Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ono At Eighty

Servants to her family came into their presence on their knees. They exited the room backwards, still on their knees. Ono Yoko, as the Japanese would pronounce her name, was born into a world of wealth and privilege that mostly has not survived the modern age in that form and practically begs disbelief.

Daughter of an enormously privileged banking family, Ono went to school with the future Japanese Emperor Akihito after their school reopened after World War II. Her family could see the Imperial Palace from the windows of their home. During that terrible war, she and her brother were sent into the countryside by their mother to escape the bombing of Tokyo. There she was humiliated and taunted for her social status by those with whom she needed to bargain to stay alive. Her mother is said to have run supplies to her in the countryside with which Ono bartered for survival for herself and her brother.

After graduating in 1951, she was accepted into the philosophy program of Gakushuin, the first woman to be so accepted. 

She followed her family to America where she dismayed them by associating with people they thought were beneath her. She was undeterred.

She had two marriages before Lennon, something most people don't know.

She had a thriving art career (not to be confused with money) long before this mother-abandoned guy from Liverpool went to one of her art openings.

She was a signature member of the Fluxus movement. She performed with John Coltrane during the creation of free jazz, no small feat.

One of the few true things that Lennon said was, upon their marriage: "You'll always be Mrs. Lennon now. " Or words to that effect.

Long after his death, Mrs. Lennon has continued to create and thrive. She's had something like 9 consecutive dance hits (I had to look that one up; bored New Yorkers have to go to some clubs, no?).

She's had any number of art exhibits. She's still politically stupid: against fracking even though it is manifestly safe. The local protest movement will alway move her. Her tweets are rubbish and politically correct: they could be confused with those from the mayor of Minneapolis.

Yet what I find when I say I like her music is mostly horror. I understand that. The avant garde Ono always pushed the sonic button, usually leaving beauty and harmony behind. The shrieking stuff comes from post Hiroshima. "It's OK Kyoko, Mummy's Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow" is an actual song title of Ono's. Could you not scream? Still, a little bit goes a long way. Sean Ono Lennon is said to have said his mother is like Miles Davis. Uh, no.

But there is a large body of work in which, though her range is thin, is on key and manages harmony in addition to the melody she wrote. Her lyrics are arresting. ("Once I was in love. It nearly killed me.") Why this aspect of her music is not more widely known is a mystery to me.

The best I can recommend to readers is her album issued after John's death: "Season of Glass." If "Toyboat" doesn't move you, nothing will. Then again, it's hard to find now. Funny how that works.

There is no more widely misunderstood, often hated, artist in the world than Yoko Ono.

Happy Birthday.

1 comment:

Fiddlin Bill said...

"She's still politically stupid: against fracking even though it is manifestly safe."

Your ability to compartmentalize political issues is remarkable. Perhaps there are things to learn from Mrs. Lennon even on the question of fracking, and certainly on the Japanese experience of utter self-imposed disaster.