Woman in Black

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It first hit me when she walked out onto that small stage, head down, hat tilted back and away and blocking just half of one dark, shaded eye from the 200 guests—fans, mostly—who had lined up around the block to see her: Yoko Ono has come to look like the inkier half of Spy vs. Spy.—sharp, mysterious, and drenched in black. And, seemingly, in search of a very different but similarly mysterious equal lost long ago.

Almost thirty years ago, to be exact. “An Evening With Yoko Ono” at the Grammy Museum’s Clive Davis theater in early October was scheduled to coincide with what would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday (October 9) and to mark a few months early the anniversary of his passing in December of 1980. The event, which consisted of a Q&A by museum director Robert Santelli and a screening of some of John and Yoko’s private home videos, started out focusing on Yoko’s work as an artist but quickly turned into a heartfelt look back at one of the most intriguing relationships of the 20th century.

“I didn’t want to mess up my life my getting into some silly affair,” Yoko said of meeting John at a gallery exhibition of her work in London. From there, the couple lit a spark, both in the world of rock n’ roll and each other. They had a son. They made music and made waves. And they weathered a well-documented separation (“I needed the space and thought he needed it too,” Yoko said of John’s infamous “Lost Weekend” with May Pang. “Depending on each other so much is not a good thing.”). 

In just a few short years Yoko came to symbolize for many the end of an era, a kind of loss of innocence for an entire generation, and the bitter end of rock n’ roll’s most idealized friendship, not to mention the end of the Beatles. It’s a cross she’s carried quietly and mostly without interest ever since. “It’s there,” she said of John’s legend—the legend they now share—“I’m throwing the dice in the wind.”

And yet, when a teenager in the audience asked Yoko about her current relationship with Paul McCartney, she sat up a little straighter, struck a sharper figure before answering quite another question altogether, one that wasn’t really raised and with a reply that offered more insight into the public persona Yoko has created by default since John’s death than any other given that night. “People not being good to me was distant,” she said, recalling the beginning of the public backlash against her. “What was important to me was the incredible relationship I had with John.”