This is the song that made me take Yoko One seriously as an artist, as a genius. “Don’t Worry Kyoko” is a 16-minute blast of noise that appeared on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1972 album “Some Time In New York City“. It’s a musical tour de force that manufactures a primal scream, intended to represent Yoko’s agony over her separation from her daughter, and it’s also a howl for the Vietnam War, for a once-celebrated death penalty victim named James Hanratty, and for the plight of every human being on earth. Yoko mainly intones “Don’t Worry” over and over, fast and slow, loud and soft, sometimes saying “worry, worry, worry” instead of “don’t worry, don’t worry”, maintaining throughout a measured, controlled but near-hysterical intensity. Listening to the song can be a drenchingly emotional experience.
Yoko One has been made fun of through most of her career, and when comedians make fun of her primal scream schtick they are often making fun of “Don’t Worry Kyoko”. Despite the mockery, the song is a masterpiece, and it has more structure than its detractors admit. John Lennon was the co-author, after all, and John Lennon knew a bit about writing songs.
“Don’t Worry Kyoko” was also a hothouse flower for Yoko Ono. There are two recordings of the song, but it’s only on the “Some Time In New York City” recording that the band, the loose and loud Elephant’s Memory collective, understands her vibe and allows her to reach the song’s peaks. A shorter version of the song was released on John and Yoko’s “Live Peace in Toronto” album, but this band (led by Eric Clapton) did not give her the support she needed, and her vocals wilt. Both recordings have their moments, but the “Some Time in New York City” version is the one to keep.
The reason “Don’t Worry Kyoko” is on my mind is that Yoko will be performing with a newly reborn Plastic Ono Band, featuring her son Sean Lennon and members of the band Cibo Matto, at a benefit for the victims of the horrible earthquake, tsunami and nuclear leak in Northern Japan, taking place Tuesday night at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City. I will be there, and I have high hopes for a unique performance. I’m pretty sure that any band that calls itself the Plastic Ono Band is going to perform the Plastic Ono Band’s signature epic song, and I know Sean Lennon’s band (he’ll be playing rhythm guitar, like his Dad) has the cojones to play the song right.
Patti Smith — another vocalist who deserves to be called a genius, and who must have once learned at least a few tricks from Yoko Ono — will also be performing at this benefit for the worthy cause of Japan earthquake/tsunami relief. UPDATE: I just learned that Lou Reed has been added to the bill as well.