Saturday, March 28, 2009

When Yoko Ono came to stay

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A happening in Headingley ­ when Yoko Ono came to stay

25 March 2009
By Chris Bond

BY the mid-1960s, revolution was in the air and nowhere was this more
evident than in art.
A decade after Jackson Pollock's paint extravaganzas had confounded
critics, pop art pioneers like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein were
turning the art world on its head. Amid this cultural maelstrom, John
Jones, then a fine art lecturer at Leeds University, travelled to New
York in 1965 to find out more.

He spent two months interviewing nearly a hundred different artists,
including such luminaries as Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and Willem de
Kooning, as well as a young Japanese performer called Yoko Ono.

"There were art movements popping up all over the place, so I thought
it was a good idea to talk to the artists themselves so they could
explain what their work was about. I met abstract expressionists and
pop artists and through them I was invited to a couple of happenings
and this was when I met Yoko."

Jones says these surreal performances, or "happenings", tried to
challenge traditional concepts of art. "A lot of it was meaningless,
but that was the point."

Yoko was among the artists he spoke to. "She was very interesting
because she was already a well-established artist in New York, which
people don't always realise. She told me she had originally wanted to
be a composer but said she wasn't very good. Then she started writing
poems and became interested in art."

As well as her happenings, she also produced "irrational" art objects
which she sold, including her Disappearing Machine, which claimed to
make an object disappear "when you pushed a button."

A year after his visit to the US, Yoko held a happening at Leeds
College of Art and Jones invited her to stay at his house in
Headingley. Her trip to Yorkshire came shortly before her first,
fateful meeting with John Lennon, and 20 years later Jones was asked
to write about it for a book on the life of the former Beatle, called
The Lennon Companion: Twenty-five years of Comment, a reading of
which takes place tonight at Café Lento, as part of the Headingley
Literature Festival.

Jones, now aged 82, remembers watching Yoko at the college. The first
part of her performance involved her, and her then husband, Tony Cox,
climbing into a black bag on stage.

"The audience watched as they moved around inside wondering what they
were doing, and whether or not they were taking their clothes off.
Which, of course, was the whole point, she wanted the spectators to
imagine what was happening."

The second part was her take on a party game where a message is
whispered to someone and then passed along a row of people. "It was a
bit like Chinese whispers and afterwards she asked members of the
audience what they had heard and they all said something different.
She then revealed what she had said, which was nothing."

Yoko and her husband, along with their young daughter,
Kyoko, stayed with him for the weekend.

"I thought they would want to see the sights of Yorkshire but they
were quite happy spending time with us. I showed Yoko a film I'd made
of my own family which I thought she might like, but she was more
interested in the blank film left over, that was typical of her.

"But she was quite charming company and we got on very well, I
remember she entertained the children by making origami birds and animals."

Before leaving, Yoko mentioned that she needed to raise money for a
film. "I had a bit of spare money, so I lent her £50," he says.

This went towards her underground film Bottoms, which features a
hundred different behinds. Before the film came out, Yoko sent him a
cheque for half the amount she owed and said that Apple, set up by
The Beatles, would pay the remainder, which it did.

That was that, or so he thought. "A few months later, I was working
at the university when a huge bouquet of flowers arrived for me, with
a cheque for £25 and a note which said 'Love and Peace. John and
Yoko'. I posted this extra cheque back to Yoko at Apple, but a week
later it returned, stamped 'Not known at this address'."

For more information about the Headingley Literature Festival, visit


Lennon, Ono connected to Canada


NEW YORK -- Spring is back and so is Yoko Ono.

It's been 40 years since the famous Montreal Bed-In and Live Peace
concert in Toronto, but John Lennon's widow continues to spread her
message of love and friendship.

Though the Bed-In was initially scheduled to take place in New York,
John Lennon's conviction for marijuana possession barred him from
entering the United States and forced the couple to change venues.

It was Ono who suggested they move it to Montreal. "I already had a
love for the city because I had visited, before I met John, in 1961
for a modern music festival," said Ono, 76, from her large New York loft.

With no love lost between the couple and the American government at
the time, Ono admitted that she and Lennon had even contemplated
moving to Canada at one point.

However, Ono's heart was in New York and no move to Canada ever
materialized. In fact, she still lives at the Dakota apartments, the
location of Lennon's 1980 assassination.

Following Lennon's death, Ono said she brought her sons to Canada and
to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel to see the room -- suite 1742 -- where
Ono and Lennon held the Bed-In from May 26 to June 1, 1969.

"I wanted them to understand what we lived through," she said of the
protest against Vietnam War and in support of peace.

On the final day of the Bed-In, they recorded Give Peace a Chance,
which marked the first solo project for a member of The Beatles while
the band was still together.

Ono said she and Lennon were shocked by the number of reporters that
came out to cover the event, and though she said they were almost
right up on the bed with them, the couple never felt like their space
was being invaded.

"It was incredible," she said. "We were so in love, we wanted to
share it with the whole world."

And though many journalists in attendance expected to witness Ono and
Lennon fooling around, that particular type of intimacy never
happened. As for drugs, they didn't seem to have a place at the
Bed-In either. According to witnesses, Lennon mostly drank wine.

Ono's memories of the Live Peace Concert in Toronto in September 1969
remain just as vivid. That performance was the first time Lennon had
performed on stage without the other three Beatles.

"John was a bit nervous, but I must say that we were more excited
than nervous," she said. "It was magnificent."

So after 40 years, what remains of the couple's message of peace,
especially now with the United States at war?

"Obviously, John would be mad to see that nothing has changed," said
Ono, who noted that their protest in the 1960s was an isolated act.
Today, Ono estimates that 99% of the world's population wants peace,
while only 1% continues to be interested in violence.

Ono herself hasn't changed a whole lot, and with the body of a
teenager and her childlike laughter, you could easily mistake her for
someone 20 years younger.

She said Lennon gave her the nickname, "the Martian", which she said
was because she has a "big head and a small body."

Her appearance is one of the most striking aspects of Ono. The other
is her barely audible voice, and even after 60 years spent living in
the United States, her Japanese accent remains strong.

She is also a woman still in complete control of her image -- the
hoops an interviewer has to jump through are right out of a Kafka novel.

And as for her late husband, even 28 years after his murder, she
still senses his presence.

"He is always with me and I think that's one of the reasons why I can
stay strong," she said, adding that she feels an energy coming from Lennon.

"Sometimes I get sad, but the negative experiences are gifts too, and
like John said, 'Take a sad song and make it better.'

"It is time for action and action is peace," she said at the
conclusion of the interview, her hands holding mine.

No, Ono definitely hasn't lost her hippie spirit.


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