In Defense of John Lennon and Yoko Ono

The Beatles call dibs on my favorite classic rock band ever in the history of music.  (They invented so many things, among them self confessional song lyrics, the modern music video, several minute songs, the concept album, non Americans making it in Hollywood, musicians involving themselves in politics and religion, and the album as a work of art.)  With that said, I think it’s sad that on Beatles tumblr accounts, it’s rare ever to see a picture of Yoko Ono, because so many people still hate her.  John Lennon, who is my favorite Beatle, wanted Yoko Ono in his life.  I don’t believe he was brainwashed.  And after all he’d done for music, he was allowed to marry who he wanted and be happy.  Why do we have to shut one of his wives out of Beatles websites completely?

I also understand why he left The Beatles.  It goes back to the Bigger Than Jesus scandal.  John was doing a magazine interview in Britain, and someone asked him what he was reading.  He said he was reading Nietzsche.  This got him into a discussion on Nietzsche’s theory of the decentralization of Christianity in the west in the twentieth century.  John said, in the 60’s, that he could see this happening around him, and predicted that at this rate Christianity would eventually cease to exist completely.  He didn’t give an opinion on this – he just said it was happening.  And he made the comparison that Beatles records were currently outselling the Bible, and even a couple of decades ago that never would have been possible.  That’s where you get the quote “we’re bigger than Jesus now.”  He wasn’t saying he was better than Jesus Christ – he was saying that some pop band was outselling the Bible.

And actually?  As a self-identifying Buddhist Christian myself, I don’t have a problem with anything he said.

But the media took one part of one sentence from a paragraphs-long quote and sensationalized it.  The KKK was threatening to have John assassinated, people were burning his records in pyres in the streets, he had to give a press conference apologizing publicly for what he’d said (or what people thought he’d said), and on his next tour of America he walked out onto that stage every night thinking someone was about to shoot him dead.

That was when the Beatles stopped touring, and it’s also, John admitted later on in life, when he first thought about leaving the Beatles.  He hadn’t even met Yoko Ono yet.  You can understand where he was coming from – this was getting out of hand, things were getting absolutely insane.  I could tell you so many stories of how absolutely fucking nutso it was to be a Beatle, according to all sources, but I think based on that story you already get my point.  John once compared being a Beatle to riding a merry go round – it’s very shiny and colorful and pretty for a while, and then you go around and around in circles and you never get anywhere, and eventually you feel sick and you want to get off.

I don’t believe it was ever the Beatles themselves he hated.  John supported Beatles conventions and kept little figurines of all the Beatles in his house because he thought they were cute.  He was still in contact with all the other Beatles when he died.  Yes, he said he’d redo all the Beatles music if he could, but John was a perfectionist and I’m pretty sure he could have said that of all of his music.

And then he met a woman and he fell in love, and nobody in his home country would even marry the two of them.  That’s how widespread the prejudice against Yoko was.  And the people who insist John was brainwashed aren’t really giving John enough credit.

No, Yoko wasn’t perfect.  Far from it.  But she was an optimistic political activist, an interesting avant garde artist, and she was much smarter and more knowledgeable than anyone gives her credit for.  She studied philosophy at Sarah Lawrence and was a classically trained pianist.  Her father was a wealthy banker, and she knew a lot about business and was bilingual from a very young age.  Yoko wasn’t clinging to John for money or fame – her family had money of their own, she actually refused to write music with John because she wanted to do her own thing, and marrying John probably actually hurt her artistic career because after that people stopped taking her seriously as a Fluxus artist in her own right.  The only reason she even joined the Beatles in the recording studio is because John wanted her to; she didn’t like pop music and probably didn’t even want to be there.  She was tough, too – she’s the only woman ever to kick John out of her life for committing adultery.  That’s what his Lost Weekend was.

Nobody knows anything about her.  She truly is “the world’s most famous unknown artist.”  People criticize her for putting out so much merchandise concerning his life, but how is she supposed to know what people will like and what they won’t if she doesn’t try everything?  People criticize her for promoting herself so strongly when she first met John, but Yoko has always promoted herself pretty shamelessly to everyone.  I highly doubt it was unique to John.

I don’t know.  I just don’t get the big deal about Yoko Ono.

More than that, let me repeat: She made him happy.  Why couldn’t people just leave the two of them alone.  They didn’t have to like her.  But they didn’t have to hate her, either.

I don’t know.  The whole thing’s just so fucking sad and insane and stupid.  John was demonized for leaving a situation that was making him desperately unhappy – he was suicidal by 1967 – and Yoko was demonized because apparently it’s still okay to blame the problems of four men on one woman.  Sexism at its finest.  Oh, and then there was the racism, too.  Angry fans used to hand Yoko yellow roses with thorns on them that hurt her hands.  She got angry letters and comments back when the Internet wasn’t even a thing.

Yes, the way Yoko treated Julian and Cynthia was horrible, and John did let her treat them that way, but Cynthia was also unwilling to interact with Yoko during John’s lifetime, even to the point of refusing to call their apartment in New York.  It takes two to tango. I will defend Yoko and John to the death because they were free human beings with independent wills who were allowed to fall in love and be happy.

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