For many proactive artists and musicians, peace is a romantic ideal worn off the shoulder at gala events and spoken very highly of on talk shows. For a select few, the pursuit of peace, justice and equality is a full-time job. It permeates their rhetoric, displaces their social motivation, and, for better or worse, shacks up with their muse. These ambassadors have made themselves highly visible within the entertainment and international communities—the frontman of a certain Irish group springs to mind. But before there was Bono, there was Ono.
Yoko Ono has been all things to all people—activist, avant garde composer, performance artist, and, for some, a thorn in the side of the greatest rock and roll band of all time. She gracefully accepts all of these roles, and has learned to laugh off the one that has undoubtedly caused her much pain over the years. One on one, she embodies a natural calm that makes conversation playful and effortless. And when she talks about world peace, unlike most soapbox pontificators, you know she means it. What’s more, she’s heavily impacted the dance world with a crop of Billboard hits — “Everyman… / Everywoman... ,” “Walking On Thin Ice,” and “Open Your Box” to name a few—that have been remixed by heavyweights like Basement Jaxx, Danny Tenaglia, and Felix da Housecat. She’s also released an updated version of “Give Peace A Chance,” putting a modern spin probably one of the most relevant songs of our time.
The teacher will now speak…
The only two things that are really going to save the world are music and art, because music and art are two international languages. I’m not talking about only the artists. I’m thinking in terms of each person in society who has an artistic sensibility.
I think people are really standing up right now. There are many courageous people—people in the administration—who’ve just started to say things. It’s very intense and totally mobilized. When John and I stood up at the Bed-In’s, we looked around and said, Wow, we’re the only ones? Now there are so many people.
Cat Stevens? He’s only a singer and songwriter. Are they thinking that artists are dangerous? They’re just expressing themselves. They thought the song Imagine was dangerous. Clear Channel said, We’re not going to play this song on the radio [after 9/11]. The minute I heard that, I put a full-page ad in the Sunday New York Times: Imagine all the people living life in peace. I wanted people to see that the song was not dangerous.
In those days, we didn’t realize that the opposition was serious about us and really hit back, but they did hit back. Now, people are fully aware that they may be hit back. I think they’re very courageous. I know a few people who went through that—who sacrificed like that—and they have very long memories.
I love dancing, and I think it’s the healthiest thing you can do. I would love to go out dancing, but unless I have an escort or something, I always feel strange about standing in a corner waiting for someone to dance with me.
Just after John’s passing, people were very protective of me. This guy who was planning all the security for my apartment came to me and said, My conclusion is that you have to keep all the shutters closed on the park side, now and forever. I said why? He said there are people from 5th Avenue that can shoot you across the park. I’m not going to live that way. I don’t want to close the shutters forever, and some widows have done that in the past. Now I’m a widow, I’m going to close the shutters forever. I can see that in some strange European film; she’s always drinking or smoking because she can’t stand the memory of it. I’m not like that. To me, life is life. In some villages in India, they still bury the wife with the dead husband, and if she doesn’t comply, the whole village will never have anything to do with her.
I was an avant-garde composer, and what I did then was some pretty far out stuff. Then I went into rock and I realized about all these stipulations and limitations, and I enjoyed that too. It was a challenge when I was making music that was 20 minutes to an hour long. Artists thrive on challenges. This club thing is like going back to my style. The drum beat goes on for five minutes or something. Is that alright? Wow!
It was always John’s stuff first, and then mine on the side. I would not have liked that if it was before we met, but by the time John passed away, I really appreciating the situation. John trusted everything to me, [and] I really felt like that was what I should be doing.
A small amount of poison is usually a very good medicine.
Some people think, John made [‘Give Peace A Chance’] and you touched it! Like it’s a sacrilegious thing. But I was there with him and I know exactly what he wanted to do, which was communicate the message of peace to everybody. So from that point of view, it’s much better to communicate it in a contemporary situation. Kids are used to listening to sounds like this. Not what we did in the Montreal Bed-In.
I did an installation piece in Liverpool called My Mummy Was Beautiful. I had 50 sites in Liverpool—huge billboards, banners, posters and shopping bags of my mother’s breast and my mother’s vagina. I say my mother’s but it could be anybody’s. It’s where you came from. You came out of the vagina. There’s nothing wrong with the vagina or the breast. As women, before and after giving birth, you have to be so afraid of showing yourselves, but I wanted to show that it’s alright. The whole of Liverpool was up in arms, and it was a very controversial subject. So if you’re talking about controversy and can you still shock people, they’re all shocked to death there—or shocked to life.
The energy of anger is incredibly strong. Love and hate are two sides of a coin. Twist the coin and make it love. It’s beautiful. We have to do that now. It’s time to start covering the world in love. You don’t have to be afraid of anger.