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
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Allen Klein, former Beatles manager, died July 4. Link to picture of Allen, Yoko and John.

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