Early in 1970 a publicist at the New York publishing company G. P. Put- nam sent John a copy of a new book, The Primal Scream: Primal Therapy, the Cure for Neurosis, by California psychotherapist Arthur Janov, hoping that John might review or at least endorse it. The package arrived at Titten- hurst Park, and both John and Yoko avidly read it. They were impressed with Janov's claims to be able to rid people of neuroses by helping them relive their past emotional pain.
Janov's theory was that adult neuroses are built on early childhood trauma. Even though hidden from the conscious mind, these early experiences con- tinue to exert control through fear. He believed that the only way to deprive them of their power was to dig deep and relive the anxieties. "I believe that the only way to eliminate neurosis is with overthrow by force and violence," he wrote. "The force of years of compressed feelings and denied needs; the violence of wrenching them out of an unreal system."The theory made sense to John. He'd been hurt in his childhood by the rejection of his father and the removal from his mother's care, and his char- acter had been formed by this pain. In order to survive he had to ignore his feelings and live by the code of behavior authorized by his Aunt Mimi. He learned that to act on his feelings was not socially acceptable, and he there- fore suppressed them. They would rise to the surface only when he was angry or drunk. The moments in his songwriting that he'd always been most proud of were those when he'd let his feelings dominate-"In My Life," "Help," "Strawberry Fields Forever."If Janov's theory was true, John had a huge reservoir of unexplored and unexpressed feelings that could be responsible for his bitterness, pessimism, jealousy, cynicism, violence, lack of confidence, and even his need to find strong male figures to look up to. Maybe he didn't need salvation from sin, release from the world of illusion, or increased blood flow to the brain but purgation of bad memories and a reconnection to his feelings.In March 1970 Yoko phoned Janov and invited him to come to Tittenhurst to begin immediate therapy with her and John. When he arrived, Janov was shocked to see John's condition. It was as if he had been through a complete nervous breakdown. He had ended up locking himself in. "He couldn't get out of his house," says Janov. "He couldn't get out of his room. He was in very bad shape. He'd had a lifetime of pain. The drugs he was taking didn't do him much good because they opened him up. After a while his defenses just crum- bled. He couldn't function anymore."The primal therapist's job was simply to prompt him to explore his more painful memories. How had his relationships been with his father, mother, Mimi? When had he last cried? Had he ever felt lonely as a child? The early sessions took place in the partly built recording studio at Tittenhurst. Then they moved to a London hotel until they all left for Los Angeles on April 23, 1970. John and Yoko rented a home on Nimes Road in Bel Air where they were treated on a one-to-one basis for four months while also attending group sessions at the Primal Institute in West Los Angeles."I've rarely seen pain like John's, and I've seen a lot of pain," says Janov. "It was mostly about his mother but quite a bit about Brian (Epstein) that I can't talk about. Also his relationship with Mimi. Mimi had been tough on him, There was almost more pain than you could possibly imagine. It would put him on the floor, and he'd lay there writhing around. He would scream, but he told me that he hadn't known how to scream. Yoko had had to teach him."It was while undergoing Primal Therapy that John wrote his first solo album, Plastic Ono Band, every track of which revealed the pain that had recently been exposed. There hadn't been a rock album with such naked emo- tion before. He sang about rejection and loneliness, fear and isolation, about the departure of his father and the death of his mother, about the pressure of fame and the destrucdveness of drugs. Phil Specter's deliberately primitive production and the anguished vocals on "Mother" gave the impression that the recording had been an extension of the therapy. It soon became known as the Primal Album.Three of the songs gave his revised view of religion. Only the year before he had spoken enthusiastically about God as "a power that we're all capable of tapping" and, asked whether he believed in an afterlife, said he definitely did because, "In meditation, on drugs, and on diets, I have been aware of soul and have been aware of the power." Now he was adamantly atheist. Religion in general was a drug ("Working Class Hero"), Krishna was pie in the sky ("I Found Out"), and God was a concept by which we measure our pain ("God").Dominating the album was the theme that he needed to feel his own pain or else face a life of seeking refuge in fantasy. The particular fantasies he iso- lated^-sex, drugs, television, and religion-had long been his favorites. The song "God," probably based on his memory of the fourth-century Nicene Creed still used in the Church of England ("We believe in one God..."), listed fifteen things he'd lost faith in, starting with magic and ending with the Beat- les. Nine of the fifteen were connected with religion. His conclusion was that all he now believed in was himself and Yoko because that was "reality." The song ended with the assertion that "the dream" was over, meaning the dream of the Beatles as savior figures.Although Janov didn't attempt to talk patients out of their personal reli- gious beliefs, it's clear from The Primal Scream that he was no fan of God. (John once said that Janov believed that religion was "legalized madness.")In two pages of The Primal Scream given to his views on Transcendental Meditation, Janov recounted the story of a patient, a senior Vedanta monk, who had been meditating for twelve years. "But the final result of all this bliss," Janov wrote, "was a complete breakdown and the need for therapy. Perhaps this deserves some explanation. I think that the state of bliss comes from a complete suppression of self, giving oneself over to a fantasy (deity) of one's own creation, a merging with this product of one's imagination, and a loss of reality. It is a state of total unreality, a socially institutionalized psy- chosis, as it were."This would have chimed with John's experience and with Yoko's skepti- cism about gurus. Although Janov never discussed specific religions with John, they did discuss God. "He asked me why people believed so fervently," Janov says. "I said, look at their pain. The more pain they're in, the more they're going to believe. It's the transformation of that feeling, of the need. 'I need protection,' 'I need love'-and there it is. John said, 'You mean that God is a concept by which we measure our pain?' I'd seen this with people who came to me for therapy. I had a Muslim come in with a prayer rug and one day he just stopped. I asked him why he'd stopped praying, and he just said, 'I fell in love with my pain.' It made sense."To promote Plastic Ono Band John gave an extensive interview to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner that was the frankest and most revealing insight into the Beatles thus far. He argued that nothing had changed in Britain because of the Beatles except that there were "a lot of middle-class kids with long hair walking around London in trendy clothes." In that sense, the Beat- les were a myth, he said, and he no longer believed in myths. Picking up where he had left off in "God," he said, "I don't believe in it. The dream is over. And I'm not just talking about the Beatles. I'm talking about the generation thing. The dream is over. It's over and we-well I have anyway, personally-gotta get down to so-called reality."In a radio interview given in December 1970 John said that Primal Ther- apy had provided him with a mirror in which to see himself. "I had to look into my own soul," he said. "I wasn't looking at it from a mystical perspec- tive which tended to color things or from a psychedelic perspective or being a famous Beatle perspective or making a Beatle record perspective. All those things gave a color to what I did. This time it was just me in a mirror, and so it came out like that."His next album. Imagine, recorded at Tittenhurst in 1971, continued the ruthless self-examination, but this time with more melodic flair. Although prompted by his experiences in Primal Therapy, it involved the same approach to writing that he had started with "Help!" and "In My Life." At the root was the idea that confession led to self-knowledge, which in turn led to wholeness.While shining a light into the dark comers of his psyche in songs like "Jeal- ous Guy" and "Crippled Inside," he also shone it on the world outside. He demanded truth of himself, and also of others. "Give Me Some Truth" was a sharp, polished attack on politicians-America was still involved in Viet- nam-accusing them of everything from condescension to neurosis.The title song encapsulated his Utopian dream. In essence it was no differ- ent from most people's: the best of all possible worlds was one without fear, war, greed, hunger, or hatred. In place of division he wanted unity, brother- hood, and shared wealth. It parallels the new heaven and the new earth that he would have read about in chapter 21 of the book of Revelation: "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the for- mer things are passed away". He differed from the biblical vision in attributing humanity's problems to national borders, personal ownership, and religious belief where the Bible blamed fallen nature, rebellion, and spiritual evil and argued that religion, national borders, and personal possessions were some of the ways in which the progress of evil could be slowed down.The song started with the arguments of existentialism. He believed, cor- rectly, that the notion of heaven and hell hinders people from simply "living for today." The possibility makes people look back to their past sins and for- ward to the final judgment. The present is lived in the light of both. Saint Paul would have agreed with John in this respect. He said that if there was no res- urrection of the dead, we might as well indulge our appetites to the fullest because "tomorrow we die." John summed up the song as "Antireligious, antinationalistic, anticonventional, and anticapitalistic." He reckoned that it broke into the mass market, where "God" had been perceived as too "heavy," because unlike the earlier song it was "sugar-coated."The title provided the key. John didn't use the word "imagine" to mean sim- ply "suppose" or "assume." He believed in imagination as a form of magic; if enough people believed something to be true, the reality would manifest itself. One of the inspirations behind the song was a book on prayer that Dick Gre- gory had given him. Gregory can no longer remember the title or the author but knows that John would call him to discuss the theories it was promoting. "It spoke about forgiveness, love, and the power of the mind," he says. "It had prayers in it, but not the kind that you would hear in a church. They were the prayers of the power within, the power that you can't release if you are hold-ing hatred, bitterness, or pain." This was the concept behind the 1969 "War Is Over-If You Want It" campaign, when he and Yoko had posters put up at sig- nificant sites in ten world cities announcing WAR IS OVER! IF YOU WANT IT. Four years later this concept informed the creation of their "conceptual coun- try" called Nutopia. "Citizenship of the country can be obtained by declaration of your awareness of NUTOPIA," they said in an advertisement. "NUTOPIA has no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people. NUTOPIA has no laws other than cosmic. All people of NUTOPIA are ambassadors of the country. As two ambassadors of NUTOPIA, we ask for diplomatic immunity and recogni- tion in the United Nations of our country and our people."The fullest explanation of their theory came in May 1979 when they paid for a full-page announcement on the back page of the New York Times headed "A Love Letter from John and Yoko to People Who Ask Us What, When and Why." It was their defense against accusations that they were artistically and politically inactive, hiding in their luxury apartment without a care for the world. The case they put was that "our silence is a silence of love and not indifference." They were spending their time making good wishes. "We are all part of the sky, more so than of the earth. Remember, we love you."The crux of the argument was that they had the power to effect change through mind power. "More and more we are starting to wish and pray. The things that we have tried to achieve in the past by flashing a V sign, we try now though wishing. We are not doing this because it is simpler. Wishing is more effective than waving flags. It works. It's like magic. Magic is simple. Magic is real. The secret of it is to know that it is simple, and not kill it with an elaborate ritual which is a sign of insecurity. . . . Everyone has goodness inside, and... all people who come to us are angels in disguise, carrying mes- sages and gifts to us from the Universe. Magic is logical. Try it sometime."It sounded as though they were suggesting a sprinkling of fairy dust and a wave of a wand would sort out the world's problems, bul subsequent revela- tions by former employees have shown that John and Yoko came to believe in magic in a literal sense. After 1975 John sought guidance through using a wide range of occult practices from astrology and seances to numerology and directionalism.Following his bold atheistic statements in "God" and "Imagine" in the early 1970s, John abandoned the spiritual in favor of the political. On mov- ing to New York he associated with the young left-wing radicals Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and Rennie Davis, who were then seen as the scourge of the establishment. His 1972 album Some Time in New York City was almost positively political, lending moral support to feminists and Irish Nationalists.