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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Yoko Ono talks about the life and art of John Lennon

  • Courtesy Yoko Ono
Yoko Ono is the ultimate outsider. As the wife of John Lennon she is often vilified as the woman who broke up the Beatles. Although her avant-garde leanings are a far cry from the pop and rock and roll origins of her fallen husband's songwriting, she is an indelible part of the Fab 4's story, and the keeper of Lennon's legacy.

October 9th of this year would have been his 70th birthday, and dozens of memorials and tributes are cropping up around the world. In Atlanta Ono has organized a show featuring 100 Lennon's drawings and lithographs and lyrics.

Much of Lennon and Ono's time in New York after the Beatles has been cloaked in controversy, so naturally, the authenticity of the work has been challenged by a few obsessive characters who stalk the internet. But according Yoko they are the work of the one and only John Lennon.

On Dec. 3, 4 and 5 you can see the work for yourself at the Westin Buckhead at 3391 Peachtree Rd. On Fri., Dec. 3 the show is open from 5-9 p.m. on Sat., Dec. 4 from 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. and Sun., Dec. 5 from 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. The show is free, but there is a suggested $2 donation for entry.

Chad Radford: I understand that you’re calling me from Tokyo, this evening?

Yoko Ono: Yes, I am at the opposite end of the world from where you are, and it’s early here. You sound very clear.

As do you. So, we’ll get started before we lose this great connection.


The show that’s coming to Atlanta is called “So This is Christmas.” Is it a traveling show?

No, not really. This one is just for Atlanta and there are 100 drawings, lithographs, and yes, there are the Bag One lithographs in the show, and there are several pages of hand-written lyrics to a lot of songs — Beatles songs and his solo songs, all written out by John. The bulk of the material does travel, but the show changes a little bit. In Atlanta there will be 5 works that have never been shown in public before.

I am familiar with the sort of one-line drawings that he did, like what’s on the cover of the “Imagine” single. But after doing some research I see that he churned out an awful lot of drawings, and he really had a unique style that grew off of that minimal, one-line style. And these are all his works in the show?

Yes, he did a lot of drawing. It was kind of like his security blanket. He did a lot of it and he was expressing himself and what was going on in his life in different ways.

What period of John’s life does this show represent?

It all comes from a period of 1966 to 1980.


So it covers the last few years before the Beatles broke up, on through his time in New York and leading up to the time of his death?

Yes, they all come from that time period.

Is there one piece in the show that really resonates with you more than the others, or that you would say is your favorite?

No, that’s an interesting question and I’m trying to think about it, but I cannot say that there is one work in the show that stands out for me than any of the rest. I personally selected everything that went into the show, so they all resonate with me in their particular ways.

And all of the funds raised by the show are going to the Atlanta Children’s Shelter?

Yes, that’s a really good one, too. I do a lot of these kinds of shows in different cities and we get the people in each city to pick a cause or a charity, and in Atlanta it’s for kids, which is a really great one.

Being John Lennon’s wife you were closer to him than anyone else for a large part of his life, and since his death you’ve been the keeper of his legacy?

Yes, I know. Well, taking care of John’s legacy pretty much fell in my lap because he was my partner. We were always together, and we were both artists, so it just happened naturally.

Thirty years have gone by since his death, and you’re still immersed in his name and very active in sitting up events such as the art show for Atlanta. You see his name and his face every day. Do you still have a difficult time coming to terms with his death? Is it hard it to talk about?

Oh, it comes and it goes, and it’s different every day. You know, I work with so much of his stuff pretty much all of the time and some days it will really hit me and stir up all of those emotions again. It happened so fast, and there’s no logic to it. But yes a lot of time has passed since then. Sometimes it doesn’t even seem real that so many years have gone by.

I’m sure by now you’ve had a chance to watch the American Masters documentary, “LennoNYC” that’s airing on PBS.

Yes I have, and I wanted to ask you about it as well. Did you get a chance to watch it yet?

Yes, I watched the premier last night.

Oh good. It really is well done.

So you think it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of how things went down, and his life after the Beatles? It balances out a lot of the “she broke up the Beatles” talk that gets tossed around?

Yes I do. Michael Epstein who wrote, produced and directed it, does a really good job of researching the subjects, getting the interviews, and tracking down the details. The film also really does do a good job of showing what John was like toward the end of his life, and how he grew and evolved as a man. You know, it follows him all through his time in New York and during the time he spent in LA when we were apart. A lot of that wasn’t really talked about at the time when it was happening. I mean it was talked about, but it was kind of fictionalized, or so it seemed. I wasn’t there in LA with him, so I didn’t see how badly things had gotten for him while he was out there. They uncovered a lot of footage that even I hadn’t seen before.

Toward the end of the show we hear your voice say, “John was an artist. Why would anyone want to kill an artist?” That is perhaps the most poignant moment of the whole thing; it’s simply put, and it encapsulates the real tragedy here. It’s what I was dwelling on when I went to bed that night.

Oh thank you, I’m glad that it affected you that way. Yeah I said that, and really, there is no answer. It was a terrible, terrible thing that happened, and even when I said that for the film I got chocked up just thinking about it, and I still do.

People ascribe a lot of power to artists, and people ascribed a lot of power to John Lennon. He held sway over a lot of people while he was a member of the Beatles, and he continued doing so long after they broke up. In the film you see a few of his friends and confidants have an epiphany when they hear him sing a Beatles song and they suddenly realize that he’s not just their friend, he is John Lennon! He had a strong affect on people all the way to the end.

Yes, and he still does. He was very honest, too. I think that affected people very strongly as well, and I think that really comes across in the documentary.

Please go to the show. It’s a wonderful collection and I’m really proud that it’s going to be in Atlanta and for such a cause.

I’ll be there. Will you be there?

Sadly no. I want to be there, but I cannot. I will be there in spirit.

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