A Stepping Stone for the Future

Yoko Ono interviewed by Justin Fowler

Born in 1933, Yoko Ono has engaged with some of the most tragic and inspiring events of the 20th century – from the firebombing of Tokyo during Second World War and the death of her late husband, John Lennon, to her involvement with Fluxus and the ‘Bed-In for Peace’. Despite, or perhaps because of, her storied past, Ono refuses to weigh herself down with the burdens of legacy and pushes forward with greater ambition than before. Here, she speaks to the need for perpetual renewal and collective leadership in an age where time itself is becoming less of an obstacle.


Justin Fowler: The Baby Boomers that drove the counterculture movement are now beginning to hit age 65. Having served as a key role model for that movement, do you feel compelled to continue to lead by example?

Yoko Ono: I’m just being myself; doing things I think are still needed. I have always believed in mass leadership, which will work as a powerful force to bring a healthy future to the planet and beyond. The existence of a single leader always stops people from making their own judgments
and actions. It is totally counterproductive for activists to believe in the existence of a leader/leaders. We had many daddy figures we believed in. You can assassinate a leader, but it’s hard to assassinate two billion
people. It’s time for each one of us to take responsibility and to be the one to do the right thing, together. And we will. It is the only way. And it will be a powerful ending to the second dark ages we are experiencing now.

JF: Can new social movements gain traction while the memory of the counterculture era remains alluring? Does the past overshadow the future?

YO: Any thought of looking back is ‘entertainment’. We are now living in the age where we are entertained to death. Now the entertainment department realizes that the gods of entertainment today are starting to
get boring. Bringing back the past gods will be a great addition to what we love: more entertainment. When are we going to lift our eyes and look beyond the screen?

JF: Your concept of ‘Bagism’ originated with the belief that total communication would be possible if we disregarded our prejudices toward external appearances and focused on ideas and emotions.
Is its message the same when transferred from the long-haired counterculture figures to today’s aging individuals?

YO: It’s all up to who would use the message in what way. John and I released the message to the world. What you do with it – ignore, forget, vary, create your own – is up to you. If you got something out of it, it was worth the trouble. Thank you.

JF: Should we seek to empathize with the old or is total communication blind to age?

YO: What is old and what is new? I think we are all together. That’s all I know. I would not use the word ‘blind’ there. Total communication has no age.

JF: You’ve said that you welcome medical advances that will cure aging. What will you do if science enables us to live forever?

YO: I always thought I needed more time. Time was the only thing that was stopping me from doing more of the things I wanted to do. I will probably feel the same when I am on Mars, missing gardening at my farm on planet Earth.

JF: In the absence of death, could creative expression lose its urgency?

YO: There will be so many new situations to cope with. We will use our creative mind in each step of the way to survive and enjoy.

JF: You’ll have to pardon the cliché, but how old do you feel?

YO: I really have no idea. I hope you will not pass judgment like, ‘she must have gone bonkers’. No. I am clearer than I have ever been. And I see further, too. But I feel totally ageless. No. To be exact, I feel as though I am of every age I’ve experienced, re-experiencing them, simultaneously
as one vividly tactile life. I never thought it would be like this. I very rarely go beyond 42, though.

JF: Are there creative or lifestyle practices in which you engage to remain active?

YO: I hate becoming a dependent, physically. So I try to keep myself healthy. But I am what I am, and I get more interested in watching the sky than in going to the gym or walking the cattle…that’s what I think! To me, there is something very wrong about doing too much exercise while resting your other senses.

JF: Do you have any attitudes that have changed dramatically with age?

YO: Not so much attitudes, because attitude is mostly something others experience of you. (They might have a story to tell you!) But in terms of knowledge, I have received so much knowledge I didn’t have before my
70th birthday. It created a quiet revolution inside me that only I am aware of. I don’t think it is age-related, by the way. It has to do with what we are going through now together on our planet. It’s the age of mass revolution.

JF: What are the challenges of pursuing the calling of the avant-garde today as opposed to three to four decades ago?

YO: All rockers are avant-gardists now. I think the word avant-garde is dated. It was already dated when I left the so-called avant-garde world in the 60s. If you are thinking of avant-garde as another word for high art, well high art is still alive in many forms. Many artists are quietly creating high art, and not minding being stepping-stones for the future. I consider myself one. There is a peculiar pride in being that. It is a form of giving that is less recognized.

JF: Are there avenues of creative expression that you worry are facing extinction?

YO: I have no use for something that will be extinct. Let it be, including yours truly.

JF: You’ve pursued the cause of peace for the better part of your life. Do you believe that the eradication of violence will come through a process
of societal maturation or does its persistence require perpetual activism to mitigate its effects?

YO: Not through societal maturation! Society does not mature on its own. We are the society. So we have to work to bring true awareness to ourselves. You call that perpetual activism as if it is burdensome. Well, yes, you’re right. But there is joy in perpetual activism. It’s like breathing. It’s not a burden. We just do it, and enjoy the fruits of it. Violence? We will forget words like that very soon as long as we keep working. Have you noticed that so many people are getting very, very wise? It’s the start to the next millennium.

JF Your childhood was split between Japan and the US, and you witnessed firsthand the horror of global conflict. Since that time, however, you’ve continued to live in a cosmopolitan manner, making the world your home. Going forward, do you feel that greater global and transnational connections can help to serve the cause of peace?

YO: Of course, we are making greater global transitions by being close to one another. The only positive byproduct of wars – and we had many – was finding out about strange lands and strange people; and suddenly
noticing that you were actually them. Our planet is full of beauty and joy. Let’s stay on it for the longest time.

Love, Yoko


Photo: 'Play It By Trust' (Garden Version), by Synaesthete











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