Yoko Ono

Japanese artist and musician Yoko Ono has often been cited as a divisive figure in the history of The Beatles. She married John Lennon in March 1969, and collaborated with him on a series of recordings, films and artworks.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono at The Beatles' final photography session, Tittenhurst Park, 22 August 1969

Yoko Ono was born in Tokyo on 18 February 1933. Her father Eisuke worked for the Yokohama Specie Bank, and her mother Isoko was from the wealthy Yasuda banking family.

Shortly after Ono's birth the family moved to San Francisco, where her father was transferred to. They returned to Japan in 1937, and Ono enrolled at the exclusive Gakushuin University.

During World War Two the family briefly moved to New York City, but soon returned to Japan. Following the bombings of 9 March 1945 they sought refuge in the Karuizawa mountain resort.

After the war the Ono family moved to Scarsdale, New York, and Yoko enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College. There she embraced the bohemian lifestyles of her fellow students, and was encouraged to develop her artistic aspirations.

Yoko Ono married composer Toshi Ichiyanagi in 1956, but the couple divorced in 1962 after living apart for several years. On 28 November 1962 she married Anthony Cox, an American film producer, jazz musician and art promoter, although the union was annulled on 1 March 1963 as Ono failed to finalise her divorce from Ichiyanagi.

Cox and Ono married properly on 6 June, and their daughter Kyoko Chan Cox was born on 8 August. The marriage was short-lived, with frequent conflict between the pair, although they stayed together for the sakes of their careers.

Ono was a member of Fluxus, an avant-garde art group inspired by Dada. However, she preferred to develop her own career, and was influenced by John Cage and La Monte Young. She explored conceptual and performance art forms.

In 1964 she performed Cut Piece at the Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo. Ono walked on stage in a draped garment, and audience members were encouraged to cut pieces from it until she was naked. That same year she published Grapefruit, a set of instructions in book form to be completed in the mind of the reader.

Yoko Ono also became an experimental filmmaker, completing 16 pieces between 1964 and 1972. One of the most notorious was No. 4, better known as Bottoms, which consisted of a series of close-ups of people's backsides.

Event, to me, is not an assimilation of all the other arts as Happening seems to be, but an extrication from various sensory perceptions. It is not a get togetherness as most happenings are, but a dealing with oneself. Also it has no script as Happenings do, though it has something that starts it moving- the closest word for it may be a wish or hope.

After unblocking one's mind, by dispensing with visual, auditory and kinetic perception, what will come out of us? Would there be anything? I wonder. And my events are mostly spent in wonderment ... The painting method derives as far back as the time of the Second World War, when we had no food to eat, and my brother and I exchanged menus in the air.

Yoko Ono
Lecture at Wesleyan University, January 1966

With John Lennon

Yoko Ono met John Lennon on 7 November 1966. He was visiting a preview of an exhibition by her at the Indica Gallery, London, when she handed him a card which simply said the word "Breathe".

Lennon was also impressed by a piece at the exhibition which he had to view by climbing a stepladder to look through a magnifying glass.

Yoko was having an art show in London at Indica Gallery. In those days most art put everybody down, got people upset. I walked up the stepladder and picked up the spyglass. In teeny little writing it just said 'Yes'. And I made my decision to go see the rest of the show.
John Lennon
The Mike Douglas Show, 1972

One of the exhibits was a white board into which gallery visitors were instructed to hammer a nail. Ono refused to let Lennon hammer in a nail, as the exhibition wasn't to open until the following day. When told who he was, she offered to let him do so for five shillings.

Lennon's reported reply was: "I'll give you an imaginary five shillings if you let me hammer in an imaginary nail."

Lennon was intrigued by Ono, and they began corresponding. Their friendship blossomed, and Lennon later claimed that he wanted to take her to Rishikesh, India, where The Beatles studied meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in early 1968.

Their affair began in May 1968. While Lennon's wife Cynthia was in Greece with Magic Alex Mardas, he and Ono recorded an album of experimental sounds at Weybridge, Lennon's Weybridge home. After its completion they made love for the first time. When Cynthia returned to England it was clear that her marriage was over.

Unfinished Music No 1: Two Virgins - John Lennon and Yoko OnoThe experimental recordings were released in November 1968 as Unfinished Music No 1: Two Virgins. While the music was too avant-garde for most listeners, the cover, featuring a fully nude John and Yoko, made the release one of the most notorious for a mainstream musician.

The sleeve photography was shot in early October 1968 in the basement of Ringo Starr's flat in Montagu Square, London, using a delayed shutter release. Most record labels refused to release Two Virgins, and a number of record stores refused to stock it.

7 responses on “Yoko Ono

  1. Joseph Brush

    Tittenhurst Park was not sold to Ringo outright by Lennon. The transaction was arranged by an Apple stock transfer which was used to lower John’s 1974 taxable income in America. That is what multinational corporation owners do to lower income taxes in the country they are residing in.

  2. Brett

    Isn’t it rude that her notable suicide attempt that led her to meeting Tony was left out? It was an extremely crucial point in her life.

    Also: John Lennon took a bite out of one of the artworks the day they met, Apple (1966) and had stunned Yoko, and she had been quoted saying that her first thought when he did that was “I want NOTHING to do with HIM!”

  3. Randi Brooks

    John Lennon is a great example of people can change and are not fixed to be a certain way as a man or a woman.Yoko changed John into a much better person as a pro-feminist man and the feminist changes *are* for the better,and many pro-feminist men have recognized this too! They say it has freed them and allowed them to develop and express more of all of the shared common *human* traits,emotions,behaviors,abilities and reduce and prevent male violence against women and children etc. Definitions of “masculine” and “feminine” differ across time periods,and in different societies.

    John Lennon is a great example of how feminism changing limited artificial gender definitions and roles,changed him for the much better. John as a child and teenager had a lot of traumas that permanently psychologically damaged him,but because of his and Yoko’s beautiful loving relationship,and as he said she was a feminist before he met her,(and he said that because she was a feminist before he met her,they were going to have to have a 50/50 equal relationship which he never had before) he went in to primal scream therapy and Yoko went with him and he dealt with all of his pain and anger for the very first time at age 29.

    When John was a young guy,he was often drunk getting into fist fights with men,hitting women,and womanizing including cheating on his girlfriends and then his first wife Cynthia.Of course Paul,George and Ringo did the same with all of the groupies all 4 of them had while touring from 1963-1966. I hadn’t watched these Mike Douglas shows in years until December 2010 when it was the 30th anniversary of John’s tragic crazy murder.

    Out of the 5 Mike Douglas shows that John and Yoko co-hosted for a week that was taped in January 1972 and aired in February,a young criminal lawyer Rena Uviller(she went on to become a Supreme Court Judge) who worked with juveniles, and she,Mike Douglas,John and Yoko were discussing the then very recent women’s liberation movement. George Carlin was on too.

    Rena said,she agrees with Yoko,that the idea of Women’s lib is to liberate all of us,and she said ,I mean we could talk hours on the way men really suffer under the sex role definitions.Yoko agreed with what she said too. Rena said that men don’t really realize they have only to gain from Women’s Lib,and that she thinks that maybe with a little more propaganda we can convince them.

    John then said,yeah there is a lot to gain from it,just the fact that you can relax and not have to play that male role,he said we can do that,and he said that I can be weak,( but notice how then in a male dominated gender divided,gender stereotyped,sexist society,and even unfortunately still now in a lot of ways,the “female” role was defined as the weak one,and the male role as the strong one) I don’t have to protect her all the time and play you know that super hero,I don’t have to play that,she allows me to be weak sometimes and for me to cry,and for her to be the strong one,and for me to be the weak one. John then said,and it really is a great relief,after 28 years of trying to be tough,you know trying to show them,I don’t give a da*n and I’m this and I’m that,to be able to relax.and just be able to say,OK I’m no tough guy forget it.

    Rena then said,I think in some funny way,I think girls even as children,have a greater lattitude because a little girl can be sort of frilly and feminine or she can be a tomboy and it’s acceptable,but a little boy if he’s not tossing that football,there’s a lot of pressure on him.John said,there’s a lot of pressure,not to show emotion,and he said that there was a lot of pressure on me not to be an artist,to be a chemist and he said he discussed this on another Mike Douglas episode.

    Rena said that unfortunately some of the leaders in the Women’s Liberation movement fall victim to being spokesmen,for Women’s Lib, and yet at least in public personality they seem to really have a certain amount of contempt for the hair curled housewife and there is a kind of sneering contempt,and she said I think it’s a measure of their own lack of liberation.And Yoko said it’s snobbery,and Rena said yeah,they really don’t like other women,but I’m sympathetic,and Mike Douglas then said a sexist woman-hating statement,saying,well women don’t like other women period.Rena said,no see that’s very unliberated and Yoko said, in response to what Mike Douglas said,that’s not true,that’s not true.And John said,you see they are brought up to compete with men.

    Yoko said that even though in Japan they say they don’t have much of a woman problem and women already had some liberation,there is still a long way to go that she really agrees with Rena that so many female liberation movement people basically hate women,and we have to first start to understand women and love them whether they are housewives or not,and she said that snobbery is very bad and we have to somehow find out a way to co-existing with men,and she asked Rena don’t you think so and she said most definitely. George Carlin said,that actually many successful women are acting out male roles just like a lot of blacks think they escaped are acting out white roles.John also said that he thinks that women have to try twice as hard as to make it as men,and he said you know they have to be on their toes much more than a man.

    On another Mike Douglas episode from the same week,former actress and acclaimed film maker Barbara Loden was on and Yoko had requested her as a guest.John asked her ,Did you have any problems working with the men,you know like giving them instructions and things like that and Barbara said,I did, but I think it was because I was afraid that they would not accept what I said,and I wasn’t quite that authoritative in my own self.John said it’s certainly a brave thing to do,and Yoko said it is.

    Mike Douglas asked Yoko if John’s attitude had changed much towards her since The Female Liberation Movement,and at first Yoko says John’s attitude from the beginning was the same,and that they met on that level.John then says,twice, I was a male chauvinist and Yoko says,yes he was a male chauvinist but,and then John says,Can I say how you taught me,and Yoko says yes.John says,How I did it in my head was,would I ask Paul or George,or would I treat them the way I would treat a woman? John then said,it’s a very simple thing maybe it’s fetch that or do that ,and I started thinking if I said that to them,they’d say come on get it yourself,and if you put your wife or your girl friend in the position of your best friend,and say now would I say that to him,then you know when you’re treading on some delicate feelings.

    Mike Douglas said years later that after this week of John and Yoko co-hosting his show,many young people who had never watched his show before,(and his main audience was middle America and people older than their 20’s and even mostly their 30’s) told him they loved the show,and that it was great and his ratings went up high for those shows.Even if John didn’t always live up to his feminist ideals and beliefs in his personal life,(although he did with Yoko because of her and this why and how he emotionally evolved into a caring,nurturing,house husband and father to Yoko and Sean),just the fact that he spoke out as a man in support of the feminist movement on a popular TV show back in early 1972 when most of the sexist male dominated woman-hating society looked down at it and considered it crazy which in some ways it’s still unfortunately wrongly misunderstood(and it’s really the male dominated,sexist,woman-hating society that has always been so wrong and crazy!),and the fact that John was (and still is) greatly admired and influential to many young people male and female,he did *a lot* to legitimize it and show it was rational,reasonable,needed and right!

    A few months later he was performing Woman Is The Ni**er Of The World on The Dick Cavett Show and then months after that live in Madison Square Garden.In his very last radio interview done by Dave Sholin etc from RKO Radio just hours before he was tragically shot and killed, John said I’m more feminist now than I was when I sang Woman Is The N**ger,I was intellectually feminist then but now I feel as though at least I’ve put not my own money,but my body where my mouth is and I’m living up to my own preachings as it were.

    He also said what is this BS men are this way, women are that way,we’re all human.He had also said that he comes from the macho school of pretense of course *all* men really are they are just too conditioned all of their lives to realize and admit it.And he said that men are trained to be like they are in the army,and that it’s more like that in England but he knows it’s this way over here too,he said that they are taught as boys and men don’t react,don’t feel,don’t cry,and he said he thinks that’s what screwed us all up and that he thinks it’s time for a change.

    In his September 1980 Newsweek interview the interviewer said to John aren’t you the guy who said in 1963 that women should be obscene and not heard,and John said yes and I’m thankful to Yoko for the feminist education.

  4. Randi Brooks

    Mike Douglas also said to John and Yoko,You’re both so different,you had such different childhoods. John said,it’s incredible isn’t it? Yoko said,Yes! Mike asked,What do you think has attracted you to each other? Yoko said,We’re very similar.John then said,She came from a Japanese upper-middle class family.Her parents were bankers and all that jazz,very straight.He said they were trying to get her off with an ambassador when she was 18.You know,now is the time you marry the ambassador and we get all settled. I come from a an upper-working class family in Liverpool,the other end of the world. John then said,we met but our minds are so similar,our ideas are so similar.It was incredible that we could be so alike from different environments,and I don’t know what it is,but we’re very similar in our heads.And we look alike too!

    Mike also asked John about his painful childhood,and how his father left him when he was 5,and John said how he only came back into his life when he was successful and famous(20 years later!),and John said he knew that I was living all those years in the same house with my auntie,but he never visited him.He said when he came back into his life all those years later,he looked after his father for the same amount of time he looked after him,about 4 years.

    He also talked about how his beloved mother Julia,who encouraged his music by teaching him to play the banjo,got hit and killed by a car driven by an off duty drunk cop when John was only 17 and just getting to have a relationship with her after she had given him away to be raised by her older sister Mimi when he was 5.

    And John also said,And in spite of all that,I still don’t have a hate-the-pigs attitude or hate-cops attitude.He then said, I think everybody’s human you know,but it was very hard for me at that time,and I really had a chip on my shoulder,and it still comes out now and then,because it’s a strange life to lead .He then said,But in general ah,I’ve got my own family now …I got Yoko and she made up for all that pain.

    John’s psychologist Dr. Arthur Janov told Mojo Magazine in 2000( parts of this interview is on a great UK John Lennon fan site,You Are The Plastic Ono Band) that John had as much pain as he had ever seen in his life,and he was a psychologist for at least 18 years when John and Yoko saw him in 1970! He said John was a very dedicated patient. He also said that John left therapy too early though and that they opened him up,but didn’t get a chance to put him back together again and Dr. Janov told John he need to finish the therapy,he said because of the immigration services and he thought Nixon was after him,he said we have to get out of the country.John asked if he could send a therapist to Mexico with him,and Dr. Janov told him we can’t do that because they had too many patients to take care of,and he said they cut the therapy off just as it started really,and we were just getting going.

    Also this great article by long time anti-sexist,anti-men’s violence,anti-pornography former all star high school football player and author of the great,important 2006 book,The Macho Paradox:How Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help, Jackson Katz.John Lennon on Fatherhood,Feminism,and Phony Tough Guy Posturing http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jackson-katz/john-lennon-on-fatherhood_b_800333.html

    Also Cynthia Lennon is quoted in the great John Lennon biography Lennon,by award winning music journalist and former editor of The Melody Maker Magazine and good friend of John’s for 18 years,Ray Coleman as saying somethings like she knew as soon as she saw John and Yoko together she knew that she lost him,and that it was a meeting of the minds and that she knew that they were right for each other.She also said that she told John before he started his relationship with Yoko that she sees and incredible similarity between him and Yoko and said to him that there is something about her that is just like you.She told him that he may say that she’s this crazy avant garde artist and that he’s not interested in her,but that she can see more into John’s future with Yoko then he can.

  5. Randi Brooks

    In this January 1971 interview with Red Mole John says that Yoko was well into liberation before he met her and that she had to fight her way through a man’s world and he said the art world is completely dominated by men and said so Yoko was full of revolutionary zeal when they met. Then John said there was never any question about it that they had to have a 50-50 relationship or there was no relationship and he said he was quick to learn and he said that Yoko did an article in Nova more than two years back in which she said Woman is the Ni**er of the world.A year later he co-wrote with Yoko the song Woman Is The N*gger of The World,and bravely performed it live on The Dick Cavett show and at Madison Square Garden in 1972 and the song was banned off a lot of radio stations.

    John also says in this same interview that it’s very subtle how you’re taught male superiority.


  6. Randi Brooks

    I have also seen many pictures and video interviews of Yoko when she was younger and she looked very attractive and with no make up on,and Scavullo who was one of the best fashion and celebrity photographers took a glamorous beautiful black and white portrait of Yoko with eye make up on and her hair done fancy and it’s on her biography on The All Music Guide online. And Yoko looks more attractive at almost 83 than a lot of young people! And she’s always been very intelligent too.

    She looks very pretty as a young woman here with no make up on her Instagram page, https://instagram.com/p/zAeIgqjzuH/?taken-by=yokoonoofficial

    Also I once spoke to a former radio DJ who was now a manager of a CD store,and he told me that he was the one who went to Yoko’s New York apartment in 1983 to do a very long interview with her by another DJ who hosted a great popular 2 hour Breakfast With The Beatles Sunday radio show. I asked him what was Yoko like and he said that she was a very nice lady.

  7. Randi Brooks

    Barbara Graystark of Newsweek interviewed John September 1980 and part of what she said to John is,You’ve come a long way from the man who wrote at 23,”Women should be obscene rather than heard.” And she asks John how did this happen? And John said that he was a working-class macho guy who was used to being served and Yoko didn’t buy that.John then said that from the day he met Yoko,she demanded equal time,equal space,equal rights.He said that he said to Yoko then,don’t expect him to change in any way and don’t impinge on his space.John said that Yoko said to him then she can’t be here because there’s no space where you are everything revolves around him and that she can’t breath in that atmoshere. John then says in this interview that he’s thankful to her for the education.


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