Yoko Ono

jody denberg series: yoko ono 2000

 

Page two on the interview

Jody Denberg: Yoko, many people will be remembering John this year, because October 9th is the 60th anniversary of his birth, and December 8th is the 20th anniversary of his death. Did you choose to reissue these albums in 2000 to coincide with the milestones?

Yoko Ono: Definitely. I thought that we have to do something special for this year. This very special year...

JD: I understand there are some other special things happening this year, both in America and in Japan. I know at the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame they're going to be opening an exhibit about John. And there's also a permanent John Lennon Museum in Japan. What are some of the items that you've given to be displayed?

YO: I think it's difficult to sort of list them. But basically it's an overall thing. John was an artist and musician and a poet as well. And all that aspect of him will be represented there very well. And also he was a songwriter/singer/rocker. So he's a very complex character. And we're covering it all.

JD: The museum in Japan though, that's a permanent museum, the first of its kind.

YO: I know! It's a surprise, isn't it? And I think there's something very cosmic about the fact that it's happening first in Japan because when you really see the earth from the universe, probably there's not much difference whether it's in Japan or in Britain, you know. And the thing is this idea that John had of East in East and West in the West, never the twain shall meet, you know, that was Kipling. But John was saying "No, East is West, West is East. And we're meeting!"

JD: Some of the items in the Museum in Japan you had to part with on a permanent basis. Was that difficult?

YO: I think it's all on loan though.

JD: Last year the Beatles' Yellow Submarine Songtrack featured Beatles songs. They were remixed and remastered for the first time. And you've used the same team from Abbey Road Studios to do the same for two of John's reissues. Was the improved sound that the Beatles got on their project part of what motivated you to upgrade John's catalog?

YO: Well, we were thinking about it before that was done in a way. So I don't think it had to do with that, no. Imagine being an album that we made in England, so I thought well, I should go back to England. And Abbey Road Studios, being a very, very kind of sweet memory for us you know, so I went there.

JD: The sound of John's first solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, it's very stark, just like the lyrics. And for the most part the only musicians were the rhythm section, Klaus Voormann and Ringo Starr, and you are credited with "Wind." What do you remember about those late 1970's sessions at EMI Studios?

YO: Well, I was credited as a co-producer as well, if I'm not mistaken (laughs). And, you know, in those days people thought "Oh, Yoko got a credit because John is so much in love with her" or something. But I did my share you know I mean, I was working. Both of us really felt it should be with minimum instruments, and, and it just worked.

JD: Sometimes, Yoko, the album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band is referred to as the Primal Therapy Album. How did the primal scream therapy that you and John did with Dr. Janov affect John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band?

YO: Very much so. It is true and right to be called Primal Therapy or Primal Scream Album. Most of the songs were either written or inspired … I mean, not in the sessions but when we were in L.A. going to the sessions, primal therapy sessions.

JD: Was it that therapy that allowed John to get so in touch with his emotions, lyrically and vocally?

YO: Yes! And vocally I think he opened up so much, you know. It's beautiful, I think, yeah.

JD: The album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band with songs like Mother… It's so personal, and then you chose very political songs as the bonus tracks for these reissues: Power To The People and Do The Oz…

YO: Because we didn't have very many extra songs of those days. And I think that Do the Oz and Power To The People are two very prominent ones that we did then. Because in John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band a very personal side is shown, but we were very political at the time, and that's not shown at all. So I thought it's nice.

JD: Phil Spector is listed as a co-producer on the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. But the album is the opposite of the "Wall of Sound." So what did he contribute to that record?

YO: He's a very sensitive and talented producer, and he knew how to accommodate John's wishes. And I didn't know it then but you know he just walked in, when we were doing God. And we weren't doing God that way at all. And he just said "now what about Billy Preston?" And we said "okay, well let's try." And Billy did such a brilliant, brilliant piano. I mean, you can never think of God without Billy's piano playing there. So that was Phil's idea. He just walked in, listened to it and said "What about it?" And that's how he just made that track shine.

JD: John Lennon had a, a contradictory personality in his songs. He could be nostalgic on a song like Remember, or Strawberry Fields, and then he would sing that he didn't believe in Beatles -- he didn't believe in magic, yoga, -- in the song God. Ultimately he did believe in many of these things. Do you think he realized how seriously people would take his declarations in God, especially that "the dream is over"?

YO: Well, I think he was almost like telling himself, "dream is over, let's move on." And I think it's a healthy thing to say and to do. And, of course, I think that particular song hurt a lot of people. In hindsight, yes. You know, it was a very hurtful song, I think. But at the time I was very, very impressed with … I don't know, the melody's beautiful, and the song itself is very meaningful.

JD: Yoko, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was recorded at EMI Studios. Imagine was recorded at your Tittenhurst Park home studio in Ascot. How did recording at home affect Imagine?

YO: Well, a beautiful warm feeling. I think that John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band is a very artistic album, but it's kind of gritty and it certainly is not a very warm album. Almost sad in a way. Imagine just turned out to be a very warm kind of beautiful album because we were together at home and he felt relaxed, you know.

JD: The Imagine sessions were very well documented on film. Why did you choose these sessions to film?

YO: It was a fluke, you know. And we didn't think it was going to be that important or anything. He said "Why don't we film it?" "Okay, let's do it." And then afterwards we thought that we did something really silly because … the people, the business people say, "well nobody wants to watch, you know, it's boring to watch a film of just going on and on and rehearsing and making an album. So this is not commercial." So we said "Okay" (laughs). And we just chucked it (laughs). Well, chucked it meaning it was sitting in the storage (laughs).

JD: It's long been rumored that the Double Fantasy sessions were also filmed but that the tapes were either lost or destroyed. What's the true story on that?

YO: It wasn't filmed. I think that the only thing that was filmed was I'm Moving On and I'm Losing You. And the way it was filmed was so bad, and when John saw it he said "Oh" (laughs), you know. Well, he didn't say anything. He was just so totally upset. He took the, the whole negative of the film and put it in the bathtub (laughs) and filled with water. I don't know if just filling it with water is going to destroy it, but that was how he wanted to destroy it (laughs).

JD: The utopian idealism of the song Imagine, John claimed that this vision had its roots in your book, Grapefruit. How do you think that you influenced it?

YO: Well, we were close together, and you know two artists living together, of course we're going to influence each other. Some of the things that I did rubbed off on him. And that was Imagine I think.

JD: Do you remember the first time you heard Imagine?

YO: Well yes, I was there (laughs). We were in the bedroom, in our bedroom in Ascot.

JD: Did you have an inkling of how the song was going to affect people?

YO: I knew it was a very important song, and we were both hoping that people would understand it and it would communicate widely. But we didn't believe it, you know. I mean, part of us didn't believe that it's going to be a big song.

JD: Yoko, you oversaw the remixing process of these reissues from John Lennon's catalog. Where do you draw the line in, say, bringing up the strings more prominently into the mix? Would you tamper with history for the sake of clarity and volume?

YO: Clarity and volume, yes, that's it. But I made sure that everything was exactly as before. Just the clarity and the volume changed.

JD: You've sustained John Lennon's career since his death with CD's, videos, art prints, even by using his songs in TV commercials. Is it your strategy to slowly give the public unavailable items from John in order to sustain his career?

YO: I don't have a very kind of overall view of it, but I just know that every year I have to keep doing something, to keep John out there. Because John's work is so important - not just for us but for the people. And so I just want it to be alive. Also John was an artist, and I know how artists feel about communicating their work. I just want to do my best about that.

 

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