Yoko Ono peers through holes, reaches back to a plastic past
Exhibit two: Ono's latest album, Between My Head and the Sky (Chimera, 2009), her first release working with the name Plastic Ono Band since 1975's Shaved Fish (Apple). Plastic Ono Band is a name Lennon dreamed up when told about an Ono performance utilizing four plastic stands with tape recorders in them. The loose gathering of rock cohorts — encompassing not only Clapton and Voormann but also the Who's Keith Moon, Billy Preston, Yes' Alan White, and Phil Spector — is a precursor to that utopian, gang-of-like-minded-friends quality embedded in so many experimental rock ensembles today.
Lennon and Ono's son — and Ono's current music director — Sean Lennon suggested resurrecting the project. "Sean said, 'Mommy, would you mind if we record as Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band? Bring up Plastic Ono Band again!" Ono recalls. "<0x2009>'Why do we do that? You want to do that?' I said, and I thought about it and thought the reason why I was blocking that name was because John and I used it and, I mean, John thought of it, and for me. And when John passed away, I just blocked it, you know."
"The thing is, many people are, like, 'Are you kidding? You don't do it with your son! You just don't do it — it's just the most difficult thing to do,'" Ono continued. "And I got a bit scared. I said, 'Oh, dear, did I say anything I shouldn't have?' But my position was right. I didn't have any problem about it, and it just worked out very well." The album does stand out among Ono's shockingly deep discography. It embraces elegiac acoustic beauty and poetry ("Memory of Footsteps"), playful and still-surprisingly sexy funk ("Ask the Elephant"), and ambient experiments ("CALLING") that recall her most brilliant avant rock recordings, à la Fly (Apple, 1971), in addition to her call-outs to the dance-floor ("Walking on Thin Ice").
The key, Ono believes, is that Sean listened to everything by his mother and father, as well as the Beatles. "He knows all of them, but not in the way that most fans just listen to something. Because he's a musician, he knows the intro, the bars, the what-comes-next kind of thing musically, very well. So if I say, 'Why don't we do it something between "Why" and "Mind Train"? He's, like, 'OK.' So it's very, very good that way. Our creative conversation didn't start from scratch. It started from all the knowledge that he had of my music, you know."
Sean's studies take on an air less of filial obedience than newfound respect when one considers the last time he collaborated with his mother, on Rising (Capital, 1995). "He was 17 and he was a very different animal then," Ono says chuckling. "Luckily, he's grown up to be a very unique and talented musician. But in those days ... I went with him and his band — and it was a bit difficult. You know, just 17, and they were very cocky. They really felt like they were doing a favor for me! Of course, I just wanted to give Sean a musical experience."
As gratifying as it is to see Sean and younger generations finally appreciating her work, Ono continues to be propelled by other forces. Despite her well-documented activities, including seeing to the licensing of Lennon's music for products like last year's The Beatles: Rock Band game, she still jots down ideas for new artwork and song lyrics. "It's my security blanket" she explains matter-of-factly. "In a sense, without art or music or being able to express myself that way, I would have died a long time ago, I'm sure.