In the early Eighties, years before he would perfect brooding menace in Hollywood, John Malkovich was a rising theater star that would perform in front of New York's musical and cultural elite. "When you're a kid from Chicago and you go do a play in New York and David Bowie or Mick Jagger or Jacqueline Onassis show up, the only question you can really kind of think of is, 'Why?'" Malkovich tells Rolling Stone. One frequent attendee of the actor's plays at the time was Yoko Ono.
Three decades later, Malkovich and Ono reunite on "Cryolife 7:14 A.M.," the latest track from the actor's collaborative album with composer Eric Alexandrakis and award-winning photographer Sandro Miller. For the vinyl-only release, Like a Puppet Show, Malkovich recited passages from Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" over Alexandrakis' music, which was then given to numerous musicians, including Ric Ocasek, Dweezil Zappa, Roger Waters' son Harry and Ono with son Sean Lennon, to reconfigure as they wished.
The track opens with Lennon's sparse piano and Ono's distant, distinct vocals creating a minimalist background for Malkovich's text. As Ono's vocals rise up in the mix, Lennon lays down a swinging, jazzy guitar part and the kind of drum beat more often found on a lost funk 45 than an avant-garde recording. The song ends nearly as it begins, with chaotic percussion augmenting piano and Ono's vocals.
"[Yoko] is obviously very bright and super interesting and very enigmatic," Malkovich tells Rolling Stone. "She's had a very interesting journey and led an incredibly interesting life. She's lived — and lived through — a lot of cultural changes and the great thing is, she's still doing stuff. I always have a great deal of respect for people who do that."
Like many of the artists on Puppet Show, Malkovich and Alexandrakis gave Ono and Lennon a wide berth in augmenting, reconfiguring and recontextualizing Alexandrakis' music. "I said, 'Chop it up, use it as you like, put chickens next to it on an iPhone,'" Alexandrakis tells Rolling Stone. "It can be as avant-garde or as lo-fi as people wanted, so I didn't really want to tell them too much direction."
The idea to ask Ono and Lennon to participate in the project came from Miller's recent photography exhibit Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters. In the series, the actor portrays cinematic and cultural icons such as Che Guevara, Andy Warhol and Marilyn Monroe. In one shot, Malkovich recreates Annie Leibovitz's iconic 1980 Rolling Stone cover photo of a naked John Lennon caressing Ono.
"Sandro's photos inspired the record, so being that the Leibovitz shot of Rolling Stone was one of the shots that Sandro and John had done, I said, 'You know, we have to ask Yoko Ono,'" Alexandrakis says. "And then I went to Sean, and he's a monster musician as well. Sean actually pulled her in. It just really made sense."