By Madeline Bocaro ©
50 Years Ago… 1969
We remember John and Yoko as one spiritual entity – flickering across television screens, dancing through airports trailed by cameras and crowds, talking in bed, smiling and kissing. They were angelic – all in a flurry of white from head to toe. Hip, cool and deeply in love, floating on their own cloud with the wind in their long hair.
Individually they were fragile, faraway and quite other-worldly. Together they were strong, grounded and entwined – true soul mates from opposite ends of the planet who created their own dream world so that they could exist. Together, they welcomed us aboard the magic carpet ride of their dreams.
John and Yoko sincerely gazed into each other’s eyes and into ours. They endearingly reassured us that things were going to be alright.
However, their story was not simply a ballad, but a full-blown dramatic, epic operatic comedy and tragedy.
1969 was an inhumanly busy year for John and Yoko. It was a turbulent time in which the couple promoted peace and love, made Unfinished Music, more films, live concerts, married in Gibraltar on March 20th and staged two Bed-Ins for peace in Amsterdam (March) and Montreal (in May). They also released albums and singles, staged Bagism events, mailed acorns, debuted The Plastic Ono Band and launched their War Is Over! (If you want it) poster campaign.
In 1969 the Vietnam war was still raging under Nixon’s presidency. The Beatles, as a band were fracturing. Elvis was planning his comeback. It was the summer of the first moonwalk. The Manson Murders put an abrupt end to the Summer of Love.
John and Yoko tried to create calm at the center of this maelstrom,
truly believing that they could create ripples that would lead to an ocean of world peace.
John Lennon was still a Beatle. The band, though at its breaking point was also quite active in 1969. The Beatles (White Album) had been released just weeks prior on November 22, 1968 just after the huge success of their single ‘Hey Jude’/’Revolution’.
Paul’s Song for a Friend: ‘Hey Jude’
Despite all odds and thoughts about Paul’s negativity regarding John’s new love Yoko Ono, in the lyrics of ‘Hey Jude’ he selflessly reassures his best friend to pursue a relationship with her. John knew that Paul’s lyrics were speaking to him…
The longest and most controversial album track was inspired by Stockhausen’s sound collages and by John’s appreciation of Yoko Ono’s work with John Cage, which liberated Lennon from a conventional beat…
My story: White On White
It was epic! We played it repeatedly, endlessly.
We were so intimate with the music that It became a continuous symphony – we knew the exact length of the silent gaps between each song and which tune perfectly followed each one…
In January 1969 the Yellow Submarine film soundtrack album was released. The Beatles were ensconced at Twickenham Studios – arguing under stress of the sessions being constantly filmed (though outtake film footage shows them happily jamming with Yoko!) They were recording new songs and rehearsing for an aborted live televised concert. Instead, their final performance of new material from the Let It Be sessions took place on the rooftop of their Apple Records headquarters at 3 Savile Row, on January 30. The album would not be released for 18 months.
From February through August, the Beatles were working on their final album, Abbey Road. The band had personal conflicts, managerial problems, several ongoing lawsuits and also battled to maintain the rights to their music. Paul had secretly helped himself to extra shares – a grand betrayal to John and the others. Their company, Apple Records was losing money fast.
John wanted only to be with Yoko. His bandmates’ and public resentment of the woman he loved led the couple to heroin, which made John more volatile and even hostile. Lennon’s travel was limited due to visa problems from a marijuana bust in October 1968. John and Yoko were victims of a notorious British cop who was planting drugs in the homes of various musicians, including the Rolling Stones and George Harrison. This incident plagued John throughout his life as he fought hard – under FBI surveillance and years of deportation hearings – to stay and live in New York City.
Also in January, ads appeared – bearing a biblical quotation – for John & Yoko’s debut collaboration. The album was called Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins. The couple appear in a naked selfie on the front and back covers. 30,000 copies of the album were seized in New Jersey and declared obscene in other states, despite the brown paper over-wrap. If undercover sales figures had been reported, the album would have topped the charts! The album was only available via mail order in the U.K.
The Whole Story: Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins – (Released November 1968 / Seized January 1969)
John and Yoko were the Adam and Eve of our generation. John took a bite of Yoko’s Apple upon their first meeting in London at Indica gallery in November 1966, two years prior to recording Two Virgins. When they shocked the world in their birthday suits on the album cover, all hell broke loose…
Yoko brought John along as ‘her band’ for a live performance she had been invited to at Cambridge University. Unannounced, he accompanied Yoko in a free-form improvisation on March 2, 1969, shocking everyone in attendance.
The hectic pace quickened after John and Yoko’s March 20th Gibraltar wedding. (Paul McCartney married Linda Eastman eight days earlier on March 12th). Wedding Album was released on November 7th – the anniversary of the Lennons’ meeting in 1966. The remastered Wedding Album will be re-released this year by Secretly Canadian/Chimera Music – on CD and on white (and limited clear) vinyl on March 22, 2019 – two days after its 50th anniversary. It will include the original fun-filled deluxe package of goodies.
My story about John & Yoko’s marriage: White Wedding:
“There was also the image of the female who would someday come save me – a ‘girl with kaleidoscope eyes’ who would come out of the sky. It turned out to be Yoko, though I hadn’t met Yoko yet. So maybe it should be Yoko in the Sky with Diamonds.” – John
The newlyweds traveled to the Amsterdam Hilton to stage the first of their two week-long Bed-Ins for peace beginning on March 25th, where a media circus ensued.
Bed- In Amsterdam:
John and Yoko flew to Vienna on March 31 baffling the press with one of their Bagism events and for the premier of their two films, Rape and Self Portrait – a film of John’s erection. (In an ironic twist, their later 1971 film called Erection featured a building under construction).
Bag Piece: John & Yoko’s Viennese Waltz
This was Yoko’s concept of ‘total communication’ with no visual obstacles, judgments or preconceptions.
My story about the film Rape:
“The cameraman will chase a girl on a street with a camera persistently until he corners her in an alley, and, if possible, until she is in a falling position.”
On April 22nd John legally changed his middle name from Winston to Ono in a ceremony on the same rooftop where the Beatles’ final performance took place. The album Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions was released in May on Zapple Records. It featured the Lennons’ avant-garde Cambridge performance from March, a track called ‘Two Minutes Silence’ and another piece including the heartbeat of the baby that Yoko had miscarried. ‘The Ballad of John & Yoko’ single chronicling their adventures and difficulties (credited to Lennon/McCartney – the only two musicians on the song) was recorded in April and released on May 30th while the Beatles ‘Get Back’ held the number one spot for six weeks.
The story of ‘Two Minutes Silence’:
Two Minutes Silence’ preceded John & Yoko’s silent ‘Nutopian National Anthem’ (1973) by four years. Both of these Lennon/Ono pieces quite possibly sample ‘4:33’ by John Cage (1952). It is not known if John and Yoko paid him royalties on the silence…
‘Give Peace a Chance’ (also credited to Lennon McCartney despite being a Plastic Ono Band release) backed with Yoko’s song ‘Remember Love’ was recorded in May during the second Bed-In (Montreal) and released on July 4th.
John & Yoko’s Song of Peace: ‘Give Peace a Chance’ & The Second Bed-In
The Lennons appeared saintly, all in white – surrounded by white bed sheets and white flowers. John, with his long hair and beard conjured a messianic image. His muse, the angelic Yoko was always beside him. At times, there were up to fifty people in the room at their feet, with a smattering of celebrities…
John and Yoko reprised Acorn Peace (1968) in which they planted two acorns in the garden at Coventry Cathedral. In 1969, they mailed acorns to as many world leaders as they could think of, asking each one to plant the acorn for peace. Many did not respond, but several most likely planted their acorn. The couple received a ‘thank you’ letter from the Queen of England!
“We’re going to send two acorns for peace to every world leader from John and Yoko. Perhaps if they plant them and watch them grow they may get the idea into their heads”
– John Lennon
John and Yoko’s Seeds of Peace (1968/1969)
The seeds were not only a symbol of Peace, but a symbol of East and West coming together. John and Yoko planted their acorns, one facing East, and one facing West symbolizing their places of birth; Liverpool and Tokyo…
In May 1969 the Lennons bought their dream home, Tittenhurst Park in Ascot. They moved in three months later.
John & Yoko’s Dream Home: Tittenhurst Park
The gorgeous white house and sprawling property is an idyllic backdrop for the Imagine film, lending a Camelot like atmosphere …
(On June 8, 1969 Richard Nixon announced that 25,000 soldiers would be withdrawn from Viet Nam. The first withdrawals were carried out one month later.)
On July 1st, the Lennons suffered injuries from a car crash during their family holiday in Scotland with their young children (from previous marriages) Julian and Kyoko. While there, John endured more of the same – the wrath of his relatives’ disapproval of his relationship with Yoko. Upon their return, the Beatles grimaced when a bed was brought into the studio for Yoko’s convalescence. Their mangled car was later installed at the Lennons’ Tittenhurst home as a lawn sculpture.
In England, on the afternoon of August 8th was the famous photo shoot of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road for their album cover. On that same night in California, members of the Manson Family murdered five people on Cielo Drive due to their leader Charlie’s misreading of Beatles lyrics from the white album. Among those killed that night was actress Sharon Tate, whose husband Roman Polanski had attended Yoko’s Indica gallery exhibition in 1966 where John met Yoko. (The Polanskis had also dined with Robert Kennedy on the evening of his assassination in June 1968). Ten days later on August 18th, the 4- day long Woodstock festival wrapped up in Bethel, New York.
The Beatles recorded their final song together John’s ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ on August 21st. The next day, the last ever photos of the band were taken at Tittenhurst by Linda McCartney.
Less than three weeks later, on September 13th, the Lennons debuted the first incarnation of their ever-evolving Plastic Ono Band (John & Yoko, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann and Alan White) at the Toronto Rock N’ Roll Revival Festival where the bill included John’s idols Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis, which resulted in a live John & Yoko album Live Peace in Toronto.
Bassist Klaus Voormann commented about Yoko’s performance at the Toronto festival:
“She was doing everything she could possibly do to let the people know that war was terrible. By the end she was croaking like a dying bird. It was heartbreaking. I really heard tanks and soldiers and people dying. At the end, John came and embraced her. You could see exactly what he saw in her. He was proud of her and loved her, and in a way, he couldn’t care less about the public, but in another way, they were trying to spread this message.”
– Klaus Voormann, Uncut Magazine April 2019
We Are Plastic Ono Band! (Plastic Ono Band History):
The Plastic Ono Band concept was Yoko’s idea.
“As I was asked to do a show in Berlin before John and I got together, I wanted to use four plastic stands with tape recorders in each one of them, as my band. I told that story to John and he immediately coined the phrase Plastic Ono Band…
In September, the ridiculously infamous and absurd Paul Is Dead clues and rumors festered, causing worldwide panic and speculation. John finally got his ‘divorce’ from the Beatles, which was kept secret when Abbey Road was released on September 26th bearing yet more bizarre clues as to Paul’s alleged demise.
The ICA London held three John & Yoko film festivals in Sept. and Nov. screening Film No. 5 (Smile), Self Portrait, Rape and Apotheosis.
Yoko had another miscarriage on October 10th. John and Yoko’s single about their heroin withdrawal ‘Cold Turkey’ and Yoko’s ‘Don’t Worry Kyoko…’ was released on October 24 (recorded in Sept.) with Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann and Ringo Starr. On November 25th, John returned his MBE (jokingly protesting ‘Cold Turkey’ slipping down the charts).
On October 15th The Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam took place across the USA. Another massive demonstration occurred a month later in Washington D.C. The protestors all sang along to ‘Give Peace a Chance’ with folk singer Pete Seeger, which touched John deeply.
In November, the Lennons vacationed in Greece and in Bombay.
December 12th saw the release of Live Peace in Toronto on vinyl. The year wrapped up with the London Lyceum UNICEF charity concert on the 15, 1969 at which the War Is Over! poster campaign was launched. Billboards and posters in various languages were hung in eleven cities, on buses and the message was also printed as newspaper ads, all paid for by the Lennons. Every Christmas/New Year Yoko continues to place full-page ads with the “War Is Over! (If You Want It)” slogan).
John and Yoko met Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau on December 23.
My story about the Lyceum Concert:
John: “It was a FANTASTIC show – very heavy. A lot of the audience walked out you know, but the ones that stayed – they were in a TRANCE man.
John and Yoko declared 1970 Year One A.P. (After Peace).
They were soon to find out that peace was still way out of reach,
but they never gave up – eternally continuing to spread their message
and dreaming together.
September 13, 2018
Yoko and Ringo
Outdoor Bed-In on Wall Street in NYC
Promoting the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus:
Although John and Yoko met in November 1966, it was 18 months before they became a couple.
Read my story about their meeting here:
When Two Clouds Meet:
On the evening that changed his life forever, John Lennon visited Yoko Ono’s exhibition tat London’s Indica Gallery. John’s bite of Yoko’s apple – a modern tale of Adam and Eve / East meets West – began the ballad of John and Yoko. It started off many turbulent, yet exciting years for the infamous couple who would dedicate their eternal union to promoting peace…
Yoko was not only presenting nature’s perfect creation, the apple on a pedestal. She was also – unwittingly – an avant-garde Johnny Appleseed leaving a trail of seeds, using nature to nurture conceptual art via the forbidden fruit. In religion and in mythology, the apple is associated with love, sensuality, sin and temptation.
“The apple is the wisdom we gave to men“
– Yoko Ono 2010
More of my John and Yoko stories: