Marshall McLuhan’s Interview of John Lennon

John Lennon by Philip Norman (HarperCollins)

–        From Norman, P. (2009). John Lennon: The Life. Toronto: Random House of Canada.

Before leaving Toronto, he and Yoko had a meeting with Marshall McLuhan, guru of the new science of communications, whose famous axiom “the medium is the message” might have been coined especially for them. Why choose Canada as their arena rather than London, McLuhan asked, “Whenever we’ve done anything, we’ve done it out of London, ‘cause they don’t take it seriously in England,” John replied. “They treat us like their children.… ‘It’s that mad, insane guy,’ you know. ‘He should be tap-dancing on the Palladium rather than talking about war and peace.’”

McLuhan observed that in the eyes of America’s government – especially the new Republican one personified by Nixon – anyone who inspired dissent on the scale that John did risked being branded “a long-haired communist.” “In Europe, it’s a joke, you know,” he replied, little dreaming how carefully his words were being monitored over the nearby border, nor how they would come back to haunt him. “I mean, we laugh at America’s fear of communists. It’s like, the Americans aren’t going to be overrun by communists. They’re going to fall from within, you know.” (p. 632)


In a discussion filmed in Missisauga, Ontario on December 19th 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono spoke about their latest peace effort– the controversial ‘War Is Over’ billboard campaign. The interview was conducted by author and media theorist Marshall McLuhan.

McLUHAN: “Can you tell me? I just sort of wonder how the ‘War Is Over,’ the wording… the whole thinking. What happened?”

JOHN: “I think the basic idea of the poster event was Yoko’s. She used to do things like that in the avant garde circle, you know. Poster was a sort of medium, media, whatever.”

YOKO: “Medium.”

JOHN: “And then we had one idea for Christmas, which was a bit too vast, you know.”

YOKO: “We wanted to do it.”

JOHN: “We wanted to do it, but we couldn’t get it together in time.”

YOKO: “Maybe next year.”

JOHN: “And to do something specifically at Christmas. And then it got down to, well, if we can’t do that event…”

YOKO: “We did this.”

JOHN: “…what we’ll do is a poster event. And then how do you get posters stuck all around the world, you know. It’s easier said than done. So we just started ringing up and find it out. And at first we’re gonna have… we had some other wording, didn’t we, like, ‘Peace Declared.’ And it started up, there’s a place in New York, where you can have your own newspaper headline, you know. There’s a little shop somewhere in Times Square. And we were wondering how to, sort of like, get it in the newspapers as if it had happened, you know. And it developed from that. Well, we couldn’t get the front page of each newspaper to say war was over, peace declared or whatever.”

YOKO: “We thought maybe just one newspaper, you know.”

JOHN: “Well, in the end it worked. It worked like that. But we wanted, remember the Orson Welles thing, where he did something like that, you know. Like, on TV or something but it was too hard to get together.”

YOKO: “Telstar, we’re thinking.”

JOHN: “Yeah, try and get live Telstar and then bam. But maybe next year.”

YOKO: “Oh yeah.”

McLUHAN: “You aren’t gonna tell us what next year is.”

YOKO: “No, no, we can’t. We can’t tell you that.”

JOHN: “No, no, we can’t even think that far ahead. I mean, July is about the furthest I ever thought ahead. And that’s six months.”

McLUHAN: “When did all this happen? This sort of the War Is Over idea. In the fall or…”

YOKO: “No, no. It was sometime around summer, just late summer.”

McLUHAN: “So you’ve been working on it quite a while.”

JOHN: “Yes, yes.”

McLUHAN: “Guess, you’re in Toronto, and you chose Canada, and I know you’ve been asked again and again why Canada. But why Canada and not London? Why?”

JOHN: “Oh, whenever we’ve done anything we’ve done it out of London, ‘cuz they don’t take it seriously in England. That’s all. They treat us like their children, you know. It’s that mad, insane guy, you know. And he should be tapdancing on the Palladium rather than talking about war and peace. Like Quintin Hoggs said, the philosopher. I don’t know what word he used, you know. Some word, you know, as if politicians had…”

YOKO: “Why you’re an entertainer.”

JOHN: “‘You’re an entertainer, boy, now get back on the boards,’ you know. So we’re treated like that in England. So we did the Bed event originally in Amsterdam and then the second one in Montreal. And Canada is just a place we seem to, whatever we’re trying to do, whether it’s a War poster or a Bed event or a film or anything, we seem to end up in Canada without even having to think about it, you know. Because we made a lot of good contacts here. We’re offered help, you know. We don’t often get much help about campaigns. It’s usually people wanting help. A few Canadians… we had offers that they help us, you know. So we just come like a shop then.”

YOKO: “And also many people are starting to help us.”

JOHN: “So I mean, if I say for instance, sell this album we just brought out, which was our live concert in Toronto, folks… which we did a few months back… well then I can afford to carry on, you know. I don’t care if I just make money to break even to do a peace campaign, you know. So far, I’m quite good at making money. And I’ll make, as long as I break even, I’ll go on spending all the time, you know. And of course, if we make it, say we got amount of money for something, then we could do what other charities do or what other people do and say… ‘Would you want to match this,’ you know, to some really rich person. And we could get into that, you know. I don’t mind going round begging. And we’ll do things like that. But until we can convince people or convert peace into something economic, well, we’ll pay for it. It’s like with our films. We’ve made about eight films. We can only show them to students at the moment and on a very limited things. So we’ve used our own money to make the films rather than wait for people to catch on. It’s like as a Beatle. If we had had money to afford recording before, ‘cuz we went ’round every studio trying to get, you know, get in. And if we had been able to afford to make the record first and then show them, what we would have done is… And then that’s what we’re doing with peace, is like making the record and then taking it round trying to sell it, to pay for the tapes later.”

McLUHAN: “What about peace. Peace is a pretty big word.”

JOHN: “Yeah.”

McLUHAN: “You mean Vietnam, you mean Biafra, you mean…”

JOHN: “Yeah, we mean all forms of violence we’re against. That includes my own violence, Yoko’s violence, you know, violence on the street, any form of violence. Of course, Vietnam and Biafra are like manifestations of all our violence, you know. That’s why we say it’s all, everybody’s responsibility. We really believe that those wars are manifestations of the whole world’s violence. Not just America’s or just the communists.”

McLUHAN: “Yeah, that’s the problem, ‘cuz the minute you’ve got long hair and the minute you’re popular with the kids, the whole adult on the other side of the gap says, you know, you’re a bunch of left wing communists and that.”

JOHN: “Well, the communist fear is that and the American paranoia mainly, it’s not too bad in Europe, it’s a joke, you know. I mean, we laugh at America’s fear of communists. It’s like, the Americans aren’t going to be overrun by communists. They’re gonna fall from within, you know. And that’s a point. People say, why have you got long hair or why did, when you gave the MBE back, you know, we… I had… I worded it against, I’m returning this MBE because of Britain’s part, in protest against Britain’s participation in the Biafra Nigeria thing, you know, that’s the way I speak. I just wrote it as I speak. And Britain’s policy supporting US in Vietnam and Cold Turkey slipping down the charts. A lot of people say, now, if you had only done it straight, it would have been much more effective. And it’s the same as if you’d only get your hair cut and wear a straight suit, you’d be more effective. One, I’d be… I wouldn’t be myself. Two, I don’t believe people believe politicians, especially the youth. They’ve had enough of short hair and suits saying this is, as if, you know… It’s like all, is every priest a holy man just ‘cuz he’s got a dog collar on, you know. Nobody believes that anymore. And we do this intuitively. But after we’ve done it for a few times, we always had some irrelevancy or something in the campaign, you know. And Yoko’s telling me about this ancient Chinese book that tells you how to conduct a battle. And it says the castle always falls from within. Never from without, you know, hardly ever, like America. And it also says, don’t have all the doors closed when you’re fighting, you know. Don’t have every door shut. ‘Cuz the enemy will put all the pressure on and you might crumple. Always leave one door open and the enemy will concentrate their fire there and then you’ll know where it’s coming. So our door open is long hair, nudism, nudity whatever the word is, mentioning Cold Turkey in such a serious thing as Biafra and Vietnam, you know, and let the people point their finger, you know. ‘Oh he’s… they’re naked,’ you know. ‘They look like freaks.’ But it doesn’t interfere with the campaign, you know. Nobody attacks peace.”

Continued at

For more on McLuhan & Lennon see John and Yoko and Marshall McLuhan’s theory of dinosaurs: 


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