In 1980, he told Playboy interviewer David Sheff: The Beatles didn't make a good record of 'Across the Universe.' I think subconsciously we... I thought Paul subconsciously tried to destroy my great songs. We would play experimental games with my great pieces, like 'Strawberry Fields,' which I always felt was badly recorded. It worked, but it wasn't what it could have been. I allowed it, though. We would spend hours doing little, detailed cleaning up on Paul's songs, but when it came to mine... especially a great song like 'Strawberry Fields' or 'Across the Universe' ...somehow an atmosphere of looseness and experimentation would come up.[...]Subconscious sabotage. I was too hurt... Paul will deny it, because he has a bland face and will say this doesn't exist. This is the kind of thing I'm talking about where I was always seeing what was going on and began to think, Well, maybe I'm paranoid. But it is not paranoid. It is the absolute truth. The same thing happened to 'Across the Universe.' The song was never done properly.
It's worth noting that when John was directly asked about Strawberry Fields at another point in the interview he said not a word about sabotage, subconscious or otherwise. Which makes me think his paranoia about Strawberry Fields was a retcon of sorts. John decided Paul deliberately sabotaged Across the Universe, and projected that paranoia backwards to Strawberry Fields.
In the 1970 interview Lennon Remembers, John came across as slightly less paranoid about the recording of Across the Universe, although still blaming Paul. John had just seen the Let It Be movie, so he had a remind of the events of the creation of the album: It was just like it was in the movie; when I got to do "Across the Universe" (which I wanted to rerecord because the original wasn't very good), Paul yawns and plays boogie. I merely say, "Anyone want to do a fast one?" That's how I am. Year after year, that begins to wear you down.
There is only one problem with this statement: I've seen the Let It Be movie, too. In the scene where Paul yawns and John suggests they play a fast one, the song they are recording is not Across the Universe.
It's Dig a Pony.
Now, I love Dig a Pony. It's a simultaneously ridiculous and passionate song. John expresses his love for Yoko passionately in the lines: "All I want is you / everything has got to be just like you want to do". But it is not Across the Universe. The quality is on completely different scales. John Lennon himself described it as "literally a nonsense song" in 1972, and "another piece of garbage" in 1980.
Wait a minute.
Did John ever actually say that this song was about Yoko?
In fact, I can think of only two other songs in that 1980 Playboy interview that John dismisses so briefly on such absolutist terms. One was Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox), his love song for May Pang, which he described as "just a piece of garbage". The other was I Know (I Know), which John dismisses as "just a piece of nothing". I Know (I Know), may I remind you, was written during the time John and Paul were mending fences after the break up, and contains the lines: "And I know it's getting better (all the time) / As we share in each other's minds" and "Today I love you more than yesterday".
So the pattern here seems to be: love songs for people who are not Yoko.
Is Dig a Pony about Yoko?
It must be, right? John said in Lennon Remembers about
John didn't care about the Beatles anymore. He was an heroin, and madly in love with Yoko, whom he had become inseparable from. During the making of Let It Be, he barely spoke and was generally dispassionate and uncooperative. He didn't want to be there. He wanted to be with Yoko.
But. "All I want is you / everything has got to be just like you want to do". Did Yoko Ono want to be at Twickenham Film Studios? I doubt it. Everybody hated her there, and expressed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. When she first started hanging out with the Beatles, Yoko seemed to want to be there (early on, she said of Paul: And I feel like he’s my younger brother or something like that., a pretty intense statement to say about someone she barely knew). But by Let It Be? I doubt. If "everything has got to be just like you want to do", well, why wasn't it?
Because maybe the song wasn't about her.
But then, why did John behave the way he did? Why insist that he didn't want to be there, that he wanted to be with Yoko, be uncooperative and mean to Paul?
It's been noted by other fans, watching public interviews with Paul, that every now and then, Paul talks about his relationship with John as if he were talking about a casual acquaintance. The example I can think of right now was on some TV show where the interview gave some whole crazy fannish theory about John lusting after Paul. I mean, there was more to it than that (John lusting after Paul is at least plausible). It was nuts. But Paul's response was kind of interesting. He indicated one of the interviewers co-workers and said, you can say anything about anyone, you could say that she's lusting after you. As if John was just some co-worker. Now, of course, this doesn't make me doubt the depth of the Lennon/McCartney relationship in the slightest. But I was born after John's death. I got my first hardcore dose of Beatles history from The Beatles Anthology. I came of age in a world where Paul reminded the world again and again and again and again just how much he loved his ex-songwriting partner. Paul McCartney wasn't doing that in the 1960s. And for someone like John, who struggled with intense paranoia and abandonment issues, the contrast between their moments of deep emotional intimacy and the moments where Paul acted as though there were nothing deep between them must have been been bewildering and scary.
And this dynamic still occurred during Let It Be. Take this little moment from the sessions: Lennon changes the subject by bizarrely asking Paul, "Hey, did you dream about me last night?" Paul doesn’t remember his dreams. Lennon had a "very strong dream–we were both terrified! Different dreams but you must have been there. I was touching you." Paul does his best to ignore this as everyone goes back into "Octopus’s Garden." (source)
In the years following John's death, Paul has expressed in both music and words a lot of regret and guilt about never telling John outright how much John meant to him. Back in 1969, Paul expressed his words in a song. "Oh! Darling, please believe me / I'll never do you no harm" "When you told me you didn't need me anymore / Well you know I nearly broke down and cried". In a conversation with John, he pointed out the lyrics of Oh! Darling and of Don't Let Me Down ("And if somebody loved me like she do me", with no end that sentence) were connected..."It's like a story".
It's obvious, isn't it, what Paul was saying. But he didn't say it outright. And John paranoia was exacerbated by heroin - and Yoko. I am in a minority with Paul McCartney in thinking that Yoko was in many ways very good for John, but they both had tendencies towards paranoia, and in that, they brought out the worst in each other. John didn't know with certainty if Paul was actually communicating with him in "Oh! Darling". So he put it to the test. When Paul (likely assuming Dig a Pony was about Yoko), yawned at John's passionate declaration, John had to doubt. When the the lyrics of Oh! Darling didn't come true, when Paul survived John's dumping him with apparent easy, with a woman whom John likely knew was better for Paul than John was (note that even in bitchy 1971, when John dissed Linda's career and her looks, John never denied that Linda was good for Paul, never denied that she was a good person, never gave voice to any of those fannish rumors that she was some kind of stalker)...well, maybe Oh! Darling wasn't about John at all. Maybe John's paranoia was justified.
I remember Paul saying that he chose not to learn to read music because he felt that it took away the magic for him. I wonder if that was a factor in the poor communication between Lennon and McCartney. Their intimacy was based on creativity. They communicated through creativity. Maybe that was part of their magic, but if so, it was part of why they fell apart, too. That kind of intimacy is hard to maintain. A love that is not voiced, a love that has to be seen ("maybe when you look to hard, dear boy, you never do become aware"), a love that intense but that elusive...that is a love that is hard to be close to.
(selenak, I'm particularly interested in hearing your thoughts on this, since you are the main person I talk to about Beatles these days. Pretty please?)