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“Someone To Perform With:” An Image of John and Yoko [Part II]

19 September 2006

[Continued from Part I]

John and Yoko’s dream may be unrealizable to many, or maybe many don’t genuinely need such ‘extremes’ to realize themselves. Or perhaps those who can’t realize it have just become native informers to themselves and given up hope that they can still be themselves (and maybe even more themselves, and kinder and more sympathetic) in the clutches of what THE CLASH would call the clampdown. Call it what you will, but it’s an alternative to the ‘purism’ which allegedly thrives best by keeping one’s ‘public image’ largely separate from one’s innermost private thoughts, feelings, and fantasies, an embarrassment that is allegedly a large part of the ‘charm’ of many of the most celebrated indie-rock musicians of our time. It’s a matter of degree, of course; some musicians are closer to being ‘naked’ than others (many who are most physically unclad these days are the most soul-clothed!), to debunking the myth of ‘sexiness’ as coming close to equaling ‘naked photo.’

If that was the point in 1968; the 1980 point went beyond that, most appealing to those who had already ‘grown up’ with the myth of John and Yoko (and who had thrown away their youth counter-culture accoutrements in hopes of becoming ‘dignified and old,’ as JONATHAN RICHMAN would put it), but who still longed for something from mass culture that would pierce their heart and make them look at themselves and question what they’re making of their life.

One could call this a modest, less revolutionary, goal, and implicate John and Yoko in the ‘inward turn’ that ultimately allowed RONALD REAGAN to become president. Yet, the interviews John and Yoko were giving at the time, to my ears at least, showed that they were far from retreating from the social. Just as every political ‘consciousness raising’ action they were involved in during the late 1960s and early 1970s must ultimately stem from the image as Lennon as a singer obsessed with the potential meanings of the word love (as the well as the mythic importance of the pop-singer climbing ladder of an avant-garde artist and finding the word “Yes”), so, in ‘starting over,’ John and Yoko try to refresh the ground, and establish a foundation with love, in their planned return to public life. The picture of John and Yoko taken in 1980 is a large part of this foundation.

This picture is a symbol perhaps, and one could try to interpret it in light of SIGMUND FREUD’s theories, which have become at least as ingrained as the Bible is in the public conscious and/or unconscious (Yes, Freud, too, has become bigger than Jesus for many, and I can’t say it’s an improvement), but there are many ways to look at it. You could ask, why would they do it? Are they trying to make some political point about equality between the sexes, or what? But it’s probably better to ask, would you do it? And if not, why not?

I think it’s even better to ask yourself whether you have already been doing it without necessarily verbalizing it, even privately to yourself and to your lover. And if not, why not? But what if love itself has to be a work of art in order for the art you make to be a loving art? At their best this notion was the one thing John and Paul could agree on, and why they stayed together as long as they did, despite their obvious incompatibilities; it’s why the last thing we ever hear of their recorded music is the beautiful harmonies on words presumably more written by Paul than John; “and in the end / the love you make / is equal to / the love you take”—-but the John and Paul story, like the relationship between MARC ANTONY and OCTAVIUS CAESAR in SHAKESPEARE’s Antony and Cleopatra) must ultimately pale before the relationship to the eponymous protagonists: John and Yoko. Paul knew it, and even he tried to “Let It Be” and accept that John was “waiting for someone to perform with.”

Official history may never give this image of John and Yoko its due, but people don’t really live there anyway, and John and Yoko knew that. Sure, the papers made much of the allegedly coveted picture of Lennon in the morgue, while this particular Annie Leibovitz photo is not likely to be framed alongside pictures of JFK or the Pope. But sometimes when I’m with my girlfriend, it feels like doing something like this would help consummate or seal our love at least as much as any ceremonial exchange of rings and sign of absolute trust embodied in the sharing of keys and petty cash accounts—but maybe you have to have done a passionate version of BARRETT STRONG ’s “Money (That’s What I Want)” years earlier. You have to unleash and accept the ‘negative passions’ as Lennon did first, in order to write a love song like “Don’t Let Me Down” (which is more of a need song, and thus not the most mature of songs, but is still far more convincing than, say “Every Little Thing” or, even “Woman” or DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE’s “Soul Meets Body,” for that matter).

Don’t get me wrong: It’s not like Lennon ever provided a perfect map or model of love for those who were skeptical to most other maps or models, but who still looked longingly for a flawed guide to hold their hand and walk them through the darkness of the ‘kingdoms of experience’ and come out the other side. But even though that Leibovitz photo may not be the sexiest to look at, it may be the sexiest to enact, even if you’re not that famous yet. Yet ‘try it at home’ isn’t really the point either, as much as ‘make the world your home’ is. Perhaps TOMMY LEE or PARIS HILTON felt some need like that when they made their porn videos public, but I kinda doubt it. I also believe Lennon and Ono would probably yawn at such antics as much as any STEVE WINWOOD song about a ‘higher love’ (though they’d probably be cool with ANNIE SPRINKLE, for instance).

But while at age 18, it might have been fine to ask myself “how would have things been different had Lennon lived?”, now I ask, with more passionate conviction, how can we, and how can I, help change things, make things now, how can I unite absolute selfishness with absolute altruism, etc?—a question certainly both of these performance artists of love certainly have asked themselves over and over again, even before they first met.