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It Still Ain't Easy : On The Rough Road In Europe With Yoko

March 30, 1986|ROBERT HILBURN

LONDON — Every time Yoko Ono has surfaced since the murder of John Lennon, she has been accused of trying to capitalize on the continuing adoration for her husband.

Forget the fact that she was a highly regarded avant-garde artist and film maker before she met Lennon. Ono has been haunted by the image of her as "the ruthless Dragon Lady" who was responsible for the breakup of the Beatles 16 years ago.

She has been ridiculed at times by the press and humbled by a largely indifferent public.

It's been no different on her "Starpeace World Tour," her first concert trek since Lennon's death in 1980.

In Vienna, only 700 of 1,800 concert tickets were sold. To make the turnout appear less embarrassing, 300 tickets were given away.

In West Berlin, a London Daily Mail reporter panned Ono's performance and dismissed the tour as merely an exercise in ego that would end up costing Ono in the neighborhood of $1 million.

Noting that the club where Ono played was a third empty, he added, "Now if John Lennon had been singing 'Imagine' instead of his widow, there would have been crowds stretching down the Budapester to the Berlin Wall. . . ."

As it was, the reporter continued, the East Germans should be grateful there is a wall keeping them from Ono.

If Ono was carrying a message of peace on this tour, the press and public seemed ready for war. And, in the end, the public and press won.

Ono's performance in London was a triumph of sorts, but the rows of empty seats finally took their toll.

Three days after returning home to New York, Ono "postponed" the North American portion of her tour because of poor ticket sales.

In retrospect, Ono didn't have a chance from the start.

Among the bizarre warning signs: one disc jockey at a press conference in Hamburg later identified himself as the head of the local anti-Yoko fan club.

The key song in the "Starpeace" tour, which ended a European swing here last weekend, is Lennon's idealistic "Imagine." But the line that best summarizes the struggles of her tour comes from another Lennon tune: "Christ, you know it ain't easy."

The line, from "The Ballad of John and Yoko," is a playful reflection on the controversy swirling in the '60s around the couple's peace campaigns and public romance.

After all these years, Ono is still speaking out for peace and it still ain't easy.

Ono plans to proceed with the Japanese portion of the tour and then reschedule shows in selected U.S. cities--including New York and Los Angeles, possibly moving to smaller venues. (At Los Angeles' 6,000-seat Universal Amphitheatre, where she was scheduled to perform April 17, only 1,500 tickets had been sold through last weekend.)

In announcing the tour, which began Feb. 28 in Brussels, Ono rejected the advice of friends who, worried that Ono was still too fragile from the trauma of Lennon's murder in 1980, didn't want to see her open herself to the potential abuse.

On the eve of her London appearance, she explained, "Look, I know if I just shut up and stay home at the Dakota (her apartment building in New York) and accept flowers every December 8, people will say, 'OK, we'll leave her alone.'

"I also knew that some people would say, 'Oh, no . . . not another peace campaign. You (and John) did that years ago with the bed-in and stuff.

"But I'm not living for those people . . . in that sense. It's my life and I have to do what I think is right. I had begun to look in the mirror and I didn't like my face. I didn't want to be one of those people who just give up."

Ono, 53, saw the "Starpeace" tour, in part, as a chance to give hope to those who have suffered great losses.

The early songs in the largely autobiographical program touched on the anguish following Lennon's death, but she eventually moved through tunes, such as "Goodbye Sadness," that represented the healing process and on to songs like "I See Rainbows" that salute the arrival of a brighter day.

However, the main theme of the "Starpeace" tour was a rebuff of the Reagan Administration's "Star Wars" thinking. In the London concert, she stressed her main message: The human race is essentially peaceful.

"Think about it," she said at the Wembley Conference Centre. "Ninety-nine per cent (of people) probably will die without knowing the experience of killing somebody--99%. That's a very peaceful race, don't you think?"

Few in the hall missed the cruel irony of that remark.

Ono is far from a Linda McCartney, artistically speaking, but many people continue to think of her in that light.

She had a provocative career as a film maker and artist before meeting Lennon, and her last three albums are far more involving than Paul McCartney's last three works.

Born in 1933 to a wealthy banking family in Japan, she moved to New York with her family after World War II. After attending Sarah Lawrence College, she married a Japanese violinist and pursued a career as a poet, artist and film maker.

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