Yoko Ono: What I’ve Learned
Interviewed by Tom Junod, Esquire
Thirty years after her husband’s death, the artist opens up on power, guilt, Jackie, conspiracy theories, strollers, and breaking up the Beatles
I’m sorry, I can’t tell you everything I’ve learned. I have to be careful.
I don’t know if I’ve learned so much from people as from events. Events are the best teacher for us. You try to learn from people, there is always some bend to it.
You can call it freedom, you can call it a situation that was not very conducive to having a relationship with your parents. I thought that that was life. It was the only life I knew.
The beginning is not all that important at this point.
John had the best voice. The most interesting voice, let’s put it that way.
Obviously, it was a very negative thing for me to lose such a good partner. He was very good. He was a very strong and beautiful and protective force for me. But his words and his music are still here. It will still affect people. And that’s the only thing they knew, anyway, when he was alive. So that’s the fate of an artist. It’s not a bad one. As long as you are what you have created, and what you wanted to share with the world, it’s still there.
I have a big job in addition to music: to keep his voice going.
The most frequent one that I get is, Can we change the lyrics to “Imagine” — “No religion, too”? The religious people want it.
We are all gurus now.
There was an incredible power that was against me. And that power, I hope I was able to use it to do something good. Power is power. It’s energy. And if you get big, big energy, you can use that in a good way.
It was such a waste that he had to go when he was forty.
What is teaching me is the fact that we have to learn how to turn around negative energy into positive energy. On a very small scale, for instance, people used to call me Dragon Lady. And I didn’t answer that one. And one day I said, Thank you for calling me Dragon Lady, because the dragon is such a powerful animal. And thank you for thinking I’m so powerful. From then on nobody called me Dragon Lady.
It’s a waste of time to think that if you colored a painting red what might have happened if you painted it black.
I think John was a little more negative than I was.
Is truth always positive? Of course. Once the truth comes out, you know, it’s all right. We’re scared that if the truth comes out that it’s not all right. It’s the other way around.
I go to the park on Sundays. And I see men pushing babies. And it’s beautiful. They don’t know that John was the first one to do that. The very first one. No man would be caught doing that before John.
I think one of the reasons that I’m surviving is the incredible negative power that was trying to erase me. It was not the truth that I broke up the Beatles.
It was inconvenient, as an artist, when you’re creating things, not to have people like it, not because of the work I was doing, but because it was me. It’s just an inconvenience.
You can be very wild and still be very wise.
Sean is half Japanese and half English. All these people who have two or three countries inside of them, they used to be messed up. Now there’s so many of them, it’s a society in itself.
I still feel that I’m an outsider. About two days ago I was thinking, It’s wrong to think I’m an outsider. I’m just part of the world.
You can’t always be in awe of someone’s talent, living with them.
We thought that we were punks.
I just think it’s wrong not to pursue the possibility of anything.
I didn’t think I would be a widow. Nobody thinks they are going to be a widow. And the minute I was a widow, I started to see what a test it is to be a widow in this society.
Paul, musically, is extremely knowledgeable as well. He’s just as quick to write songs. He’s just different, that’s all.
I knew Jackie. But I didn’t chat with Jackie. Women are very kind of protective of the situation that they’re in. So they don’t chat. I didn’t open up, and she didn’t open up, either. We’re part of a very strong system. You don’t talk for your own survival.
I know on a very universal rule, hurting people is very bad. If I spoke up, I might hurt some people. Even if those people may be deserving. Their children, their grandchildren — they don’t have to feel that there is something wrong with their fathers.
There are conspiracy theories. I’m not saying it was definitely just a deranged person.
There is within me this feeling of guilt because I couldn’t stop it.
Back then, we didn’t know anything, really. I look at videos and everyone is smoking. It’s sort of annoying now.
Interviewed at the Dakota in New York, July 29, 2010.
Published in the January 2011 “Meaning of Life” issue of Esquire, on sale soon