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Life With the Lennons: ‘Imagine’ Reissues Bring Back John and Yoko Memories for Elliot Mintz

The pair's longtime friend spent many hours with them during the 1970s.

To the world, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were icons. But to Elliot Mintz, who met them in 1972 while a radio DJ in Los Angeles, they were close personal friends with whom he’d get together and talk about whatever came to mind. Usually, it wasn’t music.

“I first did an interview with Yoko on the radio station in Los Angeles and we became phone pals for a number of weeks and then I interviewed John on the air and we began a telephone relationship as well,” he told Variety in a recent phone interview. They later met in Ojai, California, while the couple was driving to Los Angeles as ordinary travelers mingling with those they encountered on the way. Mintz says their personal relationship was the same way. “The majority of our conversations were not about either me or them but the state of the world. Most of their time was spent talking about either current events or literature or history.”

One of Lennon’s most celebrated albums is the focus of the new “Imagine: The Ultimate Collection,” which came out Friday (Oct. 5) on Universal Music. The most extensive configuration is a six-disc (4 CD, 2 Blu-ray) set with the newly remastered album, outtakes and an audio documentary with the evolution of each song. A separate two-movie video release from Eagle Rock Entertainment of the Lennon-Ono films “Imagine,” a collection of videos from the album, and “Gimme Some Truth: The Making of ‘Imagine’” (including previously unreleased music) also came out Friday. Both projects were authorized and supervised by Ono, now 85, and the Lennon estate. Mintz is heard on the set in an interview with Lennon.

For Mintz, experiencing the material isn’t always easy. “On an emotional level, it’s still a little difficult, especially that first demo recording [of the song ‘Imagine’] of just John on the piano. There were times that I was with John that he would pick up the guitar and just play, if I was in the living room with him or he was just bored or tired of talking. And a couple of times when he played a song or two or more for me on the piano, maybe in the white room of the Dakota building, and my mind drifted back to those times. It was a little emotional for me — still is. I put the emotion in my back pocket and took the ride.”

Perhaps Mintz’s best-known project to Lennon fans was his hosting of “The Lost Lennon Tapes,” a weekly Westwood One radio series that ran from 1988 to 1992 that opened up Lennon’s tape vaults and premiered a wealth of unreleased music. The show came about after a dinner and agreement between Ono and Norman Pattiz, head of Westwood One, who had also been a client of Mintz’s.

“Yoko suggested that I host the show because of my proximity to the two of them and my familiarity with the tapes,” and Pattiz agreed, Mintz says. “So the first thing I had to do was go to New York and locate as many actual tapes — cassettes or reel to reels — that I could find in the apartment to gather them and create an inventory” of the dozens of hours of tapes. “So I packed up the original recordings and we FedEx’ed them to Los Angeles to Westwood One, and their staff — obviously, very gently — took the original recordings and made transfers of them digitally and created their own inventory. They had to be listened to carefully — John had a way of hiding a song five minutes into a tape recording of a lecture by [British philosopher] Alan Watts.”

The series is legendary among Beatle fans but is currently officially out of circulation, although it can be found on bootleg and dark corners of the Internet. Could the show come back? “People are always saying to me why doesn’t the Beatles Channel [on Sirius/XM] put that back on the air and why don’t they package ‘The Lost Lennon Tapes’?” Mintz concludes. “I’d love to see that happen.”

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