John Lennon Photo Archive / Yoko Ono
John Lennon Photo Archive / Yoko Ono
The Q&A session, which lasted a whopping nine hours, took place on Dec. 5, 1980, just three days before his death.
Of course, while some of the revelations are surprising, all of it is bittersweet. Particularly when the topic of death creeps in, as it seems to do quite often…
"What they want is dead heroes, like Sid Vicious and James Dean," Lennon, then 40, told the magazine of fans and critics who didn't exactly stay loyal to him during his five-year break from music.
"I'm not interested in being a dead f--king hero…so forget 'em, forget 'em."
Lennon also empathized with another up-and-comer: "God help Bruce Springsteen when they decide he's no longer God...They'll turn on him, and I hope he survives it."
As for his Beatles buddies, Lennon intimated that he would be open to returning to the road with Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. However, he saw no need to rush any reunion, putting it to the interviewer that "there's plenty of time, right?"
"We just might do it. But there will be no smoke bombs, no lipstick, no flashing lights. It just has to be comfy. But we could have a laugh. We're born-again rockers, and we're starting over.
"There's plenty of time, right? Plenty of time."
There's that bittersweetness we were talking about.
The topics of conversation only grew in depth and breadth from there (though nine hours of talking will do that to you).
"Give peace a chance, not shoot people for peace," Lennon said at one point. "All you need is love, I believe that. I'm not claiming divinity. I've never claimed divinity. I've never claimed purity of soul. I've never claimed to have the answer to life. I can't live up to people's expectations of me, because they are illusory.
"The hardest thing is facing yourself. It's easier to shout 'revolution' and 'power to the people' than it is to look at yourself and try and find out what's real and what isn't, when you try pull the wool over your own eyes and your own hypocrisy…that's the hardest one."
And for all the deep thoughts revealed, there was also plenty of humor…even if it was at the expense of some fans.
"When I was younger, one…I could say 'when one was younger,' but maybe they'll think that's too ego…you know, I'm not allowed to speak on that level, because that upsets the little turds, right?
"So let's put it like, when I was younger, I used to think that the world was doing it to me and that the world owes me some thing…When you're a teeny bopper, that's what you think. I'm 40 now, I don't think that anymore, because I found out it doesn't f--king work. One has to go through that. For the people who even bother to go through that, most assholes just accept what it is anyway and get on with it."
Many of life's big questions, eerie in retrospect, also popped up.
"We're all part of it, there's no separation in that respect," Lennon said. "Am I real? What is the illusion I'm living, or am I not living? I deal with it everyday, the layers of the onion."
"Don't be afraid to be afraid. Yes, I'm often afraid and I'm not afraid to be afraid, it's not at all scary. At least when [the world] is all right, let's enjoy it."
Lennon also discussed his childhood, and his constant struggle to balance his desire to be tough, citing Marlon Brando and James Dean, and to be the Oscar Wilde-like "sensitive poet."
"It's more painful to try and not be yourself in a way," he said. "People do spend a lot of time trying to be someone else all the time, I think it leads to terrible diseases.
"I come from the macho school of pretense. I was a suburban kid imitating the rockers. But it was a big part of one's life trying to look tough…I thought that's what it was, trying to be the tough James Dean all the time. I still drop in to that when I'm insecure."
Lennon said he later learned how important it was to develop one's—er, his—weaker side, crediting Yoko Ono with helping him see that.
"That's what feminism is all about. That's what Yoko's taught me. Yoko's been telling me all the time, it's all right, it's all right.
"I was torn between being Marlon Brando and the Oscar Wilde part of me…If you showed the other side, you were dead."
The overarching theme of the interview—or at least of the pieces that have so far been released—are, oddly enough, about how much control we truly have over life.
"We always have a choice, but how much of it is preordained? It's very strange sometimes. And that's a good ending," he told the interviewer.
The complete Q&A will be printed in Rolling Stone's new issue, out on Friday.
Meanwhile, droves of fans are expected to descend upon Strawberry Fields in Central Park, across the street from the site of Lennon's slaying, to commemorate the anniversary of his death today.