In 1980, Playboy correspondent David Sheff spent some time with Ono and her husband, John Lennon, in their home at the Dakota in Manhattan. That would be one of his last interviews before his death on December 8.
And that concept of jumping head first into new experiences, no matter the medium, is natural to Ono. Even when she’s gazing back at her life through music, it’s not a passive experience—she’s rerecording tracks to bring new focus to their meanings. Her latest album, Warzone, is an evergreen testament to peace, power and unbridled love for the world. Tracks like “I’m Alive,” hit home even harder as you hear Ono softly say “It’s me / I’m alive / Am I?” before the track abruptly ends. The 85-year-old has made an impressive life-long career of standing up and continuing to live her life. That might seem like a strange thing to say, but Ono’s strength and resilience—especially in the face of the misguided vitriol thrust upon her simply for being in love with a Beatle—is nothing short of remarkable.
On top of continuing her commitment to world peace—a lasting legacy that she and Lennon shared—through charitable donations and art installations such as the Imagine Peace Tower, Ono has embraced all of the technology that the world has to offer. She’s got a killer Twitter account with bite-sized pieces of poetic wisdom and she conducts her interviews via email.
Through the taken-for-granted magic of the internet, we spoke to Ono about “Warzone,” her relationship with her son, Sean, fluid relationship spectrums and how people can better appreciate each other.
You have said before that “we are all kings and queens now asking others to entertain us.” How can we get out of that endless distraction loop?
There’s no way to get out of it, but the subject matter should be something that makes people understand about the world.
What inspired you to make this new album? What do you want to express with these reimagined tracks?
I wanted to give new life to these songs. The songs are constructively very different from the ones you already heard.
What have you discovered about yourself while recording this album? Was there anything that surprised you when you dug back into your catalog to create this track list?
This time it was very important to voice the message and so, "quick! quick!” is what I was thinking.
I don’t control. If I made an artwork that I’m controlling, it doesn’t come out right.
Each song has a message, and the message is slightly different on each one. I felt that each song needed something that I didn’t do before, which was to highlight the animals as victims.
Sean has said that you have treated him as an individual when he was a child and that you believe that kids “shouldn’t be treated like a subservient class.” How does this play into tracks like “Children Power”? How has your relationship with this track changed from its original recording to now?
“Children Power” says it all. When you listen to it, you’ll see that great feeling of freedom. I’m very glad that my son and I are great friends. You can’t be friends with someone you are treating like a slave.
One of the more powerful parts of Playboy’s last interview with you is how you described that you were not scared of the establishment anymore—that you learned law and politics so they weren’t a mystery to you anymore. This was a radical statement of empowerment at the time and you definitely got push back because of it. Now, how do you stay in control of your art, life and vision? Do you still do this much research on all aspects of your business side? Have these establishment dynamics changed in your life since this last interview?
I don’t control. If I made an artwork that I’m controlling, it doesn’t come out right. My artwork has the warmth of the energy that it got from east and west, south and north, the sky and earth… everything is giving me energy.
You’ve mentioned that you’re interested in the changes in the male and female characters that you’ve seen in your lifetime—specifically how men are interested in cooking. In your last interview with Playboy, John mentioned that he was spending his time baking bread and taking care of Sean. Did that seem like he was ahead of his time in the terms of this now more fluid relationship spectrum?
Yes, at least our relationship helped a lot with the fact that men can do something they want to do, and women can do what theywant to do, and you can be any way that you yourself wants to.
Since men are picking up cooking and a little sewing, what do you think the next step is for our society to progress?
My song just talks about sewing and cooking maybe, but through what you do, because you want to do, you might find things that I don’t even know, and it’s great.
On practical level, the fact that men would know and enjoy something he didn’t know, likewise, women will know what she didn’t know. And so we are expanding minds and that is enormously helping all of us.
One of the most inspiring things about you is how you’ve looked at critics and adversity towards your art and activism. How would you suggest others to “step on all these prejudices and still work as if there’s no problem”?
I had to and therefore I overcame adversity, and while you’re overcoming adversity youlearn a lot about what you can do about it. So adversity is not always adversity, it’s an education.
What does the future look like to Yoko Ono? What are some of your upcoming projects that you’re really excited about?
I’m already excited about my new album, which is an idea that I came up with because of this newest album.