The tragic loss of John Lennon is one that is still felt heavily to this day. His work with The Beatles will mean that he is remembered forever but there’s one fact that many seem to forget about Lennon, he was a half-decent bloke too. Aside from the iconography and the classic rock star tropes, of which Lennon held many very dearly, what the Liverpudlian did offer to some of his closest friends, especially those in the music industry, was a man who had seen and done it all and, therefore, a man who could certainly offer some advice.
In his final interview with Rolling Stone’s Jonathan Cott, Lennon did just that as he gave away some searing advice for the then-up and coming Bruce Springsteen. When we say advice, it is likely more akin to a warning as Lennon laments the cutthroat nature of the business and his newfound role on the lowlier rungs of the pop ladder. The interview was conducted just three days before Lennon’s death and has, therefore, become a prophetic statement as he discussed the pitfalls of pop culture.
Ask David Bowie or Elton John and we bet they would have told you the same thing: John Lennon was a good man. While those in his inner circle may have plenty of stories to offer a balancing argument to that view, it’s hard to ignore the ways in which he helped them. For Elton, Lennon provided a steadfast shoulder to cry and laugh on. Meanwhile, for Bowie, Lennon provided him with a bounty of reasons to take control of his management situation and fast. It was advice that would finally see Bowie get control of his finances. Bruce Springsteen too, if he had picked up the copy of Rolling Stone, would have also seen some advice from the bespectacled Beatle.
The two had never met, so the mention of his name from Lennon would have likely pleased Bruce Springsteen, a known Fab Four fan, immeasurably—but not perhaps what he was saying. Lennon was speaking about the rough ride he and some of his contemporaries were receiving from the music press. By 1980, ten years since The Beatles had split, he and artists like Mick Jagger were being given some tough treatment by a new generation who wanted something fresh. “But I’ve been attacked many, many times,” Lennon expressed to Rolling Stone, “And right from the beginning: ‘From Me to You’ was ‘below-par Beatles,’ don’t forget that. That was the review in the NME. Jesus Christ, I’m sorry. Maybe it wasn’t as good as ‘Please Please Me,’ I don’t know, but ‘below par’? I’ll never forget that one.
“You know how bad the reviews were of our Plastic Ono albums? They shredded us! ‘Self-indulgent, simplistic whining’ – that was the main gist. Because those albums were about ourselves, you see, and not about Ziggy Stardust or Tommy… And Mind Games, they hated it.”
He continued in defence of his former adversary, The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger: “But it’s not just me. Take Mick, for instance. Mick’s put out consistently good work for 20 years, and will they give him a break? Will they ever say, ‘Look at him, he’s number one, he’s 37 and he has a beautiful song, ‘Emotional Rescue,’ it’s up there’? I enjoyed it, a lot of people enjoyed it.”
The words then came for The Boss and what he should expect from the same press industry, “And God help Bruce Springsteen when they decide he’s no longer God.” The singer continued: “I haven’t seen him, but I’ve heard such good things about him. Right now his fans are happy. He’s told them about being drunk and chasing girls and cars and everything, and that’s about the level they enjoy. But when he gets down to facing his own success and growing older and having to produce it again and again, they’ll turn on him, and I hope he survives it. All he has to do is look at me or at Mick.”
There’s certainly an amount of acceptance from Lennon but he also believed that enough was enough: “So it goes up and down, up and down – of course, it does, but what are we, machines? What do they want from the guy? Do they want him to kill himself onstage? Do they want me and Yoko to fuck onstage or kill ourselves onstage? But when they criticised ‘From Me to You’ as below-par Beatles, that’s when I first realised you’ve got to keep it up, there’s some sort of system where you get on the wheel and you’ve got to keep going around.”
Of course, in 2020, we’re more than aware that this wasn’t really the case for Springsteen. While tragedy would strike Lennon, The Boss would go on to have one of his most lucrative years in the eighties, finding a blend between the commercial and critical. While Springsteen wasn’t always given an easy ride, he did manage to survive any such fervent attacks on him.