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Music: Catching Up to Yoko

July 24th, 2007 · 9 Comments · Chicago, Culture, Feminism, Human Rights, Journal, LGBT, Media, Music, New Wave, News, TV, Video

YokoSomething I’ve been meaning to post for a couple of weeks now … I’ve long thought that Monica Kendrick is the best music writer at the Reader and the spot-on writeup she turned in just before Yoko Ono’s appearance at the recent Pitchfork Music Festival only reinforces that notion:

9:00 Yoko Ono
For decades her name was a punch line, shorthand for “unlistenable freak” and “difficult woman” (badges of honor, really), but for the past 15 years Yoko Ono’s reputation has undergone a steady and consistent rehabilitation—younger musicians finally understand that her fiercely feminist oddity is a feature, not a bug, and that the spiritual simplicity of her art and activism isn’t just the by-product of naivete (surely she can’t have much left at 74). For this spring’s Yes, I’m a Witch (Astralwerks), Ono enlisted artists as diverse as the Flaming Lips, Porcupine Tree, and Le Tigre (to name just a few) to overhaul recordings from her back catalog, creating an album of challenging remixes. Though she’s fiercely protective of John Lennon’s legacy, she recently donated the rights to his songs and their publishing royalties to Amnesty International, a gift that’s resulted in a two-CD collection of Lennon covers, Instant Karma, that benefits the agency’s campaign for Darfur and features the likes of U2, R.E.M., Green Day, and the Black-Eyed Peas. And a few years back she rewrote “Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him,” one of her tunes from Double Fantasy, so that its lyrics support marriage equality for gays and lesbians. MK Aluminum Stage

I wasn’t able to catch the show myself — in addition to being swamped with work, outdoor shows in July just aren’t my favorite way to see concerts. Between the heat, the bugs, the humidity and the humanity I’m never able to actually enjoy the music.

But I have very fond memories of Yoko’s show at the Park West in 1996. It was a fabulous evening and a very cool crowd (just for example, a bunch of us got Fred Schneider’s autograph on the sidewalk out front after the show).

Here’s “New York Woman” from 1996’s superb Rising.

… And from earlier this year, here’s Yoko hanging out with Beth Ditto of The Gossip and Ana Matronic of Scissor Sisters, sharing the feminist rocker love.

For many years through the 80s and early 90s I felt like a one-man Yoko Ono anti-defamation league, patiently trying to get people to actually listen to her stunning recordings, and gritting my teeth as they repeated the same old tired, unfunny Joan Rivers one-liners.

And the worst calumny of all, the sadly ironic myth that Yoko somehow “broke up The Beatles.” Listen: When you claim Yoko is the reason The Beatles broke up, you’re really only revealing that you don’t know anything about The Beatles, if you honestly think they could have continued working together into the 70s, with or without Yoko — or for that matter, that John Lennon would have survived his heroin addiction and general disintigration without Yoko to pull him through. He was on a slow path to suicide and she pulled him off of it. Revitalized him. Gave him a reason to live. He said as much himself, many times — I was always astonished at how so many people who claimed to admire him refused to listen to his own testimony.

Without Yoko, there would not only have been no more Beatles — there would have been no “Imagine,” no “Instant Karma,” no Plastic Ono Band. Not to mention no Grapefruit or Approximately Infinite Universe.

So, anyway — it’s good to know that the world is finally starting to catch up to Yoko.


9 Comments so far ↓

  • Aaron

    Taylor, Ed and I were going to go see her, too, but we ended up not going…

    I used to listen to her tracks on “Double Fantasy” because they were the most interesting. I really loved the “ska-ish” quality of “Give Me Something.” It sounded a lot like Rip Rig and Panic (Neneh Cherry’s former group). I still love those!

    I never bought into the whole “Yoko Broke Up The Beatles” thing. John and Paul had ceased being able to work together long before that, anyway…

    Can you imagine what John Lennon would be like if he were around now? Imagine (no pun intended) the fodder our society would give him for new material…he’d be writing for the next 20 years on this administration alone…

  • Ocelopotamus

    Too bad you didn’t get there, I would have liked to hear your review.

    At her show in 1996 the crowd adored her because they were all there to see Yoko, but I worry that at Pitchfork there may have been a lot of people who were there to see other bands and might have been, well, jerkish during her show. Haven’t heard anything one way or another.

    As for John, he almost wouldn’t need to write new material — “Give Me Some Truth” applies as well to Bush and Cheney as it did to Tricky Dick.

  • Aaron

    “’Give Me Some Truth’ applies as well to Bush and Cheney as it did to Tricky Dick”

    True…but I would have loved to hear the remix!

  • Connie

    I so need to begin my education in Yoko.
    I’m ashamed that I’ve been for so many years under the spell of the masses (asses).
    There is a discomfort with such strong women.
    But I wonder about the great influence our gender would have were we all to be so brave. And also were we all to not worry so much about the discomfort of others. (Or am I uncomfortable with my own strength?)

  • Aaron

    She has a lot to teach us!

    For many years, I, too was leery of Yoko, but her strength was never an issue–as strong as she was, she never seemed overbearing . It was her voice! It just sounded “yowly” to me. I tried to judge her music by the yardstick of pop/regular rock and roll, and it can’t be appreciated that way. It really is “sound art” in much the same way as her live appearances are “performance art.” And it’s just as emotive and expressive as anything Celine Dion regurgitates sings. What I learned was, don’t buy an album expecting to hear perfect pitch, but DO buy it to hear something different, offbeat and deep that will make you think and feel.

    There was a reason that John loved her, and Dave’s right–she saved his life! (I always felt sort of bad about Cynthia, but she did remarry later and was pretty happy, I understand. And at least Julian got to know his father.)

  • Val

    I went to Pitchfork to see Yoko and only to see her. She was fucking phenomenal. I say half the audience “got it” from the get go and realized the power of what they were witnessing and participating in, one-quarter got schooled and left with some of the cobwebs in their brain dusted out and the other quarter are just lost causes.

  • Ocelopotamus

    Hey Val, thanks for the review! So nice to get a first-hand account from someone who knows her Ono!

  • Val

    Remembering song titles is not my strong suit but I can happily report she treated us to “Mind Train”, “Don’t Worry Kyoko”, “Mulberry” and “I Want You to Remember Me”.
    Call me a dork, I feel like I witnessed history.

  • Ocelopotamus

    Oh, you did. Opportunities to see Yoko perform live are rare and magical.

    I still remember how excited my high school pal Lydia and I were when we got our tickets for Yoko’s Starpeace tour in the early 80s … and then how devastated we were when the show was cancelled. I had to wait more than 12 years before I got another chance to see her!