Last Saturday evening we watched John And Yoko: Above Us Only Sky a documentary film on Channel 4 which tells “the untold story” of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. The film also “explores how the art, politics and music of the pair are intrinsically entwined.”
I was particularly interested to watch the documentary as only a few days before we’d visited an exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool – Double Fantasy – John & Yoko – which covered much of the same ground.
The multi-media exhibition covers John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s relationship from when they first met in November 1966 at an exhibition of Yoko’s work at a London gallery right up to John’s death in December 1980. Like the film, it tells their story in their own words, but also includes personal objects alongside art, music and film produced by both John and Yoko drawn from Yoko’s own private collection, and which
explores the personal and creative chemistry of this iconic couple and their ongoing Imagine Peace campaign (exhibition website)
In many ways John and Yoko were an unlikely couple. John a famous popular music star from a lower middle background from a working class city in the north of England, and Yoko a Japanese avant-garde artist from an upper class background. But they clicked with John, perhaps, seeing in Yoko what he really wanted to be (a cosmopolitan avant-garde artist, not an upper class Japanese woman!). The exhibition shows how they influenced each other’s work, with Yoko perhaps having a bigger influence on John than John on Yoko.
For many Beatles fans, Yoko was not popular, to say the least. Many of them blamed her for the breakup of the band. John took her with him to recording sessions and she, allegedly, offered her own musical suggestions and tried to join in on some of the songs. This certainly didn’t go down that well with other members of the band and probably widened rifts that were already starting to open.
My own view is that Yoko’s input probably accelerated what would have happened in any case rather than being the primary cause. It’s rare for a creative partnership to last forever and the Beatles were already starting to drift apart as they developed their own interests. Yoko was, for many, an easy scapegoat, and some of the antagonism was no doubt because she was Japanese. There was an underlying racism and the memories of WW2, which only ended just over 20 years before, meant that many people had a dislike of the Japanese. Attitudes have mellowed over the years, but probably hasn’t completely gone away.
The exhibition was chronological, taking in all the key events of their relationship from their first meeting at Yoko’s exhibition illustrating them with artefacts, works of art and song lyrics, a rolling programme of films and music videos and a music room, overlooking the Mersey, with tracks from albums playing and featuring album cover art.
Exhibits included costumes they wore at their wedding
Art works by Yoko and reproductions of drawings by John
handwritten drafts of song lyrics
Their politics were really rather naive, but well intended and their Bed-Ins for Peace protests in Amsterdam, not surprisingly, featured prominently in the exhibition
The story of the music that John created after he left the Beatles, in most cases working with Yoko, featured heavily. It was an opportunity to reappraise what John had achieved after he had left the Beatles. Inevitably not everything was a classic (and that’s true of every act, including the Beatles) but there were some songs which were as good as anything he had created during his partnership with Paul McCartney, – Mind Games, Jealous Guy, Watching the Wheels, Woman, Happy Xmas (War is over) and, of course, Imagine