John Lennon reveals the real reason The Beatles split up while appearing on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971
We are dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to look back at John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s famed appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, a place where the duo would end up finding an outlet for more than a few of their issues.
Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s appearance on the show in 1971 was one of significant importance for their fans and fans of The Beatles. The wide-ranging conversation would see the musician finally settle the score with his old group and the media by revealing why The Beatles split up. In doing so, Lennon left no stone unturned in the process by dispelling the biggest myth surrounding their break up.
This interview came shortly after Lennon had released his album Imagine and all of The Beatles were firmly motoring along in solo gear. There was no bitterness regarding the split from Lennon’s point of view, knowing that the group had struggled for some time and you could tell by his conversation with Cavett that he was feeling creatively challenged again—a factor which had given him a new lease of life.
Given the stark contrast to the final couple of years with The Beatles, a position in which it was clear he felt like he was being held back or stifled in some way, Lennon was in fine form, as charming and caustic as ever.
Cavett wanted to know more about Yoko Ono’s influence on him and, more poignantly, whether she was the catalyst for the split of The Beatles. The true reason, of course, is a lot more nuanced Cavett’s suggestion. Lennon would inform the presenter later in the interview but, first, he had a joke in mind.
Instead, he turned his attention to behind the host and playfully asked the audience to thank her for theoretically causing the split, saying: “If she took them apart then can we at least give her all the credit for all the nice music that George made, Ringo made and Paul made and I’ve made since they broke up.” This comment was greeted with rousing applause by the studio audience who Lennon had eating out of the palm of his hand.
The interviewer then wanted to know more about their personal relationship and whether she felt lucky to have settled down with ‘one of the four’ to which Yoko retorted: “I resent just thinking of him as ‘one of the four’ y’know or any one of the four etc because I just met him as another artist and I didn’t particularly realise that part of it really.”
Ono then made the shock revelation that she wasn’t previously a fan of The Beatles or Lennon before she met him, with the musician comically adding: “She didn’t really know about any of us, the only name she knew was Ringo because it means Apple in Japanese.” While that’s still rather difficult to believe, she had been in New York for some time before she met Lennon and there’s little chance the band’s name wouldn’t have come up.
Lennon then brought the conversation back around to The Beatles split and refuted that Ono was the reason behind the break-up, then implying that they were already hanging on by a thread: “Anyway she didn’t split The Beatles because how could one girl or one woman split The Beatles, they were drifting apart on their own.”
Dick Cavett, querying to Lennon if there was one specific moment where he knew it was over, saw the musician poignantly and rather accurately respond: “No, it’s like saying do you remember falling in love? It just sort of happens,” he said solemnly.
“Everything is fun on and off y’know so it could have carried on being fun on and off or it could have got worse, I don’t know,” Lennon said in reflection of their split. “It’s just that when you grow up we don’t want to be The Crazy Gang which they may not know over here as they are British or the Marx Brothers which is sort of being dragged on stage playing ‘She Loves You’ when we’ve got Asthma and Tuberculosis when we’re 50.”
He then added further: “A long time ago, I said I don’t want to be singing ‘She Loves You’ when I’m 30, I said that when I was about 25 or something which in a round about way meant that I wouldn’t be doing whatever I was doing then at 30. Well, I was 30 last October and that’s about when my life changed really.”
It’s a fascinating insight into the psyche of Lennon at this point in his career where he is eternally grateful for his time he spent with The Beatles but they all drifted not just on a personal level, more importantly, they all drifted on a creative level. All four now no longer wanted to make the same kind of music as they did at 21 as their lives changed and so did the musical path that they wanted to follow.