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Yoko Ono Flies High

The odyssey is just beginning for musician/artist

October 29, 2003 12:00 AM ET

Yoko Ono is everywhere: in dance clubs, in art galleries and even on the spine of an indie rock album.

Her music -- thanks to remixes by the Pet Shop Boys, Danny Tenaglia, Felix Da Housecat, Orange Factory and others -- is turning on the ears, and feet, of a new generation. Ono recently watched a crowd in a New York club dancing to her music, and she requested a mike so she could add some live orgasmic moans to the track's recorded ones -- not something the average seventy-year-old does at 3 a.m.

In the last week, Ono has debuted two more remixes, "Will I" and "Fly," as well as a DVD of rare and unseen footage of late husband John Lennon she compiled. And her artistic life is currently as frenetic as her musical life. One exhibit, "Odyssey of a Cockroach," is on at New York's Deitch Projects; and she recently approved a musical based on Lennon's songs that will be coming to Broadway. Last month, after nearly forty years, Ono recreated "Cut Piece" in Paris. She sat on a chair onstage at the Ranelagh Theater as each of the 200 members of the audience cut off her clothes until she was in her lingerie.

And when the California rock band Beulah wanted the title of their new album to denote love, change and artistry, they came up with Yoko.

When you first did "Cut Piece" thirty-seven years ago, it was considered very cutting edge.

In those days I was expressing my emotional turbulence and anger, and I was communicating just with a small group of people -- mostly artists and intellectuals. And now it's anybody. It's a wider audience. I did it with love for the world and you and me. If you can carry some feeling of love for each other, that's very important.

Isn't love the hardest emotion to draw out of a stranger?

No, I don't think so. I think it's the easiest emotion. Life is so beautiful that it's hard not to love it.

What inspires you?

I really don't know. I get inspired by anything. Newton found an incredible thing from a drop of an apple.

In some lights art is viewed as passive, but you've long worked for peace, a physical job, because you must persuade governments, persuade people and change philosophies.

Well, how do you persuade people? I mean, you can go in front of the White House and just kind of bang the doors and say, "You better do what I'm telling you to do." Or you could be writing something in the newspaper. There are many ways of doing it, and I'm not using just one way. Art is an expression and that is a way to communicate the importance of the idea of world peace.

Beulah singer Miles Kurosky said, "Yoko had to be the title since the record is about love, my growth as an artist, and the changes I've been going through as a human being. I wanted to make a more mature, confident and daring artistic statement. The word 'Yoko' says it all: change, progress and risk."

He's very eloquent. I really blessed Beulah, because they're going back to being real. Beulah are starting to do something on a different level. It's very close to the kind of writing that was done in the Sixties. It's good, and it's coming back.

When "Open Your Box" came out in the U.K. in 1971, it was banned. Now, it's a huge dance hit.

I'm very thankful that that happened within my lifetime. I'm experiencing it with a sense of wonderment.

What do you think the difference is?

The main difference is the usual difference: step by step we're getting wiser, all of us together.

What were you thinking when you heard the first remixes of your music?

When I first heard "Open Your Box" by Orange Factory, I just started crying. It was so beautiful that somebody understood my work so well.

Why do you think the dance genre is so open to your music?

It comes naturally to me. I'm one person who's really mad about dancing. I love it.

Some of your music -- "Open Your Box" and "Yang Yang" for example -- is very sexual and some it is very graphic. Do you think people are more open to that now?

Definitely. It's to celebrate life. Life is sex, and sex is love.

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Song Stories

“Whoomp! (There It Is)”

Tag Team | 1993

Cecil Glenn — a.k.a., "D.C." — was a cook at Magic City, a nude dance club in Atlanta, when he first heard women shout "Whoomp — there it is!" Inspired by the party chant, he and partner Steve "Roll'n" Gibson wrote a song around it. Undaunted by label rejections, they borrowed $2,500 from Glenn's parents and pressed 800 singles, which quickly sold out in the Atlanta area. A record deal came soon after. Glenn said the song was meant for positive partying. "If you're going to say 'Whoomp there it is,' and you're doing something negative, we'd rather it not have come out of your mouth."

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