By Juan Forn, Pagina 12 [Argentina].
This week has been the anniversary of John Lennon’s passing, and as every year when this time arrives I said to myself: “Another year gone, and once again I haven’t written what I really think about Yoko Ono yet”. I’ll make it clear: In some of the thousand documentaries I have seen about him, there is an interview with Dick Cavett made in 1975 where Lennon talks about the Beatles’ breakup and Yoko’s demonization, just right after performing live the extraordinary “Woman is the Nigger of the World” (American radios banned the airing of this song) There is a moment in which John gets upset and forgetting about Cavett, looks right into the camera and says, like addressing personally to each and everyone of the viewers, “Of all the awful things said about Yoko what it really makes me angry is that they never see what it’s very clear: I could have chosen any other of the many women around me, but I chose her. She makes me happier as any other people have done, and I am the person that I am because of her. If they still love what I do. How come they don’t give any credit to Yoko?”
I saw that TV program almost 20 years after Lennon’s passing, probably some other December between 1980 and 2003.
When viewing one of those videos on Lennon, one has always the sensation that it’s a footage already seen, but that has not really understood until this very moment.
Years are passing and all of us are already older than him when he passed away, but he is still our older brother. Every time that we listen to him, we are discovering that he is telling us something new, something that we didn’t understood before. I remember very clearly the moment in which that sentence (Women is the Nigger of the World) clicked in my head (It was here in Gesell the first winter that I flew from Buenos Aires) Suddenly I felt that for the first time I was trying to see Yoko in the way Lennon asked us to perceive her: As his partner in the world. I recommend you to read the interview they did to Playboy weeks before Lennon’s death, it was published later as a book: Little by little you are going to realize that Yoko’s answers are not just getting in the way, but that they are complementing John’s answers, and that even sometimes Yoko’s answers burst what it’s really important (in the way that that sentence “Woman is the Nigger of the World” did burst the song).
Another example: We all know that Yoko is Japanese and that she was 7 years older than John, but we never though about what World War II meant to her. We know now that when she was 12, after the bombing of Tokyo by the USA, civilians were evacuated from the city and she had to find her own means to survive along with her younger brother and sister and her mother (her father was in the front at that moment with the Japanese Army), because peasants didn’t want to share their scarce food with the refugees from the city and threw them stones when they go near of their villages.
One can imagine Yoko telling John all this experiences at the time in which the international press was stoning her, blaming her for the breakup of The Beatles. With this in mind, one’s point of view about her changes a little, doesn’t it?
Another example: When Yoko met John, we know that she was having a show in London (the ladder in the middle of the room, the magnifying glass hanging from the ceiling, John climbing, looking through the magnifying glass and reading “yes” written in the ceiling and feeling: “Me and this woman are made one for each other”) but we didn’t knew that she was married with another man (conceptual artist Anthony Cox), and that she had a daughter with that another (Kyoko) and that when that guy lost the child’s custody after the divorce (due to the aggressiveness of John’s lawyers) he flew, taking her away, went underground, and during the next 30 years Yoko lost contact with her. (In the Playboy interview John says: “It was a classic case of men being macho. I though mine was bigger than his and he got me, and the result was we took a mother away from her daughter.”)
Another example to end up: Yoko had 5 miscarriages before giving birth to Sean in 1975
I choose to tell about these things as I chose the photograph that goes with this page, because I wanted you to see something different to the usual thing we always see in Yoko Ono. We are used to mocking her conceptual art, but doesn’t this perception change when we know that when she arrived at New York at 25, just married with a Julliard graduate called Toshi Ichiyanagi, and they rented a neglected loft, they got people like John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and Peggy Guggenheim, Jonas Mekas and Ornette Coleman, among many others came to the happenings arranged by Yoko.
Cage appreciated her so much that he took her as interpreter in his first trip to Japan (He was specially fascinated by two things about her : That she went to Gakushuin school as a child in Tokyo, a exclusive school for the royal family and for the Japan aristocracy, where she was school companion to the son of emperor Hirohito and Yukio Mishima, and that she studied 7years of piano at the music conservatory, until the day that she expressed her wishing for becoming a composer, and they took her straightaway to take singing lessons, because “women cannot be composers”). Sol LeWitt, regarded as the conceptual artist par excellence, says that he took from her the idea that a piece of art can be just its explanation given as a Zen quote. (One of the first pieces of Yoko was a Matchbox with the instruction: “Light a match and watch till it goes out.” Another piece is called “A Box of Smile”, a cube that when opening the lid one sees a mirror in the bottom that reflects the expression of the one that opened it: When opening it, everybody smiles not knowing exactly why).
But, what really make us perceive Yoko as the other half of John, is the way in which she encouraged him to connect with what Jüng call “The Soul”: The deep female side every living creature has, no matter if they are men or women. Rock and roll has flirted with the feminine in thousand cosmetic ways (from Jagger to Bowie) but Lennon went further and deeper than anyone else because he understood that the female side were all those feelings that he lacked of: the feelings that deactivate his violence against the world, and make him more male, because in fact he became more human.
One has to have bollocks of steel (Jorge’s note: this is a Spanish expression to mean “courage“) to write songs like “Mother”, “God”, “War is Over”, or “Watching the Wheels”, or we better should say: to really feel what those lyrics meant. Thinking that Yoko had nothing to do with this, it’s just a stupid thing. What it is really a shame is that John didn’t influence Yoko as much asYoko influenced him. This is why we, Lennon’s fans could not forgive Yoko: We don’t get to see a lot of him in her, because what John left her, she has had keep very deep deep inside her.
Now crossing our hearts I ask you: Is there anybody who sincerely feels they have the right to blame her because of that?
Translated by Jorge Artajo.
Translation notes by Jorge:
Página 12 is an Argentinean newspaper politically on he left. It has very interesting supplements on Art and even a gay special from time to time called “SOY” .
During the military dictatorship it was banned and prosecuted.
Juan Forn is a 50 years old Argentinean writer.
Gesell is called in fact Villa Gesell and is a summer resort city by the sea on the Atlantic side. The town was visited by Ernesto Che Guevara as he set out on his journey across America in The Motorcycle Diaries.
Original article here.