Local Current Blog

In defense of Yoko

The one and only Yoko Ono (Publicity photo)

Tonight, the Current will air Mark Wheat’s conversation with the incomparable Yoko Ono. (Update: It’s now posted online here.) It’s gotten a lot of us at the station talking about her fascinating and strenuous relationship with mainstream consciousness, and where the 80-year-old artist fits into our culture today.

Yoko has long been a household name, and no matter how many albums she releases or how many thought-provoking art exhibits she shows, people still—still, 40 years on—seem to regard her as either a villain or a punchline, insisting that her relationship with John Lennon destroyed the Beatles.

Over the years, however, another undercurrent of dialog has persisted along with the Yoko jokes; a simple search of the phrase “In defense of Yoko” turns up over 12,500 results on Google, and even Paul McCartney has made a point in recent interviews to put his ill will to rest. Defending Yoko, and all that she stands for, has become almost as popular as dismissing her. With a new and surprisingly accessible album on the way, could it finally be time for the current generation’s legions of avid music listeners to embrace this daring and boundary-pushing musical icon?

I’ve long been a fan of Yoko’s. One of the first things I hung up in my dorm room at college was a poster of John Lennon performing alongside Yoko, who had tied herself up in a giant white fabric bag and sat beside him like lump on stage. When I discovered she was on Twitter, I became enamored with her abstract, bizarre, yet hopeful tweets. (Sample: “Each time we don’t say what we want to say we’re dying. Make a list of how many times you died this week.”) And when I heard she was playing SXSW, I eagerly gave up the chance to see Kanye’s giant headlining spectacle and instead pressed in close to the stage of a tiny Austin club, standing with my mouth agape as she commanded the room with alternatively cooing, squawking, and screeching vocal lines.

And I totally get it. I get why some people snicker when I profess my love for Yoko, or give me an, “Oh, really?” I get why people are afraid to embrace her art when it seems either silly, or simply naive. I get why people, after all this time, still feel the need to over-explain and excuse and unpack messages of hers that have remained so simple and so pure for so long.

Yoko Ono’s prevailing message, at least as I understand it, is that we should all be allowed to be free. Free to dream, free to live how we choose, free to connect with one another and feel the full range of human sadness and anger and longing and glee. But we live in a society that wrote off peace-nicking as something that’s for hippies long ago, and this message has gotten all tangled up in our own neuroses.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a clip I found on YouTube of Fred Rogers being interviewed on the Tonight Show by Joan Rivers. In it, Rogers speaks clearly and sincerely about his life and work, and despite the fact that he and Rivers have a very genuine and straight-faced dialog, the audience can’t help but giggle at everything he says. He even calls out the audience at one point for doing this; that moment is especially surreal and incredible. But I think it also highlights something really fascinating about us—as we get older, we are taught that these very simple ideas of emotional openness, creative freedom, and unbridled imagination are meant for children, and that they are too idealistic to apply to our actual, difficult adult lives. What I’ve always admired about Yoko Ono (and, of course, Fred Rogers) is her unwavering commitment to this very simple message of peace, understanding, and love.

Anyway, I started out intending to remind you to tune into the Current tonight at 7 p.m., when Mark Wheat and Yoko Ono will discuss her new album, and now here I’ve gotten you watching Mr. Rogers! What I mean to say is: Thanks, Yoko. Thanks for always believing in love, regardless of what any of us cynics out here might say about it, and for being a role model all these years. May you stay—unapologetically— forever young.

Yoko Ono will be on the Current with Mark Wheat tonight at 7 p.m. Listen at 89.3 FM or stream it online right here at thecurrent.org.

Related Link: Interview: Yoko Ono