Yoko Ono (The Perennial One)

It was a big year for Yoko Ono.
By Alex Littlefield, New York Press

This fall, the 76-year-old artist released Between My Head and the Sky, her first album since 1973, with the Plastic Ono Band, and a release that marked her first time sharing the studio with her son, Sean Lennon. Additionally, 2009 saw Ono drag a pile of awards back to The Dakota, including a Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Venice Biennale, and the release of the Don’t Stop Me EP. If that wasn’t enough, in recent years, Ono has racked up five number-one dance singles. What were you doing all decade?

Alex Littlefield recently got Ono on the phone to see how she managed to make it through 2009 intact.

Did you have a theme for this album?
I am here now—this is me. I’m always doing this; I’ll make an album, and I’m always putting the current me in it. And probably I feel life is more precious, because suddenly I’m over 70, and you say, OK, I want to live another 50 [years] or something. But the thing is, maybe I can’t, so there’s a strange kind of edge there.

What’s it like to record an album with your son?
He said, Mom, why don’t we do it? And I said, OK, let’s do it. Because I think if you’re a parent, it’s so nice to get the chance to be together and work together. But then everybody said, No, no, how could you do that?

What problems were they foreseeing?
You know—if you start to argue, or start to fight or something, it would become more serious than with a normal musician. Also, say, if it’s my album, I can say to a normal musician, OK, fired. But you don’t fire your son.

Did he challenge you to explore new directions in your music?
The way they make music is very different from our generation, in the sense that in digital [music] it’s all numbers and things like that. It made me feel like John and I were from the romantic era. So I kind of missed John at certain points, but I realized that the young group was really in exactly the same place as me in terms of the concept and the sensibility and what we wanted to do with music.

Some of the music here is very electronic—almost like dance tracks.
I’m starting to really feel good about the fact that I’m putting out a side of me that was kind of buried—I always loved dance. I believed in dance.

What appeals to you about electronic music?
I came from the avant-garde music world, and they were talking about electronic [music] all the time And it wasn’t that fast, like what we’re doing now, but there was certainly that electronic element in there. It’s not anything new for me—so OK, I have some electronic stuff [on this album], and I have some really romantic stuff from way back, and I love that—I love that hodgepodgeness, because that’s life.

This year you won some major lifetime achievement awards. How does it feel to be getting all this recognition when your career is in full swing?
I thought it was very good that I was still alive. I feel much better now; I feel much better in the sense that when I do a show now, I feel like I could do another show right away.

Had you not been feeling good before?
No, I never did, but the fact that this is a surprise element… meaning that I feel like, Oh, I got a gift that I wasn’t expecting, and that gift is to be alive and well at 76. I see all these friends of mine who say, I’m going to be 40, I don’t know what to do, and I say, Wait until another 30 or 40 years and you’re going to feel much better.

You’ve been a big proponent of small acts of kindness, and the idea that they have a lot to contribute to the peace movement on the whole.
I like the idea of us doing things for each other without making much effort—small things, you know. And if they’re very small, you wouldn’t even know that you’re doing it for them, and that’s very good. And all of us doing something small is better than one person doing something big.

Does any memorable act of kindness stick out in your mind, from 2009?
The point is, it’s something that we don’t even realize, which is much better. For example, if I smile, and I don’t even realize that I smile—and it’s really the best thing to do…

Are New Yorkers, in your mind, more or less kind than other people?
New Yorkers are really tops, I think they’re sensitive people. I think that all of us feel that we are sharing this town, and in that sense we are sort of family, and we care for each other.

Does 2009 feel different than 2008, as a year of small gestures of kindness?
Yes, when I see somebody and if I hug [them] or something, then maybe I would have hugged less last year. This year it seems like I hugged more. And also when you hug there’s a slight difference—it’s a stronger hug or something.

So what changed?
The fact that I feel good physically, you know, it’s sort of like this is my peak moment.