Sunday, June 20, 2010

John Lennon's Polythene Pam

By Royston Ellis

John Lennon revealed in Playboy in 1980 that his song "Polythene Pam" had been inspired by the time he spent a night in bed with a beatnik poet and a girl. I was that poet. Polythene Pam was part of the Beatles' Abbey Road album released on 1 October 1969.

In his book published in 1994, A HARD DAY'S WRITE, pop biographer Steve Turner, revealed a coded reference to me in the 1980 interview that John Lennon gave to Playboy magazine. Turner tracked me down where I lived in Sri Lanka. I had never heard the song up to then.

In the original interview John explained that the song Polythene Pam was him remembering a little event with a woman in Jersey, and a man who was England's answer to Allen Ginsberg, who gave the Beatles their first exposure. That man was me. I was a beatnik poet and had met John in Liverpool in June 1960 and stayed with him and his friends in their flat. He and Paul and George and Stuart, then The Beetles, backed me for a brief poetry and rock (Rocketry) performance at the Jacaranda in Liverpool.

After that I wanted to take The Beetles to London to play for me there. But I suggested that first they change their name to The Beatles, as I was a beat poet and they were playing beat music. Instead, they went to Hamburg and we didn't meet up again until August 1963 in the Channel Islands. John might have remembered all that happened that night, but I don't.

Actually, it was in the British Channel Island of Guernsey (not Jersey as John recalled) where I was living at the time, writing poems and having fun at night, while working as a boat boy during the day. I had flown over to Jersey to meet The Beatles when they arrived there and there exists a grainy video (BBC Timewatch: The Unseen Beatles) of me and The Beatles boarding a plane in Jersey to fly to Guernsey. There is also a photo of me leaving the plane in Guernsey with George Harrison carrying a parcel for me containing copies of the original edition of my book "The Big Beat Scene."

It was after the show that evening in Guernsey, that John wanted some action. In the book written by Barry Miles in 1997 called "Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now," Paul is quoted as saying: "John, being Royston's friend, went out to dinner with him and got pissed and stuff." In the course of the evening, I recited one of my poems to John, beginning with the lines "I long to have sex between black leather sheets/And ride shivering motorcycles through your thighs." Black leather sheets? John liked that idea. How to try it?

I took John back to the garret where I was living and introduced him to my girl friend, Stephanie. Well we didn't have black leather sheets so we spread black oilskins (the name for the waterproof raincoat I used to wear when working on the ferry boat) on the bed. Then Stephanie wrapped herself in polythene. And that became a small part of the inspiration for the song Polythene Pam.

Royston Ellis, author of over 60 biographies, novels and travel guides, now lives in Sri Lanka having left England, where he began as a beat poet, in 1961, age 20, for a life of travel. His latest book, The Big Beat Scene, has just been published by Music Mentor Books while his eBook "The John Lennon I Knew" is available from:

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