By the time the album was recorded Lennon’s marriage to Ono had reached a low point, and the pair had begun the separation that lasted 18 months. Lennon took the break hard, pouring his emotions into a number of songs on Mind Games and the subsequent album Walls And Bridges.
‘You Are Here’ was one of Lennon’s most heartfelt, plaintive and poetic love songs. Its title was taken from an art exhibition he had held at the Robert Fraser Gallery in London in July 1968. The exhibition had been publicly dedicated to his then-girlfriend Yoko Ono: “To Yoko from John, with love”.
The centrepiece of the exhibition was a circular white canvas on which the words “You are here” were written. Lennon and Elephant’s Memory wore t-shirts bearing the phrase in 1972, during promotion for the Some Time In New York City album, suggesting he retained a liking for the phrase.
In 1968 Harry Nilsson visited The Beatles while they were recording the White Album. He and Lennon bonded, and challenged each other to write a song with the same title.
Lennon suggested ‘You Are Here’, presumably as he was already considering using it for the exhibition. Nilsson returned to the USA and recorded a demo of his song, which was later uncovered during the making of the 2010 documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? It was later included in the 2013 box set The RCA Albums Collection.
The lyrics of Lennon’s song were concerned with the coming together of two cultures, two people, as one. They contained a reworking of Rudyard Kipling’s maxim that “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”. Lennon claimed that twains shall meet: “From distant lands, one woman one man/Let the four winds blow”. There were also echoes of the ancient teaching, “Wherever you go there you are”
Lennon’s vision of global harmony had first been expressed in song on ‘Imagine’, with its plea to “Imagine there’s no countries”. Here, however, the countries coming together were England and Japan – “From Liverpool to Tokyo” – reducing the universal to their specific relationship.
I sort of attempted a Latinesque song in a ballad tradition.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
A studio outtake of ‘You Are Here’ closed the second disc in the 1998 box set John Lennon Anthology. It contained a second verse which was later omitted.