Thursday, April 12, 2018

Crystal Ball: Freshly rehabbed from a meth addiction, Rufus Wainwright peers 500 years into the future

Rufus Wainwright's skin is just a little bit thicker.

His daringly baroque latest album, Wantà la Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill — is being released in two editions, with a more "lavish and obtuse" follow-up slated for next spring. In a telephone interview, he sings the praises of Portland, assesses his toxic past and gazes far into the future.

Jimmy Radosta: You make a reference to Portland in the song "11:11." Was that inspired by any particular experiences?

Rufus Wainwright: Portland is one of my favorite cities on the West Coast because, at least at the time of when I wrote that song, it seemed to be one of the least sort of gentrified places left — at least [compared with] Seattle and San Francisco. Yeah, I've certainly had a couple of crazy nights in that town with all of your wacky inhabitants. It was a lot of fun.

JR: When I saw you in concert a few years back, you mentioned a critic who complained that you were "too gay." Have things changed since then, or do you still encounter this kind of ignorant homophobia?

RW: It doesn't really register on my radar. I haven't really dealt with it all that much. It does happen occasionally, but I just sort of dismiss it.

JR: Now that you've put out three well-received albums in a row, do you see a time coming when you'll just stop paying attention to critics?

RW: I'm trying to get there. I'm trying not to read my criticism at all, only because you can read 10 great critiques and you'll read one bad one, and it's like you've been condemned to a life sentence…. But every once in a while I peek — kind of like peeking at a horror movie.

JR: You remade "The Origin of Love" for the Hedwig and the Angry Inch tribute album Wig in a Box, which was produced by a Portlander. How did you get involved in that project?

RW: I know [Hedwig writer/director/actor] John Cameron Mitchell, and he asked me to do it, and it's also for a really good cause. And I also don't get the chance often to really, like, rock out too much … so I liked to do that as well.

JR: In light of the state of the world today, do you find yourself increasingly drawn to causes that will make the world a better place?

Definitely, in terms of saving the world or whatever, now is the time to do it. I think we've sort of lost the sense of bliss, or ignorance, or blissful ignorance I'd say, especially after 9/11. All those predictions I had growing up about, you know, by the year 2000 this and this and this will happen — well, it's 2003, and I think it's probably more time to act now.

JR: In interviews you've been candid about your past use of crystal meth. I'm curious what convinced you to go into rehab.

RW: I just couldn't take it emotionally, and certainly the drug itself is — in my opinion, anyway — above and beyond most other experiences I've had with narcotics…. So that was the main reason. But … I felt like in terms of arguing about what was going on in the world, I really had to get my own house in order, in order to really be effective.

JR: This might be a rather naive question, but what exactly made somebody as beautiful and talented as you feel like you needed a drug to make yourself feel sexy and secure?

RW: I don't know. I think a lot of it has to do with the nature of the attention that I get, which is on one hand very compassionate and honest and real — but also from 20 feet away. It was that classic Janis Joplin line, "For 40 minutes you've got all the love in the world and everybody's around you, and then for the rest of the time you're completely alone." There was a backlash to that kind of attention…. And also it was that I have been so dedicated to my music, my art, that sometimes I forget that I'm actually a human being.

JR: I love the tracks you recorded for the soundtracks to Moulin Rouge and Big Daddy. Are there any other projects or collaborations that you're dying to work on — a James Bond theme, a duet with Liza?

RW: I do want to write an opera at some point. And I'm just saying that a lot because it'll force me to do it. [Laughs] I'd love to write a really crazy opera that is performed for another 500 years.

JR: Both of your shows in Oregon are going to be all-ages, and you've got a really strong connection with your young fans. Do you think they're drawn to you because you've been out since you were a teenager?

RW: That may be an element. I think the main thing is that there has to be a fallout from the present music era. There's not a lot of alternatives out there for kids, and so I'm sort of banking on the fact that there are ones out there that are interested in depth. [Laughs] And I'm not saying that I'm the only [deep] musician at all, but there's not a lot that are given the amount of attention that I'm given.

JR: What other "deep" musicians are on your radar right now?

RW: I'm thinking a lot about, of course, Elliott Smith, because he died. I like Beth Orton as a songwriter, and I'm one of those Radioheads as well.

Originally published in Just Out, Dec. 5, 2003

Monday, August 4, 2014

Higher Learning: Confessions of an angry alumnus

“Be true to your school,” The Beach Boys sang in 1963.

But what if your school isn’t true to you?

I’m referring to my alma mater, Pepperdine University, which made headlines recently for its perceived support of Proposition 8, a hateful effort to overturn the California Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. The well-funded Yes on 8 campaign debuted its first television spot Sept. 29, including a fear-mongering claim that acceptance of same-sex marriage is “mandatory.”

“That changes a lot of things,” Pepperdine law professor Richard Peterson warns in the ad, “people sued over personal beliefs, churches could lose their tax exemptions, gay marriage taught in public schools.”

Progressive Portlanders might be horrified to see an institute of “higher learning” stepping into such a divisive minefield, but Pepperdine isn’t your typical university. For starters, the Malibu, Calif.-based school is affiliated with the Church of Christ, which frowns on dancing and putting women in positions of power.

When I arrived on campus in 1990 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Pepperdine had just recently lifted its ban on campus dances. A couple of years later, the female dean of students was allowed to lead the prayer at a school assembly—one small step for womankind.

Like so many conservatives, Pepperdine also confuses faith with politics. As a student it was hard to tell whether I was at college or at a GOP think tank: Invited speakers included the likes of former Attorney General Ed Meese and Solicitor General Ken Starr, who went on to achieve infamy as the independent counsel who spent $40 million of taxpayer money on a witch hunt to destroy President Bill Clinton. Oh, and guess who’s now on staff shaping the minds of future lawyers? You got it: Law School Dean Kenneth Starr.

So, given that track record, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Pepperdine remains in lockstep with the right-wing agenda by opposing equal rights for all couples. Or does it? After a vocal outcry from alumni who were furious about the Yes on 8 ad, the administration tried to distance itself from the campaign.

“We’d like to stress that the professor does not represent a Pepperdine University-endorsed position, as the university does not advocate for/against political candidates or ballot propositions,” public relations executive director Jerry Derloshon said Oct. 2. “The professor in the ad was not advocating a Pepperdine position, but his own personal position. We have received confirmation that our request to have the reference to Pepperdine University deleted from the ad will be honored…perhaps by today.”

Since that statement was issued, Pepperdine’s name has yet to be removed from the ad. In fact, Peterson shows up again in an even more inflammatory spot that uses the ultimate scare tactic: A little girl comes home from school and excitedly tells Mommy about how she’s going to grow up to marry a “princess.”

“Think it can’t happen? It’s already happened!” Peterson bellows. “When Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, schools began teaching second-graders that boys can marry boys. The courts ruled parents had no right to object.”

The deception tactics already seem to be succeeding. While early polls indicated Prop 8 was behind by as much as 38 percent to 55 percent, the ads are being credited with flipping numbers around: Led by a major shift among young Californians, a CBS survey says that likely voters now favor the measure by a five-point margin, 47 percent to 42 percent.

For a school that boasts “the highest standards of academic excellence and Christian values,” Pepperdine doesn’t seem to place much importance on either. California law already bans bias based on religion and prohibits public schools from teaching students anything about family issues against the will of their parents, so Peterson’s bogus declarations put the entire university’s reputation on the line.

Furthermore, the school isn’t exactly being Christlike by spreading the lie that it knew nothing about the professor’s involvement. According to its student newspaper, The Graphic: “Peterson said he informed School of Law Vice Dean Tim Perrin in advance that he was appearing in the commercial and that he would be associated with Pepperdine. Perrin did not voice any concerns, according to Peterson.”

This isn’t the first time that Pepperdine has underestimated the backlash that comes from homophobia. Way back in 1992, when I was editor of The Graphic, a group of underground gay students approached me to make their presence known. In the middle of the night, they had painted a pink triangle on “The Rock”—the only free-speech zone on campus—but it was immediately covered up by a Bible-banging adversary.

When I called that student for a comment, his blunt reply was shocking: “No way is homosexuality tolerated or should be tolerated. If they want to paint it during the day, I’ll watch over them with my baseball bat.”

The bigot was surely expecting backslaps and high-fives, but my article ended up turning him into a campus pariah, and he eventually transferred to an even more conservative university. It was a tense time—especially for a closeted student like me—but at least it got people talking.

In a follow-up story, I interviewed one sensitive administrator who said a mouthful: “I would hope on a campus like this that we’re able to talk about issues like this in less emotional, less confrontive kind of ways. I suspect that we’ll be talking about those things on campus for a long time.”

Originally published in Just Out, Oct. 17, 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pat Benatar Hits Salem with Her Best Shot

In the early ’80s, Pat Benatar had the Best Rock Vocal Grammy nailed shut.

But in 1992, the National Academy Recording Arts & Sciences couldn’t even find enough female rockers to justify the category, so it was dropped that year. What gives? Are the pickings that slim, or are the voters not looking hard enough?

“There’s a plethora of people out there,” she says. “I don’t know what the hell they were thinking, unless they were looking at commercial success only.”

Benatar, who performs with Steve Miller tonight at the Oregon State Fair, recalls 1978. That’s the year flash-in-the-pan A Taste of Honey's No. 1 disco ditty “Boogie Oogie Oogie” brought Best New Artist accolades over leading eclectic rock singer Elvis Costello.

“They’re historically based on what was popular at the time,” says Benatar, who took home statues for the 1980 album Crimes of Passion, the 1981 single “Fire and Ice,” 1982’s “Shadows of the Night” and 1983’s “Love Is a Battlefield.”

The latter was part of a string of hits including “Invincible (Theme from Legend of Billie Jean)” and “Sex as a Weapon” that became sort of feminist anthems during a rather conservative decade.

“It was very indicative of what was going on those days,” she says. “I always write lyrics from the heart. It was certainly more aggressive then. It’s just not necessary now.”

Becoming a mom hasn’t changed Benatar’s tune any, but it did take her off the road from 1993 to 1995 when she had her second child, Hana, who is now 2.

Benatar, 43, took advantage of a swing through Oklahoma City last week to show older sister Haley, 11, the site of 1995’s federal building bombing, which killed 19 kids.

“It was just horrific,” says Benatar, who cowrote “Hell Is for Children” and “Suffer the Little Children.” “When you have children of your own, it just really hits you so much harder when you realize that your baby is just as old.

“I thought it would be really a good thing to see what violence really brings you. We planted a tree at her school when it happened.”

Heroin abuse in the music industry also seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongues lately, but Benatar isn’t sure why.

“It’s very difficult to tell,” she says. “It’s always been there. It’s always been a problem…. It’s the problem du jour. People get bored. There’s nothing to talk about.”

Benatar and husband/producer/longtime collaborator Neil Giraldo try to improve the industry’s negative image by participating in charitable events like 1985’s Artists United Against Apartheid and staying “pretty outspoken and active.”

“It’s pretty much on a daily basis,” she says. “We choose to do it privately.”

But one opinion Benatar is quite public about is her impression of Chrysalis Records. Even though it was the only label she ever had worked for, parting was sweet relief in 1993.

This summer’s tour gives her a chance to hone material for the coming Innamorata album — slated for an early winter release — while negotiating with a new company.

“Anything will be better. Selling them on the corner would be better,” she says bluntly. “It was a nightmare. The company was sold two or three times while I was there. It was a revolving door. No relationships were ever set up.”

Now that Chrysalis controls Benatar’s old material, Heartbreaker: 16 Classic Performances was released this year without her endorsement.

“They just put ’em out because they can. I had nothing to do with it whatsoever. It makes you wonder how many greatest hits albums one person can have,” says Benatar, whose other collections are 1989’s Best Shots and 1994’s All Fired Up: The Very Best of Pat Benatar.

After recording an acclaimed blues record in 1991, she describes the new tunes as “rootsy,” with plenty of 12-strings, acoustic guitars and fiddles.

“This is a contemporary record,” she says. “We really had such a good time doing it. It’s pretty lyric-heavy. It’s hard to pigeonhole.”

Benatar, who compares performing to “riding a bike,” enjoys summer tours like this one. She probably is one of the only artists on the road who is coordinating the last tour date with her daughter’s first day of school.

“Haley’s been coming with us since she was a baby,” she says. “Two is a handful. They’re veterans now.”

Originally published in Statesman Journal, Aug. 29, 1996

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Not Narrow: She's straight, she's irate, get used to it

Ever since I first saw her in 1994’s Reality Bites, I’ve felt a strong kinship with Janeane Garofalo. Her character, a recent college graduate, was working at The Gap and demonstrating how to use a plastic board to fold a sweater: “People don’t know,” she said dryly. “They don’t know what it takes.”

I’d just graduated from college when that film came out, and that summer I found myself working at Target in Boise, Idaho — using the same damn folding board.

Clearly, Janeane is my soul sister. The 42-year-old former co-host of Air America Radio’s The Majority Report vented with me about the state of the union before hitting the road for a comedy tour.

Jimmy Radosta: Do some people come to your shows unprepared for you to be so outspoken?

Janeane Garofalo:
During the buildup to the illegal invasion and occupation, there would be pockets who were of course the people that believed the nonsense that the administration was shoveling, and so they would be offended. There would be walkouts and heckling.

That personality type is as confusing to me as people who abuse animals. You kind of wonder what makes them tick, like when you watch Animal Cops on Animal Planet and you see that someone has thrown a puppy in a trunk and left it there. I feel the same way about a right-winger: I don’t get it, I don’t understand what makes them tick, I don’t know what happened to them as children that caused them to turn out that way.

Some Democratic politician [state Sen. Bob Hagan of Ohio] half-jokingly said that it shouldn’t be gay people who should be banned from adopting but conservatives and Republicans…because you don’t want to put them in that environment. I concur with that sentiment.

JR: Speaking of gay family matters, do you feel like same-sex marriage scared enough voters to swing the 2004 election in Bush’s favor?

First of all, it is my belief that not only was the 2000 election stolen when Antonin Scalia installed George Bush as president, I believe John Kerry won the 2004 election. If you read the Conyers report and other studies done to investigate the voter fraud, the electronic touch-screen voting problems, if you look at the documentary Hacking Democracy, there’s no evidence to support George Bush won that election, either.

I would say that the gay issues that the so-called conservatives put out there — it’s just embarrassing. It doesn’t scare anyone off who is reasonable. It’s a flash-point topic used to corral the dumb and the mean into voting.

JR: Are we at least making some progress with the recent scandals involving Ted Haggard and Ann Coulter?

Don’t forget Jeff Gannon/Duckert and Cpl. [Matt] Sanchez at the [Conservative Political Action Conference] recently — the gay porn star who Sean Hannity says is “a great American.” CPAC is about as close to a white supremacist rally as you’re gonna get.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Anybody who is a vehement anti-gay activist is usually a closet queen. They have that Roy Cohn quality of the self-hating gay or the attack queer or whatever you want to call it.

Reasonable people can always see through televangelists, right-wing bullies, people like Ann Coulter. Ann Coulter is just a performing clown.

Then there’s some people who Malcolm Gladwell would call “late adopters” who see through it eventually.

And then there’s people who will never see through it, because that’s who they are. There will always be a segment of the population, because of their personality shortcomings, who will embrace gay-bashing and internment camps and gulags.

JR: Are you going to continue acting?

Yes, I like to do both. I just did a pilot for a TV series for next season…about lawyers. It’s a one-hour dramedy from the people who are involved with Numb3rs and Law & Order starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar [Saved by the Bell, NYPD Blue].

JR: Are you going to return to radio?

I actually only do the radio show intermittently. Sam Seder still has the show…and it’s moved to the morning. I could not move to a morning slot. No way, José. After Sam had his baby, he and his wife agreed that he needs to move to the morning show so that he could be home at night. I was like: “You know what, Sam? Good luck to you.” I can’t be in an office at 5:30 a.m. five days a week. I’m not cut out for it.

Originally published in Just Out, March 16, 2007

’Tis the Sleazon: John Waters decks the halls with boughs of trash

John Waters has a busy month ahead — holiday headaches notwithstanding.

American Movie Classics is spotlighting the filmmaker's 1972 cult hit Pink Flamingos on Dec. 30 on Movies That Shook the World.

California's Orange County Museum of Art is displaying Change of Life, an exhibit of his photographs, sculptures and "little movies," which reduce a whole film to a single still.

The Treatment Action Group is honoring him on Dec. 11 in New York City for his AIDS activism.

And he'll be in town on Dec. 16 to celebrate A John Waters Christmas, a compilation of campy holiday tunes like Roger Christian's "Little Mary Christmas," a politically incorrect tale of a crippled orphan who doesn't get adopted on Christmas morning, and "Happy Birthday Jesus," which Waters suspects was recorded at a tiny studio in the South with a stage mother hovering over a young girl wearing a torn party dress. You have to hear it to believe it.

Jimmy Radosta: What do you think of Portland?

John Waters: Oh, it's great. It reminds me of Baltimore in a lot of ways, only you have better book shops — and more famous directors living there.

JR: What's the plan for this show?

I'm going to be talking about my obsession with Christmas — and about Christmas crime and Christmas fashion and Christmas presents and Christmas cards and what you should do with your family and how you deal with depression at Christmas or how you handle all the insanity at this time of year.

JR: I love the Christmas compilation. I've got you sandwiched right between Crystal and Muddy Waters, which somehow seems appropriate.

JW: Oh, good! Well, I think Brenda Lee has the best all-time Christmas record. I could never top her, so I wanted to come in second…. None of these [songs] were made to be ironic. They were done fairly seriously.

JR: Do you find that it's a lot harder today to find musicians who are unaware of their cheese factor? Now we've just got people like Clay Aiken.

JW: Yeah, but even they're aware of it. Basically because of cable and the Internet, everybody's aware of everything. There are no pockets of the country left that aren't plugged in, really.

At the end of Pecker, the last line was "To the end of irony!" I remember when 9/11 happened, all the editorials said, "The end of irony" or something. I thought: "Wait a minute! I said that like two years ago. It didn't take 9/11 to figure that out."

JR: You're about to be honored for your AIDS activism alongside a state senator and a Cornell professor. Did you ever think there would come a day?

JW: I guess if you stick around long enough and they can't get rid of you, then they've gotta honor you. I'm certainly flattered that they're doing it.

Sometimes it's weird. When I was at the Kennedy Center when Hairspray opened [on Broadway] with the Bush Washington crowd and I stood up and I got a standing ovation, [a friend] whispered to me, "If these people knew you, they would hate you!"

JR: Speaking of politics, what are your thoughts on same-sex marriage?

JW: I'm for it. I personally have no desire to get married. That's for straight gay people. I'm not one of ’em. I wanna invest in gay divorce and tattoo removal, the growth industries of the next decade.

JR: An upcoming documentary on AMC credits Pink Flamingos for inspiring the punk movement, Jackass and Fear Factor. How do you feel about that?

JW: Certainly…Pink Flamingos was a punk movie. We just didn't know there was a term. I mean, the audience looked like hippies, but they were angry hippies.

Jackass — I'm a huge fan of that. Johnny Knoxville was the star of my last movie [A Dirty Shame].

Fear Factor — I've never seen it, but I get the comparison. I mean, eating shit is basically the kind of thing they do on that show, right? Except without the good outfits!

JR: What are your future projects?

JW: I'm working on a big show that I'm having at [New York City's] Marianne Boesky Gallery in late April called Unwatchable. I have a new TV show that comes out Feb. 3 on the Here network called John Waters Presents Movies That Will Corrupt You. And I am a regular on a Court TV pilot that we hope will be ordered up called ’Til Death Do Us Part that is based on true crimes, but acted out with actors, about a bride or a groom that kills one another. Each episode begins with their wedding, and I'm the "Groom Reaper," the time traveler that knows they're gonna kill each other and tells the audience.

Originally published in Just Out, Dec. 2, 2005

My New Grandma: Bea Arthur reminisces about the 'Golden' age of television

She's not a tough broad, but she plays one on TV.

Bea Arthur cemented her status as a gay icon with ball-busting roles on Maude and The Golden Girls, each of which earned her an Emmy Award. Rufus Wainwright even dropped a reference to "my new grandma Bea Arthur" in his 2001 song "California."

Today, the 82-year-old enjoys a quiet life of cooking, reading and hanging out with her dog, a Doberman named Emma. She also occasionally performs a one-woman show featuring a few lowbrow stories from her 50 years in the business mixed with her favorite songs.

I bonded with the Tony Award winner (for 1966's Mame, opposite Angela Lansbury) in advance of an upcoming gig in Salem.

Jimmy Radosta: Do you have any theories on why gay fans connect with you so strongly?

Bea Arthur: In every show that I've done on television — certainly in the sitcoms — we always fought injustice. My God, what the gay community has been suffering all these years is injustice!

Of course, there's something else, which has to do with being bigger than life. It's like opera — you know what I mean? I sort of have a feeling that Judy is looking down and saying, "Go, girl!"

JR: Are you surprised by the revived popularity of The Golden Girls now that it's available on DVD?

BA: It's still on television every 15 minutes all over the world! It's incredible. You know, we started it in ’85 — that's 20 years ago — and it's still on every day on Lifetime. I am very surprised. I really don't understand it. It's a cult hit.

JR: The Golden Girls and particularly Maude tackled so many controversial topics — homophobia, anti-Semitism, abortion. Were you aware at the time how significant and groundbreaking this was?

BA: Absolutely not. First of all, television was not that old at the time, and it's only looking back on it that I realize what we did. Abortion was never discussed, let alone used as a plot. I think it's wonderful that we brought a lot of issues to the viewing public for the very first time in the context of the half-hour comedy.

JR: Did any of the pressure that came as a result of the 1972 abortion storyline affect you?

BA: I tell you, looking back on it now, the network probably tried to protect me. I did get a lot of mail, but I can't say that it was really hate mail. It was from people who genuinely feel that abortion is wrong. It was an eye-opener for me, because prior to that, I had never had an abortion, but it seemed to be a fact of life that any girl who got in trouble got an abortion. I never thought about it one way or another.

JR: Are you politically active, or do you keep those opinions to yourself?

BA: That's the difference between me and the character of Maude. Norman Lear…was married to a militant feminist, and so he wrote the character of Maude based on Frances.

I have never been involved politically. I mean, I like to make damn sure I investigate things so that I know who to vote for and not to vote for, but I don't get that emotional about it. If you see me with petitions, it has to do with animal rights and the rights of foster children.

JR: What should people expect from your one-woman show?

BA: Ninety minutes of terrific theater. It's an entertainment — that's all it is. It's not totally autobiographical. There's a lot of terrific music, and I talk about things that have happened to me. I even tell a joke. It's like being in my living room.

JR: How long have you known the show's musical director, Billy Goldenberg?

BA: I've known Billy since 1980. That's how the whole thing started. Marilyn and Alan Bergman were being honored by the American Civil Liberties Union…and they got all their favorite performers to perform their favorite songs. Since they're just lyricists, they also got the composers of each of these to conduct. Billy had written Queen of the Stardust Ballroom with them, and I did three of the numbers from the show. We've been joined at the hip ever since.

JR: What's it like being a cultural icon?

BA: [Audiences] feel like I'm their friend because I'm in their living room every five minutes. When I come out at the beginning of my show, it's so nice because it's such a warm feeling. These people want to like me, because they already know me. Maybe some of them think I'm very assertive or whatever because of the characters that I've played, but that never bothers me.

Originally published in Just Out, Oct. 7, 2005

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Imagine That: Yoko Ono visualizes world peace

Q: Name a gender-bending Beatles tune.

A: "Get Back" ("Sweet Loretta Martin thought she was a woman / But she was another man"), "Polythene Pam" ("She's so good-looking but she looks like a man / Well you should see her in drag dressed in her polythene bag"), "I Am the Walrus" ("Boy, you been a naughty girl / You let your knickers down") and "Lovely Rita" ("The bag across her shoulder / Made her look a little like a military man").

We also would've accepted "The Ballad of John and Yoko," which features the lyrics, "The newspapers said she's gone to his head / They look just like two gurus in drag."

• • •

It turns out Yoko Ono is pretty queer-savvy for a 71-year-old. Sure, she was tight with Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg and Keith Haring, but she's become quite the LGBT ally in her golden years.

Last year Yoko and Yo La Tengo collaborated on the rousing "Hedwing's Lament/Exquisite Corpse" for the Portland-produced charity album Wig in a Box. And last month she reached the top of the dance charts with a same-sex version of 1980's "Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him."

"Suddenly, the [Bush] administration started saying that they're going to change the Constitution?" Yoko told me from her New York office. "They thought that would be very hot to put it in there, so that people had to deal with that instead of any other issue. It's a good political move, but it was used for that, in a way. It's really a human rights issue, so then I had to stand up — I felt that I really had to."

As if that's not enough reason to win our hearts, she recently updated "Give Peace a Chance" for Wake Up Everybody, a compilation to benefit America Coming Together. Could it be that, more than four decades into her career, one of pop culture's most misunderstood artists is finally getting her due?

"It was funny because when I made 'Walking on Thin Ice' and I just finished the track, John said, 'It's your first No. 1, Yoko.' I thought afterwards, 'Well, you were wrong,'" she said. "We were both knd of people who saw the future."

That's an understatement. I told her how I've been obsessing over John Lennon's 1984 prophecy "Nobody Told Me" since the "re-election" of President Bush. ("There's UFOs over New York / And I ain't too surprised.") But even spookier is the single's flip side, "O'Sanity," where Yoko sings, "I don't know what do do with my sanity / When the world's at the verge of calamity." I wondered if she still feels this sense of looming doom.

"Yeah," she said bluntly. "But I think we can still hack it. I think we can move it and survive."

But how, Yoko?

"Visualizing — that creates reality. This is an age where it's very difficult to focus on something because there's so many gadgets around out there, but we just have to, even if it's just for two seconds a day. Just focusing on that — that we are going to be all right, and we are going to survive, and we're going to have world peace. It's going to be a beautiful world….

"Ninety percent of the world is really wanting world peace, and they're peaceful people. Only 10 percent is messing up the whole place with their violence and loud mouths and all that."

Pretty positive perspective coming just six days after the 24th anniversary of her husband's assassination. I didn't want to pry, but I gently asked if Dec. 8 continues to be a difficult day for her.

"It was getting OK, and then this year it was very difficult for some reason," she said. "I'm just being my best every day, being alive, searching inside of my soul more than searching outside."

• • •

We never did get around to talking about "The Ballad of John and Yoko," but as a man from the press, I'd like to borrow a line from the 1969 classic: "It's good to have the both of you back."

Happy Xmas, Yoko.

Originally published in Just Out, Dec. 17, 2004