This is Part 1 of an exclusive 3-part telephone interview with Dan Richter about his memoirs of the Lennons, highlighting the years 1964-1970. Dan Richter has written his memoirs in his book, “The Dream Is Over: London in the 60s, heroin, and John & Yoko” (Quartet, 2011.)
(Read our introduction Life with the Lennons: Exclusive interview with personal assistant Dan Richter, author of ‘The Dream is Over’ )
During our conversation, Dan talked about how he met Yoko, what he thought of John when Yoko brought him around, and how they became such good friends. He discusses the Beatles’ perception of Yoko, and how ready John was to move a different direction with his music, signaling the end of the Beatles partnership. Dan clears up the truth behind his and their struggles with heroin– and why he says John saved his life.
Lennon Examiner: Dan I first heard your name in May Pang’s book, “Loving John.” You and May were both assistants to the Lennons during the same time period. So tell me about your new book, and why you wrote it.
Dan Richter: Well, I had taken a year’s leave of absence from mime work, to figure out what to do with my life, and I got swept up in the London 60s scene. And then ten years went by. The book is about that ten years (1964-1974.) I met Yoko in Tokyo that first year, when I was studying Kabuki theaters, and she was doing performance art. We became friends; later, when I was working for Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey), she turns up on a grant that gets her over to do a symposium on art, sponsored by the Contemporary Arts in London.
We got together, and she and her husband Tony Cox, and Jill and I get apartments side by side—which we combined into one gigantic apartment, which is like a “salon” for writers and artists, and painters in London. I’m working for Stanley so I’ve got a lot of clout, and Yoko’s getting some notoriety for her work. Remember she was highly respected in the art world, pushing the limits on conceptual art. Back then she was one of the leaders of the Fluxus movement, you know. They were scratching for money at that point, and I was doing very well.
LE: Yoko wrote the foreword to your book?
DR: Yes she did, we’re still friends, why not? I never see her anymore, but we do email happy birthday and things like that. Her foreword is so nice. Here are a couple lines from it: “When I think of the 60s, Dan and Jill Richter come to mind…there was a large bowl of cash on the table. When people left, they would take cash out of the bowl because Dan did not want friends to have to ask for money….now Dan is writing his memories. Well good for him.”
LE: Did she have to review your book first?
DR: Yes…I showed it to her and her attorney. I started this six years ago, and I showed them a draft back then, and she asked me to make a few changes which I happily did….You know, her 2nd husband Tony Cox is fairly litigious fellow. (More on this story to follow.)
LE: What do you remember about the apartment you shared?
Tony and Yoko had this apartment, which was their share of our big apartment, and it was completely empty. Yoko was a total minimalist. There was nothing on the walls, no furniture, just a carpet on the floor and one room with a big bed in it, and some chairs and table in the kitchen, and that was it; very effective for promoting her as an artist! So they would come to OUR apartment to sit around and eat! (laughs.)
LE: You must have known Kyoko, Yoko’s daughter, then.
DR: I knew Kyoko (Yoko’s daughter) very well. I was there when she was born, in Tokyo, I knew her as a baby, until she was 5-6 years old. We lived in the same apartment for a couple of years.
LE: So then Yoko meets John, and everything changed.
DR: Then John comes along and meets her at Indica Gallery, run by my friend John Dunbar (1966). John Lennon met her at her first show there. And he was fascinated by her. He eventually became a patron of hers, for her show “Half A Wind.” Along the way they fell in love. They fell head over heels for each other, like Romeo and Juliet.
It was REAL…She didn’t chase him down. And he wasn’t just having a dalliance with some little Japanese artist. John was really excited by her ideas. She was telling him, “Look at what you can do!” He once said to me, “When I sing ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, a hundred million people hear that. Why don’t I say something like “Imagine” or “Give Peace a Chance?” And he got that directly from Yoko. He realized he could use this gift he had to be more than the biggest rock star. And ultimately he did.
Much of the work that he’s remembered today for, he was mocked for back then. People today don’t know that. For instance the song “God”, there’s this litany where he denounces all these things, all these delusions…he doesn’t believe in Beatles, etc. He only believes in Yoko. It’s about transformation. About how somebody can become a new person and be reborn. That song today is considered a masterpiece, but back then it was considered just noise. (People said) “What’s he doing?” you know.
LE: What did you think when Yoko suddenly brought John Lennon around? Did you say “Oh my god it’s a Beatle?”
DR: Well, yeah, I did! I was not into rock and roll that much. I was listening to jazz, classical, and Bach, and maybe some Dylan. I knew the Beatles, but they weren’t the soundtrack to my life…but I knew them. I first saw the Beatles when we gave a party for (renowned poet) Allen Ginsberg, there must have been 200 people there, and he was standing in a corner completely naked, you know. (laughs) Everyone’s standing there talking to him. And I hear this Liverpudlian accent behind me, saying, “Wow it’s Allen Ginsburg and he’s totally naked!” And I turned and it was John and the Beatles crashing the party. First time I’d seen John, but I had met Paul before.
We were close to John Dunbar and his wife Marianne Faithful, and we’d visited with Paul before. So now we were really impressed because John was coming around with Yoko. He came over and Jill and I were nervous and trying to figure out what to serve him, you know. But we soon relaxed and realized he was a really great guy!
LE: Describe what John was like then.
DR: He was very intelligent, with a very unique mind. Most people are a version of somebody else. He was UNIQUE…and he was sort of gangly, almost awkward…incredibly bright, biting sense of humor, wonderful sense of fun. We played so many jokes, especially when we travelled. Always getting into trouble. Just giggling…so I discovered this wonderful, funny guy!
LE: And he fell in love with Yoko…what did you think of that?
DR: Yes, he was in love with Yoko! They completed each other’s thoughts. If you looked at their drawings then, you sometimes couldn’t tell them apart. If you look at Grapefruit, her book, and look at the drawings, and then look at Spaniard in the Works, his book, they are pretty similar! It’s eerie! I’ve seen more of their writings and drawings than anybody, as they were happening. And they were very much alike.
It wasn’t them imitating each other….I mean as you know, she didn’t try and be a rock-n-roll singer. She kept on doing her own thing, which as you know got her into big trouble. She was making a lot of noise. She was trained in Japanese opera, which to the western ear, isn’t very pleasant.
LE: What was it like to be friends with them when there was so much criticism from the Beatles and also the world?
DR: From their perspective it was a hard time, because they were getting a lot of flack about Yoko. Everyone was calling her ‘the Japanese artist who broke up the Beatles,’ you know. I tell the story—yes we were using heroin and we had to come off it, as many people did. Yes we were using dope and different things, but at the same time there was this vision they had to accomplish. They got there. John was taken from us, but this battle they were going through, they prevailed.
I’m probably the first insider that’s written about that. Peter Brown I guess did…but…you know, (that one) and other books like Albert Goldman (The Lives of John Lennon)…they have things that never happened…Goldman has me getting on planes that I never did, and putting me in places I never was! I have to stop reading. People read this stuff and they believe it! For instance when we quote-quote “Kidnapped” Kyoko…he has Alan Klein coming down there, and he didn’t…and a lot of junk that didn’t happen.
So I kicked the heroin, they kicked heroin, we all got cleaned up; I did some of their album covers, the two (1970) Plastic Ono Band covers, both John’s and Yoko’s. I was helping with the films, acting as line producer for them, and this was fun! I was getting better, and my family was good.
LE: Were the Lennons already taking heroin when you met them?
DR: When I first met them, they weren’t, and I don’t know how they got started, but it might have to do with the accident they got into (Scotland, July 1969-see below). One of the reasons I had gone to Abbey Road was, they had had some injuries, and Yoko asked me to bring over some pharmaceutical heroin, and I said I didn’t want to do that. She said “No, no, it’s ok, we’ve been doing it for awhile.”
I was a legal heroin user, and I was an addict. I was registered with the government, I was a legal heroin user. I was prescribed daily heroin and cocaine by a doctor. I was going through this consciousness expanding experiment too, and it nearly killed me. I got very very sick. They were using, and now they had a big problem, and didn’t want to get arrested. They went to a clinic and got cleaned up.
It wasn’t that hard for them, because they weren’t shooting up or anything.
And they said “We can’t be clean and have you around!” I said I was trying to stop, had been to several rehabs, etc, so John said, “What would it take?” And I said if I was isolated from the world for two months and have a doctor visiting me to prescribe tranquilizers so I don’t go into convulsions during withdrawl, I could do it.” John said, “We’ll do it then. You can have that. We’ll have the doctor come over, and do a list of groceries, and Jill can take care of you.”
And it worked. I owe my life to them. I went on methadone maintenance for a few years to taper down, and they did too. I had some slip-ups after that, but never was an addict again. I became an alcoholic then, but I’ve been sober 27 years now. Now I work with young people and glad to do it. But in many ways I owe my life to John.
LE: Do you think John took heroin in the last years of his life? He was so thin.
DR: Aghh…you know he was always a skinny guy, and they were on macrobiotic food. So the answer to you is, I don’t know.
LE: How did you become their assistant?
DR: After “2001” finished, I was in a terrible movie called “The Revolutionary”. I was having a lot of trouble with heroin, and John and Yoko just bought this place at Ascot, Tittenhurst park, (1969) and they decided to do everything themselves…their own studio, dark rooms, etc and not use the infrastructure of Apple. They wanted to do everything hand-made themselves. And they thought I could help. At the same time I wanted to get out of London and get away from the drug scene.
So Jill and I and our young son Sasha moved out there, as a retreat. I helped them out in exchange for them helping me out. At one point Yoko said, “Why don’t you work for us?” I said I didn’t want to do that, because I said if I work for you, you can fire me. But if we’re just friends, I can leave any time, and you can ask me to leave, whatever. I don’t want to be in that position.
You know Shelley, I always kept a low profile. I was Yoko’s friend for a long time, before she met John. We were very close. John came around, you know, and they asked me to help them. But I wasn’t part of their entourage. I was a friend. I never wanted to be in the pictures when photographers came around, I stayed out of the limelight. It wasn’t until after I helped them get out of jail at Palma for the “kidnapping” allegations (1971), I agreed (to work for them.) (more on that story to follow)
LE: Were you sensing the Beatles were about to come crashing down?
DR: Yeah…oh yeah….John and Yoko had been visiting his aunt or something up in Scotland, and John had been driving…I mean…his driving was….well, you know he was an awkward man. His body was like… (laughs). So they got in this accident. (July 1, 1969) Yoko was on the edge of another miscarriage.
So they moved this big brass bed into the middle of Abbey Road, all dressed in white, crocheting with white yarn and white knitting needles. I went in to see Yoko, and John said “go in and see her!” and you could see the look on the Beatles faces, you know, “We’re trying to record!” and that sort of thing. He was doing it on purpose—it wasn’t Yoko. He wanted to break them up.
LE: So you feel that it really was John trying to split up the Beatles by purposely bringing Yoko into the fold to annoy them, not the other way round. That’s been an ongoing argument with Beatles fans for years…
DR: Yeah—John and Yoko were going to do their own thing. John had discovered what he wanted to do, and who he wanted to do it with. He wanted to take his art to a different place. He explained to everyone this is what he was doing. Everybody was thinking, “He’ll get over it, she’s whispering in his ear telling him to do this…”
You know Yoko would have been happy for the Beatles to go on being Beatles as long as John could still do his thing.
That was the thing about the Beatles break-up, Shelley. Paul just wanted to go on and on and on. And John was saying, “Paul’s going to be touring till the end of his life, you know, and I’m TIRED of it!” (laughs) …particularly the Beatles thing. They had done it all creatively, and they didn’t want to go John’s direction.
Life with the Lennons (Pt 2): The ‘abduction’ of Kyoko and the Bangladesh battle
Life with the Lennons (Pt 3): Nixon deportation threats, tensions and goodbyes
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Copyright notice: This article ©Shelley Germeaux 2012 John Lennon Examiner and may not be reprinted without permission of the author, except for excerpts that link to the article. Thank you.