At long last, Yoko Ono gets some respect

By Larry Katz

BOSTON, May 15, 1996 (Reuter) - Yoko Ono, the woman Beatles fans once loved to hate, is enjoying a revival of her reputation and career. Suddenly people even like her singing.

Late last year, the widow of John Lennon released "Rising", her first album in 10 years, winning the kind of reviews she never expected and never received before: good ones.

"I was totally, totally surprised. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it was going to happen," she told Reuters.

No easy-on-the-ears pop crossover, "Rising" has the same wailing, warbling vocals that have irritated critics since Ono began her recording career after marrying Lennon -- a marriage some disgruntled fans claim led to the breakup of the Beatles.

Ono, preparing for a handful of rare live performances in the United States, Europe and Japan, giggled when asked recently why her work was praised this time round. "Maybe they just got tired of knocking me," she replied. "There are not many negative things they haven't already said about me so maybe they had enough of that. But I really don't know. I didn't know why they attacked me when they were doing that. I'm always surprised. Only this time it's a nice surprise."

Maybe the world finally has caught up to the 63-year-old avant-garde artist. Since Rykodisc released a six-CD Ono retrospective in 1992, pop figures like the B-52's have been coming out of the closet and citing Ono as an influence.

"I didn't know I was an influence," Ono said. "But I've started meeting all these beautiful people who are supposed to be the big shots of the 1990s and I'm finding they know my work. When we played in Los Angeles, the Melvins and Perry Farrell (Jane's Addiction, Porno for Pyros) joined me. In San Francisco, it was Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, and in Seattle it was R.E.M. and Soundgarden. I think people are getting wiser to my kind of sound. And wiser to the fact that an Asian doesn't mean yellow peril and that it's okay for a woman to speak up. It's a different age."

On "Rising" it is easy to hear why Ono, with her trademark shrieks, can be considered the Godmother of abrasive avant-rock. On "Rising Mixes", a six-song follow-up with material playable on CD-ROM, Ono's link to today's alternative scene is made explicit by remixes of her songs by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, slack rockers Ween, Beastie Boy Yauch, British trip-hop stars Tricky and Cibo Matto.

"Mostly I hear about new music through Sean," Ono said, referring to her son Sean Ono Lennon, 29, who plays bluntly serviceable guitar with IMA, the band heard on "Rising" and on Ono's tour. His mother is proud of him but it was not her idea to gig with him. "I didn't start out to do an album but to record two songs for a play ('Hiroshima') by my friend Ron Destro. I thought it would be nice to give Sean some experience. But when I decided to do a whole album, I thought, 'Okay, I should get some session musicians and do it right.' Sean said, 'No, let's do it together.' And I went, 'Um, do you think you can?' But it turned out better than I thought."

Other young men would shudder at the thought of playing in a band with their mother. Not Sean Lennon. Ono said working musician- to- musician has enhanced their relationship. Sean did not fear critics attacking him in the manner they have savaged her, she said. In fact, her reputation as a disliked maverick made him want to play with her.

"Like most kids, he's rebellious," she said. "In his mind his father was a very successful guy but I'm an underdog. So he thinks he's helping me. I know he's going to fly away very soon somewhere but for now we have this moment together. I don't know what his plans are but he's an incredible musician. If he doesn't do his own album in the near future he'll probably go on tour. It's a time when he's rapidly changing and moving."

But then, the eternally youthful Ono added with a laugh, "You could say the same thing about me."

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