A review of "Yes Yoko Ono"

by Francie Schwartz

YES YOKO ONO (Abrams/Japan Society, 2000)

I come to YES YOKO ONO from a long, personal relationship to the Artist. But let's keep it real: I heard of the CUT PIECE when it was announced and after it was performed because I was a recent college graduate with a minor in Art History, and the Arts section was the first thing I grabbed in the New York Times. I happened to be living in NY from 1966-68 and again from 1979-81. I had had no direct contact with Yoko for nearly 31 years. More about that (contact) later.

My copy of YES YOKO ONO arrived via Federal Express last week, and the moment I cut away the different coloured layers of bubble wrap I nearly gasped as if the thing were radioactive and glowing like something in a John Sayles movie. The following night I went through the sections again and the Indexes and Bibliography and Footnotes. It was like an acid trip for me.

I own hundreds of art books, and this is the best I've ever had. Do I say this because the subject is also my friend? I don't know; I'm just doing it.

It is also a fine teaching text on the avant garde movement in post-war America. It acknowledges influences graciously. The Lennon factor is in proper balance. This is a book about the woman of whom John Lennon once said, "She's the most famous unknown artist in the world." YES YOKO ONO *is* the art of Yoko Ono as well as her poetry, music, and instruction pieces. She is also a woman, perhaps the most maligned woman now living on this planet.

How does a woman work through the oceans of negativity flowing toward her for decades? Making art can help. In the first moment of my own relationship to Yoko, (May 1968) I didn't associate the artist I'd read about in the New York Times -- the woman who sat on the stage at Carnegie Recital Hall and let people cut pieces of her clothing off -- with the tiny figure off in the corner of Abbey Road studios. When John introduced me to her, I was immediately struck by the truth: these two were well matched. I found them both beautiful. I still cannot think of them separately; they are JohnandYoko henceforth and forever to me. If only...

Receiving YES is a heady thing. Just as John found Yoko via the tiny YES at the top of the ladder, you may find her in the pages of this sumptuous and thoroughly classy "coffee table book" (I would never put it on my coffee table. Might get coffee on it).

SMILE FILM (#5 Apple, soon to be available) is the only Ono film I've seen from its inception. The unedited film came out of the lab when JohnandYoko were staying at "ours" (Paul's house). The sound of John's voice asking: Where's the projector?, the unrolling of the great old movie screen on its tripod legs, the projector just the same sort of sixteen millimeter projector my family had back home in New Jersey, it's all intact. I don't remember who did what, but one of these two odd new boyfriends of ours got the job done. We rolled the film. Paul sat back in the Daddy chair, slumped down with his Scotch and Coke. John and Yoko screened the silent smile. In memory, it was only one long shot, but it was truly a story told in John's face, in superslomo.

I was digging it. In the background I hear Yoko saying "They have so much to get over. They have to get over the subject. They have to get over who the artist is. Then the relationship between the artist and the subject... Do you think I should put in the bird sound?"

Then John says "Oh it's fine as it is dear, let's go to bed!" They were almost like an old married couple, endearing young charms dancing in their eyes. This is one of my most precious memories. I to give it away, the way you do with priceless things.

In 1968, neither Yoko nor I had any idea these guys were going to be remembered in great detail thirty years on. We were just two young women trying to live with two guys. Yoko Ono, always focused and always productive, did not slow her fountain of ideas just because she fell in love with John. Until I had my YES, I had no idea that during that spring and summer, Yoko had several shows in different countries. I did attend the first show she did jointly with John in London, nearly six months before they were married. I looked up the name and date of the show in the Filmography/Gallery show listing but the name escaped me. I remember all the refreshments were clear cool water in elegant bottles, and balloons had been released with tiny tags that said "You are here." I remember a couple of those tags came back with nasty slimy notes addressed to John or Yoko or both. But that's another story.

Yoko's face circa mid-sixties is gazing at me from its deep foil dust jacket. I must go back to The Book and have another marvelous time with the Artist. I will use this book forever. Thanks, Yoko!

Francie Schwartz's website: www.francieschwartz.com