Friday, March 12, 2010

I Didn’t Know What I Would Find There

Safely on Duke Street outside the Indica Gallery, John couldn’t contain himself any longer.





“Ho ho ho, hee hee hee, ha ha ha,” he cackled, starting in a jokey low voice and ending with a maniacal shriek, his legs swinging wildly under him in a paroxysm of hysterics.


“Didn’t like it, eh?” Paul remarked coolly with a bit of smug. He liked the show very much. He’d been a supporter of the Indica from its inception – he was the first customer, helped draw the flyers advertising the opening in September of ’65, designed the wrapping paper. He even transported the lumber for the book shelves in his Aston Martin, and like a good working lad wasn’t above putting saw to wood. Deep into Stockhausen, musique concrete and the works of William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, nobody in the London rock scene was more curious about the avant-garde than Paul McCartney. As he often said, “People are saying things and painting things and I must know what people are doing.”

Far from the cutting edge, John spent his days in his suburban Weybridge home with stock brokers for neighbors. As the suited men with briefcase hands made their way to The City for the market opening, Lennon sat watching the telly and smoking pot, both for hours on end. When Paul called to invite him to come to the opening of a new exhibit at the Indica, John was in no way interested.

"Ah, that’s a lot of phony bullshit.” John snapped.

“It’s not really,” Paul protested. “That’s what you thought when I brought you the tape loop idea, you were a bit put off, but you ended up quite keen on it. Come on down to London and we’ll make a night of it.”

Better than sitting here all day watching spy programs and eating acid, I suppose, thought John and, after first fighting the urge, he cozied up to the idea. He wanted to talk to Paul anyway about a new thing he was working on, knowing Paul would have something bright to add. He was nervous at the thought of cutting demos of “Strawberry Fields” in a few days without Paul’s input.

John arrived at Paul’s townhouse out of his mind after three days of tripping. They drove together in Paul’s car, windows rolled down. It had been unusually cold that first week of November, but by the 9th it had warmed up considerably and John needed the air.

“What’s this about then?” He had never asked what they were seeing.

“It’s called Unfinished Paintings and Objects. Weird pieces by this Japanese artist from New York, Yoko Ono.”

John snickered. “That’s his name? You’re having me on.”

“I know, I know, but really, Yoko Ono. She’s a her and very big in New York. John Dunbar was telling me about some of the items - sky T.V., eternal time clock, crying machine, and he…”

Peals of laughter from John. “That’s daft! It’s a con. I think you’ve been taken in, mate, but, I’m bored and I’m here so let’s see the show.” Paul parked and John joyfully leapt from the car, sensing the thrill of taunting another “artist” who would no doubt look down her nose at him. “Come on.”

Entering the gallery through the olive green door, the two Beatles were enthusiastically greeted by John Dunbar, one of the co-founders of the gallery. It was important to Dunbar, a coup really, to have them here the night before the official opening of the show, the gallery’s first big show of the fall of 1966. If they liked it, if they bought something, word would spread fast. The Beatles taste became everyone’s and fast.

Dunbar grabbed each gently by the elbow and walked them to a figure facing a blank canvas, a slim, small form in a black leotard.

“John Lennon, Paul McCartney, I’d like you to meet Yoko Ono.”

Yoko turned to face them and handed each of them a card. It said BREATHE.

"No thanks,” sneered John, “I already had some at home.”

Paul was quite abashed, but went with it. “Don’t mind if I do,” and he slowly inhaled. Yoko smiled.

The three strolled through the exhibit.




“Is this an apple, then?” asked John.

“Yes, it’s an apple,” Yoko answered, sensing scorn.

“For sale? How much?” It was hard for John to hold in his rising laughter.

“200 pounds.”

“Is that for real?” John scoffed, but Paul jumped in.

“I get it. It’s a joke, isn’t it? For a couple of hundred quid I can watch it rot. I like it.” Paul was quite chuffed.

They moved on, towards a step ladder. On the ceiling above was a black canvas, next to it a magnifying glass hanging from a chain. John climbed up first, grabbed the handle and placed it in front of the small word affixed on the canvas. He descended, head shaking.


“What’s it say?” asked Paul.

“’Yes’, it says ‘Yes’.” He turned on Yoko, “What’s the point of all this? It’s too weird. Outrageous really, a fraud.”

Paul climbed up and looked at the word. It was simple and positive and he felt warm and peaceful. Back on the floor, he leaned over to Yoko and whispered, “I love it.” Her stoic face broke into a wide smile, expectant. Now Paul and Yoko walked together, talking about Buddhism. Paul had recently bought a book on Gandhi and non-violence and their talk became more animated as they discussed peace and protest. John lagged behind. Spotting the giant white canvas, he asked, “What’s this?”

Yoko explained it was a pure white space, and when the exhibit opened each person could hammer one nail into it.

“Can I do one now?” John asked eagerly.

Yoko shook her head. “No, it must remain untouched until the show opens tomorrow.”

“Right, right. That makes perfect sense,” John spat, his anger evident.

“Hey Paul,” John called. Paul walked over. “Ready to go?”

“Yeah, OK. I’m enjoying this, though.” Paul wasn’t going to argue.

Safely on Duke Street outside the Indica Gallery, John couldn’t contain himself any longer.

“Ho ho ho, hee hee hee, ha ha ha,” he cackled, starting in a jokey low voice and ending with a maniacal shriek, his legs swinging wildly under him in a paroxysm of hysterics.

“Didn’t like it, eh?” Paul remarked coolly with a bit of smug. “Well, I did. It was clever and interesting. What did you think of her?”

“She’s a beast, isn’t she? I wouldn’t be caught dead with the likes of her.”

Paul stopped. “I think I’ll go back for a little.” He handed John the keys to his car. “Stay at my place tonight. You don’t have to head back to the suburbs.”

A bit stunned at Paul’s desertion, John took the keys. “I may head over to Bag O’ Nails and see who’s there tonight. I think Georgie Fame is playing. Meet me there if you want.”

Paul headed back to the Indica. He was intrigued by this Yoko Ono. Not his type, really, but he was interested for sure.

When he opened the door to the Indica, Paul expected another cheerful greeting from John Dunbar. Probably assumes I’ll buy something, Paul thought. Instead, the place was in chaos, Yoko sobbing as Dunbar held her tightly. John had hammered a nail right in the middle of the clean white canvas.


John Lennon attended Yoko Ono’s show Unfinished Paintings and Objects on November 9, 1966, the day before it opened. After three straight days of taking LSD, he arrived, skeptical. He was won over by Yoko’s positive message and, when he offered an imaginary five shillings to pound an imaginary nail into the canvas, sparks flew. The only Beatle living in London, Paul McCartney was heavily into the avant-garde scene and the most interested of the group in counterculture art and literature. Rumors of an affair between Paul and Yoko have surfaced. Yoko met Paul first and did visit him at his townhouse sometime in 1966, where they were spotted being quite affectionate.

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