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Old Apr 28, 2002, 12:31 PM   #1
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Default Intervew with Yoko from The Independent

Yoko Ono: 'I'm used to people not liking my stuff'
For 30 years, Yoko Ono faced cynicism and hostility. Now, suddenly, her work
is hip again. What happened? Michael Bracewell finds out
21 March 2002

Some time around three o'clock in the morning, at the underground hard-house
and techno club Crash, in deepest Vauxhall, nearly 1,200 male clubbers are
stripped to the waist and getting intense. On top of the beats, they're
dancing to the ululating wail of a 69-year-old Japanese woman, dressed in
black and wearing a scarlet plastic visor, who had greeted them with the
words, "Take your shirt off, take your pants off, let me come all over
you..." It's a personal appearance by Yoko Ono, guesting live vocals to the
Orange Factory remix of her track from 1971, "Open Your Box", and the kids
are going bonkers for it.

Hanging from the lighting rig, the Turner Prize-winning artist Wolfgang
Tillmans is holding his camera up with one hand to get shots of Yoko on
stage. Later, in the VIP bar, Yoko will find herself photographed with a
whole host of the young and the funky, including the legendary club DJ
Princess Julia, and Wolfgang himself. In one of those spectacular back-flips
of pop fashionability, the music of Yoko Ono is now being sourced by a new
generation for whom her uncompromising vocal intensity is the perfect match
for the complex architecture of their sampled beats. In short, Yoko Ono an
artist of Bridget Riley's generation is in vogue with young clubbers from
Los Angeles to London, and winning a rapturous reception on a whole new
scene which is as hip to the Beastie Boys as it might be to the Beatles.

"It's so exciting," says Yoko, a couple of days later, sitting in a suite
the size of Bond Street tube station at the old Hyde Park Hotel. "What
happened was, I knew of the existence of all these club scenes, and I love
dancing, but these aren't the kind of places where you can just walk in. But
then I was in Los Angeles and some club promoters asked me to come along at
two o'clock in the morning to do an appearance. It was a dark, rainy,
miserable kind of day, which is, as you know, very unusual in LA, and I just
thought there wasn't going to be anybody there that night. But then I
arrived and it was packed, with all these people there, just dancing and
going crazy..."

Yoko's dressed in black trousers and a black waistcoat, with a vivid
sky-blue silk shirt. When she speaks, her Oriental- American accent has a
mixture of softness and deadpan humour that brings to mind the camp of
Warhol to whom, of course, Yoko and her late husband John Lennon were
extremely close. But then there's the aspect of Yoko's conversation that
finds no embarrassment in foregrounding the mystical and the idealistic. She
seems to articulate a deeply urban idea of quietly political visualisation
a continuation of the attitudes and events for which she and Lennon were
both deified and demonised. Yoko has the ability to think on an allegorical
level, yet with streetwise toughness.

"The funny thing is," she continues, "that about a year ago I was saying,
'Let your heart dance every day do something that makes your heart dance,
and if you can't, then do something to make somebody else's heart dance.
Keep doing that for about three months and your life will change!' And now I
find this whole dance-music thing has opened up for me, when I'd been
thinking about dance in a kind of conceptual way, so that's so amazing."

Of course, Yoko has had ample time to recognise that her suggestions for
creative and positive affirmations are frequently greeted with cynicism, if
not plain hostility. And it is interesting how the kind of work that she and
Lennon made together the hair protests, the peace campaigns, the jamming
sessions with Yoko in a bag have retained their ability to make insecure
people aware of their own insecurity, forcing them to confront their own
anger. "I'm so used to people not liking my stuff," she says, "it's been
like that for 30 years. But now I start to wail and people cheer it's

In addition to making club appearances, Yoko is in the UK to attend the
opening of the Liverpool John Lennon Airport, and to inaugurate her purchase
of John's Aunt Mimi's house for the National Trust. The allegorical level
comes into play here, too.

"I think that airports are a part of communication, and communication brings
love and knowledge and that's precisely what John was about. A professional
commercial concern wanted to buy Aunt Mimi's house in order to turn John's
bedroom into the 'John Lennon honeymoon suite' which I thought was
horrible. So I spent two years trying to buy the house, through an anonymous
third party, and I'm so glad to have got it under the protection of the
National Trust. I was so emotional I could hardly go up the stairs,
because I'd heard so much from John about the house, about slipping out at
night so as not to wake Mimi and so on. John was the working-class hero
because he felt that way, but you could say he was more middle class, and
living in a nice part of town."

Increasingly, Yoko has a cultural identity independent of her late husband.
She's already a hip name at the brainy end of grunge music Sonic Youth,
for example, are big Yoko fans. And now there is a new generation of artists
and fans who are fully supportive of both Yoko Ono's music and its positive
sloganeering for peace and positive change. Along with New York's Orange
Factory, such fashionable DJs as Peter Rauhofer and Danny Tenaglia are
queuing to remix her back catalogue. And amongthe under-25s, brought up on
saturation advertising and branding (the following day Yoko would be doing
back-to-back interviews with the style press and underground dance
magazines), there is perhaps a real belief in co-opting the power of viral
marketing in aid of world peace.

"What I'm very happy about is that it's the really cutting-edge people who
are coming to my stuff. I was so pleased when I heard Orange Factory's mix
of 'Open Your Box' that I cried it was like the first time somebody had
expressed an understanding of my music in years. And 'Open Your Box' is a
great one to do, because we all need to open up to one another more.

"When I first made 'Open Your Box' in 197l, I used to get sent photographs
from Japan of people dropping my record in the trash can, and now that's all
changed. The people doing that were probably the older generation, and now
the younger ones seem to really get it. There's a relentlessness in my music
which is precisely what people used to dislike now, when a lot of energy
has been lacking in recent music, maybe that relentlessness is welcome."

This "relentlessness" in Ono's music is matched by the stark objectivity of
much of her work as a visual artist. The black-on-white billboard art that
she developed with John Lennon, for instance, has virtually become
recognisable as a brand. Currently, an exhibition of Ono's art is touring
America, and her significance as an artist is being recognised by critics
and curators alike. Vitally, Ono's art bridges the art historical period
between Fluxus, minimalism and conceptualism. Similarly, the manner in which
her art has always blurred the boundaries between creative media film,
performance, sculpture, action, music and which once caused her dismissal
as a serious artist, is now supremely fashionable. But Ono still believes
that the principal function of her work is to be instructive of creative

"In the past I've encountered strong cynicism towards the positive attitude,
but now we all share a positivity with the younger generation because we
know it's the only way to survive. After the events of 11 September, I
thought it was important for us to say, 'Imagine all the people, living life
in peace' just start with imagining it, you know? So I put a billboard up
in Times Square, and it looked so beautiful just white on black, when all
the other ads are so seductive, and this is just a statement. So it's been
up for six months, since John's birthday: and then we've had the same
statement projected against buildings in Japan, in English and Japanese, and
now we're putting one in Piccadilly Circus. It's just, 'All you need is
love', you know?"

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Old Apr 28, 2002, 06:17 PM   #2
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Default Re: Intervew with Yoko from The Independent

Pretty interesting; John always said that Yoko was ahead of her time. Thanks for posting this, Susan!


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Old Apr 28, 2002, 08:42 PM   #3
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Default Re: Intervew with Yoko from The Independent

Great article, thanks Susan.


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Old Apr 28, 2002, 10:24 PM   #4
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Default Re: Intervew with Yoko from The Independent


Thanks Nipper!


"Wake up to the love that flows on around you...
...if you believe"
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