By Madeline Bocaro ©
Released June 8, 1981 UK / June 12, 2981 USA
A glass half empty. Her dead husband’s eyeglasses smeared with his blood. The camera lens. All glass. Transparent. A misty rainy-day photograph taken from their bedroom window above Central Park – the skyline of the city that he loved.
This was Yoko’s fragile world in December 1980.
In the early days, glass for Yoko was a clear portal to the world outside. Her Painting to Let the Evening Light Go Through consisted of a transparent pane for letting in light. Her glass keys opened the sky. Her glass hammer could not break anything without breaking itself. But in December 1980, glass became Yoko’s only protection. She began to wear dark shades, hiding her eyes – a barrier between her and the world. Yoko would spend decades behind glass.
We were all broken after the unthinkable tragedy that occurred on December 8th. The world was in mourning days later at John’s vigil on a cold day enveloped in delicate snow that began to fall during the silence, as if on cue. When spring appeared in June 1981 the sun was shining, yet the bitter chill and darkness remained. ‘The season that never passes. ’It never would.
The first release from Yoko in January 1981 – less than a month after John’s death – was ‘Walking on Thin Ice’. It is not included on Season of Glass, but it was the song that she and John were working on in December 1980 during the Double Fantasy sessions. John absolutely loved Yoko’s song. The night before he was murdered, John played it repeatedly – all night long – predicting that it would be Yoko’s first No. 1 hit. In fact, a clip of him saying this is included at the start of the song in the Onobox collection (1992). Yoko was shocked when John’s prediction came true in 2013 – a CD of ‘Walking on Thin Ice’ remixes became Yoko’s 11th No. 1 single on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart. It hit No. 1 again in 2013.
On the groundbreaking original version, John Lennon and Earl Slick play scathing guitar lines to this unnerving, brittle song about the fragility of life, risk, repercussion and death. The chilling lyrics suddenly became a shocking and sad reality. John was carrying the tape of ‘Walking on Thin Ice’ when he was murdered.
Yoko’s vocals on the track eventually inspired countless artists in many genres. The most beautiful version is this remixed vocal/string arrangement. Yoko released a stunning new video for the song on her birthday in 2016:
ONO/Tenaglia – ‘Walking on Thin Ice’ (Maestro Version) – Yes, I’m a Witch Too, 2016
See my full story about ‘Walking on Thin Ice’ – Just A Story:
Yoko’s solo album Season of Glass followed six months later in June 1981 – in another season – summer. She tried to heal after John’s death by going right back to work, making music and finishing the songs they had started together. Although Yoko was still extremely fragile, she was unbroken. She seemed to have become the ‘glass lady’ in the Double Fantasy song ‘I’m Moving On’.
“Glass lady is a surreal, symbolic “other” in anybody’s life.” – Twitter Q&A 2017
On the album cover, Yoko would share and deflect her nightmare – illustrating what the world had done to her and to John. She lets us see through the shattered window of her world and hides nothing – as always. When they met, John and Yoko instantly and intimately bonded. They faced the world together – naked. Thirteen years later, Yoko was suddenly alone.
“John was killed, and it was very important for me to show that to the world, and for people to remember. Because I think that all of us are responsible of his death, of course including myself and both John and I were always trying to make a peaceful world. And it’s very ironical that John who loved peace so much, died in a violent way.”
– Yoko, Ina France television interview December 1981
First, Yoko premiered a music video created for ‘Goodbye Sadness’ featuring beautiful yet heartbreaking footage of herself and John together. Yoko recites the following poem (on the album’s back cover) in this video version of the opening song, broadcast only once on Saturday Night Live just after John’s passing.
spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence
and one remembers one’s exuberance
and one remembers one’s reverence
and one remembers one’s perseverance
there is a season that never passes
and that is the season of glass
Season of Glass is a work of beauty, sadness and healing. It is sometimes emotionally trying, but we become enveloped in its delicate aural mist. Phil Spector was a discreet co-producer, but Yoko took over in the final stages of recording at The Hit Factory in NYC. Her vocals are sometimes childlike – quivering and frail with steadfast sincerity and brutal honesty. At other times her voice is strong, full of anger and fear.
“My voice kept cracking while I recorded the songs. I finally thought maybe I shouldn’t put the album out. Then it occurred to me there were probably many people in the world whose voices were cracking for many reasons. I realized my songs were the songs of the desperate. It was all right to show myself as how I was.” – Yoko
The ‘Goodbye Sadness’ video begins with the same four jolting gunshots (representing what happened to John) followed by Yoko’s scream which opens the song, ‘No No No’. The album version starts only with Michael Brecker’s woeful sax intro.
Goodbye, sadness Goodbye, goodbye I don’t need you anymore
I wet my pillow every night
But now I saw the light / Goodbye, goodbye, sadness / I don’t need you anymore
Goodbye, goodbye, sadness / I can’t take it anymore
I lived in fear every day / But now I’m going my way
Hello, happiness, wherever you are / I hope you hear my song
I Never want to cry again / Or hold my breath in fear again
The enchanting, magical and comforting lullabies ‘Silver Horse’ and ‘Toyboat’ are sung by Yoko in a small, high pitched voice in childlike wonderment. They reside somewhere between a prayer and a dream.
Most of the songs on Season of Glass are re-workings of older ones. ‘Will You Touch Me’ was written in 1971. Others are from 1973: ‘Turn of the Wheel,’ ‘Toy Boat,’ ‘Nobody Sees Me Like You Do’ (John had told Yoko that he liked the chords on this one) and ‘Even When You’re Far Away’ which now has young Sean Lennon’s intro, talking about a bedtime story his father used to tell him.
‘Even When You’re Far Away’
Some songs are from 1974; ‘Dogtown,’ ‘She Gets Down on Her Knees’ (which was a bit funkier with a classical jazz intro – it was also remixed for Yes, I’m a Witch, Too in 2016) and ‘Extension 33’ (A demo version appears on Onobox). These were left over from Yoko’s solo album Feeling The Space (1974) which was meant to be a double set called Half a Windsong.
See my full story about Feeling The Space here:
Some songs on Season of Glass were recorded with John in the 1970s and were released as bonus tracks on other Ono reissues, such as the acoustic version of ‘Dogtown’. The unreleased 1974 album A Story also contained several songs later re-recorded for Season of Glass; ‘She Gets Down On Her Knees’ and ‘Will You Touch Me’. A Story was released on Rykodisc in 1997. (Some songs were previously included in Onobox, 1992).
A piano & voice version of ‘She Gets Down on Her Knees’
(Another eerily foreboding song from A Story, ‘It Happened’ had been released in Japan on the Odeon label to promote Yoko’s 1974 tour. ‘It Happened’ became the b-side of the single ‘Walking On Thin Ice’ in January 1981.)
‘Mother of the Universe’ was written in 1978. ‘Silver Horse,’ ‘Goodbye Sadness’ and ‘Mindweaver’ were copyrighted in 1980. The new (1981) compositions were the bone chilling ‘I Don’t Know Why’ (the demo was made on December 9th) and ‘No No No’ which could only have come to be at this time.
Yoko explained the evolution of ‘I Don’t Know Why’;
“…a song that came to my mind about two nights after John was shot. I was in bed trying to close my ears to the sound of John’s records being played loudly outside the Dakota building by fans, especially ‘Imagine’. Then the song came into my mind. I was in such a state I couldn’t think of the chords. It hadn’t occurred to me to go to the piano that was in the room. I picked up a cassette tape recorder that was always next to our bed and recorded the song acappella. I did not change one word when I recorded it later. At the time I envisioned the end part as half an hour of screaming and swearing. But in the studio, I decided not to do it that way.” – Yoko
In the lyrics, Yoko lashes out (for perhaps the only time in her life) at the unimaginable hatred that she and John endured over the years simply for being together.
Hate us! hate me! we had everything…
(The acapella demo of ‘I Don’t Know Why’ which Yoko recorded alone just after John’s death was included on the 1997 Rykodisc reissue of Season of Glass. Other Ryko reissues featured acoustic bonus tracks of early songs; ‘Will You Touch Me’ and an acoustic ‘Dogtown’).
There is a discomforting video for the discordant ‘No, No, No’ in which beautiful Yoko faces a mirror, having an oral fixation – obviously feeling emptiness, loss and ambivalence about sexual situations as a widow. The lines about unfulfilled promises refer to pacts that John had made but cannot fulfill as he is no longer here. The melody and outro are played by a real ambulance siren and the gunshots are real as well.
‘NO, NO, NO’ was written and sung by a woman who was in such a pain that her heart was cracking while she kept her mind clear so she could survive for herself and for her son. Of course that was me – right after John passed away. When John was still alive, he kept whispering to Sean that he will always be there for Sean and protect him. So when John left, Sean kept saying “Promise is made to be broken.” Making it light than what it was. He was in pain. Sean loved this song. Each time when I sung “I don’t remember what you promeeesed” and elongated the end of it, he used to let his body go down at the same time to the floor. I remember how hard it was for me to go through that period, especially, knowing how Sean was managing to hide his tears.
‘No, No, No’ – watch here:
Someday I’ll be remembered for
The fine words I meant to keep
A warm smile I meant to leave
And a true song I meant to finish writing all my life
– ‘Dogtown’ (1975/1981)
‘Dogtown’ Demo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAxTXwP2q_Y
‘Dogtown’ A Story (1974) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOlIOVu0Tq4
“I remember Season of Glass, the music moving me so much.
It’s an amazing accomplishment that she went into the studio after my dad died.
She takes the most painful, most intense experiences and turns it them into beautiful art. And I think that’s what my dad loved so much about her.”
– Sean Ono Lennon to David Fricke, Rolling Stone – June 11, 1998
Yoko re: the album cover:
“…I would stick by it. That made that album not commercial and the record company called me and said, “Look, you have to change the cover otherwise we can’t put it out because all the shops say they’re not going to carry it.” And I said, “Well, we’ll just have to take a chance.” To have those glasses on the cover was important because it was a statement and you have to understand that it was like John wanted you guys to see those glasses. Because that was what was done to him. I saw what was done to him. It was worse than that cover shows. I’ve seen the worst of it and that cover was just like a very mild statement, s little message to you from John.”
– Yoko to Tom Hibbert, Who the Hell Does Yoko Ono Think She Is” – Q Magazine 1988
*Yoko had asked photographer David Nutter (who had taken the wedding photos of John & Yoko in Gibraltar) for technical advice on how to shoot the album cover. She believes that the still water in the half-empty glass appears to be sad, reflecting Masaru Emoto’s experiments and studies on the emotions and memory of water.
ONOBOX – Rykodisc 1992
DISC 5: NO, NO, NO (Liner notes by Yoko)
This disc is made of excerpts from Season Of Glass, It‘s Alright and Starpeace. The three albums I have recorded since John’s death. There is a story about a composer who went to his mother’s funeral and though he was very upset about the loss, he could not help noticing that his sister was crying off key. It was a story to indicate how inhuman a composer can get in his professionalism. Listening back to these tracks, I don’t know how I made them at the time when I was in sheer pain. But I also think it helped me to get through the hard times to just think
about being on key.
NO, NO, NO was how I felt through the first couple of months. John was dead. I was alive. But John’s side of the bed was still warm when I came back from the hospital. My side was cold. I was shivering. It was as if John were still alive. I wanted somebody to hold me. In my mind, I was saying please, hold me. I wanted to stop shivering. I was saying please, don’t hold me. My body still remembered my husband’s warmth. My mind was like a shattered glass, the sharp points split in tangents. I made myself impossible for anybody to hold me. When I wrote the song, I juxtaposed the atonal and minor chords. Which suited the woman who felt like she was wearing a pair of mismatched shoes. In the recording, I used real gun shots and sirens. It was not a tea party.
A musician came to me and said he could make a siren effect with the guitar, using two of my atonal chords. “It’s better to keep the song a musical experience,” he said. He played the chords. I didn’t like it. It was too beautiful. It lacked the urgency I was feeling. No, it had to be the real siren. Now I knew what “Music Concrete” had meant. But I hadn’t been taught such an option in my composition classes.
In TOYBOAT I hear my voice sounding strange, like a person drowning. I used a photo I took of John’s blood-stained glasses on the record cover. The record company called me and said the record shops would not stock the record unless I changed the cover. I didn ‘t understand it. Why? They said it was in bad taste. I felt like a person soaked in blood coming into a living room full of people and reporting that my husband was dead, his body was taken away, and the pair of glasses were the only thing I had managed to salvage – and people looking at me saying it was in bad taste to show the glasses to them. “I’m not changing the cover. This is what John is now,” I said.
(See album credits below)
SEASON OF GLASS
Even When You’re Far Away
Nobody Sees Me Like You Do
Turn of the Wheel
I Don’t Know Why
No, No, No
Will You Touch Me
She Gets Down on Her Knees
Mother of the Universe
Yoko Ono – vocals, cover photography, design
John Lennon, Hugh McCracken, Earl Slick, Tony Davilio guitar
John Lennon, George Small, Tony Davilio – keyboards
Tony Levin, John Siegler – bass guitar
Andrew Newmark – drums
Arthur Jenkins, David Friedman – percussion
David Friedman – vibraphone
George “Young” Opalisky – soprano and alto saxophone
Michael Brecker tenor saxophone
Ronnie Cuber – baritone saxophone
Howard Johnson – Tuba
Tony Davilio – conductor
Ed Sprigg – engineer
Christopher Whorf – artwork
A Story – 1974
Will You Touch Me
She Gets Down on Her Knees
Hard Times Are Over
Bonus Track: ‘Extension 33’ demo