by Justin Richards, New York Press.
Yoko Ono’s art has always been propagandist. Take songs like “Give Peace a Chance,” or performance pieces like the reassemblage of shattered ceramics, or the Imagine Peace Tower near Reykjavik, Iceland. Her clear and simple messages haven’t changed much since the 1960s.
Ono’s continued calls for peace and unity are of a kind of one-note optimism, uncluttered, insistent. I want cake. But there’s no flour. I want cake. We have no sugar. I want cake. If you’re famous enough, someone will eventually provide you with cake. Yoko Ono, who since childhood has been something of an aristocrat, does not contest the simplicity of her work.
Is this a flaw? Simple messages, after all, like those of Ghandi or Jesus or whoever, are the way to inspire masses of people, and that has always been Ono’s goal. Her recent call for remixes of “Give Peace a Chance” yielded dance tracks from DJs all over the world, including India’s Karsh Kale, Russia’s Kimbar and Greece’s Alex Santer. The album becomes available, digital-only, on Feb. 18. This comes on the heels of her success in 2008, when the Billboard year-end chart listed her as the number four “hot dance club play artist.” I got Ono on the phone yesterday to talk about the remixes, dance music and the unfortunate state of our world.
I’ve been listening to these remixes. It’s interesting to hear your voice given to such different contexts and moods by these different interpretations of the song.
Oh I’m so glad that this is happening. This is the day that I was waiting for. I did get some flack of course because it’s this iconic music—’Why’d you touch it and make it into dance music?’ I’ve been accused of all sorts of things in my past, and it doesn’t really matter. If I want to do it, I’m going to do it.
And why dance music?
My theory: What I think we should do in life is to keep dancing rather than marching. I’m saying dance through life, rather than march through life. Through dance you can have fun, and it’s very healthy too. Marching is not an aggression, really, but it’s something that becomes like an aggression. You can tiptoe and dance too. Nobody can tiptoe when they’re marching. … Sometimes it’s nice to tiptoe, sometimes it’s nice to jump around. And that’s dance.
A lot of these remixes sound like what people call trance music. That quality of the beats, combined with the lyrics of the song, which come across almost like a slogan…
You’re talking about “Give Peace A Chance”?
‘Give Peace A Chance’ is such a strong message that we need now that it can be dance music, it can be a poster, it can be a TV show. It can be anything. We need world peace, and we can’t get it soon enough. As long as we don’t have world peace, there are many people being killed and maimed, and children are being maimed, and it’s just a sad situation. When you imagine peace—you can’t be bothered to kill people while you’re imagining peace.
It would seem that most artists today are reluctant to make such a direct statement.
Some people are afraid. Some people are afraid of anything. Some people are not afraid. And we can’t be intimidated by the minority of people who may not like it.
Do you think society is more cynical today than it was 40 years ago?
Yes. Cynicism is very strong in this society now. Many people think that it’s Doomsday, and where all going to die together. The planet is going to be destroyed totally if we let it happen … I think that it’s worth trying to switch gears and make this world a better place and not go to Doomsday. Cynicism is strong but also, the people wishing for something better is very strong too. A lot of people want world peace, and they voice it. They tell me about that.
You and others have commented on a kind of simplicity or directness in your art, and in your music, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Is that something you’ve cultivated, or…
Many people say ‘Well, it’s too simplistic or I’m too positive or whatever.’ But what about breathing? Breathing is a very simple thing to do, and maybe you would consider breathing too simplistic. But I think that’s why we’re alive.
Most people say, ‘What I’m doing doesn’t count.’ But whatever you’re thinking is influencing me and the world. All of us are like 90 percent water. Do you notice that? All of that water can be like an oasis for the world, or it can be very bad water. It can be like polluted water. We’re a very strong race of animals and we have that power. We have that power to change the world by changing our bodies to an oasis or into polluted water.
You’re very connected these days. I’ve read that you’re on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr. In what sense do you think such programs are useful, or is it just for fun?
I believe in the global village. I believe in the power of Internet.
How often do you check your Facebook? How often do you tweet?
I check at least once a week. I don’t answer all of them, it’s just too many. I try to answer a lot. One thing I don’t believe in is to create the situation where other people answer rather than me. I think it’s important to keep the communication going.
Having covered so much artistic territory in your life, is there anything that you still aspire to venture into?
I have no idea. I’m like water, and I’m led to go to all these different places like water. I’m really lucky that way. I really feel that I’m lucky to be doing this. I don’t make a long-range plan. The suggestion of society and the need of society changes every day.