Love is the answer
And you know that for sure
-John Lennon, “Mind Games”
On February 18th, Yoko Ono published at her own expense a full-page letter in the New York Times entitled Imagine Peace 2011. She framed her letter as a missive to humanity. She spoke in her voice for herself and on behalf of her husband in response to the momentous events that have transpired throughout the world during this tumultuous year.
How good to hear from her, and how good to have her help in remembering John Lennon and loving him anew. In the many years since John’s awful murder, in all the years of our lives, there have been no other public persons who have exercised such enlightened, sweet, healing influence as John and Yoko. No one else has offered us such wise counsel, caring passion, and disinterested transforming tenderness as these dear, dear souls.
Yoko describes her epistle as an impulse inspired by her birthday. Yoko, incredibly, is now 78 years of age. John would be 70, had The Divine not chosen to summon him so long ago. George would be 68. Paul is 68, and this year he has composed an exquisite score for our nation’s preeminent ballet company. Ringo is 70.
Each of them wrestled with demons throughout their lives, but in your lifespan have you ever encountered more pure and benign souls than the Beatles? Have you discovered a more reliable compass than that which John, Paul, George, and Ringo gave us? Have you found shepherds more inventive, melodic, and bountiful? Have you made more valued friends?
I haven’t. I listen to John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s music virtually every day, always with trust, affection, and joy. Their literature is brilliant and beautiful, and their consciousness and character seem to me ever more suffused with genius, animated by goodness. Their poetry and they themselves are spirits kind, gentle, and essential.
I don’t know who we would be, how we would imagine, what we would envision, how our dreams and desires would sound and in other respects manifest themselves if it were not for these sublime and endearing artists. What a miracle: four lifelong pals who were birthed within blocks of one another in the most mundane and in many respects mephitic cities of a small island in Europe during a dismal decade in humankind’s gravely troubled history.
Many people have scorned, mocked, and even detested Yoko Ono. They blame her for fissuring the Beatles, and forcing them to break asunder. Those who contemn her never explain how she could force anyone to do anything, let alone such prodigious personalities as Messrs. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starkey.
Yoko didn’t destroy the Beatles. They weren’t destroyed. They just evolved. The three major artists who centered that uniquely successful and adored quartet outgrew the constituents of its fame. John, Paul, and George are among the greatest of all literary and musical geniuses. At the point of their group’s dissolution they needed to live and work on their own, outside the parameters and paradigms of their early mythos. [All three retained during their lives the deepest emotions of respect and friendship for Ringo, who never once has pretended to share his friends’ immense gifts.]
I admire and love Yoko Ono, and I always have. I don’t understand why so many people have supposed she’s a parasitic nonentity who by some cunning calculus latched onto her titanic husband and somehow sullied or trivialized him. The daughter of one of Japan’s most distinguished modern diplomats, Yoko is an important visual and performing artist in her own right and a person of formidable intelligence.
What does it matter how capacious and apparent her distinctions seem to anyone else? John made it clear in his life and in his literature that Yoko saved his soul, gave him immense happiness, was utterly necessary to his art, and central to his beatific joy in living.
How did Yoko and John discover one another? How did they grant faith to one another? How did they journey through his fairy tale world, struggle through their mutual offenses, infidelities, ego mess, link their true souls to their true love, and cleave to one another?
And how did they succeed in demanding that we listen to them, hear them, accept them, and confer our faith upon them? How did they teach us to disregard all the hyperbole and hysteria that deluged them? How did they lead us to receive them, trust them, accept and share their sense of the transcendent? This was rare and potent work. In the modernist western culture, only Bob Dylan has exercised remotely comparable, although radically different, consequence and influence.
I think the answer to this seemingly unanswerable question is simple. John, Yoko, and all the Beatles accomplished their profoundly great work by the wisdom of goodness and beauty: what Mahatma Gandhi called, in reference to his own vocation, soul force. The lives they have led and the art they have made matter so much to us because they are beneficent and beautiful, and we all know that for sure.
Have you listened lately to any of their stunning songs?
Across The Universe. Dream #9. Something. Here, There, and Everywhere.
Penny Lane. For No One. Golden Slumbers. The Fool On The Hill. I’d Have You Anytime (Bob Dylan helped George with that masterpiece).
Here Comes The Sun. In My Life. A Day In The Life. She’s Leaving Home. Within You, Without You.
Because. Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp. Isn’t It A Pity. Girl.
Dear Prudence. Blackbird. Good Night. Eleanor Rigby. Sun King.
Because. Don’t Let Me Down. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. Strawberry Fields Forever. When I’m Sixty-Four.
Come Together. All You Need Is Love. Let It Be. The Long And Winding Road. Happy Xmas [War Is Over], While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
In The End. Love. Beautiful Boy. Woman. Mind Games. Oh, Yoko! Imagine. The Ballad Of John And Yoko.
Can’t stop, can I? Can you? Adducing a list of the Beatles’ masterworks is an exercise without a swift end.
It’s not just their literature that has been crucial to our experience. Have you thought lately about their causes, campaigns, and crusades? Their remarkable deployment of their global celebrity for principles of consciousness and conscience? Their search for The Divine. Their experiments with community and commonalty. Their longing for peace on earth. George’s at the time unprecedented Concert for Bangladesh. In this age of selfishness, chicanery and corruption their shared and individual passions, purposes, and pursuits always have been so gentle and so generous.
George, Paul, Ringo, John, and Yoko, like each of us, have wrestled with demons devious and destructive. But Lord almighty, these four men and one woman have wrought miracles of creation. Their lives, their work, and their teaching are magnificent.
They have no equal in our time. No one else has affected so many of us in so powerful and so wholesome a manner.
If you read Yoko’s letter cerebrally, if you parse it, if you restrict your intellect to its solely intellective properties, you’ll tell yourself her missive is insipid and she is inane.
From this mindlessly intellective point of view, so are John’s songs and Paul’s and George’s. So, cynics say, is every Beatles’ song – even Imagine, surely the world’s most loved work of modern writing.
Oh, but their songs are marvelous. Their extraordinary melodies, their gorgeous voicing, our loving memories of their authors’ lovely personas make every one of their works wonderful. Through the medium of their own infinite goodness and their poetry’s beauty Paul, George, Ringo, John, and Yoko make magic everlasting. They compel us simply to listen to them. Their embrace and transfer of the exquisite make it necessary and safe for us to receive their awareness, respond to it, and change ourselves.
They do cause us to change, deeply and forever, as no other contemporary leaders ever have. At least this is the case for me. No one has taught me more than the Beatles.
How about you? Did your Grade Five curriculum help you a lot? How about your high schooling? Your university experience? Has your work life been aiding you? Are our nation’s politicians, preachers, philosophers, pundits, prognosticators, performers giving you good guidance, peace, and grace?
Not me. As I grow older, I turn with ever more confidence and gratitude to the poets and spiritual leaders who shaped much of my youth. I know of no other modernist force more salubrious and powerful than the Beatles’ purity, grace, and beauty. Their wise soul force.
Yoko’s letter draws upon this power, recalls us to it, and offers it to us once again. She tells us in Imagine Peace 2011 that, despite his nobility of mind and spirit, regardless of his exceptional goodness and talent, President Obama does not understand the contemporary moment. He does not comprehend that his authority and command, that all the institutions and organizations in the world, all the circles and cycles of consequence in the formal cerebral universe, matter naught.
Yoko engages President Obama’s recent appeal in his State of the Union speech that, as revolutions arise throughout northern Africa and the middle east, as the world’s economies and geopolitics alter, tussle and brawl, as our country confronts reverses and upheaval we should strive to more informedly understand one another, more generously tolerate one another, and more peacefully coexist with one another.
Yoko tells us that, his excellent intentions notwithstanding, President Obama is making an unneeded and essentially irrelevant address. For, she writes, all of us inherently are united, already and absolutely, Across The Universe – her husband’s most brilliant, most divine poem.
We already are joined Here, There, And Everywhere.
Without intending to, without commandment from committees of instruction or direction from temporary presidents, we already are bursting boundaries once thought inevitable and ineluctable. We already are connected to and cohering with one another, each of us in our own way. This always has been so, it always will be so Within You, Without You.
We don’t ultimately need interpreters, reporters, columnists, intelligence officers, mandators, commanders-in-chief, prime ministers, kings, caliphs, the Pope, or the president of the United States. It’s easy. All You Need Is Love.
We may not realize consciously that we all are joined with one another. We just are. Love is old, love is new, love is all, love is you.
One unmistakable sign of our essential unity may be found in the Beatles’ beloved literature. Anywhere you travel on our earth, hum one bar of any of their beautiful songs and people of all ages, genders, races, and socioeconomic spheres will beam at you, join your melody, and chant the words. Everybody knows these poems by heart, even if they don’t speak English. Here Comes The Sun.
In her letter Yoko reminds us, in her name and in John’s, that all the quandaries we confront, all the pains that shake us, all the fears that shame us, all the conflicts that beset us have but one source, one meaning, and one resolution. We just need love. We just need to love ourselves and love one another. Let It Be.
You can do this. We all can. You’re trying to. We all are. One day, Across The Universe, we’ll succeed. Love is the answer, and you know that for sure.
It’s so good to hear again from Yoko Ono. I hope the business folk at the New York Times didn’t charge her too much to speak to us.
I mistrust myths and all other miasmas. Yet I trust Yoko, I revere her husband, and I cherish their beautiful mysticism.
We should thank her. She has done such good work in her life. This new letter she has created for us is a precious gift.
We ought also to thank her for Strawberry Fields, in New York City’s Central Park. Who else but Yoko would have conceived of, built, and sustained that gift for all these years? Every time I visit her memorial to her husband, that sacred site, I find myself weeping for her, for John, for us all.
Their teaching and our learning are simple. They knew we should love ourselves, and we should love one another. Love is reaching, reaching love. Love is asking to be loved.
They knew love is the answer, and we do too. We know it for sure.
I want to thank her in person, soul to soul, but her letter teaches that’s not necessary because we all of us are united always and forever whether we know it or not.
Thank you anyhow Yoko, for your letter to us, for everything you are, and for everything you have done in your distinguished life. Happy birthday, too. We all need you and love you, even those – especially those – who don’t yet realize they do. Love, love me do.