by Linda Laban, Spinner, 16 Sept 2009
The release of ‘Between My Head and the Sky’ marks the first time that music has been issued under the iconic Plastic Ono Band name since the early ’70s. There’s only one original member on board, though, and that is namesake Yoko Ono, who chatted with Spinner as her album promo duties landed her in London after a long flight from her birthplace, Tokyo. The youthful 76-year-old widow of John Lennon and mother of their son, Sean — who played on and co-produced the album with Ono — bore no hint of weariness from that journey or from life’s wear and tear.
Her bright, hopeful, altruistic spirit was undeniable, but there seemed obvious boundaries, an understandable wariness. When she talks about dance music and says, “If you’re dancing, it’s very hard for them to shoot you,” the air hangs heavy for a moment. Though clearly a metaphor, it seems a thin one. Is she referring directly to Lennon’s senseless murder in 1980? It’s as if Yoko is recalling a lesson hard won but gracefully accepted.
Tragedy and adversity seem to have mostly left Ono wiser though not bitter. As she talked about her love of dance music, her relationship with John, her belief in peace on Earth, not to mention her belief in fun, Yoko’s apparent sweetness and simplicity seemed the basis of a very strong and sagely spirit. It’s highly likely that, just as the art and pop culture world has caught up with Yoko Ono’s avant-garde vision, maybe people are finally understanding that the Plastic Ono Band’s most famous lyric, “War is over, if you want it,” is not fluffy pacifist dribble but a tangible ideal. Yoko hopes so.
Why did you revive the Plastic Ono Band name?
It was the band name that John coined for me and him, and we used it all the time. It’s one of those things where I threw it away, probably because John passed away and all that kind of thing. I tucked it in my closet, trying to forget it. This time around, the Japanese music company was saying, “Please use Plastic Ono Band.” I said, “Why would I do that?” Then I thought, why don’t I do it? It was a beautiful thing that happened. That was with John and this is with Sean. It’s like a family thing, you know.
Was there something about the spirit of that band that you felt might be appreciated now as more people seek peace and spiritual growth?
Yeah, that may be. When I talked with these music people I said, “You know about Plastic Ono Band?” They said, “Of course we do,” as if they were kind of insulted, you know.
Recently your music has found success on the club scene. What is it about dance music and the dance scene that appeals to you?
I’ve been saying that dance music is really important — on a philosophical level as well. We keep marching, and you can be shot if you’re marching. If you’re dancing, it’s very hard for them to shoot you.
Especially if you dance really quickly …
I’m just trying to protect the people that I know.
If John were around today, do you think he also would be into the dance music scene?
Yes, I think so. First of all, John and I, we thought it was a very important thing that people would dance. John and I tried to create new dance steps. We would roll on the floor, laughing. We couldn’t quite create it.
So, you two would have fun together, playing and dancing?
Yes. It’s very important that we dance. That we go through life enjoying, having fun.
You have always been highly involved in performance art and music. Does dance music attract you because it invokes physical expression as well?
Definitely, it’s so important. We always forget about the fact that we have a body. Without our body, we don’t exist, actually. Once in a while, we have to realize our bodies count. The brain is all right, but the body is important.
Also, the club scene loves individuality and characters.
The club scene is extremely important. Many people have a prejudice … a sort of elitism: “What is club, what is dance? Bah!” But it’s very, very important. You’re moving your body to a rhythm — a comfortable, beautiful rhythm. And you keep your health.
That prejudice seems to be disappearing as DJ/producers like, say, Basement Jaxx or the Juan MacLean, who perform with a full live band, have merged the dance world, where people move to the music, and the indie rock world, where you stand there and perhaps only tap your foot.
Yes, maybe. Anything that excites you is very important; that’s what life is about. You don’t go through life through logic; you go through life with love. If you go through life and pick all the things you love, then you’re fine. Any other way you create your life, it’s going to make you totally bored.
Which is not good …
No, it is not.
Is this a philosophy that has kept you youthful? You have this timeless quality, almost.
Age is different in each person. If you want to insist on being a very mature old person that’s one thing, and that’s fine, too. Some people do believe in that. Dignity is one thing that you want the most or something. I think that love and fun is the thing that I want.
Your art and your personal life seem to co-mingle almost completely. Is there any separation?
I don’t think there should be. Whatever you say and whatever you come up with is coming up from your brain. You, yourself.
There is so much to learn and so much to see in the world. What is there that’s exciting you these days that perhaps you haven’t done?
I don’t know what I’m going to do. But two things: I predict that this planet is going to be a planet of music. Art and music. So, art and music vibrations will finally heal the world and make it into a peaceful world and send all those beautiful vibrations from it to the universe. That is what I think I will be doing. My wish is that I would like to live another 50 years so that I can spend another 10 years living in Paris, 10 years in London, 10 years in Berlin, 10 years in New York, that kind of thing. If it’s 10 years each time, then I don’t know if 50 years is enough. So maybe seven in each place!
You love these vibrant big cities, don’t you?
Yes, I do. I love these cities and I would love to visit in these cities as much as I can.
The Imagine Peace Tower, which you created for and is dedicated to John, is in Reykjavík. Why choose Iceland for the memorial?
Because Iceland is on top of the map. It’s the north. North is wisdom; north is accumulated energy. You send the accumulated energy and wisdom to the whole world. It’s very easy to do from the top like that. Also, Iceland, because they don’t use oil — maybe they use a little bit, I don’t know — but they’re main energy is geothermal, meaning hot water. So the land is clean, the air is clean, the water is clean and they are independent from all people.
You have an amazing history in the arts — from Fluxus to the Plastic Ono Band to the present, even. How do you stay current and stay excited?
Because I don’t think of staying current. If you think of staying current, then one minute you’re current and the next you’re passé.
Aha! So, don’t try to stay current. I just like the idea of enjoyment, enjoy, enjoying. That’s what I’m doing now. When you’re having good fun, time doesn’t mean anything.
Has that always been your philosophy or did you learn it as you got older, through experience?
First of all, let me tell you, it was a shock to me that I was 70 and there was no difference of anything.
It’s a number.
It’s a number. Also, the very interesting thing that happened now, I’d like to report to you, when you are here you are always just thinking about something that you don’t know. Every day I learn something, something totally new. Whenever I encounter something like that, I think if I didn’t live this long, if I had died 10 years ago, I would not know these things. I would have died not knowing these things. Which is a bit of a shock, it’s not very nice — if I had died then, I would have died ignorant. [Laughs.]
Or incomplete, perhaps?
Yeah. But what are you going to do about it, you know?