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Yoko Ono at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo, Brazil
|Genres||Avant-garde, rock, pop, electronica, Shibuya kei, Fluxus, dance|
|Occupation(s)||Artist, musician, film director, peace activist|
|Labels||Apple, Geffen, Polydor, Rykodisc, Astralwerks, Chimera Music|
|Associated acts||John Lennon|
Plastic Ono Band
Yoko Ono (オノ・ヨーコ, also 小野 洋子 Ono Yōko, born February 18, 1933) is a Japanese-American artist, musician, author and peace activist, known for her work in avant-garde art, music and filmmaking as well as her marriage to John Lennon. Ono brought feminism to the forefront in her music which prefigured New Wave music (whether she was a direct influence is still debated) and is known for her philanthropic contributions to the arts, peace and AIDS outreach programs.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Artwork
- 3 Life with John Lennon
- 4 Musical career
- 5 2000s
- 6 2010s
- 7 Political activism
- 8 Relationship with Paul McCartney
- 9 Relationship with Cynthia Lennon
- 10 Discography
- 11 Bibliography
- 12 Films
- 13 Notes
- 14 References
- 15 Further reading
- 16 External links
Yoko Ono was born in 1933 to mother Isoko Ono, the great-granddaughter of Zenjiro Yasuda of the Yasuda banking family, and to father Yeisuke Ono, a banker and one-time classical pianist who was a descendant of an Emperor of Japan. The name "Yoko" means "ocean child". Two weeks before she was born, her father was transferred to San Francisco by his employer, the Yokohama Specie Bank. The rest of the family followed soon after and Yoko met her father when she was two. Her younger brother Keisuke was born in December 1936. In 1937, her father was transferred back to Japan and Ono was enrolled at Tokyo's Gakushuin (also known as the Peers School), one of the most exclusive schools in Japan.
In 1940, the family moved to New York City, where Ono's father was working. In 1941, her father was transferred to Hanoi and the family returned to Japan. Ono was then enrolled in Keimei Gakuen, an exclusive Christian primary school run by the Mitsui family. She remained in Tokyo through the great fire-bombing of March 9, 1945. During the fire-bombing, she was sheltered with other members of her family in a special bunker in the Azabu district of Tokyo, far from the heavy bombing. After the bombing, Ono went to the Karuizawa mountain resort with members of her family.
Ono has said that she and her family were forced to beg for food while pulling their belongings in a wheelbarrow; and it was during this period in her life that Ono says she developed her "aggressive" attitude and understanding of "outsider" status when children taunted her and her brother, who were once well-to-do. Other stories have her mother bringing a large number of goods with them to the countryside which they bartered for food. One famous anecdote has her mother bartering a German-made sewing machine for sixty kilograms of rice with which to feed the family. Her father remained in the city and, unbeknownst to them, was believed to have been eventually incarcerated in a prisoner of war camp in China. In an interview by Democracy Now's Amy Goodman on October 16, 2007, Ono explained, "He was in French Indochina which is Vietnam actually... in Saigon. He was in a concentration camp."
By April 1946, Gakushuin was reopened and Ono was enrolled. The school, located near the imperial palace, had not been damaged by the war, and Ono found herself a classmate of Akihito, the future emperor of Japan. She graduated in 1951 and was accepted into the philosophy program of Gakushuin University, the first woman to enter the department. However, after two semesters, she left the school.
Education and marriages
Ono's family moved to Scarsdale, New York after the war. She left Japan to rejoin the family and enrolled in nearby Sarah Lawrence College. While her parents approved of her college choice, they were dismayed at her lifestyle, and, according to Ono, chastised her for befriending people they considered to be "beneath" her. In spite of this, Ono loved meeting artists, poets and others who represented the "bohemian" freedom she longed for herself. Visiting galleries and art "happenings" in the city whetted her desire to publicly display her own artistic endeavors. La Monte Young, her first important contact in the New York art world, helped Ono start her career by using her Chambers Street loft in Tribeca as a performance space. At one performance, Ono set a painting on fire; fortunately John Cage had advised her to treat the paper with flame retardant.
In 1956, she married composer Toshi Ichiyanagi. They divorced in 1962 after living apart for several years. On November 28 that same year, Ono married an American named Anthony Cox. Cox was a jazz musician, film producer and art promoter. He had heard of Ono in New York and tracked her down to a mental institution in Japan, where her family had placed her following a suicide attempt. Ono had neglected to finalize her divorce from Ichiyanagi, so their marriage was annulled on March 1, 1963 and Cox and Ono married again on June 6. Their daughter, Kyoko Chan Cox, was born two months later on August 8, 1963.
The marriage quickly fell apart but the Coxes stayed together for the sake of their joint career. They performed at Tokyo's Sogetsu Hall with Ono lying atop a piano played by John Cage. Soon the Coxes returned to New York with Kyoko. In the early years of this marriage, Ono left most of Kyoko's parenting to Cox while she pursued her art full-time and Tony managed publicity. After she divorced Cox on February 2, 1969, Ono and Cox engaged in a bitter legal battle for custody of Kyoko, which resulted in Ono being awarded full custody. However, in 1971, Cox disappeared with eight-year-old Kyoko, in violation of the custody order. Cox subsequently became a Christian and raised Kyoko in a Christian group known as the Church of the Living Word (or "the Walk"). Cox left the group with Kyoko in 1977. Living an underground existence, Cox changed the girl's name to Rosemary. Cox and Kyoko sent Ono a sympathy message after Lennon's 1980 murder. Afterwards, the bitterness between the parents lessened slightly and Ono publicly announced in People Magazine that she would no longer seek out the now-adult Kyoko, but still wished to make contact with her. In 1994, Kyoko made contact with Ono and established a relationship.
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Ono was a sometime member of Fluxus, a loose association of Dada-inspired avant-garde artists that developed in the early 1960s. Fluxus founder George Maciunas, a friend of Ono's during the 1960s, admired her work and promoted it with enthusiasm. One of Ono's well known examples is when she took a fly as her alter ego and was inspired by this for her work. Maciunas invited Ono to join the Fluxus group, but she declined because she wanted to remain an independent artist. John Cage was one of the most important influences on Ono's performance art. It was her relationship to Ichiyanagi Toshi, who was a pupil of John Cage's legendary class of Experimental Composition at the New School, that would introduce her to the unconventional avant-garde, neo-Dadaism of John Cage and his protégés in New York City.
Almost immediately after John Cage finished teaching at the New School for Social Research in the summer of 1960, Ono was determined to rent a place to present her works along with the work of other New York avant-garde artists. She eventually found a cheap loft in downtown Manhattan at 112 Chambers Street that she used as a studio and living space. Composer La Monte Young urged Ono to let him organize concerts in the loft, and Ono agreed. Both artists began organizing a series of events in Ono's loft, and both Young and Ono claimed to have been the primary curator of these events, but Ono claims to have been eventually pushed into a subsidiary role by Young. The Chambers Street series hosted some of Ono's earliest conceptual artwork including Painting to Be Stepped On, which was a scrap of canvas on the floor that became a completed artwork upon the accrual of footprints. Participants faced a moral dilemma presented by Ono that a work of art no longer needed to be mounted on a wall, inaccessible, but an irregular piece of canvas as low and dirty as to have to be completed by being stepped on.
Ono was an explorer of conceptual art and performance art. An example of her performance art is "Cut Piece" (this instance of performance art is also known as a "happening"), first performed in 1964 at the Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo. Cut Piece had one destructive verb as its instruction: "Cut." Ono executed the performance in Tokyo by walking on stage and casually kneeling on the floor in a draped garment. Audience members were requested to come on stage and begin cutting until she was naked. Cut Piece was one of Ono’s many opportunities to outwardly communicate her internal suffering through her art. Ono had originally been exposed to Jean-Paul Sartre's theories of existentialism in college, and in order to appease her own human suffering, Ono enlisted her viewers to complete her works of art in order to complete her identity as well. Besides a commentary on identity, Cut Piece was a commentary on the need for social unity and love. It was also a piece that touched on issues of gender and sexism as well as the greater, universal affliction of human suffering and loneliness. Ono performed this piece again in London and other venues, garnering drastically different attention depending on the audience. In Japan, the audience was shy and cautious. In London, the audience participators became zealous to get a piece of her clothing and became violent to the point where she had to be protected by security.
An example of her conceptual art includes her book of instructions called Grapefruit. This book, first produced in 1964, includes surreal, Zen-like instructions that are to be completed in the mind of the reader, for example: "Hide and seek Piece: Hide until everybody goes home. Hide until everybody forgets about you. Hide until everybody dies." The book, an example of Heuristic art, was published several times, most widely distributed by Simon and Schuster in 1971, and reprinted by them again in 2000. Many of the scenarios in the book would be enacted as performance pieces throughout Ono's career and have formed the basis for her art exhibitions, including one highly publicized show at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, New York, that was nearly closed by a fan riot.
In addition to conceptual art, Ono has also created participatory art, including her 1996 project entitled "Wish Tree" in Japan.
- "Wish Piece by Yoko Ono (1996)
- Make a wish
- Write it down on a piece of paper
- Fold it and tie it around a branch of a Wish Tree
- Ask your friends to do the same
- Keep wishing
- Until the branches are covered with wishes".
Ono was also an experimental filmmaker who made sixteen films between 1964 and 1972, and gained particular renown for a 1966 Fluxus film called simply No. 4, but often referred to as "Bottoms." The film consists of a series of close-ups of human buttocks as the subject walks on a treadmill. The screen is divided into four almost equal sections by the elements of the gluteal cleft and the horizontal gluteal crease. The soundtrack consists of interviews with those who are being filmed as well as those considering joining the project. In 1996, the watch manufacturing company Swatch produced a limited edition watch that commemorates this film. (Ono also acted in an obscure exploitation film in 1965, Satan's Bed.)
John Lennon once described her as "the world's most famous unknown artist: everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does." Her circle of friends in the New York art world has included Kate Millett, Nam June Paik, Dan Richter, Jonas Mekas, Merce Cunningham, Judith Malina, Erica Abeel, Fred DeAsis, Peggy Guggenheim, Betty Rollin, Shusaku Arakawa, Adrian Morris, Stefan Wolpe, Keith Haring, and Andy Warhol, as well as Maciunas and Young.
In 2001, YES YOKO ONO, a forty-year retrospective of Ono's work, received the prestigious International Association of Art Critics USA Award for Best Museum Show Originating in New York City, considered one of the highest accolades in the museum profession. In 2002 Ono was awarded the Skowhegan Medal for work in assorted media. In 2005 she received a lifetime achievement award from the Japan Society of New York.
In 2009, she showed a selection of new and old work as part of her show "Anton's Memory" in Venice, Italy. She also received a Golden Lion Award for lifetime achievement from the Venice Biennale in 2009.
Wish Tree, her installation in the Sculpture Garden – Museum of Modern Art, New York (since July 2010), has become very popular with contributions from all over the world.
Life with John Lennon
Two versions exist of how Lennon met Ono. According to the first, on 9 November 1966 Lennon went to the Indica Gallery in London, where Ono was preparing her conceptual art exhibit, and they were introduced by gallery owner John Dunbar. Lennon was intrigued by Ono's "Hammer A Nail": patrons hammered a nail into a wooden board, creating the art piece. Although the exhibition had not yet begun, Lennon wanted to hammer a nail into the clean board, but Ono stopped him. Dunbar asked her, "Don't you know who this is? He's a millionaire! He might buy it." Ono had supposedly not heard of The Beatles, but relented on condition that Lennon pay her five shillings, to which Lennon replied, "I'll give you an imaginary five shillings and hammer an imaginary nail in." The second version, told by McCartney, is that in late 1965, Ono was in London compiling original musical scores for a book John Cage was working on, Notations, but McCartney declined to give her any of his own manuscripts for the book, suggesting that Lennon might oblige. When asked, Lennon gave Ono the original handwritten lyrics to "The Word".
Ono began telephoning and calling at Lennon's home, and when his wife asked for an explanation, he explained that Ono was only trying to obtain money for her "avant-garde bullshit". In May 1968, while his wife was on holiday in Greece, Lennon invited Ono to visit. They spent the night recording what would become the Two Virgins album, after which, he said, they "made love at dawn." When Lennon's wife returned home she found Ono wearing her bathrobe and drinking tea with Lennon who simply said, "Oh, hi." Ono became pregnant in 1968 and miscarried a male child they named John Ono Lennon II on 21 November 1968, a few weeks after Lennon's divorce from Cynthia was granted.
During Lennon's last two years in The Beatles, he and Ono began public protests against the Vietnam War. They were married in Gibraltar on 20 March 1969, and spent their honeymoon in Amsterdam campaigning with a week-long Bed-In for peace. They planned another Bed-In in the United States, but were denied entry, so held one instead at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, where they recorded "Give Peace a Chance". They often combined advocacy with performance art, as in their "Bagism", first introduced during a Vienna press conference. Lennon detailed this period in The Beatles' song "The Ballad of John and Yoko". Lennon changed his name by deed poll on 22 April 1969, adding "Ono" as a middle name. Although he used the name John Ono Lennon thereafter, official documents referred to him as John Winston Ono Lennon, since he was not permitted to revoke a name given at birth. After Ono was injured in a car accident, Lennon arranged for a king-sized bed to be brought to the recording studio as he worked on The Beatles' last album, Abbey Road.
Ono and Lennon collaborated on many albums, beginning in 1968 when Lennon was still a Beatle, with Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins, an album of experimental electronic music. That same year, the couple contributed an experimental piece to The White Album called "Revolution 9." Ono also contributed backing vocals (on "Birthday"), and one line of lead vocals (on "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill") to The White Album. Many of the couple's later albums were released under the name the Plastic Ono Band. The couple also appeared together at concerts. When Lennon was invited to play with Frank Zappa at the Fillmore on June 5, 1971, Ono joined in as well.
In 1969, the Plastic Ono Band's first album, Live Peace in Toronto 1969, was recorded during the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival. In addition to Lennon and Ono, this first incarnation of the group consisted of guitarist Eric Clapton, bass player Klaus Voormann, and drummer Alan White. The first half of their performance consisted of rock standards, and during the second half, Ono took the microphone and along with the band performed an avant garde set, ending with music that consisted mainly of feedback, while Ono screamed and sang.
Ono released her first solo album, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band in 1970, as a companion piece to Lennon's better-known John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. The two albums have almost identical covers: Ono's featured a photo of her leaning on Lennon, and Lennon's had a photo of him leaning on Ono. Her album included raw and quite harsh vocals that were possibly influenced by Japanese opera, but bear much in common with sounds in nature (especially those made by animals) and free jazz techniques used by wind and brass players. The performers included Ornette Coleman and other renowned free jazz performers. The personnel was supplemented by John Lennon, Ringo Starr and minor performers. Some songs consisted of wordless vocalizations, in a style that would influence Meredith Monk, and other musical artists who have used screams and vocal noise in lieu of words. The album peaked at #183 on the US charts.
In 1971, Ono released Fly – a double album. On this release Ono explored slightly more conventional psychedelic rock with tracks like "Midsummer New York" and "Mind Train," in addition to a number of Fluxus experiments. She also received minor airplay with the ballad "Mrs. Lennon". Perhaps the most famous track from the album is "Don't Worry, Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)," an ode to Ono's kidnapped daughter.
In 1971, while studying with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Majorca, Ono's second husband, Anthony Cox, accused Ono of abducting their daughter, Kyoko from his hotel. A large number of accusations were then made by both parents toward each other and the matter of custody. Cox eventually moved to Houston, Texas and converted to Evangelical Christianity with his new wife, who was originally from Houston. At the end of 1971, a custody hearing in Houston went against Cox. In violation of the order, he took Kyoko and disappeared. Ono then launched a search for her daughter with the aid of the police and private investigators. Ono wrote a song about her daughter, "Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)," which appears on Lennon and Ono's album Live Peace In Toronto 1969 and her album Fly. Both versions feature Eric Clapton on guitar. Kyoko is also referenced on the first line of "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" when Yoko whispers "Happy Christmas Kyoko" followed by Lennon whispering "Happy Christmas Julian."
Both the press and the public were critical of her. She was blamed for the breakup of The Beatles and repeatedly criticized for her influence over Lennon and his music. Her experimental art was not popularly understood.
After the Beatles disbanded, Lennon and Ono cohabited in London and then in New York. Their relationship was strained by the threat of deportation Lennon faced (due to drug charges filed in Britain), and Ono's separation from her daughter. The couple separated in 1973 and the two began living separate lives, Ono pursuing her career in New York and Lennon living in Los Angeles with personal assistant May Pang in a period commonly referred to as his "lost weekend."
In 1975, the couple reconciled. Their son, Sean, was born on Lennon's 35th birthday, October 9, 1975. After Sean's birth, the couple lived in relative seclusion at the Dakota in New York. Sean has since followed in his parents' footsteps with a musical career, doing solo work and also forming a band The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger.
John Lennon retired from music to become a househusband caring for their child, until shortly before his murder in December 1980, which Ono witnessed at close range. Ono has stated that the couple were thinking about going out to dinner (after spending several hours in a recording studio), but were returning to their apartment instead, because John wanted to see Sean before he was put to bed. Following the murder, she went into complete seclusion for an extended period.
Following Lennon's murder, Cox and Kyoko sent a message of sympathy to Ono but did not reveal their location. Ono later printed an open letter to Kyoko saying how she missed her but that she would cease her attempts to find her. Kyoko would later appear on the 1987 title track of American English by the British pop band Wax.
Ono funded the construction and maintenance of the Strawberry Fields memorial in New York City's Central Park, across from where they lived and Lennon died. It was officially dedicated on October 9, 1985, what would have been his 45th birthday. In 1990, Ono collaborated with music consultant Jeff Pollack to honor what would've been Lennon's 50th birthday with a worldwide broadcast of "Imagine". Over one thousand stations in over fifty countries participated in the simultaneous broadcast. Ono felt the timing was perfect considering the escalating conflicts in the Middle East as well as Eastern Europe and Germany. In 2000, she founded the John Lennon Museum in Saitama, Saitama, Japan. On October 9, 2007, Ono dedicated a new memorial called the Imagine Peace Tower, located on the island of Viðey, 1 km outside the Skarfabakki harbour in Reykjavík in Iceland. Each year, between October 9 and December 8, it projects a vertical beam of light high into the sky. In 2009, Ono created an exhibit called John Lennon: THE NEW YORK CITY YEARS for the NYC Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex. The exhibit uses music, photographs and personal items to depict Lennon's life in New York. A portion of the cost of each ticket to the exhibition is donated to Spirit Foundation, a charitable foundation set up by Lennon and Ono.
Ono collaborated with experimental luminaries such as John Cage and jazz legend Ornette Coleman. In 1961, years before meeting Lennon, she had her first major public performance in a concert at the 258-seat Carnegie Recital Hall (not the larger "Main Hall"). This concert featured radical experimental music and performances. She had a second engagement at the Carnegie Recital Hall in 1965, in which she debuted "Cut Piece."
In early 1980, Lennon heard Lene Lovich and The B-52's' "Rock Lobster" in a nightclub, and it reminded him of Ono's musical sound. He took this as an indication that her sound had reached the mainstream. Indeed, many musicians, particularly those of the new wave movement, have paid tribute to Ono (both as an artist in her own right, and as a muse and iconic figure). For example, Elvis Costello recorded a version of Ono's song "Walking on Thin Ice," the B-52's who drew from her early recordings covered "Don't Worry, Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)" (shortening the title to "Don't Worry") and Sonic Youth included a performance of Ono's early conceptual "Voice Piece for Soprano" in their experimental album SYR4: Goodbye 20th Century. One of Barenaked Ladies's best-known songs is "Be My Yoko Ono", and Dar Williams recorded a song called "I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono." The punk rock singer Patti Smith invited Ono to participate in "Meltdown," a two-week music festival that Smith organized in London; Ono performed at Queen Elizabeth Hall.
On December 8, 1980, Lennon and Ono were in the studio working on Ono's song Walking on Thin Ice. When they returned to The Dakota, their home in New York City, Lennon was shot dead by Mark David Chapman, a deranged fan who had been stalking Lennon for two months. "Walking on Thin Ice (For John)" was released as a single less than a month later, and became Ono's first chart success, peaking at No. 58 and gaining major underground airplay. In 1981, she released the album Season of Glass with the striking cover photo of Lennon's bloody spectacles next to a half-filled glass of water, with a window overlooking Central Park in the background. This photograph sold at an auction in London in April 2002 for about $13,000. In the liner notes to Season of Glass, Ono explained that the album is not dedicated to Lennon because "he would have been offended—he was one of us." The album received highly favorable reviews and reflected the public's mood after Lennon's assassination.
Four months after her husband's murder, Ono began a relationship with antiques dealer and interior designer Sam Havadtoy, which lasted until 2001. She had also been linked to art dealer and Greta Garbo confidante Sam Green, who is mentioned in Lennon's will. In 1982, she released It's Alright (I See Rainbows). The cover featured Ono in her famous wrap-around sunglasses, looking towards the sun, while on the back the ghost of Lennon looks over her and their son. The album scored minor chart success and airplay with the singles "My Man" and "Never Say Goodbye".
In 1984, a tribute album titled Every Man Has a Woman was released, featuring a selection of Ono songs performed by artists such as Elvis Costello, Roberta Flack, Eddie Money, Rosanne Cash and Harry Nilsson. It was one of Lennon's projects that he never got to finish. Later that year, Ono and Lennon's final album, Milk and Honey, was released as an unfinished demo.
Ono's final album of the 1980s was Starpeace, a concept album that she intended as an antidote to Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" missile defense system. On the cover, a warm, smiling Ono holds the Earth in the palm of her hand. Starpeace became Ono's most successful non-Lennon effort: the single "Hell in Paradise" was a hit, reaching No. 16 on the US dance charts and #26 on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as major airplay on MTV.
In 1986, Ono set out on a goodwill world tour for Starpeace, mostly visiting Eastern European countries.
Ono went on hiatus until signing with Rykodisc in 1992 to release the comprehensive six-disc box set Onobox. It included remastered highlights from all of Ono's solo albums, as well as unreleased material from the 1974 "lost weekend" sessions. There was also a one-disc "greatest hits" release of highlights from Onobox, simply titled Walking on Thin Ice. That year, she agreed to sit down for an extensive interview with music journalist Mark Kemp for a cover story in the alternative music magazine Option. The story took a revisionist look at Ono's music for a new generation of fans more accepting of her role as a pioneer in the merger of pop and the avant-garde.
In 1994, Ono produced her own musical entitled New York Rock, featuring Broadway renditions of her songs. In 1995, she released Rising, a collaboration with her son Sean and his band, Ima. Rising spawned a world tour that traveled through Europe, Japan and the United States. The following year, she collaborated with various alternative rock musicians for an EP entitled Rising Mixes. Guest remixers of Rising material included Cibo Matto, Ween, Tricky, and Thurston Moore.
In 1997, Rykodisc reissued all her solo albums on CD, from Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band through Starpeace. Ono and her engineer Rob Stevens personally remastered the audio, and various bonus tracks were added including outtakes, demos and live cuts.
2001 saw the release of Ono's feminist concept album Blueprint for a Sunrise. In 2002, Yoko joined The B-52's in New York for their 25th anniversary concerts. She came out for the encore and performed Rock Lobster with the band. Starting in 2002, some DJs remixed other Ono songs for dance clubs. For the remix project, she dropped her first name and became known as simply "ONO," as a response to the "Oh, no!" jokes that dogged her throughout her career. Ono had great success with new versions of "Walking on Thin Ice", remixed by top DJs and dance artists including Pet Shop Boys, Orange Factory, Peter Rauhofer, and Danny Tenaglia. In April 2003, Ono's Walking on Thin Ice (Remixes) was rated No. 1 on Billboard Magazine's "Dance/Club Play Chart", gaining Ono her first number one hit. On the 12" mix of the original 1981 version of "Walking on Thin Ice", Lennon can be heard remarking "I think we've just got your first No.1, Yoko." She returned to No. 1 on the same charts in November 2004 with "Everyman...Everywoman...," a reworking of her song "Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him", in January 2008, with "No No No," and in August 2008, with "Give Peace a Chance." In June 2009, at the age of 76, Ono scored her fifth No. 1 hit on the "Dance/Club Play Chart" with "I'm Not Getting Enough."
Ono released the album Yes, I'm a Witch in 2007, a collection of remixes and covers from her back catalog by various artists including The Flaming Lips, Cat Power, Antony, DJ Spooky, Porcupine Tree and Peaches, released in February 2007, along with a special edition of Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band. Yes I'm a Witch has been critically well-received. A similar compilation of Ono dance remixes entitled Open Your Box was also released in April of that year.
In 2009, Ono recorded Between My Head and the Sky, her first album to be released as "Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band" since 1973's Feeling the Space. The all-new Plastic Ono Band lineup includes Sean Lennon, Cornelius and Yuka Honda amongst others. On February 16, 2010, Sean organized a concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music called "We Are Plastic Ono Band," at which Yoko performed her music with Sean, Clapton, Klaus Voorman and Jim Keltner, for the first time since the 1970s. Guests including Bette Midler, Paul Simon and his son Harper, and principal members of Sonic Youth interpreted her songs in their own styles.
During her career, Ono has collaborated with a diverse group of artists and musicians including John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann, Cornelius (Keigo Oyamada, Naoki Shimizu and Yoko Araki), Frank Zappa, Sean Lennon, Yuka Honda, Jim Keltner, Earl Slick, Peaches, John Cage, David Tudor, George Maciunas, Ornette Coleman, Charlotte Moorman, George Brecht, Jackson Mac Low, Jonas Mekas, Fred DeAsis, Yvonne Rainer, La Monte Young, Richard Maxfield, Zbigniew Rybczyński, Yo La Tengo, and Andy Warhol (in 1987 Ono was one of the speakers at Warhol's funeral). As a dance music artist, Ono has worked with re-mixers/producers such as Basement Jaxx, Pet Shop Boys, Cat Power, Bill Kates, Tricky, Thurston Moore, Keiji Haino, Nick Vernier Band, Cibo Matto, Billy Martin, DJ Spooky, Apples In Stereo, Damien Price, The Flaming Lips, DJ Chernobyl, Bimbo Jones, DJ Dan, Craig Armstrong, Jorge Artajo, Shuji Nabara, and Konrad Behr, among others.
At the Liverpool Biennial in 2004, Yoko flooded the city with banners, bags, stickers, postcards, flyers, posters and badges, with two images: one of a woman's naked breast, the other of the same woman's vulva. The piece, titled "My Mummy Was Beautiful", was dedicated to Lennon's mother, Julia, who had died when Lennon was a teenager. According to Ono, the work was meant to be innocent, not shocking. She was attempting to replicate the experience of a baby looking up at his or her mother's body: the mother's pudendum and breasts are a child's introduction to humanity. It was created in the spirit of, and seems inspired by Gustave Courbet's L'Origine du monde.
Ono performed at the opening ceremony for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, wearing white, like many of the others who performed during the ceremony, to symbolize the snow that makes the Winter Olympics possible. She read a free verse poem calling for peace in the world. The poem was an intro to a performance of the song "Imagine", Lennon's anthem to world peace.
On December 13, 2006, Ono's bodyguard was arrested after he was taped trying to extort Ono for two million dollars, threatening to release private conversations and photographs.
On June 26, 2007, Ono appeared on Larry King Live along with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Olivia Harrison. Ono headlined the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago on July 14, 2007, performing a full set that mixed music and performance art. She sang "Mulberry", a song about her time in the countryside after the Japanese collapse in World War II for only the third time in her life, with Thurston Moore. Ono had previously performed the song once with John Lennon and once with Sean Lennon and told the audience of thousands that she will never perform it again.
Ono returned to Liverpool for the 2008 Liverpool Biennial, where she unveiled "Sky Ladders" in the ruins of Church of St Luke, Liverpool (which was largely destroyed during World War II and now stands roofless as a memorial to those killed in the Liverpool Blitz).
In May 2009, Yoko designed a T-shirt for the second 'Fashion against AIDS' campaign/collection of HIV/AIDS awareness NGO Designers against AIDS and H&M, with the statement 'Imagine Peace' depicted in 21 different languages.
On March 31, 2009, Yoko Ono went to the inauguration of the exhibition: "Imagine: The Peace Ballad of John & Yoko" to mark the 40th anniversary of Lennon-Ono bed-in at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Canada from May 26 to June 2, 1969.
On February 16, 2010, Ono revived an early Plastic Ono Band line-up with Eric Clapton and special guests including Paul Simon and Bette Midler. (See "Musical career" above.) On April 1, 2010, she was named the first "Global Autism Ambassador" by the Autism Speaks organization. Ono appeared with Ringo Starr on July 7, 2010 at New York's Radio City Music Hall in celebration of Starr's 70th birthday, performing "With a Little Help from My Friends" and "Give Peace a Chance". On October 2, 2010, Ono and the Plastic Ono Band performed at The Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles, California with special guest Lady GaGa.
On her 78th Birthday, 18 February 2011, Ono took out a full page advert in the UK free newspaper Metro for 'Imagine Peace 2011'. It took the form of an open letter, inviting people to think of, and wish for, peace. With son Sean, she held a benefit concert to aid in the relief efforts for earthquake and tsunami-ravaged Japan on March 27 in New York City. In July 2011, Ono was awarded the 8th Hiroshima Art Prize for her contributions in art and for peace. In December 2011, she was awarded the Austrian 20,000-euro ($26,100) Oskar-Kokoschka-Prize.
Since the 1960s, Ono has been an activist for peace and human rights. After their wedding, Lennon and Ono held a "Bed-In for Peace" in their honeymoon suite at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel in March 1969. The press fought to get in, presuming that the two would be having sex for their cameras, but they instead found a pair of newlyweds wearing pajamas and eager to talk about and promote world peace. Another Bed-In in May 1969 at the Queen Elizabeth Fairmont in Montreal, Canada, resulted in the recording of their first single, "Give Peace A Chance", a Top 20 hit for the newly-christened Plastic Ono Band. Other demonstrations with John included Bagism. Introduced in Vienna, Bagism encouraged a disregard for physical appearance in judging others.
In the 1970s, Ono and Lennon became close to many radical leaders, including Bobby Seale, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Michael X, John Sinclair (for whom they organized a benefit after he was imprisoned), Angela Davis, Kate Millett, and David Peel. They appeared on The Mike Douglas Show and took over hosting duties for a week, during which Ono spoke at length about the evils of racism and sexism. Ono remained outspoken in her support of feminism, and openly bitter about the racism she had experienced from rock fans, especially in the United Kingdom. For example, an Esquire article of the period was titled "John Rennon's Excrusive Gloupie" and featured an unflattering David Levine cartoon.
In 2002, Ono inaugurated her own peace award, The LennonOno Grant for Peace, by giving $50,000 (£31,900) prize money to artists living "in regions of conflict." Israeli and Palestinian artists were the first recipients. The award is given out every two years, in conjunction with the lighting of the Imagine Peace Tower.
On Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2003, on the eve of the Iraqi invasion by the Americans and the British, Ono heard about a romantic couple holding a love-in protest in their tiny bedroom in Addingham, West Yorkshire. She sent the couple, Andrew and Christine Gale, some flowers and wished them the best.
In 2004, Ono remade her song "Everyman... Everywoman..." to support same-sex marriage, releasing remixes that included "Every Man Has a Man Who Loves Him" and "Every Woman Has a Woman Who Loves Her."
Relationship with Paul McCartney
In 2005, Ono said, "People like to picture Paul and me in a boxing ring, feuding all the time, otherwise it's not exciting or interesting for them. People need light-hearted topics like me and Paul fighting to escape all the horror of the world, but it's not true anymore." However, they have publicly disagreed on several issues.
In late 1965, Ono was in London compiling original musical scores for a book John Cage was working on. She met McCartney who declined to give her any of his own manuscripts for the book. John Lennon later gave Ono the original handwritten lyrics to "The Word", which were subsequently reproduced in Cage's book Notations published in 1969.
Writing credit on Beatles songs was another issue. While the group was together, every song written by Lennon or McCartney was credited as Lennon–McCartney regardless of whether the song was a collaboration or written solely by one of the two (except for those appearing on their first album, Please Please Me, which credited the songs to McCartney–Lennon). In 1976, McCartney released a live album called Wings Over America which credited the five Beatles tracks he included as P. McCartney–J. Lennon compositions. Neither Lennon nor Ono objected. After Lennon's death, McCartney once again[clarification needed] attempted to change the order to "McCartney–Lennon" for songs such as "Yesterday" that were solely or predominantly written by him, but Ono would not allow it, saying she felt this broke an agreement that the two had made while Lennon was still alive. However, McCartney argued that such an agreement never existed. The two other Beatles agreed that the credits should remain as they always had been and McCartney withdrew his request. On the 1998 John Lennon anthology, Lennon Legend, the composer credit of "Give Peace a Chance" was changed to "John Lennon" from its original composing credit of Lennon–McCartney. Although the song was written by Lennon during his tenure with the Beatles it was both written and recorded without the help of the band and released as Lennon's first independent single under the "Plastic Ono Band" moniker. Lennon subsequently expressed regret that he had not given co-writing credit to Ono instead, who actually helped him write the song. In 2002, McCartney released another live album, Back in the U.S. Live 2002, and the 19 Beatles' songs included are described as "composed by Paul McCartney and John Lennon".
In 1995, after the Beatles released Lennon's "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" with demos provided by Ono, McCartney and his family collaborated with her and Sean Lennon to create the song "Hiroshima Sky is Always Blue", which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombing of that Japanese city. Of Ono, McCartney stated: "I thought she was a cold woman. I think that's wrong ... she's just the opposite ... I think she's just more determined than most people to be herself."
In 1997, Ono compared Lennon to Mozart while McCartney, she said, more closely resembled his less-talented rival Salieri. This remark infuriated Linda McCartney, who was battling breast cancer at the time. When she died less than a year later, McCartney pointedly did not invite Ono to a New York memorial service for her.
Accepting an award at the 2005 Q Awards, Ono mentioned that Lennon had once felt insecure about his songwriting, and asked her why other musicians "always cover Paul's songs, and never mine". Ono had responded, "You're a good songwriter; it's not June with spoon that you write. You're a good singer, and most musicians are probably a little bit nervous about covering your songs". McCartney responded by saying, "I don’t take any notice of her. She’s John’s wife so I have to respect her for that, but I don’t think she’s the brightest of buttons. She’s said some particularly daft things in her time. Her life is dedicated to putting me down but I attempt very strongly not to put her down." Ono later issued a statement claiming she did not mean any offense, as her comment was an attempt to console her husband, not attack McCartney; she went on to insist that she respected McCartney and that it was the press who had taken her comments out of context. " At the June 2006 Las Vegas premiere of Cirque du Soleil's Beatles performance "Love", pictures were taken of her and Paul hugging. They appeared again together in July 2007 for the show's first anniversary.
Relationship with Cynthia Lennon
Ono's relationship with John Lennon's first wife, Cynthia Lennon remains strained. In her 2006 biography, John, (London: Hodder; U.S.: Crown Publishing) Cynthia Lennon portrays Ono as a selfish, spiteful woman. In the book, she describes learning about Ono's control over John (who referred to Ono as "mother") in the period in the mid-1970s when Ono chose May Pang to be John's companion. Cynthia hypothesizes that John had a "mother complex," allowing himself to be dominated by strong women and draws a parallel between his relationship with Ono and that with his domineering aunt Mimi Smith in childhood.[verification needed]
[*] = with John Lennon, number indicates U.S. chart peak positions
- Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins [*] (1968) #124
- Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions [*] (1969) #174
- Wedding Album [*] (1969) #178
- Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band (1970) #182
- Fly (1971) #199
- Some Time in New York City [*] (1972) #48
- Approximately Infinite Universe (1972) #193
- Feeling the Space (1973)
- A Story (1974) (Unreleased until 1997)
- Double Fantasy [*] (1980) #1
- Season of Glass (1981) #49
- It's Alright (I See Rainbows) (1982) #98
- Milk and Honey [*] (1984) #11
- Starpeace (1985)
- Rising (1995)
- Blueprint for a Sunrise (2001)
- Yes, I'm a Witch (2007)
- Open Your Box (2007)
- Between My Head and the Sky (2009)
Compilations, live albums and EPs
- Live Peace in Toronto 1969 [*] (1969) #10
- Onobox (1992)
- Walking on Thin Ice (1992)
- New York Rock (1994) (Original cast recording: Yoko Ono does not perform on this album. It is the cast of a Broadway show performing her songs.)
- Rising Mixes (1996)
- Don't Stop Me! EP (2009)
- Every Man Has a Woman (1984)
- Mrs. Lennon (2010)
|1971||"Mrs. Lennon"/"Midsummer New York"||-||-||Fly|
|"Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)"||-||-|
|1972||"Now or Never"/"Move on Fast"||-||-||Approximately Infinite Universe|
|"Mind Train"/"Listen, the Snow Is Falling"||-||-||—|
|1973||"Death of Samantha"/"Yang Yang"||-||-||Approximately Infinite Universe|
|"Josejoi Banzai (Part 2)" (Japan-only)||-||-||—|
|"Woman Power"/"Men, Men, Men"||-||-||Feeling the Space|
|"Run, Run, Run"/"Men, Men, Men"||-||-|
|1974||"Yume O Motou (Let's Have A Dream)"/"It Happened" (Japan-only release)||-||-||—|
|1981||"Walking on Thin Ice"/"It Happened"||35||13||Season of Glass (1997 re-release), Double Fantasy (2000 re-release)|
|"No, No, No"/"Will You Touch Me"||-||-||Season of Glass|
|1982||"My Man"/"Let The Tears Dry"||-||-||It's Alright (I See Rainbows)|
|"Never Say Goodbye"/"Loneliness"||-||-|
|1985||"Hell in Paradise"/"Hell in Paradise" (instrumental)||-||12||Starpeace|
|"Cape Clear"/"Walking on Thin Ice" (promo)||-||-|
|2001||"Open Your Box" (remixes)||144||25||remixes compiled on Open Your Box (2007)|
|2002||"Kiss Kiss Kiss" (remixes)||-||20|
|"Yang Yang" (remixes)||-||17|
|2003||"Walking on Thin Ice" (remixes)||35||1|
|"Will I" (remixes)/"Fly" (remixes)||-||19|
|2004||"Hell in Paradise" (remixes)||-||4|
|"Everyman… Everywoman…" (remixes)||-||1|
|2007||"You’re the One" (remixes)||-||2|
|"No, No, No" (remixes)||-||1|
|2008||"Give Peace a Chance" (remixes)||-||1|
|2009||"I'm Not Getting Enough" (remixes)||-||1|
|2010||"Give Me Something" (remixes)||-||1|
|"Wouldnit (I'm a Star)"||-||1||—|
|2011||"Move on Fast"||-||1||—|
|"Talking to the Universe"||-||1||—|
|2012||"She Gets Down On Her Knees"||-||38||—|
B-Side appearances on John Lennon singles
- "Remember Love" (on "Give Peace a Chance") (1969)
- "Don't Worry, Kyoko" (on "Cold Turkey") (1969)
- "Who Has Seen the Wind?" (on "Instant Karma!") (1970)
- "Why" (on "Mother") (1971)
- "Open Your Box" (on "Power to the People") (1971)
- "Listen, the Snow is Falling" on (on "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)") (1971)
- "Sisters O Sisters" on (on "Woman Is the Nigger of the World") (1972)
- "Kiss Kiss Kiss" (on "(Just Like) Starting Over") (1980)
- "Beautiful Boys" (on "Woman") (1981)
- "Yes, I'm Your Angel" (on "Watching the Wheels") (1981)
- "O'Sanity" (on "Nobody Told Me") (1984)
- "Your Hands (あなたの手）" (on "Borrowed Time") (1984)
- "Sleepless Night" (on "I'm Stepping Out") (1984)
- "It's Alright" (on "Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him") (1985)
- Grapefruit (1964)
- Summer of 1980 (1983)
- ただの私 (Tada-no Watashi – Just Me!) (1986)
- The John Lennon Family Album (1990)
- Instruction Paintings (1995)
- Grapefruit Juice (1998)
- YES YOKO ONO (2000)
- Odyssey of a Cockroach (2005)
- Imagine Yoko (2005)
- Memories of John Lennon (editor) (2005)
- Satans Bed (as an actress)
- Eye blink (1966, 5 mins)
- Bottoms (1966, 5½ mins)
- Match (1966, 5 mins)
- Cut Piece (1965, 9 mins)
- Wrapping Piece (1967, approx. 20 mins., music by Delia Derbyshire)
- Film No. 4 (Bottoms) (1966/1967, 80 mins)
- Bottoms, advertisement/commercial (1966/1967, approx. 2 mins)
- Two Virgins (1968, approx. 20 mins), a portrait film: superimpositions of John’s and Yoko’s faces.
- Film No. Five (Smile) (1968, 51 mins)
- Rape (1969, 77 mins), filmed by Nick Rowland. A young woman is relentlessly pursued by a camera crew.
- Bed-In, (1969, 74 mins)
- Let It Be, (1970, 81 mins)
- Apotheosis (1970, 18½ mins)
- Freedom (1970, 1 min), a slow-motion film showing a woman throwing her bra away.
- Fly (1970 (25 mins), a fly crawls slowly across a woman's naked body. Made with Jonas Mekas and premiered at the Cannes film festival in May, 1971.
- Making of Fly (1970, approx. 30 mins)
- Erection (1971, 20 mins), a film of a hotel’s construction over many months based on still photographs by Iain McMillan.
- Imagine (1971, 70 mins)
- Sisters O Sisters (1971, 4 mins)
- Luck of the Irish (1971, approx. 4 mins)
- Flipside (TV show) (1972, approx. 25 mins)
- Blueprint for the Sunrise (2000, 28 mins)
- Onochord (2004, non ending loop).
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