Showing posts with label International Music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label International Music. Show all posts

June 30, 2018

Édith Piaf The Little Sparrow

Every time I hear "Rien Je Ne Rien" I die and go somewhere, don't come back until her song is over.

French singer Édith Piaf, also known as “The Little Sparrow,” was one of the most iconic performers of her native country.


Édith Piaf, also known as “The Little Sparrow,” was born in Belleville, on the outskirts of Paris, on December 19, 1915, and rose to international stardom in the late 1930s as a symbol of French passion and tenacity. Of Piaf’s many ballads, “La Vie en Rose,” which she wrote, is remembered as her signature song. Other favorites among the singer's repertoire include "Milord," "Padam Padam," "Mon Dieu," the charming "Mon Manège à Moi" and the anthemic "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien." Having a life beset by addictions and related health issues, Piaf died in France in 1963 at the age of 47. She continues to be revered as a national treasure. 

Tumultuous Early Life

Édith Piaf was born Édith Giovanna Gassion in Belleville, Paris on December 19, 1915. Much of her past is shrouded in mystery and may have been embellished during her time as a celebrity. It is believed she was named after the World War I British nurse Edith Cavell, executed for helping Belgian soldiers escape from German captivity. Her mother, Annetta Giovanna Maillard, was a cafe singer of Moroccan Berber descent who performed under the name “Line Marsa.” Piaf’s father, Louis-Alphonse Gassion, was a highly skilled street acrobat.  
Annetta had abandoned Piaf to live with her maternal grandmother, where she grew malnourished. Being taken from that household by her father or another relative, Piaf then lived with her paternal grandmother, who ran a brothel. Piaf suffered greatly from an impaired vision for a time yet also became renowned for her voice at a young age. At the age of 7, she joined her father and a circus caravan to travel to Belgium, eventually participating in street performances all over France.
Piaf later separated from her father, who was often a temperamental, abusive taskmaster, and set out on her own as a street singer in and around Paris. At 17, she and a youngster named Louis Dupont had a daughter, Marcelle, who died of meningitis at 2 years old.

Rise to Fame

In 1935, Piaf was discovered by Louis Leplée, who owned the successful club Le Gerny off the Champs-Élysées. Her nervous energy and small stature inspired the nickname that would stay with her for the rest of her life: La Môme Piaf ("The Little Sparrow"). Piaf received guidance in the literary arts from French poet/historian Jacques Bourgeat, while Leplée ran a major publicity campaign promoting Piaf’s opening night, which was attended by the likes of Maurice Chevalier. She was popular enough to record two albums that same year.  
Leplée was murdered the following spring. After authorities investigated her as a potential accomplice to the crime, Piaf and a new team took charge of her career. She began to work with Raymond Asso, who also became her lover and adopted her stage name Édith Piaf permanently. Continuing the tradition of performing chansons réalistes, she commissioned songs that romanticized her life on the streets, passionately emphasizing her inner strength. The singer worked closely with composer Marguerite Monnot during this time.
Revered by luminaries like Jean Cocteau, Piaf was one of the most popular performers in France during World War II. Her concerts for German servicemen were controversial, although it was later believed that she had been working for the French Resistance and helped Jewish comrades escape Nazi persecution. 
After the war, her fame spread quickly. She toured Europe, South America, and the United States. Although American audiences were initially put off by her dour demeanor and dark clothes, Piaf garnered glowing reviews and ultimately achieved enough of an audience to warrant several televised performances on The Ed Sullivan Show throughout the 1950s.

Personal Life

The personal life of Édith Piaf was characteristically dramatic. She was involved in three serious car crashes after 1951, leading to morphine and alcohol addictions. 
Piaf, living through the hurts and abandonment of her early life, had high-profile romances with many of her male associates and some of the biggest celebrities in France. Known for intense dalliances that fizzled out, she married twice. Her first marriage to singer Jacques Pills in 1952 lasted until 1957. Her 1962 marriage to Théo Sarapo, a Greek hairdresser and performer 20 years her junior who was gay, lasted until her death the following year. 
It was revealed posthumously via letters that Piaf had great affection for Greek actor Dimitris Horn during the mid-1940s, but married boxer Marcel Cerdan, whom she met in 1947, was considered to be her deepest love. Their time together was cut short when he perished in a 1949 plane crash, with the singer recording "L'Hymne à L'Amour" the following year in his honor. Death and Legacy
Piaf remained professionally active until the final years of her life, performing frequently in Paris between 1955 and 1962. In 1960, though aiming to retire, she had a resurgence of sorts with the recording of the Charles Dumont and Michel Vaucaire tune "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien," which would become her latter-day anthem. 
In April 1963, Piaf recorded her last song. With an array of health hardships over the years, Édith Piaf died from liver failure at her French Riviera villa on October 10, 1963. (Other potential causes of death have been suggested as well.) She was 47. The archbishop of Paris denied requests for a Mass, citing Piaf’s irreligious lifestyle, but her funeral procession was nonetheless a massive undertaking attended by thousands of devotees. She is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris next to her daughter Marcelle.
A lauded biopic on Piaf was released in 2007—La Vie en Rose, with French actress Marion Cotillard ardently embodying the singer and earning an Academy Award. The Knopf book No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf, by Carolyn Burke, was published in 2011. 
Plans to mark the centennial of Piaf's birth in 2015 include a 350-track box set to be released by Parlophone and a major exhibition to be held at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. "The magic of Piaf is her repertoire that touches everyone,” said Joël Huthwohl, the head curator of the exhibit, in an interview with The Guardian. “She sang simple songs with lovely melodies that spoke to everyone at those important moments in their lives."


January 24, 2018

Rainbow Voices in Mumbai, India's Only LGBT Choir

Every time Vinodh Philip tried telling his mother why he didn’t want to marry a girl, he said she would innocuously ask, “Have you joined a choir in Mumbai?”
“This was her way of averting an uncomfortable discussion, and she tried this trick at least a dozen times!” Philip laughed as he recalled the conversation.
Now 42, Philip said he had been part of a church choir since the age of four. But after moving in 2012 from his hometown of Chennai to work in Mumbai, he left his choir life behind.
To please his mom, he decided to revisit his singing talent in 2014. But when he asked his friend Sibi Mathen, a gay-rights advocate, for an LGBTQ-friendly church choir in the city, Mathen was so astonished that he turned around and said, "Are you joking?"
 Rainbow Voices Mumbai performing at the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. Courtesy Of QGraphy
That’s when the idea of Rainbow Voices Mumbai (RVM), India’s first LGBTQ choir, was born. The duo launched the ensemble with a performance by 22 singers in the summer of 2014. Today, they are a team of 40, and they have been practicing assiduously for one of their most ambitious concerts.
On January 27, as part of Mumbai Pride Month, RVM will team up with singers from LGBTQ choirs around the world — including those from the U.S., the Netherlands, England, Australia and France. The theme for the concert, “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara,” which is Hindi for “Let Our Voices Unite,” is a reflection of their deeper vision for the community.
“India believes in unity in diversity, and we want to extend that thought to sexuality as well,” Philip said. Each song in their choral repertoire is inspired by the belief that music has the transformative power to construct a future devoid of oppression and discrimination.
India has still not warmed up to the idea of homosexuality and considers it a Western import. However, earlier this month India's Supreme Court agreed to review Section 377 of the country's penal code, a Victorian-era law that penalizes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” with a 10-year prison sentence.
“This brings a ray of hope to the LGBTQ community,” said Ashish Pandya, one of the oldest choir members, who works for a branding agency. Choir director David Williamson, an American citizen based in India, said he feels very fortunate to be part of India's fight for LGBTQ rights, especially through a creative medium like Rainbow Voices Mumbai.
“Here I get the real sense of what the struggle is,” he said, adding that he finds the fight for LGBTQ equality to be more tangible in India than in the U.S. “To see that struggle and celebration through the eyes of the choir members is incredible,” he added.
Manasi Manoj, 24, said she joined the choir to be a part of the cause. “We want to show that we’re regular people and sing the same songs that touch everyone’s heart."
Jnanasiddhy Bommisetty, a 30-year-old patent analyst who joined the choir more than two years, said, “If people can enjoy our music, why can’t they treat us as equals? Why do they deny us our rights?"
The choir’s membership is not limited by age or training. Members vary between 18 and 55 years old. Some are trained, while others are good singers who never went to music school. For every member, however, Sunday afternoon rehearsals appear to hold a special place.
“I love the ritual of meeting every Sunday,” said Bommisetty, who initially joined Rainbow Voices Mumbai due to his love of singing but said he eventually found a family there. “It is the only place where I can drop all guard, talk, laugh and trade silly lines; it gives me a sense of a community."
Post-rehearsal discussions about relationships, coming out, acceptance and other topics that cannot be discussed openly outside the community (especially by those in the group who are closeted) are a significant part of the weekly gatherings.
 Members of Rainbow Voices Mumbai participating in the London Pride March in July 2017. Choir director David Williamson is second from left, and Ashish Pandya is in the middle holding a rainbow flag. Courtesy Of QGraphy
Rainbow Voices Mumbai’s first acknowledgment from the international LGBTQ community came when the Pink Singers, Europe’s longest-running LGBTQ choir, got in touch with them to perform in India last January and later invited them to sing during the London Pride celebrations in July.
In London, Bommisetty observed how easy it was for the Pink Singers to get on with their lives because they didn’t need to hide their sexuality. “It’s such a relief when people don’t have to .... reorganize their thoughts or body language before approaching a new person,” he said.
Manoj said she was fascinated that the Pink Singers could openly celebrate their love. “I would love to see that happening in my country."
Following their Mumbai Pride collaboration, RVM already has another international collaboration lined up: an upcoming album with Petter Wallenberg, a Swedish singer, music producer and founder of Rainbow Riots, an organization advocating for LGBTQ rights.
“We are coming together as a force for change and breaking stereotypes about the gay community by demonstrating what we can achieve artistically as a group of LGBTQ singers,” Williamson said of the collaboration.
Philip, who called the creation of Rainbow Voices Mumbai "my coming out the story to my parents," said he hopes the group continues to change hearts and minds across India and the world. And one day, he added, maybe RVM can even perform in a church.

May 14, 2017

Portugal Wins Eurovision Song Contest with Salvador Sobral

Portugal won the Eurovision Song Contest in Kiev, Ukraine on Saturday, marking the first time that country has won the contest since 1964. The winning song, "Amar Pelos Dois," had been a favorite through last week's semifinals.
In his acceptance speech, singer Salvador Sobral railed against what he called "disposable music," saying he thought his win was "a victory for music with people who make music that actually means something." After his win, Sobral reprised the winning song as a duet with his sister Luísa, who wrote and composed it.
Sobral first performed his winning ballad bare-bones, stripped of many of the larger-than-life on-stage (and off-stage) treatments associated with Eurovision. There were no backup dancers or pyrotechnics; a stage manager urged audience members in the arena not to cheer as Sobral's quieted performance began. Another relatively rare feature of this year's winner was that Sobral sung in Portuguese, not English, which often hampers a country's shot at winning. The last non-English winner was in 2007, when Serbia's Marija Šerifović won with "Molitva."
Kristian Kostov, of Bulgaria, came in second with "Beautiful Mess."
Eurovision began 1956, with seven countries from continental Europe competing. The contest has since grown to into a mega-production; this year's show featured acts from 42 countries, including non-European countries like Israel and Australia.
The winner is determined through a mix of voting from viewers at home and the opinions of music industry professionals from each represented country, through a complex format intended to maximize the chances for a dramatic reveal of the winner. The competition's rules, like finding the baby in a king cake, have the winning country host the following year's contest.
This year's contest was in danger of being overshadowed by politics, however, despite the rules generally discouraging political overtures.
Ukraine, the winner of last year's competition with a song that referenced the mass deportation of Crimean Tatars during World War II, was viewed as thinly-veiled criticism of the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Ukraine and Russia have publicly sparred over the win since.
Julia Samoylova, intended to be Russia's Eurovision envoy this year, was banned by Ukrainian authorities from entering the country after the host country learned she'd performed in Crimea without permission from Ukrainian authorities following the territory's annexation in 2014. After failing to convince Ukraine to reverse its decision to bar Samoylova, Eurovision organizers gave Russia the option to have her perform remotely or for Russia to choose a different artist, an offer rejected by the Russian channels which selected her. In a statement quoted by the Tass news agency, Russian representatives said the offer "clearly runs counter to the very essence of the event."
The detente wasn't Russia's only Eurovision controversy in recent years; 2014's contest saw the country's entry booed, a reaction to Russia's laws around LGBT rights. That booing continued, to varying degrees, through subsequent years.
Aside from the political imbroglios, Eurovision has for most of its existence been known for its oddball performances — and this year was no exception.
Romania's entry, "Yodel It!" by Illinca and Alex Florea, indeed had, as the title suggests, a fair bit of yodeling, which also featured rap as well as regular singing.
Jacques Houdek's "My Friend," from Croatia, was a duet, fairly common in Eurovision. But here, Houdek's partner was himself, with Houdek dramatically pivoting each time he switched voices. Not to mention the fact that he did all this in two languages — and neither Croatian.
Italy, a favorite to win this year, ended in sixth place. Francesco Gabbani's "Occidentali's Karma" was staged featuring a man in a gorilla costume dancing on the stage — a nod, the singer said, to anthropologist Desmond Morris' book The Naked Ape, which helped inspire the song.
Moldova entered "Hey Mama," by the Sunstroke Project, a band whose exuberant saxophonist became the "Epic Sax Guy" meme when the group first brought it to Eurovision in 2010. Moldova's entry this year was about an overprotective mother-in-law. The band is, no doubt, hoping "Hey Mama" will manage to go viral as well.
For its part, the diminutive Balkan nation of Montenegro brought "Space," by Slavko Kalezić, who donned a mesh shirt, sparkly pants, and danced around the stage waving his unnaturally long pony tail in a circle. He did not make it to the final.
Next year’s contest is scheduled for May, in Portugal.

October 19, 2015

Yoko Ono on Lennon: “John Wanted to Have Sex with a Man”

                                                        The Beetles
(L)Ringo (Top)Lennon®George©McCartney

In a candid, exclusive interview, Yoko Ono tells Tim Teeman about why Mark David Chapman should stay in jail forever, the truth about John Lennon’s bisexuality, and the ‘pain’ she shares with Paul McCartney.

Strawberry Fields is nearby—a little, hippy-vibed Central Park memorial, overseen in its creation in 1985 by Yoko Ono, John Lennon’s widow. The musician was shot dead, aged 40, outside the Dakota in December 1980 by Mark David Chapman, and Ono still lives here in the same apartment they shared.

Like the building she occupies, Ono has a perpetual air of mystery: To many, she will always be the villainous interloper—the woman “who broke up the Beatles.”

 John Lennon and Yoko Ono pose for photographers in Amsterdam on March 27, 1969. The honeymoon couple spent a week in bed at the Hilton Hotel to protest against world violence. (AFP/Getty Images)
Age has mellowed the public view of her. Now 82, she is still known for performance art, and for just being “Yoko Ono,” smiling enigmatically behind dark glasses, dedicated keeper of the Lennon flame, and social activist. She manages to be both dainty and imposing, her mischievous, steely smile set against the world.

Ono’s thoughts about her two great passions—the environment and peace—as well as her more esoteric pursuits and beliefs are visible to her 4.75 million Twitter followers.

 The Dakota and people gathering on the news Lennon had been shot. John and still Yoko lives on the top tower on left corner facing  you
Once past the Dakota’s discreet, firm security, the visitor feels as if they are in a mysterious, stone-cushioned cocoon. Ono’s upper-floor apartment is warrens, a collection of model cats with illuminated eyes standing sentry inside the front door. 

When Ono appears, dressed in a black shirt and slacks, sunglasses perched on the end of her nose, she states firmly in her broken Japanese-English, “Hello, so we’ll go to the kitchen.”

She is smiling warmly, but it is a command: The tone reminds me how Ono had ended a performance at MoMA the weekend before with a smile and firm “And that is it.” We were dismissed. You sense Ono rigorously sets her own boundaries. She speaks measuredly. She is not effusive, dramatic, or grandstanding.

We walk past a huge table of hats and sunglasses, her two most famous accessories (and laid out for convenience’s sake, with all the touring she does), into a large, homely kitchen: Notable are pictures of Lennon, and Ono and Lennon.

She remembers buying her first pair of sunglasses, with Lennon, one day at Saks Fifth Avenue, taking a break from the recording studio. They provide a barrier between Ono and the world. “The word privacy comes to me,” said Ono, “like the arm’s-length relationship I can have with people.”

Does Ono still like living in the Dakota? Lennon was shot outside—some might say it’s the last place she would want to live.

She launches into a tale of how she and Lennon ended up living here.

“One thing I think is that he did it once, he could do it again, to somebody else—you know. It could be me, it could be Sean, it could be anybody, so there is that concern.”
They were living in the St. Regis hotel in Beverly Hills at the time, and “hotel living was so unattractive.”

The actor Jack Palance suggested they try the Dakota, and so another day, while sunbathing beside the St. Regis pool (as you do), Ono said to Lennon, “We should do this.”

Ono instructed one of their assistants to go to the Dakota to see if an apartment was free, and one was set to be listed the very next day—this very apartment we’re sitting in.
After Lennon was killed, did Ono ever think about moving?

 John Lennon and Yoko Ono, NYC Central Pk.West, in back The Dakota
“Never. We shared this every day. Every day we shared each room. I wouldn’t do that.”

So it isn’t a tragic place?

“He said, ‘I don’t mind if there’s an incredibly attractive guy.’ They would have to be not just physically attractive, but mentally very advanced too. And you can’t find people like that.”
“The good memory supersedes the bad memory. The bad memory was just one that was terrible. But other than that, I felt we were still together. I would feel very strange if I had to leave this apartment. There are so many things that he touched here that he loved. Those things mean a lot.”

And the public attention isn’t so strange, she says. When she and Lennon did their famous Bed-In for Peace in 1969, there were people click-clicking their cameras all the time.

You get used to it, Ono says equably. “When I walk out in Central Park it gets too much because they start to get physical… if they didn’t get physical I think I would just ignore it.” But, she laughs, “I have to walk somewhere. I sort of cast my eyes down a lot.”

“Most people think that Paul or me should not have any pain at all because we are so privileged. But it’s not true. The degree of pain is always there.”
She’s very proud of overseeing the creation of Strawberry Fields, and scoffs at those who originally opposed it, claiming it would be “a drugs’ den,” as she puts it.

“Can you imagine anyone being against Strawberry Fields?” Ono says with a smile. She still walks through it, as discreetly as she can. “I am so glad because a lot of people love it and use it.”

What drugs did she and Lennon themselves use? “I hate marijuana. I never wanted to—but in a social situation with people passing it round you just have to pretend.”

And now, no drugs? “No.”

She says she is aiming to “detoxify” herself to make herself as healthy as possible.

“Detoxify” from what, I wonder: She looks fantastic. Ono says that she took “a lot of drugs” in the 1960s, and in the 1970s there were a “few incidents” as she puts it. She doesn’t drink now, but she has smoked a lot, she says.

“I didn’t like marijuana, so I didn’t constantly take it like most people. I think acid was not bad, but acid is very strong so you don’t take it every day.”

She stopped taking drugs in “maybe 1981 or ’82. After John’s passing, the doctors said, ‘We’ll give you morphine, every day if you want to.’ When you are in extreme sadness, you don’t know what they will do—jump out from the side of a building or something.”

Is she talking about another assassin?

“What happened was that I suddenly realized I had extra responsibility on many levels, so I couldn’t be taking anything. The first night they gave me morphine, but from then on I didn’t take anything. I couldn’t do it. I had to be super-clear to take on the business situation, the political situation, everything. And then I think I took some drugs, sort of like designer drugs or something.”

Whoever gave them to her said they would make her happy. “It wasn’t very good and I just didn’t feel right.”

I ask if she was really worried that somebody would shoot her, after Lennon’s assassination.

“I was concerned, yes. At the time, they could have done it, too. I was really lucky that I didn’t die with John. If that had happened, what would have happened to [their son] Sean?”

How does Ono feel about the possibility of Chapman being released? He was denied parole last year for the eighth time, and his wife Gloria told the Daily Mail the couple had written to Ono seeking forgiveness.

“I’m super-careful, almost like a certain animal who is used to being hunted, like a deer,” says Ono, who employs personal security. “So when I go out or when I don’t go out, in my apartment, I’m very, very careful. It’s very, very difficult for me to think about Chapman, especially because he doesn’t seem to think that was a bad thing to do. It’s crazy.”

Ono has opposed every single one of Chapman’s bids for parole. On her husband’s killer’s possible future freedom, Ono says, “One thing I think is that he did it once, he could do it again, to somebody else—you know. It could be me, it could be Sean, it could be anybody, so there is that concern.”

Does Ono still feel Chapman represents a threat to her safety?

“Yeah. I would be concerned. I said he’s crazy, but probably not—probably he had a purpose he wanted to accomplish like ‘Kill John Lennon.’ So he might have another purpose. He’s not the kind of person who’s… I don’t think he’s just doing it emotionally. There is a reason, whether a simple reason or not, to do what he does, and justify it. So that’s very scary.”

The week before we met, I watched Ono sing and bellow into a microphone at a performance at the Museum of Modern Art as old home movie footage of her parents played behind her.

MoMA had been hosting a survey of her 1960s artworks—including an all-white chess set, and films of her performances like “Cut Piece,” first performed in 1964, in which gallery-goers cut away shreds of Ono’s clothing. Next, Ono will next take the MoMA exhibition to Tokyo, Beijing, and Lyon.

Ono is also set to receive one of the “Icon” awards at the Attitude Awards in the U.K. on October 14, in recognition of her art, of being an outsider, of doing things defiantly her own way, and of supporting LGBT people—most vocally in her 2004 song “Everyman… Everywoman,” which she produced in support of same-sex relationships and marriage and which is a revision of a song she sang with Lennon, “Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him.”

Ono talks candidly about why she still lives in fear of Mark David Chapman, the truth about Lennon’s bisexuality, and the ‘pain’ she shares with Paul McCartney.
“I think it’s great,” Ono says of the Icon award. “I get a few awards in different places. This means a lot to me because I have been working for such a long time trying to create a more open situation.”

The existence of prejudice is “incredible,” she says, and marriage equality is “really great, we shouldn’t be so thankful. It’s just normal.”

Prejudice, she thinks, “goes both ways, I’m sure gays feel straights are really dumb. There’s more freedom being gay probably, that’s good.”

LGBTs should have true equality, Ono says, “and you’ll get it. Equality is people having to create their own future. That’s what they’re [gay people] doing. They should be very, very positive.”

“Equality under the law and equality in real life is slightly different,” says Ono. “People are different from how the law can control them. We have a very complex life called the human life. There’s more than equality in life.”

Is Ono proud to receive the Icon award? “Well, as much as the other awards I have received,” she says evenly, “but probably especially this one. There was a closeness I felt to gay people. We both suffered a lot for being different.”

When I ask about her sexuality, Ono laughs. “I think my sexuality is extremely old-fashioned. Many people think I’m a strong woman. I never thought that, but probably I am. Maybe they think I really don’t go for men, but it’s not true. I like normal relationships”—she catches herself—“whatever ‘a normal relationship’ is.”

I ask if she has ever had sex with a woman, or been attracted to them.

“Well, that’s another thing. John and I had a big talk about it, saying, basically, all of us must be bisexual. And we were sort of in a situation of thinking that we’re not [bisexual] because of society. So we are hiding the other side of ourselves, which is less acceptable. But I don’t have a strong sexual desire towards another woman.”

Have you ever? “Not really, not sexually.”

One online satire imagined an affair between Ono and Hillary Clinton.

“It’s great,” Ono laughs. “I mean, both John and I thought it was good that people think we were bisexual, or homosexual.” She laughs again.

What about that old rumor that Lennon had sex with Beatles manager Brian Epstein (which was also the subject of the 1991 film, The Hours and The Times)?

Lennon himself said: “Well, it was almost a love affair, but not quite. It was never consummated. But it was a pretty intense relationship.” Later, Lennon’s friend Pete Shotton said Lennon had told him that he had allowed Epstein to “toss [wank] him off.”

“Uh, well, the story I was told was a very explicit story, and from that I think they didn’t have it [sex],” Ono tells me. “But they went to Spain, and when they came back, tons of reporters were asking, ‘Did you do it, did you do it?’ So he said, ‘I did it.’ Isn’t that amazing? But of course he would say that. I’m sure Brian Epstein made a move, yeah.”

And Lennon said no to Epstein?

“He just didn’t want to do it, I think.” 
“I think he had a desire to, but I think he was too inhibited,” says Ono.

“No, not inhibited. He said, ‘I don’t mind if there’s an incredibly attractive guy.’ It’s very difficult: They would have to be not just physically attractive, but mentally very advanced too. And you can’t find people like that.”

So did Lennon ever have sex with men?

“No, I don’t think so,” says Ono. “The beginning of the year he was killed, he said to me, ‘I could have done it, but I can’t because I just never found somebody that was that attractive.’ Both John and I were into attractiveness—you know—beauty.”

I ask what she makes of the people outside the building, the crowds still at Strawberry Fields.

Ono misunderstands, or mishears (or is simply focused on the last strand of our conversation), and continues to talk about sex.

“I don’t make anything out of it. When you’re not really interested in that sort of sex, you don’t think about it. Both John and I surprisingly were very passive people. Unless somebody made a thing out of it, if they made a move, I wouldn’t even think about it.”


The Attitude award seems especially apposite given the prejudice Ono herself has faced.

“Very heavy prejudice for being Asian, for being another race, and for being a woman,” she says. The sexism she faced was not as severe as the racism, she adds.

“One of the reasons I survived—I am surviving, aren’t I? (she laughs lightly)—is that I didn’t take it that seriously.”

As a younger woman, Ono recalls finding an apartment and being turned down in person. She called the agent later, and was told it was still available.

“I had my life,” Ono says, when I ask how she faced racism, “which is to say, to make good art and good music, and I was very proud of it. Anything else wasn’t that serious. More serious was my parents, who had a different idea about what I should be making. I was too avant-garde probably. I feel that they were embarrassed.” 

He went to San Francisco before her birth in Tokyo—“That’s when I lost my father the first time.” Even when Ono grew older—the family moved to the U.S., then Japan, then back to the U.S.—there was still a distance between them.

“In some ways I am different [from] them,” she says, “because I try to have a warm relationship with my son [Sean] and my daughter [Kyoko].” (She and Kyoko were separated for 27 years after her ex-husband, Anthony Cox, kidnapped the girl.)

But Ono says she is also similar to her parents. Eisuke was a pianist, and her mother, Isoko, an artist. They were “surprised” by their daughter’s pursuits. “I think they would have loved it if I had become a classical musician and composer. They were very polite about it. Neither of them came to my shows. That’s how they expressed their feelings.”

Her parents, she says, were also misunderstood: “They were too cultured for other people to understand them. They didn’t mind it. They said, ‘You go through all sorts of experiences, think of them as a play. Be objective about it, instead of getting upset.’”

Ono also faced prejudice around being with Lennon (they met at one of her shows)—a toxic mix of racism and the suspicion of her influence.

“I don’t know why I deserved so many different kinds of prejudices,” says Ono. “It was really a good relationship. Everything else around us was terribly bad. A lot of things John and I did naturally, instead of saying, ‘Let’s teach them.’ Being ourselves did affect people.”

Lennon was a keen feminist, Ono insists, beginning with being their son Sean’s primary caretaker.

“He felt I knew more about business, which was not true. So he wanted me to take care of the business and he wanted to take care of the child, which was an incredible thing. In those days nobody did that. It was a macho age. And he cooked: He baked bread.”

Still, she was hated for being the woman “who broke up the Beatles.”

“One of the reasons that those things didn’t hurt me was because I had a totally different life.” She pauses. “It was not exactly fruitful. There were so many negative labels about me, but they were from people who really didn’t understand me at all. If I were to come out and say something it wouldn’t have affected anything. They would have laughed. So I shut up.”

Ono and Paul McCartney have had a long, checkered relationship. Tensions seemed to ease between them, but then—in August’s Esquire—McCartney bemoaned that the glory of the Beatles had been, since John’s death, centered around Lennon. 

McCartney told Esquire: “Yoko would appear in the press, and I’d read it, and it said ‘Paul did nothing! All he did was book the studio…’ Like, ‘Fuck you, darling! Hang on! All I did was book the fucking studio?’ Well, OK, now people know that’s not true. But that was just part of it. There was a lot of revisionism: John did this, John did that. I mean, if you just pull out all his great stuff and then stack it up against my not-so-great stuff, it’s an easy case to make.”

Ono was surprised to read that, particularly as she and McCartney had just been together at a dinner, seated at the same table, “talking about good things.”

Does she feel close to McCartney?

“I think it’s a very strange situation. We were kind of like stuck with a situation for 30 or 40 years, so we understand each other—let’s put it that way. What he said in Esquire, I think he’s really right.”

“I mean, he must have suffered a lot, just like I suffered more or less the same thing in a way. So I understand. I’m sympathetic to him for having all sorts of pain. Most people think that Paul or me should not have any pain at all because we are so privileged. But it’s not true. The degree of pain is always there.”

Does she feel they need to forgive each other in some way?

“No, no. We had to come to terms with the past in some way. Both of us are pretty self-sufficient in that sense.”


There have been “a few” men in Ono’s life since Lennon’s death, most famously her onetime boyfriend, the gallerist and painter Sam Havadtoy. “I wasn’t hiding. That was very important for me to have somebody around protecting me.”

Now she is single. “I love it. I got married three times [to composer Toshi Ichiyanagi from 1956 to 1962, then Cox from 1962 to 1969, and Lennon from 1969 to 1980]. The third one was extremely good and I just wanted that one to last, but it didn’t. I was always with somebody. Now this is the first time I’m not and it’s very good.”

She smiles. “I don’t have to think about the other person, like, ‘What would you like for lunch today?’ being concerned about the other party—and I don’t have the time to. I think I was given this freedom because I have so much to do.”

Her occupations are both an activist, “trying to do some good for the world,” and taking care of Lennon’s legacy; the latter “was terribly complicated but now it’s simmering down.” 

Ono thinks she has been a good parent to her children, Sean and Kyoko, “in the sense that all parents should not be too into their children’s lives. I’m pretty hands-off. The fact that Sean and I especially understand each other musically and everything, it’s a good relationship in that sense.”

She adds that she likes Julian a lot: “He’s intelligent and sensitive. He’s had a terrible time actually. And also, just like Sean, having a huge daddy didn’t help really.”

Unsurprisingly, and admirably, Ono does not care if you don’t understand her, or laugh at her tweeting esoteric thoughts such as “Let’s report to the Universe how glad we are that our planet is part of the most beautiful Universe,” and “Remember, we are all water in the same ocean.”

“It’s great if I can make people laugh,” she tells me. “That’s just fine. It doesn’t touch my core. I believe in life. The self is growing in us constantly and also protecting us.” Onstage, “I just want the sound to be perfect and good.”

Ono is true to herself—as offbeat and unconventional, unyieldingly so, as that self might be. She has always refused to play by anyone’s rules but her own, or to compromise or make nice to make her own life, and public perception of her, smoother.

Despite all the criticism, mockery, derision, and worse thrown at her, Ono has simply carried on creating the art that matters to her, speaking out on issues that matter to her, and generally pursuing her own passions and path.

Ono says, “There are certain things you can correct by being an activist, but other than that one needs to protect oneself and maintain one’s yin and yang, and be meditative all the time.”

She “really doesn’t believe” in institutional politics. “I feel sorry for politicians. To get the vote they have to do all sorts of things.”

Ono is not as excited about the idea of a Hillary Clinton presidency; the possibility of the first female president is “a symbolic thing. A president has to be a good person for the president, not because they are female or male.”

As for pop music today, Ono doesn’t “particularly make a point of listening to it, but it’s all around.” She prefers old gypsy music. “I have an incredible respect for art. It’s amazing that I do because I am an artist and most artists will have kind of an apologetic attitude about their work. I don’t. I really think that everything we do as artists is helping the world.”

I ask if she considers her mortality.

“Yes, just as anyone else who would think about it. It’s possible that I will suddenly be surprised by dying, but I’m counting on the fact that it’s going to be a long life.”

She lives alone and seems very self-contained: Is she lonely?

“I think most famous people are lonely because they are separate. They have a separate life—whatever that is—from people around them. Even when you’re with them there’s a certain separation. It’s something you don’t create. It just happens in your life, and you either accept it or don’t.”

And she has?

“I totally accept it.”

It is time to go. “So I will say goodbye here,” Yoko Ono says abruptly as we approach the doorway of her kitchen, other rooms in tantalizing shadow. She is smiling her warm, mischievous smile. It is one of the politest—and most emphatic—orders to scram I have ever received.
Tim Teeman
by  Tim Teeman

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