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With Love, Yoko

With Love, Yoko


Yoko Ono speaks out on behalf of gay rights, has had four dance mixes reach number 1 in the past decadeaEUR|and she Twitters. Now, how many septuagenarians can you say that about?

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 conventional.

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 "EverymanaEUR|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 and Yes, I'm a Witch, which featured collaborations with a variety of artists including queer favorites Antony Hegarty, Le Tigre, and Pet Shop Boys.

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 "EverymanaEUR|Everywoman" collaborators, Blow-Up.

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 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 song?Yoko Ono: 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 future? Yes. I will be in the studio this year. Let's see what comes out.

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 quo? 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 artists? 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 ways.

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 elected? 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 audiences? 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 create.

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

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