Happy Birthday, Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono by @MatthuPlacek, 18 Feb 2013, via @yokoono

Artist and peace activist Yoko Ono, wife of the late John Lennon, turns 80 today. Boing Boing interviewed her two years ago, when she was honored with the 8th Hiroshima Art Prize, an award for artists whose work has contributed to peace. To commemorate the award, The Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art hosted "The Road of Hope: Yoko Ono," an exhibit honoring the “spirit of Hiroshima that yearns for permanent world peace and prosperity for all humanity."

I spoke to Yoko Ono in Japan a few days after she received the Hiroshima prize. She was in Tokyo, and so was I. Read our conversation here.

Related: An appreciation by Richard Metzger of Dangerous Minds, who first schooled me on the full awesomeness of her legacy as an avant-garde artist, which long predated her relationship with Lennon.


  1. I grew up hearing her bad-mouthed on a regular basis. When I was in college, I discovered her art. Wow. I was so wrong about her. She has a truly beautiful soul and mind. Happy Birthday, dear lady!

    1. My understanding for along time has been that everyone in The Beatles was willing to gnaw off an arm to escape from McCartney who was a horrible control freak and insecure.

      And after the breakup, John and Paul went on to distinguished careers, Ringo went on being Ringo, and nearly everything Paul did was  cringe worthy.

      I heard there was an effort to hook up McCartney with song writer Johnny Mercer (Moon River, The Days of Wine a Roses, That Old Black Magic) in ’75 but Mercer was acting strange and a year later died of a brain tumor.

        1. It wasn’t “each other’s hatred and loathing” that made them good.  It was simply the dynamics of any good collaboration.  Each reined in the other’s excesses and mistakes.

          If you look at any of the Pythons when he struck out alone, they’re “good,” but no one Python’s work is anything close to brilliance of Monty Python collectively.

    2. I took my (then) 4 year old to an exhibition of hers last year. We were both engaged and moved by her art. I try and go to a lot of galleries and I think I’ve seen a lot more than my fair share of art and I’m rarely so moved. 

  2. 80 years old and still making amazing music and art. I hope that some day I may be one-tenth as bitchin’, in every sense of the word, as Yoko.

  3. It’s not possible to appreciate Yoko Ono until one has had a chance to take in this gem:

    Be sure to check out Chuck Berry’s eyes at 1:15, when Yoko presents her contribution to this jam session. The question WTF? may well have been invented for this very performance. For those who couldn’t get enough – there are several other cameo’s later in the song, though mercifully, the soundboard appears to have killed her mike by 2:13

    The question is who was more tweeked, Ono, or the guy rocking out on the bongo next to her.

    1.  I was looking for that clip when I stumbled on the one I posted. Suffice to say I think her musical abilities may have been overestimated by some.

  4. Yoko was in and out of her bag long before she met John. Let me be clear… make no mistake, Yoko started Bagism, not John and Yoko; Yoko Ono created Bagism. Oh, and Paul was bat shit crazy before John met Yoko.  

  5. I saw her show in Berlin on Sunday. The crowd went wild. She rocks. The best one came when Peaches sang “Yes, I’m a witch” with her. 

  6. I showed the videos of Imagine (33m views on Youtube!) and Woman to my daughter the other day – new Yoko fan, although wishes she smiled more.

  7. I was entranced by her when Live Peace Toronto 1969 (something like that) came out. Side one was pretty much just John jamming with the band doing some oldies and presenting a brand new song – Cold Turkey – which hadn’t been released at the time of performance. It was all good, if a bit, sloppy fun. But then you flip the record and John, sounding a wee nervous, says, “Uh, now, uhm, Yoko’s gonna do her thing.” And the band drops into ‘Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand in the Snow)’, a raw, raucous, more or less repetitive grind. And Yoko does indeed ‘do her thing’. The lyrics are pretty much contained in the title, but that piercing, grating, swooping, screeching voice has plenty of other things in mind. I would have been 15 or so and I was dumbstruck. THIS, oh my FUCKING GOD! THIS is pure unadulterated rock’n’roll!!! Jesuslordamercy.It is around five minutes long. But there’s one more surprise and it is a doozy. ‘John, John (Let’s Hope For Peace)’ is next up. It starts off fairly quietly, yet menacingly with just feed back and Yoko singing the lyrics which again is just the title while the feedback just keeps feeding back and she just keeps ratcheting up whatever it is that she’s doing. If you had thought that she’d assaulted you before, well, THIS time, baby, she’s gonna open Hell. After a while, the feed back is just one goddamighty roar and Yoko just starts this repetitive screaming that…. Well, you know how dogs just ignore whatever is on the stereo pretty much, no matter how loud? I’ve actually seen dogs cringe and then run and hide at this point. She eventually tapers off and stops while the feedback rolls on, sounding for all the world as if the ocean had been turned up to 11. Then finally, that stops also. It’s palpable just how stunned and disoriented the audience is, especially when an announcer comes on and tries to speak. “Ladies n gennl…ladies n….[whomp,whomp,whomp]…this thing on?…The Plasti….The Plas….” 

    And then it’s over. I get goosebumps just thinking about that. Awesome.

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