By Graham Kolbeins
Originally published on Advocate.com March 18 2009 11:00 PM ET
You wouldn't think
it'd be this way, but the seemingly simple concepts of
peace, love, and equality have often been viewed as ridiculous,
radical, even dangerous ideas. It hasn't always made her
popular, but Yoko Ono has been championing these causes for
more than five decades, interweaving her convictions into
groundbreaking conceptual art and an awe-inspiring body of
music. Ranging from enigmatic free-jazz abstraction to deeply
personal pop music about feminism, loss, and cultural identity,
Ono's music is widely varied -- never safe or
At 76, the iconic peace
activist, artist, and widow of John Lennon is still blazing
trails with dance music that resonates with a much younger
generation, in spite of an increasingly complex and
ever-shifting popular culture.
After lifting a
longtime embargo on the remixing of her music, Ono scored a
number 1 hit on the Billboard dance chart in 2004 with
"Everymanâ€¦Everywoman" Reworking her classic song about
relationships "Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves
Him," the new version expressed Ono's solidarity with
the marriage-equality cause in the wake of San Francisco mayor
Gavin Newsom's law-defying same-sex marriages.
Next came a pair of
highly successful remix albums:
Open Your Box
Yes, I'm a Witch, which featured collaborations with a variety of artists
including queer favorites Antony Hegarty, Le Tigre, and Pet
Ono's latest project is
a series of download-only remixes of the classic Plastic Ono
Band anthem "Give Peace a Chance." The first installment in
the series landed Ono her fourth number 1 dance hit of
the decade, and the latest batch includes new takes on the song
from Brazilian indie rockers CSS, Death in Vegas frontman
Richard Fearless, and her "Everymanâ€¦Everywoman"
Not bad for a
septuagenarian. Add to that the fact that she has more
than 10,000 friends on Twitter -- how many 76-year-olds even
know what Twitter is? Ono graciously took time out of her full
schedule for an e-mail Q&A with Advocate.com.
Advocate.com: How did the process work for the "Give Peace a Chance"
remixes? Did you collaborate with the artists directly, or did
they each take the creative reins on their version of the
I gave up my control. That was what made each song so creative
and exciting. Trust in the power within all of us.
Are you continuing to write music in your spare time? Do you
plan on releasing an album of all-new material in the near
Yes. I will be in the studio this year. Let's see what
What is your perspective on the recent developments
in the marriage-equality fight, and what words of advice can
you offer to those who have been discouraged by the strength
and pervasiveness of the forces working to keep the status
It's a need to flex their muscles on the part of the
conservative element. I think the same-sex marriage people
should not give up the dialogue. It's historically
important for the future generation to know that a dialogue was
necessary at all.
After the success of all the remixes that you've been
releasing, done by so many amazing musicians, have you
considered recording all-new collaborations with any of those
I will be in the studio this year to record some new stuff with
my old partner: my son.
Do you have any art projects in the works?
Yes. Several. You will probably hear about them. It's a
very exciting year for me.
You chose an island off the coast of Reykjavik, Iceland,
as the location for your amazing Imagine Peace Tower. What
are your thoughts on the financial turmoil that has struck
that formerly idyllic nation? Also, how do you feel about the
Imagine Peace Tower's home nation being the first in the
world to have an openly lesbian prime minister?
1) The whole world is
expressing financial turmoil, as you know. Iceland is
singled out in the press since it has been a country which has
been working especially well for so many years in so many
2) I am so glad I was
led to build Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland. It's
giving people light.
3) I think it is good
that the prime minister was chosen for her political ability
and not for her sexual preference.
A new generation of American activists has felt a surge in
confidence recently after using new media and the Internet to
help them organize and get Barack Obama into the White House.
Do you have any advice to young people about how to go on from
here? How can they continue to promote peace and effect
positive change, outside of getting the right politicians
Imagine Peace is still very necessary in this world of
confusion and violence. Politicians always need the help of
grassroots power, especially that of the youth.
Throughout your career you've found a careful balance
between creating music that's easily accessible to the
mainstream and music that's very experimental, and perhaps more
personal. Do you think it's important for artists with a
message to make their work appeal to popular audiences, even if
it may mean sacrificing some of its uniqueness? Have you ever
made conscious decisions about targeting your work to specific
I take my cue from breathing. I'd like to think that my
work makes people breathe better. The work sometimes is simple,
so it makes people breathe better. Sometimes it's complex,
so it helps people to unwind the strings of complexity binding
them and limiting their freedom. I never pondered if my work
was unique or not. That is not the criteria in which I
Do you think it's more important to find personal happiness
through art, or bring happiness and inspiration to others? Is a
small, quiet life of personal accomplishment less meaningful
than a life of altruism that affects many?
Life is a form of giving. By giving to others, you are giving
yourself as well. Example: By saying "I love you" to
somebody, you are saying it to yourself and to the universe at
the same time, as we are all one. Knowing this is knowing the
secret of life.
-- With love, Yoko