When journalist David Sheff began tenaciously pursuing all possible channels to reach out to John and Yoko in hopes that they would sit for a Playboy interview in 1980, he never would have imagined that the decision might come down to the time and place of his own birth—the interview, after all, would hinge on how Yoko would interpret his horoscope.
A little surprising, perhaps, for the wife of a man like John Lennon, whose attitude toward faith often resembled the sneer he wears on the cover of “Rock ‘N’ Roll“. His massive post-Beatles single “Imagine” has been called an atheist anthem by some and even replaced “Kumbaya” once at an atheist summer camp for kids.
During a time when hippie pilgrims began traveling to India in droves, Lennon growled “There ain’t no guru who can see through your eyes.” His weary yet resolute lyrics in “God” find him tediously listing off all of the people and things that he does not believe in, which include not only Jesus and the Bible, but also the tarot, magic, Buddha, Gita, Yoga, I-Ching and Beatles. At last he finishes, “I just believe in me. Yoko and me. That’s reality.”
The belief in this reality bleeds through the interview with Sheff. It hides between the lines and intimate glances between John and Yoko. As both take time to unfold their responses, there emerges a shared logic beneath their answers that reveals the shape of something coherent—something whole—a homespun philosophy so sturdy, only a very high level of intimacy between two people could have produced it. A quote from Yoko’s own lyrics capture it best:
A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is a reality.
Before agreeing to the interview, Yoko not only read David Sheff’s astrological chart, but also checked him over using a system of numerology. At last, Sheff cleared his background check, later to be proven in his book All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Speaking to him in the knowing tone of a gypsy, Yoko finally said “This is a very important time for you. This interview will mean more than you can comprehend now.”
It would be easy for people to ridicule Yoko Ono for turning to something like astrology in this way to make big decisions, but they would be missing an obvious point. As important as this horoscope business might have been to her, Yoko was also having fun. Artists, in general, seem to have a more playful and tentative relationship with reality. This might be because the act of creating art is itself an act of playing with reality. Art is a special kind of meditation that often leads the artist to perceive reality itself as fluid and changing; and more importantly, able to be changed by willful action. One definition of magic, formulated by the infamous magician Aleister Crowley, whose face appears on the cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s,” defines magic as being “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.”
In this respect, John and Yoko wield a very powerful magic, and they do so with conscious intent to shape their lives and the lives of others. They crafted songs on purpose to act as magical spells or statements to shape the future. This was Yoko’s intent with the song “Hard Times Are Over.” This too was the idea behind “Give Peace a Chance” about which John states with conviction, “We think we have a right to have a say in the future. And we think the future is made in your mind.”
“The future is already within us,” Yoko picks up. “I think that the world is going around and is alive because some people really know that whatever they think really happens…. People think of fantasy as different from reality, but fantasy is almost like the reality that will come. If you look at it that way, than George Orwell will create 1984.” Yoko would certainly live to see this prophecy come true in her time. However, she goes on to point out that “actually it is not a prophecy but a form of prayer making it happen.”
John chimes in and says, “What do they call it? Wish fulfillment. The other day I saw an article. This guy predicted the Third World War and what events would lead to it. Now they’re all saying, “Oh, look, it’s happening just like he said! Our game, or whatever it is, has always been the same. While that kind of article is actually a commercial for war, eventually creating war, we were doing commercials for peace.”
When they speak, John and Yoko do so with a certain cosmic assertiveness. Not at all outdone by Lennon’s celebrity, Yoko’s power and persona become more defined as the interview progresses. Her command and poise can be felt throughout the interview as a silent, looming presence. She tells Sheff that she likes to collect all things Egyptian, for their “magical powers” and it’s not hard to imagine her possessing some aura of ancient nobility and godlike prowess. It is clear that John needs her. Somehow, she knows too just what he needs, to an uncanny degree.
John likens Yoko to Don Juan, the Yaqui Indian teacher of Carlos Castaneda from his famous book, The Teachings of Don Juan. John has no problem saying that Yoko is his teacher. Yoko accepts this too and attributes it to her “feminine strength.” She said that men never developed the inner wisdom, they didn’t have time to; only a kind of wisdom to cope with the society they created. This is why they must rely on woman’s inner wisdom.
Sheff tries valiantly to convey to John how much the world wants the return of The Beatles, but John is steadfast in his Taoist assertion that The Beatles no longer exists. It would not be The Beatles. It would be an illusion. “It’s not that we’re withholding it from you; we don’t possess it to withhold it.” He goes on, “It was never ours in the first place. It existed of its own.” Speaking similarly of love he says, “Trying to possess it makes it go away. Every time you put your finger on it, it slips away. Try to look at the sun. You go blind, right?
This would be the last major interview with John Lennon before he was shot and killed shortly thereafter. His repeated insistence that he “did not believe in yesterday” drove hopeful Beatles fans to despair, but John leaned ever toward the present—towards presence. In this light, it’s hard not to agree with his assertion, made during this interview, that “People always got the image I was an anti-Christ or antireligion. I’m not. I’m a most religious fellow.” During his last years he proceeded with an inexplicable sense of urgency to be in the moment, and he upheld a sincere and sacred reverence for the Now.