate of peace and love and another minute a cynical maneuvering capitalist doing what he claims everybody does - is in fact the main reason why John was so effective at winning the press over, especially when he was contrasted to Paul McCartney.
One thing that’s really amazed me as I get older is that the little anecdotes Paul tells always have a goal, something specific that he is trying to communicate. A message, if you will. And they do it well. They’re really works of art, those little anecdotes. Paul’s very good at using story to communicate.
But the problem is, that means he always has an agenda. Paul approaches interviews the way he approaches everything: with a clear, specific goal. John does appear to have come into interviews with an image he wanted to project, but he was loose with the details. He mostly just said whatever came into his head (people confusing impulsivity with honesty, perhaps). His goal was not to communicate a specific image—it was to get the interviewer to like him. So what he said did not have to be accurate, or promote a specific image. It had to appeal to the person interviewing him. One of things interviewers like - for that matter, one of the things most people like - is to be able to tell the story. John gave them the freedom to do that. Paul does not.
John Lennon could get the press on his side. And once they’re on your side, who cares what they write? They could write that John was a purple penguin and Paul as a grizzly bear trying to eat him and John wouldn’t care - as long as he was the hero of the story. John's lack of consistency gave reporters a lot of freedom to tell the tale they wanted to tell. He gave them plenty of juicy quotes that they could craft anyway they chose. Not many interview subjects are like that.