About ten years ago, astonishingly, I got a call from Yoko Ono.
I happened to have written a magazine story about the time she spent with John Lennon in the little town of Ojai, in the mid-70's, after he and Yoko were driven out of Greenwich Village by FBI and NYPD surveillance and harassment. They bought a station wagon and drove across the country.
In those blissfully analog days, even a rock star could disappear. That's what I wanted to ask her about, her time with him, living underground in Ojai. Unable to find her number, I resorted to writing a letter to beg her to call — and to my astonishment, about six months later, she did call back!
She and Lennon stayed on the estate of an acquaintance, a citrus grower by the name of Jim Churchill. By all accounts, Lennon enjoyed his time here, and characteristically let it be known that he was in town. At an open mic night, Lennon even did an impromptu solo version of "Give Peace a Chance" and another song at seafood shack near the beach. I interviewed the proprietor, who told some stories about his funky place, with sawdust on the floor, and beer on tap, and the way Lennon enjoyed it. The star said it reminded him of places in Liverpool, growing up.
After a year or so, he and Yoko moved on, but their fame lingered. I heard that when they visited a restaurant, the staff afterword would meet to divide up and keep the plates on which they had dined…
Speaking of dishes, here's Yoko, talking about John as a maker of tea…
In her piece in the New York TImes about John's self-reflective side, she tells a charming little story:
It was nice to be up in the middle of the night, when there was no sound in the house, and sip the tea John would make. One night, however, John said: “I was talking to Aunt Mimi this afternoon and she says you are supposed to put the hot water in first. Then the tea bag. I could swear she taught me to put the tea bag in first, but …”
Charming in part because John was still in touch with his mother's sister, still a part of her life, and she of his. And because he still told the truth about himself. Which comes up later in the piece.
The most important gift we received from him was not words, but deeds. He believed in Truth, and had dared to speak up. We all knew that he upset certain powerful people with it. But that was John. He couldn’t have been any other way. If he were here now, I think he would still be shouting the truth.
Who would deny it? And isn't that a gentle, convincing way to make that idealistic point?
When Yoko called, unfortunately, I was so surprised I had not the wit to ask her a lot of questions. But she chatted in a friendly way, sent a nice note back after I sent her the piece, and wished me well.
So I've come to admire her, for her strength…and her sweetness.