Last Thursday, my telephone rang and on the other end was Yoko Ono.
Some of you out there may be scoffing, maybe you don't think that's a big deal. Scoff all you want; she used to be married to my hero--Tony Cox. Only kidding! Mrs. Lennon was on the horn to push the John Lennon Art Exhibition, which starts January 13 at Scottsdale Plaza Resort, a traveling show of the Smart Beatle's work, primarily pen-and-ink stuff. I'm no art critic, but I can tell you that the pieces are direct, spare, moving and funny; just like their creator was.

Yoko's gotten a bad rap over the years. People say she broke up the Beatles, they say she's a wicked, conniving Svengali, they say she would never have gotten anywhere without Lennon. What they don't say is that her music influenced quite a few punk and alternative bands (listen again to the falsetto throat warbling on those B-52's albums). Bands that you just might know and love--you who just might be scoffing. If you don't believe me, the proof is in Rykodisc's deliciously lavish, six-CD Onobox. The set is the definitive collection, and, unlike some multidisc anthologies, it never becomes repetitive. This may be because Ono didn't have a background in pop music, and, consequently, the original sounds she produced are still not only fresh but interesting; that's more than you can say for most of what's being released today. London Jam is the first disc of the set, and contains some great, weird stuff: Yoko wailing over tablas on "O'Wind (Body Is the Scar of Your Mind)," Yoko producing an eerie, mesmerizing melange of sound called "Touch Me," Yoko doing a funky throat-thing on "Open Your Box." Her music becomes more conventional (listenable to some) in the music from the mid-late 70s, but it's the early stuff that I like. She gets tough, too; "I can always get another pig like you" sings Ono on "What a Bastard the World Is" from the New York Rock disc. The collection makes for an absorbing listen, and your enjoyment of it has nothing, whatsoever--it should be noted--to do with liking the Beatles.

Now here's some of the poop from the telephone call:

Screed: Are you a businesswoman or an artist these days?
Yoko Ono: I really don't know what image I project to people. For myself, I was just always the same, using my artistic instinct to do everything in my life, and in the 90s, I think most people are like that; it's the times. It's a more complex age and many people are wearing many hats. Especially women. You can't just be an artist, period. You have to be a mother, a teacher or nurse or whatever. In the old days, it was almost like a credit to the artist that they didn't understand anything about finance, and that's how artists were supposed to be. Now you have to be more shrewd.

S: Did John want to be recognized as an artist more than he was?
Yoko: I know that he wanted to express himself as an artist, and he was looking around for galleries. But he was a famous rock star, and that worked against him. Now his work has been in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and so forth, but he did not see that before he passed away.

S: What kind of work do you have in your house?
Yoko: There's one room where I have John's work and a few other socially accepted painters' work, and John's stand out equally.

S: Why are you doing this art show?
Yoko: In his lifetime, John was very caring about my work, very encouraging. It's my turn now.

S: What music does your teenage son (Sean, who's 13) listen to? Yoko: Well, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, all that. S: Do you like Nirvana?

Yoko: I would say that I go for Jane's Addiction, that sort of people.
S: Were you a pop fan in the 50s and 60s?
Yoko: Until I met John, I was really not that aware of it; in terms of a value judgment, I didn't think much of it. Then when I met John, and through him the Beatles, I felt I understood what they were trying to do, and I started to have a lot of respect for them.

S: Are you an Iggy Pop fan?
Yoko: Well, yes, you know? Aren't we all?
S: Can love save the world?

Yoko: We're at a very complex stage, but still, love is the only thing we've got. We have to think about it in terms of power. Money is power, and knowledge is power, but in the end, love is a life force, and if you don't have that life, you don't survive.

S: You've been through a lot in your life; have you ever thought of doing a country record?

Yoko: That would be nice, wouldn't it? John was always talking about crossing over, and country singers are always crossing over to rock, right? I think John had a few country songs, and I had a few country songs, as well, but I never thought of making a whole record. But I know what you mean.

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