Although her relationship with John Lennon is often paramount in the rock world's esteem of her, Yoko Ono remains a pivotal figure in the evolution of conceptual art, challenging perceptions with avant-garde and experimental installations, music, fashion and more. For decades, Ono has also been a champion of peace and understanding, and a tireless activist: from the "Bed-ins for Peace" with husband John Lennon in 1969 that ultimately beget "Give Peace a Chance" to creating Artists Against Fracking in 2012 with her son, Sean Lennon, to protest the controversial drilling method.
On her 81st birthday, Yoko Ono opens up on her relationship with Paul McCartney, recording with members of the Beastie Boys, writing about and with her son Sean Lennon and celebrating her late husband's legacy.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist back in 1994. Paul McCartney inducted him and read a letter to him, and you accepted the award. What was that like?
Yoko Ono: It was good, but it was a long time ago. I was very, very happy that John was inducted, and it was very sweet of Paul to have done that.
RRHOF: You and Paul seem to have mended your relationship.
YO: People think that we are always fighting, that we are always in the boxing ring. But that’s not the case. That’s the kind of fairy tale that people like to think about.
RRHOF: But it does seem like he has become much more apologetic toward you….
YO: Yes, and that’s very sweet of him.
RRHOF: You recently released a new album, Take Me to the Land of Hell, and there are a lot of well-known artists on it, like Questlove, Mike D. and Adam Horovitz from the Beastie Boys, Nels Cline from Wilco and Lenny Kravitz. What was it like making the album?
YO: I wasn’t focused on collecting well-known artists for the recording sessions. Those people are all friends of mine. But it was great recording the album.
RRHOF: One of the tracks is “Little Boy Blue (Your Daddy’s Gone).” I assume that was about John and Sean.
YO: Yes, I dedicated that song to Sean.
RRHOF: Sean is in the Plastic Ono Band now, along with Nels Cline, Yuka Honda and Yuko Araki from Cibo Matto. Tell me more about the band.
YO: Nels Cline is incredible. He’s a very, very talented guy. And he and Yuka are married now, and they are an incredible couple. And she’s very talented, too.
RRHOF: Do you have any plans to tour with the Plastic Ono Band?
YO: There are some shows coming, but I can’t really talk about it. But we have played some shows here and there. I would love to have some shows around my birthday, and it’s coming very soon, in February. People keep saying, “She’s 80, and we have to celebrate that.” But [I'm] 81!
RRHOF: You’ve had 10 Number One dance hits, including “Hold Me.” What has that been like?
YO: Oh, the dance thing is incredible. I’m just shocked. I never thought that I would have so much success in that world.
YO: I just said that I would do it, sort of like in a dream. I just couldn’t believe it…. Why did I say yes? But it turned out very well, and it was good. Actually, they asked me to put the festival together the previous year, in 2012. And then I could not do it, and they said I would have to do it this year. So I said, “Okay.” The way I did it was very different from other Meltdown Fests. I almost turned it into a feminist meeting. Many incredible women did it for me. It was just a fantastic lineup of women. When it was over, I was very happy with the way it turned out.
RRHOF: Sean is 38 years old now. What has it been like working with him?
YO: Well, I was nervous about it. I didn’t think we could make it, and people advised me not to do it. But you know how I am – I just do what I want to do. It has worked out very well. I would not have missed the chance of doing something with my son.
RRHOF: Let’s talk about the Hall of Fame exhibits we have put together. We did John Lennon: His Life and Work back in 2000. What are your impressions of the Hall of Fame?
YO: That exhibit in 2000 was big, it was grand! It was really incredible. I think the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is really wonderful. Many people go to Cleveland just to see it, and they have never been to Cleveland before. It opened up Cleveland.
RRHOF: You light the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland every year on John’s birthday. Tell me about that.
YO: It’s quite a show, and people love it. They come to Iceland every year for it, and Iceland was not a place where people would normally go to. Now it’s the place to go on October 9. Next year is going to be bigger, because every other year I give out Grants for Peace. Those are for people who work for world peace, and I give them some money and an award. So I will be doing that in 2014.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's collection is home to a number of items belonging to John Lennon, including the 1964 Gibson J 160E played by John Lennon during the "Bed-ins" with Yoko Ono. Plan your visit today.