(Credit: Brian Hamill)

When John Lennon verbally attacked Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Truman Capote

“So here we sit, watching the mighty Dylan and the mighty McCartney and the might Jagger slide down the mountain [with] mud and blood in their nails,” drawls out Lennon in disdainful tones into a home dictaphone. It is hardly the sort of chat you would associate with peace and love, residing somewhat closer to jealousy and scorn. Duality is present within all works of art — but particularly music. Given its existence in music, it is therefore present in musicians too, and in all of us to some degree. 

Arthur Schopenhauer, a German philosopher very much on Lennon’s radar, once stated: “The inexpressible depth of music so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being.” It would seem that Lennon has purged that innermost depth many times in wondrous songs that we all love, but likewise, it would seem that in this surfaced home recording from 1979 he was purging his innermost depth in a way that is a lot harder to listen to.

Sat at home — presumably from the bird twittering background noise, in some sort of outdoor space — Lennon records himself in a ramble during which he dissects the state of pop music and lambasts many of his contemporaries. “Well, I was listening to the radio,” he begins, “And Dylan’s new single or whatever the hell it is came on.” The Bob Dylan single that he’s referring to is ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’, or as Lennon jokingly calls it ‘Everybody’s Gotta Get Served’, from Dylan’s 1979 record Slow Train Coming, the first in a series of born-again Christian records with heavy biblical overtones. “He wants to be a waiter for Christ,” Lennon adds laughing to himself, thereafter his critique becomes a bit more caustic adding, “The backing is mediocre […] the singing’s really pathetic and the words were just embarrassing.” 

The recording shines a light on the envious side of Lennon that resides in all of us to some degree, it simply seems a lot starker when vocalised and recorded. It takes no psychologist to realise that it is jealousy rather than genuine loathing that drives his derision for the most part. This is particularly apparent when he discusses the “sense of panic and competition” that he used to experience when a creative rival released a record. He adds that “now at least I get pleasure in it instead of panic, the main pleasure being of course that it’s all a load of shit.”

“McCartney, Dylan, Jagger et al. are all company men in various disguises,” he announces before remarking, “not forgetting the singing dwarf Mr Simon,” which he adds with a particular nastiness that he seems to have reserved for the diminutive half of Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon. 

He does, however, at least proclaim a bit of praise for Blondie and expresses that he enjoyed their most recent single, which presumably in 1979 was something taken from their Eat To The Beat LP. 

The rest of the recoding hears the former Beatle talk about an article in which Truman Capote interviewed himself, which John had also done only a few years earlier, stating: “It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t any better than the one I did two years ago,” before acknowledging that the quirky self-interview is a form that perhaps originated with English playwright George Bernard Shaw. All of which is interspersed with strange childhood flashbacks that Lennon regales in a wistful tone that sits in contrast to his bitter chastisements. 

The recording is a regrettable incident that illuminates the notion that eulogising our heroes comes with the cost of also accepting the darker side of pop-culture too, something which we must all be judicious about. Ultimately, perhaps the most revealing thing about the clip, on reflection, is that we are all fallible and ruled by the same spectrum of emotions, never mind those who were once bigger than Jesus. That is not to give Lennon a free pass for these undeniably petulant remarks at best and worst the sort of cynicism and loathing that he apparently ran counter to particularly during this period but to give him the benefit of the doubt that the recording simply reveals dark thoughts on a bad day. Thankfully, this one-off recording is trumped a thousand times over by the rather more joyful truths that Lennon elucidated for the masses in a glistening career, in which his scornful side was abated more often than not.