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Yoko Ono

Few women in the history of rock & roll have stirred as much controversy as Yoko Ono. Although her romance with John Lennon was hardly the only factor straining the relationships between the individual Beatles, she made a convenient scapegoat for the group's breakup, and was repeatedly raked over the coals in the media for the influence she held over Lennon, both in his life and his music. Ono's own work as an artist and musician didn't mitigate the public's enmity toward her; to the average man on the street, her avant-garde conceptual art seemed bizarre and ridiculous, and her highly experimental rock & roll (which often spotlighted her primal vocals) was simply too abrasive to tolerate. That view wasn't necessarily universal (or true), and in fact the merits of her work are still hotly debated. Regardless of individual opinion, Ono has left a lasting legacy; she was an undeniably seminal figure in the history of performance art, and elements of her music prefigured the arty sides of punk and new wave (whether she was a direct influence is still debated, although the B-52's did admit to drawing from her early records). Moreover, between Lennon's assassination and the myriad drubbings she's taken in the press and the court of public opinion, an alternate portrait of Ono as a strong, uncompromising survivor has emerged in more recent years.

Although her link with John Lennon will always be foremost in the public's mind, Ono's own life story is fascinating in its own right. She was born February 18, 1933, into a wealthy Japanese family in Tokyo. Her childhood was somewhat lonely and isolated; her father, a banker and onetime classical pianist, was transferred to San Francisco a few weeks before she was born, and her socialite mother was often busy throwing elaborate parties. She didn't meet her father until age two, when the whole family moved to San Francisco. However, they returned to Tokyo three years later to avoid the anti-Japanese backlash that was beginning in the United States in response to Japan's growing military expansionism. Ono was educated at the Gakushuin School, the most exclusive private school in Japan (the Emperor's sons were her classmates). She began classical piano lessons at a very young age, and later received vocal training in opera. In 1945, her mother took the family to the countryside to escape Tokyo, in time to survive the massive Allied bombing of the city; however, rich city dwellers were unwelcome, and the Ono children were often forced to beg for food.

After the war, Ono's father transferred to New York, and she moved to the U.S. in 1952, where she studied music at Sarah Lawrence College. During this time, Ono became enamored of classical avant-gardists like Schoenberg, Webern, and especially Cage. She also began dating Juilliard student Toshi Ichiyanagi, who shared her interests and became her husband (over her family's objections) in 1956. The couple moved to Manhattan, and Ono made ends meet by teaching Japanese art and music in the public school system, among other sporadic jobs (she'd rejected her parents' wealth and the attendant lifestyle). The couple's Chambers Street loft soon became a hot spot in the nascent downtown New York art scene; Ono frequently staged "happenings" (sometimes in partnership with minimalist composer LaMonte Young) that featured music, poetry, and other performance, and John Cage used the loft space to teach classes in experimental composition. During this period, Ono's art was largely conceptual, sometimes existing only in theory or imagination; she created a series of instructional pieces suggesting nonsensical activities, which were later published in book form as Grapefruit in 1964. Her first solo show was at George Maciunas' gallery in mid-1961, but the same year, Ichiyanagi and Ono separated, with the former returning to Japan. That November, Ono performed at the Carnegie Recital Hall (not the main hall), an event that featured a miked-up toilet flushing at various points throughout the show. It received negative reviews, however. With her parents' encouragement, Ono returned to Japan in March 1962, seeking a resolution to her marriage.

Once in Japan, Ono became lonely and depressed; not only was her marriage effectively over, but she received more negative reviews for her performances in conjunction with John Cage. After an overdose of pills, she was committed to a mental institution and kept under extremely heavy sedation. Fortunately, she was rescued by Anthony Cox, a jazz musician, film producer, and friend of LaMonte Young's who had traveled to Japan hoping to study calligraphy with her. Cox threatened to publicize the callous treatment Ono had received at the institution (her sedative dosage was abnormally high), and secured her release; the two became romantically involved, and when Ono became pregnant, she made her divorce from Ichiyanagi official and married Cox. Their daughter Kyoko was born in 1963, but Cox's sometime volatility put a strain on the relationship, and they separated in 1964. Cox returned to New York, and Ono followed a few months later, after which the couple reconciled.

Once back in New York, Ono resumed her art career to considerable attention from the avant-garde community; by this time, George Maciunas had become the leader of an art movement dubbed Fluxus, whose philosophies were compatible with (and even influenced by) Ono's, prizing abstraction and audience interaction. Ono performed at the Carnegie Recital Hall for a second time in early 1965, and debuted her seminal "Cut Piece," in which audience members were invited to cut off pieces of her clothing with scissors. In September 1966, she traveled to England for an art symposium, and "Cut Piece" helped make her a sensation in the London art world. In November, she got her own exhibition at the famed Indica Gallery, which was ardently patronized by John Lennon. Lennon was impressed by her work, particularly a piece where the viewer was required to climb a ladder and hold up a magnifying glass to read a small inscription on the ceiling that said "Yes!" The two read each other's writings, and Lennon financed an exhibition in which Ono painted various everyday objects white and cut them in half. In the meantime, Ono and Cox had begun making experimental films, usually centered on the repetition of simple movements; their fourth effort, Bottoms, consisted of 365 close-ups of nude buttocks (the idea was to fill the screen with motion when the subjects walked). British film censors were scandalized, and Ono became an even more notorious public figure with "Wrapping Event," in which she wrapped the lion statues beneath Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square with white cloth and tied herself to one. She also sang in concert with pioneering free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman at the Royal Albert Hall. The avant-garde was becoming increasingly suspicious of her visibility, which only intensified when Ono and Lennon began having an affair that spring.

Fans of Lennon the pop musician couldn't understand what he saw in Ono, but it's important to know that Lennon was an art student prior to falling in love with rock & roll, and had long harbored an interest in avant-garde art. The difficulty with understanding Ono's art was that its impact came largely from her ideas; from putting new contextual frames around everyday objects, or asking her audience to complete an experience with their own imaginations. For example, most of Ono's pieces were white, so that the audience could imagine their own colors (or, in the case of her all-white chess set Play It by Trust, to create ambiguity); even her so-called Blue Room was all-white (viewers were supposed to stay in the room until it turned blue). Her first musical composition, 1955's "Secret Piece," existed only in her mind (she was unable to transcribe the notes of a bird song effectively), and, in 1968, she announced a 13-day dance festival that would take place entirely in the imaginations of anyone who participated. In 1971, she took things a step further by presenting an imaginary art exhibit at New York's Museum of Modern Art, and filmed the spectators as the real works of art. As an artist, Ono dealt in concepts, not craft (i.e., practiced, developed technique and training in a specific medium). Her work wasn't what most people recognized as art, which was why many Beatles fans dismissed her as a talentless charlatan. Lennon, on the other hand, saw someone who could help him find a new direction.

Lennon and Ono's first musical collaboration was on the highly experimental Unfinished Music, No. 1: Two Virgins, which was recorded around the beginning of their affair and released toward the end of 1968. None of Lennon's fans knew what to make of any aspect of the album; not the odd snippets of noise, faint dialogue, and sounds from the immediate environment, and not the fully nude photographs of the couple on the record jacket, taken from the front and rear. They were further dismayed with Lennon's participation in Ono's bizarre public events, such as appearing together in black plastic bags as a statement about judging by appearances. (Ono herself long suspected that fans' hostility was due to their discomfort seeing Lennon with a woman who was not only strong-willed, but of a different race.) After Ono's divorce from Cox, the couple married in Gibraltar on March 20, 1969, and took advantage of the publicity surrounding their honeymoon to hold "Bed-Ins for Peace" in Amsterdam and Montreal (the latter of which produced the single "Give Peace a Chance"). Cox was later able to gain custody of Kyoko, pointing to Lennon and Ono's drug intake, and disappeared with the child, whom Ono would not see again for 25 years.

The second Lennon/Ono album, Unfinished Music, No. 2: Life with the Lions, was released not long after their wedding; it spotlighted Ono's cathartic, wailing vocal improvisations, as well as addressing her first of several miscarriages. It was quickly followed by The Wedding Album, one side of which featured more Ono improv, the other of which consisted of nothing but the couple calling each other's names. Over the next few years, Lennon and Ono continued their peace activism, and entered primal-scream therapy with Dr. Arthur Janov, which began to inform both of their individual careers. In 1970, they each recorded an album backed by the Plastic Ono Band; predictably, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band was the less structured, more avant-garde of the two. Ono followed it in 1971 with the double-LP Fly, which featured more conventionally structured songs as well as her typical experimentalism. In 1972 the Lennon/Ono protest-song album Sometime in New York City was released, and was roasted for the simplicity of its sentiments. Ono returned in 1973 with two of her strongest solo statements, the brutally intense, explicitly feminist Feeling the Space and the more varied Approximately Infinite Universe, both of which featured less musical involvement from Lennon. Perhaps that was symptomatic of the problems the couple had been having; they split up for a year and a half toward the end of 1973, exhausted from their constant time together and their battles with U.S. immigration over Lennon's threatened deportation. Ono recorded a more accessible album, A Story, in 1974, but it was shelved and remained unavailable until 1997.

The couple got back together in early 1975, and Ono was finally able to bear a child, Sean Taro Ono Lennon, who was born on John's birthday, October 9. Lennon dropped out of show business for several years to raise his son and effectively become a househusband, while Ono took charge of his business affairs. Although she contributed some of her most accessible songs to his 1980 comeback album, Double Fantasy, she did not return to solo recording until after Lennon's assassination on December 8, 1980. The harrowing, grief-stricken Season of Glass was released the following year to highly complimentary reviews. Ono followed it in 1982 with the more hopeful, pop-oriented It's Alright (I See Rainbows), and had a minor success with the single "Never Say Goodbye." Released in 1985, Starpeace continued that optimistic trend, and teamed Ono with producer Bill Laswell and other downtown New York scenesters, but failed to connect as her previous two efforts had.

Ono gradually returned to visual art, creating installations and also exploring photography. Interest in her previous work led to several retrospectives over the course of the '90s, and in 1992 Rykodisc reissued her complete back catalog on CD, as well as the six-CD box set retrospective Onobox. In 1995, she recorded a new album for Capitol called Rising, which featured son Sean and recalled the harsh experimentalism of her early recordings. The same year, her musical play New York Rock debuted off-Broadway. In 2001 another new album, Blueprint for a Sunrise, arrived, updating the feminist tone of Feeling the Space while being somewhat more accessible. V2 reissued several of her albums once again in early 2007. Also during that year, she issued Yes, I'm a Witch. For this album, she assembled a number of previously released tracks and collaborated with artists such as Cat Power, the Flaming Lips, DJ Spooky, Jason Pierce, and many others. In 2009, Ono re-formed the Plastic Ono Band with Sean and added collaborators such as Yuka Honda from Cibo Matto and members of Cornelius; she released the album Between My Head and the Sky on Sean's Chimera imprint. Take Me to the Land of Hell, which featured production by Lennon as well as cameos by tUnE-yArDs, ?uestlove, and the Beastie Boys' Ad-Rock and Mike D, was released in 2013 to coincide with Ono's 80th birthday. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

it's too bad the hip-hop commandment hadn't yet been written: 'bro's b4 ho's'
I've heard she has a dynamite personality and a terrific sense of humor,whichp a r t i a l l y explains John's attraction.. . a l s o she's very creative and freof restrictive traditionlis m , i m a g i n e meeting a woman like that after growing up in British society. no wonder she blew his mind!
proof that not only is love blind, it's deaf as well
She ruined the Beatles ..... Hate her and her music
Is it as bad as everybody says❓
Before.
Never listen to her music.
jajuanme2002 7
I don't like her that much either but seriously give her a break... I'm sure she has gotten very hurt about everybody being haters -.-
Mama Cass a similar artist?? On what planet? Love the way these biographer's neglect to mention that Lennon was married when he met Yoko and had a family before her. Yoko set her sights on Paul originally and he blew her off, according to interviews. I just don't see any artisitic value in what she offers.
christianloo n e 1 2
Her album Yes I am a witch, explains a lot. Also Lennon was to wacked out of his head on drugs to know what he was doing, like one video I saw on YouTube, I thought she was sh*ting a cow, and Lennon was swinging a guitar in front of an amp, u scare me Yoko
Love her. She is very talented. People forget that Lennon was the one that went to her art showings in England and found her intriguing and a talented person. Enough that he cont to see her. So if she was he's choose for a companion in this crazy world who is anybody to say it wasnt ment to be. And really people. She had nothing to do with the Beatles breakup. It was something that was fortold already. It happends all the time. When you have two musicle geniuses like Paul n John in the same r
tw.stockton
Probably my least favorite artist in the world. I heard We're all water and I nearly had a heart attack when she started screaming. I mean, really? She did enough damage to music by breaking up The Beatles!
Nooooooooooo o o o o o o o o o o no Yoko. Ever ! She is talentless and only was allowed to record because of who her husband was. Kind of like the Hillary Clinton of music
My girlfriend Yoko Ono'd my band!
alexrocks21
WARNING: Do not listen to this artist while polishing or using fine crystal glassware. It will be broken.

Garbage. I came to Yoko's page here cus it referenced her in an artist bio of a song that was playing and it occurred to me I hadn't really heard her (or at least remembered) to know what was so bad. Well now I know what's do bad, and I wished I'd never heard it.
If you guys hate her so much...then why even look her up or bother to listen to her? BTW I love Yoko and I`m a Beatlemaniac ( :
Yoko Ono isn't my favorite singer, her music doesn't appeal to me, but c'mon give the poor woman a rest! Was she strange? Yes. Did she think outside the box? Absolutely. But so was John. That's what made him so iconic. Give peace a chance ✌

Rest in Peace John, this world isn't the same without you.

the.sixsmith . r e p o r t
Why is this entire entry supposedly on Yoko Ono actually all about John Lennon?
looking for sista face
who wants a coment
I don't even know...
anyway love ya john
onegoldengir l
I'll pass, but (no) thanks.
I have loved her since I first saw her. Problem is a lot of people have no imganation.. . . I am 55 years old and have always gotten Yoko guess John Lennon did too....I am amazed at some of the extremely cruel things said here about her....attac k i n g her in such a personal way!!! Would you do that to a human being you know??? She does have feelings and is a real person...if you don't like her thats fine! But for the love of God don't be cruel and mean!!!!!!
owwwwwwwwww. . . . h e r singing is like finger nails on a chalkboard
Yoko Ono is a very talented musician. She chooses to use a traditional Japanese style of music. Most people judge her works based on a very short, superficial listening. Not only is she not tone deaf, she has perfect pitch. I have enjoyed her music since I started listening to it about thirty years ago.
I agree with psychicjunki e b y - p r o x y .
@Unkl Charles, is your artwork any better? That pic you have is revolting, your major I guess isn't photography. What is? Eating? Disgusting.
kirsch27
Yoko is a complete nutjob, regardless if she was responsible for The Beatles breaking up. How the hell is painting things all white and telling them to imagine it as something beautiful art? It's not. It's a nut-job who has no skills or talents who thought one day "Hey, maybe some idiots will pay me to do this ridiculous crap and call it art". Her 'book' Grapefruit is complete gibberish, things like imagining a thousand suns and eating a tuna sandwich. She's even worse than that moron Warhol.
You are right Sweet...she got the blame for something that was going to happen, no matter what. All what was needed was the excuse or reason to call it quits. She got the bum rap there. She is guilty on the other hand of being tone deaf and having a voice worse than mine when I'm in the shower trying to sing.
@Dayna G:
You're ignorant. Your grammar and spelling are on-par with a 3rd grade child. Grow up and embrace diversity, or find yourself paralyzed in a world which - for the most part - does.
It Is, Its better at the DIA Then Online
I'll have to go online & check out Yoko's artwork. The picture mentioned by Dayna sounds very . . . intriguing.
Yes she IS very strange & unusual. I still don't believe she broke up the Beatles & everyone can kiss my arse for denying it. Obviously some people didn't read my message from 12.15.09. Let's go by the facts, folks, not prejudice.
Yoko Ono In my Opion is VERY WEIRD AND KINDA STUDIP! She tollay Broke the beatles up and anyone who Denis it isn't a True Beatles fan or Follower. The beatles were awesome before she came and it should have stayed way

Have any of u been to the DIA? There is a Picture or "Artwork" By Yoko Ono Lennon its a BUNCH OF pictures of SOMEELESE"S Butt! VERY DISDURTBING


Imagine Peace
Rocky Horror Picture Show?? That's zero relationship between A and B. Pandora, I'm free for hire.
That being said, I'm not a fan of all of Yoko's work (art or music), but I give her props for being unique & avante-gard, not easy things to be.
Oh, yes, let's blame women for EVERYTHING up to & including men's stupidity. You know, it doesn't say much for guys if they let a woman interfer with or "break up" a band. John & Paul were already at odds with the direction they wanted the band to go & Paul put the blame on Yoko because he & John were no longer agreeing on the music.
I Never listened to your music but i Know you were married to john Lennon And... Give Peace a chance!
I think she is super cool and that she loves all the cool people in the world and never has hurt the beatles, she still is rocking and rolling peace and love forever.
ifoizen
Let's face it people. Lennon was a no talent hack. Yoko was the only thing he had going for him.
Who in the hell gave her a microphone! My god! And yes she broke up the beatles. Every women does. I've been in plenty of bands, and everytime there is a women involed the band breaks up.
A lot of people make the wrong assumption with Yoko. There are two sides to every story. I don't think she's money hungry at all. She was already a successful artist before she met John so it's not like she's cashing in on his popularity & success. Julian has had issues with Yoko for as far back as I can recall so I'd take what he says with a grain of salt. I think its sad that she's had such a lonely life & not much success in the love department.
What could be worse waking up next to Yoko Ono or replaying the tape of her ............ . . . . good nite NYNY - her voice is like two cats clawing each other - nails on a blackboard. Urgh.. the smell of her breathe after a bad taco, mmmm now I truely believe she does wear boxers.
don1983
Very sad indeed, money hungry person. Hawking Lennon's likeness and music,
all for a buck. My favorite quote is when she claims, when she met John "she had no idea who he was". Right. Sure. God, if only Chapman had bad aim.
I just watched an interview with Julian Lennon, who related how Yoko auctioned off most of John's possessions after his death and took the money. Julian ended up buying what he could with the money he had inherited--k i n d of a lame thing for her to do. Maybe people were right about her.
John what where you thinking? What a shame - she was the death of John
Just cause you dont understand her music does not mean she sucks.
The whole avant-garde thing has always been a joke. A college roommate of John Cage said he would come home every night after a performance and roll on the floor laughing at the people who had taken him seriously. Be honest with yourself--if you really like something then enjoy it, but don't pretend to understand something just so you can call others "small-minde d " . I personally don't get Yoko, but I feel bad for all the horrible things people say about her. Drugs killed the Beatles, not Yoko.
legel2
From my perspective,
she is as beautiful and unique as Mr. Lennon. Unfortunatel y , perspective does not = reality (for anyone).

So she endures your delusion.
horrid horrid horrrid horrrrid

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