At 80, the controversial artist is still full of passion—and surprises  

To a younger generation, Yoko Ono isn’t the dragon lady who broke up the Beatles. She’s a multitasking, forward-thinking artist who’s scored 10 No. 1 dance hits, collaborated with stars including Lady Gaga, the Flaming Lips, and Iggy Pop, and staged cutting-edge art exhibitions—as well as an activist who works relentlessly to raise awareness on issues ranging from natural gas fracking to AIDS, autism and same-sex marriage. She also fronts the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band.

Take Me to the Land of Hell, produced with son Sean Lennon and multi-instrumentalist Yuka Honda, is Ono’s newest release. It is perhaps her most sonically and topically varied recording to date, with songs ranging from tender ballads to raging noise-rock and pounding rhythmic dance blasters. Lenny Kravitz, tUnE-yArDs and the Roots’ Questlove are among the guests. While some of the lyrics’ imagery can be construed as violent—like lines depicting “strangling the birds” and “blood river”—Ono says her use of such stark words is not in conflict with her lifelong promotion of world peace. “When you hear my records you think, ‘Oh dear, she’s very negative.’ But the positivity of life is extremely complicated,” she says. “There are layers to it. It’s about passion.”

Passion defines Ono’s art and life. “That’s one thing that’s always been there,” she says. “Not having passion could have a serious consequence.”

Ono is 80—a fact that never crosses her mind. “The future is now,” she says. “Instead of looking at the future we have and appreciating it, we tend to look at the past, at things that are bad. We just don’t have the time or luxury now to be that negative. We have to keep doing things that are positive.” And while she strives to live in the moment, much of Ono’s thoughts are still focused on what she and John created together. She’s filtered out the controversy that made her the target of derision from those who felt her meddling split the legendary band, choosing instead to remember the affirmative outlook the couple maintained. “When people would say something negative, that was distant to us,” she says.

Ono has high hopes for the world. “I think we are going to finally wake up, and, in the last moment, we will get together and use our incredible intelligence,” she says. “We’re going to survive, even if we have to move to another planet. But it’s a beautiful planet, so why leave? We will heal it and make it beautiful again. In 50 years we’ll have heaven on Earth.”

–Jeff Tamarkin


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