Continuing our week-long celebrations commemorating John Lennon's 75th birthday, here Yoko Ono recalls their relationship
“Yoko taught me about women,” said Lennon. He also asserted that, “She’s the teacher and I’m the pupil.”
Widely regarded as something of a misogynist in his earlier years, with allegations of violence, the tough and cynical Lennon was perhaps an unlikely candidate for a new life of peace, love, flowers and feminism. Yoko has since disclosed that he was never violent towards her.
Do you think you brought out the more compassionate side of John?
Yoko: “Most people think that he was just a wild thing. He had a very considerate side. And wise. A lot of things were brought out from him around that time. It’s not necessarily just being with me, but I think it had a lot to do with the fact that he was repressing all that before the opportunity was given to him to just be himself.”
Did he bring out anything new in you?
“It’s not so much bringing out in me. One is the fact that I learnt a great deal from entering his world, because it’s a world that I never even thought existed; the rock world. And also, he was extremely wise about how to deal with the press. Paul is a better dealer with the press, I’m sure. John was not so much of a person to manipulate the press at all. I came from a tradition of, ‘Not concerned about the press,’ kind of ivory tower and a bit of snobbery and all that. On the stage [during past performance-art events], when the curtain’s up, you see me with my back against the audience. That was the attitude. And so everybody walked out of your concert – it’s a successful concert! A classic avant-garde idea.
“So when we did the ‘You Are Here’ show, John’s show [his first complete art exhibition, at the Robert Fraser Gallery in Duke St, London, on July 1, 1968], we came out of the car and there were tons of reporters there, and the photographers, and my first instinct was, ‘Let’s immediately rush into the back room.’ He said, ‘They are waiting and we have to accommodate [them].’ We stood and let them take the photos. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s what you do.’ To that extent, I was totally naïve.”
From the beginning, you and John set out to celebrate your relationship in records, film, on TV and in the press. Why was this important?
“John was more gung-ho about it, and I thought that was good in a way – like now that I’m announcing that I’m 70 – to just clarify things and let people know that it’s fine, it’s OK. Likewise, when John and I got together, he wanted to share with the world for many reasons – and the reasons probably were similar to mine. One, out of love, of course, but also, two, to show that man and woman can stand together, and also we were from different parts of the world.”
So it was a stand against sexism and racism. Yet these were the very things that you experienced from the public after stepping out with John. How disappointing was that?
“It [racism] was always there, and also sexism was obviously always there. Most women had to cope with it, I suppose. They’re still coping. Racism, too, is still there. You can’t speak out enough about it. The more you speak about it and mix together and everything, people will start to think that equality is a good thing.”