Sunday 24 March 2019

The naked truth about John and Yoko

John and Yoko's 1968 night of sonic passion, Two Virgins - complete with the couple in their birthday suits on the cover - has just been re-issued. Barry Egan cocks an ear

John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1968
John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1968

Life is, John Lennon said, what happens while you are busy making other plans. (He also said that he believes that time wounds all heels.) In April 2001, I was in the seventh-floor New York apartment the late Beatle shared with Yoko Ono. It was a magical mystery tour around this, perhaps the most famous 19th century apartment in New York, the Dakota Building.

It was outside here, at 10.50pm on December 8, 1980, that the apartment's previous occupant, Mr Lennon, was gunned down in cold blood just by the front entrance by so-called fan Mark David Chapman. Lennon, who had just released his Double Fantasy LP, in collaboration with his wife, was emerging from a five-year sabbatical from music to bring up his son Sean and tend to his marriage with Yoko.

On the lovely spring day in 2001 that I met Yoko, she emerged from the kitchen to give me the grand tour.

Twelve blue Egyptian cats stand on guard duty. Yoko's own sculptures, they came to her in a beautiful dream, she says, explaining the inspiration. Her late husband's guitar is by the wall in the kitchen. She smiles when I pick it up and strum it. (Being in the home of one of your heroes is surreal; playing his guitar more surreal still.)

In the corner of the room, her collection of CDs is separated from those of Lennon's. The table at which we sit for tea is made from a mosaic that was once a floor in ancient Rome.

"John used to sit here in the mornings," Yoko says.

In the living room are three works by surrealist painter Rene Magritte - above Lennon's white Steinway piano, by the window.

"John gave it to me for my birthday," she explains. The engraved inscription on the front reads: 'To Yoko, love John, 18th of the 2nd, 1971.' Family pictures are arranged on top of the piano. Sean as a baby. Yoko and John on holiday.

From the other window, you can see right the way across Central Park to Strawberry Fields - the name given to a garden in Central Park dedicated to Lennon. The Japanese iconoclast talks powerfully, beautifully, about Lennon, about their love, about her life.

I found her decidedly easy listening. You could never, however, describe Yoko's albums as easy listening. She and John's first record together, Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, originally released in 1968, and now being re-issued in all its glory, is still avant-garde nearly five decades on from when it was first recorded.

Random snatches of conversations and even odder humming and bits of keyboard noises, which made the White Album's Revolution 9 seem like something by Westlife.

Not forgetting Yoko's own distinctive banshee howl, masquerading as singing. This was before you gazed upon the cover - a photograph of John and Yoko in their birthday suits that was post-coitally far from pleasing on the eye, (even Lennon described the picture of himself and Yoko as looking like "two slightly overweight ex-junkies").

In a way, you have to admire John and Yoko for their radical idealism in releasing work like this to the outside world. The aforesaid world was as aghast to hear the results from the all-night session at John's home as John's then-wife Cynthia was - not least because she was away in Greece on holiday when John and Yoko were laying down the tracks, so to speak.

We are also getting a re-issue of 1969's Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With Lions. Some of you, like me, are probably thinking that life is too short to listen to any of these records.

But it might just do something for you in our post-truth Trumpian universe.

Sunday Independent

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