PSA: Ira Glass, Questlove, Ad Rock, Mike D and Roberta Flack are dancers in Yoko Ono’s music video for “Bad Dancer.” How much awesome can be crammed into a single video? Here’s a link to video, so find out for yourself. Enjoy!
"Okay, this is the most random thing that’s happened to me in a long time. I was asked to dance in Yoko Ono’s new music video. Who says no to that? Here’s what it’s like: a car service picks you up and takes you to a nondescript building that’s set up for a video shoot. Lots of youngish people plus Yoko Ono. Oh hello there most famous person I’ve ever met! She’s gracious, has to be reminded by a handler who in the world I am. Then totally acts nice, says something along the lines of “I appreciate the work you do” which either means she’s heard my work or she hasn’t. Who cares! She’s Yoko Ono! And it’s inherently weird, right? For her too. She’s a lovely, not-terribly tall older woman in really beautiful clothes.
Each performer is called up, one at a time. First they play the song and you dance to it alone. The song is called “bad dancer” so I’m the perfect participant because - though I love to dance, I have no illusions. I’m a spaz. I stand in front of the camera and 20 handlers and hipsters and publicists and crew and Yoko Ono and I think a reporter from Rolling Stone and I tell myself to pretend I can do this and I dance. Then we do a take where I dance with Yoko which they use none of in the video. When the camera starts rolling, Yoko reminds me of other performance artists I’ve known: she’s assured, she’s game to try stuff, she’s a good improviser. We do a slow motion sidestep towards each other and then circle each other. We do a thing where she dances while I gesture towards her like ‘you are the bomb.’ If I knew how to dance I’m sure I could’ve come up with better stuff. The song seems to last a very long time, as we circle each other and improv this and that. I wonder if it’s okay to take her hand or touch her in any way. Somehow, I’m not up to that. I don’t try. I’m a guest here in her world. If handholding or touching is supposed to happen between you and Yoko Ono or you and the Queen of England, they are the ones who initiate it. ”
Yoko Ono almost needs no introduction. The 80-year-old artist, activist and musician recently told a reporter for The Australian that “art is breathing” — and she has been breathing, and making art for more than half a century. Among her recent projects is a new album with the Plastic Ono Band called Take Me To The Land Of Hell. Her son, Sean Lennon, produced the album, and it features guest appearances from Lenny Kravitz, Yuka Honda, Questlove, and more.
Yoko Ono on her son Sean Lennon discovering the Beatles music:
John and I decided that we [were] not going to influence him with our songs or our careers. So he didn’t know about John being a Beatle. So one day he came back, he was about four or five, somebody told him. [Sean said], “Daddy, are you a Beatle?” So John says, “Well, I uh, was.”
On working with Sean on Take Me To The Land Of Hell:
I gotta give it to my son. He’s kind of like, “Mom, do you think you can write another song here?” And I just write it, while we were doing things in the studio. So many songs are like that. It just inspires me because he says it. I made him into the music director of my work. I didn’t know whether that was a good idea or not. Many people said, “Don’t work with your son! That’s the worst thing you can do!” So they said that and that’s why I [went] the opposite.
On the song “Bad Dancer”:
Whenever there’s a song, dance music, my body starts to dance. I can’t help it! I’m just very much into dance. Even when I was four years old, you see it in a film that my mother and father made. I’m a little girl who is just dancing all the time. I think dancing is a very healthy way of going through life — instead of marching. I’m a bad dancer! But I love it.
Yoko, I ask, do you ever think about taking it easy and just lolling about in the garden, watching the birds?
"Ahaha, no!" she giggles, waving a dismissive hand. "I don’t think I’m there yet. Society tells you that when you’re old you have to retire. You have to defy that. Please know that being 80 is not a scary thing. When you’re 80, your life is much freer. I have energy. I walk a lot but also I work all the time. We don’t live by just sleeping and eating. We need pride and dignity in our lives. Work gives you that. Art is like breathing for me. If I don’t do it, I start to choke."
You don’t so much interview Ono as sit in awe and offer the odd prompt while she shares her hard-won wisdom and hopscotches across the decades. Some of my questions are ignored, others answered 10 minutes after I’ve asked them, but it doesn’t matter. Her memories are freighted with history.
Performance art intrigues me because of its ability to remove the barriers between the artist and the audience. There is something powerful in the act of watching art unfold in front of you in real time. There are some performers who even take their art a step further, by allowing the audience to change their role from passive viewers to active participants.
Marina Abramovic and Yoko Ono are two artists who have both been known to make their audience members an integral part of their performance. Keeping your audience engaged is something all performers strive for, but making your art dependent upon audience participation causes a paradigm shift of sorts.
Imagine that Cut Piece, instead of involving the audience, was just a performance where Yoko Ono slowly cut her own clothing off. Imagine that The Artist is Present was just Marina Abramovic staring off into space in a room full of people. In these scenarios, the artist is more of an usher walking you through the experience. The message being something akin to “here is my art, appreciate it.” The message that is conveyed by the actual works mentioned is instead more like “please help me turn this experience into art so we can appreciate it together.”
The other aspect of this type of performance that makes it so powerful is the amount of courage it requires from both parties. Cut Piece is a particularly good example of this. For the audience, they must be aware that the way they approach the request to cut off a piece of clothing, could potentially give everyone watching a glimpse into their true nature. As the artist, you must be acutely aware that you are giving the audience an opportunity to interact with you, and without many rules the interaction could be either positive or negative.
In my opinion, it is the level of interaction and the courage that this interaction takes, which makes performance art such as this so palpable and unforgettable. Though, other types of performance, such as a music concert or a Broadway show may be engaging, people who have only ever experienced performance as a passive viewer are missing an amazing opportunity to feel something new.
“There was a recent article in the paper about how ancient redwoods and sequoias are growing faster now than at any other time in their long lives. When I read this I had just begun my first listenings to Yoko Ono’s Take Me to the Land of Hell. That’s when I began to think of this album as a tall tree in the forest of music. When you examine the current growth rings, they are huge, never larger. Now I’ve begun to walk farther into the multi-faceted forest of her work and am finding more big trees that somehow evaded me earlier. Take Me to the Land of Hell has led me on a new journey.”—David Harrington