"Seventy is great," Ono recently told Time magazine, "but 80 is even better."
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Ono remains as energetic, too: In the past year, her visual art has been exhibited in galleries and museums across Europe. And she's just completed two music projects — an avant-garde pop rock album called Take Me to the Land of Hell and a remix of her classic "Walking on Thin Ice" that hit No. 1 as a dance single.
In a phone conversation in early October, Ono touched on working with her 38-year-old son, Sean Lennon; her love affair with his father; and why none of us should fear aging.
Q: You say a "second life" opened up for you at 70.
A: It's true! When I became 70, I couldn't believe it. I thought, "What? I haven't spent that much time on Earth yet!" But then I realized I was getting better. And I want to tell you it gets better and better, because you accumulate a lot of wisdom. You accumulate a lot of experience. And you can give a lot.
Q: Your records routinely hit the dance charts. Do you dance?
A: I love dancing. I can do lots of different kinds of dance — waltz, rock 'n' roll, whatever. But I just go by my body movements. When I was 3 or 4 years old, my parents filmed me all the time on 8 mm film. I was just dancing all over the place.
Q: Your new album, Take Me to the Land of Hell, is the Plastic Ono Band's first album in two years. I understand your son, Sean Lennon, persuaded you to revive the band?
A: Yeah, he surprised me with that. He called and said, "Mummy, I have an important question to ask you." Then he told me he really wanted me to revive the Plastic Ono Band. "Whatever for?" I said. But then I thought about it, and I realized it probably means a lot to him, because his dad and mom created it.
Q: Sean also helped you shape the new album. What was it like working with him in the studio?
A: Well, I'm very lucky that way — my husband was incredible, and so is my son! [Laughs] When we recorded Take Me to the Land of Hell, I'd say something like, "I have to add this song because I love it."
Then Sean would say, "Well, Mom, that song is too short. I want you to give me a second verse."
I'd say, "Oh, no, the first was good enough."
Sean: "No, no, no, no. Second verse, please. And a third verse, please." [Laughs]
So I added the verses. Sean's a very sensitive guy, and he's always being kind to his mom. And he likes my work, so that's good. Can you imagine if he didn't?
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Q: The album's title song is a very moving piece about your relationship with John Lennon. You're saying your love brought you heaven, but your fame brought you hell, right?
A: Well, we had a great time in the hell that the media gave us [laughs], but we created a heaven within it. We were totally, totally, strongly in love, so we just ignored the fact that it was hell. Isn't it amazing we had that kind of love? I always thought that was normal. And John probably did, too, because we were very similar. You should have that kind of a love for each other. You have to open yourself and put your emotion out to the world, instead of holding back and being a very logical person who just wants to make money or be known.
Q: We think of you as a serious artist. But you show a sweeter side in "Little Boy Blue Your Daddy's Gone," which you wrote for Sean.
A: Well, if you're only serious, that's a weight around your neck. You have to have a lighthearted side and a heavy side — two sides of the same coin. Life is like that.
Q: There was a time when you felt misunderstood by the public. But you've received a lot of awards and accolades in the last few years, including the Digital Genius Award from MTV in June. How does it feel?
A: Well, I hope it's not just because I'm 80. [Laughs] Whatever the reason is, people are being kind to me. I haven't had that in a while — but I'll take it.
Alanna Nash is a music and culture writer.
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