Yoko Ono has been busy lately. So, what else is new? Nothing seems to slow down Ono, 70, a multimedia artist who has enjoyed a resurgence as contemporary DJs (Pet Shop Boys, Danny Teglia, Felix Da Housecat) have electrified dance clubs with remixes of her groundbreaking 1980s music.
Ono gave an interview in Manhattan last month as part of the CMJ Music Marathon. The reason? Ono recently gave the song rights to Imagine, by her late husband John Lennon, to Amnesty International to use for a two-year public education campaign. Its purpose is to build concern and rally support for human rights across the globe.
The program includes a new version of the song sung by children from around the world and a video featuring kids from Cambodia, Northern Ireland and South Africa. The lyrics say:
Imagine there's no countries,
It isn't hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
No religion too,
Imagine all the people
living life in peace
Ono told Amnesty International she thought the song was relevant when Lennon wrote it, and it's relevant now. But she hopes that one day, "We don't have to sing it anymore."
Ono, who stands just 5 feet tall, wore a black shirt, pants and sunglasses, topped off with a floppy, white newsboy-style hat. Ono bounced onstage, lively as ever. She answered questions from veteran rock critic Robert Christgau, senior music editor at the Village Voice, and from other members of the media (myself included) as well as from members of the audience. Ono was passionate, witty and sometimes maddeningly evasive. This lady says what she wants and nothing else.
Christgau tried to keep the topic on Ono's humanitarian work and politics.
One knucklehead in the crowd jumped to the mike and made a show of getting everyone's attention, demanding of Ono: "This is a music conference. So, once and for all: Why did the Beatles break up?"
The crowd booed and hissed.
Ono paused. She grinned. "Okay, okay," Ono said, nodding. "I broke up the Beatles." As if breaking a 30-year silence.
The crowd burst into laughter.
Ono waved her hands, smiling, reminding the crowd that the four guys in the Beatles were much too smart and much too opinionated to let her get in the way. "Don't worry about it. I didn't break up the Beatles, okay?" Ono said. "They were not that dumb."
Ono also played a few tracks on a video screen from the Lennon Legend DVD (Capitol, $25), for which she was executive producer. The DVD, to be released in the United States on Nov. 18, features 15 music videos, never-before-seen footage from the Ono-Lennon archives, rare newsreel film and new animations of Lennon's drawings.
What else is Ono doing? Critics are agog over Odyssey of a Cockroach, her current art installation in New York. Ono also this fall re-created her performance art Cut Piece for the first time in nearly 40 years. About Cut Piece, which involves Ono's clothes being cut with scissors by members of the audience, the artist told the crowd her handlers urged her to beef up security this time. Ono balked. She said the last time she did the piece, in 1964, she did it in anger.
This time, Ono wanted to do it with trust. Ono wanted no security guards. Ono said the show in Paris went fine. "Here I am," she told the crowd, spreading out her arms. Anyway, she added, if some "nut" had harmed her, "then it's even more important to recognize the need for world peace."
Ono, too, recently gave Broadway producers permission to use Lennon's post-Beatles songs in a musical about his life. (It's currently called The Lennon Project.)
SOUL LADIES DIG ROCK: It's not just the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige, who is a closet rocker: Blige recently told Rolling Stone that she dug Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit when it was a megahit. Add R&B singer-pianist Alicia Keys to the list of soulful ladies who love it loud. Keys told Vibe that she digs Queens of the Stone Age. Why?
"Just two things," classically trained Keys said. "They're different. And their time changes. They do wild things with their time signatures. Those guys are just incredible."
SUN RA IN "SPACE': Fans of the late revolutionary jazz pianist Sun Ra rejoice: the mystical man who claimed to be from Saturn and assembled the influential free jazz Sun Ra Arkestra is coming to you on DVD. Director John Coney's legendary 1974 film Space Is the Place, featuring Sun Ra, is being released by Plexifilm ($24.95). The film is the story of a man who travels through space looking for a new home for the black race. The man, played by Sun Ra, returns to California in 1972 to fight a supernatural villain, NASA and the FBI, eventually returning to space with some righteous folk.
Space is presented in its original director's cut with more than 20 minutes of previously unavailable footage, including never-before-seen Arkestra home movies. Remember, the band's members lived communally (and wildly) at times. The DVD also features an interview with Coney and liner notes by Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore.
MORE LOCALS AT CMJ MUSIC MARATHON: In last week's roundup of Tampa Bay area talent at the CMJ Music Marathon, we missed one band: melodic punk group Copeland also performed at the fest. The band's lead singer Aaron Marsh _ he of the sweet falsetto _ is from Lakeland. Bassist James Likeness is from Largo. Copeland, whose debut, Beneath Medicine Tree, has garnered much critical praise, will be in our neck of the woods soon: The band performs at the State Theatre Dec. 4. (www.thecopelandsite.com).
STEALING VANS FROM BANDS IS NOT NICE: Drummer Stan Arthur of local band Barely Pink had his van stolen last week while loading gear at the Emerald in St. Petersburg at a Halloween performance. Be on the lookout for a 1997 blue GMC Safari Van with Barely Pink stickers all over its windows, filled to the rim with pricey musical equipment. (Seriously, if you see it, call the St. Petersburg Police Department.) How's this for devotion? The van was stolen before the gig, but Arthur borrowed a drum kit from another player, said he was happy no one was hurt in the fiasco, and Barely Pink managed to rock the house anyway. That's the spirit!