Thursday, 6 September 2012

When John met Yoko

The Mystery of when Beatle John Lennon met Yoko Ono.
Yoko at Indica
The story of how John Lennon met Yoko Ono is typical of the mis and dis-information that surrounds the Beatles.

The story, as described by John Lennon to Jann Wenner for a 1971 Rolling Stone magazine, tells of the conventional tale that they met on November 9, 1966 and is as follows:    WENNER: How did you meet Yoko?

LENNON: I’m sure I’ve told you this many times. How did I meet Yoko? There was a sort of underground clique in London; John Dunbar, who was married to Marianne Faithful, had an art gallery in London called Indica and I’d been going around to galleries a bit on my off days in between records. I’d been to see a Takis exhibition, I don’t know if you know what that means, he does multiple electro-magnetic sculptures, and a few exhibitions in different galleries who showed these sort of unknown artists or underground artists. I got the word that this amazing woman was putting on a show next week and there was going to be something about people in bags, in black bags, and it was going to be a bit of a happening and all that. So I went down to a preview of the show. I got there the night before it opened. I went in – she didn’t know who I was or anything – I was wandering around, there was a couple of artsy type students that had been helping lying around there in the gallery, and I was looking at it and I was astounded. There was an apple on sale there for 200 quid, I thought it was fantastic–I got the humour in her work immediately. I didn’t have to sort of have much knowledge about avant-garde or underground art, but the humour got me straight away. There was a fresh apple on a stand, this was before Apple–and it was 200 quid to watch the apple decompose. But there was another piece which really decided me for-or-against the artist, a ladder which led to a painting which was hung on the ceiling. It looked like a blank canvas with a chain with a spy glass hanging on the end of it. This was near the door when you went in. I climbed the ladder, you look through the spyglass and in tiny little letters it says “yes”. So it was positive. I felt relieved. It’s a great relief when you get up the ladder and you look through the spyglass and it doesn’t say “no” or “fuck you” or something, it said “yes.”

Barry Miles, McCartney biographer and chief Beatles propagandist, perhaps predictably, further muddies the water by not giving an actual date but suggests it may have been 1967 in his account of events..."In '67 there was an art symposium. ... Within about six weeks of Yoko coming in, we had a show of hers. We gave her her first European show - it might have even been her first gallery show. Lennon came around the day we were hanging the show. There were about 10 people there.

John Dunbar introduced John to Yoko and she showed him around. I think she was a bit suspicious because Lennon famously said, 'Avant-garde is French for bullshit' He always had a chip on his shoulder. He obviously liked the show, and there was one item there that was a stepladder you had to climb up. On the ceiling was something written so small you couldn't read it. Hanging there was a chain with a magnifying glass.

So you wobbled about on the top of this ladder, and it said, 'Yes.' He thought it was going to say some negative thing like 'fuck off.' He was very pleased with the fact it was a positive message. He always claimed that was what changed his mind about Yoko."

However, according to Wikipedia there is a second version. In this one, as told by Paul McCartney, Ono was in London in late 1965 compiling original musical scores for a book John Cage was working on called Notations. McCartney declined to give her any of his own manuscripts, but suggested that Lennon might oblige. When asked, Lennon gave Ono the original handwritten lyrics to "The Word".

Miles again does seem to confirm this version with this quote from a Daily Telegraph interview...
"She knew exactly who they were. She'd already approached Paul for some John Cage manuscripts she wanted. He wouldn't give her anything, but suggested she go to John. But she told John she'd never heard of the Beatles and he believed her."

Yoko, he says, methodically pursued the Beatle for the next 18 months, bombarding him with postcards. "John always assumed she was after sponsorship. But it all changed when Yoko visited him at home while Cynthia was away on holiday.

"John had called a meeting at Apple to announce to the other Beatles that he was the reincarnation of Jesus - I think it was the only thing on the agenda - and, that night, Yoko came over, and they stayed up all night and made the tape that became Two Virgins, and then made love as dawn was coming up."

There are those who have claimed Paul and Yoko had an affair at this point but that's pure speculation.

Now, in an interview with the late Reg King, former lead singer of the sixties mod band the Action, I have come across perhaps a third version. In the interview Reg is asked “You knew Yoko Ono early as well, is that right?”

Reg King of The Action

“Yeah, I met Yoko at the Middle Earth in Covent Garden. She said “Reggie, you look very much like John Lennon” – which a few people had said before because I guess I do look a bit like him. “I’d really like to meet John” she said. As we had the same producer as The Beatles she wouldn’t leave me alone. It wasn’t me she wanted, it was John. So I said, “Look, if it helps, John does occasionally go to The Speakeasy. I see him there sometimes on a Tuesday night.” The very next Tuesday she was there. Before, she’d had all the flower dresses on, the psychedelic outfit, but in The Speakeasy she had the West End girl look. All smooth and smart. That night Paul and John came in. Paul said hello. And John used to say to me (adopts heavy scouse accent) “Aye, ye Action Man!” That was all he ever used to say, but he spoke to me at least! Yoko stood there dumbfounded, “Wow, you really do know The Beatles.” Within fifteen minutes she was in there and the rest is history.”

Unfortunately, no date is provided for the meeting, however, it does cast massive doubt on Yoko’s claim that before she met Lennon she had never had of him, or the Beatles, and adds weight to the theory that she arrived in London specifically to snare a Beatle.

The mystery deepens.