Tuesday, November 29, 2005

More on Yoko....

A recent story in the New Yorker about the psychological techniques used on the detainees at Guantanamo noted that interrogators use noise stress to get detainees to talk. As part of that noise stress they play tapes of crying babies, meowing cats and records by Yoko Ono!

Here’s the story I wrote about Yoko in 1998:

The newspaper ads read: “Yoko Ono Presents the Artwork of John Lennon.”

But Yoko won’t be at the Seelbach Hotel this weekend to promote her late husband’s art show and sale. She says if she came the attention would turn to her and she wants the focus to be on John’s artwork.

John’s artwork? you may be asking. That’s right. Before he was a Beatle, John Lennon was an artist. He studied at the Liverpool Art Institute from 1957 till 1960, leaving to join a little Liverpool band.

He pretty much set aside his brushes for most of the decade of the sixties, until he met Yoko.

Yoko confesses that she didn’t know who he was when he showed up at her art show in 1967. “I didn’t know the name John Lennon before my gallery opening, I knew the Beatles. I knew Ringo, the name Ringo. But not John Lennon.”

But she soon learned all about John Lennon.

“I heard ‘Strawberry Fields’ at an art patrons party. Someone said, ‘Listen to this.’ In the end is this dissonant part. I thought, ‘That’s pretty good for a pop song.’ I was arrogant coming from the art world.”

Then she discovered John’s art. “A couple of weeks later I was going into a book shop, an alternative book shop, to check on my ‘Grapefruit’ book and I saw his book nearby. L – Lennon. O – my book. I looked at it and it was very gritty, a very black sense of humor.”

Yoko was intrigued by this John Lennon and the rest is, as they say, history. Or at least Beatles’ history.

With Yoko’s encouragement John took his art more seriously. His first showing, Bag One, a set of 14 lithographs, opened in 1970 at the London Arts Gallery. It was closed down in its second day by Scotland Yard because the eight erotic drawings were deemed “indecent.” A similar fate befell the show two months later at an Oak Brook, Illinois gallery. (Both cases were later dropped.)

The original Bag One drawings are part of the show at the Seelbach.

The exhibit has been touring the country for ten years now. Yoko says, “That’s when I finally got around to doing something about John’s artwork. After his passing (in 1980) I felt I had to put out his records first. I got professional people to set up a program to show in galleries. We had great difficulty in booking because he is so famous in another field. The art world has its own snobbery. Without looking they would say we don’t show that short of stuff. Getting it out was an uphill climb.”

The show continues to change. Each year Yoko adds two or three new Lennon drawings to the mix. “There will be a point when I will quit doing this, when there is no longer anything worthy of putting out.”

John was killed when he was 40. Yoko is now 65. When she looks at the whimsical drawings her husband made in his youth, she says she sees many things. “I see his sensibility, his kind of warm, loving feeling, his warm warmth, but also his humor. They remind me of his songs.”


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