Q&A

Trying to make a sad song better

December 13 1982
Q&A

Trying to make a sad song better

December 13 1982

Trying to make a sad song better

Q&A

YOKO ONO

Two years after the assassination of her husband, John Lennon, Yoko Ono has just released her new album, It’s Alright. Maclean’s correspondent Daniel Burstein talked with the 19-year-old Ono in her palatial quarters in New York City's venerable Dakota apartments, where the rooms are filled with touching photos and memorabilia of the happy times before Mark David Chapman's bullets felled Lennon just outside the entrance to the building. For the most part serene and composed, Ono talked about her seven-yearold son, Sean, and about her life and work since the tragedy of Dec. 8, 1980.

Maclean’s: You have said that your new album is an emotional diary of what has happened to you in the two years since John was killed.

But what exactly has happened to you? What is the emotional history of the past two years for you?

Ono: My last album, Season of Glass, was like an opening of my heart. I wasn’t trying to open my heart, but, with the shock of John’s death, it just opened up. I have been through a lot since then. Part of me was always feeling as if I had to be strong for Sean’s sake and my own sake, and that kept me going. But part of me was also asking,

“What’s the point of going on?” Then I began to think that this was getting out of hand and I really ought to try to collect myself. The best way was to go to the studio again and make music. Music itself has a very strong healing power. After John died I had three priorities: to make sure my business was all right; to make sure Sean was all right; and then to make a good album. In the hard times the warm letters and telegrams that people from all over the world sent to Sean and me were actually helping us a lot. I couldn’t reply to each letter so, in a way, I’m saying hello to all those people with this album.

Maclean’s: John's death must have been particularly difficult for Sean. How have you explained it to him, and how has he dealt with it?

Ono: There was a period when I had to face this being saying to me, “Well, where’s daddy?” It was very hard for me to cope with that. But we became buddies. I’m trying to make sure that Sean is all right, physically and mentally. I don’t have any problems with him. On the contrary, he acts like he is responsible for caring for me and protecting me. This past year he kept saying to me: “Look, mommy, you have to live. If

you go out, take a bodyguard with you. Never go out without a bodyguard.” It would be so hard for him if anything happened to me. I still feel, also, that John, upstairs, and me, downstairs, are still partners. We’re still working together. When I do things, I’m still very much aware that I’m carrying on what we intended to do together. Working on this album, I not only had John’s presence but Sean with me as well. I told Sean, “You are welcome to come to the studio anytime.” And—surprise, surprise—he was there all the time. The

studio was an adventure for him. It was almost like slumming. He would just put some soft thing on the floor and go to sleep or sleep on the couch and then go to school the next day right from the studio. And he loved that idea. Maclean’s: What other activities are you involved with?

Ono: Well, there’s the Strawberry Fields project [to build a memorial to John Lennon in New York’s Central Park with trees donated by countries from all over the world]. There has been a tremendous response. The participating countries are all asking, “When can we send our trees?” We have to go through a certain amount of red tape with New York City to have it approved. I thought I was going to have more difficulty getting the countries interested, but that was the fastest part. Even in countries behind the Iron Curtain, the youth is listening to Imagine and all the rest of the music. We had the unique position of communicating with all walks of life. So now we have the countries, we have the blueprint, and we are just working on getting the approval of the New York City department of sanitation. I hope that by next April it will all be done and Strawberry Fields will be opened. The

Canadian people have been o very kind in supporting j Strawberry Fields. Canada

had special meaning for me 5 and John. When you men| tion Canada, I get a very *" warm feeling because we

did visit there, we did “bedin” there, and we often talked about that. It was the start of our life together.

Maclean’s: Do you feel personally safe in New York?

Ono: I don’t think what happened to John was the fault of New York City, and, as I said at the time, John would not have thought so either. For us it was an exciting city to live in. We cherished the apartment, the environment, the park. We loved every moment of it, and John was very happy here. Statistically, I understand that this is not the most crime-infested city. It’s just widely publicized. Now, New York has a special meaning for me because this is where John and I spent our last years together, and we have so many happy memories—although there is the other memory too—but still, this is where we lived together.

Maclean’s: A lot of people who gained popular attention and fame in the 1960s are having a hard time adjusting to the new realities in the 1980s. But you seem to have made the transition. How have you done it?

Ono: Probably because I am a survivor. But, at the same time, looking back on

it, I think I was not that tactful in the late 1960s when John and I first got together. If I had been aware back then of tact and politics and all, I would have first tried to show the world that I could do something very commercial and then gradually begun slipping in a few experimental things or adventurous ideas. But I didn’t care at all then. Of course, it’s easy to say, in hindsight, that it would have been a better way to do things,but, had I gone about it that way, a lot of things that I think are very beautiful never would have existed. Besides, I probably could never have been

that tactful anyway. Now, of course, I don’t want to do work anymore that people will look back on in 10 years and say, “Wow, that was 10 years ahead of its time.” I now want to communicate in the present.

Maclean’s: Given that we are heading into a more politicized period, with big issues such as nuclear war and economic depression beginning to galvanize people in ways reminiscent of the 1960s, do you see yourself once again assuming a more political stance?

Ono: In the 1960s we waved flags about everything. Now it’s part of us—things like feminism—the feminists had to wave flags in the 1960s to dramatize the issues. But, now, no women are really waving flags. Feminism is part of our lives so we don’t have to talk about it so ¡ much. People ask me, “Are you still involved with politics?” as if politics were something separate from the rest of one’s life. Would you ask anyone, “Do you also eat”? Politics is part of society, and we’re part of the society, and so it’s part of us. Of course, there has been a lot of sorrow for me in the past two years. But I came out of that period with a feeling that involves dreams and love for the future. That has a lot to do with society, but it’s not waving flags. Maclean’s: What is your vision of yourself 10 years from now? What are your own ambitions?

Ono: I feel as if I’m right at the starting point of my life. I’m amazed at how much there is to learn. I’m hoping that, in the next 10 years, I won’t have to learn so much through experience. Maybe I can learn through books instead and less with my flesh and blood. Even at the time John and I met, he said our relationship was bigger than both of us, and we could never understand all the ramifications. I still feel that things that happen in my life are part of a large plan of some kind that I cannot comprehend.

I feel very humble about that. If this is a chess game, I can’t read it. And this is coming from a woman who thinks she can read most chess games.

Maclean’s: How do you feel about all the books, plays and television films that deal with John and you? You can ’t live in New York and avoid seeing the bookstore windows, the newsstands and the billboards. What is your reaction to seeing your personal past treated so publicly?

Ono: That’s another lesson I had to learn. There are many emotionally upsetting things that have happened since John’s death. I thought, at first, that what had happened was so big that it would be the only thing I would have to cope with and recuperate from. But it wasn’t like that. So many things happened after John’s death that kept hurting me immensely. What could I do when people blackmailed me? One thing I decided very early was that I would not comply with blackmail. Then, I had

to ask myself if I was going to sue people who were saying things that weren’t true about us. I decided no, I’m not going to put my energy into negative things. I’m not going to waste it. I just have to forget about it and use my energy to create something positive. Maclean’s: What has been the biggest thing you have found out about yourself

in all the grief, introspection and effort to start over again that have filled your life since John ’s death?

Ono: The past two years have been as if someone just suddenly threw me to the bottom of the water and I had to struggle back to the top just to breathe. I really don’t know how I did it. I used all my force, I know that. But I also got a lot of help from all over the world, from John, from John’s memory. And Sean was always there with his big, beautiful, naive eyes asking, “Are you going to be all right?” whenever I would fall down. I was in a position without precedent. It seems that all of us cope somehow when we have to. My case is not exceptional in that sense. But I began to see the immense power, energy and possibilities that we have and still don’t understand. The human race is still a mystery to us—if we used the full capacity of our brains, what could happen? In that sense, I’m looking forward to the next 100 years, fp