Yoko Ono: Still Fearless and Ahead of Us All
Yoko Ono is an artist, an activist, an innovator and always has been. If you only know her as the woman who married John Lennon, you’re missing so much. She has a background in visual arts and performance arts, has created cutting edge music for decades, and has always been a willing and effective advocate for people and causes in need– from the anti-war movement through her most recent cause- the anti fracking campaign. And she’s always at the front of every project she takes on. She recently stopped by the SiriusXM studios to talk with Ron Bennington about some of her newest projects including Ono Mix. Excerpts of the interview appear below.
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Ron Bennington: I was so surprised how many young people know you and your work now. Teenagers, people in their early twenties, now you’ve always had kind of a club following, but how does that now keep moving on like you’re doing?
Yoko Ono: I have no idea. (Laughs) But I’m moving on.
Ron Bennington: You are working with a lot of young djs on this music. But the remix takes it in a whole different direction.
Yoko Ono: Yeah. It’s really great that I’m working with young djs because…it’s really important to do that.
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Yoko Ono’s Clothing Line for Men
Ron Bennington: The amazing thing is how many things you’re involved in. Every day I pick up the paper and there’s a clothing line, and stuff you’re doing for peace and hunger. You keep very very busy.
Yoko Ono: I know. Each one is so important, so I didn’t want to say no to anything.
Yoko Ono: Yeah, exactly. But with the clothing line it’s not that I was forced into it. I want to do it.
Ron Bennington: Is it something that you wanted to do for a long time?
Yoko Ono: Well, not really, I forgot about it for a while. But then when I suddenly thought about it, I thought, ‘wow, I should do it.’
Ron Bennington: And these are from drawings that you did back in the 60s? How did that come about?
Yoko Ono: Because, when we got married, I thought, I should just give something to John for a wedding present. And this was my wedding present to John. It’s a lot of conceptual writing about men’s fashion. And I was really thinking about that because, women, we are always accommodating people. Wearing something that might attract men. But men are not do that. They’re just wearing ties…and suits. Even now. Because they’re the observer, or I dunno, the people that want entertainment. And we’re the ones who entertain them. And I just wanted to equate the situation to make it like…that man can have fun too with fashion.
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Yoko Ono’s Many Causes: Peace, Anti-Fracking
Ron Bennington: But how do you know which to go to? When are you painting? When are you drawing? When are you designing?
Yoko Ono: Well sometimes I get inspired by music and sometimes visual. And so I just know where to go.
Ron Bennington: It’s interesting too, so many things you’re involved in. I saw the anti fracking stuff.
Yoko Ono: That’s so important.
Ron Bennington: How did you get involved in that.
Yoko Ono: Well because I have a farm in upstate New York and I was just relaxing in it. And someone just came– a very very intelligent guy said, “Yoko, this is happening you know.” “What? I can’t believe it.” “But you can’t do anything about it because you’re too famous and either you’ll be killed,” (she laughs), “or you’ll be killing the movement.” So, okay, I can’t say anything, okay, okay. but I did things covertly. You know, give some funds, get the lawyers or whatever. But then I thought, well that’s not enough really. So I finally gave a Lennon Ono Grant for Peace to Josh Fox who was creating this beautiful documentary film called “Gas Land”. And that really shows exactly what’s happening. And it’s such an incredible film that now a lot of people are saying, no, I’m not going to sell my land, you know. Being careful in upstate New York. And I think that some people who want to do it [fracking] in upstate New York probably thought, ‘oh those people don’t know nothing, so we’ll just do it, slip it in.’ No, they couldn’t slip it in.
Ron Bennington: Yeah, and even our Governor was going to let this slide through but with so many voices being heard…
Yoko Ono: Well I think that he decided that it should be checked. And I think that was a very proper thing to do…a proper decision. But probably he needed a lot of courage to say that and I really appreciate…and it’s great to know that we have a very intelligent, wise governor, yeah.
Ron Bennington: But that’s what you bring to this when you bring the attention, cause the first time I heard about Artists Against Fracking– you and Sean had done something– I didn’t even know what the word meant. And within a couple of weeks I was walking through the village and people were asking me to sign stuff, and I think that’s the exciting stuff that happens.
Yoko Ono: Don’t Frack Me!
Ron Bennington: Right, your voice gets out there, and people hear it and you come from a tradition of that of course. You and John have been known for that forever.
Yoko Ono: We were very lucky, you know, because Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, they all joined with Barbara and Nancy…and also Lady Gaga! That was fantastic. And Robert De Niro. I think those four people– they were the ones who first came into it and I really appreciated that.
Ron Bennington: And its amazing how that can happen. When every single voice becomes important– particularly people moving things in the street. A lot of people do stuff on line but when you still get bodies out in the street I think politicians pay attention, even more so.
Yoko Ono: I hope so.
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Yoko Ono Didn’t Break Up the Beatles
Ron Bennington: You brought up Paul, and he put you back in the news again not too long ago, by saying Yoko didn’t break up the Beatles…
Yoko Ono: I thought that was very sweet, very sweet of him.
Ron Bennington: It was very sweet of him, but kind of forty years too late, don’t you think?
Yoko Ono: (Laughs) No, because you know… it was a big subject and also he was probably personally hurt that John and I got together and all that so, I understand that.
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The Plastic Ono Band and Changing Music
Ron Bennington: It was really interesting though, the way I think when you and John got together, because I’m a big fan of the Plastic Ono Band, and to see how that started to change music again in another direction. I don’t think people were ready for it at first, but now in hindsight, here comes Punk music, here comes New Age music and those were the seeds of what you guys were doing at the time.
Yoko Ono: Yeah.
Ron Bennington: And now here you are with this Ono Mix which is, again, directed at young people– club going people. I can’t think of anybody else in your generation that attracts that audience.
Yoko Ono: Well I don’t know about that…what is my generation now? Eighteen? [laughs] The thing is, it’s great because I didn’t know it was like this. I’m learning all the time. Now I’m learning what dance music is. Dance music is not just dancing. They have this interesting sort of, extremely interesting forward kind of avant garde kind of mixing. And all these re-mixers are incredible people. And I respect them because, sort of like, they are breaking the boundary, again going into a very new field. And I…I’m very lucky.
Ron Bennington: Well like you say, the avant garde becomes the mainstream before you know it. And so many of the things that you’ve been doing over the years, at first shocking to people. But then as time moves along it gets picked up more and more. Where now you walk out and people will just show up to see club djs. I never would have expected to see that.
Yoko Ono: I never did either. And it’s really beautiful thing to happen to me. And I’m very lucky. Very thankful.
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Yoko Uses Art to Get Through Difficult Times
Ron Bennington: It’s a very interesting scene. It’s very tribal and people are changing the way they look. And the fact that you’re at the forefront of all this– the fact that you have club hits…
Yoko Ono: You use the word tribal– I thought that the whole world was being tribal , and sort of going against me. So it was a bit hard in those days.
Ron Bennington: Was it hard for you? Because it always seems like you handled it with so much grace.
Yoko Ono: Well, I’m saying hard because there was a hard side. But it wasn’t like, you know, I was going to kill myself or anything. Because you know, it’s that feeling that I was concentrating on and trying to create something new. And each day, ‘oh, what about that, what about that’ and that’s the thing I was thinking about, not so much about what people were saying.
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John Lennon Was Open to Yoko’s Music and How She Stays Fearless
Ron Bennington: But I also think the fact that John was open to your music was very very interesting…
Yoko Ono: Amazing, isn’t it? It’s staggering. I never expected that.
Ron Bennington: And here’s this artist who does perfect pop music, and has perfected it, and he’s ready to take off that coat probably before his audience was ready.
Ron Bennington: But you guys stayed very fearless throughout that time.
Yoko Ono: I think that I was fearless because I come from a– historically, you know, I went through war– things like that when I was a little girl. At the time, somebody didn’t have something to eat or something. And all the children were evacuated to the farms and the farmers were not very kind to us. The farmers said things, ‘you had it good there– city people– so now it’s our turn.’ And I was going to go to the forest and get some mushrooms one day, and then I realized that I read that a whole family died because of those mushrooms. That was really like– it saved me.
Ron Bennington: And I think that’s the thing that stayed with you. As awful as it is to go through war, as awful as it is to go through hunger, now that you have success you never put that out of your mind.
Yoko Ono: Never forget. Not only, but whenever I have a terrible hard time– and I still have some hard times– I think, ‘think about all those people who lost roof over their heads, lost a partner or a kid, or whatever.’ I have to always think that.
Ron Bennington: Yeah and I think New York changed after 9-11 for that same reason. When there was the build up to the wars overseas, you did not see that in New York City. People might have been pro-war in other places but the people who were here and saw what happened that day were immediately for, ‘I don’t want to see this happen to somebody else.’
Yoko Ono: Well I don’t want that to happen to often, but if it happens we should take it as a blessing of some sort where we can maybe learn from it or whatever.
Ron Bennington: And I think that is- in the strangest possible way- what keeps you fresh as an artist. The fact that stability is something that you know is not exactly eternal. Things change all the time.
Yoko Ono: Well it’s a very strange thing because I sometimes, in the middle of the night, I hear these people going “aaaaaaaaaaaaaarghhhh”like, really upset about things, about the world. It might be coming from the Middle East, or wherever. I don’t know where it’s coming from. And I jump up, and think, ‘oh my god, they are not having a good time.’ Well of course, I’m not having such a good time either, but when I think about those people I always have to remember that and, you know, do things.
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Ron Bennington: Ono Mix is available now online at itunes and Yoko is working with so many terrific young producers and djs and the music is so different and changing. And this is the direction that you feel like you’re going to be going in for awhile now?
Yoko Ono: It’s so fresh and so beautiful and I’m totally excited every day about it.
Ron Bennington: I have to tell you it’s so great to have you stop in here. And any time you want to stop by and talk about any cause or anything that’s on your mind, I’d love to have you stop by.
Yoko Ono: Oh well that’s very generous of you. Thank you.
Follow Yoko on twitter @yokoono and you can buy Ono Mix on itunes.
You can hear this interview in its entirety exclusively on SiriusXM satellite radio. Not yet a subscriber? Click here for a free trial subscription.
You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews at RonBenningtonInterviews.com.