John and Yoko and Annie: An Enduring Image of Love
Thirty-five years ago today, an issue of Rolling Stone magazine hit the newsstands featuring John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the cover. That photo, taken by the great Annie Leibovitz, answered for the last time any lingering question anyone might have about the bond between the famous couple.
On the morning of December 8, 1980, Leibovitz arrived at the Dakota, the apartment building west of Central Park where John Lennon and Yoko Ono lived. Although Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner “never told me what do to” when she went on a photo shoot, Leibovitz has said, this one time he did: “Please get some pictures without her.”
Fortunately, that order was ignored.
Yoko Ono was still considered, among some rock fans, the interloper who had broken up the Beatles. John Lennon didn’t see it that way, of course. He’s never felt about anyone the way he felt about Yoko Ono. “It’s called love,” he told journalist Howard Smith. “It’s a precious gift.”
“I thought it was an abstract thing, you know,” Lennon added. “When I was singing about ‘all you need is love’ I was talking about something I hadn’t experienced.”
A month before Leibovitz arrived at the Dakota, the couple had released “Double Fantasy,” an album that included the song “(Just Like) Starting Over” and cover art that showed the couple in a romantic kiss.
Despite her editor’s instructions, Leibovitz was intrigued by that image. “This was the 1980s—romance was a little dead,” she recalled later. “And I was so moved by that kiss.”
For the photo she wanted to take, Leibovitz suggested that John and Yoko disrobe. “It wasn't a stretch to imagine them with their clothes off, because they did it all the time,” she noted.
This time, for some reason, Yoko balked. She did offer to take her top off, but by then John and the photographer had come up with another idea: John naked, Yoko fully clothed, with him cuddling up to her, almost in a fetal position, as if for warmth.
Leibovitz took a Polaroid of the pose, which all three people in that room knew immediately was the picture they wanted.
In just 12 hours, John would be dead, shot outside the Dakota by a deranged fan. Six weeks later, January 22, 1981, Rolling Stone gave grieving music fans this last image. It’s was John Lennon’s gift to us, really. When Annie Leibovitz had arrived that morning, he had made it clear he wanted his wife in the pictures. Pointing at Yoko, he had insisted simply, “I want to be with her.”