I read, recently, about ‘The Riverbed’, a three-part installation by Yoko Ono. The mention of her name immediately filled my head with a collage of images. The full frontal nude pose with Lennon, the floating presence amid the death throes of those loveable moptops, her film no.4, ‘Bottoms’, the bagism, the bed-ins, the wailing and the screeching. But also, a music album.
At some point around 1975 I acquired a copy of of the Yoko Ono album ‘Approximately Infinite Universe’. It was very likely a gift. Exchanging gifts of music was still a thing then. Although I can’t recall the precise source, I do know that it was a secondhand copy. Probably bought by mail order from the legendary Cob Records, in Porthmadog – a cursory glance of their website indicates that they’re still in business. I used Cob almost exclusively back then. Selling off the stuff I got tired of, and using whatever Cob paid against bands that were new to me, usually on the strength of a single track or the recommendation of a friend.
I can’t honestly recall playing ‘Approximately Infinite Universe’ very much. The excellent New York band, Elephant’s Memory, mitigated the wobbly vocals to a certain extent, but this was a double-album, for goodness sake!
So, how did I ever get a soft spot for Yoko? It certainly wasn’t her gift for delivering a song. Perhaps it’s her openness, her existence as an experimental entity. Perhaps it’s the enduring commitment to peace and love, in spite of everything that’s happened to her on a personal level. The mental health issues, the miscarriages, the pain of being separated from her daughter for almost three decades. Not to mention the cold blooded murder of her husband.
She continues to prompt and provoke us to a point just short of shocking. She makes us think, she forces an opinion. Avant-garde interloper responsible for the break-up of the ‘Fab Four’, or a conceptual pioneer who has challenged us for more than half a century?
Back to that double-album. There’s a track entitled, “What a Bastard the World Is”, and I get the feeling that Yoko has spent the best part of her life making every effort to counter that bleak statement, with love. The two-fingered peace signs have become a trademark of a sort. They are relics used as parting gestures during camera calls and interviews. However, idiosyncratic Tweets from her Twitter account – “Get a telephone that only echoes back your voice. Call every day and talk about many things.” – may signal that, in her 85th year, her restless feet are happiest when treading the unknowable. Some forty five years after the release of that double-album, her mind appears to approximate an infinite universe of ideas.