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

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