There were many changes that ushered in the sixties, changes that made the sixties possible. Not least of these was the introduction of the commercial jet fleet. Gone were the much smaller, less comfortable propeller planes, slow and relatively uncomfortable with limited range. The Boeing 707s, DC 8s, mammoth in their time quickly evolved into the flying cities of the 747s and DC10s. With the big jets came the envy of the sixties, The Jet Set. Golden people off to the capitols of Europe so stunningly portrayed in Hollywood movies and travel posters. One can't imagine the effect of travel posters today but then they created unfulfillable desires.
With ease not only were the capitols of Europe within spitting distance but also the exotic cities of the East -- Tokyo.
The entertainment industry was about to spike as technology revolutionized the recording studio as well as the stage. Guitar amps as the sixties began were small, portable units. Amplifiers rapidly grew in size. Massive arrays of Marshalls rose behind the first of the heavy metal bands, Blue Cheer, like a low mountain towering above the group. Grateful Dead took the stage in front of tens of thousands of dollars of electronic equipment. Four guys could sound like Krakatoa on that fateful day.
In those far off sunny days when our world began the old world crumbled before the onslaught of bold intrepid pioneers, and behind them came the leeches and parasites.
The sixties started slowly almost imperceptibly changing until the Beatles stepped off one of those big jetliners in 1964. Seemingly innocuous, their arrival was to change the whole paradigm. Through the fifties and early sixties, before the Jet Set, was the Avant Garde, those bold experimenters moving in advance, well to the fore, of the dull plodding Middletown Babbitry and those mental habits the hip, the aware, the Avant Garde despised. There were still such things as modern art, experimental novels, cutting edge jazz. They were all swept away in Ď64 when the Beatles led the British Invasion. All of a sudden the Avant Garde was turned inside out as Pop took possession of the field.
The first intimations of change took place in Art. As the '50s ended the dominant art form was Abstract Expressionism. From those ranks rose what would be known as POPart. Roy Lichtenstein with his comic book panels, Jasper Johns with his flags, Robert Rauschenberg with his messy effort and, of course, Andy Warhol and his soup cans. Interestingly they were all homosexuals. With the exception of Warhol they were all discreet, in the closet, Warhol was a man with an agenda, he wanted to legitimize himself and whatever he liked or did. He was an advocate.
One of the big changes of the sixties was the rise of the cult of the homosexual. Let Leroi Jones as a Negro spokesman rail against the cult as he might he was powerless to resist its course. Homosexuality was then illegal all over America until the great homosexual revolt at Manhattan's Stonewall Bar in 1969 as the decade drew to a close. Homosexuals were aggressively out of the closet roaring for revenge. One item on Warhol's agenda in fact.
Warhol began his fine art career about 1960. By 1964 when the Beatles deplaned he had completed another item on his agenda, the destruction of fine art. Thus, although few of us realized it at that time POPism was overtaking Euroamerica like a tidal wave lifting the level of the sea.
The Beatles would of course be the core, the heart of the sixties. They defined the sixties and gave the decade its form. While they were busy conquering the world a little Japanese woman who desperately wished to incarnate and represent the Avant Garde was beginning her career on the Lower East Side as a 'performance' artist. Zany beyond description was Yoko Ono. By 1967 she will have entrapped the leader of the free musical world and the Beatles, John Lennon. Together they will dominate what became of the Avant Garde until Lennon's passing in 1980.
A description of Yoko to begin. A Spider Woman, a self professed witch, a psychotic obsessive-compulsive who was driven and completely organized to realize her goals. She however lacked the talent to realize those goals. As she searched for a way the seemingly unrelated success of the Beatles fortuitously occurred.
The success of the Beatles was uprecedented. Once their success had been achieved then the parasites and exploiters moved in to get whatever they could steal. While the Beatles were revered for their success one member, John Lennon, was selected to fill the almost messianic needs of the sixties.
Needless to say success on the order of the Beatles who were after all of lower middle class origins with no preparation for dealing with success of the magnitude they achieved were completely overwhelmed while nevertheless comporting themselves creditably. Still, as Paul McCartney's song Fool On The Hill demonstrates, their heads were swimming. John Lennon even issued a musical plea in his song Help! which was a forthright request for guidance for whoever might recognize it while being able to fill his need.
As it was, this young Japanese avant garde artist, Yoko Ono, understood the plea and acted on it. John Lennon was tailor made to fulfill her own needs and ambitions.
Yoko Ono was born in Japan in 1933 as the Japanese were initiating their plan to impose the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere on the whole of the East from India through China to Japan. In 1942 when she was ten the Japanese made their move to annex the oil reserves of Indonesia, bombing Pearl Harbor at the same time in the attempt to secure their ocean perimeter. The invasion did not come off as planned so a short three years later in 1945 the B-29s unloaded their incendiary devices over the capitol city of Tokyo where Yoko Ono's family lived.
Now thirteen she was aware of what was happening. Moved to the country outside Tokyo, Yoko Ono witnessed the massive clouds of smoke obscurring the blue sky, one presumes, for hundreds of square miles. Within a few days Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been wholly obliterated by atomic bombs. Yoko imagined the blue sky over those two cities obscured as was the sky of Tokyo. This made an indelible impression on her mind causing a psychological disturbance. She would be haunted by the memory. Thus having appropriated John Lennon in the late sixties she and he created the Plastic Ono Band whose LP was a picture of a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. After 1973 she had her office in the Dakota painted in replica of the cover. Thus she would always have a blue sky above her.
Even though the Japanese had attacked the United States first in this instance, not without provocation to my mind, thereby acquiring guilt for beginning the war there can be little doubt that Yoko blamed the West for Japan's shame.
While Yoko experienced some discomfort after the bombing of Tokyo, as her father was a banking executive with experience in dealing with Westerners, she shortly after the war moved to the US where she lived in luxurious circumstances eventually attending Sarah Lawrence College from 1957 to 1960 but leaving without a degree.
As of 1960 Yoko Ono had experienced little of the hardships caused by the Wars in Europe and Asia. Indeed, as Philip Norman points out, John Lennon's England suffered greater hardship from 1945 to the sixties. Japan, once defeated, was given extremely benevolent treatment by the US. The paternalistic approach of the US can be seen in the picture of the tiny five foot Emperor, Hirohito, beside the relatively giant protective figure of Douglas MacArthur. Efforts began immediatly to rebuild the Japanese economy. The millions of Japanese soldiers throughout the Pacific and China were repatriated to Japan without consequences, forgiven as it were. In contrast to Europe where the carnage had been enormous there was relatively little damage to the Japanese homeland. If you watch Japanese movies of the late forties and early fifties there is only a slight indication that there has been a war. A few references are made to soldiers who never returned but the landscape is intact and undisturbed.
In Europe Germany had been flattened, German civilians slaughtered in the millions. Armies of German soldiers disappeared into the Gulag never to be seen alive again. The allies exposed millions of Germans in the depth of winter while depriving them of food. The entire continent was desolated, England itself had suffered terrific bombing damage that was still being repaired into the sixties. POP star Marianne Faithfull in her biography tells of sitting above a bomb crater in the mid-sixties. Thus any complaints of racism against the Japanese are ridiculous.
In 1957, when Yoko Ono was beginning her cushy life at Sarah Lawrence, I was sailing into Tokyo Bay aboard a US Navy Destroyer Escort. We docked in Yokosuka across the strait from Yokohama. There was absolutely no evidence of there ever having been war damage to Yokosuka. Looking across the strait to the shipyards of Yokohama one was astonished at the glittering brand new derricks of the most modern design. The stuff made ours look positively medieval. Twelve years after the war Japanese shipbuilders were becoming the dominant force in that industry displacing the West under the guidance of the US which complacently ceded the industry to them.
In 1960, as Yoko Ono was beginning her career as an avant garde artist in NYC, the first Japanese autos were being landed on the West Coast.
Now, Philip Norman tut tuts the English for supposedly outrageous racist comments against Yoko Ono in the late sixties as though the English had no grievances against their own racial treatment by the Japanese in WWII. In point of fact the Japanese Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere was a racist organization directed at the West. The Pacific war was a racist war if you wish to put things in those terms. There are other definitions. This isn't the place to discuss the racial antecedents to the Co-Prosperity Sphere so I won't but one should look into the historical background which is very complex.
The question is, did Japanese racism end with their defeat and if it didnít how was the war carried on by other means? In 1964 Yoko Ono published a small book of haiku style statements called Grapefruit 'which aimed to make words like the commands of musical notation': "Steal a moon on the water with a bucket. Keep stealing until no moon is seen on the water." Norman, John Lennon p. 475.
I have a feeling the image is not original to Yoko but is part of Japanese culture much as Bob Dylan used commonplace mid-western phrases like It's All Over Now, Baby Blue appropriating them to himself. Of interest here is that Yoko used the verb 'to steal.' Her mental state then was one of taking what doesn't belong to oneself much as in the Jewish prophecy that they will live in houses they didn't build. While the command seems nonsensical the results will not be. The reflection of the moon on the water is beautiful but is only the image of the moon. Removing buckets of water will not destroy the reflection unless and until all the water or substance on which the image is reflected is removed. Thus the substance has been stolen while the image disappears. At the same time, one imagines, the moon is flattered by the attempt, not realizing what is being done.
Yoko Ono will apply the method to John Lennon while the Japanese applied the method to the US and the West. All those unpunished repatriated Japanese warriors lost none of the hatred of the West now reinforced by the ignominy of defeat. They could even believe that they were better warriors than the Americans being defeated by greater American resources for which there was some justification. So, in 1957 under American tutelage the Japanese had lost none of their aggressive hatred when I and my shipmates came ashore.
Now, as Americans we were never allowed to celebrate our victory, thus relieving the hardships we endured. After three years of being taught ourtrageous racial caricatures of demonic enemies we were now the day after victory forbidden to call them Japs, for instance, upon pain of disciplining. We were commanded to believe that our victury had been evil and unjustified. Shortly after the war the Hiroshima 'maidens' were brought over to receive free medical treatment. You won't find anything in history books but there was a strong murmur of protest. Less than a decade after 'The Day Of Infamy' we were commanded to shut up or we would be shut up and we wouldn't like it. I donít know what the exact effect of what this was on the American psyche but their was a serious reaction.
Now going into Japan in 1957, ostensibly as conquerors, remember the Korean War had only ended in 1954, we were told that if we had any confrontations with the Japanese we would automatically be considered the aggressors, judged guilty and punished regardless of the facts. This was Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation speaking to its sons. So, our fathers castrated their sons for whatever idiotic reason they had. Is it any wonder we revolted against the bastards in the sixties?
The Japanese knew of the conditions imposed on us and used them to aggrandize themselves at our expense. Of course, as epigoni we were callow teenage boys rather than the fierce warriors who had driven them through the islands. As an example of what we were compelled to endure being unable to resist on pain of punishment was something like this. As might be expected, the souvenir joints exploiting us were set up next to the docks. I entered a booth where I was treated insultingly by the middle-aged female clerk. As I turned to leave the booth she slugged me with a shore patrol baton, which they sold, between the shoulders on the upper vertebrae. The sound was terrific but I was unhurt. Expecting me to retaliate a couple of repatriated soldiers of the Bataan Death March started moving toward me to pound me to dust while my fellow Americans moved away from me as though poison. Heeding the advice of my Captain, I walked unconcernedly away to the jeers of the former Death Marchers trying to further provoke me. This is what the Greatest Generation did to their sons. I would imagine that the lesson to the Japanese was that they had nothing to fear from Americans, young or old, while my own feeling of betrayal left me with an abiding distaste, even hatred for the fathers that would turn me, a victor, over to the mercies of the defeated.
So, by flattering the Americans (the reflection of the moon on the unresisting water) the Japanese began to ladle out the American substance itself. With the simple-minded Americans there to instruct them the Japanese studied American technological achievements and began to reproduce them much more cheaply because of their lower wage differential. At first the reproductions were clumsy, the first cars were laughable, but they quickly honed their skills even, eventually, making improvements.
Because of their relatively quick and easy victory over Japan the American veterans in Detroit refused to take the Japanese seriously, even though they were warned by quicker-witted countrymen. The Japanese kept ladling the image out until today the American auto industry is all but defunct, while Toyota has replaced GM as the dominant auto maker worldwide. I wonít say the bastards of the 'Greatest Generation' didn't have it coming, but I still regret it for my country's sake.
In 1960 then, Yoko Ono left Sarah Lawrence as I left the Navy to attempt a career as an artist in NYC. In 1960 John Lennon was at the very beginning of his career as, actually, an avant garde musician, although he may not have realized it. It would be six years before their paths crossed in London.
In the meantime Yoko attempted to storm avant garde New York, demanding instant success and considering herself so talented that she couldn't contemplate failure. She took up with the unlistenable avant garde composers, John Cage, the premier electronic composer, Robert Maxwell, and people of that ilk. At one time I wanted to be avant garde so I actually listened to people like Cage, Maxwell, Pauline Oliveros, Steve Reich and people like that. If you want to you can make yourself listen to anything but I don't want to make myself do it again. Once was more education than I needed.
So, Yoko was breaking into a very minority taste, even at the height of my enthusiasm I couldn't make anyone sit through the stuff. At the same time Yoko was trying to appeal to the uptown crowd who cut her cold, creating deep resentment in her.
Having stormed the gates and failed, Yoko fled back to Japan, aware she had a psychotic reaction, nervous breakdown or depression. At any rate she was committed to a mental hospital where she was heavily sedated, massive drugging. Interestingly, Norman said that before she went to London she had never used drugs. I don't know what you would call the stuff given to her at the hospital but I'd call them drugs. Just because a dentist gave me Nembutal doesn't mean I never had drugs although I never used them otherwise. As incredible as it may seem a fellow named Tony Cox heard stories about Yoko in New York that he found so intriguing he hopped a big jetliner and flew to Tokyo to find her. Real fairy tale stuff. Maybe he heard she came from a fabulously wealthy family.
And Tony did find Yoko stumbling through the halls of the asylum under the influence. He discovered a means to get her released and then only had to deal with the Japanese husband Yoko had picked up along the way. Apparently a smooth talker, Tony convinced hubby to form a menage a trois. This, of course, disintegrated the marriage and 1964 found Yoko and Tony back in New York.
Now, back in 1960-61 Yoko had been sleeping around, she had a menage a trois in Japan while subsequently not taking the marriage vows to Tony overly seriously. Yet in Norman's biography she repeatedly tries to pass herself off as some virginal girl unable to deal with the rabid sexuality of her third husband. Clearly Yoko suffers from cognitive dissonance, meaning her version of things is always questionable if not immediately dismissable.
Yoko as a feminist wrote the song Woman Is The Nigger Of The World. In rebellion of what she saw as the status of women she became what we boys call a man-eater. She emasculated the men of her life, assigning them traditional female roles, while she assumed the male role. Thus all three of her husbands assumed the role of house husbands, housewife being a demeaning term in her lexicon, while she tried to play the role of provider through her art, although unsuccessfully. Needless to say that she was a failure as a provider in all three marriages, although in her last she proved an efficient money manager of the millions provided by her last house husband, John Lennon.
Cox and Yoko left NYC for London in 1966. By 1966 the decade was well along in its formation, actually tipping into its demise. By 1966 the British invasion of musical groups was entering its second phase. A dozen or so groups had succeeded very well, chief among them the Beatles and Rolling Stones. They had pre-empted the avant garde becoming themselves an avant garde. The chief American representative who had survived the British onslaught was Bob Dylan.
The art scene Yoko was trying to influence had been taken over lock, stock and barrelo by POPart whose leading representative was Andy Warhol who had a zoo of addicts and perverts known as the Factory.
Warhol, himself a homosexual, had always been a connoisseur of pop music, playing 45s constantly. He would have been aware, perhaps uniquely, of the significance of the British Invasion for POPart and the old Abstract Expressionist avant garde. By 1965 he had aligned himself with the musical scene by adopting the Velvet Underground as the Factory house band. He attempted to form connections with all the top musicians from Lennon, Mick Jagger, Dylan and on to Jim Morrison of the Doors not always successfully. Most of the musicians were as psychotic as he was, recognized him for what he was, and were too canny to become involved with him.
Andy In Full Are Mode
Yoko on her return from Japan, then, was dealing with a very different art scene than in her first foray. She had to, at some time between '64-'66, make contact with Warhol. As she left NYC in '66 for London, Dylanís evaluation of her relayed through George Harrison as quoted in Norman p. 671 must refer to this period:George by contrast, despite long marinading in soft-tongued Buddha-speak, was his most bluntly charmless. "[He] insulted [Yoko] right to her face in the Apple office," John would remember. "Just being straightforward, that game of 'Well, Iím going to be upfront because this is what I've heard, and Dylan and a few people said you've got a lousy name in New York and you give off bad vibes.' That's what George said to her and we both sat through it."Dylan would have been speaking of Yoko in NYC from '64 to '66. During the latter part of that period Dylan was in conflict with Warhol and his Factory crowd because of Edie Sedgwick. That Yoko Ono could have come within his ken is interesting. Yoko wouldn't have known of Warhol during her first assault on NYC, but as she kowtowed to Warhol on her return after 1968 that might indicate that she might have visited the Factory, which was open to all, met and conversed with Warhol. I havenít found a mention of her on the main Warhol site, Warholstars, as yet but there must be a connection no matter how slight. It is impossible to know what was said between them, but as Yoko got into making Warhol style avant garde movies she must have at least made some notes.
Whether music in relation to the avant garde came up with Warhol's preference for Rock n' Roll and possibly the Beatles isn't known, although she did drag Lennon down to do obeisance to Warhol when they returned. Then, too, she used Sam Green -- Samuel Adams Green had presented the Warhol exhibition at UPennsylvania a couple years previously -- as her agent for acquistion of art.
In 1980 she was thick with Sam Green leading Lennon to express discomfort because of Green's association with the Warhol crowd. There seems to have been a rather strong conection of Yoko to Warhol. Certainly her husband of the time, Tony Cox, was well known around the Factory having stolen one of their cars and taken it to California. Cox, who had criminal tendencies, is worth a little study too. It would seem impossible that he knew nothing of the Beatles -- I think Yoko Ono's claim to have never heard of them can be dismissed too -- as Cox seemed to have been always scheming. He may have heard Lennon songs like Help! and I'm A Loser and drawn the obvious conclusions. Lennon in the right hands could be used.
In 1966 then, Cox and Ono left for London, presumably to take that art world by storm. I think it quite probable that Yoko believed she could get inside Lennon's head to use his wealth to further her art career. Her bagism notion was well conceived by 1965 in NYC. Her displays at London's Indica gallery seem designed to get Lennon's attention. An apple on a stand priced at 200 poundsÖhow obvious can you get? The tinyYES on the ceiling. Yoko was very good at hypnotic suggestion.
How did she find her way to the Indica anyway? The gallery had just opened in 1965 and would only survive for two years, which isn't to say Yoko's exhibit killed it.
Her claim that she had never heard of Lennon before the show is contradicted by both John Dunbar, the owner, and Barry Miles, who wrote under the name of Miles. He says that instead of coolly walking away, not overly impressed with Lennon, she actually tried to force her way into his car. Certainly flooding his mailbox with cards and letters doesnít indicate indifference. No. Yoko wanted access to Lennon's money and she got it.
There's no need here to recount how she forced Cynthia Lennon out. Suffice it to say that she quickly captured Lennon; by 1968 they were back in 'her town', NYC. For a person who was there for maybe two years in 1960-61 and two more years in '64-'66 I think it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to call New York 'your town.'
Once in New York she had Lennon dependent on her, while with the acquisition of the Dakota Apartment in 1973 the real action began. First let us do a character review of Lennon before beginning the denouement.
I am assuming that any readers will be familiar with the main lines of Ono's and Lennon's biographies. If I've glided too quickly over certain points don't hesitate to ask for clarification. There are literally thousands of websites dedicated to all principals and minor characters, some of them very extensive so my exploration of all these sites is ongoing.
Goldman, Albert: The Lives Of John Lennon, Chicago Review Press, 1988
Green, John: Dakota Days, St. Martinís, 1983
Norman, Philip: John Lennon, Ecco, 2008
Pang, May: Loving John
Seaman, Frederic: The Last Days Of John Lennon, 1991
Warhol, Andy: POPism: Harcourt, Brace, 1980
Numerous internet sites of the many thousands, most of which I havenít investigated, concerning principal and minor characters of which Warholstars is most prominent.
Lennon I | II | III
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Entire Series of Articles
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