What John Winston Ono Lennon did next
Below you can read our cover story from August 2010, written by David Cavanagh, which looks at what the ex-Beatle did next: key players tell all about cold turkey, primal therapy, personal meltdowns, revolution and the extraordinary Plastic Ono Band…
The Toronto Rock’N’Roll Festival on 13 September 1969 – the scene of John Lennon’s return to the live arena – was a day when rock’s past was confronted with its present and future. Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry shared a bill with The Doors, Chicago and Alice Cooper (who was accused of beheading a chicken). Little Richard gyrated in a glass waistcoat, sending light-beams zigzagging around the University of Toronto sports stadium. A nervous Lennon, who vomited backstage, had flown in from England with an unrehearsed band. Their name – Plastic Ono – encapsulated their mission statement. 1. Flexibility. 2. Plenty of Yoko.
They walked onstage to the sight of thousands of lit matches. The release of Abbey Road was 13 days away. Candlestick Park was three years in the other direction. “We’re just gonna do numbers that we know, y’know, because we’ve never played together before,” Lennon semi-apologised. A repertoire had been thrashed out on the plane. For “Blue Suede Shoes”, Lennon stressed to Eric Clapton (guitar), Klaus Voormann (bass) and Alan White (drums) that he wanted “the Carl Perkins version”, not Elvis Presley’s, with an extra beat between the one for the money and the two for the show.
After a few oldies, Yoko introduced “the newest song that John wrote”. “Cold Turkey” was an account of Lennon’s struggles with heroin, which he sang with an eerie shiver in his voice. It would emerge in late October as the follow-up to “Give Peace A Chance”, putting the Plastic Ono Band in the Top 20 for the second time in three months. Were they the pop sensation sweeping the nation? A commercial hit machine to rival you-know-who? Were they hell. “We’re playing pretty good considering the circumstances,” Alan White recalls of Toronto, “when suddenly Yoko crawls inside a bag and proceeds to lie down on the stage. That’s when it started getting weird. She had a microphone in the bag and noises were coming out. I thought there might be something wrong with her. I’m looking across at Eric and Klaus, and they’re like, ‘Keep playing! Keep playing!’”
Seven days later, in a bad-tempered meeting at Apple, Lennon informed McCartney, Harrison and Starr that The Beatles were over.