She Loves Him, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah...
No, this isn't going to recap the story of John and Yoko. And No, it's also not going to cast an adoring light on our greatest, fallen 20th-century minstrel.
Marking the 25th anniversary of losing our beloved John, (parts of us still can't believe it), this investigates why Yoko Ono should be acknowledged as one of the great masters of communication of our time, even more than her celebrated husband, and for her masterful use of Madison Avenue's tools of the trade, all for the good.
A sometimes violent man externally, a man of war internally (with himself), and a man of peace intellectually, without Yoko Ono, John Lennon's legacy would be skyscrapers lower than it is today.
Begin by considering the platform she inherited when she joined Lennon as his mate, amid one of the most dizzying media circuses of all time. Today, a careful review of her work will shed light on what is lacking with many of today's communication programs, and maybe why so much of the media that is plastered up everywhere just fades into the woodwork.
It began, of course, in an art gallery with "YES", the word printed in a tiny font on a huge white canvas that was bolted onto the ceiling; it was printed so small that Lennon and other gallery visitors had to climb up on the ladder there and use the magnifying glass, also part of the artpiece, in order to see it.
With that, she won Lennon's heart and mind forever. Because she was a performance artist herself, in hindsight we can see how she was uniquely qualified to use the "brand equity" that came with becoming the wife of a Beatle. She held the spotlight in her hand with the same purposeful indifference that one holds a handrag as they approach a kitchen much in need of cleaning. And how she scrubbed, with particular attention on the hypocrisy of the world's global leaders' ideologies vs. public declarations - with a ferocity that made their (public) skin and tempers raw. Yes, Lennon's fair petite artiste did it with the tiniest of voices and giggles that irritated most of the world.
YES.... It was that simple.
She dealt with the newsmedia with the same half-distracted indifference most people give to the kid selling candy bars outside the supermarket, for their school's athletic program ... Like, "Huh? Oh yeah sure," or "Sorry, no money," or "Sorry, too busy" or...worst of all, silently walking by them like they're not even there.
Much to her credit, Ono's focus has always been on the ignored kid. She used the media to focus on that supermarket kid, much to the media's dislike. The media has/had no interest in focusing on ugly stories, that is, unless they have something to do with "beautiful people."
All the media wanted to do was focus on the beautiful people, one of whom was Lennon. Yoko's appearance was so decidedly un-western. When her make-over of John turned him from an endearing neighborhood comedian to a loudmouthed global activist, the change cut so many and so deep that the media glossed over the substance and focused only on the form, making Lennon and Ono out to be freaks.
Yoko Ono deserves our respect for so many things. When we look at all the BS that the media covers and publishes today -- from ET, to the weekly/monthly magazines, to Page Six, to the nauseating cable TV channels -- other than U2's Bono, we see that NONE of our global celeb-brands come even close to jackhammering, let alone even challenging convention, and subjecting themselves to ridicule "in the name of love" and/or in Ono's case, in the name of peace. Imagine, taking that kind of risk today without first checking with one's agent and publicist.
Decades later, Ono's edge has been filed down. The newsworthiness she commands today, given our national cultural A.D.D., consists largely of mild curiosity.
However, back when the world first met her, she grabbed our attention with the same effect one gets when they accidentally stick their wet hand into an open electric switch box.
Lennon's Silver Beatles serenaded the world with silly love songs, projecting a fantasy esprit de corps that effectively hid the tension, venom and anger each grew to have for the others behind the curtain.
Their talent pervaded society then and today. Even now it makes us smile with a sentimental naive view of romance we wish we all could aspire to, if given the chance. You know the words, "when I get older, losing my hair, many years from now..."
Yoko then came along and snapped us all out of our global "state of denial." Then as now, she's maintained a remarkable consistency in staying "on message" as they say, calling all of us to aspire to the "good angel-ness" in each of us and in each other.
Then as now, many people had a problem with her tactics, though looking at her antics through a 21st-century lens, and looking at the message they were attempting to bring awareness to, the headline- grabbing activities she and her Walrus staged pale in comparison to the demonstrations of celebr-idiom today. Yoko never had a costume malfunction or was involved in a court case for depravity.
Unconventional for sure, John and Yoko's stunts were as outlandish then as Amadeus's were in his day, though they resonate in time and have aged well, like a fine wine one can only appreciate over time. Here are a few of her greatest hits:
Two Virgins - Issuing an album with full frontal on the front cover and full backside on the backside. They posed nude for the world as a demonstration that their love was pure and that they had nothing to hide.
Bed Peace - Staying in bed for peace... Back then, it was one of the outrageous things a couple had done in their day. Today, it's celebrated in the Apple Think Different campaign, and no one disputes that it is on the same level as Gandhi, Myles Davis, Jim Henson and Albert Einstein.
Nixon's Enemies List - Being spied on by the FBI, being watched all the time, having the president of the US try to deport him, John and Yoko were dealing with the Karl Roves of the world when Rove was still wetting the bed... assuming he's been potty trained by now.
BAGism - John and Yoko's "BAGism" idea of promoting interactivity among people without prejudice.
Give Peace A Chance - A song, a chant, a global movement. Enough said.
Happy Christmas (War is Over, if you want it) - one of the least commercial, most heart-moving Holiday songs ever recorded. One that has little to do with commercialism and speaks more to the vulnerable kid in all of us. It was recorded with a beautiful, young group of black choir students from Harlem, and it brings us to tears every time we hear it...
Bullet-Proof Vests for NY City Police - with crime at an all-time high, who would have thought two of the anti-establishment's biggest radicals would have been the ones calling attention to the "peace-keepers," who at the time were considered anything but?
Then, after being quiet for several years, starting a family...
House Husband - Back from the kitchen baking bread, John and Yoko smashed the testosterone chain and came out saying he stays home while she goes to work, redefining the view of how we look at the roles we all play in our families.
Just Like Starting Over - It was just like starting over, until it came to a tragic, shocking end...
....25 years ago today......
...though in many ways he never left us. Who should we thank for that? Certainly, he's back, or should we say, she's back, promoting her favorite brand. She's smart enough to know that, to do something well, it really can't "be about you." So she's focusing on the one we always did and will love.
Never mind that most of everything Lennon did after he divorced Paul was based on her inspiration. Never mind that the caretaker of one of our global Strawberry Fields is the one that most of us thought ruined him.
LENNON - Now this, the musical. Broadway's biggest smash hit in years.
Even today, they are referred to as John and Yoko. However, taking nothing away from our favorite Beatle, it was really more about Yoko and John all the time. Perhaps this is why Madison Avenue can gain eons' worth of insight from her focus, determination and unwavering efforts to use the power of the media effectively.
In closing, Yes, we were upset when the Beatles broke up. Yes, we blamed Yoko. Yes, we found her strange, exotic, something completely different from the Campbell's Soup culture that we admit we were in at the time.
And now, we thank goodness that's she still here. Except for Yoko, what other globally famous leader do we have who still focuses on the things that have real meaning and hope in our lives? Let's NOT imagine where we'd be without her.
The MadAve Journal published this article earlier this year on 9/8/05, where it was originally titled, "Yoko Ono, Marketer Of The Year."