“Before Yoko and I met, we were half a person. We are two halves, and together we’re a whole.”
Everything we experience in our material world is realized and created through a dance with its opposite. In myth, the notion of duality is often represented by male/female couplings. In Hinduism, there are god/goddess consorts, where each major male deity has a female partner or counterpart. The female aspects can be understood as the physical manifestations of the abstract concepts associated with the male god. For instance, Brahma is creation and Saraswati is music, art, and language; Vishnu is sustenance and Lakshmi is wealth, health, and prosperity; Shiva is destruction and Kali is the warrior and death.
When John Lennon left the Beatles to partner with Yoko Ono, the pair merged male and female energies, commercial and experimental artforms, and Western and Eastern cultures. Ono’s concept of “life as art” brought to the partnership—and to Lennon’s creative process—the abstract (masculine/art) expressed as the physical (feminine/life). No longer was John content to simply drop acid and sing about love, now it was his and his wife’s mission to help love manifest in the world.
Never had John or any of the rock gods so intentionally wielded their own mythology. John and Yoko were intensely aware of the power their unprecedented fame had bestowed upon them and used that influence with more directed attention than any of their contemporaries. Assuming incomparable notoriety as an adult (she was thirty-three when she met John), farseeing Yoko provided a perspective on the potential of John’s (and now her) opportunity that was perhaps unavailable to a man who had it all by the age of twenty-two. He admitted as much: “I learned everything from her. … It is a teacher-pupil relationship. … I’m the famous one, the one who’s supposed to know everything, but she’s my teacher.” John may have had the insight that he was “more popular than Jesus,” but Yoko understood the implications and responsibilities of that reality.
In fact, their romance was consummated at the very time John was experiencing the feeling that he was indeed the second coming of Jesus Christ. As told by Pete Shotton, John’s closest childhood friend who worked as his personal assistant, the two were sitting in John’s home “after a bit of LSD” when John suddenly exclaimed, “Pete, I think I’m Jesus Christ… I’m back again… I’ve got to tell the world who I am.” The next day, at a band meeting, he gathered the other Beatles. “I’ve something very important to tell you all,” he said. “I am Jesus Christ. I have come back again. This is my thing.” John’s fellow Beatles remained silent until someone suggested they adjourn for lunch, where the matter was dropped. Back at home later that evening, John told Pete he “fancied having a woman around.” He said, “I think I’ll give Yoko a ring. I’d like to get to know her a bit better and now’s a good time.”
Although it is tempting to dismiss John’s revelation as the result of a drug-induced, inflated ego, his “messiah complex” must be understood through the lens of his unique experience, that of perhaps the most famous person in the world. By 1968, his unparalleled fan base had long been looking to him for answers to social, political, and even existential questions. He would be named “Man of the Decade” by both Time magazine and BBC-TV the following year, and the year after that offered the role of Jesus in Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar. John’s identification with Jesus wasn’t simply his folly; it was submerged within the Beatles’ mythic narrative and, though not an overt belief of his followers, the recognition was implicit in the generational status he had assumed and fueled through the tacit support of his massive cultural following.
Yoko’s alignment with John distilled his messianic confusion into a distinct, powerful ideology and subsequent rise to action. Now, John’s fame as a Beatle, heretofore his primary understanding of his cultural role, would become merely a process mechanism and subservient to the ideals of the pair’s connection and Yoko’s artistic impulse. Their efforts would be based on their love as an activator for the goal of world peace, and for the next two years, to varying degrees of success, the couple attempted just that. If John was looking for a way to utilize his renown for a high-minded moral cause, with the objective of delivering transcendence to “his people” (which is, after all, a primary function of the savior archetype), he certainly found the right partner and muse. John clarifies, “We met, we had to decide what our common goal was; we had one thing in common… we were in love… What goes with love, we thought, was peace.”
The two shared a natural symbiosis in their philosophies concerning the potential of art as a cultural and political tool, and their efforts were characterized through the alchemy of their previous endeavors. Yoko’s background as a creative colleague of the iconoclastic Fluxus group brought a radical interdisciplinary approach to art with the goal of inciting mass participation in events and “happenings” to affect social change, while John’s capacity as a locus of global media enabled them to utilize McLuhanesque approaches to a wide range of communication mediums. With their financial mobility and prime position in the media spotlight, rock star John and conceptual artist Yoko endeavored to spread their message of peace through a barrage of complimentary “intermedia” activities: records, films, concerts, interviews, publicity stunts, billboards, television appearances, radio spots, mail campaigns, and conceptual art events.
McLuhan had already signaled where we might naturally expect to see this evolved cultural expression and rapport first manifest: “We live in the first age when change occurs sufficiently rapidly to make such pattern recognition possible for society at large…this awareness has always been reflected first by the artist, who has the power—and courage—of the seer to read the language of the outer world and relate it to the inner world.” As early as 1951, he observed: “The business of art is no longer the communication of thoughts or feelings which are to be conceptually ordered, but a direct participation in an experience. The whole tendency of modern communication is towards participation in a process.”