MT: Do you ever look back at some of the things you and John did together and say, “God, I can’t believe we actually did that?”
YO [laughs]: Like the fact that we stripped? Well, Two Virgins is a good example of that. We stripped ourselves, but we never stripped others. That’s a very important point, a symbol of what we did in a way: we were always exposing ourselves, but never others. We branched into all sorts of things. Later, we did things out of total naiveté. Many things we did, we weren’t even that wise about, in the sense that we didn’t know how the world would take it. After we did the photo, we kept saying, “Why didn’t we do something else instead of being so honest?” Showing ourselves like that in the beginning didn’t help our image much [laughs] . . . . And on top of it, I was pregnant then, but then I had a miscarriage.
MT: I remember that because you’d recorded the heartbeat of the fetus with a Nagra, and released it on Life With The Lions. I remember listening to that and being astounded.
YO: A strange feeling, isn’t it?
MT: Yes. It brings me to another question: You and John have often said that your lives were your art and thus there was always a public feeling to your lives until Sean was born. Is there such a thing as doing some things for the sake of the art that are “too real”? The photo of John’s blood-stained glasses on the cover of Season of Glass, for instance. It was almost too much for people to take.
YO: I couldn’t understand that. Yes, that was real, but I saw something that was more real: I saw him lying in a pool of blood. I was just showing a tiny part of that—the glasses looking out the window he always looked out of—I wanted to share that with the world. If they can’t stomach that much reality—what I saw was so much worse! About living in public, yes, in the old days we always had this automatic feeling that when we discovered something, we wanted to share it with the world. In the laid back years, the five year we were here, we changed. In the old days, when I became
pregnant, John couldn’t control himself and he’d announce it. We had many miscarriages that way because the minute we announced I was pregnant, there were a lot of negative vibes sent to us from crazy people in the world. We’d get a doll in the mail with a pin stuck in it or something, wishing I didn’t have the child. We had to separate ourselves and protect ourselves from that to nourish our child. That’s what we did in those five years: we took a totally different direction . . . just cared and loved each other in hibernation. The family was together and it was beautiful. And now, especially because of Sean, I feel that my life is precious because I have to protect him, because he’s eight going on nine. He needs me, it’s as simple as that. I have to be a mother first, artist second. It means that I have to be much more careful—and I am. I can’t be announcing every new insight I get, so if anybody still thinks I’m going to take a very daring position and open new avenues for people by speaking out, they’re going to be disappointed. John and I did enough of that. What’s important is to create a very safe and healthy life for Sean.
MT: John was very meticulous about Sean’s upbringing. He seemed intent on being able to give him the kind of love that he’d never been able to have from his own father, and he wanted to bring him up in an environment that was free of racism and sexism. Do you think that was an outgrowth of the kind of utopia that he espoused in, say, “Imagine”? What I’m getting at is: maybe a world free from all the “isms” that society suffers from just isn’t possible. . . .
YO: No, I’m an optimist in that sense. As I’ve said, if you ask me whether we’re going to change the world in a year or something, no. But in the long run, yes. I’m an optimist in the sense that we are headed towards perfection—rapidly. It is possible to bring our children up—if not perfectly, then, at least better and better. And this new generation is something else. I never preached to Sean about sexism, but the other day I said, “Amen,” and he said, “Amen and women!” [laughs] I said, “Thank you, Sean.” But he’s like that! It comes naturally to him. I was always thinking of myself as an artist first, so I was worried I wasn’t a good mother. I had that guilt complex: How am I going to be a good mother? What is a good mother? But I decided that I just had to be myself, and I am myself. It was a powerful discovery. We get along very well; we’re like partners even though I’m a mother and he’s a child. Definitely a new situation for me; it’s amazing.
MT: Are you planning on staying in New York?
YO: Yes. It was like there was a big earthquake and the ceiling fell in, but there are two ways to go: One is just to leave the place and run and never come back again because it was a horrible experience. The other is to stay there and make something out of it. And I decided to stay, which was better for Sean, too, because it would have been heartbreaking to leave where he had his family life—it was his whole world. In hindsight, when I think about it, if I’d left then and said, “Oh, New York is terrible, the United States is terrible,” and just went to Europe or something, this would have been a ghost house. New York would have to live with a bad name, too, as the place where John was killed—this place that he made his home is a city he loved very much. So I stuck it out and Strawberry Fields will be something beautiful by next year. I’m trying to take a very negative thing that happened here and transform it into a positive energy.
MT: What do you miss most about your life with John Lennon?
YO: He had an incredibly dry humor, and there was something about me that made him laugh, so between us the dialog was wonderful. The best part of it was that we were always kidding each other and cracking up. He had this Liverpool accent that later became much more American and whatever he said, from a certain angle, was funny to me. And imagine how funny it must have been for an Englishman like John to listen to me talking in my half-Japanese, half-American accent. . . . Just the fact that I’m so small made him laugh: “You’re so small,” he’d say, and crack up. That’s what was so much fun about our relationship—we’d be laughing out heads off. That’s what I miss, really—that dialog. I don’t know if I could ever have that again. If not, then we should all have that—it, whatever—together, the whole world. It would be fun, wouldn’t it? That’s the way I’m thinking now.