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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.
Ono has always balanced playfulness with confrontation, as a way to provoke us out of our complacency — an intention “Cut Piece” embodies at the core. The same might be said of “Acorn,” whose entries come loaded with the recognition that life, positive though it may be, can’t help but cut two ways.
Yoko, do you have any tips for young aspiring artists who are just starting out?
I want you to know, you are an artist. You have within you a creative person. That’s what an artist is. Artists understand that and bring out the truth in themselves. Some people write me in letters and say: “Yoko, I don’t have any money, how can I change the world?” Well, you change the world by being yourself. The fact that you are who you are is so important for us.
I like the color pink for men. I saw a photo of John wearing pink suits, going or coming back from their Japan tour, and thought it was very becoming on him. Also, it’s a color that people usually associate with women, without knowing how good a guy can look in it.