Tag Archive: Yoko Ono


Eros

Barenaked Ladies

If you’re my age (which is 31 – I can no longer be trusted), you probably remember the Barenaked Ladies. They didn’t fit any profile of rock stars, and you weren’t really sure if they were a gimmick band, a serious band, or somewhere in between. They had a gargantuan smash hit with “One Week” in 1998, which I bopped along to the first 100 times I heard it, and was completely sick of the 101st (which was in the same week as the 1st). Seriously, this song was everywhere. Besides being on my CD player (I’m one of the 4 million who bought Stunt), it was all over the radio, in movies and commercials, and blaring in the convertible next to me and my sister at a stop light. We were blaring it too, by the way…

Despite no one having heard of them one week before “One Week” came out, they had actually been around for 6 years, debuting in their native Canada in 1992 with Gordon. It had only three standout tracks: “Brian Wilson,” “If I Had $1,000,000,” and “Be My Yoko Ono.” The third is about a guy who wants his girlfriend to follow him around everywhere he goes, and would even break up his band and give up rock and roll stardom just to be with her. The lyrics include a pun on Ono (”oh no!”) and Ed Robertson doing an amusingly accurate imitation of Yoko’s trill voice effect.

To delusional Beatles fanatics who just can’t admit the truth or let things go, Yoko Ono is responsible for breaking up the Beatles. She’s a demonic witch who cast a spell on John Lennon, making him quit the band, keeping his spirit and his penis in a box for her own purposes and crushing his soul, meanwhile crushing everyone else’s souls by depriving them of the greatest rock and roll band that ever lived. Yadda yadda yadda…

Here’s the juice. John found something with Yoko that was bigger than the Beatles: eros. That’s one of the Greek words for love – the passionate, sexual and romantic love humans feel for other humans. I don’t just mean a roll in the hay, to use a rather innocent term. While sex is definitely involved, that’s only part of it. What John and Yoko had, and what literally billions of other couples have, is a deep, abiding and eternal connection that surpasses words. That connection is physical, emotional and spiritual all at the same time, and it is the most important and momentous thing a person can have with another person. Eros, despite what those Yoko-hating fanatics will tell you, is bigger than the Beatles.

“Oh My Love” captures a large part of the essence of eros. It’s a very simple and sweet song, disarming in the way it floats down slowly on the listener. The song is pretty short, so it’s easy to miss its soft and uncomplicated loveliness. John says his “eyes can see” and his “mind can feel.” It talks about trees and sky and clouds and wind (Yoko has been trying forever as an artist to film the wind), and how John never really experienced any of them before he met Yoko. The simplicity of the beauty here takes my breath away.

Eros, when misused, can turn to zilia, or “jealousy” to us American folk. John experienced that, too, and talks about it in “Jealous Guy.” Though it’s probably addressed specifically to Yoko, it’s really an apology from anyone who’s hurt anyone else in the past. This is probably John’s most naked and honest song, more so than anything on Plastic Ono Band. The first verse lays completely bare in the simplest of terms the progression that ends with John’s destructive behavior. John was always given to jealousy, and it sometimes manifested in the most violent ways. But when he met Yoko, something changed in him; not just his behavior, but his mindset, which gives rise to behavior.

But the ultimate statement of love between the two comes in the form of the song “Oh Yoko!” The arrangement is stupidly simple. The song has five verses, yet only one word is changed from verse to verse, and the chorus is merely one phrase repeated. But by God, if this isn’t one of the prettiest, most touching and gosh-darned lovely songs in the entire world. John reveals here that he just a huge, lovesick puppy dog. If this doesn’t melt your heart into a gooey and flower-smelling puddle, you may as well move to Tibet and become a monk.

days after John’s death, Rolling Stone ran this cover without comment

In all honesty, John’s had a lot of bumps in the road. His volatile personality with the press, his statements about Jesus, his egocentric habits, and his lack of respect for the Queen of England are unfortunate, but those things all fade. The things that last are his enduring spirit of harmony, his dogged quest for mutuality and peace, and of course his eros.

Next: What’s the most epic record of all time?

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Strawberry Fields

The Washington Arch at WSP

For those 23 months I lived in New York City, I often found myself walking, enjoying the various parts and seeable sights that Manhattan had to offer. I had several favorite places to go. Washington Square Park was an obvious and easy destination; just a block and a half from our apartment, I could just take little stroll and be there instantly.

During the summers, there were two street performers there who were there at least three afternoons a week. They were called Tic and Tac; identical twin brothers from Harlem, the only way you could tell them apart was one of them always wore an American flag bandanna on his head. They often finished each other’s sentences, though I’m pretty sure that was just a script. They did a mostly acrobatic show with lots of audience participation, and witty repartee was a huge part of their act.

Rockefeller Center was another common destination. Besides loving the architecture and design of the outside and the spectacle of the shops, there was the TODAY Show. I had started watching Matt, Meredith, Ann and Al in the mornings on TV shortly after arriving in New York, and once I got my bearings in the city (and the willingness to get my carcass out of bed, dressed and up to 48th St.), I watched the show live on the plaza many times. I even appeared on camera once; it was raining that day, so I got to be right behind where the hosts film the 8:30 segment. Meredith even recognized me when I came back, probably because I proudly wore my Red Sox hat in enemy territory (Meredith is a huge Sox fan). I’ll admit it – I fanboyed a little.

But without question, my favorite spot in Manhattan is a park bench in Central Park, on the east side at the 72nd St. entrance. There’s a circular flagstone mosaic on the ground flanked by several park benches; it simply says IMAGINE in the middle. This is Strawberry Fields, a memorial to John Lennon, right across the street from the Dakota, the posh apartment building where he lived for the last part of his life, and where he was murdered.

I went there on Lennon’s birthday, and on the anniversary of his death, but I would also just go there, just because. I found myself drawn there sometimes. Some magnetic force compelled me. It could have been Lennon’s spirit, but I think it was something bigger – music in general , maybe.

I have great respect for John Lennon, perhaps more than any other rock star. Even the term “rock star” conjures up images that Lennon seems somehow above. He lived his life as a warrior for peace and a living example of the power of love. His zeitgeist is one of enduring hope for millions of people.

That is not to say I agree with everything he said, or even match up with him in thought and deed. He is someone I greatly admire and respect, but not someone I seek to emulate. His life was filled with turmoil, and he spent most of it hurting the people closest to him. For a long time, he allowed the demons of his past to affect his present, thus determining his future. He broke away from his demons when he married Yoko Ono, but in that he proved himself even more un-emulation worthy by cheating on his wife.

Imagine – John Lennon – 9/9/1971

The biggest bone I have with his mindset is expressed in the title song of his 1971 solo album, Imagine. It’s the most popular and iconic song of his solo career, and it has become a totem and a symbol for anyone who seeks to create harmony out of discord. My own experience with it has been different, though, and my perception of “Imagine” comes a little out of left field.

I first heard the song when I was about 7 years old. I was not supposed to be watching MTV (my parents had disallowed it for me and my sister) when I saw the music video. Besides what I instantly thought was an excessively pretty piano riff at the beginning, the first lyric is “Imagine there’s no heaven.” As a 7 year-old Christian with Christian parents, I couldn’t imagine there not being a heaven. When he followed with “It’s easy if you try,” I did actually try. And you know what? It bummed me out. If there was no heaven, there was no God. Even my immature brain could make that connection. And to my young mind, an existence without God was no existence at all. That’s still true for me.

Now that I’m a grown-up (whatever that means…), I understand that the heart of John’s message in “Imagine” is tearing down all the walls that divide people and eliminating all the things people use as weapons against each other. In order to have peace, we must no longer think in a singular way, but instead have the best interests of all people at the forefront of our minds. Things like religion, country and possessions force us to focus on what is only our own and not care about anyone else. We can also use those things for purposes they weren’t intended for, to hurt one another.

So John’s approach is this: if those things cause us to be like that, then why don’t we just get rid of them? What would happen if we did get rid of them? Can you just imagine??? That, in and of itself, is a pretty positive message.

I’ve taken quite some time to come to this, but my own approach is different. John wants to get rid of those things, but I think they’re essential parts of who we are. In particular, religion is woven into our human fabric; it’s our way of understanding God. There can’t be God without there being religion, because he would have no way of talking to us, and that’s not the kind of God he is. We can’t get rid of religion anymore than we can get rid of oxygen.

So what, then? Are we doomed to a selfish, destructive cycle we can’t break out of, repeating the same mistakes over and over? Well, no. Evil things have been done by people in the name of religion, but that doesn’t make religion evil – it makes the people evil. But even people can’t be truly and completely evil. They still have a God spark somewhere inside them, and that gives hope to each one of us.

Sermon over.

The Beatles started out that rooftop concert with “Get Back,” followed immediately by another run-thru of the same song. It’s a driving and catchy ditty with great guitar moments. Like a lot of Beatles songs, the lyrical interpretation is pretty loose. I don’t think Paul wrote with specific persons or situations in mind, but things could have been going on subconsciously that came out in the lyrics. Fans talk out of their asses all the time saying “Jojo is really John Lennon” or “Loretta is really Yoko Ono” or “Paul was looking at Yoko every time he sang ‘get back to where you once belonged.’” While that’s a case of fans creating things that probably weren’t there, I do think there was probably something  churning under the surface, as is fitting the Paul pattern.

After two versions of “Get Back” comes “Don’t Let Me Down.” Even though it wasn’t included on Let It Be, it deserves a quick mention here. It’s yet another chronicle of John’s sexual preoccupation with Yoko, but less adolescent than “Happiness is a Warm Gun.”  It’s sweeter, too, and reveals that John’s a colossal romantic sap. While John and Yoko’s relationship wasn’t particularly healthy, they enjoyed an extremely intimate connection and had a passion that a lot of couples could learn from.

After that comes “I’ve Got a Feeling,” a rapturous, soul-filled number. Paul sings like a southern Baptist preacher filled with the Holy Spirit, jittering in a seizure-like spasm. George’s guitar matches him, his notes seeming to quiver with passion. John even contributes, interjecting his own lyrics over Paul’s chords right in the middle. As the song fades out, John and Paul are singing their own individual lyrics to make a pretty gorgeous soup. It reminds me of the “Hard Day’s Night” years, when their collaboration was a wondrous thing to behold. The lyrics are pretty unspecific, but I think “I’ve Got a Feeling” is one of the most spiritual songs the Beatles ever did. It taps into something wild and free, something unknowable.

Next comes a blast of glorious blues, noisy and reckless, filled with smiling abandon. “One After 909” is a song written by John and Paul when that wondrous collaboration was first beginning, when the Beatles were still the Quarrymen. It had been kicking around since then, and was even recorded back in the Please Please Me days, being scrapped shortly after. Finally, it saw the light of day on Let It Be. I don’t think the Beatles were really intending for it to be one of the new Get Back songs, but were enjoying playing live again and the spontaneity it yields.

“Dig a Pony” is next, a song with meaningless lyrics that, as John put it, “sound good together.” I remember one moment from a documentary that’s stuck with me. It’s from the film Imagine: John Lennon that came out in 1988, chronicling the making of John Lennon’s second solo album, Imagine. Like the album that gives it its name, the film is an incredibly honest glimpse into John’s inner workings, personality, and work habits.

The moment: John recorded the album secluded in a mansion off in the forest, and a Lennon fanatic made his way to that very house. He was dirty, unshaven, shabbily dressed, and a little crazy. John and Yoko met him in the driveway, and there they had a discussion/argument with him in which it really came to bear that John was not all the things his fans expected him to be. This was something John had struggled with ever since he became famous, his public persona being something that he couldn’t quite control. This fan quoted some lyrics from “Dig a Pony,” citing them as inspirational and life-changing. John shook his head in dismay and said, “It’s just words! Words that sound good together!” Clearly, the fan was incredibly disappointed in the man who, until a few seconds ago, had been his idol. The scene ends with John inviting him inside for a bite to eat.

Next comes a snippet of “God Save the Queen,” yet another example of the Beatles being energized and a little giddy at the anything-goes live setting they were in. Then just comes more versions of “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Get Back.” The police then promptly shut them down.

Thursday: “glory to the shining remover of darkness.”

Four Storms

When multiple elements come together to create something more than the sum of its parts, it’s sometimes called a “perfect storm.” The best albums are little perfect storms; moments where different parts converge and collide, and what comes out on the other side is one. The Latin term for this sentiment is e pluribus unum: out of many, one. This is an idea that is one of the foundations for my life (and indeed the basis for this project). But I simply cannot stand the term “perfect storm.” For one thing, it’s been greatly overused in the media. Any time a news story comes up for an event that there’s more than one reason for, newscasters call it a perfect storm. Even more irritating, they’ll make that term self-referential by emphasizing that such a thing could be called a perfect storm, subtly indicating that the use of that term is very clever. You’re supposed to be impressed.

Secondly, the movie by which the term was made famous, The Perfect Storm, is a lot better than the just the name. It features good performances, a seasoned director, and some pretty stunning cinematography for the time. The plot touches on human connection and family, as well as a strong man vs. nature element. But the only thing anyone mentions is the overused term to which it gave birth.

So, against my will, I will have to say that The White Album was one big massive (grumble grumble…) perfect storm. Take the four separate storm systems of the four Beatles themselves. I say “separate” because that’s what they truly had become. There are two arguments for what is actually the beginning of the end. After Sgt. Pepper, George convinced the other three to study transcendental meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. After the sudden death of Beatles manager Brian Epstein (often called “the fifth Beatle” by the other four),the Maharishi called his death “unimportant.” They went again to Rishikesh, India to study at Yogi’s feet. It was there that they started their work on much of what would become The White Album, but John and Ringo eventually got fed up. John indicated that the Maharishi wasn’t what he seemed and was much more publicity-minded than expected. According to reports, Yogi even made sexual advances at Mia Farrow, one of the Beatles’ companions in India.

Yoko Ono

Another argument could be made for the death knell being sounded much earlier, with the fateful meeting at an art gallery of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Indeed, this relationship changed John forever. This woman penetrated all reaches of his psyche, and everything he did after this point could be traced back to her. The explanation wasn’t that Yoko was a witch casting a spell on John, or a manipulative harpy with a master plan. It was nothing more complicated or less beautiful that this: John and Yoko were in love.

As sweet as that is, it means some pretty devastating things for the people around John. Cynthia Lennon bears deep scars for the severing of her marriage. Every time I hear the story of her coming back to the apartment she and John shared one morning and finding John there with Yoko, and Yoko wearing Cynthia’s bathrobe, my heart breaks for her.

But perhaps the most tragic and undeserving victim in this story is John and Cynthia’s son Julian. Here is a young boy who is truly an innocent bystander. Before Yoko, his father was unhappy and angry, and there was turmoil in his house that he didn’t understand. John kept him at arms’ length and he didn’t know why. After Yoko, he had to deal with this extra person in his father’s life – and consequentially his own life. Julian didn’t ask for her, and she wasn’t welcome. Finally, John and Yoko’s son Sean was born, and Julian was dealt another blow. John was simply over the moon for Sean, experiencing the joys of fatherhood anew as if Sean were his first son. John took pleasure in Sean in a way he never did in Julian. Intended or not, Julian must have felt a deeply painful slight.

Paul with a young Julian

Watching all this go down was Paul McCartney. All the research I’ve done on Paul leads me to the conclusion that he’s an incredibly compassionate, empathetic, stand-up kind of guy, with a particular soft spot for the disenfranchised. When the love triangle of John/Cynthia/Yoko exploded, Paul was there as a good friend to Cynthia. As pathetic of a father as John was to Julian, Paul was there as a kind of surrogate. I really admire him for both of those things.

Wednesday: the start of a long process of unpacking The White Album song by song.