(May 8, 1996) - Is it any wonder that Yoko Ono is "a bit scared" about touring again? The woman has been thoroughly pummeled by the media, ever since she became John Lennon's girlfriend and compatriot in the
Plastic Ono Band. Surely there should be some statute of
limitations on Ono-bashing.
"I wasn't sure if I could do this tour," said Ono from her New York home, prior to resuming her first tour in a decade. She's performing with the backup band IMA, featuring son Sean, now a student at Columbia University.
"I was a bit scared to come out, because I remember how it was with the `Starpeace' tour 10 years ago," said Ono. "I remember a full-house show in Berlin and the next morning in the paper was a photo of me standing on stage and there was nobody in the audience. It said, `Yoko looking for the audience.' And I'm thinking, `Why did they take that photo?' At it turns out, it was a sound-check photo. That's really something, isn't it? So I thought, `Are they going to do that to me again?"'
Luckily, Ono has received better treatment this time. "Every show so far, we've gotten a good reception," she said. "So far, so good."
Ono credits Sean for getting her back on the road. They released
a well-reviewed disc last fall, "Rising," which had some tender,
spoken-word ballads about staying positive in a mad world, but also
some punky tracks with wailing, out-there vocal improvisations
harking back to the Plastic Ono Band. The disc showed why Ono has
been dubbed a punk icon. It deserved the support of a tour,
especially since it didn't get much airplay from radio stations
that, typically, didn't know what to do with her music.
"Sean and the band really wanted me to go out on tour," said Ono, now 63. "They said `Let's go,' and I said, `Well, OK,' but it turned out to be very OK. And of course I'm a macho mother. I didn't want to say, `No, Mommy is scared.' I didn't want to back out."
Hence, Ono is on her first-ever club tour. "It's been great. When you're in a small space, you communicate better. I remember once seeing Chekhov's `Cherry Orchard' in a small New York theater. When the play was going on, it felt like I was in the same room. It was an incredibly powerful feeling. And that's how I feel when I'm doing this show."
To be honest, Ono never planned to be on tour. "These are just
happenings," she said with a chuckle. "It's not like I said in
1995 that I was going to have a record out, and then in 1996 that I
was going to tour. It didn't come out that way. It happened in a
very coincidental way, which is nice, because I think coincidences
are better than planning."
Ono's show includes a couple of older songs, but is mostly drawn from the "Rising" album. The latter was originally inspired by the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, where Ono had lived as a young child. There's a song, "I'm Dying," with the tormented cry of "no, no, no ... help me," which has also become a centerpiece of the shows.
"It was impulse stuff," Ono said of the song. "I told the musicians what riffs to play ... Then I would just come up with the first words or sentences that came to mind, without censoring it. .... And I found myself saying `I'm dying' in my mind. I thought, `I don't want to say this because of all the logical reasons for why you don't want to say it.' But I kind of dared to say it and that's how it happened.
"Still, I thought, `I'm not going to put out this track because
I don't want the whole world to think that I'm dying.' But as if he
read my mind, Sean came to me and said, `You have to put this one
on the record, Mommy, because we're all dying every day.' That's
the kind of role that Sean plays. Sean is not just a musician, not
just a bandleader. He is somebody who gives me encouragement on an
uncanny level. We didn't have to discuss it very much. He knew what
I was thinking."
The most powerful song on the album, though, may be the title track "Rising." Ono's vocal whoops and cries are reminiscent of what you might hear at a rebirthing session. The song is about learning to rise above anger. "Listen to your heart ... There is no limitation. Have courage, have rage, we're all together," she talk-sings in vintage Ono form.
The song was meant as advice to the guitar-playing Sean, who was late to the studio when it was made. "I'm very strict about musicians coming on time," said Ono. "I try to tell Sean how precious studio time is. But that day he came a bit late. He looked like he had a rough night, you know ... In the song I was just kind of speaking to him in a way to shake him up."
The tour has also bolstered Sean's confidence, she said.
"Sean is doing a good job this tour and it's been a good experience for him. I think it might push him to do his own thing a bit faster. He's almost ready. He's got many songs and he's got a good ear and good energy."
Ono is busy with her own music at the moment, but she's also
pleased with the reception that the two "Beatles Anthology" discs
have recently received. It was Ono who got the ball rolling by
giving rough-draft tapes of her husband's songs, "Free As a Bird"
and "Real Love," to the remaining Beatles.
"The anthologies have helped give the younger generation a lot of insight and inspiration," she said. "It was a very difficult project to accomplish and we have done our best."