This is Part 3 and the conclusion of our exclusive interview with Dan Richter, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s assistant from 1969-1973. Dan Richter has written his memoirs in his book, “The Dream Is Over: London in the 60s, heroin, and John & Yoko” (Quartet, 2011.) Amazon UK, Amazon US, Quartet Books.)
Introduction: Life with the Lennons: Exclusive interview with Dan Richter, personal assistant to John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Life with the Lennons (Pt 1): John & Yoko’s love affair, heroin and the Beatles
Life with the Lennons (Pt 2): The ‘abduction’ of Kyoko and the Bangladesh battle
Part 3: Now that John and Yoko were in New York, their biggest troubles lay ahead. With he and Yoko’s very public stance against the Vietnam War over the last two years—bed-ins for peace, large billboards that read ‘War is Over’, and other activities that were very public, such as trying to get 18-year olds to get their voter registrations in order to increase the democratic vote—he would discover that the Nixon administration took them seriously, and they were not happy about his activities.
In 1972 John released another album, an angry, politically charged one called “Sometime in New York City.” The songs railed bitterly against government and social injustices, such as “Woman is the Nigger of the World,” “Attica State”, “Angela”, “John Sinclair” and “Luck of the Irish.” It was all about sexual discrimination, the women’s movement, unfair imprisonment of pot smokers and Black Panthers, prison riots, and the terrible situation in Ireland. His fans didn’t get it. It bombed. And it only ignited the Nixon administration’s ardent enthusiasm for forcing him out of the country before Lennon caused riots in America.
They thought he would have too much influence in the upcoming vote for Nixon’s next term. So they began surveillance of the Lennons and deportation proceedings under the guise of Lennon’s former drug conviction in London. It would be a long fight, one that took a tremendous toll on John emotionally. All of this would feature in the ending of Dan Richter’s association with the Lennons.
LE: John’s troubles were only beginning at that point. Nixon was about to go after him.
DR: They were under such pressure from Nixon and the FBI then. I kept flying over to the States all the time, I kept a place at the 5th Avenue downtown so I could be close to Bank Street (their apartment.) I was trying to manage their affairs on both sides of the ocean, and I had to get people to work for me. It was a lot of work.
They realized then that this was getting serious…that John could get shot or something could happen, because Nixon was really concerned that he was going to influence the new 18 year old voters to vote democratic. And so they realized they better stop, or something bad was going to happen.
So they shut down EVERYTHING—all their film and recording operations, their editing rooms in New York, cancelled all their projects, they pulled the rug out from a feature I was directing. They went into the Dakota, cleaned up their acts and kept their mouths shut. They went on Dick Cavett and tried to be human.
And so I said, hey guys, I’m only doing this for the projects! I’m working on a film, I’m doing distribution, I had an office in Apple in NY, an office in London, editing rooms in London, secretary, a bunch of assistants, and all this is going to STOP?? I said, well I’m leaving then.
John said “You can’t leave, you know too much, you’re too involved with us. Just stay in England, I’ll buy you a house, like I did for Neil (Aspinall), I’ll take care of you the rest of your life, you’ll never have to worry about anything, and you’ll just take care of our affairs forever.”
And I said “I don’t want that!” And he said “You have to!” And I said, “I’ll make it real easy for you, John, go f*** yourself.” And I hung up. And got on a plane and went to the States. And I was done.
LE: Wow! You were that angry then.
DR: Yeah, they offered me a nice house in the country, but I did get angry because that’s not why I was there!
LE: You didn’t want to be owned by anyone.
DR: Yeah, I’ve always been my own person. I came along to do the creative work. And remember, they were funding a feature I was working on. I had gotten Eric Clapton to do the music, I had this underground feature, this was my pay day for all the work I had done.
LE: What feature was that? Was this something for the Lennons?
DR: No, no….there was a beat writer named Alex Trocchi who wrote a book about a heroin addict working on the barges in NY in the 50s, called “Cain’s Book”. It was a literary masterpiece, and I had optioned it. Yoko and I had gone into contract with Bag Productions, or one of those companies of theirs to fund it. She put up the seed money, and we had already cast, Eric had agreed to do the music, we had shooting schedules, had done location work, we were ready to go. And for me, this was my pay day for all the help I’d given them. I had major stars, and it was going to see the light of day and establish me as an independent film director. So I wasn’t happy when all that was shut down.
I had done record covers, I even did the Imagine cover, but I didn’t like it, so they did another one.
LE: Did you at least get paid for the album covers you did? Which albums did you do?
DR: No…I didn’t get paid for the album covers. I did the two Plastic Ono Bands, the ones where they’re sitting under the trees, and I did the Power to the People single, and Do the Oz, which was the fund- raising single. We were living off them, so in that way, we were paid in a quid-pro-quo. But not in money.
But John saved my life, he helped me get off heroin. So I was just returning the favor. And it was a great trip! I got to hang out with people like Andy Warhol, and Bob Dylan, and they were letting me do creative things, and I was going to get a picture out of it!
I owed John my life. I mean I even stepped in front of John when I thought someone was going to shoot him!
DR: Yeah, we were going to see Bobby Dylan at the Plaza, and we circled the building to make sure no one weird was around; we came up on the Trader Joes entrance by the Plaza, on Central Park south. I went into the lobby, it looked clean, so I got John out of the limo, and we went inside towards the elevator, and a guy that looked just like Jack Ruby came up and reached inside his coat and said, “Mr. Lennon”, and I thought, “oh shit” and I jumped between him and John and threw my hands up and said “What do you need?” and he pulls out his badge and he was hotel security.(sigh) He was just trying to help. I didn’t know, I thought I was about to get a bullet in the gut. It wasn’t my job to be a body guard, but that’s how I was.
LE: So you were gone before the “Lost Weekend” when John left with May in August of 1973…
DR: Yeah…but that (situation) was developing. They were going through that “seven-year itch.” The political stuff was—-and you know they were surrounded by all these crazy people; they were doing drugs again on a social level, not heroin…but there was a lot of tension, and you got the feeling that something was going to happen.
Yoko encouraged May to be open to John. She felt like, if it was going to happen (an affair), better keep it in the family (by setting him up with May Pang). Typical Yoko, you know…she probably saved the marriage by doing that. Otherwise he might have run off with somebody else that would have taken him away forever.
LE: So that was the end of your association with them entirely?
DR: Yes…I wasn’t going to work for anyone anymore. I got a Rockefeller grant– I went back to the American Mime Theater and went back to my roots, and that was that. But I saw John again…and we laughed about it a year later.
I got a call from one of his attorneys. I was at the Chelsea Hotel and working at the mime theater. And I got a call, they said John and Allen Klein were suing each other. And they said would I look at a bunch of papers, to see if there was anything they could use against Allen.
I said I’m out, I’m gone, I don’t want to do any of that. And they said, please do this one favor for John. So I got a “hold harmless” agreement, and agreed to do it. And I got an immense box full of papers…you know, and I looked through all of the papers, and they sent a limo down, and took me to an office on 6th avenue, big glass conference room, tall building, with a bunch of lawyers, and JOHN is at the end of the table, singing Danny Boy. I said, “Oh my god…YOU.”
So I told them there was nothing in there on Allen…John said ok, that’s what we thought. Then John asked “Is there somewhere Dan and I could go to get away from you guys?”
They took us to another office, and we looked at each other, and tried to sort of hug, you know. He asked how was the family, I asked him how May (Pang) was, and that was it. He said, fine, fine….I was worried because I heard he was drinking, you know. He had done a show at the Robert Fraser Gallery in London, and he had these buttons with nothing on them, and I was wearing one of them. He said “Hey I don’t even have one of those, they’re all gone!” So I gave it to him. And that was the last time I saw him.
I think when John and Yoko got back together (1975) they realized how much they loved each other. And they were very happy! Our kids would go down for Christmas to their place in Palm Beach, and Julian would go down too, and they were friends. There was family stuff. They travelled; they would have wonderful dinners with interesting people like Tennessee Williams. Sean came along and it was a wonderful thing. I think John felt he hadn’t been there for Julian and now he had the opportunity to do the right thing and have the joy to be a parent.
Then the time came to do more music, and he was working on those wonderful last pieces when he was shot. I think he would have gone on being a good person, doing good music and living a good life.
Many thanks to Dan for his candid and open interview. “The Dream is Over” is now available at both Amazon UK and Amazon US as well as Quartet Books.
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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.