(This originally appeared in The Trentonian) September 14, 2011
Yoko Ono has become iconic in her own right. From dance clubs to the lounge chairs of Baby Boomers, her name is known in every country of the world.
I spoke with the 78 year-old legendary proponent of peace and love just prior to the opening of an exhibit of her late husband John Lennon’s art work in Princeton.
Each day, she goes about her business of sharing her philosophies and John Lennon’s messages. Talking with her is like meeting your best friend’s best friend for the first time: only briefly unfamiliar.
In Yoko Ono’s office in New York City, callers on hold listen to her singing from a cut on her own album. Her voice is small but imperative with lessons she wants to offer. It is at once recognizably a musically educated voice.
She is candid and completely honest. There’s never a hint of superiority, of elitism or boredom, although she has been asked the same questions, a million times over. She doesn’t pander, pontificate or condescend.
“You can ask me anything you want, it’s okay. I’ll give you my thoughts and ideas on it,” she says. She offers a candor uncommon for an interview of a local mayor, much less a superstar celebrity. Yoko Ono is gracious and welcoming when meeting strangers. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and in conversation, her intelligence and logic are revealed.
For John Lennon fans: Controversy and “Gimme Some Truth”
More than thirty years after his assassination, fans and pop culture aficionados are still trying to peel away the layers of news stories, half-truths and unknowns to see what happened in the lives of The Beatles, Yoko Ono and John Lennon.
Millions of Beatles fans worldwide bought into the assertion that “Yoko broke up the Beatles.” She was vilified and derided as a gold-digging negative power on John Lennon’s life. “How could he leave his wife and marry her? What could he see in her? She’s even older than him!”
Lennon was quite defensive of his relationship with Ono, whom he publicly worshiped.
While exercising her strong sense of self, she was often referred to as the “Dragon Lady.” At the time, female confidence and independence were more suppressed than valued.
Private facts and public opinion were seriously misaligned. Yoko Ono was born into luxury in Tokyo, the fair child of a wealthy Japanese banking family in 1933. She seems to have inherited her great-grandfather Zenijiro Yasuda’s business acumen. He founded Yasuda Bank. Her father was a banker and classical pianist. She remains a wealthy woman.
While John Lennon’s popular songs spoke easily to the hearts of people everywhere, his fans could not understand or accept Yoko Ono’s advant garde art or performances. Early in their coupling, John went back to his roots, expressing himself as the artist he had always been.
“His whole sensibility was that of an artist,” she explained. “Everything that he did came from that spirit.”
John and Yoko met at a preview for her art show in London in November of 1966. She shared the magic of that night with a glow in her voice. “John was working on an album in Abbey Road (studio), 3 Abbey Road. My gallery was at 6 Mission Square. You know, 3 stands for music and 6 stands for love.” The number 9 became a recurring numerological theme throughout their relationship.
Her focus now is to honor John by promoting his legacy and outlook on the world. “My main work,” she explains, “my mission, is to continue the work very effectively. This takes time, but time is very elastic, actually.”
She introduces John’s message of peace and love to his long-time fans and new discoverers. In Japan, she created a John Lennon museum that houses personal mementos and memorializes public memories. She and John spent happy times there away from the harsh public eye. They had a vacation home in the mountains.
All of his solo albums have been remastered and re-released as part of her efforts.
“This is my main work, not my only thing, of course. My own art? Not very much now. His is most important, of course.”
“I work carefully. I have good people working for me. In the beginning I felt, um, not very successful. It was really an uphill climb. Now there is an incredible demand (for Lennon’s work).
In her own right: In March 2011, a remix of her song, ‘Move on Fast’ hit the US Billboard Dance Chart at Number One. It was her eighth number one on the dance charts since 2000. She told Rolling Stone: “At first I was prejudiced against the idea. I had the pride of a rocker. People can get very elitist very quickly, and that’s how I was.” Her music has been remixed and covered by the Pet Shop Boys and Basement Jaxx.
Yoko Ono on Art
“Art is another language, an international language. Art does not need to control people. It is not created by controlling people. Art is something to share, to inspire; (it is) for us to like it.“
“We, as humans, create institutions, that’s what we do. Some artworks have been made into icons and they are not considered very good. Art as a language is an exchange. In this way, art is an institution.
“Art has a very close connection with the peace industry. Think about beauty and life. You feel the epitome of the peace industry.
“If we could be so big in the peace industry that only one in the war industry is left, then there would be peace. Many are scared of peace. What if it is boring? We spend our energy fighting. We should work in the peace industry. A florist is an example. There are many.
“Life is fantastically beautiful. As humans, we are lucky to have this thing, imagination. What we imagine, we can become.”
Ono has been called a sexy septuagenarian. Still dressing in low cut tops and fetching outfits, she celebrates life at 78.
“I have very busy days. I have very good people working for me. I stay very busy working. I like working everyday. I take on many things; art, music and I bike a lot. I imagine out there.
“I must take time each day to work on myself. I take care of myself by working outside, stretching and exercising.”
Healthy advice: have great fun
“I think the concept of fun is getting lost on people. We all need to have more fun. The world is scared now. It is too intense, and people are scared. Work is not easy now.
“Insist on having great fun. We all need that. It is very important.”
The words and artistic images are timeless; Ono is not. “I don’t know when I am going to die. I don’t know where I am going to go. Maybe,” she says with a soft laugh, to another planet!”