John Lennon Tried to Physically Prevent a ‘Pissed Off’ Paul Simon From Playing Guitar

During his notorious “lost weekend” phase, John Lennon invited Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel into the studio with him. Lennon was producing an album for Harry Nilsson, and he’d asked a number of musicians to record covers on the album. Simon and Garfunkel’s time in the studio with Lennon was disastrous. Lennon and Simon clashed the entire time, so much so that Lennon tried to physically prevent Simon from playing guitar.

A black and white picture of Paul Simon, Yoko Ono, John Lennon, and Roberta Flack talking together.
Paul Simon, Yoko Ono, John Lennon, and Roberta Flack | Tim Boxer/Getty Images

Paul Simon had mixed opinions of John Lennon’s music

After The Beatles broke up, Lennon’s solo music took on anti-war themes. Simon wasn’t entirely sure what Lennon was trying to say with his music, though.

“First reaction, he strikes me as being very interested in being seen or heard,” he told Rolling Stone in 1972. “Then I have to think, ‘What is he doing? What is the purpose of it? Is his purpose to get publicity for himself? Is his purpose to advance a certain political thought?’ I don’t know what his motivations are. Many things he’s done, I think, have been pointless. Some have been in bad taste. Others have been courageous. I think he’s generally a well-intentioned guy. I don’t know, it’s not my style.”

He specifically disliked Lennon’s song “Power to the People,” which he described as “condescending” and “cliché.”

“What does that mean — power to the people? And who is he saying it to?” he said. “Is he saying it to people who have any idea what it means?”

John Lennon tried to stop Paul Simon from playing guitar 

When Simon and Garfunkel joined Lennon in the studio, he and Lennon started clashing right away. Lennon had been drinking, which tended to make him more aggressive. He felt that Simon was jumping in too early in the song “Rock Island Line.” Each time, he told Simon to stop, and when Simon began playing again, Lennon would reach over and grab the guitar to mute the strings, per the book Paul Simon: The Life by Robert Hilburn.

Eventually, Simon snapped, “John, I play guitar, too.” Lennon told him to stop playing altogether, and Simon stormed out of the room.

“He went into the f***in’ control booth, and I could see him f***in’ around in there,” Lennon told his girlfriend May Pang, per her book Loving John. “I could see him mumblin’ to himself. Dennis [Ferrante] told me he was so pissed off, he says, ‘He may be one of the Beatles, but I’m Paul Simon.‘”

In the end, Nilsson’s album, Pussy Cats, did not include “Rock Island Line.”

The former Beatle’s girlfriend offered her opinion on why they clashed

When Lennon told Pang about Simon’s behavior, she could tell that he was still frustrated about it. She believed that this said more about Lennon than it did Simon.

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“John was still irritated by Simon’s behavior, realizing, perhaps, that Paul Simon, unlike almost everyone who entered John’s orbit, had a powerful sense of himself and could actually refuse to be treated badly,” she wrote.