When John Lennon was invited by a friend, John Dunbar, to an exhibit at Dunbar’s Indica Gallery in London on Nov. 9, 1966, the intellectually hungry, emotionally restless 26-year-old Beatle reportedly thought the avant-garde show might involve drugs, an orgy, or any of the things that made swingin’ London swing. In fact, what was happening at the Indica was a conceptual-art show called ”Unfinished Paintings and Objects,” exhibiting the work of Yoko Ono, a 33-year-old Japanese artist who created things like transparent homes, imaginary music, and ”underwear to make you high.”
Ono was yin to Lennon’s yang: She was a well-born daughter of a bank president with a minor following in the art world; he was a working-class Liverpudlian who became one of the most famous people in the world. Yet that night, Lennon climbed a ladder to the ceiling to see one of Ono’s installations: a placard with a tiny word on it — ”Yes.” She gave him a card reading ”Breathe;” and requested five shillings to hammer an imaginary nail into the wall. His famous retort: an imaginary five shillings to hammer the imaginary nail. The connection was instantaneous.
The details — some believe them apocryphal — have taken on the glow of their romance. When they met, the two were married to other people, but still became inseparable, and the songwriter in Lennon became less interested in wanting to hold hands and more interested in revolution.
In 1968, when they released their first collaboration — an album of cacophonous sounds called Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins — the controversial cover showed them naked for all the world to see (the world wasn’t impressed). After tumultuous divorces, they married in 1969 (at which time he legally became John Winston Ono Lennon). They held ”bed-ins” for peace and mounted a joint art show. Many fans saw Ono as a divisive force, adding to the already fractious mood between him and the other Beatles in the years leading up to their breakup.
But Lennon envisioned the two of them as ”the Romeo and Juliet of the 1970s,” as Ono recalled to her husband’s biographer Ray Coleman. And as their relationship matured, so did his solo efforts; instead of ambient noise and railings against God, Lennon crafted albums like Imagine, Mind Games, and Double Fantasy, with hummable tunes, ample humanity, and valentines to Ono and their son, Sean. Despite a brief separation in the mid-’70s, their love story endured until his murder in 1980. Though John and Yoko’s ballad ended on a tragic note, it began, at the Indica Gallery, on a properly imaginative one.
Time capsule: Nov. 9, 1966
AT THE MOVIES, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau team up for the first time in Billy Wilder’s comic drama The Fortune Cookie. The odd couple will costar eight more times.
ON TV, The Jackie Gleason Show reunites Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton (Art Carney) in a revamped take on The Honeymooners, with Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean as Alice and Trixie.
ON BROADWAY, Angela Lansbury is a ’30s grande dame in Mame.
AND IN THE NEWS, Ronald Reagan defeats two-term Democrat Edmund G. Brown to become the new governor of California.