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Yoko Ono on John Lennon: "We Understood Each Other"

As a kid, I rummaged through my parents' cassettes, separating the good from the Billy Ocean. Sometimes, though, I'd come upon a tape that was beyond great, that was nearly perfect. And then I'd listen to it a thousand times while lying on my bedroom floor and eventually let it control my entire future. That's what happened with Double Fantasy. There was something holy and timeless when John Lennon's perfect pop sensibility met Yoko Ono's haunting sensuality.

When speaking with Ono this week about John Lennon's upcoming art show at the Village of Gulfstream Park, she emphasized their dynamic and fitting creative partnership. Yoko was a delight to interview. Easy with a laugh, she was emotionally open and realistic about her experiences. When a bad connection made my voice reverberate oddly, she laughingly made the sound on the other end of the line, patiently waiting for me to figure out how to fix the problem.

Yoko Ono is now 80 years old and still as relevant and productive and experimental as ever. She hit the dance charts with her Plastic Ono Band; just came out with a book, Acorns; curated the Meltdown Festival in London; and remains an intriguing visual artist. But this weekend is all about John Lennon and his artwork. Proceeds from the show benefit Feeding South Florida, Ono said, "because that's what John would have wanted."

New Times: You have a wonderful youthful energy and have been able to participate in so many cultural movements. Do you have a particular moment that stands out for you as the most creative?

Yoko Ono: Actually, what happened, of course you know, I was kind of a feisty, energetic woman. "Woman" is maybe not the word; "girl" or "gal." John was a very energetic person too, and we kind of met a match to a match, actually. To answer your question, the most energetic and exciting time was when John and I were together. It was nice that we understood each other.

You don't feel like you've had that chemistry with anyone since?

No, no, no. It's not very easy to meet somebody like John, you know [laughs]. Before that, that was my third marriage; the people that I had situations with before were all creative, energetic people, but still, John topped it all, of course.

Have you looked for a partner like that since, or did you know that John was the height of compatibility for you?

That was the height. I mean, of course, I'm not saying that... I'm not dead yet. You never know what's going to happen, in the sense that I might create another high(est) moment myself, you know. But that's possible. I'm still doing things, and sometimes I feel like, I've never had a situation like this, this excitement.

But John was very special, very unique, very different from any other encounter I had. When you go and see his work, you'll see that he was very special in that way too, just as an artist. People think John was just a musician guy; people don't take [his art] seriously sometimes. When you go to the exhibition and see his work, you will start to take his work seriously. You can't help it, they're so good.

Your work is very different from his.

Very, very different. So, thank God, because we didn't fight at all [laughs]. John liked my work, and I loved his work, so it went very well. I think we were so sort of blessed in that. Can you imagine if we were doing exactly the same kind of work [laughs]? Just getting kind of very upset with each other. No, there was nothing like that.

And yet you managed to collaborate so successfully.

Yes, we did collaborate. And those were very interesting in the sense that I never had a partnership work like that. It was always a one-woman thing. And so then I had to learn to do things with another person. John, he always had his three buddies, and he was, of course, working with them. So it wasn't that difficult for him, but for me, it was very difficult.

You've collaborated with just about every creative mind since...

It's a totally different collaboration. With John and I, we really collaborated. When I do a partnership or collaboration now, I meant like, I did the song and then somebody wanted to remix it or something. It's different. It's a collaboration too. With Sean, it's almost similar to what I was doing with John, because the collaboration goes a little bit further than just like remixing my stuff.

Does working with him remind you of working with John?

Not really. But Sean is a really interesting person too. In a different way. But Sean is my son, you know. But surprise, surprise. I didn't think that we were going to have a son that was creative like Sean, but Sean is very creative.

You've kept such an upbeat, positive attitude in such a dreary world...

John was an extrovert, you know, and I was an introvert. So that was a good combo, I think. And John being an extrovert, he was always very up, very excited, and interested. John was very positive. I would just get depressed or something sometimes, not really a sick depressed. Just once in a while, I'd get tired. And John would be like, "Let's go!" And I saw that happening and thought, That's what he was doing with the Beatles. That's great.

Your work since has been very upbeat. Your video for "Bad Dancer" seems carefree and fun.

Of course, I have a very positive side too. When I was with John, John brought out the positive side to pull me through. In those days, people really attacked me; they hated me. Naturally, you can't always be up on that! [laughs] Now, it's all right. People are kind to me; they understand my work. I get energy from that. John would see this happening. He was just one guy who was really into my work.

You do a lot of work against fracking. Can you tell me why this one issue resonates with you over others?

It's very bad for people's health. They want health, but they want money. If you get money but no health, then you can't spend that money; you die. I really think it's not good for children especially. We want to protect them because they can't protect themselves from it, so we have to do it. That's why I'm doing it.

What are some of your objectives?

The hope I have is that some of us in the world, the human race, will be happy together. That could happen very easily. It all has to do with what we focus on. And when we're determined about it, we'll do it.

Your Letterman performance was very powerful. I wonder if you think, in the broadest sense, whether experimental music versus pop music, which is more effective politically?

I was always doing that from the beginning, and John, of course, loved it and everything. He was like, let's do it. We [recorded] mine. And then we looked at the engineer board; the engineers all disappeared. We were like, "What happened?" "Oh, they went to the bathroom" because they couldn't stand my voice! [laughs]

The Art of John Lennon at Village of Gulfstream Park, Sirona Fine Art Gallery, 600 Silks Run, Suite 1240, Hallandale Beach. Noon to 8 p.m. Friday, January 17; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, January 18; and 11 am. to 6 p.m. Sunday, January 19. Visit feedingsouthflorida.com.

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Liz has her master’s degree in religion from Florida State University. She has since written for publications and outlets such as Miami New Times, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Ocean Drive, the Huffington Post, NBC Miami, Time Out Miami, Insomniac, the Daily Dot, and the Atlantic. Liz spent three years as New Times Broward-Palm Beach’s music editor, was the weekend news editor at Inverse, and is currently the managing editor at Tom Tom Magazine.
Contact: Liz Tracy

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