This year marks both the 65th anniversary of John Lennon's birth and, hard as it is to believe, the 25th anniversary of his murder. Thus, it is perfect timing for the release of The Dick Cavett Show - John & Yoko Collection.
Although the release comes a few months after the release of a collection of Cavett shows featuring performances by rock music legends, this two-DVD set focuses not so much on music as interviews with Lennon and Ono during the course of two separate visits to the talk show. Both in terms of content and the way the appearances, particularly the second, were handled by ABC, they shows also provide insight into life in the early 1970s.
The first appearance was taped on September 11, 1971, and actually accounted for two Cavett shows. The first show, aired that day, was devoted entirely to an interview with the duo. Rather than a live music performance, there are excerpts from a film — precursors to music videos — featuring Lennon's performance of the now iconic "Imagine" and Ono performing "Mrs. Lennon," her first solo single release from an album called Fly. "Imagine" was brand new. The album of the same name hit the streets only two days before. Ono's song was a ballad and likely much more palatable to the viewing audience then and now than the excerpt from a film made by her also called Fly. That film consisted entirely of a fly wandering over a naked woman's body. There is also an excerpt from a Lennon film, "Erection," that shows the construction of a London hotel.
Due in part to the editing of the interview, Lennon and Ono are seen almost blatantly plugging the records, films and a book and upcoming exhibit by Ono. Yet the film snippets and the efforts by Lennon and Ono to focus the conversation on "total freedom," peace and "total communication" (including them and Cavett listening to parts of each other's bodies with a stethoscope), reveal a political and cultural ethos that seems almost quaint today. Lennon comes off not as some Beatlesque icon but, rather, an artist with his own strong opinions about art and politics and a bent toward the avant garde.
The September 11 interview produced sufficient material that additional portions were aired as part of Cavett's September 24, 1971, show. Its highlights include not only Lennon interviewing Cavett but Lennon taking questions from the audience. Several of those questions, including ones dealing with Lennon's views of revolution and songwriting together with his comments on his defense of Ono in a letter to the Village Voice, provide more insight than many of Cavett's questions.