Yoko Ono Lennon
- Category : Art-Fine-art-artist
- Type : MGE
- Profile : 6/2 - Role Model / Hermit
- Definition : Triple Split
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Industry 1
Yoko Ono Lennon (born February 18, 1933) is an Japanese-American artist and musician. She gained international fame because of her marriage to British musician John Lennon. She currently lives in New York City.
Despite having a kanji reading, Ono's name appears in katakana (Yoko Ono) in the Japanese press and on album credits.
Yoko Ono was born in 1933. Her mother was Isoko Ono, of the Yasuda banking family, and her father was Eisuke Ono, who worked for the Yokohama Specie Bank. Two weeks before she was born, her father was transferred to San Francisco. The rest of the family followed soon after. In 1937, her father was transferred back to Japan and Yoko was enrolled at the Tokyo's Peers' School, the most exclusive school in Japan, open only to those descended from aristocrats (in the House of Peers) or the imperial family.
In 1940, the family moved to New York where Yoko's father was working. In 1941, her father was transferred to Hanoi and the family returned to Japan. Yoko was then enrolled in an exclusive Christian primary school run by the Mitsui family. She remained in Tokyo through the great fire-bombing of March 9, 1945. During the fire-bombing, she was sheltered with other members of her family in a special bunker in the Azabu district of Tokyo, far from the heavy bombing. After the bombing, Ono went to the Karuizawa mountain resort with members of her family. The younger members of the imperial family were sent to the same resort area.
Ono has claimed that she and her family were forced to beg for food while pulling their belongings in a wheelbarrow; and it was during this period in her life that Ono says she developed her "aggressive" attitude and understanding of "outsider" status when children taunted the once well-to-do Yoko and her brother. Other stories have her mother bringing a large amount of property with them to the countryside which they bartered for food. One often quoted story has her mother bartering a German-made sewing machine for sixty kilograms of rice to feed the family with. Her father remained in the city and, unbeknownst to them, was eventually incarcerated in a prisoner of war camp in China.
By April 1946, the exclusive Peers' school was reopened and Yoko was enrolled. The school, located near the imperial palace, had not been damaged by the war. While the school was now in theory open to anyone, the students were still almost exclusively aristocratic. She graduated in 1951 and was accepted into the philosophy program of Peers' University, the first woman ever to be accepted into that department of the exclusive university. But after two semesters, she left the school.
Emergence into the art world
Ono's family moved to Scarsdale in the suburbs of New York City after the war. She left Japan to rejoin the family and enrolled in nearby Sarah Lawrence College. While her parents approved of her college choice, they were dismayed at her lifestyle, and, according to Ono, chastised her for befriending people they considered to be "beneath" her. In spite of this, Ono loved meeting artists, poets and others who represented the "Bohemian" freedom she longed for herself. Visiting galleries and art "happenings" in the city whetted her desire to publicly display her own artistic endeavors. La Monte Young, her first important contact in the New York art world, helped Yoko start her career by using her Lower East Side loft as a concert hall. At one concert, Yoko set a painting on fire; fortunately John Cage had advised her to treat the paper with flame retardant.
In 1956, she married composer Toshi Ichiyanagi. They divorced in 1962 after living apart for several years. On November 28 that same year, Ono married American Anthony Cox. Cox was a jazz musician, film producer and art promoter. He had heard of Yoko in New York and tracked her down to a mental institution in Japan, where her family had placed her following a suicide attempt.
Their marriage was annulled on March 1, 1963 (Ono having neglected to finalize her divorce from Ichiyanagi first); they re-married on June 6, and finally divorced on February 2, 1969. Their daughter, Kyoko Chan Cox, was born on August 8, 1963. The marriage quickly fell apart (as observers describe Tony and Yoko threatening each other with kitchen knives) but the Coxes stayed together for the sake of their joint career. They performed at Tokyo's Sogetsu Hall with Yoko lying atop a piano played by John Cage. Soon the Coxes returned to New York with Kyoko.
In the early years of this marriage, Yoko left most of Kyoko's parenting to Cox while she pursued her art full-time and Tony managed publicity. After she left Cox for John Lennon, Ono and Cox engaged in a bitter legal battle for custody of Kyoko, which resulted in Ono being awarded full custody. However, in 1971, Cox disappeared with eight-year-old Kyoko, in violation of the custody order. Cox thought Lennon was a bad influence and that Yoko was incapable of raising a child. Cox subsequently became a Christian and raised Kyoko in a Christian group known as the Church of the Living Word (or "the Walk"). Cox left the group with Kyoko in 1977. Living an underground existence, Cox changed the girl's name to Rosemary, and told her stories of her mother's 'wicked, hateful ways'. But in 1980, Cox and Kyoko sent a sympathy message to Yoko after the death of John Lennon. Afterward, the bitterness between the parents lessened slightly and Yoko publicly announced in People Magazine that she would no longer seek out the now-adult Kyoko but still wished to make contact with her.
Ono and Kyoko were finally reunited in 1994. Kyoko lives quietly in Colorado and avoids publicity.
Ono was an early member of Fluxus, a loose association of Dada-inspired avant-garde artists that developed in the early 1960s. Fluxus founder George Maciunas, a friend and love interest of Ono's during the 60s, admired her work and promoted it with enthusiasm. Maciunas, with Young and Cage, was one of the most important influences on Ono's performance art. His humorously subversive philosophy of avant-gardism, spoofing the overserious, commercialized attitude to abstract art typical of 1950s New York, is obvious in Ono's "sales lists" of imaginary or useless objects (such as tapes of snow falling, machines dispensing clouds)--as Ono once said, "I think it would be very good for someone's mental health to buy something that didn't exist!" Ono's interactive art objects (like her "Painting to be Stepped On", where the painting is created by footprints on a blank canvas) also owe something to Maciunas' spoofy Fluxus objects or ideas for the same. Some critics have described Ono's art as a synthesis between John Cage's Zen-influenced musical ideas, incorporating silence and natural sounds, and Maciunas' earthier and more macabre wit, which found an echo in Ono's readiness to shock and dramatizations of her mental pain as well as her shared appreciation of gags (she once said, "Every artist is a conceptual artist. I'm a con artist" ). Another influence cited by art critics was Ono's Japanese contemporary Yayoi Kusama. Kusama's events involving nudity may have inspired the famous cover of Ono and John Lennon's Two Virgins record, where both appear naked. Kusama was also an organizer of pacifist events similar to Ono and Lennon's "bed-in" interviews.
Ono was an explorer of conceptual art and performance art. An example of her performance art is "Cut Piece", during which she sat on stage and invited the audience to use scissors to cut off her clothing until she was naked. An example of her conceptual art includes her book of instructions called Grapefruit. This book, first produced in 1964, includes surreal, Zen-like instructions that are to be completed in the mind of the reader, for example: "Hide and seek Piece: Hide until everybody goes home. Hide until everybody forgets about you. Hide until everybody dies." The book, an example of Heuristic art, was published several times, most widely distributed by Simon and Schuster in 1971, and reprinted by them again in 2000. Many of the scenarios in the book would be enacted as performance pieces throughout Ono's career and have formed the basis for her art exhibitions, including one highly publicized show at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, New York that was nearly closed by a fan riot.
Ono was also an experimental filmmaker who made sixteen films between 1964 and 1972, and gained particular renown for a 1966 film called simply No. 4, but often referred to as "Bottoms". The film consists of a series of close-ups of human buttocks as the subject walks on a treadmill. The screen is divided into four almost equal sections by the elements of the gluteal cleft and the horizontal gluteal crease. The soundtrack consists of interviews with those who are being filmed as well as those considering joining the project. In 1996, the watch manufacturing company Swatch produced a limited edition watch that commemorates this film. (Ono also acted in an obscure exploitation film of the sixties, Satan's Bed.)
John Lennon once described her as "the world's most famous unknown artist: everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does." Her friends and lovers in the New York art world have included Kate Millett, Nam June Paik, Dan Richter, Jonas Mekas, Merce Cunningham, Judith Malina, Erica Abeel, Peggy Guggenheim, Betty Rollin, Shusaku Arakawa, Adrian Morris, Stefan Wolpe, Keith Haring, and Andy Warhol, as well as Maciunas and Young.
In a lecture at Wesleyan University, January 1966, Yoko Ono explained the inspiration behind her conceptual art: "All of my work in fields other than music have an Event bent ... event, to me, is not an assimilation of all the other arts as Happening seems to be, but an extrication from various sensory perceptions. It is not a get togetherness as most happenings are, but a dealing with oneself. Also it has no script as Happenings do, though it has something that starts it moving- the closest word for it may be a wish or hope ... After unblocking one's mind, by dispensing with visual, auditory and kinetic perception, what will come out of us? Would there be anything? I wonder. And my events are mostly spent in wonderment ... The painting method derives as far back as the time of the Second World War, when we had no food to eat, and my brother and I exchanged menus in the air."
Ono has sometimes been maligned and vilified by critics who condemn her art. For example, Brian Sewell, an art critic noted for his artistic conservatism and acerbic reviews of conceptual art, said: "She's shaped nothing, she's contributed nothing, she's simply been a reflection of the times...I think she's an amateur, a very rich woman who was married to someone who did have some talent and was the driving force behind the Beatles. If she had not been the widow of John Lennon, she would be totally forgotten by now...Yoko Ono was simply a hanger-on. Have you seen her sculpture or paintings? They're all awful." In the past few years, Ono's work has received recognition and acclaim. For example, Matthew Teitelbaum, director of the Art Gallery of Ontario, stated that "Yoko Ono is one of the world's most original and inspirational visual artists." Michael Kimmelman, the chief Art critic of the New York Times, wrote: "Yoko Ono's art is a mirror—like her work 'a Box of Smile,' we see ourselves in our reaction to it—a tiny prod toward personal enlightenment, very Zen."
In 2001, YES YOKO ONO, a forty-year retrospective of Ono's work, received the prestigious International Association of Art Critics USA Award for Best Museum Show Originating in New York City. (This award is considered one of the highest accolades in the museum profession.) In 2002 Ono was awarded the Skowhegan Medal for work in assorted media. And in 2005 she received a lifetime achievement award from the Japan Society of New York.
Ono received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Liverpool University in 2001; in 2002 she was presented with the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts from Bard College. Scott MacDonald, visiting professor of film at Bard, said: "She is to be congratulated for the body of work she has made, and celebrated for what she has come to represent, within media history and throughout the world: courage, resilience, persistence, independence, and above all, imagination, and a belief that peace and love remain the way toward a brighter, ever-more-diverse human future."
Life with Lennon
Ono first met John Lennon when he visited a preview of an exhibition of Ono's at the Indica Gallery in London on November 9, 1966. Lennon's first personal encounter with Ono involved her passing him a card that read simply "Breathe". He was taken with the positivity, humour, and interactivity of her work, such as a ladder leading up to a black canvas with a spyglass on a chain allowing John to read the word "Yes" written on the canvas along with a real apple displayed with a card reading "APPLE." When John was told the price of the apple was 200 pounds, he thought, "This is a joke, this is pretty funny". Another display was a white board with nails in it with a sign inviting visitors to hammer a nail into its surface. Since the show was not beginning until the following day, Ono refused to allow Lennon to hammer in a nail. The gallery owner whisked her away, saying, "Don't you know who that is? He's a millionaire!" (Ono later claimed not to know who John Lennon or the Beatles were, though some friends remember her being quite interested in the band and wanting to get involved with them). Upon returning to John, she said he could hammer in a nail for five shillings. Lennon replied, "I'll give you an imaginary five shillings if you let me hammer in an imaginary nail".
They began an affair approximately two years later, eventually resulting in Lennon divorcing his first wife, Cynthia Lennon.
Lennon referred to Ono in many of his songs. While still a Beatle he wrote "The Ballad of John and Yoko", and he alluded to her indirectly in "Julia", a song dedicated to his mother, with the lyrics: "Ocean child calls me, so I sing a song of love" (The kanji ?? ("Yoko") means "ocean child"). Other Lennon songs about Ono are said to include: "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", "Don't Let Me Down", "Happiness is a Warm Gun", "Well Well Well", "Oh Yoko!", "I'm Losing You", "Bless You", and "Dear Yoko."
Ono and Lennon collaborated on many albums, beginning in 1968 when Lennon was still a Beatle, with Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins, an album of experimental and difficult electronic music. That same year, the couple contributed an experimental piece to The White Album called "Revolution 9". Ono also contributed backing vocals (on "Birthday"), and one line of lead vocals (on "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill") to the White Album. Many of the couple's later albums were released under the name the Plastic Ono Band. The couple also appeared together at concerts; when Lennon was invited to play with Frank Zappa at the Fillmore on June 5, 1971, Ono joined in as well.
In 1969, the Plastic Ono Band's first album, Live Peace in Toronto 1969, was recorded during the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival Festival. In addition to Lennon and Ono, this first incarnation of the group consisted of guitarist Eric Clapton, bass player Klaus Voorman, and drummer Alan White. The first half of their performance consisted of rock standards, and during the second half, Ono took the microphone and along with the band performed what may be one of the first expressions of the avant garde during a rock concert. The set ended with music that consisted mainly of feedback, while Ono screamed and sang.
Ono and Lennon married on March 20, 1969 in Gibraltar.
Ono released her first solo album, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band in 1970, as a companion piece to Lennon's better-known John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. The two albums have almost identical covers: Ono's featured a photo of her leaning on Lennon, and Lennon's had a photo of him leaning on Ono. Her album included raw and quite harsh vocals that were possibly influenced by Japanese opera, but bear much in common with sounds in nature (especially those made by animals) and free jazz techniques used by wind and brass players. Some songs consisted of wordless vocalizations, in a style that would influence Meredith Monk, and other musical artists who have used screams and vocal noise in lieu of words. Perhaps, the most famous song on Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band is "Why", which features Ono repeating the word "Why" (in a manner reminiscent of John Gilmore's sax playing) for five minutes, as the band improvises with textural form and tempo over one chord. This structure calls attention to the timbral and orchestrational aspects of the music, a technique common to free jazz. Some punk bands, including Public Image Ltd consider this album (and her other early albums) as laying the foundation for punk. The album peaked at #183 on the US charts.
In 1971, Ono released Fly - a double album. On this release Ono explored slightly more conventional punk rock with tracks like "Midsummer New York" and "Mind Train", in addition to a number of Fluxus experiments. She also received minor airplay with the ballad "Mrs. Lennon". Perhaps the most famous track from the album is "Don't Worry, Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)", an ode to Ono's kidnapped daughter. Ono later released two feminist rock albums in 1973, Approximately Infinite Universe and Feeling the Space, which received little attention at the time but are today recognized with much critical respect, particularly for tracks such as "Move on Fast", "Yang Yang" and "Death of Samantha."
Ono has been accused by some music historians, and by most of American and British pop culture, of breaking up The Beatles, while others argue that the breakup was caused by the fact that the Beatles were moving in different directions musically and personally. Lennon, also, said he had wanted to leave the group even before he met Yoko. In a 2003 interview with Jay Leno, Yoko revealed the disappointment she felt by the breakup and the impact it had on a life that she was used to. Beatles historian Bob Spitz concluded that John Lennon wanted to disband the Beatles and saw in Yoko the perfect wedge to drive between himself and the others.
After the Beatles disbanded, Lennon and Ono cohabitated in London and then in New York. They were arrested for possession of cannabis resin on October 18, 1968. The arrest would be significant to their future together. Their relationship was very strained as Lennon faced near-certain deportation from the United States based on the British drug charges and Ono was separated from her daughter, who would have remained behind if she followed Lennon back to England. Lennon began drinking heavily and Ono buried herself in her work. The marriage had soured by 1973 and the two began living separate lives, Ono pursuing her career in New York and Lennon living in Los Angeles with personal assistant May Pang.
In 1975, the couple reconciled. Their son, Sean, was born on Lennon's 35th birthday, October 9, 1975. After Sean's birth, the couple lived in relative seclusion at the Dakota in New York. Lennon retired from music to become a house-husband caring for their child, until shortly before his murder in December 1980, which Yoko witnessed at close range. Yoko has stated that the couple were thinking about going out to dinner (after spending several hours in a recording studio), but were returning to their apartment instead, because John wanted to see Sean before Sean went to bed. Following the murder, she went into complete seclusion for an extended period.
Ono funded the construction and maintenance of the Strawberry Fields memorial in New York City's Central Park, across from where they lived and John died, and dedicated it on October 9, 1985, on his 45th birthday. In 2000, she founded the John Lennon museum in Saitama, Japan, her home town.
Ono collaborated with experimental luminaries such as John Cage and jazz legend Ornette Coleman. In 1961, years before meeting Lennon, she had her first major public performance in a concert at the 258-seat Carnegie Recital Hall (not the larger "Main Hall"). This concert featured radical experimental music and performances. She had a second engagement at the Carnegie Recital Hall in 1965, in which she debuted her now legendary and influential "Cut Piece."
Ono's music changed after her marriage; while many of her early songs retain the surreal quality of her art and films, her later songs are usually more conventional — for example, the seven pop songs that she contributed to the album, Double Fantasy (which were considered by some critics superior to Lennon's tracks on the album).
In early 1980, Lennon heard Lene Lovich and The B-52's' "Rock Lobster" in a nightclub, and it reminded him of Ono's musical sound. He took this as an indication that her sound had reached the mainstream. Indeed, many musicians, particularly those of the new wave movement, have paid tribute to Ono (both as an artist in her own right, and as a muse and iconic figure). For example, Elvis Costello recorded a version of Ono's song "Walking on Thin Ice", the B-52's covered "Don't Worry, Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)" (shortening the title to "Don't Worry"), and Sonic Youth included a performance of Ono's early conceptual "Voice Piece for Soprano" in their fin de siecle album SYR4: Goodbye 20th Century. One of Barenaked Ladies's best-known songs is "Be My Yoko Ono", and Dar Williams recorded a song called "I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono." The punk rock singer Patti Smith invited Ono to participate in "Meltdown", a two-week music festival that Smith organized in London during June 2005; Ono performed at Queen Elizabeth Hall.
On the night of December 8, 1980, Lennon and Ono were in the studio working on Ono's song "Walking on Thin Ice". When they returned to The Dakota, their home in New York City, Lennon was shot dead by a deranged fan, Mark David Chapman. "Walking on Thin Ice (For John)" was released as a single less than a month later, and became Ono's first chart success, peaking at No. 58 and gaining major underground airplay. In 1981, she released the album Season of Glass with the striking cover photo of Lennon's shattered, bloody spectacles next to a half-filled glass of water, with a window overlooking Central Park in the background. This led some critics to accuse her of being tasteless and exploitative. However, Ono said that she chose such a provocative image because she wanted to remind people that Lennon hadn't just died or committed suicide, but had been murdered. She remarked that those who thought the picture of bloody spectacles were offensive should remember that there was more to John's murder than just a stained pair of glasses, and the picture was only a small part of what she, and other members of John's family, faced when he died. (This photograph sold at an auction in London in April 2002 for about $13,000.) In the liner notes to Season of Glass, Ono explained that the album is not dedicated to Lennon because "he would have been offended - he was one of us."
Some time after her husband's murder, Ono began a relationship with antiques dealer Sam Havadtoy, which lasted until 2001. She had also been linked to art dealer and Greta Garbo confidante Sam Green, who is mentioned in John Lennon's Will. 1982 saw the release of It's Alright (I See Rainbows). The cover featured Ono in her famous wrap-around sunglasses, looking towards the sun, while on the back the ghost of Lennon looks over Ono and Sean. The album scored minor chart success and airplay with the singles "My Man" and "Never Say Goodbye."
In 1984, a tribute album entitled Every Man Has a Woman was released, featuring a selection of Ono songs performed by artists such as Elvis Costello, Roberta Flack, Eddie Money, Rosanne Cash and Harry Nilsson. It was one of Lennon's projects that he never got to finish. Later that year, Ono and Lennon's final album Milk And Honey was released in unfinished demo state.
Ono's final album of the 1980s was Starpeace, a concept album that Ono intended as an antidote to Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" missile defense system. On the cover, a warm, smiling Ono holds the Earth in the palm of her hand. Starpeace became Ono's most successful non-Lennon effort: the single "Hell in Paradise" was a hit, reaching No. 16 on the US dance charts and #26 on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as major airplay on MTV.
In 1986 Ono set out on a goodwill world tour for Starpeace, mostly visiting Eastern European countries that she felt were in need of her message of peace.
Ono went on hiatus until signing with Rykodisc in 1992 to release the comprehensive 6-disc box set Onobox. It included remastered highlights from all of Ono's solo albums, as well as unreleased material from the 1974 "lost weekend" sessions. There was also a one-disc "greatest hits" release of highlights from Onobox, simply titled Walking on Thin Ice. In 1994, Yoko produced her own musical entitled New York Rock, featuring Broadway renditions of her songs.
1995 saw Ono's comeback with the release of Rising, a collaboration with her son Sean Lennon and his band Ima. Rising spawned a world tour that traveled through Europe, Japan and the United States. The following year, she collaborated with various alternative rock musicians for an EP entitled Rising Mixes. Guest remixers of Rising material included Cibo Matto, Ween, Tricky, and Thurston Moore.
In 1997, Rykodisc reissued all her solo albums on CD, from Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band through Starpeace. Ono and her engineer Rob Stevens personally remastered the audio, and various bonus tracks were added including outtakes, demos and live cuts.
2001 saw the release of Ono's feminist concept album Blueprint for a Sunrise. Starting in 2002, some DJs remixed other Ono songs for dance clubs. For the remix project, she dropped her first name and became known as simply "ONO", as a response to the "Oh, no!" jokes that dogged her throughout her career. ONO had great success with new versions of "Walking on Thin Ice", remixed by top DJs and dance artists including Pet Shop Boys, Orange Factory, Peter Rauhofer, and Danny Tenaglia. In April 2003, ONO's Walking on Thin Ice (Remixes) was rated No. 1 on Billboard Magazine's "Dance/Club Play Chart", gaining ONO her first number one hit. On the 12" mix of the original 1981 version of "Walking on Thin Ice", Lennon can be heard remarking "I think we've just got your first No.1, Yoko." She returned to No. 1 on the same charts in November 2004 with "Everyman...Everywoman...". A reworking of her song "Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him" from Double Fantasy, the track contained new lyrics supportive of gay marriage.
Ono's latest album is Yes, I'm a Witch, a collection of remixes and covers from her back catalog by various artists including The Flaming Lips, Cat Power, Antony, DJ Spooky,Porcupine Tree and Peaches, released in February 2007, along with a special edition of Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band .Yes I'm a Witch has been well received by some reviewers - often to their surprise. Another compilation of Ono dance remixes entitled Open Your Box is also due in April.
During her career, Ono has collaborated with a diverse group of artists and musicians including John Cage, David Tudor, George Maciunas, Ornette Coleman, Charlotte Moorman, George Brecht, Jackson Mac Low, Jonas Mekas, Yvonne Rainer, La Monte Young, Richard Maxfield, Zbigniew Rybczy?ski, Yo La Tengo, DJ Spooky, and Andy Warhol. In 1987 Ono was one of the speakers at Warhol's funeral.
Since the 1960s, Ono has been an activist for peace and human rights. After their wedding, Lennon and Ono held a "Bed-In for Peace" in their honeymoon suite at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel in March 1969. The press fought to get in, presuming that the two would be having sex for their cameras, but they instead found a pair of newlyweds wearing pajamas and eager to talk about and promote world peace. Another Bed-In in May 1969 in Montreal, Canada, resulted in the recording of their first single, "Give Peace A Chance", a Top 20 hit for the newly-christened Plastic Ono Band. Other demonstrations with John included Bagism. Introduced in Vienna, Bagism encouraged a disregard for physical appearance in judging others.
In the 1970s, Ono and Lennon became close to many radical leaders, including Bobby Seale, Jerry Rubin, Michael X, John Sinclair (for whom they organized a benefit after he was imprisoned), Angela Davis, Kate Millett, and David Peel. They appeared on The Mike Douglas Show and took over hosting duties for a week, during which Ono spoke at length about the evils of racism and sexism. They were forced to curtail much of their political activity when the United States government put them under surveillance and Lennon was threatened with deportation on drug charges. Ono remained outspoken in her support of feminism, and openly bitter about the racism she had experienced from rock fans, especially in the UK. For example, an Esquire article of the period was titled "John Rennon's Excrusive Gloupie" and featured an unflattering David Levine cartoon.
In 2002, Ono inaugurated her own peace award by giving $50,000 (£31,900) prize money to artists living "in regions of conflict." Israeli and Palestinian artists were the first recipients.
In 2004, Ono remade her song "Everyman... Everywoman..." to support same-sex marriage, releasing remixes that included "Every Man Has a Man Who Loves Him" and "Every Woman Has a Woman Who Loves Her."
Relationship with Paul McCartney and Cynthia Lennon
Ono occasionally argued with Beatle Paul McCartney about issues such as the writing credits for many Beatles songs. While the Beatles were still together, every song written by Lennon or McCartney was credited as Lennon-McCartney regardless of whether the song was a collaboration or a solo project. After Lennon's death, McCartney attempted to change the order to "McCartney-Lennon" for songs, such as "Yesterday", that were solely or predominantly written by him, but Ono would not allow it. She says she felt this broke an agreement that the two had made while Lennon was still alive. However, McCartney has stated that such an agreement never existed. The two other Beatles agreed that the credits should remain as they always had been and McCartney withdrew his request. However, the dispute reappeared in 2002. On his Back in the U.S. Live 2002 album, 19 Beatles' songs are described as "written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon." Overlooked in the controversy are earlier albums released by both Paul McCartney and John Lennon. In 1976, four years before Lennon's death, Paul McCartney released a live album called Wings Over America which credited several Beatles' songs as P. McCartney-J. Lennon compositions. Similarily, a 1998 John Lennon anthology, Lennon Legend, listed the composer of "Give Peace a Chance" as John Lennon rather than the original composing credit of Lennon-McCartney.
In 1995, McCartney and his family collaborated with Ono and Sean Lennon to create the song "Hiroshima Sky is Always Blue", which commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on the Japanese city. Of Ono, McCartney stated: "I thought she was a cold woman. I think that's wrong ... she's just the opposite ... I think she's just more determined than most people to be herself."
McCartney did not invite Ono to his wife Linda McCartney's memorial service in 1998, even though both Ono and Linda McCartney had attended Sarah Lawrence College.
Accepting an award at the 2005 Q Awards, Ono made a controversial comment that some music critics have interpreted as an insult to Paul McCartney's songwriting. She mentioned that Lennon had once felt insecure about his songwriting, and asked her why other musicians "always cover Paul's songs, and never mine". Ono then responded "You're a good songwriter; it's not June with spoon that you write. You're a good singer, and most musicians are probably a little bit nervous about covering your songs". Heather Mills McCartney, when asked about her husband's thoughts on the subject, said "He doesn't even know yet. Look at how successful Yoko's music is compared to Paul's. Speaks for itself."
Ono later issued a statement claiming she did not mean any offense, as her comment was an attempt to console John, not attack Paul; she went on to insist that she respected McCartney and that it was the press who had taken her comments out of context.
She also said: "People need light-hearted topics like me and Paul fighting to escape all the horror of the world, but it's not true anymore...We have clashed many times in the past. But I do respect Paul now for having been John's partner and he respects me for being John's wife."
Her relationship with Cynthia Lennon remains strained. In a recent BBC interview, Cynthia Lennon said Ono's behaviour toward Julian Lennon after the death of John was "shameful" and remarked of Ono's "lonely" existence in her "ivory tower". This interview can be seen here.
Ono again proved herself to be a provocative and controversial artist with her contribution to the fourth Liverpool Biennial in 2004. With banners, bags, stickers, postcards, flyers, posters and badges, she flooded the city with two images: one of a woman’s naked breast, the other of her vulva. The piece, titled "My Mummy Was Beautiful", was dedicated to Lennon's mother, Julia, who had died when Lennon was a teenager. According to Ono the work was meant to be innocent, not shocking. She was attempting to replicate the experience of a baby looking up at his or her mother’s body: the mother’s pudendum and breasts are a child’s introduction to humanity.
Some in Liverpool, including Lennon's half-sister, Julia Baird, found the citywide installation offensive. Indeed, the BBC program North West Tonight invited viewers to phone in their opinion of the piece, and of the 6,000 viewers who responded 92% wanted the images removed. However, due to response bias, this poll may not have determined the general public's actual opinion. Others appreciated the conceptuality of the work. Chris Brown, of Liverpool's Daily Post, wrote: "Many have loved the work… and Yoko Ono has again managed to get the eyes of the world looking in our direction."
An editorial in The Times of London wrote: "Her unmissable contribution to the fourth Liverpool Biennial dominates the event and seems also to symbolise the new international Liverpool...Ono manages successfully to get right up the noses of the locals, as she always has. Brilliant...As always with Ono's art, a simple act has become a radical one."
Some local councillors welcomed the removal of Ono's image from the deconsecrated Church of St. Luke. "I'm delighted that it has been removed", said Joe Anderson, leader of the Labour Party group. "I find it appalling that the picture was put in a place which offended people. St. Luke's is a war memorial and many people felt it was being desecrated with this picture." (Ono's art was placed there at the invitation of St Luke's Peace Centre in recognition of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's steadfast promotion of peace.) The biennial's chief executive, Lewis Biggs, denied the claim that it was moved due to public pressure: "The banner was taken down to replace the one torn down at the Bluecoat Centre over the weekend. The only banner of the same size was at St. Luke's. If the biennial had the money to replace the one at the church, we would have." He further stated, "There are a great many people who enjoy and support this project."
Paul Domela, deputy chief executive of Liverpool Biennial, said: "We were aware that some would object to it. But, at the same time, we realised that a great many would love it as well...We have got bags, stickers and badges that are so popular we cannot give out enough of them because they are going so quickly." He continued: "In the campaign for the election in the European Union, there was an image of a woman breast feeding. The campaign was aired across Europe, including some very Catholic countries. Over here, the difference was that the nipple was removed. This baby had its mouth open into nothingness. What does that say about the relationship we have in this country to motherhood? To begin to think about that and talk about it is very important."
In response to the controversy Ono stated, "I wasn't trying to insult Liverpool. In fact, when I thought of the idea and I visualized this beautiful mum's breasts and vagina all around the city I thought, 'Ah, it would be so beautiful', and it's like giving them love, because we are all born from our mother's body, and that's the first thing that we were nurtured by—mothers' breasts. Somehow people try to inhibit that memory. Women are put in a position of feeling embarrassed about their bodies. It's so ridiculous, but also astounding—we have to always be apologetic about having created the human race."
Of her artistic inspiration she said, "I'm always inside myself and listening to what's coming into my head. I'm like a conduit of some message coming through me. I'm interested in everything, equally, every day. I'm in love with life, the world, every moment."
Yoko Ono performed at the opening ceremony for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, wearing white, like many of the others who performed during the ceremony, to symbolize the snow that makes the Winter Olympics possible. She read a free verse poem from a prepared script calling for peace in the world. The poem was an intro to a performance of the song "Imagine", Lennon's anthem to world peace.
On 13 December 2006, Ono's bodyguard Koral Karson was arrested after he was taped trying to extort Ono for two million dollars, threatening to release private conversations and photographs.
Yoko Ono in culture
In a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode entitled "The Yoko Factor," Spike explains to Adam why Yoko Ono was NOT the reason the Beatles broke up.
Yoko Ono was lampooned on TV's Celebrity Deathmatch, Family Guy, South Park, and Married... with Children. She has appeared as herself on the 1990s series Mad About You.
In an episode of The Powerpuff Girls titled "Meet the Beat-Alls," four villains team up to terrorize Townsville. They are broken up by a Japanese monkey named Moko Jono, who woos Mojo Jojo. The episode is composed mainly of lines and titles from Beatles songs, and there is a reference to several albums.
The Barenaked Ladies released a song called "Be My Yoko Ono", about wanting the object of the song to be as close as could be, in which they ask the listener not to blame The Beatles' split on Yoko. The singer-songwriter Dar Williams released a song called "I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono", following the title with the words "you're not good enough for me". The Hole song "Twenty years in Dakota", a B-side featured on their 1993 single "Beautiful Son", is about Ono's grief and her retreat from the mass media after John Lennon's murder. The title is taken from the name of the building outside which Lennon was murdered.
Yoko Ono appears as a main character in a novel by Michael Rumaker, The Butterfly. The novel details their brief romance between Ono's first two marriages and describes the loft in New York City where La Monte Young staged concerts. Yoko here is described as being depressed, unstable, and tormented by guilt over her turbulent life, and in fact she was to attempt suicide in Japan shortly after the period described by Rumaker.
Jean Yoon wrote a play about Ono, The Yoko Ono Project.
In the Japanese drama version of the manga Hana Yori Dango, Tsukushi's boss talks about one of her many pasts loves, a man named John. The screen shows her with a man looking like John Lennon as she rambles on about their relationship. Tsukushi says to her friend Yuuki, "Is ma'am's real name Yoko Ono??" to which Yuuki replies, "It's Sengoku Sachiyo."
Yoko Ono and John Lennon both were mentioned in a song called "Listen to the Rain" featured on Country Music artist, Kenny Rogers' 2003 album, Back to the Well.
Several music videos by the band Gorillaz contain a sticker that reads "I♥YOKO". Whether this is reference to Yoko Ono or not is unknown.