John would have been so proud to show Sean around Liverpool
Oct 10 2005
IN part one of a two part series chief feature writer Paddy Shennan talks to Yoko Ono on what would have been her husband John Lennon's 65th birthday.
By Paddy Shennan, Liverpool Echo
IT wasn't a happy birthday - how could it have been? - but it was one which overflowed with love and pride.
John Lennon should have been celebrating his 65th birthday yesterday, with his wife and soulmate.
But, instead, Yoko Ono could only wrap herself in the warm memories of a man she so clearly adored. And still adores.
For the past 25 years, Yoko, who's 72 but looks more like 52, has enthusiastically spread the gospel according to her John - and she isn't going to stop now.
On this day of days - John and Yoko's son, Sean, had his 30th birthday yesterday, but couldn't be with his mum due to filming and recording commitments in Los Angeles - she wanted to tell the good news to the readers of the Liverpool ECHO.
And so, late yesterday afternoon, I met a barefoot Yoko, who was dressed casually in black jumper and jeans, in her sumptuous suite in the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park hotel.
Before turning her mind to what on earth she might wear for today's Q magazine awards ceremony, where John will be honoured, she happily (and, on one occasion, not so happily - see tomorrow's article) answered questions relating to one of the most fascinating men in musical history.
No, make that history - full stop.. Like so many Merseysiders, I'd seen Yoko's breasts before (well, the photographs of that woman's breasts she put on show in the city centre in the name of art - and women's breasts have always been art in my book) - but it was great to meet her in the flesh. As it were.
Possibly due to the fact that she has enjoyed/endured interviews with a million and one journalists, her answers were, at times, short and succinct.
Some people are economical with the truth - Yoko can be economical with words.
At times I thought she was pausing, as she prepared to unleash an avalanche of words to support the four or five she had just uttered. But they weren't pauses, they were full stops. Not always, though . . .
Imagine John Lennon at 65? It's easy for Yoko, who doesn't have to even try: "He would definitely have retained his good looks!" she beams..
"He had the kind of face that wouldn't have deteriorated. And I think he would have been very fit."
Fit, but fuming.
Yoko explains: "I think he would have been furious at the fact that people are still using violence to try and solve things - because it doesn't work !
"It just proves that what he said - Give Peace A Chance - is still totally relevant in today's world."
Before Beatlemania, John's world revolved around Liverpool, a place which Yoko soon grew to love - after she fell in love with Woolton's most famous son (and no offence to the South Liverpool suburb, but surely it will never produce somebody who becomes more famous).
Yoko recalls: "As soon as we got together he took me to Liverpool to meet the aunties who still lived there - Mater ((Elizabeth), Nanny (Ann Georgina) and Harriet. And I was very pleased to meet them because they were very strong and intelligent women. This was before feminism and it really made me feel that Liverpool spirit.
"And then, of course, there was John's Aunt Mimi, who was also a strong and intelligent woman. John learned a lot about Van Gogh and Oscar Wilde from Mimi - she was very cultured."
Not for the first or last time during our conversation, Yoko's eyes suddenly light up - "And Liverpool, of course, is going to be European Capital of Culture in 2008, isn't it? John would have thought that was great."
She adds: "John was always talking about Liverpool and saying that living in New York was just like living in Liverpool. He even said the New York taxi drivers were just like the lads from Liverpool - very down to earth."
And, but for terrible fate, he would have returned to Liverpool to promote Double Fantasy, the album released just three weeks before he was gunned down by Mark Chapman . . . wouldn't he?
"He was a very proud Liverpool lad and he didn't want to go back without a number one record - but he would definitely have gone back. And he would have been so proud to show Sean around the city."
Today, John's memory lives on here in so many different ways - not least courtesy of Liverpool John Lennon Airport.
What would he have thought of that? "He would have loved it," says Yoko (that was a full stop, not a pause).
Meanwhile, his former home, Mendips in Menlove Avenue, is now, thanks to Yoko - who bought the house and donated it to the National Trust - a popular tourist attraction, having been lovingly restored to its '50s glory.
Not that Yoko had to wait until its grand unveiling in 2003 to see inside - she was given a guided tour in 1969, thanks to John and its then owners.
She explains: "We were passing it and John said 'That was Mimi's house' - he never said it was his house.
"He said someone else was in there now, but the people came out and said 'Come in, come in'. John showed me around and his eyes lit up as he did so."
Of the open-to-the-public version, she says: "The people involved have done a wonderful job with it. It was so, so touching when I saw John's bedroom - I started crying.."
Everyone seems to have an opinion about John Lennon, a man who has inspired a million adjectives.
But which words would Yoko, the person who knew him best, use to describe him.
"He was a very sensitive human being."
And . . . ? And nothing. That was another full stop. Not a pause.
Er, right . . . bloody funny bloke, though, too, wasn't he? "Yes," says Yoko, who duly laughs, although she wants to rewind and dwell for just a little while on "sensitive" .. . .
She adds: "People sometimes missed that side of him - I think because he wanted to show he was tough!"
John's songs are here, there and everywhere, but which songs, on this special day, have come into your head, Yoko? Which songs mean the most?
She doesn't have to think for too long: "Imagine, of course, also Give Peace A Chance and Power To The People - those three songs are really still helping to change the world.
"John would have been happy to see so many of today's artists talking about important social issues - which he was the first to do - but there was a very modest side to him. There was a feeling that people were covering Paul's songs and not so much his.
"He wasn't angry but, perhaps, a little annoyed about it. I said 'Your songs are very complex and have lyrics which are difficult - people might be scared of covering them'.
"But today, John's songs are all over the place. Everyone is covering them. I just wish John knew about it because he would have been enormously touched by that.
"And I'm sure he would have had a little joke and said something like 'Covering my songs are they? That took a little time didn't it!'"
* TOMORROW: Yoko on the world's apparent wish to see herself and Paul McCartney slugging it out in a boxing ring!
What a woman
WHAT a privilege. What an absolute privilege.
A jet-lagged Yoko Ono didn't need to speak to a newspaper on the day her late husband would have been 65 - and on the day their son, Sean, turned 30.
But she did. She decided to speak to the Liverpool ECHO.
"You are the only one!" she said. "I wasn't going to do any interviews today, but Murray (Murray Chalmers, director of press for EMI Records) said 'What about the Liverpool ECHO?' And I said 'Oh yes!' Because Liverpool is where it all started for John."
Yoko came to our meeting via Tokyo where, on Friday, she sang Imagine and Mind Games as part of the Dream Power tribute concert in memory of John.
I came via Crewe and Milton Keynes (but, honestly Yoko, on a Sunday that must rank as almost as arduous a journey as flying in from Japan).
It was definitely worth my while. I hope it was worth hers, too.
A talented human being in her own right, Yoko Ono is also the keeper of John Lennon's memory.
And he'd be so proud of her.