Continuing our week-long celebrations commemorating John Lennon's 75th birthday, here Yoko Ono recalls their relationship
John and Yoko had been travelling. In December 1969 they returned to Toronto, staying with country singer Ronnie Hawkins, from whose home they issued peace messages. They also announced a three-day peace festival for July 1970, although the plans would eventually collapse, with Yoko admitting that, as artists, they were not the world’s best organisers. In Ottawa, they met Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. “If all politicians were like Trudeau,” said John, “there would be world peace.”
For the New Year, they flew to Denmark to visit Kyoko, now living with her father, Tony Cox, and his new wife Melinda, near Aalborg. Cox had become religious and disapproving of tobacco, alcohol and drugs. He later reported that John and Yoko “did a lot of symbolic things” – they stubbed cigarettes out in the snow and chopped off their hair.
Finally receiving US visas, they flew to Los Angeles in April 1970 to continue the “Primal Therapy” course they had begun in England with psychotherapist Arthur Janov, together exorcising childhood demons – and learning of their potential for self-destruction.
“We’d be together 24 hours a day… to protect our love,” said John. “We were really beginning to choke each other.”
Yoko added: “Though we were in love desperately… we were possessive and jealous and all that.”
Although they later denounced Janov, they poured his primal screaming techniques into the radical and powerfully intense albums, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Yoko Ono/ Plastic Ono Band, both recorded with Phil Spector and released in December 1970.
With the sessions complete, they flew to New York to work on Up Your Legs Forever and Fly, helped by an Allen Klein employee called May Pang. And then they were off to Japan. In January 1971, John met his in-laws for the first time at their home in Fujisawa, outside Tokyo. Yoko’s mother later commented: “My husband and I found Lennon very nice and gentle.”
Also for family reasons, the Lennons flew to Majorca in April, where Tony Cox was studying meditation with the Maharishi, no less. They had hired private detectives to find Cox, who had disappeared with Kyoko after the Danish visit. The trip ended with John and Yoko being questioned by police about their alleged kidnapping of Kyoko from a playground. Eventually, Kyoko was returned to Cox’s care, and the Lennons were advised to seek a custody order from the authorities in the Virgin Islands, where Yoko and Cox were divorced.
In May, the abduction charges were dropped, and despite a series of court proceedings which saw Cox jailed for refusing to produce the child, Yoko would not see her daughter again for three decades – even though she was granted temporary and then permanent custody. Cox had vanished again with his family, and this time they could not be found.
You were accused of kidnapping your own daughter.
How did you feel about that?
“Well, I can’t go into it…”
John and Yoko were spending more and more time in America, flying in and out with assistant May Pang. They stayed in the UK for long enough to record and film most of Lennon’s Imagine and Yoko’s Fly, to promote the paperback publication of Yoko’s Grapefruit and to march in a couple of political rallies in London. When they returned to New York in August 1971, it was for good. John sold Tittenhurst Park to Ringo, and never saw England again.
In America, he said: “We want to stay permanently because New York is the centre of the earth and also because we want to find Yoko’s daughter Kyoko.”
They lived at the St Regis hotel, where they celebrated the No 1 success of Imagine, released in the autumn. Almost devoid of the raw emotion that distinguished John Lennon/ Plastic Ono Band, it does, however, boast one scalding Lennon moment with “How Do You Sleep?”, apparently provoked by “Dear Boy” and “Too Many People” from McCartney’s recently released Ram album.
In October, John and Yoko moved into their first New York apartment, at 105 Bank Street in Greenwich Village. There they would be watched, followed and bugged by the American secret services. They had been batty hippies; now they were dangerous subversives, or so it was feared.
Did you realise at the time that you were such a threat to the American authorities?
Yoko: “We didn’t expect that and, of course, we were doing it in such a peaceful way as opposed to all the other friends of ours. They were peaceful, but not as peaceful as we were. We thought that was OK.”
Did these friends use the Lennons?
“If they used us, they were justified, because they really had an incredibly strong belief in what they were doing… but we were not in synch with them.”
John and Yoko were becoming more political. At the tail end of 1969 in London, they took up the case of James Hanratty, convicted of murder in 1962 and hanged at Bedford Prison. They upheld his innocence at events including a Plastic Ono Band concert for UNICEF at the London Lyceum on December 15 (although in 2002, DNA tests on Hanratty’s exhumed body established his guilt “beyond doubt”). They had also connected with black power leader Michael X, swapping locks of their hair (shorn in Denmark) for a pair of Muhammad Ali’s shorts to auction for peace. With March 1971’s “Power To The People”, they had returned to the idea of change through the masses, but this time from a left-wing viewpoint.
Now, in Bank Street, they mixed with New York’s leading militants including Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis, Dave Dellinger, Black Panther leader Bobby Seale and left-wing luminaries Allen Ginsberg and Phil Ochs. On December 10, 1971, the Lennons played a benefit in Ann Arbor, Michigan for John Sinclair, MC5 manager and chairman of the White Panther Party, jailed for 10 years in 1969 for a minor marijuana offence. Shortly afterwards, they appeared as a duo at a Harlem fundraiser for victims’ families in the Attica State prison riots.
They were now under surveillance by the FBI and the immigration authorities, although few really believed their claims that they were being watched and bugged.
In the new year, a classified memo warned that John and Yoko had become powerful tools of the “new left”. It recommended the termination of John’s visa, and deportation proceedings began on the basis of his old drug conviction. But it was imperative for the Lennons to remain in New York: they had been granted temporary custody of Kyoko on condition they bring her up in America – and they were still looking for her. The hearings and appeals dragged on, and on April Fool’s Day 1973 they would pointedly announce the birth of a new country, Nutopia, which would have “no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people”.
The double album Some Time In New York City, recorded with Elephant’s Memory and released in September 1972, dwelled on feminism, prisons, the British in Ireland, John Sinclair and Angela Davis, the black American radical championed as a political prisoner. It was panned. It was followed in February 1973 by Yoko’s highly regarded Approximately Infinite Universe – and two more albums, Lennon’s Mind Games and Yoko’s Feeling The Space, appeared in November 1973.