John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s Two Appearances on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971 and 72

I imag­ine there are some pret­ty bizarre con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries out there about the fact that John Lennon pre­miered his film for the song “Imag­ine” on Sep­tem­ber 11th, 1971. You won’t find any of them here, but it is an odd coin­ci­dence. Lennon and his oft-maligned wife Yoko Ono made their first appear­ance on The Dick Cavett show on that day (above) to debut their new work. They ban­ter about their hair­cuts (they donat­ed their long hair to be auc­tioned at Sotheby’s—it wasn’t). They dis­cuss Lennon’s chang­ing music career. There’s some strange fun with peo­ple in head-to-toe burqua-like bags. Most­ly they plug: screen­ing some of their films and debut­ing a song from Yoko’s weird (I’d argue weird­ly-bril­liant) dou­ble album Fly.

Cavett looks ner­vous, but most­ly holds his own against Lennon’s quick-wit­ted music hall chat­ter, always unpre­dictably dis­arm­ing. Lennon is the star here, of course; he had just turned thir­ty and only days ear­li­er released the Imag­ine album in the U.S., which would go to num­ber one world­wide. Nev­er­the­less, he does his lev­el best to make this a joint inter­view and to pro­mote his wife’s work as much, if not more, than his own. I imag­ine there’s no short­age of peo­ple who hat­ed this, and still do, but I think it’s gal­lant and sin­cere. But maybe I’m easy on them. Because I can fast for­ward. View­ers of the orig­i­nal broad­cast had to wait till near­ly the end to see the “Imag­ine” film. With the mag­ic of dig­i­tal, all you have to do is skip ahead to 58:05. It’s worth the effort.

John and Yoko returned to Cavett’s show in 1972.  Lennon seems a bit jumpy here—nervous per­haps since both he and Yoko per­form live in this appear­ance; John does his less-than-stel­lar anthem “Woman is the Nig­ger of the World” and elo­quent­ly defends the inflam­ma­to­ry title line; Yoko sings her, well, weird “We are Water,” both with the back­ing band Elephant’s Mem­o­ry.

There’s a humor­ous ref­er­ence to George Harrison’s appear­ance on the show the pre­vi­ous year, but things take a slight­ly more seri­ous turn here than their pre­vi­ous inter­view. The show aired in May, just a few months before the his­toric 1972 elec­tion in which incum­bent Nixon round­ly trounced the recent­ly depart­ed George McGov­ern. Lennon and Ono dis­cuss their pos­si­ble depor­ta­tion that year due to Nixon’s dis­plea­sure at their anti-war activ­i­ties. This nev­er came to pass, but it was a tense time for Lennon since he had made New York his base of oper­a­tions for the past year. I imag­ine someone’s writ­ten an alter­nate his­to­ry in which Lennon was deport­ed, said the hell with it, and nev­er returned to New York. No telling what he’d be up to now, but as these inter­views make clear, he wouldn’t be sell­ing nos­tal­gia or mount­ing Bea­t­les reunion tours.

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.


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Comments (5)
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  • Shelley says:

    Actu­al­ly, I enjoy hear­ing him talk. It’s a non-aca­d­e­m­ic artist who has still found a way to hold him­self up to a stan­dard of excel­lence.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Oh, I agree, Shel­ley! He was bril­liant.

  • Tom Betz says:

    These shows are all gems, but some are infi­nite­ly more mem­o­rable than oth­ers. I’ve been search­ing for years to find web video of Cavet­t’s inter­view with Liv Ull­man, where­in he told her that he could eas­i­ly fall in love with her. In response, the expres­sion on her face made me fall deeply in love with her. It was an exquis­ite moment.

    I fear that this price­less inter­view may have been on one of the spools of video tape that were noto­ri­ous­ly bulk-erased and re-used.

  • eebedah says:

    Imag­ine did not get released in 1971 More inter­net gob­bledy goop. Do some bet­ter research. Here’s a hint find out when John died, how old his son was when he died.…

  • Mike says:

    The album was released in Sep­tem­ber 1971 and the sin­gle a month lat­er.

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