Yoko Ono

The world's most famous widow comes clean about her special powers.

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Illustration: Rob Kelly

Just like in Rosemary's Baby, there's a witch living in the Dakota. She is petite and bosomy, her eyes hidden behind green shades and her hair spiked in Park Slope chic, like a funky old aunt with a hippie past. Her cavernous apartment, where she moved with John Lennon in 1973, is immaculately tidy. "Miss Ono," as an assistant introduces her, maintains a strict shoes-off policy; coupled with the home's collection of art, this creates a strange sensation, like sliding around MoMA in your socks.

Just like in Rosemary's Baby, there's a witch living in the Dakota. She is petite and bosomy, her eyes hidden behind green shades and her hair spiked in Park Slope chic, like a funky old aunt with a hippie past. Her cavernous apartment, where she moved with John Lennon in 1973, is immaculately tidy. "Miss Ono," as an assistant introduces her, maintains a strict shoes-off policy; coupled with the home's collection of art, this creates a strange sensation, like sliding around MoMA in your socks.

On the eve of her 74th birthday, Ono is releasing Yes, I'm a Witch, for which she entrusted vocal tracks from throughout her career to 16 younger acts. The remixed interpretations include haunted balladry (Cat Power), ferocious rock (the Flaming Lips) and beautiful orchestral pop (Apples in Stereo). Perched at her kitchen table, Ono—who refuses to speak about her nutty chauffeur—is unexpectedly gregarious, funny and kind of cute. In the adjoining room, her late husband stares down approvingly from the cheerful confines of a Warhol portrait.

Like your earliest artwork, Yes, I'm a Witch is really interactive. Why is this so important to you?

It's the antithesis to most artists' thinking, My work is eternal. That's the classic ego of an artist; I always wanted to go against it. Things should be considered unfinished. People interpret art in different ways—it's like a live organism.

The album's title comes from your 1974 song—

Well, I recorded it then, but it didn't come out. Everybody said, "It will damage your reputation." As if I had a good reputation! [Laughs] I'll tell you what it's about. The word witch has a very derogatory connotation, whereas the equivalent male version—wizard—has a good one. Think about it! So I'm saying, "I'm a witch!" Because all women are witches. It means that women are magical.

Still, you're clearly being playful with your image.

Yeah, part of it is tongue-in-cheek. I'm a witch—ha-ha.

Don't you think your reputation has changed? To a baby boomer, you're "the woman who broke up the Beatles." But for younger people, your relationship with John seems like a classic storybook romance.

Well, it was. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. But you know, I sometimes regretted that I fell in love, because we sacrificed a lot for it. John was laughed at for being in love with me. And I think I was discredited as an artist.

More than falling in love, did you regret leaving the avant-garde for the pop world?

No. The avant-garde was getting stale and contrived. I didn't have much respect for it. In those days, each field was standing apart from each other. There was a kind of disdain for each other.

Were you and your art pals even aware of the Beatles?

No, never! Didn't know them! [Laughs] We were knee-deep into our world. We knew jazz, but there was no peripheral vision, so to speak. It's very different now—everything's available to everybody.

You lived in both America and Japan around the time of World War II. Did that perspective fuel your future pacifism?

Oh, definitely. When I was a little child, I was stoned by other kids.

Literally?

Literally! I was living in Long Island with my parents. Where I lived, everybody loved me. But if I went two blocks away, kids thought of me as the yellow race, and they used to stone me. I was startled. Then during the war in Japan, they evacuated kids to the countryside. The farmers hated the city people, so when I went to school, those kids threw stones at me! [Laughs] It's been a very strange, but very educational life.

Do you have an early favorite in the presidential election?

Well, let's not go into that. Focusing so much on attacking somebody usually just gives them a lot of energy. Believe me—I know that, because I have a lot of energy. Good lord!

But you must relate to Hillary Clinton. She's a smart, assertive woman who was demonized by the press and overshadowed by an iconic husband.

Yeah, that was a killer for her. I bless her for her power. I hope it leads to a direction where she can do a lot of good for people.

Yes, I'm a Witch is out now on Astralwerks.

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