Tag Archives: Yoko Ono

Early letter and drawings from John Lennon to Cynthia

A TRIBUTE TO CYNTHIA LENNON & MEETING HER

A TRIBUTE TO CYNTHIA LENNON & MEETING HER

By Alan Chrisman, copyright.

Cynthia Lennon, John’s 1st. wife, passed away April 1, 2015 at the age of 75 after a battle with cancer.  I’d always wanted to meet her and in 1994, I got my wish. Someone had told me of a Beatles’ Convention in Stamford , Connecticut and she was one of the main guests.

I had never been to a Beatles’ Convention before, but my fellow student and friend, Al Whyte, and I had just completed a course about putting on events and our two’s school project (only a fantasy) had been to do a Beatles’ Convention.  So we had a chance to actually go to one and also meet, as I say, John Lennon’s wife. I had read her book, Twist of Lennon, and could picture what it must have been like before they were very well-known in those early Beatles’ days in Liverpool.

Al and I met her briefly and she was even nicer and lovely than I had hoped. She signed my copy of her book and I nervously asked her some questions. I’d always wanted to see if I could try and see what John had been like past the pop star and media images.  We also ran into her later coming down in the elevator of the hotel where the Convention was being held. She had long blonde hair and wore wire-rimmed glasses like John.

I had read the romantic story in her book about how John had met her at their Liverpool art school in 1958.  But they were complete opposites.  John was the angry, chip-on his shoulder rebel, especially because his mother had been killed by a drunken driver when John was still a teenager. Cynthia Powell was the more middle-class “nice girl”.  But what they had in common was both of them being near-sighted and their love of art.   But she was able to detect underneath the Lennon sneer, a softer side too. They would sneak over to John’s aspiring-painter friend, Stu Sutcliffe’s room to make love.

Cynthia was very supportive of John and his early budding Beatles’ band.  And when Paul, George, Pete Best, and Stu Sutcliffe were sent to Hamburg, John would write back regular funny postcards and letters to her (even though they were playing in some of most decadent bars and temptations in Europe).  When they returned from Germany and first played the Cavern, she was there too. But Cynthia didn’t have it easy.  She was renting a room from John’s sometimes stern Aunt Mimi, while working at Woolworths and the two women didn’t get along.  She then moved to a small bedsitter room.

Cynthia Lennon's own artwork of the Cavern days

Cynthia Lennon’s own artwork of The Cavern days.

When Cynthia became pregnant with their son, Julian, they got married in 1962. (John said later, “it had been the thing to do”).  Even as The Beatles were becoming more and more popular, Cynthia was still stuck alone while The Beatles were on tour, having to put up with her husband being away a lot of the time, and with all the girls throwing themselves at the young men. And Lennon would sometimes take his frustrations out on her, violently even. There’s a scene in The film, Backbeat about the Hamburg days, where Astrid Kirchherr, the German art student who basically created the whole Beatles’ “look” says to Cynthia’s character, ”but John wants the world.”

At their height, as The Beatles were experimenting with drugs, Cynthia never really felt comfortable with their excesses.  Beatle wives were rarely allowed to be in the studio when their husbands were at work.  When their manager, Brian Epstein died, they all went to India to see the Maharishi, but John was secretly writing to this new artist, Yoko Ono.  On the plane home, he admitted to his wife the many affairs he’d had. John advised her to go to Greece for a vacation, the day she returned, she discovered Yoko had spent the night with him at her home.  Lennon and Cynthia soon divorced in 1968.

John had remarried Yoko but Julian had been pretty well ignored by his father ( much as John himself has been deserted by his father).  It wasn’t until Yoko and John had separated for several months in 1973 and John was with May Pang in L.A. that May encouraged John to re-connect with Julian.  Interestingly, I also met May Pang at that same Conn. Convention. I was surprised she was there; she wasn’t a scheduled guest.  But I soon learned she was good friends with Cynthia and had come in to see her.  I was able to meet May Pang too and get her to sign my copy of Lennon’s Walls and Bridges album and get photos of her too.

Meeting Cynthia Lennon & May Pang in 1994  led my friend, Al Whyte and I to put on Beatles' Conventions and meet several others who knew Beatles

Meeting Cynthia Lennon & May Pang in 1994, inspired our doing our own Beatles’ Conventions and meeting several who knew The Beatles

.Al and I were so inspired by meeting Cynthia and May Pang and others at that Conn. Convention that we decided to actually put on our own Beatles’ Conventions.  Also, soon after I got back home, Stu Sutcliffe’s sister, Pauline called me from England (I think Cynthia must have given Pauline my number).  We had presented Cynthia with our “fantasy”.  She seemed interested in our more ‘artistic’ convention than they usually were.  Cynthia was an artist in her own right and she would later have exhibitions of some of her art.  Cynthia Lennon’s own artwork of The Cavern.  Cynthia’s own drawing of The Cavern.

We even thought of having her son, Julian, whom had had a successful album, Valotte, as a guest too (which she liked).  Unfortunately, she couldn’t make it, but we did end up doing our Ottawa Conventions in ‘95 and ’96, with Pete Best and Louise Harrison as main guests, respectively.  Cynthia Lennon would later write a second book simply called John in 2005. She was a lot more critical of John in that book than her first and even said she wished in some ways, she had never met him.  Cynthia would, for years, have trouble getting much money and ran a couple failed restaurants and two of her marriages had ended in divorce before her final third husband died in 2013. When Yoko inherited John’s estate when John was killed in 1980, it still took years until Julian finally got a settlement which he shared with his mother.  Julian has been bitter the way he felt he had been treated, but over time, all the Beatles’ wives and children finally did appear together at certain functions such as the premiere of Cirque de Soleil’s Beatles’ Love show.

Cynthia, despite having been married to one of the most famous people in the world, as I said, didn’t have it easy.  But I was honored to meet her. I have no doubt that if Al and I hadn’t met Cynthia, we would never have actually done our own Beatles’ Conventions and gone on to meet several who knew The Beatles. That’s how much this lovely lady, Cynthia Lennon, had inspired me.

Below Julian Lennon’s video tribute to his mother, Cynthia, with his song:

https://youtu.be/fsyYqJxf9Qk

Cynthia Lennon's 1st book, 1978

Cynthia Lennon’s 1st book ,1978

Yoko Ono is now 82, and respected as her own artist

YOKO ONO: HER OWN ARTIST

YOKO ONO: HER OWN ARTIST 

By Alan Chrisman, copyright.

Yoko Ono’s birthday is Feb. 18.   John Lennon said once that Yoko was one the most famous artists in the world, but few people have actually seen her work.  But that has changed over these past several years and she has emerged as her own respected artist. Her art had been shown and received critical acclaim in many major art exhibits all over the world*.  And several musicians from succeeding generations from The B-52’s to The Flaming Lips to Lady Ga Ga credit her with inspiring them. Many people may also not know that she has had 12 #1 Billboard Dance Chart hits of her own songs since 2003.

She is recognized as one of the founders of concept and performance art going back to her involvement in the early New York movement, Fluxus, who were influenced by recognized pioneers John Cage and Marcel Duchamp.  She published her book, “Grapefruit”, in 1964 (which contained a poem “Imagine the clouds dripping”) that helped inspire Lennon’s signature post-Beatles’ song and made her own avant-garde films.  This was all before she even met Lennon in 1966.  There’s no doubt that she helped expose him to concept art and how it could be used to make social statements and reach the public, such as in their Bed Peace events and the War Is Over (if you want it) campaign, etc.

Yoko introduced John to concept & performance art which they used to promote peace

Yoko introduced John to “concept & performance art, which they used to promote peace

Bed Peace

But besides seeing her husband, John Lennon, being murdered right in front of her by a crazed Beatles’ fan in 1980, she has had to endure years of some fans vilifying her. There are some that still accuse her of breaking up the Beatles, now 45 years ago. Even though, Paul McCartney said in 2012 that he did not blame Ono for the breakup of the Beatles and credited Ono with inspiring much of Lennon’s post-Beatles work.

When she married Lennon in ’69, she was called the racist name  “dragon lady” and was seen as cold and manipulative and later for her treatment of John’s son, Julian, from John’s first wife Cynthia.  But Paul McCartney, with whom she at one time had some copyright and other differences, has said since then“I thought she was a cold woman. I think that’s wrong….. she’s just the opposite….. I think she’s just more determined than most people to be herself.” Julian and Cynthia posed with her at Julian’s photo exhibit in New York in 2010.  And Sean and Julian remain close half-brothers. Some may also not know that Yoko in return thanked Paul for actually helping John get back together with her (while visiting with Ono in March 1974, McCartney, on leaving, asked “[W]hat will make you come back to John?” McCartney subsequently passed her response to Lennon while visiting him in Los Angeles. “John often said he didn’t understand why Paul did this for us, but he did.”

Most of these disparaging myths that have built up around her have become mainly water-under-the-bridge for the parties involved. And it’s the public who sometimes carry on these misunderstandings. It’s like any family that doesn’t always agree on everything, only it’s been magnified because they’re immensely famous.  But most Beatles fans, I think, have come to respect Yoko for carrying on John’s legacy and their commitment to peace and change.

A far as her music, she has been accused of not having talent and that her singing is just “screaming”. But a lot of people who have said that, again, have probably never even heard many of her albums. It’s really only on her first album, which was made at the same time as John’s own first real solo album, Plastic Ono Band, in 1970, right after they had both gone through primal “scream” theory with Arthur Janov. They continued to release solo albumsfor both of them for the next few years and these contained very few such songs. In fact, there are some very well-constructed songs by Yoko on her next album, Fly in 1971 (“Midsummer New York”, a rocker, and the haunting “Mrs. Lennon”).  Yoko’s next record is a double album, Approximately Infinite Universe with backing by the Elephant’s Memory band. It is my favorite of hers, and like my favorite Beatles’ album, The White Album, it’s full of great songs by her and in a wide variety of styles. With songs like “Death of Samantha”, “Looking Out from My Hotel Window”; the rocker, “ Move On Fast”, and the political plea, “Now or Never.” For anyone who would actually listen to the words and performance on this album, I believe, for example, it would soon dispel the myth that she can’t sing and write good music. In 1973, she released the jazzy, Feeling the Space.

Yoko's Approximately Infinite Universe album, 1972, contains a wide variety of songs and styles

Yoko’s Approximately Infinite Universe album, 1972 was like her “White Album”, containing a wide variety of songs and styles

When John and Yoko released his last album, Double Fantasy, both of them shared the duties and compositions, often counterpointing the other’s songs (such as his “I’m Losing You” with her’s “I’m Moving On”).  The night John was shot they were working on her song, “Walking on Thin Ice”, which later became a dance hit.  Yoko, like with her art, has continued to put out several albums over the years and as I said, has had many dance hits. Several others have recorded her songs from Elvis Costello and Rosanne Cash, to more recent urban and alternative artists.

Yoko is in her 80’s now, but doesn’t seem to be slowing down one bit in her art, music or pursuit of peace and social change. And more and more the world and fans are finally catching up with her.

I was privileged to see Yoko and Sean perform in a small Toronto club in 1996 for her album, Rising.  And it was interesting to see how she won over even the few Yoko detractors by the end of the show. I had actually seen one of her early films in a small movie theatre in my university town before I knew she had met John Lennon and got to hear a performance by legendary art concrete pioneer, John Cage, around the same time.

BOSTON HEARLD: Feb. 16, 2015:  Monday’s great women: Yoko Ono, Helen Mirren, Uma Thurman

I LIKE criticism. It makes you strong,” says LeBron James.

THIS IS perhaps true. And in that mind-set, Yoko Ono must be one of the strongest of humans. What Yoko endured during her marriage to John Lennon — and even for years after she was widowed — was enough to bring down another person. But Yoko stayed true to every single ideal of her life and her art. In doing so, she has survived triumphantly. In her 80s she has seen the cultural world turn around and embrace her — not just her own generation or people in their 50s or 60s who still carry a lot of nostalgia for the Beatles and John. Nope, Yoko became a big deal on the dance charts with her unusual and uncompromising music. Kids know Yoko!

Now she is being celebrated in a soon-to-be published limited edition book, “See Hear Yoko” by Bob Gruen and Jody Denberg. Gruen, who was Yoko and John’s personal photographer, and Denberg, who interviewed Yoko many times over a 25-year span, have packed their tome with more than 200 photos and observations about this impressive, talented and courageous woman. (And might I add, for all her strength, a much more vulnerable person than the insulting and racist “dragon lady” publicity of her early, fraught years with John.)

“See Hear Yoko” is out next week, from Harper Collins

http://www.bostonherald.com/inside_track/celebrity_news/2015/02/mondays_great_women_yoko_ono_helen_mirren_uma_thurman

Yoko is respected as being in on the beginnings of performance art in New York in the early 60's.

Yoko is respected as being in on the beginnings of performance art in New York in the early 1960’s

* From May 17 to September 7, 2015, The Museum of Modern Art presents its first exhibition dedicated exclusively to the work of Yoko Ono, taking as its point of departure the artist’s unofficial MoMA debut in late 1971.

Yoko singing her haunting,” Mrs. Lennon”, 1971:

http://youtu.be/9wZGwXFP7RY

Original "War Is Over" Peace poster campaign, 1969

J & Y’S “WAR IS OVER” PEACE CAMPAIGN (INSPIRED BY “HUNGER GAMES-LIKE” FILM’S DIRECTOR

JOHN & YOKO’S “WAR IS OVER” PEACE CAMPAIGN,

(INSPIRED BY 1960’s “HUNGER GAMES-LIKE” FILM’S DIRECTOR LETTER)

By Alan Chrisman, copyright.

A letter from British director, Peter Watkins, first known for his controversial anti-nuclear war 1965 docudrama, War Games, was the catalyst for John Lennon and Yoko Ono to start their Bed Peace and War is Over (If you want it)campaigns in 1969.  John said a letter from the film’s director had first challenged them. The letter said: ‘People in your position have a responsibility to use the media for world peace’.  And we sat on the letter for about three weeks thinking, ‘Well, we’re doing our best, all you need is love, man’.  That letter just sort of sparked it all off.  It was like getting your induction papers for peace.”

John and Yoko staged their Bed-ins for peace, originally in Amsterdam, and famously later in Montreal, Canada, for a week starting  May 26,’69 and on June 1st recorded in their hotel room with several attendees, their peace anthem, “Give Peace a Chance”.

On Dec. 1, 1971 they released their single, “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” ,and posted billboards in major cities of around the world. The song has now become a timeless holiday favorite.  Yoko has announced that she has re-launched the “War is Over” Campaign and poster and is asking fans to re-send the poster as holiday cards.  Also she’d like people to join together in singing ,Imagine”, for this coming New Years.

But it was that letter by Watkins and his film, War Games, which had been banned by the BBC for its realistic depictions of nuclear war, during the Vietnam War, which had been the impetus for John and Yoko to come up with their concepts to draw the world’s attentions about war and violence.

Watkins also made another thought proving film, PRIVILEGE in 1967.  It’s the story of a rock star who becomes so popular that he becomes controlled by the government and the Church to do their bidding.   It stars a real pop star of the time, Paul Jones of British band, Manfred Mann, as the main character, Steven Shorter. The female lead was played by,”Face of the 60’s”, supermodel, Jean ShrimptonThe film raises some very intriguing questions about pop music and culture and mass media’s effect on society. It was very prophetic in its awareness.  At that time, mass pop music was in its beginnings and didn’t have the power that we have now come to take for granted, but the film foretold what was about to happen in 60’s and which continues to this day.  As I said, the powers that be, in the film, soon see the commercial (and political) potential and how they can manipulate the population and situation. It’s a satire and cautionary statement at the same time, a mixture of Orwell’s 1984, and documentary of pop culture’s and media’s growing domination.  It’s actually, partly influenced by a documentary on 50’s pop idol and his screaming fans, Canadian-born, Paul Anka (“Diana”, “Puppy Love” and who wrote “My Way” for Frank Sinatra), called Lonely Boy.

It’s also interesting because, while touring America in 1965, John Lennon himself, had stirred up controversy, when he was quoted as saying, “We’re more popular than Jesus Christ”.  DJ’s and some fans, mainly in the conservative U.S. South, had reacted by condemning him and holding “Burn Beatles’ records” rallies. Lennon, under pressure, had to somewhat apologize for his remarks, even though he was just expressing his own experience as part of a massively popular cultural phenomenon.  Of course, what he said was a very perceptive comment on his own experience and observation. There’s a scene in the film, Privilege, where, the singer, Steve Shorter, has to perform in stadiums and almost like a fundamentalist faith-healer touch and “cure” audience members with disabilities and afflictions. Lennon said, at Beatles’ concerts, they would place the disabled in wheelchairs at the front and sometimes, on stage in those big stadiums, most all the Beatles themselves could see from the stage, were these unfortunate people and after the concert, they would be brought backstage to meet the band. On those gruelling tours, they were the few fans they often got to see up close. There’s a scene in Privilege, where Paul Jones as rock star, sings the song,” SET ME FREE”, from behind jail bars erected on stage, as the audience screams hysterically.  Patti Smith would later record the song for her album, Easter, in 1978, and that scene from the movie, Privilege, still says a lot about the way we, perhaps, today with our pervasive mass media, even more, worship pop celebrity.  Privilege, the 1967 film, was ahead of its time, long before current films like the Hunger Games and covered of these same themes, and it’s recommended you check it out.

Lennon became quite aware of the strange circumstances pop idols often found themselves in, with all the adoration and mass hysteria.  As he sang later “Christ, the way things are going they’re going to crucify me”.  And sadly, ironically, as we all know, he was killed by a deranged fan on Dec. 8, 1980.  George Harrison had also been stabbed over 40 times by an intruder in his home just a couple years, before, which didn’t help his health certainly, and he would pass away of cancer on Nov. 29, 2001.  Some of the issues raised in Watkins’ films, Privilege, and War Games, were to have influence on future events and John and Yoko’s efforts for peace, which Yoko is still asking us to carry on, in John’s name and ideals.  Privilege, the 1967 film, was ahead of its time, long before current films like The Hunger Games covered some of these same themes, and it’s recommended you check it out.

PRIVILEGE, a Hunger Games-Like film, ahead of it's time, 1967

PRIVILEGE film poster, 1967, about rock star, being controlled by government and religious leaders

See below trailer for 1967 film, Privilege:

http://youtu.be/v_dZEky0KAw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_dZEky0KAw

See below John Lennon talking common sense about peace and

violence:

Link to YOKO ONO’S WEBSITE, where you can download and send updated  “WAR IS OVER” POSTERS:  

Original

Original “War Is Over”, Happy Xmas poster, 1969

YOKO

YOKO’S updated “War Is Over” Poster

Dear Friends
Go to http://imaginepeace.com/warisover/
Download, print & display these multilingual ‘WAR IS OVER!’ posters in your window, school, workplace, car and elsewhere.
Post them on your Social Media feeds and use the hashtag #WARISOVER.
Send them as postcards to your friends.
We say it in so many ways, but we are one.
I love you!
 

 

JOHN LENNON: THEY COULDN’T SILENCE HIM

John Lennon’ 1971 ” album and timeless song.Imagine”

JOHN LENNON: THEY COULDN’T SILENCE HIM

By Alan Chrisman, copyright.

John Lennon’s birthday is October 9. This is written in tribute to him.  Most of us remember where we were when we heard he had been shot, Dec. 8, 1980.  A crazed fan shot him and another stabbed George Harrison, which hastened his death in 2001. But they didn’t silence him or their music.  The Beatles and Lennon are more popular than ever and will continue to be for new generations to come.

The Sixties truly were The Decade That Changed the World, and The Beatles and Lennon were a large part of that. It really was a dividing line; a black and white, mono world before and a stereo, colour world after. For me, growing up with them, it was Lennon, although I liked all their music, which most interested me, from the beginning.  He and they had a profound influence on my life and got me involved in music, as I still am.

Everyone has a favorite Lennon song. I saw his solo songs as an extension of his Beatles’ work. There are too many to list, but some of my very favorites include: “Help”, “Girl”,  “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “ In My Life”,  “ All You Need”, “Revolution”, “Across The Universe”, “Don’t Let Me Down” and solo: “Instant Karma”, “Give Peace A Chance”, “ Working Class Hero”, “Jealous Guy”, “#9 Dream”, “Woman”, “ Starting Over”, “I’m Losing You”, “Watching The Wheels”, and of course,  “Imagine”.

It’s hard to fathom, how much they changed music, because we’ve been living with the changes ever since. Before The Beatles nobody took pop music and pop culture seriously; it was only for the kids.  But they and other 60’s groups especially, showed it could also be an art form.

We, it seems, like to have our icons live fast and die young, so we can try and freeze-frame them in their youth, as we have to get older. We all know the stories and legends about their rise and success, and they and their songs have all become part of our shared culture. But Lennon, especially, will be remember for more than just his great music.  He also believed in certain ideals, such as trying to change things through peaceful methods.

At the time, Lennon was criticized by the left for not answering the violence of the Establishment with the same. But he and Yoko (who had been a conceptual artist before she met Lennon and whose poem had first inspired, “ Imagine”), felt that we had been brainwashed with wars and violence and we should at least give “Peace a Chance”.  It  may have seemed somewhat 60’s- simplistic perhaps at the time, but part of being an artist is never losing the creative innocence of a child.  In his “Revolution”, he said we should “free our minds instead”.  And Lennon, thankfully never lost that innocence in his songs.

He also seemed to be remarkably outspoken in his honesty, even about his own contradictions.  For all these reasons, as well as his music, he is even more respected today.

Also a big part of The Beatles’ appeal was their and, his especially, sense of humour and wit. And it’s sorely missed today.  It would be interesting to see what he would think of our present day society.  What would he think of the internet and social media and governments and corporations knowing so much about us and our self-obsessed culture (“Nobody Told Me”, there’d be days Like these”).  What would he think of our current music scene (which mainly has reverted back to disposable pop) and how we can have it 24/7 and not pay the artists for their work?  It would certainly be fascinating to see what he would have said and expressed in his songs.

But a half century later, as I say, they and his music has stood up. I saw McCartney play in 2013 and, at age 71, he still rocked and Ringo is still touring.  Harrison is respected too for his music and beliefs, like Lennon.  And Lennon, if he were around, would no doubt still be rocking too.

There will only be one Elvis and one Beatles and certainly, one John Lennon. There hasn’t been, I don’t think, anyone else come close, to his uniqueness. But his music and inspiration and ideals will carry on.  Despite the negative actions of some negative persons, they weren’t able to silence John Lennon- “Imagine”.

For more stories how The Beatles and John Lennon , especially, influenced Alan Chrisman, and millions of others, see excerpts from his book,” It’s A Long Way Home (& How Beatles’ Music Saved My Life).  www.rockthistownproductions.com

 

John Lennon’s almost child-like innocence, but yet wise,  words., that he fortunately never lost in his songs.

See “IMAGINE” by John Lennon:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Pl8G75_v1w