Thursday, July 22, 2004
Older, losing his hair, and still indicating precisely what he meant to say, John Lennon would have been sixty-four this year.
This weekend, to celebrate this milestone, Yoko Ono once again brings an exhibit of her late husband’s original drawings to Monterey, this time to the Portola Plaza Hotel.
Clearly inspired by his relationship with Ono and their son Sean, the dark, edgy Beatle’s drawings are mostly sweet and whimsical depictions of home and family. Taken from his sketchbook, these simple illustrations portray Lennon at his most tranquil and contented.
“He was certainly at a peace with himself,” Ono says by telephone, her chirpy voice still instantly recognizable at the age of 71. “Especially as a father. Some of the drawings in this show were made for Sean as a child.”
In addition to the “Real Love” children’s drawings that Lennon created for his son in the last years of his life, the exhibit also features rare works from the original “Bag-One” series, a chronicle of his wedding ceremony, honeymoon and Bed-in for World Peace with Ono that was closed by Scotland Yard and confiscated as “alleged pornography” in 1970. In reality, these “obscene” lithographs, done in a style reminiscent of Japanese calligraphy, are touching, well-wrought portraits of Lennon’s deep connection with Ono.
In all, the exhibit includes more than 100 pieces of art created by Lennon between the early ’60s and his death in 1980. One of the highest-attended travelling art showings in America for the past ten years, this ever-changing exhibit has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities throughout the world. This weekend’s event is a benefit for The Monterey County AIDS Project.
In a telephone interview from her home in New York City, Ono is quick to point out that despite his tremendous success as a musician, Lennon was not immediately accepted as an artist. In fact, his initial attempts to organize a show of his work were rejected by gallery owners at the time, who felt rock stars had no place creating visual art.
“Typical John, he was way before his time, you know,” Ono says. “Nowadays lots of rock stars also paint and draw and do sculpture or whatever. Back then, there was a lot of resistance to John’s art. I don’t think the art world liked the idea of him coming on to their turf. John was the first to cross over from rock to art like that.”
Today, Yoko Ono dedicates herself to protecting her slain husband’s legacy, managing his estate and making sure his talents as a visual artist are not forgotten.
“There is so much pressure to put recordings and things out that John did not want anyone to hear. Private things, like his diary,” Ono says. “People tell me I have a responsibility to the world, I tell them, no, I have a responsibility to John.”
Whether it’s a misplaced desire to celebrate Lennon or just a callous attempt to exploit him, a rampant market for the fallen rock star’s personal effects thrives. Ono spends a good deal of time attempting to bar the sale of items from John’s private life.
“Recently, some people have been trying to sell documents with his signature on them,” she says with a sigh. “How can you sell legal documents? I don’t understand it.”
Yet Ono’s life isn’t entirely consumed by protecting the memory and finances of her late husband. She also has her own career, recently topping the dance charts with remixes of “Walking on Thin Ice” and “Hell in Paradise.”
The iconoclastic singer/performance artist also defends same-sex marriage rights through new dance remixes of the single “Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him” from the 1980 Double Fantasy album, which she produced with Lennon.
With her permission, the song has been reinvented into two club-friendly singles with gender-bending twists, “Every Man Has a Man Who Loves Him” and “Every Woman Has a Woman Who Loves Her.”
The new songs mark Ono’s evolution from avante garde Fluxus artist to Vietnam-era peace activist to new millennium club heroine and gay rights spokesperson, spreading equality through music and dance.
“Their struggle is a human rights issue to me,” she says. “I have suffered myself from racism and sexism all my life. I know what it feels like to be an outsider. I understand what position gays have been put in.”
At 71, Ono’s not exactly knitting a sweater by the fireside, but by exhibiting Lennon’s artwork and protecting his name and vision into the new millennium, she is, in a way, sending him a valentine, a birthday greeting, bottle of wine.
Happy 64, John.
“When I’m Sixty-Four,” an exhibit of John Lennon’s artwork, is on display at the Portola Plaza Hotel, 2 Portola Plaza, Monterey. Fri, July 23 5-9pm; Sat, July 25 11am-7pm; and Sun, July 25 11am-6pm. $2 donation. 649-4511.