November 9th 1966 – When John met Yoko….?

According to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and most Beatles books, they first met at the Indica Art Gallery on November 9th 1966, at Yoko art exhibition. John and Yoko always asked about how they met, and often told the same story, but did embellish it a bit over time. However, were all the facts correct?

Here is the story, as told by John and Yoko:

 

On 9th November 1966 a Japanese artist Yoko Ono put on an exhibition at the Indica Art Gallery, called Unfinished Paintings and Objects. John Lennon was invited by the Gallery’s co-owner John Dunbar to view the exhibition the day before it opened. Dunbar told John Lennon there would be a happening in a bag – John immediately thought there would be an orgy and gladly went to the gallery. He found lots of strange objects and exhibits, including an apple on a stand. John went over to see the price and was amazed it cost £200! He was amused, but Yoko wasn’t amused when John picked up the apple, and took a big bite out of it!

The Apple on a stand from the Indica Art Gallery
The Apple on a stand from the Indica Art Gallery

John then saw a piece called Ceiling Painting. It consisted of a step ladder with a magnifying glass hanging from the ceiling. He went up the step ladder and looked through the magnifying glass to the ceiling. Printed there was the word ‘Yes’. John said later if it had been something negative he would have left, but it was ‘yes’ and it encouraged him to stay.

Yoko Ono demonstrating 'Ceiling Painting'
Yoko Ono demonstrating ‘Ceiling Painting’

By this time John Dunbar came over and introduced John to Yoko. She said later she did not recognise John that day. In fact, she said the only Beatle name she could remember was Ringo – it means ‘apple’ in Japanese.

John asked where the action was. Yoko just handed John a card which said ‘breathe’. John panted on the card and gave it back. He then saw an exhibit called Painting To Hammer A Nail In. John went to hammer a nail into the board, but Yoko stopped him, saying she did not want any nails in the board before the exhibition opened. After much persuasion by John Dunbar she finally allowed John to hammer one in – if John gave her five shillings. John said, “Here’s an imaginary five shillings and I’ll hammer in an imaginary nail.” John said later that it was then that their eyes met.

Yoko Ono, Painting to Hammer a Nail
Yoko Ono, Painting to Hammer a Nail

The Background to the ‘meeting’ 

Barry Miles, Peter Asher and John Dunbar opened the Indica Art Gallery in Mason’s Yard, St James’s in early 1966. They were leading lights in London’s counter-culture, and were regular visitors to the Scotch of St James’s Nightclub in Mason’s Yard. They wanted to start their own art gallery and bookshop, and on a visit to the scotch, noticed that number 6 Mason’s Yard was empty,a and thought it would be an ideal place.

Even though most people thought the gallery was named after one of the first exhibition there, Indications, it was actually called after the plant Cannabis Indica.

A major benefactor to the gallery was Paul McCartney – he was dating Peter Asher’s sister Jane and even lived in their house. Paul donated money to the Indica project, helped move in the furniture and designed the wrapping paper for the gallery. Paul also got John Lennon interested in the gallery.

Is it all True?

John and Yoko told this story, or different versions on the same theme, on many occasions, but is it all true?

Firstly is the date correct? John and Yoko always said they met on the 9th November 1966. The number 9 was always in important in John’s life, and it seemed fitting that John and Yoko met on John’s ‘lucky’ day. Or did they? In all the interviews they gave, they always stated they met the day before Yoko’s exhibition opened to the public. However, the exhibition opened on the 8th November, which means if the date is correct, it was the day AFTER it opened. If they did actually meet the day before the opening, that puts the date at November 7th, not John’s lucky day. However, another problem with the 7th is that was the day John returned from Spain, where he was filming ‘How I Won the War’. Would he really attend an art exhibition the same day?

An ad for Yoko exhibition - showing the start date of November 8th
An ad for Yoko exhibition – showing the start date of November 8th

It seems Yoko and Sean are sticking with the 9th as the date, as on November 9th 2006, Sean did a special concert at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, which is only a few hundred metres from the Indica Art Gallery. Sean made a point in telling the audience it was the 40th anniversary of his Mum and Dad meeting.

Like all good stories, John and Yoko did embellish it over time. It was only at the end of his life that John thought there was going to be a happening in a bag. In earlier versions of the story, this wasn’t mentioned. It’s also in later versions that Yoko said about John picking up the apple and biting it.

However did their first meeting actually take place at Indica at all. When Paul McCartney inducted John into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he told a different story. In an ‘open letter’ to John, and in front of Yoko, he said.

“After that there was this girl called Yoko. Yoko Ono. She showed up at my house one day. It was John Cage’s birthday and she said she wanted to get hold of manuscripts of various composers to give to him, and she wanted one from me and you. So I said,” Well it’s OK by me. but you’ll have to go to John. And she did.”

So did Yoko meet Paul before John, and did Yoko go to see John? Well, whatever the case, The attraction between John and Yoko was instant, and controversial. I won’t get into a discussion about Yoko here, or we will be here all day and night. However will say that once John was asked by a journalist ‘Why Yoko?’ John said ‘She’s me in drag!’

Update

A report in ‘International Times’ of which Miles was a founder, lists the dates of Yoko’s exhibition from the 9th to 22nd November, and also mentions ‘Bag wear’ http://www.internationaltimes.it/archive/index.php?year=1966&volume=IT-Volume-1&issue=1&item=IT_1966-10-14_B-IT-Volume-1_Iss-1_003

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *