This Saturday, Oct. 9, iconic musician and peace activist John Lennon would have celebrated his 70th birthday, an occasion that inspired his wife, Yoko Ono, 77, to collaborate with EMI Music to release today Gimme Some Truth, a set of themed discs.
The comprehensive compilation features eight remastered Lennon solo albums and new titles, including Power to the People: The Hits, Gimme Some Truth and Double Fantasy Stripped Down. The John Lennon Signature Box includes 13 previously unreleased home recordings, and Ono, as well as Lennon's sons, Sean and Julian, contribute personal essays.
Ono put together Gimme Some Truth amid her own artistic endeavors; the Twittering avant-garde artist, musician and author maintains a schedule these days that would exhaust people a quarter her age -- most recently she opened "Das Gift," a sound, film and sculpture exhibit in Berlin, and released "Wouldnit (I'm a Star)," a chart-topping dance hit that doesn't disappoint those who count on her to be just as candid as she was in the late-1960s, when she first made worldwide headlines alongside her überfamous husband.
The song boasts a nitid, fun beat, but when asked about its dark lyrics such as, "I let them pick my brain, twist my arm, cut my throat and wish me dead... but I'm still thinking... ," Ono explains, "Well, that's what all of us women allow life to do to us."
In addition to still performing with the 1969-formed Plastic Ono Band, who put on two concerts at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles Oct. 1 and 2 with guest musicians such as Lady Gaga and Iggy Pop, Ono is the driving force behind imaginepeace.com, an online "peace event" that launched on Lennon's 67th birthday and continues to be a one-stop consortium of her myriad harmony-building philanthropic endeavors.
I caught up with Ono as she gets ready to head to Viðey Island in Iceland, where, on Lennon's birthday, she'll once again light the Imagine Peace Tower.
While putting together Gimme Some Truth, you have said that you would lay awake at night asking John if you were doing the right thing. Did you feel him responding to you?
The fact that he was not complaining loudly seemed his way of saying I was doing right.
You and co-producer Jack Douglas give us Double Fantasy Stripped Down, in which we can hear more of John's vocals. During this production, you were understandably hit hardest emotionally, as this was the last album John released before his passing. Did you and Jack, who also produced the original album in 1980, go down memory lane?
We were too emotional to talk. We just did the job.
You have said that you hope to bring John's music and message to a new generation with the release of this compilation. He was outspoken about a lot of issues; what social issue do you think today's young generation needs to speak out about the most?
Have courage to be real, to yourself and to the world. All social issues will either disappear or be solved as we all become real to each other.
Do you think today's rock music lacks courage to speak out against what is happening around the globe?
On the contrary, most of us are activists. We just don't express ourselves in the way you expect us to.
On his 30th birthday, John was recording "Remember" for his first solo album, moving in a new creative direction from the Beatles and collaborating with different artists. If he was recording a song on his 70th birthday, what modern-day musicians do you think he'd want to work with?
The compilation's title song clearly expresses John's opinions about politicians during the Vietnam War era. What do you think John would say about today's political landscape in the U.S. in terms of Iraq and Afghanistan?
He would have encouraged kids to stand up and be counted and work to better our world. John is still encouraging us with his statements and his songs even though he is not here physically.
John said he didn't believe in myths; he was about being real, and he demanded the truth. You have said that you'd like to give the power of truth through his voice to the politicians of the world now, but in political, social, religious and many other contexts, individual truths collide constantly. In light of this reality, what do you think it takes to bring the world to a peaceful existence?
Have courage to be real. And imagine a domino effect. It takes no time for us to create a peaceful world, together. Know that we will either have a peaceful world or no world.
Gimme Some Truth comprises some rare photos in the box set. Can you tell us about one of them?
There's a photo of John creating a shade with his hat for Sean, who is lying down and looking up at his dad. That one sticks in my mind.
The BAFTA-winning documentary Nowhere Boy premiered recently in the U.S., and the PBS documentary LENNONYC is set to air in November. With new books and movies about John emerging every few years, what do most chroniclers and people in general get wrong about him... a perpetual misconception you'd like to clear up?
He showed his "warts and all," as he put it. And all of us who knew him loved him for it.
John's talent left an indelible, palpable, incomparable mark on the world. With you being a prolific artist in your own right, what about your mark on the world? What are the top three specific things you are most proud of in terms of your talent?
Just one: that I have never stopped being inspired to create and have never experienced a "writer's block" in all of 77 years. It is not a talent; it is a blessing. I consider myself very lucky.
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