If Yoko Ono could say anything to the world, what would it be?
That question was recently posed to the controversial artist and widow of John Lennon. Her answer?
?Well, I?m not a bad person, and I didn?t break up The Beatles.?
The fact that The Beatles’ legacy still weighs so heavily on Ono?s mind should probably come as no surprise. Yoko Ono has long been targeted as a major reason for their dissolution.
Still, it?s been almost four decades since the band?s split, and several books have come out citing Paul McCartney?s dominance of the group as the root cause of the breakup. Does Ono think fans have moved beyond recriminations regarding the Fab Four?s bitter end?
?I don?t really think so,? she says. ?Because I understand that there?s a group of people who really think I?m the one who did it. I can say OK, you know some people think that way. But sometimes it gets very dangerous… Not just for myself, but for my family.?
Such a dramatic answer isn?t entirely unexpected from Ono; she was, after all, standing right beside husband John Lennon the night he was shot to death. Since then, public opinion seems to be all over the place when it comes to Ono. Depending on who you believe, she?s either a misunderstood artistic visionary, a control freak, a driven business woman, or a still-grieving widow dedicated to keeping her husband?s legacy alive.
When you speak directly with her, though, Ono comes across as disarmingly warm, humorous, and somewhat girlish even. True, Ono and Lennon helped pioneer the art of media manipulation and it could all be an act. But her often-garrulous responses to questions and willingness to engage in give-and-take conversation come off as genuine.
Considering her stature in the rock world, it?s no surprise there was an overabundance of modern artists who lined up to work with Ono for a new remix CD Yes, I?m a Witch, released in early February. Ono is quite a bit older than the artists featured on the new CD, of course. She was born in 1933 and raised in Tokyo. Her musical training started at age four when her parents sent her to Jiyugakuen (Freedom School Garden) for early Western music education. Ono later attended New York?s Sarah Lawrence College, where she became interested in avant garde music and conceptual art.
It was that conceptual art that attracted Lennon to her when he attended one of her gallery shows in England circa 1966. Less than two years later, the pair were inseparable, and Lennon was toting her to Beatles recording sessions, where she added to the already tense atmosphere by doing things like criticizing a performance of ?Sexy Sadie.?
That was the part the public didn?t see. When most of the general public got an eyeful of Ono for the first time, she was in the buff, standing next to an equally unclothed Lennon on the cover of their first joint LP, Two Virgins, from 1968. Even Paris Hilton had a less auspicious public debut.
?Most people just went crazy over the cover and didn?t listen or care about the music,? Ono explains. ?However, Two Virgins was the meeting of two musicians from very different backgrounds knocking down the walls around different music genres, and creating a bridge between them through improvisation.?
Another reason people didn?t get to hear Two Virgins is because it was hard to find and many distributors and stores passed on stocking it. But when the public did eventually get an earful of Ono, it ran screaming ? metaphorically at least. The real screaming was done by Ono herself, who had perfected the technique of caterwauling to the delight of Lennon and the horror of pretty much everyone else. A good example of this can be heard on the Lennon-Ono LP Unfinished Music No. 2: Lif