John Lennon on Allen Klein, 1973

Michael Gerber
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Courtesy of commenter @Karen (anybody know how I can link to her commenter profile?), here’s a very interesting little snippet (possibly from LWT’s “Weekend World,” 06 April 1973), where John Lennon says a few words on Allen Klein, his soon-to-be ex-manager.

As stated many times, John wasn’t always so quick to admit when he’d made an error in judgment; he’d enter into relationships proclaiming their perfection—and, naturally, his brilliance for arranging them—and if they’d go south, he’d back out quietly. In other words, the guy was a human being.

What’s particularly interesting to me is how John seems to be very aware of the legal ramifications of the interview. He takes care to say nothing definite; a comment like “amazing” could be read any number of ways, if/when he had to testify in court. Contrast that to the Lennon of just a few years earlier, where not only would he say whatever fool thing popped into his head, he seemed to believe that doing so was some sort of natural right, and that it made him just a bit better than your typical person.

All this goes to show that there is a point where more data actually begins to obscure the person—it seemingly tells you less. John Lennon’s activities were filmed/recorded so obsessively that it’s difficult to pin him down—because he changed, as we all do, based on time and mood and circumstance. So John Lennon on Allen Klein would contain love and hate and every emotion in-between…and that goes double for someone like Paul.

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  1. Great comment, @Nancy.

    I’m firmly in the anti-Klein camp for a couple of reasons:
    1) The good things he did could’ve–and would’ve–been done by any competent businessman. Running Apple as a business is a no-brainer, and the moment that The Beatles realized that their experiment in Western Communism was imperiling their experiment in being impossibly rich pop stars, Apple was going to get straight. Remember that Klein wasn’t hired because of impeccable business credentials; he was hired because he suited Lennon’s politics and purposes circa 1968–he was a grubby toughie who praised Yoko, and tweaked Paul–so that was why Klein, and not someone else, got the job. Ditto with the renegotiation with EMI. The Beatles had ALL the power in that situation, and the moment they realized that, the game was over. No EMI Chairman or Board would’ve stood up to The Beatles if the group had said, “We’re not releasing any new product until…”
    2) Nanker Phelge isn’t just questionable, it’s overtly crooked, and it’s crooked in precisely the ways that musicians had been getting screwed for decades. So far from being a new-type of artist’s advocate, Klein was the same old bad guy. And honestly–ethical people don’t really get into industries that are unethically run. Klein reminds me of all the people I met in the newspaper/magazine distribution business, who were either mobbed-up or so cozy they may has well have been. Lennon’s infatuation with Klein is the typical middle-class fascination with shady people and lifestyles, which they perceive to be “more real” or “more honest” or “how things really work”…until they, too, get screwed.
    3) My opinions aside, we gotta look at what happened to the group from the moment Klein became involved. Like a doctor, the commonsense baseline of a representative has to be “first, do no harm,” otherwise the representative must be acting in his own behalf, not his clients’. Within a year of Klein’s arrival, The Beatles were over as a recording entity; within two years, they were embroiled in a lawsuit that made recording together impossible for the foreseeable future; add to this the IRS stuff which turned Bangladesh from purest altruism to typical record-biz sleaziness; and then finally the acrimony of J/G/R’s split with Klein, and the picture is quite clear: Allen Klein did NOT have The Beatles’ best interests at heart, harmed them irreparably, and embroiled all of them in costly and time-consuming legal wrangles that robbed them of creative work. He may have made them millions of pounds in better royalties, but he cost them UNTOLD BILLIONS in work that they did not create together.

    Whatever one wants to say about Brian Epstein, he tirelessly created the conditions inside which The Beatles could lay those golden eggs; and those eggs having been laid, did not engage in questionable business behaviors that wasted his clients’ time, money, and psychic energy. Allen Klein did the exact opposite. Brian Epstein was an incomparably better businessman than Allen Klein, because he realized business–especially creative businesses–isn’t just about screwing the other guy.

  2. Avatar Devin wrote:


    • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

      I’ve never seen this, and it’s fascinating. John is clearly working to say nothing clearly negative about Klein — and Yoko is endorsing that (“You can’t regret anything, can you?”) How much is concern about legal ramifications and how much is not wanting to admit his/their evaluation of Klein was superficial — that’s a good question.

      “Steel and Glass” on “Walls and Bridges” (1974) is widely thought to be about Klein, but John doesn’t name-check Klein or say anything in the song that unequivocally identifies Klein. Compare the way he went after Paul in “How Do You Sleep?” In “Steel and Glass” John is doing what so harshly criticized Paul for doing in “Too Many People” — attacking without making the attack explicit.

      It’s also interesting to me that some people defend Klein’s practices. In “The Walrus Was Ringo: 101 Beatles Myths Debunked” by Alan Clayson and Spencer Leigh (2003), one “myth” is “It was a mistake for the Beatles to involve Allen Klein in their business affairs” (pp. 255-57). They point out that Klein did some good things — like purging Apple’s staff — and that’s fair, as far as it goes. But then they write that Lennon, Harrison, and Starr broke with Klein when they “began to credit provocative stories — not all of them true . . . about shifty manoeuvers regardless of whether or not any of it had any credence” (257). If all you read was this (not very good) book, you’d never know that Klein was definitely involved in shady practices, like the Nanker Phlege business. I’m all for seeing Klein as more complicated than the “Demon King,” but the sketchiness of some of his dealings really needs to be acknowledged if the Beatles story is to be understood realistically.

  3. Avatar Karen wrote:

    One of those great little gems you can find on you tube. 🙂

    Probably lots going that contributes to John’s evasiveness, but the “I’m happy now” line makes we want to smack him, and Yoko’s “You can’t regret anything” is so pompous it makes me want to scream. Paul went through hell with the whole Klein debacle, and he deserved an apology, damn it.

  4. Problem is John “could never speak his mind”. Not with Yoko by his side in all interviews. To say he regretted was to say Yoko also made a mistake, as she was totally pro Klein, and totally pro the song How do you Sleep. There a video where Yoko herself introduces the song saying ” John has a message to Paul”. Klein even helped in part of the lyrics. So, he was not allowed to say he was sorry. Not clearly. But…he managed to find a way writing a very similar song to How do you Sleep. Steel and Glass, though John says is not for Klein, sounds like it is. New York walking, New York accent…lost his mother when young…Problem is some people may think he is attacking Paul again in that song. I have already read someone saying Steel and Glass was How do you Sleep 2. And still attacking Paul. Sure it is not about Paul. But it could be for Paul, a way to say now he understood why he didn’t like Klein.

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