Continuing our week-long celebrations commemorating John Lennon's 75th birthday, here Yoko Ono recalls their relationship
In his memorable Rolling Stone interview with Jann S Wenner, later published in book form as Lennon Remembers, John explained his growing attraction to Yoko, who was seven years his senior. The imagination and mischief at play in her exhibitions had struck him. But it was when he kept dipping into Grapefruit, and when she sent him a series of instructional cards as part of her ‘Dance Event’ before the Indian trip, that he really began to react to Yoko. He was fascinated by this diminutive woman whose work annoyed and uplifted him in equal measure. He wanted her to come to Rishikesh, kidding himself it was because of the ‘artistic’ stimulus she would bring, but he couldn’t see how to square it with Cynthia, and bottled out.
For John as well as Yoko, the moment of truth came on the night at Kenwood when they dropped acid, recorded Two Virgins and made love at dawn. At the time, he said, he knew “very few” people with whom he could share his interest in experimental, electronic and comedic music. In an interview only two days before he died, he told Radio 1’s Andy Peebles: “I realised somebody else was as kind of barmy as me, a wife with sort of freaky sounds and could equally enjoy non-dance music that was… they call it avant-garde, but whatever it is, you know.”
Years earlier, in the first flush of the affair, he had this to say: “I’d never known love like this before, and it hit me so hard that I had to halt my marriage to Cyn. And I don’t think that was a reckless decision, because I felt very deeply about it and all the implications that would be involved… My marriage to Cyn was not unhappy. But it was just a normal marital state where nothing happened and which we continued to sustain. You sustain it until you meet somebody who suddenly sets you alight.
“With Yoko, I really knew love for the first time. Our attraction was a mental one, but it happened physically, too. Both are essential in the union…”
From now on, John and Yoko were joined at the hip, and Cynthia resignedly accepted it. She later declared: “I knew at the time there was nothing I could do to stop what was happening. He was hell-bent on something. And it happened to end up he was hell-bent on Yoko. “What he was looking for was a woman and a man combined. Someone he could call a pal, someone who was a woman, someone who encompassed everything in his life.”
Cynthia could not be that person: “I did not want to go down the road that John was going… which was the road of ‘enlightenment’ as far as drugs were concerned. John was in a more trapped situation than I was, trapped in his own mind and in the Beatles’ situation and the pressure of the music and the pop world. And I think he’d had enough and he wanted to escape that. I had nothing to escape. I wasn’t looking for anything else.”
It’s also been proposed that John was looking for a mother figure, having lost his own mother, Julia, twice – once when she gave the five-year-old over to his Aunt Mimi, who raised him, and then when she was knocked down and killed in 1958. John’s pet name for Yoko was Mother.
The other Beatles were perplexed, unsettled by Yoko’s constant presence, later becoming resentful and hostile.
Not only was she invading the sacrosanct territory of their ‘boys club’, but she was distracting John from them and from the band. As Yoko introduced Lennon to new, leftfield interests that they didn’t share, and as his outlook broadened, so they saw his personality ‘change’. John later confirmed: “That old gang of mine was over the moment I met her.”
The Beatles regrouped in the studio at the end of May 1968 to start work on the White Album. As the sessions continued through the summer and autumn, their intolerance of Yoko increased, especially when she felt inclined to contribute her unorthodox vocals to the recordings, or dared to venture a critical opinion – which she felt justified in doing, given her musical training. (“Revolution 9” was almost entirely the work of John and Yoko.)
However, it was the way in which the couple isolated themselves from the others that caused the greatest alarm. Yoko has since explained that John wanted her by his side in Abbey Road, and later ordered a bed to be brought into the studio so she could be there even when she was ill. She has also revealed that he was jealous of any conversations she had with the other Beatles. Therefore, she kept her distance. As John described it, “Suddenly, we were together all the time in a corner, mumbling and giggling… and my attention completely went off them.”
He also said, “Everybody seemed to be paranoid except for us two who were in the glow of love… all this madness is going on around us because we just happened to want to be together all the time.”
George Harrison said in the Anthology that he was bothered by having a “stranger” in their midst and also by a “weird vibe” emanating from John and Yoko. He regarded her as a “wedge”, driving herself deeply between Lennon and his bandmates. Paul McCartney remembered a feeling that Yoko had “encroached on the framework that we’d had going for us”, and that it was “fairly offputting”. Ringo reported that the Beatles had been “very possessive of each other”, and that Yoko’s presence created tension.
Press officer Derek Taylor commented: “Yoko had taken the place of everybody in John’s life. Since they had met, she was his life and he was hers and they were very co-dependent people. They had no life outside each other.”
John put it like this: “Being with Yoko makes me free… We are two halves, and together we’re a whole.” He was still bitterly angry about The Beatles’ treatment of her when he talked to Wenner in 1970.
“They despised her,” he raged. “They insulted her and they still do… They all sat there with their fucking wives and judged us… Ringo was all right. So was Maureen [Starkey]. But the other two really gave it to us. I’ll never forgive them.”
He later became more conciliatory towards Paul and, certainly, George. And Yoko, today, chooses her words carefully when she talks to Uncut about the other Beatles.
“Actually, they were very civilised people, of course, and they weren’t really nasty to me. I noticed a few things on a very delicate level. When they were recording and I was there, I suppose it wasn’t something that they really wanted but, at the same time, John was there, so they weren’t going to make a fuss. I don’t nit-pick on it, because it wasn’t so bad. But, of course, there were moments… but there were moments between them all.”
Ringo, for one, left the band during this period because he felt like “an outsider”. George had already “had enough” of The Beatles, complaining that he was being treated as an inferior, especially by Paul, and was looking to a future involving Indian music, culture, philosophy and religion.