A World First
Double Fantasy - John & Yoko
This exhibition has been made possible with the kind permission of Yoko Ono Lennon.
Museum of Liverpool
18 May 2018 - 3 Nov 20192
A Feature by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!
John and Yoko have long been part of my consciousness and seeing this mind-expanding exhibition reminded me of that. In 1969, when the first of their two, now legendary Bed-ins took place, in Amsterdam, I was in year two of four in a Philadelphia high school, doing all the things teenage girls typically did back then, including following the activities of The Beatles, which, then included Yoko Ono, much to many people’s chagrin, distaste we’ve since come to learn, was mainly, manu-factured by the press. I was also taken with the music of Plastic Ono Band, soon to follow. Give Peace a Chance, famously recorded at the second Bed in for Peace in May of that year in Montreal, and Power to the People, recorded in conjunction with the Imagine album of songs in 1971, were happenings, and I felt sure, even at the time, anthems for our generation and many others to come.
Bed In Double Fantasy © Mark McNulty
Being against the Vietnam War, racism, gender inequality and, for, their polar opposites, i.e. things like Worker’s and Women’s rights was also part and parcel of being young and/or socially aware in America and many other countries back then and John and Yoko were among the leading voices of their time when it came to fighting the good fight. No wonder I had such a feeling of déjà vu when I entered the exhibition, with its silent videos rolling on screens side by side, showing peaceful protests of the era, often met with violence, and the music from Imagine, which plays over the open-ended conclusion of the gallery’s semi-circular, main grouping. This immediately gives not only a sense of the turbulent times John and Yoko lived, loved and actively participated in the global movement for Peace in, but the hypothetical nature of their collaborative song. I say collaborative, as last year, Yoko finally got song writing credit, which John had already acknowledged.
Speaking of words, having Double Fantasy - John and Yoko with their own, accompanying thoughts on things, heightens the sense of being in their presences once again and that feeling becomes stronger as you go along. It reminds you, not only of how much John and Yoko’s voices were needed in their time, but how much we’ve missed hearing them. Which I believe, is one of the reasons I, and other visitors to the exhibition stood transfixed as John, invariably, on chat shows at least, main spokesperson of the pair, sat, captured on celluloid forever, stating facts that should have justified a revolution that never came at the time, but still should, one of peace, love and, faith, in our unmitigated power to create the kind of world John and Yoko envisioned and John gloriously sang about. Imagine… Being able to see actual lyrics to songs John wrote would have been enough to make me visit and I can’t describe the feeling seeing the words to Imagine in his matter of fact, but loose scrawl meant. Quotes from both John and Yoko that you’ll want to commit to memory also abound here, full of ironic wit and hindsight is 20/20 wisdom.
John Lennon "Instant Karma" 1970
Handwritten lyrics by John Lennon. ©Yoko Ono
Although I knew the Museum of Liverpool had worked with Yoko on the content and presentation of the exhibition for years prior to its opening, nothing could have prepared me for the lingering inspiration it inspires. There are many personal, doubtless cherished possessions on display here, among them, the white jacket John wore on their wedding day and Yoko’s ruffled white mini skirt, as well as, at the exhibition’s centre, a pair of John’s NHS wire rim glasses, opposite Yoko’s large sunglasses.
Glasses © Mark McNulty
Through such items, and also, their words, pivotal episodes from John and Yoko’s relationship, beginning with their meeting at London’s Indica Gallery on Nov. 9, 1966, are chronicled as fully as possible, starting with a tall ladder like the one then Beatle John, who Yoko didn’t rec-ognise at the time, climbed to read the tiny word ‘yes’ on the ceiling through the magnifying glass supplied. Later that year, Yoko gifted John with a copy of her 1964 book of poems and instructions, Grapefruit, which, with its ‘Imagine this, imagine that’ take, as John put it, inadvertently informed his most powerful, subversive song. John was also to comment that amid a sea of negativity in the conceptual art world, Yoko’s positive approach was unique. Some of her other artworks from the era are there, among them, a white painting meant to be walked on, to show where she was at artistically at the time and, confirm that she was already a well-established artist.
Yoko Ono "Painting to Hammer A Nail" 1961/1966.
Unfinished Paintings and Objects, Indica Gallery,
London. Nov. 9-22, 1966
Photo by John Bigelow Taylor ©Yoko Ono
Three hours seemed like plenty of time to look at the exhibition at the outset, but there isn’t one aspect of John and Yoko’s time together that isn’t touched on. Once I’d revisited ‘68’s plain brown wrapper Two Virgins made 18 months after they met, their ‘69 marriage, Bed-ins for Peace and other positive political actions, where the acoustic Gibson guitar, with John’s drawings of them on it that he used in Give Peace a Chance is on show, rare additional time capsules via videos and personal artifacts, New York Years with John’s iconic New York t-shirt with Bob Gruen’s photo, Yoko’s London Grapefruit book signing in ‘71, John’s struggle to stay in the States and get a Green Card - on show in a case all its’ own here, his ‘Lost Weekend detailing their eighteen month separation,’ John and Yoko’s reuniting, Beautiful Boys, son Sean and John, his untimely death in 1980, and finally, the depth of the legacy he left behind. While taking this journey I was alternatingly awed, happy, entertained, sad and wistful, by turns, but always and ever, grateful for what John and Yoko have given the world. When I return, I will allow myself a day to try to absorb it all…
John Lennon's "Green Card" issued by the U.S.Immigration Office. 1976. ©Yoko Ono
Along the way, we participated, as only Yoko invites viewers to do, heightening our experience of being in John and Yoko’s company again, or at least, the vibe they created together. In that spirit, long before I got to the Wishing Trees outside Double Fantasy exhibition proper, I’d sung Give Peace a Chance and Imagine in what looked and, sounded like a recording booth, words on screen when needed with piped in music, and, laid on the floor of a room with big cushions where all the albums John and Yoko ever made solo or together, played, when I just about managed to scream sing along with a, to me, unrecognisable track, obviously from their Primal Screaming era, which I frankly, found very therapeutic! Writing wishes and thoughts relating to John’s legacy and hopes for world peace and attaching them to a wall on which a photo of him from his Imagine period took centre stage seemed to help with closure which it seemed, me and some of the other participants around me hadn’t even realized we needed until then. Many simply wrote, ‘Thank you John.’
We’d already encountered Yoko herself at the Meltdown Festival she curated at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2013, considered the last great Meltdown by many. There, we’d written and shared impromptu poems, watched experimental film, Bottoms, sat front row at son Sean and Yoko’s Plastic Ono Band concert, and danced in front of a stage on which she and Siouxsie shared a one- off version of Walking on Thin Ice at Double Fantasy Live, the memorable concluding concert of her Meltdown, with a different artist on each song, among them, Patti Smith on Beautiful Boy.
I’d barely glimpsed the section about the Peace Tower Yoko created in John’s memory in Iceland with its accompanying Wishing Trees before we were ushered out of the Museum at closing time, and I’d yet to locate the recreation of the Imagine mosaic Yoko had installed in Central Park, NYC. Both omissions could only be solved by revisiting at a more leisurely pace in future. As we reluctantly headed for the exit, a member of the Museum’s staff who’d been chatting with a visitor near the door was overheard saying, ‘This is the best exhibition we’ve had in the seventeen years I’ve been here.’ Without even seeing the other exhibitions staged during that time, I felt that must be true. In 2002, we’d visited the real Imagine mosaic in Central Park, and, though the experience saddened me, I was glad and very grateful that Yoko had created the permanent commemoration.
As John famously saw, on that first meeting with Yoko at the Indica Art Gallery in London, back in ’66, and later sang, in Mind Games, ‘yes is the answer.’ On that note, it’s seemed to me over the years that Yoko’s always tries to take a positive slant, though I’m not sure how she’s found the strength, given all she’s been through, I still find it inspiring that she’s chosen yes instead of no.
When John was suddenly and senselessly taken from Yoko and, the world, the global, unprecedented reaction ironically, drew people together, in, what in memory, now seems like a moment, united, against violence, as they had always hoped people would do, promoted by their music and artworks like billboards they’d rented, one in Times Square reminding us, we, as people, have the power to create change for the greater good. We still have that power, a fact often overlooked today.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono in Battery Park, NYC ©Yoko Ono
Yoko, now 85, with yet another new album out, Warzone, a re-imaging of previous works 1970 – 2009, continues to surprise, in remarkable ways, not least of which with her unstoppable penchant for peace, love and positivity, despite everything. Small wonder I’m already looking forward to re-visiting Double Fantasy – John and Yoko.
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