Grunge grannie Yoko Ono makes a comeback

By Elizabeth Fullerton

LONDON, June 11, 1996 (Reuter) - Yoko Ono, long demonised by thousands of Beatles fans for causing the break-up of Britain's greatest pop group, is making a comeback at the age of 63.

Gone are the long bushy locks of the love-in days with John Lennon. With cropped hair and a dyed pink fringe, barking out lyrics to heavy guitar riffs, Yoko Ono is the grannie of grunge.

Her album "Rising", recorded with son Sean Ono Lennon and his band IMA, has been acclaimed by critics, much to her surprise.

"Never in a million years did I think they'd turn around," says Ono, slated and ridiculed by the press for years.

The paltry turnout of just 50 people to see her latest concert in Milan suggests she still has some way to go in convincing music fans.

But she still believes the musical tide has turned. "I think this generation is going for a very far-out avant-garde kind of rock...they are very aware of the 60s music and there's a meeting point in terms of musical tastes."

When Ono worries about releasing her most experimental tunes, her son reassures her: "It's okay now Mummy."

In an interview with Reuters Television Programme Newsmaker, she says she never wanted to break up the Beatles and that it was a painful period for her, as well as for fans.

Ono may have pacified Beatles devotees last year by releasing some home-made tapes by Lennon, who was assassinated in New York in 1980 a decade after the group broke up.

To the delight of fans, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr came together last November to record backing over two of Lennon's ballads "Free as a Bird" and "True Love". The singles were part of an anthology of Beatles hits, but "Rising", which was released the same month got better reviews.

Ono would not say if she planned to release more tapes of her late husband but she did not deny she had more up her sleeve.

Ono says her own songs are inspired by a sense of end-of-century malaise: "I think there's a worldwide depression, worry, fear...a feeling we're going towards the year 2000 but we haven't achieved as much as we wanted to in terms of bettering society and cleaning up pollution."

Her message, she says, is: "Be patient. It's going to be all right." Her newfound optimism seems a long way from the urgency of her 60s peacenik days.

Then Ono and Lennon shared their honeymoon with the world's press in a week-long lie-in in the Amsterdam Hilton, as part of a vigil for peace.

"At the time of the bed we thought 1984 would be a disaster and we thought there was going to be a third world war," she says. It was a way of promoting world peace by clowning around, with the hit song "Give peace a chance" giving their effort a serious push, she adds.

Ono is certainly no stranger to publicity. She recently tore out pages of a Bible during a concert in New York and handed them out to fans, much to the anger of the Church.

She said her gesture was intended to be a symbol for the "sharing of God's words".

Born into a wealthy banking family in Tokyo in the 30s, with a Buddhist mother and Christian father, Yoko says she was a rebel from the start.

Her conservative father tried to discourage Ono from composing music, because he said there were no famous women composers, which showed they had no natural talent.

"John was a rebel too, that's how we got together."

They first met at an exhibition of her paintings in London. Ono was already well-established in the New York alternative art scene, making films, art and music.

Lennon arrived an hour before the opening and she had no idea who he was, but there was an instant attraction.

She knew when he asked if he could hammer an imaginary nail into one of her blank white conceptual pieces of art that they were on the same wavelength.

"Between John and me something was going on that was incredible," she says. "We were terribly shy and insecure as people, but terribly arrogant as artists."

When the Beatles decided to split up in 1969, Ono bore the brunt of the fans' bitterness and was nicknamed the "dragon lady" by the press. She says her confidence in her creative ability carried her through.

She still lives in the appartment she shared with Lennon overlooking New York's Central Park, a stone's throw from where he was gunned down by a crazed fan.

"I feel he's still protecting us, looking over us," Lennon's widow says.

However successful she becomes, the image of Ono with Lennon at their love-in, united in their long-haired nakedness, may still prove to be the one that endures in the public's memory.

She remains unconcerned by the huge Lennon legacy hanging over her. She says simply: "I would like to be remembered as what I was, whatever that was."

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