This is one of those things you stumble onto in researching another topic. To wit, I was looking for stuff on John & Yoko’s collaborations in the 1970’s, before the legendary Lost Weekemd; I don’t recall exactly what I was looking for, but in my searches came across this reference. Yoko Ono was invited to speak at the First International Feminist Conference at Harvard University in Cambridge Massachusetts on June 3, 1973. She spoke of how her role in society as a woman, as a person in general was reductive because she was seen only in her role as John Lennon’s spouse.
I say this is interesting because I had to piece what little I’ve shared together from bits and crumbs. If you want to find out about the First International Feminist Conference at Harvard in June 1973, well, good luck. There is practically NO information. It’s as though the Phyllis Schlaflys of the world collaborated to erase all traces of that gathering. Luckily we have at least part of her speech preserved as bonus tracks on the reissue of Yoko’s 1973 album Feeling the Space. After her speech she sang “Coffin Car” with John as backing musician, and well, let’s let Yoko herself explain:
This disc has all the songs from Feeling The Space and songs which were dropped from it to make it into a single album. In June of ’73, I was invited by the National Organization of Women to their International Women’s Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was asked to give a concert there for the Sisters. John and I took this very seriously. I made a booklet of my songs and statements specially for the occasion and carried copies of them with me. John carried his guitar. He was to be my band. The conference was incredibly memorable for both of us. I never will forget how all the women at the concert suddenly stood up and joined me in singing the chorus of WOMAN POWER. Their power at that moment was so strong that it stopped the video camera from running! Our photographer did not know why his flashbulb suddenly did not work. Things like that happened a few times in my life. This was one of them. During the conference, when some sisters gathered to have coffee, I met a woman who had come from Middle America. She said she had left her husband and her children and was not intending to go back to them. She was a sweet girl with large frightened eyes. Those eyes have seen stuff our mothers never taught us to be part of the deal in life, I thought. I asked her how she felt. She said she missed her children, and sometimes she heard them crying in her dreams, but she felt okay because she knew her husband was not bad to her kids. She also said she was having a hard time finding a job because she had no skills. A classic case. That was how ANGRY YOUNG WOMAN came to me. John and I visited Salem, Massachusetts. on our way home from the conference. We went to a house where a witch was believed to have lived. It turned out she had not been a witch but a doctor (of course!) and her beautiful, clean but rather austere house seemed appropriate to have once encased an astute and intellectual mind. We went up the hill where she, supposedly, had been burnt on a cross. The grass on the hill seemed dry and flattened out by kids playing baseball. We walked through the main streets of the town. It was a summer evening, the high ceilinged shops, probably built in the 30’s, were closed, and the shadows of street lamps were long on the dusty pavement, with not many people around. John and I felt as though we were walking in the town of The Visit, an old Ingrid Bergman film, where all the factories were closed because of the anger of one woman who had sought justice. We walked for a while and then went back to our car where our driver, Peter, was waiting. I was very touched by our visit and wrote the song WOMAN OF SALEM. When I started to sing the song in the studio, a musician pointed out that in my lyrics I had referred to the time as being 1692 and that I should probably change the date since Salem would not have existed then. He must be right, I thought.
But I decided not to touch the lyrics because the song had come to me
like an automatic writing. “The song could be about Salem in England-if
there was such a place,” I said to the musician. My first vision of the
song was quite vivid. A woman sat in a darkish room, at a table under a
window from which the morning light was coming through and you could
hear the birds chirping amongst the summer green. Then I was the woman
quietly closing her diary. Anyway, it was a symbolic song. If the time
was a bit off – even a century or so – it didn’t really matter. I was
going to push it through with that and I did. I don’t know why I didn’t
think of checking the year, which would have been an easy thing to do.
Had I simply been stubborn for being told of my possible mistake? An unsettling feeling had lingered at the time and then it was forgotten.
It was only last year, ’91, I found out that in the year 1992, Salem
would be observing the 300th anniversary of it’s 1692 trials! With ANGRY
YOUNG WOMAN in my pocket and the other songs I took to the International
Women’s Conference, I felt it was time for me to go into the studio
again. I felt I had to get a new set of musicians for the kind of sound
I had in mind. So I hired session guys with jazz backgrounds. The first
day I walked into the studio, I noticed there was some nervous tension.
To break the ice, I suggested we do a jam to get to know each other.
That’s how IT’S BEEN VERY HARD was made. It was the first take of the
first day. They didn’t know me from Adam. I think the song shows how
brilliant these musicians were. From then on we were like a family. That
summer, John and I moved to the Dakota. Some of the Sisters from the
Conference visited us in our new apartment. A woman representative from
Norway taught John how to type. So John said he would be playing with
his newfound toy, the typewriter, while I made the album- and he did (it
was the beginning of Skywriting By Word Of Mouth). Every day John waited
for me to bring back a rough remix of what I had done that day. He
started to say he wanted to play on a couple of my songs. “You should
call me in when you’re ready, just like you would call in a session
guitarist and I’ll come and play.” I knew I could not get a better
guitarist than John for WOMAN POWER. So I called him in for that-like he
said. He did an overdub guitar on WOMAN POWER and SHE HITS BACK that
afternoon. Sean’s friends, who heard WOMAN POWER for the first time in
the 90s, say this track sounds contemporary. John would have been
pleased to hear that. One day I came home and heard John playing a
beautiful song which was later to become STEEL AND GLASS. “It’s great
that you’re doing this (recording) because now I feel like I want to go
in and make mine,” he said. After Feeling The Space was done, John went
into the studio and made Mind Games with the same musicians.
taken from http://imaginepeace.com/archives/6364
notes from Yoko Ono’s Onobox, 1992 6-disc collection from Rykodisc
More Yoko at Genius lyrics:
While john is setting up the amp…
What happened to me was that I was living as an artist and, who had relative freedom as a woman and was considered the bitch in the society. Since I met John, I was upgraded into a witch and I was…and I think that that’s very flattering Anyway, what I learned from being with john is that the society solely treated me as a woman, as a woman who belonged to a man who is one of the most powerful people in our generation, and some of his closest friends told me that probably I should stay in the background, I should shut up, I should give up my work and that way I’ll be happy
And I got those advises, I was luck, I was over thirty and it was too late for me to change
But still, still, this is one thing I want to say, sisters, because, with the wish that you know
You’re not alone, i…because the whole society started to attack me and the whole society wished me dead, I started accumulating a tremendous amount of guilt complex and in result of that I started to stutter. and I consider myself a very eloquent woman and also an attractive woman all my life and suddenly, because I was associated to john, that was considered an ugly woman, ugly jap, who took your monument or something away from you
And that’s when I realised how hard it is for woman, if I can start to stutter, being a strong woman and having lived thirty years by then, learn to stutter in three years of being treated as such, it is a very hard road. Now the next song is called coffin car and this is a song that I observed in myself and also in many sisters who are riding on coffin cars…
I appreciate Yoko’s comments and may we all take them to heart.
Available on: The studio track “Coffin Car” first appeared on Yoko’s N1973 album Feeling the Space with the Plastic Ono Band, Apple SW-3412. John Lennon is billed as ‘John O’ Cean’ in the credits. He provides guitar on “Woman Power” & “She Hits Back”, as well as backing vocals on “Men, Men, Men”. Oddly enough, coming as it did on the verge of the Lost Weekend, this was released around the same time as John’s Mind Games.
It was twice reissued, first on Rykodisc in the UK and Japan; two of the bonus tracks were taken from her appearance at the First Feminist Conference in 1973, “I Learned to Stutter” & “Coffin Car”. For the 2017 reissue in the U.S. & Europe it appeared on the Secretly Canadian & Chimera label.
One thought on “Yoko & John Coffin Car at First International Feminist Conference 1973”
I was at the First International Feminist Conference in 1973 and heard Yoko speak and talked to both John and Yoko informally at the conference sitting on the grass. I was so impressed with Yoko and had been one of those people who believed the media’s negative spin on Yoko.
I learned an important lesson that week.
I actually left a bad marriage the next month and moved to New York City from Massachusetts because of that conference.
I had been starting consciousness raising groups for NOW in suburban Massachusetts.