oh…oh YOKO: Grey Group’s 4th Annual Music Seminar at Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival

by Josh Rabinowitz, Grey Group SVP Director of Music

July 01, 2010, — Josh Rabinowitz, SVP/director of music at Grey Group, reflects on his recent encounters with Yoko Ono in New York and Cannes, the latter coming with his introducing her as part of an interview session at the Debussy Theatre, the latest in a series of annual Grey Seminars at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. Interviewing Ono was Tim Mellors, Grey Group’s vice chairman/worldwide chief creative director.

I hadn’t been to 1 West 72nd street @ CPW since my post college days of no real job, late night jam sessions, and hanging out at old man Irish bars all over Manhattan. A friend from college grew up there, and I had been to his family apartment on a few occasions. Once we roamed the upper floors which housed a maze of hallways that were reminiscent of a castle I had once got lost in, in Scotland.

I walked into the entry where her husband had been shot and killed about 30 years previous and felt that chill, that same chill I feel whenever I hear that U2 track “Pride/In the Name of Love” where Bono sings:

Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride
In the Name of Love

I asked the outside building attendant the question in my head thrice before it actually came out of my mouth: “I’m here to see Yoko Ono?”

Why a question you ask vs. a declaration, because I couldn’t really grasp the fact that I was actually going to see Mrs. Lennon at her uber-famous, or dare I say, uber-iconic abode. Dare I say the most renowned of renowned apartments in the world.

Tim Mellors and I spent about an hour and 45 minutes with Yoko Ono and her attorney in the Dakota discussing life, music, mostly art (her apartment was like a museum – literally), advertising, and culture in soft tones, mild refrains, over Tea and sparkling water. All of us shoeless, my socks chock full of holes.

Flash Forward – As Yoko’s car drove up to the Entrée des Artistes entrance at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, almost instantly, people appeared out of nowhere with shiny 8 x 10’s for her to sign. She signed a few, her attorney explained to me that these folks sell them at quite a high price.

Our Grey Seminars were becoming quite successful at Cannes Lions–this was our fourth year in a row. We had presented John Legend, Donovan, Tony Bennett and Little Steven in the past – now Yoko!

We escorted Ms. Ono and her people, security akimbo, to her dressing room and imagined Quentin Tarrantino, Jessica Lange, Scorsese, DiNiro, Denerve, Keitel, et al all likely wandering around these same back stage areas at some time or another, and I got lost.

I walked out onto the Debussy stage at 1:15 p.m. promptly and gave a brief speech, to the packed auditorium, on Music, Advertising, the flailing Recording industry, and a look back at the decade in ad music. I then introduced Tim and Yoko.
Tim asked several questions, and read passages to Yoko, hoping for a response. For the first 25 mins she didn’t oblige with direct answers/response but lateral non sequiturs represented in movements, actions, her own readings, a bit of crawling, and inviting Tim into a white cloth bag, where they seemed to take off some clothes, exiting it after about three minutes or so. Because I had done my research about Yoko and John Lennon, I realized it was an example of “Bagism”, which Yoko and John had called a form of total communciation. Instead of focusing on outward appearance, the listener would hear only the bagist’s message. It was interesting, awkward and engaging.

She then obliged answers to Tim’s questions.

Yoko demonstrated her unique vocal technique, which she explained was related to the guttural expressiveness of women giving birth. She danced to a re-mix of Give Peace a Chance, Tim joined her, and then the audience was invited up.

The event lasted 45 minutes in total and was thoughtful, surprising, uncomfortably eye-opening, and entertaining as hell.

Click here to see some of the session..

Yoko Ono clearly demonstrated her force as a performer, an artist, a risk-taker and an envelope pusher. She was brave as was Tim, who rolled with the seemingly stream-of-consciousness performance art (and crafts) and handled himself admirably.

Who do I get for 2011? How can we top this one?


Josh Rabinowitz can be reached via email at Grey Group in NYC

Yoko Ono’s musical witchcraft of love and zen

By Barbara Lippert, Real Time Cannes

“Women are all witches,” Yoko Ono said, among various other bizarre yet charming pronouncements, while being interviewed by Grey CEO Tim Mellors at the Grey Music Seminar here in Cannes today. “Women all think they are misunderstood. Maybe it’s good that we are misunderstood, because [otherwise] we’d be burned to death.”

During the event, the ever-captivating art and music pioneer took off her (and Mellors’) shoes, danced with abandon and led the packed theater in a flashlight–blinking salute to love. Diminutive, with short, cropped hair and big black sunglasses, dressed in black and showing lots of cleavage, John Lennon’s long-time partner was a delightful sprite, and still came across as an energetic hipster type. She’s certainly all about zen and love. When Mellors asked her about other artists doing work that’s similar to the experimental “bed-ins” she and Lennon performed as anti-war activists in 1969, she said: “I’m not unhappy about anyone doing something similar. … We’re all sisters and brothers.”

Mellors asked if there is creativity in advertising. “Of course,” she said. “Advertising can be daring. It’s nothing without audacity.” With that, she got up and turned her back to the audience, doing some sort of free-form moves with her arms and derriere.

Earlier, she spoke about the poverty she endured as a young woman growing up in Japan after World War II. She said she sold a beautiful kimono and a sewing machine for a bowl of rice. “We were really not well fed,” she said.

“How do you see yourself,” Mellors asked her. “I see myself as a woman and a person who is alive,” she responded. “There’s huge power in the universe coming to you, too, if you let it.” When Mellors said that “flying in the face of difficulty is brave,” Yoko answered, “I don’t really consider that brave. You just do it.”

Ono kept coming back to two points—that women do not use their power enough, and that it’s extremely difficult to be an artist. “I’m giving an award called ‘Courage’ every year to artists who created things not to be accepted, but because it’s important to do,” she said.

She ended by getting up and asking the audience to sing with her and use their mini flashlights. Everyone started dancing and waving their camera phones at her like candles, shedding light on darkness. The crowd then swarmed the stage, and everyone danced.

It was an authentic “love-in,” a true happening, as they used to say in the ’60s. “I love you. See you again,” said Yoko, as prop guys moved the chairs off the stage in preparation for the next seminar, and she kept dancing.

Photos by Francois Durand.

More Pictures

Photo thumbnails from Getty Images

Grey New York announced today that its fourth annual Music Seminar with Living Legends will feature Yoko Ono on Friday, June 25, at the Debussy.

The 2010 Cannes event follows three years of high popularity for the Grey music seminar with legends Stevie Van Zandt in 2009, Tony Bennett in 2008, and John Legend and Donavan in 2007.

Yoko Ono is multimedia artist who constantly challenges the traditional boundaries of art, known for her groundbreaking conceptual and performance pieces, experimental films and music.

In Grey’s annual seminar on music and its place in marketing communications, Yoko Ono will discuss today’s music scene and the impact on brands and bands, her own adventurous music and performance art created over a high-profile lifetime, perhaps never as critically appreciated as it is today, and her extraordinary life with John Lennon and raising her musician son Sean Lennon.

Yoko will be interviewed by Tim Mellors, Worldwide Creative Director of Grey Group, and introduced by Josh Rabinowitz, Director of Music, Grey New York.

“Yoko Ono needs no introduction to anyone touched by the music scene for more than 40 years,” said Mellors, former President of the Cannes Festival and multiple Cannes Lion winner. “Her marriage to and influence on John Lennon is legendary. The famous ‘bed in’ in Amsterdam, and the interview from inside a bag were direct extensions of Yoko’s early art happenings in the Fluxus group. Her deep knowledge of the alternative music scene and people like John Cage, the founder of Fluxus, are seldom given the credit due for their influence on Lennon’s solo career.”

About music’s relevance to advertising, Josh Rabinowitz, who is also an adjunct professor at The New School said, “Advertising is a new form of the music label. The most popular song in America, as well as around the world, is as likely to come out of a brand’s advertising as it is from a record. It is a brave new world for musicians and Yoko Ono, who packs the room at 77 and won MOJO magazine’s 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award, has braved new frontiers over her entire life. She will no doubt provide a unique perspective on sustaining a brand both for musicians and marketers.”

About Grey

Grey Group, famously effective since 1917, ranks among the largest global communications companies. Its parent company is WPP . Grey Group’s total offering includes Grey, one of the largest global advertising agency networks; G2, its global activation marketing network; healthcare communications; media planning and buying and public relations. Grey New York’s client roster includes many of the world’s best known companies; Procter & Gamble, GlaxoSmithKline, BAT, Diageo, Darden Restaurants, Wyeth, Canon, 3M, Eli Lilly, Dairy Queen and ETrade. Grey New York is the flagship and largest office of Grey.

About the 57th International Advertising Festival June 20-26 20010 in Cannes, France.

The Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival is the world’s biggest celebration of creativity in communications. As the most prestigious international advertising awards, more than 22,500 entries from all over the world are showcased and judged at the Festival. Winners receive the highly coveted Lion trophy, presented at four award ceremonies throughout the week.

The Festival is also the only truly global meeting place for advertisers, advertising and communication professionals. Over 6,000 delegates from 90 countries attend seven days of workshops, exhibitions, screenings, master classes and high-profile seminars by the likes of Sir Martin Sorrell, Bob Greenberg, Kofi Annan, Steve Ballmer, Biz Stone, Maurice Levy, Bob Geldof, Mark Tutssel and Tham Khai Meng.

The networking and learning opportunity of the year, Cannes Lions is the must-attend event for anyone involved in brand communication.

For further information, please visit or contact: Amanda Benfell, PR & Press Manager Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival Greater London House, Hampstead Road, London NW1 7EJ, United Kingdom E-mail: [email protected]; Tel: +44-20-7728 4040; Fax: +44- 20-7728 4044

About Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono is a multi-media artist who constantly challenges the traditional boundaries of art, known for her groundbreaking conceptual art, instructional arts, performance arts experimental films and music.

Yoko was born in Tokyo in 1933.
1952 Studied in Gakushuin University
1953 to 1957 studied at Sarah Lawrence College.
1960 to 1961 presented avant-garde events and concert series in her loft in Chambers Street, New York, with La Monte Young.
1961, Met George Maciunas and became a seminal member of Fluxus.
1962, Yoko returned to Japan to present her one-woman exhibition at the Sogetsu Art Center, in Tokyo. That same year, performed a concert tour with Toshi Ichiyanagi, David Tudor and John Cage.
1964 she published her book, “Grapefruit: a Book of Instructions,” in Tokyo. The same year presented her now legendary performance art, “Cut Piece,” for the first time in Kyoto and then Tokyo.
1964 Yoko returned to NYC
1965 performed “Cut Piece” at the Carnegie Recital Hall.
1966 was a turning point for Yoko when she moved to London and had a one-woman show in Indica Gallery.
1967 was a full year with a one-woman show at Lisson Gallery , filmmaking – the controversial Bottoms Film (Film No. 4) and a performance in Knokke Film Festival in Belgium.
1968 Yoko performed her music works in Paris and in Albert Hall in London with Ornette Coleman.
1969 married John Lennon and formed The Plastic Ono Band.

Selected exhibitions include:

1971 “This Is Not Here” solo exhibition, Everson Museum of Art, New York
1989 “The Bronze Age” solo exhibition Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
1990 “Fumie” solo exhibition, Sogetsu Museum of Art ,Tokyo
1993 Venice Biennale
1997 “Have You Seen the Horizon Lately” solo exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, UK-toured to Europe
2000 “Yes Yoko Ono” solo exhibition, Japan Society, New York-toured to Europe and Asia
2003 Venice Biennale
2007 Moscow Biennale
2008 “Between the Sky and My Head” solo exhibition, Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Germany, and Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art , Gateshead, UK.
2009 Anton’s Memory, Venice Biennale.

Awards/Honors include:

1981 Grammy Award for Album of the Year Double Fantasy
1997 The Art Institute of Chicago, Honorary Doctorate
2001 Liverpool University, Honorary Doctorate of Laws
2001 International Association of Art Critics USA Award for “YES YOKO ONO” Best Museum Show originating in NYC.
2002 Skowhegan Award for Assorted Mediums in Art
2002 Bard College, Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts
2003 MOCA Award for Distinguished Women in the Arts
2005 IMAJINE – Lifetime Achievement Award. Japan Society
2006 Cristobal Gabarron International Prize for Visual Arts
2008 College Art Association, Distinguished Body of Work
2008 National Arts Award, Americans For the Arts
2009  Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement, Venice Biennale
2009 MOJO Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award.
2010 Distinguished Service to the Visual Arts, ArtsTable

Reflecting on her reputation for being outrageous, Yoko smiles and says, “I do have to rely on my own judgment, although to some people my judgment seems a little out of sync. I have my own rhythm and my own timing, and that’s simply how it is.”


CONTACT: Chris Brown, +1-212-546-2231; or Amanda Benfell, PR & PressManager, Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival,[email protected], Tel: +44-20-7728 4040, Fax: +44-20-7728 4044

Web Site: