Before The Beatles had officially split, John Lennon and Yoko Ono had found their own niche away from the group. The two artists had not only joined their lives when they had married, but their ideals too. It meant that Lennon and Ono now often came as a pair and they often had a message to share when they did. The same could certainly be said of their 1969 appearance on The David Frost Show.
The episode was recorded on Jun 14th, 1969, and saw Lennon and Ono in their usual mood of dodging, reflecting and enjoying the questions from their interviewer. Never missing an opportunity to spread their message of peace and love, the duo saw the perfect chance to again speak to a huge audience with the offer of joining Frost on his acclaimed show. The filming began well enough, the pair arrived to applause and began throwing acorns into the audience, aided by Frost, proclaiming “acorns for peace week!” and then wished the Queen a happy birthday. The scene was set.
The gifts weren’t over by the time the pair sat down though and Ono passed over a “box of smile” for Frost which was a small box containing a mirror designed to reflect his own smile back at him. Frost then turned to the matter at hand and discussed the duo’s album Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, joking about the controversial cover and the slightly loopy allure of love. The album was widely banned, something Lennon joked meant its price was skyrocketing on the black market.
But soon the question we were all waiting for came, Frost asked Lennon and Ono about Bagism. “I thought he was clever!” proclaims Lennon to a gleeful audience, happy of the continued inclusion. “The message I had from John and Yoko the other day, when we were planning the programme, was a message with a nice picture that said ‘Love + Peace = Bagism’. I need to know more, John.”
Lennon dutifully answers: “What’s Bagism? It’s like a tag for what we all do, we’re all in a bag, you know, and we realised that we came from two bags—I was in this pop bag going round and round in my little clique and she was in her little avant-garde clique going round and round and you’re in your little telly clique and they’re in their…you know?” At this point, we’re fairly certain that nobody knew.
The singer continues: “We all intellectualise about how there is no barrier between art, music, poetry… but we’re still all – ‘I’m a rock and roller’, ‘He’s a poet’. So we just came up with the word so you would ask us what bagism is – And we’d say we’re all in a bag, baby!” Ono does her best to more clearly explain the idea of ‘Bagism’, a term used to describe a world without prejudice.
“You know,” begins Ono, “this life is speeded up so much and the whole world is getting tenser and tenser because things are just going so fast, you know, so it’s so nice to slow down the rhythm of the whole world, just to make it peaceful. So like the bag, when you get in, you see that it’s very peaceful and your movements are sort of limited. You can walk around on the street in a bag.” Finally, Lennon cracks it and provides a real-life interpretation that the entire audience can understand.
“If people did interviews for jobs in a bag they wouldn’t get turned away because they were black or green or long hair,” claims Lennon. “It’s total communication.” Frost, as sharp as ever, of course, replies: “They’d get turned away because they were in a bag.” After a little toing and froing, which is clearly beginning to irritate Lennon who had spent so much time being implicitly understood.
The Beatle-man continues to explain how he and Ono were at a press conference in Vienna and were in their “own bag” when “the press came in, sort of expecting Beatle John and his famous wife, and we were in the bag singing and humming.” It can be easy to have your head spun by the sheer volume of the word ‘bag’ being used but perhaps an easier assessment of the theory is to think of being in your ‘bag’ as being in ‘your own world’. The theory of ‘Bagism’ became an integral part of the duo’s peace campaign.
Of course, another vital part of that was the pair’s ‘Bed In for Peace’ campaign. It’s naturally something Frost is keen to expand on: “How has this thing gone with the sleep-ins you’ve been having. Those are what? To draw attention…” Lennon quickly interjects, “We’re trying to sell peace, like a product, you know, and sell it like people sell soap or soft drinks, you know, the only way to get people aware that peace is possible and – It isn’t just inevitable to have violence, not just war, all forms of violence. People just accept it and think ‘Oh, they did it’, or ‘Harold Wilson did it’ or ‘Nixon did it’, they’re always scapegoating people.”
In fact, he goes one step further and encourages us all to have more responsibility for the world around us: “We’re all responsible for everything that goes on, you know, we’re all responsible for Biafra and Hitler and everything. So we’re just saying ‘SELL PEACE’. Anybody interested in peace – just stick it in the window, it’s simple but it lets somebody else know that you want peace too, because you feel alone if you’re the only one thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if there was peace and nobody was getting killed’. So advertise yourself that you’re for peace if you believe in it.”
It is one of Lennon’s most iconic interview and sees the singer in his prophetic and confounding prime. Watch John Lennon and Yoko Ono explain Bagism on The David Frost Show from 1969.