Saturday, October 22, 2016

Frank M. Tedesco writes

I lived with my parents in a lily white suburb on Long Island called Massapequa Park from 1956-1963. Upon graduating from Massapequa High on my 17th birthday June 23, I quickly moved into Greenwich Village in Manhattan to attend NYU Washington Square College on a scholarship. Although I began Zen meditation and read a lot in Eastern religions, I had no contact with people from Asia. I had never met any Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Indians; like many Americans I had a stereotyped image of East Asians in my head from TV and movies and my father's war stories fighting in the Pacific. And bias against the enemy North Vietnam.

My first two years 63-65 I lived in the Judson Memorial Church Student House at 237 Thompson Street just off Washington Square Park. One hot day in 1964 or 65 I undressed, wrapped a towel around myself and walked to the men's communal shower down the hall. I left my dorm room door open since the building was quite secure. Dripping wet in a towel I returned to my room and was shocked to find a woman sitting on my bed wearing panties and unhitching her bra. She screamed. I screamed. What the hell! What was she doing there! She shouted that she had just moved into the room. She had mistakenly gone to the men's quarters on the 3rd floor. All women were housed on the second floor for. Her room was right beneath mine. I walked back to the shower and gave her time to get dressed and move downstairs. 
She had long, black hair and was not particularly pretty but she was half naked. She was also the first Asian woman I had ever encountered in my life, not even in a Chinese restaurant. Since we were both residents in the small dorm and shared a kitchen, we saw each other afterwards for about a year. She had a baby girl. She was not very friendly, sometimes rude to me, soaking me with her wet raincoat one night when she forgot her key to get into the dorm in the middle of the night. I guess she had greater ambitions. I was a punk teenager from Long Island. 

Her name? Yoko Ono.

 Mandatory Credit: Photo by John Knoote/ANL/REX_Shutterstock (1826235a)Artist Yoko Ono Sitting In Her 'half Bedroom'. (widow Of John Lennon). [ 1/2 Bedroom ].Artist Yoko Ono Sitting In Her 'half Bedroom'. (widow Of John Lennon). [ 1/2 Bedroom ].


  1. One of Yoko Ono's seminal pieces of conceptual art was her small book, "Grapefruit," published in 1964 when she was 31 years old. It was a set of instructions through which the work of art is completed, either literally or in the imagination of the participant-viewer. ("Hide and Seek Piece: Hide until everybody goes home. Hide until everybody forgets about you. Hide until everybody dies." "Film Script 5: Do not look at Rock Hudson, look only at Doris Day.") In it, she also wrote, “I wonder why men can get serious at all. They have this delicate long thing hanging outside their bodies, which goes up and down by its own will.” The Ono family had produced numerous warriors, academics, musicians, and painters; her father's mother had been Japan’s foremost pioneering feminist, and her uncle was Japan's first ambassador to the United Nations. Fluent in English and French, her father had been a nationally ranked golfer and classically trained concert pianist before going to work for the Yokohama Shōkin Ginkō (Yokohama Specie Bank). Her mother's grandfather was Yasuda Zenjiro, Japan's richest businessman, but he disinherited his daughter and her husband shortly before his assassination in 1921 by Asahi Heigo, a leader of the ultra-nationalist Shinshu gidan (Righteousness Corps of the Divine Land); Yasuda's estate was worth about ¥18 million worth of assets and financial zaibatsu that controlled over 19 banks and numerous other companies. Nevertheless, the disinherited son-in-law was elevated to the peerage and ran one of family banks. Yoko studied at the Gakushūin ("Peers School") founded in 1847 by emperor Ninkō to educate the children of the nobility. The family spent a year in New York due to her father's job, then returned to Japan, and Yoko was enrolled in Keimei Gakuen, an exclusive Christian primary school run by the Mitsui family. She remained in Tokyo through the great fire-bombing of March 9, 1945, during which she was sheltered with other family members in a special bunker in the Azabu district of Tokyo, where they had to barter for food. Her father was taken to a prisoner-of-war camp and was assumed to be dead for almost a year. Yoko studied piano from the age of 4, but in 1946, when she was 13, her father advised her to give it up because her hands were too small, but she told him she'd rather write music anyway, though Japan had never produced a well-known female composer. At 14 she took up vocal training in lieder-singing. She had long attended kabuki performances with her mother, who was trained to play shamisen, koto, otsuzumi, kotsuzumi, nagauta, and could read Japanese musical scores. She re-enrolled at the Gakushūin and became a close friend of one of her classmates, the future emperor Akihito, and in 1951 became the first woman to be admitted to Gakushūin University’s philosophy department; after two semesters she joined her parents in Scarsdale, New York, since her father was the president of the American branch of the Bank of Tokyo (Kabushiki gaisha Tōkyō Ginkō), which had taken over the assets of the Yokohama Specie Bank in 1946.

  2. For awhile she attended Sarah Lawrence College, a private liberal arts college for women modeled on the tutorial system of Oxford University which combined seminars with low student-to-faculty ratio and independent research projects individually supervised by the teaching faculty; it was the first American liberal arts college to incorporate a rigorous approach to the arts with John Dewey's principles of progressive education. There, she studied poetry with Alastair Reid, English literature with Kathryn Mansell, and music composition with André Singer, who introduced her to the work of Edgar Varèse, John Cage, and Henry Cowell, and she began writing miniature stories and poems, such as "Secret Piece" (“Decide on one note that you want to play. Play it with the following accompaniment: the woods from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. in the summer.” ) and told her teacher she wanted to translate birdsong into music. But she left school in 1956 to elope with a Juilliard School of Music student, Ichiyanagi Toshi, later to become a celebrated composer, and supported herself through secretarial work and lessons in the traditional Japanese arts at the Japan Society. Primarily influenced by Cage's Experimental Music Composition classes at the New School for Social Research, a number of avant-garde artists in New York began to hold happenings, especially the AG Gallery events organized by Jurgis "George" Maciunas, featuring Ichiyanagi, Jackson Mac Low and Dick Higgins. Through her husband, Yoko met Cage and became deeply involved with the avant-garde movement in New York and in the summer of 1960 allowed composer La Monte Young to organize concerts in her cheap Tribeca loft that were attended by people like the Cubist pioneer Marcel Duchamp, Neo-Dadaist painter Jasper Johns, and minimalist composer Philip Glass. She only presented work once during the series: she smeared eggs and Jell-O onto a canvas, then set it on fire. Out of these diverse events, Maciunas organized Fluxus, an international avant-garde movement characterized by intermedia, the playful subversion of previous art traditions while blurring the distinctions between art and life, and the rejection of rarefied or commercial art. In 1961, she performed radical experimental music and performances at the 258-seat Carnegie Recital Hall, her first major concert. After living apart for several years, the Ichiyanagis filed for divorce in 1962 and Yoko rejoined her family in Tokyo, where she she was admitted to a mental institution due to clinical depression, but the American jazz musician, film producer, and art promoter Anthony Cox helped gain her release and she married him later that year. (Because she had neglected to finalize her divorce, her marriage to Cox was annulled in 1963, and they remarried three months later, shortly before the birth of their daughter. They performed at Tokyo's Sogetsu Hall, with Ono lying atop a piano played by Cage. Ono left most of Kyoko's parenting to Cox while she pursued her art full-time, and Cox managed her publicity though their marital relations had ended. (They divorced in 1969, and Cox ran off with their daughter during a 1971 custody battle, and Yoko did not see her daughter again until 1998.) Ono first performed "Cut piece" in 1964 at the Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo, consisting of an expensively dressed Ono kneeling on a stage with a pair of scissors in front of her and invitng audience members to cut off pieces of her clothing. She alo stared making short films, such as a Fluxus film in 1966 called "No. 4" (often referred to as "Bottoms"), a 5 1/2 minute movie of close-ups of human buttocks walking on a treadmill; its soundtrack consisted of interviews with those being filmed and with others considering joining the project.

  3. She was only one of two women invited to speak at Gustav Metzger's Destruction in Art Symposium in London in September 1966, and the only one chosen to perform her own art events. In November, John Lennon, the leader of the musical group the Beatles, was introduced to Yoko by the owner of the Indica Gallery, where she was preparing her conceptual art exhibit, which included a ladder with a spyglass at the top; Lennon climbed the ladder and looked through the spyglass and saw the word "YES" printed on a small canvas suspended from the ceiling. He was also intrigued by her Hammer a Nail piece, in which viewers hammered a nail into a wooden board. Though the exhibition had not opened, Lennon wanted to hammer a nail into the clean board, but Ono stopped him at first, then relented on condition that he pay her five shillings. Lennon told her he'd give her an imaginary five shillings and hammer in an imaginary nail. (Lennon's fellow Beatle, Paul McCartney, claimed that John and Yoko had met the year before, when she was in London compiling original musical scores for a book by Cage; McCartney declined to give her any of his own manuscripts, but Lennon gave her the original handwritten lyrics to "The Word.") In September 1967, Lennon sponsored a solo Ono show at Lisson Gallery and soon began adding cryptic references to her in his songs (such as "Julia," in which he wrote that "Ocean child [the translation of Yoko's name] calls me.") In May 1968, while Lennon's wife was on holiday, John and Yoko spent a night recording the "Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins" album and then made love at dawn. Mrs. Lennon returned home unexpectedly and found them them sitting cross-legged on the floor in matching white robes, staring into each other's eyes. Inspired by her "Grapefruit," they had imagined that the sound was not etched into the vinyl's grooves but was actually meant meant to be created by the listener's mind. The recordings consisted largely of tape loops playing while Lennon tried out different instruments (piano, organ, drums) and sound effects (reverb, delay and distortion), changed tapes, and played other recordings, while the two conversed and Yoko vocalised ad-lib responses to the various sounds. Later, they used a time-delay camera to take nude photographs of themselves for the album cover; the front cover displayed them facing the camera. While the rear cover showed them from behind. It took Lennon six months to persuade his fellow Beatles to agree to release the album, and it was eventually sold in a brown paper bag to hide the nudity. They also contributed "Revolution 9," another experimental piece, to "The Beatles" (the so-called "White Album").

  4. At The Alchemical Wedding, an underground artists' gathering at London's Royal Albert Hall, the couple crawled into a large black velvet bag on stage, sat cross-legged knee-to-knee, and closed the bag, moving only twice in 45 minutes while musicians played, poets ranted, and a female member of the audience stripped off her clothes and danced; when the police tried to remove her, other audience members started stripping in solidarity, and nobody was arrested. After Lennon and Ono's separate divorces, they staged week-long Bed-Ins for Peace at their honeymoon at the Hilton Amsterdam and, after the US refused to allow them to enter, at Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth in Montreal, where they recorded their joint composition, "Give Peace a Chance, which became Lennon's first independent single under the "Plastic Ono Band" moniker. Then they embarked on a series of antiwar appearances in which they wore body-covering bags to satirize prejudice and stereotyping, since people living in a bag could not be judged on the basis of skin colour, gender, hair length, attire, age, etc. After the Beatles recorded "The Ballad of John and Yoko," the pair decided to form their own band. John Winston lennon changed his name to John Ono Lennon, and the Plastic Ono Band released "Live Peace in Toronto 1969" with guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Klaus Voormann, and drummer Alan White; the first half of their performance consisted of rock standards, but the second half was an avant-garde set consisting mostly of feedback with Yoko screaming and singing. She released her first solo album, "Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band" in 1970, a companion piece to Lennon's "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band;" her album included raw, harsh vocals which bore a similarity with sounds in nature (especially those made by animals) and free jazz techniques with wind and brass players including Ornette Coleman; some songs were wordless vocalizations. In 1971 she released "Fly," a slightly more conventional psychedelic double album with a number of Fluxus experiments. But the pair largely disappeared from recordings and public perormances. On December 8, 1980, after working in the studio on her song, "Walking on Thin Ice," they returned to The Dakota, their home in New York City, where Lennon was murdered by a deranged fan who had been stalking him for two months. Released as a single less than a month later, it became her first chart success. She continued to record and produce other controversial works, even as younger artists began to be inspired by her. For example, when Lennon heard the B-52s perform "Rock Lobster" in 1980, he realized that her music had become "mainstream," and they also covered her song, "Don't Worry, Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)" (shortening the title to "Don't Worry"); Elvis Costello recorded a version of her "Walking on Thin Ice;" and Sonic Youth included a performance of Ono's early conceptual "Voice Piece for Soprano" on their experimental album "SYR4: Goodbye 20th Century." She won the 2012 Oskar Kokoschka Prize, Austria's highest award for applied contemporary art.


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