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Old Oct 09, 2006, 08:16 PM   #1
instant karla
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Default Yoko Ono's 35-year tempestuous love for Syracuse

Yoko Ono's 35-year tempestuous love for Syracuse

Monday, October 09, 2006 SEAN KIRST
Yoko Ono can't remember writing the letter. What she remembers are the "fantastic people" who greeted her at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, which underlines what Ono said in an interview last week:

"It was a milestone of my life," she said of the time she spent in our city, which remains what Ono, 73, called a "most beautiful memory."

The lengthy letter appeared on The Post-Standard's editorial page 35 years ago today, to coincide with the opening of "This is Not Here," Ono's exhibition at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse. She was responding to an earlier letter to the editor from a local reader named John Findley.

In a take that referenced many literary sources, Findley questioned why Ono qualified to be an artist. He indirectly compared her work to that of a chimp who became famous for throwing paint onto a canvas.

It might seem as if one insulting letter in a local paper would hardly matter to Ono, who was already a lightning rod for emotion around the world. She was married to John Lennon, the legendary rock performer. To her husband's disbelief, Ono was often blamed for breaking up The Beatles. And their vocal opposition to the Vietnam war generated plenty of support and anger.

Yet Findley's letter attacked a major exhibition of Ono's art, and it bothered her enough that she sat down and wrote a long reply.

On the editorial page, she recalled how the pressing "social problems" of the time had caused her to think about "joining the violent revolutionaries." But she decided that the act of killing for political change was "an artless thing" that only continues what it seeks to replace. She became an artist, she wrote, because true art "can change the value of things."

"Total communication equals peace," Ono wrote. "That is our aim! That is what artists can do for the world!"

The letter was signed by Yoko Ono Lennon and her husband, who added this P.S.: "I agree!"

It continued a crackling back-and-forth between The Post-Standard, its readers and rock's ruling couple. The paper had fired the first blow with an editorial asking whether Ono's show at the Everson was "art or hokum."

John and Yoko responded with a sharp and funny letter, clearly in Lennon's voice, in which Lennon accused the paper's editorial writers of being "blue meanies," as in the bumbling characters from The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" movie.

It appeared on the same day as Findley's letter, which caused Ono to write her own reply.

Last week, in a telephone interview from London, Ono said she could not remember the editorial page furor. What she remembers, she said, are the artists and musicians from across the world who flocked to the exhibition, and the way she was embraced by everyday people in Central New York.

The show at the Everson was arranged by Jim Harithas, the museum's director at the time, and his young assistant, David Ross, who would go on to serve as director at several major museums across the United States.

The exhibition took up most of the museum. It was built around the theme that "everything is an illusion," said Ono, who wanted visitors to be able to reach out and touch her work. Thus, she set up a bubble gum machine that offered invisible trinkets. There was a canvas on which visitors were asked to outline their own shadows. And there was Lennon's favorite piece, a pane of glass titled "Painting to let the evening light through."

Oct. 9, 1971,was also Lennon's birthday. Fellow Beatle Ringo Starr came to town for the exhibition and a late-night birthday party and jam session at the Hotel Syracuse, as did poet Allen Ginsberg, famed studio musicians Jim Keltner and Nicky Hopkins, rock producer Phil Spector, anti-war protester Abbie Hoffman and a planeload of other artists and celebrities.

There were also rumors that Paul McCartney and George Harrison might turn up. Harithas and Ross both recall being told that the four Beatles might perform with some of the other musicians at midnight, a reunion that would serve as a suitable birthday gift for Lennon.

It didn't happen. McCartney and Harrison weren't there. Last week, during the interview, Ono became upset when the topic of a reunion in Syracuse came up.

"Don't ask that question," she said.

No, she much preferred to talk about Oct. 9 and what that day means in her life: How it was her husband's birthday in 1940, and the day of her exhibition at the Everson in 1971, and the day on which she gave birth to Sean Lennon, the couple's only child, in 1975.

Thirty-five years later, Ono is hardly slowing down. She is in Iceland today for a peace ceremony at the site of what will be called "The Imagine Peace Tower." Despite the war in Iraq and the shadow of violence across the globe, Ono said she "still has a great feeling of hope" about world peace, the same hope expressed in that letter to the editor, long ago.

Asked about the absence of her husband, who was shot to death in New York City in 1980, Ono responded: "I'm still working with him."

As for the people of our city, she sent one final thought:

"Hey, hey!" Yoko Ono said. "Love Syracuse!"

Last edited by instant karla : Oct 09, 2006 at 08:19 PM.
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