Yoko Ono does not get a fair shake. I’m serious.
Look, it’s not that I’m a big Yoko fan, because I’m not. Neither her music nor her art appeal to me, though I will say that in late 1980 I very much preferred her B-side track “Kiss Kiss Kiss” to John Lennon‘s A-side “(Just Like) Starting Over.” My This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio co-host Dana Bonn is on Team Yoko, but I do not share his enthusiasm for her work.
But I have nothing against her, the person, Yoko Ono. I don’t think she’s somehow evil or bad. I certainly don’t think she’s some cartoon Dragon Lady who broke up The Beatles, a group destined to split circa 1970 with or without a Yoko in John’s life (or a Linda Eastman in Paul McCartney‘s life). Hell, when I wrote my fantasy piece about a fictional 1976 Beatles reunion, I made Yoko the unsung hero who helped to make it happen. I think–I hope–that Beatles fans no longer demonize Yoko for whatever they think she did, nor who they think she is. I’ve seen hateful comments, but I believe such bile is an anomaly. I hope I’m right about that. That’s still a pretty low bar to clear, though, and Yoko merits better consideration than that.
These thoughts occurred to me a few nights ago, as I listened to our annual spin of The Beatles’ Christmas messages. Yoko figures prominently in the 1969 message, the final Fab Yuletime track. It’s struck me before, and it strikes me again: at the beginning of this track, as John and Yoko chat and (sort of) banter, Yoko sounds like a woman in love. Scratch that–she sounds like a girl in love, giggly and giddy, as the eternal boy to whom she’s married mugs and capers, perhaps trying to impress and dazzle the girl to whom he’s married. It’s so, so sweet, touching…real. I don’t care if you tell me they rehearsed it with painstaking precision, or if it’s actually as off-the-cuff as it sounds. It feels genuine. How could anyone hate something like that?
Yoko Ono may have saved John Lennon’s life. When he met Yoko, John was floundering. His first marriage was doomed; that was mostly (entirely?) John’s fault, and neither fame nor acclaim, nor even artistic accomplishment, were helping him find happiness. He found happiness with Yoko. When they split for a while in the ’70s, John realized leaving Yoko was a mistake; the separation didn’t work out. So, once again, they were together, man. Happy.
John & Yoko’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” has always been one of my favorite Christmas records. It acquired a bitter taste of melancholy at the end of 1980, but its sense of hope, its embrace of light, its repudiation of our darker impulses all shine on (like the moon and the stars and the sun, as another Lennon song phrased it). The song makes me sad, but it makes me happy, too. I don’t think that song would exist if not for Yoko.
You don’t have to be a Yoko fan. You don’t even have to like her, I guess, but there’s no rational reason why you should dislike her. Maybe I should give some of her music another chance, though I doubt I’ll suddenly discover it’s, you know, my music. But I like Yoko herself. You should, too. Happy Christmas, John. Happy Christmas, Yoko.
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