Television: John Lennon and Yoko Ono on Frost On Saturday

6.45pm, Saturday 24 August 1968 (45 years ago)
Frost: Does it have to be a new nail or…

Lennon: Oh yes, you don’t want to use anybody’s old nail. You don’t know where it’s been, do you? He’s hammering it in now, third stroke, beautiful stroke, beautiful. How did you feel?

Frost: I know this is a terrible condemnation of you, but I just felt like a man hammering in a nail.

Lennon: Winner! I felt like one hammering it in on TV.

Frost: That’s more accurate, yes. Well caught.

Lennon: I’ll just put the hat out for a collection. I’m having a bit of a tax problem.

Frost: The first people presumably responded as they ought to have responded to, and I was just a prosaic Barry Bucknell. But…

Ono: Either way is fine, you know.

Frost: But the thing is, to what, get people involved and get them to do things?

Lennon: Well, ask her, ’cause that’s her bit really.

Frost: [To Ono] I’ll ask you ’cause it’s your bit.

Ono: Well, that particular one was mine, but you see, for instance, this piece here is called Build Around It, this is by John. You see that’s why I was saying that I have learned a lot from John because, I was doing all these instruction pieces, to make people get involved in it and everything.

And then he suddenly one day said, ‘Why don’t you use this as a piece and call it Build Around It,’ and it’s also an instruction piece to let people do something to it, but the idea is that most art, you know, people, more sort of – artists, are interested in destructive things to destroy the establishment, etcetera. And we never thought of something like, just keeping this – as is, and building around it, the concept was so beautiful. And so I said, ‘Well, that’s your piece, so why don’t we do a group show?’ And I was just going to do a one man show then, so I asked John to participate in that.

Frost: Well in fact, because this is interesting, the thing with the nails for instance, it was banging the nail in – that the two of you found that you agreed on art and so on.

Lennon: Yeah well, I went to, well that’s her version. She was having a show at this gallery and I knew the fellow that ran it so it wasn’t – it’s a bit embarrassing being a Beatle anyway, going into a shop, never mind going to a gallery, because they either all leap on you thinking ‘He’s another mug, like a Texan, he’ll buy anything,’ and I had a bit of a hang up about art too, having been to art school, and disliked the attitude of the so called artists, you know, so anyway, I finally got to this show, and er, she had all these things on like hammer/nail things and that clock there you listen to with a stethoscope, all the things.

And at first I reacted like a mug you know, like the ones that were saying ‘We don’t get a badge,’ you know, so I thought ‘Ha ha, you don’t fool me with all this junk,’ you know, so then there was this ladder and a thing on the ceiling, so I climbed the ladder and on the ceiling it said ‘Yes’, you see, so I thought, I agreed then, it’s OK – you know, I mean it’s like those jokes: ‘While you’re looking up here you’re dribbling down your trousers.’

I mean, it’s all sort of connected, people get a buzz out of that in the toilet, but if you put it on in a room, it upsets them a bit, because they’ve got preconceived ideas about where those messages should be. But it said ‘Yes’. And if it had said ‘No’ I would have carried on with my preconceived ideas about art and artists, that they’re all sort of ‘Yeah yeah, sure, sure’. But it said ‘Yes’ and that was enough and then she came up and said – she didn’t know who I was – and was saying ‘Do you like to hammer a nail in? It’s five shillings’, So I said, I didn’t have any money either, so I said ‘I’ll hammer an imaginary nail in and give you an imaginary five shillings.’ Which she agreed with and she accepted that, on the same basis that I accepted her work , you know, and that was how we met actually.

Frost: But I mean, the thing is, and this comes back to the basic thing of what you’re doing really – was it as much fun, to you, to bang in an imaginary nail and pay an imaginary five shillings as it would have been if both had been real?

Lennon: Yes, because as a child I did a lot of imaginary bits, you know. It depends on the individual, I enjoyed then knocking the nail in, I enjoy knocking nails in walls to hang pictures up, but I also enjoy thinking ‘I’m gonna do that,’ but I actually won’t do it. I enjoy imagining doing things just as much. Don’t you? I mean you imagine a meal, you imagine sex, you imagine a holiday, and it’s nearly as good as the actual thing.

Frost: No, in all cases the real thing is much better in all the one’s you mention.

Lennon: My memories of holidays, even on a holiday that wasn’t so good, I remember the good bit. It’s just like that. And if you imagine it, it’s all good.

Ono: Sometimes you imagine things that are much nicer, I mean when you go actually in a park the green is not that green etcetera.

Frost: But I mean, if imaginary things are as good as real things, are you saying… Give us an imaginary song.

Lennon: [Makes gesture and murmurs a sound.]

Frost: Wonderful. But if imaginary things are as good as real things then do things….

Lennon: No I didn’t say that.

Frost: Things not almost as good. Do things therefore not matter at all. Is it all in the mind?

Lennon: Well, I don’t know, that’s what they keep saying, that’s what George’s cartoon kept saying in Yellow Submarine: ‘It’s all in the mind, groovy,’ and all that, but it probably is all in the mind, but I don’t know.

Ono: Well both are nice, you have to have somebody keep reminding you that you have a mind.

Lennon: You’re only awake when you realise you’re awake and when you’re dreaming, it is just as real, whatever happens is just as real, you know – whether you actually do die in a dream or fulfil whatever you’re doing in a dream, it’s, there’s nobody to tell me it isn’t as real as this now, because how do you know?

Frost: If you had to summarise, we’ve alas got a minute to go, how could you summarise what you want to get across to our people. Have the vibrations changed?

Lennon: Er, a little, yes. I think maybe it’s got confusing with this because we’re not all that good, we’re not all that articulate and it’s nerve wracking being on TV and trying to explain yourself. We try and explain ourselves in what we do, like I do it mainly through music and she does it through her art, like that, and it’s hard to put words to it.

Ono: Well we’re not trying to explain, John. We’re just trying to communicate. And communication itself is art and art is communication. And so that, erm, people are getting so intelligent that you don’t have to explain too much, all you have to do is just touch eachother, just shake hands, and so this is a way of touching eachother.

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