The last time I saw Yoko Ono in concert, which was just a year ago, I was handed a small blue plastic puzzle piece in a small fabric bag as I entered the club. It was a very Yoko Ono gesture, and I’m sure the piece symbolized a lot of things: the sky, world peace, an artist’s anxiety in facing an audience.
Yoko Ono is a brave performer, but her anxiety and shyness is often evident when she stands on stage. It must be this shyness that drives her exhibitionism and displays of aggression; as a young experimental artist (before she met John Lennon), she created her famous “Cut Piece” (it’s described in Ellen Pearlman’s recent book Nothing and Everything) in which she invited viewers to cut off pieces of her clothes while she sat still. This gesture wouldn’t have been as moving as it was if her anxiety were not so palpable on her face as she sat.
Today is Yoko’s 80th birthday, and she remains highly active as a pacifist, musician and public philosopher, her positive message never wavering over time. Many people think of her career as a joke or refuse to take her seriously, but she is one of the few living public figures today (Nicholson Baker is another) whose courage reminds me of Henry David Thoreau. Her life’s work and amazing career is now the subject of a new art book and authorized biography, Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies by Nell Beram and Carolyn Boriss-Krimsky.
If you buy only one expensive coffee-table book a year, this book would be a good choice for it. Happy birthday from the world to Yoko Ono! We’re lucky to have you here.