Yoko Ono’s Message
by Daniel Haim
“They say it’s your birthday, we’re gonna have a good time. I’m glad it’s your birthday, Happy birthday to you” – The Beatles.
Lennon grew concerned that fans attending Beatles concerts were unable to hear the music for all the screaming, and that the band’s musicianship was beginning to suffer as a result. The repertoire was by now dominated by Lennon/McCartney songs, whose lyrics were receiving greater attention from the writers than in the partnership’s early days. Lennon’s “Help!” expressed his own feelings in 1965: “I meant it … It was me singing ‘help'”.He had put on weight (he would later refer to this as his “Fat Elvis” period) and felt he was subconsciously crying out for help and seeking change. The following January he was unknowingly introduced to LSD when his dentist, hosting a dinner party attended by Lennon and Harrison and their wives, spiked the guests’ coffee with the drug. Told what their host had done, and advised not to leave his house because of the likely effects, they left anyway in disbelief, only to be transported into a world of hallucination during their journey home, where the buildings around them seemed to be on fire; “We were all screaming … hot and hysterical.” Another catalyst for change occurred a few months later in March.
During an interview with Evening Standard reporter Maureen Cleave, Lennon remarked, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink… We’re more popular than Jesus now—I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.” Lennon’s comment went virtually unnoticed in England but created a controversy when quoted by American teen magazine Datebook five months later. The uproar that followed—burning of Beatles records, Ku Klux Klan activity, and threats against Lennon—contributed to the band’s decision to stop touring.
Lennon left the Beatles in September 1969. He agreed not to inform the media while the band renegotiated their recording contract, and was outraged that McCartney publicised his own departure on releasing his debut solo album in April 1970. Lennon’s reaction was, “Jesus Christ! He gets all the credit for it!” He later wrote, “I started the band. I disbanded it. It’s as simple as that.” In late interviews with Rolling Stone, he revealed his bitterness towards McCartney, saying, “I was a fool not to do what Paul did, which was use it to sell a record.” He spoke too of the hostility he perceived the other members had towards Ono, and of how he, Harrison, and Starr “got fed up with being sidemen for Paul… After Brian Epstein died we collapsed. Paul took over and supposedly led us. But what is leading us when we went round in circles?”
While Lennon was recording Mind Games (1973), he and Ono decided to separate. The ensuing eighteen-month period apart, which he later called his “lost weekend”, was spent in Los Angeles and New York in the company of May Pang. Mind Games, credited to “the Plastic U.F.Ono Band”, was released in November 1973. Its title track, “Mind Games”, was a top 20 hit in the US and reached number 26 in the UK. Lennon contributed a revamped version of “I’m the Greatest”, a song he wrote two years earlier, to Starr’s album Ringo (1973), released the same month. (Lennon’s 1971 demo appears on John Lennon Anthology.) During 1974 he produced Harry Nilsson’s Pussy Cats and the Mick Jagger song “Too Many Cooks (Spoil the Soup)”. The latter was destined, for contractual reasons, to remain unreleased for more than thirty years. Pang supplied the recording for its eventual inclusion on The Very Best of Mick Jagger (2007).
At around 10:50 pm on 8 December 1980, soon after Lennon and Ono returned to the Dakota, the New York apartment building where they lived, Mark David Chapman shot Lennon in the back four times at the entrance to the building. Earlier that evening, Lennon had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for Chapman. Lennon was taken to the emergency room of nearby Roosevelt Hospital and was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:07 pm.
Ono issued a statement the next day, saying “There is no funeral for John,” ending it with the words, “John loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him.” His body was cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. Ono scattered his ashes in New York’s Central Park, where the Strawberry Fields memorial was later created. Chapman pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life; he remains in prison, having been repeatedly denied parole.