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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Y is for Yes, Yoko

I've thinking about Yoko Ono a lot lately. Part of it is the fact that last month was the 40th anniversary of John Lennon & Yoko's famous (or infamous, depending on your POV) bed-ins, the first at the Amsterdam Hilton, as people who have heard the Beatles' single The Ballad of John and Yoko can tell you. A second bed-in was in Montreal, where Give Peace A Chance was recorded.

But as an ex pointed out to me a long time ago, before she knew Beatle John, there was Yoko Ono, the avant garde fluxus artist. I recently discovered a retrospective of her work took place between 2000 and 2004, called "Yes Yoko Ono", including at MIT in 2001. Indeed, it was, famously, "yes" that attracted John to Yoko. In the mid-1960s, John went to an art gallery, climbed a ladder leading up to a small printed YES on the ceiling which one looks at through a magnifying glass; it was the positive message that drew him in.

The notion that she "broke up the Beatles" is no more true than Linda Eastman breaking up the Beatles when she married Paul McCartney; perhaps an element of truth amidst many, many other factors.

Yeah, sometimes she screams when she sings. Although the very first time I heard Remember Love, the GPAC B-side, it was more childlike in delivery. (Note: the video has visuals that may offend some.)

The blogger Samurai Frog quoted Any Major Dude with Half a Heart in noting that "Even after 28 years, her husband’s murder must be a horrible pain to bear, but Yoko Ono is marketing — exploiting — her widowhood a little too publicly and cynically, exemplified by that 'John would say...' shtick, as if Lennon was a sage-like Confucius rather than a complex man with some serious limitations. No matter how swell Yoko thought her husband was, it is nauseating. It perpetuates the false notion that Lennon had special insights into the human condition."

And she can make artistic decisions that are disturbing to some. The Lennon items that are part of a new exhibit that launched a couple months ago at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex for John Lennon: The New York Years includes Lennon's famous New York City T-shirt, his upright piano from his Dakota apartment, a posthumous 1981 Grammy Award for the couple's album "Double Fantasy", but also John's bloodied clothes from December 8, 1980.

Not incidentally, her biggest commercial single, Walking on Thin Ice, came out after that tragic event. It and Kiss Kiss Kiss from Double Fantasy were also dance-hall favorites.

Still, the enmity Yoko brings on is quite remarkable in its vitriol. June Chua, writing about Yoko's 70th birthday a few years back, noted: "In a Watch magazine article about her 1996 CD, Rising, the reviewer suggested John's killer 'could have saved us all a lot of grief by just aiming one foot to the right.' The violence in this statement is reprehensible. Yoko watched the person she loved slaughtered in front of her. She had to hold his dying body as life drifted from him...Yoko didn't fit the stereotype of rock star girlfriend/wife."

Yoko and Olivia Harrison, the other Beatle widow, seem to be getting along well, at least in public settings such as the opening of the Cirque du Soleil performance of Love, which featured Beatles' music.

Meanwhile, Yoko is still making music in her own name and offering scholarships in John's.

Music namechecking Yoko:
Oh Yoko by John Lennon from the Imagine allbum
Dear Yoko by John Lennon from the Double Fantasy album
Be My Yoko Ono by Barenaked Ladies
Allen Klein, former Beatles manager, died July 4. Link to picture of Allen, Yoko and John.

For ABC Wednesday



anthonynorth said...

An interesting post. I've never been a fan of Yoko's, and I'd like to believe the 'she broke them up' lobby, but it isn't so. I think the Beatles were inevitably going to break up from the formula of their beginning - the natural antagonisms between John and Paul which, for many years, drove them on to musical genius.

RuneE said...

An unusual ABC-post, but none the worse for that. I'm not a great fan of what-if scenarios, so the kind of speculation that abounds about what would have happened if John and Yoko hadn't met, or John hadn't been shot are only mildly interesting. It happened, and we will take it from there.

Uthaclena said...

Sometime in the mid-'60's, before John and Yoko got together, I found a small digest-sized men's magazine, the name of which I can't recall. Beside (mostly black and white) photo shoots of topless models, it had short articles on topics such a 'the LSD craze,' dirt-biking, and something not-yet called 'performance art.' There was a three-page photo spread entitled "Step Up and Strip Me Nude" that documented a Japanese artist named Yoko Ono kneeling immobile on a stage while men were allowed to come up to her with scissors and snip away portions of her clothing! When she formed a relationship with John, I instantly recognized her name!

magiceye said...

very interesting post...

Marie Reed said...

I listen to the Ballad of John and Yoko EVERY morning! It's on my workout tape that I jog too:) It was nice to read what she is up to! She looks great ! I hope I look that groovy at 70!

Carol said...

What an interesting Y post...good for Yoko, still making music and still offering scholarships.

Irene Toh said...

Yoko Ono and John Lennon is an indelible pair. Interesting post! So sad to think she lives forever in his absence..

Beverley Baird said...

So much info - thanks for sharing.
Great "y" post - I learned a lot about Yoko I did not know.
Thanks for stopping by.

Reader Wil said...

A very good post, Roger! I didn't know that much about Yoko Ono. I was not her fan. But it must have been horrible to see your husband die in front of you. Good choice!

Miss_Yves said...

Interesting post.

Grace and Bradley said...

Yes I do remember her but did not follow much on what has she been doing after John's death. Thanks for the overview.

Q said...

Very interesting post and choice for Y. I have never been a fan of Yoko's. I do think it would be very sad to have your husband die in your arms.

Hildred and Charles said...

An interesting choice for Y - lots of information about someone I wasn't impressed with, but always open to different viewpoints.

Thanks for a good post...

Joy said...

Gosh I did not know she was 70,she seems frozen in time somehow. Your post reminded me I have a 45 of We All Shine On with the Plastic Ono Band in a box somewhere, must dig it out.

Rose said...

Surely it hasn't been 40 years since their bed-in! I was a big Beatles fan back in the sixties and always hoped they would one day get back together for a reunion tour. I was never a fan of Yoko's, but I doubt she was the cause of their break-up either.

Nik said...

Great post. I think Yoko is a repository for a lot of people's regrets and hatred about the '60s myself, and of course there's a fair amount of old-fashioned sexism in some of the responses. I can only handle a handful of Yoko's songs but I think she's a mildly interesting artist who married quite well and has been elevated into some kind of sneering demon, a fate she doesnt' really deserve.

Mara said...

What a lovely story about how they met! I never knew that. I was always led to believe that Yoko broke the Beatles up, but I don't think they would have remained together anyway and if they would have done it would probably have been more about the money than the music. In the end, breaking up produced fantastic music. And if Yoko is to blame for fantastic music...

Johnny B said...

I've always considered Yoko a shrewd opportunist myself, and am mostly immune to the theoretical charms of her art escapades. I've read things from a variety of sources that really leave me conflicted about whether or not I can really embrace her, although her place in the Beatles' history is undeniable, such as it is. The "She broke up the Beatles" crowd is being naive and simplistic, but there is a germ of truth in it- she did help to exacerbate the tensions, but it was mostly encouraged by John, and she was far from the only contributing factor by the time she inserted herself into the scene.

One thing I am unconflicted about, however, is her music, which I will defend to anyone. Sure, there is a lot of it that's practically unlistenable- I can't make it through sides three and four of Fly; it's anti-music, and I rarely dig out Plastic Ono Band either. But on the best stuff, the most songlike- "Mrs. Lennon", "Misdummer New York", most of Approximately Infinite Universe (Esp. "I Have a Woman Inside My Soul" and "Have You Seen a Horizon Lately") and Feeling the Space, and most of her contributions to Some Time in New York City- it can often be wonderful. On Fly and POB, she's backed by John, Ringo and the great Klaus Voorman, and that helps me to sit through even the caterwauling extended tracks. Elephant's Memory came through very well on the others, as well as the studio musos on Space. I've never worked up much of a taste for her post-1980 stuff; too slick and blandly overproduced.

Needless to say, if ever the phrase "Your mileage may vary" ever applied, it applies to her.