The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: In Defense of Yoko Ono in 1974
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Tidying through my papers some days ago I found, at last, an interview I did with Yoko Ono at home in New York in 1974. She was/is an idol of mine —to me, an art student in the Sixties, she was more significant and famous than the Beatles. It shocked me when she was turned into a hate figure. At the height of the anti-Yoko zeitgeist I though that if I could interview her I could tell her side of the story. Cosmopolitan, where my writing was often published, seemed the ideal place. Yoko was superb — over an evening she answered my probing questions with care and incredible candor. Unusually, because I admired her so much and because she'd been so unguarded, I sent her the interview to ensure she would not regret what she had said when she read it in cold print. Yoko rang me to say that she and John — to whom she'd introduced me when he returned home from the studio — were very happy with the text. The editor of Cosmopolitan wanted me to be more critical of Yoko, especially regarding the "fact" that Yoko "had deserted her daughter". I refused to add this into the interview, not least because I had never been asked to make such a comment about any of the divorced men I interviewed. My Yoko interview didn't run in Cosmopolitan and I put it aside. I was gutted to have let Yoko down. Finding the interview and reading it again after 38 years — well, Yoko's honesty as an artist and as a woman is as fascinating as it is moving and astonishing——Caroline Coon
April 1974. It is sunset. New York skyscrapers turn into futuristic Walt Disney castles ﬂashing gold, mauve and pink as they spear into the smoky pall that hangs over the city. Two cops were gunned down last week. The survivors are mean and jumpy. In their black-blue uniforms they are easy targets for the Black Liberation Army who have vowed to wipe them out. They hang around in gangs like street kids, truncheons, pistols and Hell knows what strapped to polished leather belts slung around their hips.
Anything can happen on the streets of New York. That's why I'm not blasting down town on the subway. I'm on my way to meet Yoko Ono and I want to get to her in one piece. I hail a Yellow Cab. It crashes south along 9th Avenue lurching off pits in the tarmac and down on its axle — wham, wham, wham!
"The war is over in Vietnam," Yoko says, "but that's not the end of it." We are drinking red wine. But it isn't to celebrate the first day of the end of the war. Yoko is dressed in black. "There's war in Ireland and all sorts, but hopefully any war that ended will stay ended" she says with quiet sincerity.
I look at her closely, struck by an aspect of this woman who, regardless of thousands of words written about her, has remained obscured. I am rocked a little with anger, too, at those who have polluted my mind with misinformation about her. Yoko is dismissed as if she was a circus act, a clown fooling around in the arena of Concern for Humanity. Yoko Ono? Giggle, giggle. Peace? Ha, Ha, Ha! Damn, I think, is it just envy that has made people so biased? Old Nixon is getting himself nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, and we were singing John and Yoko's 'Give Peace a Chance' years ago! Unbelievably, I cannot see a line in Yoko Ono's smooth, ﬂawless face that might indicate the stress involved in her perpetual struggle against prejudice. Ever since she has been associated with John Lennon she's been able to put money where her mouth is. And yet most people joke about her allegiance to humanity as if she were playing some exotic game, as if she didn't really care at all.