Feminist at fault: Yoko Ono, 50 years of an invented witch

Yoko Ono, behind John Lennon in the documentary Get Back about the rehearsals and recording of Let it be, the latest Beatles album (video capture)

In 1964, in Kyoto, standing alone on a stage, Yoko Ono invited the spectators to go up, one by one, take a pair of scissors, and dedicate themselves for as long as they wanted to cut her clothes until she was almost naked. He was barely 30 years old, two years before he met John Lennon, and the performance, which was called Piece cut, and later he would repeat many times -even in collaborations with the Beatle- as part of his famous Instructions, it showed how the audience, in silence, could turn a woman into an object and burden her with their own frustrations and desires.

The following is a familiar story: Marianne Faithfull’s ex – sorry, but it’s nice sometimes to introduce someone as “the husband of” – John Dunbar, told Lennon that there was a happening of a Japanese woman at the Indica Gallery of London, and he was convinced that he had been invited to an orgy. It was November 1966 and after a while he found himself wandering around facilities that at first seemed incomprehensible to him; a bag of nails – 100 pounds! – next to a wooden rectangle hanging from a wall, from which in turn hung a hammer supported by a chain (“The painting will be finished when the surface is covered”); a ladder that she climbed, following the artist’s instructions, to see her Ceiling Painting with a magnifying glass, which consisted simply of the word “Yes.”

Yoko was no geisha and was seven years older than herBut something in his work moved him: “Those who called themselves avant-garde at that time had only negative things to say. They were anti-art, anti-establishment, anti-anti… And I climbed that ladder, feeling like a fool who could fall at any moment, and I was met with a ‘Yes’. I stayed for that ”, said the musician to David Sheff in the last interview he gave with Ono. He had fallen in love, above all, with his humor and his sense of the absurd.

The rest is also known. Lennon was married to his first wife, Cynthia, but he sponsored the shows and secretly dedicated songs to Yoko, such as that “ocean child calls me” (“the girl from the ocean calls me”, the meaning of her name in Japanese), from the theme Julia, written – in a belly Freudian – for his mother. until Cynthia went on vacation and, when she returned from a trip, she found Ono having tea at her house and dressed in her robe. As she writes in her memoirs, her husband only said to her: “Oh, hello.”

The story was added to others that magnified the myth in a racist context and (yes, among so many “antis” of the moment) also the postwar anti-Japanese: the more conservative English press came to call Yoko “inhuman.” By the time The Beatles broke up, in 1970, it was very easy, as the Spanish band Def Con Dos –and Andrés Calamaro on this side of the Atlantic– sang, blame everything on Yoko Ono. Half a century later, and without asking ourselves too many questions, John Lennon’s last muse is still for almost everyone that naked and lonely woman with whom the public does whatever they want.

Or continued. Because in front of the story that for 50 years prevailed in popular culture even in those who are not Beatlemaniacs – there are, there are -, there are the facts that the documentary now rescues with obsessive patience Get Back, which has just premiered Peter Jackson by Disney +. In eight hours distributed in three passionate chapters, the Oscar winner for The Lord of the Rings reels the scrap material from Let it be (1970), the Michael Lindsay-Hogg film that was released two weeks after the announcement of the breakup of the Fab Four. The job took him four years, and along the way he shot down his own prejudices: Neither the recording at Twickenham Studios was made in the middle of a pitched battle between the four friends, nor does Yoko seem like the castrating witch who separated the defenseless John from the boys.

It’s true, in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, Paul McCartney tells her: “It’s going to be incredibly funny when, in 50 years, someone says, ‘They broke up because Yoko sat on an amp.’ The desire to grow and make their career each by their side was already there, they played together since they were teenagers and had traumatically lost their point guard, Brian Epstein. But it is not seen that Ono violates the sacrosanct space of the band. Or at least, it shows that it was not so sacred: she is seen sitting next to Lennon – perhaps too close? Their problem! He seems content – during the long hours of recording and rehearsal, but there are also Linda Eastman – then Paul’s girlfriend – Maureen Starkey – Ringo’s first wife – and a few Hare Krishnas from George Harrison’s entourage. and his Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, plus all the representatives.

Yoko Ono and Linda Eastman in the Beatles documentary Get Back
Yoko Ono and Linda Eastman – Paul McCartney’s wife – chat in the documentary Get Back

Do you think too much? Either. You could say that, Like Paul, Eastman – who died of breast cancer in 1998 – plays a much more decisive role in the band’s tale., and especially those final hours. It is the Kodak heiress who portrays her, and we love her. Yoko is seen laughing and chatting with her, reading the newspaper, rolling a joint for the group – quite a companion – sewing, making an occasional mime to Lennon, or languidly eating a chicken milanese. There is no desire for any prominence in her. He does not intervene or speak with the producers. She is not painting them, nor does she make an installation, although sometimes she looks like it herself, with her leather pants and her hat, always sitting in the same position.

“I watched hundreds of hours of footage, and at no point did I see her impose herself. He never gives an opinion on what they are doing. He never says, ‘Oh, I think the previous take was better.’ It is a benign presence that does not interfere in the least ”, Jackson said a few days ago in an interview with the program 60 minutes. The best part is, like everyone at Twickenham, Yoko laughs. He laughs at her and John. Dance with him. He howls his name gutturally, and when he sings – after George leaves the band in a fit of jealousy, feeling left out after a thrilling cover of Two of us by John and Paul – the band also has fun with her.

And that image also gives an idea of ​​the true essence of an artist whose work is based on participation and permanent creative play. Why would she just want to lock up Lennon? In another Jackson find, Macca is seen complaining one morning when Lennon is late for the studio. He’s angry that George left and “JL” isn’t showing up. Then Linda says that, the day before, Yoko seemed to speak for John, and Paul repeats the same thing. They say it sitting next to each other, and while shaking hands. “Those two want to be as close as possible. It’s not that bad, ”says Paul, who addressing George and Ringo concludes that, given the choice, John would stay with Yoko. But of course, that assumes that there are no witches or oriental brainwashing techniques, but something that a millionaire rockstar should have to spare: free will. In any case, Why did no one care when Paul retired with Linda to Scotland? That plan also slides into the documentary. And what becomes clear is that It is Yoko and Linda who accompanied John, Paul and Ringo to convince Harrison not to leave: They both had every reason to support the band continuing to play.

The Beatles Get Back
Yoko, sitting next to John while The Beatles rehearse. In the documentary she does not express an opinion about what the band does

The Fluxus movement, where Ono came from, was based precisely on the freedom to think, express and choose. When John leaves her for his assistant, May Pang, in 1973, but returns to her the following year, Yoko gives him free rein to continue seeing her as a lover, although Lennon did not want to. Pang contributed to the myth: he said that the musician had lost eyesight and was so confused that it seemed that his head had been washed. However, with Yoko, from the beginning, Lennon was invited to take a moral and critical position. Paul understood it much later: “Without her there would have been no Imagine.” In Get Back, she is sincere when talking about how difficult it was to compose with John in those days: “It’s difficult to start from scratch with Yoko there, because I start writing on white walls. I think John and Yoko would like that, and they don’t “

Sean Lennon, who was five when his father was murdered by Mark David Chapman at the door of the Dakota building in Manhattan – where John and Yoko had moved to take refuge from that mixture of racism and machismo that in London became untenable – he recently told David Remnick for the New Yorker : “Time made us grow and smooth our rough edges for all of us, and now we all appreciate each other much more. Paul is a hero to me, on the same level as my dad. And my mom loves it too. They had their stresses in the past, and no one wants to deny them. But all these tensions make a true story about human beings. “

Today, Yoko Ono is 88 years old.  Get Back, Peter Jackson's documentary, demystifies her role as the witch that separated The Beatles REUTERS / Toru Hanai / File Photo
Today, Yoko Ono is 88 years old. Get Back, Peter Jackson’s documentary, demystifies her role as a witch that separated The Beatles REUTERS / Toru Hanai / File Photo (Toru Hanai /)

That’s also the truth about The Beatles that the documentary shows: to almost all of us they were heroes, but they were also human. Dehumanizing Yoko as the bad guy is part of the problem. And yet that feminist woman from long before John Lennon, managed to make fun of even the worst labels (and bill with them), as when in 2007 he released the album Yes, I’m a witch (Yes, I’m a witch). Maybe because he suffered much worse abuses, like that They will rip off their little daughter Kyoko at 8 years old (Her second husband was given full custody when she married John, and although she searched for her for years, she didn’t see her again until 1998).

Today Yoko Ono is 88 and leaves her New York apartment very little. And perhaps his greatest performance was his own life: Yoko has been naked for 50 years for the public to make her the object of their frustration over the breakup of the best rock band of all time and, later, by the death of his idol. Now that we can go back to see how things really were, maybe it’s time to rewrite the song and understand, once and for all, that Yoko Ono was never to blame for everything.


“Get Back”, the incredible documentary that dispels and confirms some famous Beatles myths


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