Happy 90th Birthday Yoko Ono

Richard Barone: I previously made my personal fanboy confessions in these pages in 2013, on Yoko Ono’s 80th birthday. I am delighted to be able to return now to commemorate another milestone.

Yoko’s 90th birthday is cause to celebrate an astonishing career of fearlessly pushing boundaries—of music, film, art, media and culture—like precious few have done before.

Yoko made her concert debut at Carnegie Recital Hall on Nov. 24, 1961 (just two weeks after Bob Dylan’s at the same venue), and every artistic move she has made since has been purposeful, resonating at several levels at once. “Yoko invented conceptual art!!” my mentor and Ono’s legendary Fluxus art movement associate, Jonas Mekas, would exclaim to me while pounding the table as he spoke the word “invented.”

“Yoko wakes up each day knowing that she can change the world—and sets out to do it,” Madeline Bocaro, author of the excellent, recent book In Your Mind: The Infinite Universe Of Yoko Ono, told me.

Yoko met her match in John Lennon, and vice versa, and the two proceeded to become the quintessential power couple of the ’60s/’70s, combining conceptual art and pop music like few could ever imagine. And Yoko has never stopped. She has artfully mastered the tools of social media, and her message has spread to subsequent generations.

“It’s wonderful that Yoko is now witnessing worldwide appreciation of her art, and the rewards of her efforts in effecting positive changes for women,” says Bocaro. 

Now we celebrate Yoko, each in our own way. In Los Angeles, A Love Letter To Yoko (“part concert, part happening and part gallery opening”) transpired on Valentine’s Day. Today, Morning Piece For Yoko Ono (a morning dance party of Yoko’s music) will take place at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, just across the street from Yoko’s home at the Dakota. Co-organizer Philip Ward told me, “I feel it necessary to celebrate the life of art, music and social activism by an individual who has changed the world and has shared endlessly with us the beauty and the honesty of her heart and life.”

Then there’s Yoko’s gift to us: Wish Tree, a interactive project started in 1996 that has sprouted branches all over the world. “Make a wish,” wrote Yoko. “Write it down on a piece of paper. Fold it and tie it around a branch of a Wish Tree. Ask your friends to do the same. Keep wishing. Until the branches are covered with wishes.”

This year, Yoko’s son Sean Ono Lennon launched a virtual Wish Tree, where people all over the world can post their wishes online and—in association with One Tree Planted—plant real trees in Yoko’s honor.

My wish for you, Yoko, is a joyous 90th birthday. Along with my gratitude for a lifetime of sublime inspiration.

Cover photo for MAGNET by Gene Smirnov

The two most recent releases from rock ‘n’ roll lifer and jack-of-all-trades Richard Barone celebrate the 1960s Greenwich Village music scene: covers album Sorrows & Promises and book Music + Revolution.