For years, about 42 actually, the name Yoko Ono has been a part of my consciousness. And like many others I had thought she was a whack job. I mean she broke up the Beatles, right? Then there were the recordings. The unending sound of a fly, "Don't Worry Kyoko", etc. You call that music? She made art that I didn't understand.
This week, in 1972, she and John spent a week as the co-hosts of the Mike Douglas show. For those who don't know or don't remember: Douglas had an afternoon chat show that was taped in Philadelphia and syndicated, through Group W, across the US. His gimmick was that every week he would have a guest as the co-host for the entire week. That guest would have a say in who about half of the appearances would be, and Douglas (or rather his segment producers and talent bookers) would choose the other half. So on Valentines week of '72 John and Yoko came to Philly.
Douglas, for his part was a total gentleman and a sport. It was clear that he didn't really understand what they were all about, but many times he came to their defense to the Shecky Green's of the world, in order for them to be able to have their say. The couple assembled quite a crazy quilt of guests for that week in '72, a young comedian named George Carlin, the safe and palatable Chuck Berry, Ralph Nader, Black Panthers, Macrobiotic chefs and so on.
On the first day, Yoko initiated two different 'art pieces' that lasted throughout the week. For the first she presented a blank canvas and asked every guest to draw a little doodle or picture and sign their name. At the end of the week it was sold and the money was donated to charity. The second, she had a delicate china teacup that was smashed, and each day she, Mike and John would each glue one piece back on, so that buy the end of the week it was once again whole and usable. Perhaps the most cringe inducing endeavor of all, (outside of her vocalizing) was the 'performance piece' in which they would take a name randomly from the phone book, call the unsuspecting sole up and tell them that they loved them and asked them to pass it on. Her point: if everyone watching would do this daily, by the end of a year, the whole world would know that they were loved.
Many will say that Yoko Ono one of the founders of the Performance Art movement. She was producing live "happenings" in New York at the end of the 1950's. One of her most famous pieces involved her sitting on the stage and inviting the audience members to each come up and cut away a piece of her clothing until the unmasked Yoko was revealed to them. And somehow over the years my opinion of her has changed. Maybe it was when I bought her 1985 album "Starpeace" and found it was good and that I liked it. Or maybe it was the explosion of Performance Art that happened in the '80s and early '90s. The performances that I saw or read about usually seemed to involve flinging fecal matter or AIDs tainted blood at the audience. And lots of indignant yelling.
And so it seems that all Performance Art involves the element of shock. But while theirs was about separation, hers was about unity. Theirs was designed to make the audience feel shame, revulsion and disgust while hers made one feel, whole and useful.
My favorite piece of hers (which I believe is still in her home) is two chairs and a table, on top of which is a complete chess board and chess set. And everything is painted white. Brilliant. How would the battle commence if there were no 'sides'.
Now, through the magical mysteries of age and perspective, I have concluded that Yoko was right. All along. And in thanks to her, I will briefly unmask and say, Happy Valentines Day, this is Philip Mershon and I'm blogging to say, 'I love you'. Pass it on.