LOS ANGELES — Yoko Ono looks tired. The 77-year-old artist, musician and political activist has spent the majority of the day talking about the “American Masters” production “LENNONYC.”
The documentary looks at her life in New York with John Lennon and their son, Sean, from 1971 until Lennon’s murder on the street in front of their apartment at The Dakota on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in 1980.
Ono suddenly seems to have found new energy. She smiles, extends her hand and again takes up the labor of love she’s dealt with for 30 years as the champion of her husband’s life and work.
“I had so many things of my own I wanted to do this year. Then I remembered John would be 70, so I dropped the other things. I am concentrating on John because it’s a very special year,” says Ono during an interview at the Beverly Hilton.
“American Masters” creator Susan Lacy says the two-hour documentary, made in close association with Ono, establishes the Liverpool-born Lennon as a true American artist.
“He was, to be sure, a Beatle; as Lennon-McCartney, part of the greatest songwriting team of our time. But for the last decade of his life, Lennon was an iconic solo artist, except for his collaborations with Yoko,” Lacy says. “It was New York City where most of his solo work originated. It was there, too, that he found peace and redemption, freedom to create a loving family with Yoko and live a normal life.”
Ono is happy with the final product and she’s sure Lennon would have approved.
“It’s very, very interesting, even for me,” Ono says. “When I saw the rushes, I thought, ‘OK, this is something that John would have approved and John would have wanted the world to see’ because it’s the part of his life that he really loved. Because it’s New York.
“But also, they’re things that people didn’t know.”
The film includes never-before heard studio recordings from the Lennon-Ono “Double Fantasy” sessions, outtakes of Lennon concerts and family home movies. It was while living in New York Lennon wrote “Mind Games,” “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” “I’m Losing You” and “Woman.”
Lennon met Ono in 1966 when he visited a preview of an exhibition of her’s at London’s Indica Gallery. The pair married in 1969. The documentary looks at how Lennon spent much of his time in New York staying at home so he could help raise Sean.
Ono often wonders how many men she sees in Central Park caring for their babies would be there if Lennon had not set such an example.
“When Sean was born, (John) was a totally different person. He was so much into bringing Sean up. I think that maybe he thought that he could do a better job than me,” Ono says. “He said, ‘You do the business.’ I was a little bit worried about me doing the business, of course. Then I thought, ‘Well, you know, he is taking care of the baby, which is probably not that easy. So I better do this.’”
Ono felt empty after Lennon’s death. She’d spent so much energy on their relationship and suddenly he was gone. She decided the best way for her — and the fans — to deal with the death was to release something related to him each year, from music to this latest documentary. Ono has been very selective about the releases.
“Some of the songs could not be out there because John just played it on the piano or something at home. And I felt that if I just put out anything, it would be slashed by the critics,” Ono says. “I thought, ‘Well, we’re not going to do that to John.’ So each song that was not completed, finished, I have to really take care of it in a way that they would come out in the right way.”
It was hard on her to go through Lennon’s work during the first few years after his death.
“I would faint when I’d hear John’s voice or something. But now, I’m used to listening to John’s songs. And this time I have to listen to so many of his songs. This was very, very heavy,” Ono says. “And I loved it in a way because it was like John coming back to let me know that those are the songs that he created when we were together.”
Ono didn’t take time to deal with her own grief after Lennon’s death.
“The fans needed me after John’s death and at that point I said ‘I grieve with you,’” Ono says. “I thought of it as the job I had to do because I am John’s wife.”
Ono had difficulty finding a way to deal with her own pain while having everything she said and did scrutinized. People questioned why she continued to live at the Dakota.
She stayed because it was the home that she and Lennon had made together.
“I’m not going to leave that and go to some strange house that I never went to. This is something we built, and when you go inside, you see that each room is something that we made,” Ono says.
Now that this year is almost over, Ono hopes to get back to her own projects. That will include working in the art world, where she had found fame before meeting Lennon.
She will continue writing on Twitter, where she considers her weekly messages a form of performance art. She does separate Twitter postings in Japanese and English. She’s also on MySpace and Facebook. On the weekends, Ono personally responds to 40 to 50 questions on Twitter and Facebook.
She says John would have been an avid online participant because he always loved the latest technology.
Through the years, Ono has been known as an artist, musician, wife, mother and political activist. She smiles when asked about how she would like to be remembered 100 years from now.
“They may not think about me at all. I don’t know. If they do, I want to be remembered as a woman who loved life and who loved this planet,” Ono says.
And she loved John Lennon.
9 p.m. EST Monday