Yoko Ono Offers Enigmatic Wisdom on Animals, Independence & the Sky

Matthew Placek
Yoko Ono

At 85, Yoko Ono has reserved the right to keep her interactions with the media at email’s length. But as conveyed throughout various interviews while promoting her 14th album Warzone -- where she reinterprets 13 different songs over the course of her recording career, including her husband John Lennon’s iconic salvo “Imagine” -- Ono has utilized the interview questions posed to her by journalists as a creative platform to offer these little transmissions of wisdom on her own terms, which more than one writer has compared to the little instructional poems comprising her 1964 book Grapefruit.

The answers offered to Billboard's queries are no exception, delivering abstract insights into Warzone and the career it chronicles, which most recently includes a beautiful mosaic she designed in the reopened 72nd Street subway station right near her home in upper Manhattan. Warzone is out now on son Sean Lennon’s Chimera Music imprint.

The sky has always been such a big point of reference in your work. What is it that fascinates you most about the sky that inspires your art?

When I was a little girl, I fell in love with the sky because there was nothing else around there probably. Put that aside, when you see a clown slapping his own body, and obviously it is successful because many people laughing about him. But then I see the sky above all that and think how beautiful it is. 

The crow, the elephant and the wolf all factor into several tracks on Warzone. What was it about those three animals in particular that compelled you to reference them and sample their voices?

These animals are very strong. I noticed that many people get animals they can pet and I wanted to show that many animals are very independent of us. 

How did you come up with the idea for your album art for Warzone

I just like to do dot drawings because you know that each drawing has spaces, again it’s showing independence. 

You revisit a good portion of Starpeace on this album. What brought your focus to that work in particular?

I did not focus on that album, but when I was checking the songs I wanted to put on the album, many of them happened to be from Starpeace and I didn’t really think about it. 

What inspired the direction you took for your update on the Plastic Ono Band centerpiece “Why?”

I have no idea, it just spewed out of my brain in that form. 

In revisiting your New York Times “The Feminization of Society” that you include in the liners of Warzone, what resonates with you most about what you wrote in 1972 in the context of where we are now as a society?

I think we are getting closer and closer, the men and women, and I thought already at the time that we will become very close. 

How did John Lennon’s cartoon accompaniment to the article come about?

Well, as I was writing my piece, John just came and said, what do you think about this? He just wanted it in. But when you see the drawing, it’s so spot-on. In just two of three lines that he drew, he made people understand the relationship between men and women, but with humor. 

What led you to interpret “Imagine” in such a minimalist way?

I think that people are too concerned about isms, because again what happened to the song was something that came to my mind without even knowing it. 

Speaking of which, the Ultimate Collection of Imagine came out amazing. Would you like to see John's other albums enjoy a similar treatment? Is it possible for, say, a Walls and Bridges or Double Fantasy Ultimate Experience to manifest in the future?

Let’s see!

So much of NYC has changed in the last 15 years. Is there a particular establishment that's now gone you miss the most, especially in your early days when you were amongst the company of such great musical minds as John Cage, George Brecht and La Monte Young?

There are many things that I miss, off and on, I miss my loft on Chambers Street. And although we had many screaming fights, we protected our work and nothing happened to them.

Excited to send out our Xmas cards this year with the John Lennon stamp. How did it come about?

I always wanted to do it! And finally it’s a reality. John would have been very pleased.

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