Yoko Ono / IMA
By Madeline Bocaro ©
© Madeline Bocaro, 2019. No part of this site may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.
Rising anger, rising spirit, transcendence…
“The making of the album served as a purging of my anger, pain and fear.
I hope it will for you, too.”
Rising was Yoko Ono’s first album in ten years. After her Starpeace album and tour in 1985/86, Yoko had resumed her art career in 1989 with a major exhibition The Bronze Age at New York City’s Whitney Museum (It was her first art show since the This Is Not Here retrospective in Syracuse, 1971). The Whitney show led Yoko away from music – to many more worldwide exhibitions which continue today.
Rykodisc released Onobox, a six-CD set in 1992 – an overview spanning Yoko’s entire recording career. She was completely involved in the mixing of her catalogue. The realization that her music was now appreciated by a completely new, young and curious audience was an encouraging kickstart – prompting a return to recording. IN 1997 Ryko would release eleven of her complete albums individually on CD. Yoko’s musical output – from the screamers to the dreamers – explores an amazing range of sounds, styles and experimental forays in rock, jazz and blues. Years of harsh criticism did not diminish Yoko’s integrity and perseverance. This music had to come out of her, then and now.
In 1994 Yoko was commissioned to write songs for a play commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. She reached deep into her soul and her memories as a child in Japan during the bombings of WWII which decimated her home city of Tokyo. Yoko composed three free form pieces, ‘Hiroshima Sky is Always Blue’, ‘I’m Dying’ and ‘Kurushi’ which were too lengthy for the play. Her son Sean Ono Lennon (age 20 at the time) suggested that his mom record her own album. He became her musical director and fronted her new band IMA (meaning ‘now’ in Japanese) with his friends Timo Ellis on bass, and drummer Sam Koppelman. Sean persuaded Yoko to forego the usual seasoned session musicians and give him a chance to make her shine.
“I understand your music the best. I’m the one who understands it!”
– Sean Ono Lennon, Goldmine July 19, 1996
Rising received a 4-star review in Rolling Stone. Most other reactions by the press were more understanding and receptive of her work than ever. The album goes back to Yoko’s avant-garde roots, a form that is more natural to her than her prior two albums of structured songs (It’s Alright, 1982 and Starpeace, 1985). Yoko selected an Iain Macmillan photo from 1979 for the cover, halving her face like a half moon rising.
The thrashing opening track ‘Warzone’ seems to be influenced by L7’s 1992 track ‘Wargasm’ from their album Bricks are Heavy (which features a sample of Yoko’s warbling vocal). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmVB8gDZTPs
However, Yoko says that it was not the inspiration for her song, which is an even more blistering soundtrack of raging war. Instead, Yoko claims that ‘Warzone’ was inspired by a Porno for Pyros song.
The powerful opener from Rising was later reworked by Yoko for an album called Warzone in 2018 in which she re-imagined songs from her past. Riddled with percussive gunshots and punctuated by Yoko’s cries and dire warnings. she implores, ‘If you hear me, if you hear me, please help us’ implying that she is calling out to something other than human. Woeful bellows of animals start the track. The animals are credited on the sleeve! (Baboon, Crows, Elephant, Monkeys, Panther, Whale, Wolf). The reason for including animal voices is, “Because we are animals too and we are not being good to our fellow animals.” (Yoko, Q&A August 2018).
‘Wouldnit’ is a playful, trippy and funky, yet the message is dark – about victims of murder, rape and abused children who dream of transformation into much more glamorous identities (a heroine, a star in the sky…) voicing imaginary freedom from the clutches of a husband, an abuser or a parent.
Daddy, you can’t touch me
Mommy, you can’t hate me
I’m a star, get it?
Instead I froze
And I let them, I let them
I let them pick my brain
Twist my arm, cut my throat
And wish me dead
But I’m still thinking
Wouldn’t it be nice to be a star?
‘Ask the Dragon’ 1995 / ‘Ask the Elephant!’ 2009
‘Ask the Dragon’ (Rising) samples ‘Greenfield Morning’ and ‘Paper Shoes’ from her debut solo album, (Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, 1970). The song evolved into ‘Ask the Elephant’ in 2009. These twin songs with their syncopated trip-hop beat have a funky way of telling us to do as animals do. Go with the flow! We should not think so hard about what our instincts are telling us – just do whatever comes naturally.
‘Ask the Elephant’ first appeared on the 2009 Chimera Music Release No. 0 compilation CD alongside tracks by The GOASTT, If By Yes and Sean Lennon. Soon after, it also appeared on Yoko’s album Between My Head and the Sky. There is also a remix by Ween on the Rising Mixes EP.
“You know about the dragon with eight legs.
He was walking very well, until somebody asked him,
‘How do you walk with eight legs?’
Don’t ask questions like that if you like me at all, please!”
– Yoko, Twitter
Ask The Dragon’
‘Ask The Elephant!’ (Chimera Music Release No. 0)
Ask The Elephant – Between My Head and the Sky 2009
‘New York Woman’ is a beautiful love letter to a friend whom Yoko is missing.
Watch the video – ‘New York Woman’: https://youtu.be/ie4GzPqO8bU
The scratchy ‘Talking to the Universe’ samples Yoko’s voice (‘Hello. This is Yoko.’) from ‘Telephone Piece’ (Fly, 1971). She is always talking to her old friend – the universe – so this is nothing new, but it is a wonderful track and the universe must feel honored. Cibo Matto did some cool remixes of this song for the Rising Mixes EP and bonus tracks, one incorporates their song ‘Know Your Chicken’.
It seems as if Yoko is communicating with something otherworldly. Talking to the universe, or to the child inside herself. Or perhaps translating the cries of animals, birds and trees. Speaking for everyone and everything in pain, in need or in love. Imagining peace.
The haunting minor-key of ‘Turned the Corner’ has a sacred ceremonial vibe conjured by bongo drums. Sadly, the lyrics could be about any of several extremely hard times in Yoko’s life, from her childhood, to losing John and her resolve to persevere.
I turned the clock
And went around the block
Thought I was just having a laugh
But suddenly my world was gone
And I found myself standing alone
I thought I was fighting the ebb of life
I thought I was cutting the web and the strife
But I look at the mirror where there used to be a smile
Now I see a stranger
“I know every song she ever wrote. I’m an expert in Yoko Ono’s music, basically. So in the studio, when she’d say something like ‘Make that guitar part more ocean-cricket,’ I’d know exactly what she meant.”
- Sean Ono Lennon, New York Magazine 1998
‘I’m Dying’ is one of the wildly glorious totally improvised pieces. It reaches back to the old days of Yoko’s vocalizing of one or two words over an incredible beat, reminiscent of ‘Why’ (1970) or ‘Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s only looking for a Hand in the Snow)’ from 1971. It’s especially wonderful to see her perform this two-word song live – keeping a lyric sheet in front of her! It’s also a miracle that she has produced a virtual clone of her husband in Sean, who allows his mom to thrive musically – inciting and nurturing the magnificence of her work, just as his father did. They are both her biggest fans.
“Playing music with my mom is the greatest thing I could do… I mean, we’re dealing with one of the greatest artists of the 20th century… In terms of what I owe my dad and my family for what I have in my life, this is the perfect opportunity to give something back… This is my ultimate destiny, playing my mom’s music and bringing her to the people. There’s nothing better I could do.”
-Sean Ono Lennon, The San Francisco Chronicle March 17, 1996
Along with ‘Warzone’ ‘Where do we Go from Here’ was originally on the soundtrack of the play New York Rock. Both songs were reworked completely for Rising. Yoko gives warning – with a dark twist on the lyrics to the old nursery-rhyme ‘Ding Dong Bell’. The lyrics echo her song ‘Now or Never’ (1972) about what we should not be doing. Unfortunately, we need to be told again of our impending grave consequences.
Are you getting ready for Blood and horror
Are you getting ready or God and terror
Where do we go from here?
‘Kurushi’ (recorded on the same day as ‘I’m Dying’) is a beautiful song of anguish about the utmost strife and suffering of a young Hiroshima bombing victim. The lyrics are completely in Japanese. Yoko and Ima performed a gorgeous acoustic live version at the Meltdown festival (Live at The Royal Festival Hall, London, 14 June 2009). Yoko told us the meaning of the song.
When I went to Hiroshima there were many many thousands and thousands of paper cranes all over. There’s a tradition that if you fold 1,000 paper cranes, then your wish will come true or something But it wasn’t 1,000 – it was 8,000/10,000. They said this is a monument to a very young girl who died after the Hiroshima bombing.
It was a very slow death and she kept calling her mother and they just felt very bad about her.
I was very touched about that and so I dedicated this song to her.
I’m singing Japanese. There’s a word ‘Kurushi’ that I couldn’t translate in English. There’s no equivalent in English It’s ‘Kurushi’ because you can’t breathe – but it’s not just for the physical thing, but it’s to do with a situation which you just can’t breathe or you just can’t get out. So it’s a very heavy word. It’s interesting that this girl kept saying ‘Kurushi’ when she was so young.
“Mother, …I cannot breathe, there’s no way out I can’t do this it hurts.”
‘Kurushi’ Live at Meltdown 2009
Read my full story all about ‘Kurushi’ and the young girl Sadako, whom the song is about:
On ‘Will I’ Yoko speaks softly, contemplating nuclear disaster and mortality with the background of a ticking clock, counting down how little time we have left in this world. She admires the beauty of nature – pondering if she will miss all the things and people that she loves. The lyrics are more suggestive of an afterlife in which nothing of our present existence will matter or be remembered.
‘Rising’ is the album’s limitless centerpiece. Yoko (at first quietly and then loudly) calls upon us, as always to “Follow your heart. Use your intuition. Make your manifestation. There’s no confusion. Have courage. Have rage. We’re rising.” Over a gradually swelling two-chord trance, Yoko’s emotive voice at first sounds broken, and later triumphant. This is another extraordinary live performance piece which resembles a religious service. After all, it is about rising together.
A live version called ‘Rising II’ appeared on Yoko’s album Blueprint for a Sunrise five years later in 2001, on which some of the lyrics are in Japanese. It begins with an accusatory soliloquy addressing the abusers and the pain that she has endured in life. Yoko floats way up into the universe where she sees and loves all in forgiveness.
‘Rising II’ (Blueprint for a Sunrise, 2001)
‘Goodbye, My Love’ is a sweet, sad lullaby. Yoko has several ‘goodbye’ songs, beginning with ‘Goodbye Sadness’ ‘on her first album since John’s death (Season of Glass, 1981), Never Say Goodbye’ on her next (It’s Alright, 1982) and more recently ‘’There’s No Goodbye’ (Take Me to the Land of Hell, 2013 – written in the late 80s or early 90s). All of these songs have the same theme – the closeness between Yoko and John, the hell that they endured and that they were separated way too early.
“… Be proud that we loved and loved so well
Don’t listen to people who speak from Hell
Tears, yes, but let’s not be too sad
Let’s hope it won’t be all that bad
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, my love
I guess, it’s goodbye
The rivers may flow and the trees may grow
But it’s not the same without you
You said, “Life isn’t so bad after all”
Keep living for us two
The sun goes up and the moon fades away
But it’s not the same without you…”
“Now I’m interested in expressing emotion. Before, I was still expressing emotion, but I was interested in how I expressed the emotion. For instance, I don’t mind writing songs like ‘Goodbye, my Love,’ which you certainly can’t call avant-garde. That is daring for me.”
-Yoko, To George Petros, Sounds magazine #36, 2005
At the album’s end during the redemptive ‘Revelations’ we rise out of the darkness. The lyrics began as ‘Rainbow Revelation’ on Yoko’s Starpeace album (1985). The new ‘Revelations’ is Yoko’s delicate gospel hymn, blessing us for all of our negative energy and showing us how to transform it in a positive light, illuminating exactly which rewards we will receive for each. Remember, even if you feel that nobody in your life loves you, Yoko loves you!
Yoko Ono and IMA
Sean Ono Lennon guitar
Timo Ellis bass
Sam Koppelman drums
Co-Produced by Rob Stevens.
Warzone /I’m Dying / Wouldnit / Ask the Dragon / Talking to the Universe / Kurushi / Rising / Will I / Revelations
* Early versions of’ Warzone’ and’ Where Do We Go From here’ previously appeared on the soundtrack to the play, New York Rock .
A six-track Rising Mixes CD and vinyl were also released with remixes by Ween, Cibo Matto, Tricky and Thurston Moore including new songs; ‘The Source’ and Franklin Summer.
Prior to the album’s release, Yoko and IMA did an austere, ceremonial acoustic performance of Rising in Japanese at Itsukushima Shrine in Miyazima Japan on October 7, 1995. (See review below).
The proper Rising Tour started on February 29, 1996 in Washington D.C. Yoko and IMA were joined by guest stars Cibo Matto, Jesus Lizard, the Melvins, Perry Farell, Soundgarden and R.E.M…
“You know, after the Double Fantasy album, John said, ‘Hey. Let’s go on tour with just the Plastic Ono Band stuff, and I’ll play guitar’. I would have been killed! Stoned! Thrown off the stage! It’s a funny thing, because now I’m doing exactly that with Sean – and this is exactly what John would have wanted. I didn’t realize it until we went on tour… In many ways, I’ve had a lot of bad luck in my life, but this is one bit of beautiful luck. I cherish every moment. There’s no doubt that one day he’s going to go his own way, and it’s great that we have this moment together.”
-Yoko Ono, San Francisco Chronicle March 17, 1996.
Watch: Yoko Ono & IMA – ‘Turned the Corner’ / ‘I’m Dying’ – Live Melkweg Amsterdam May 25, 1996
Rising Tour 1996
February 29 – Washington D.C. – 9:30 Club / March – USA 6 – New York City –Knitting Factory /10 – Chicago, Park West / 13 – Los Angeles – The Roxy (Yoko dedicated the show to Timothy Leary, who attended) / 18 – San Francisco – Great American Music Hall / 21 – Seattle –Crocodile Cafe / 25 – Toronto – Lee’s Palace / March – Europe 28 – Milan / 31 – Paris / May USA / 10 – Boston Paradise / 14 – New York – Irving Plaza / 25 – Amsterdam / 28 – Milan / 31 – Paris / June / 3 – Berlin / 5- Hamburg / 8 – London – Astoria II / 16 – San Francisco – Golden Gate Park / Japan 22 – Tokyo – Club Quattro / 25 – Tokyo – Akasaka Blitz / 28 – Nagoya – Bottom Line July / 1 – Osaka – Yubin Chokin Hall / 6 – New York – Central Park Summer Stage
With Yoko after the NYC concert:
Bless you for your anger
It’s a sign of rising energy
Bless you for your sorrow
It’s a sign of vulnerability
Bless you for your greed
It’s a sign of great capacity
Bless you for your jealousy
It’s a sign of empathy
Bless you for your fear
It’s a sign of wisdom
Bless you for your search
Transform the energy to versatility
And it will bring you prosperity
Transform the energy to sympathy
And it will bring you love
Transform the energy to giving
Give as much as you wish to take and you will receive satisfaction
Transform the energy to admiration
And what you admire will become part of your life
Transform the energy to flexibility
And you will be free from what you fear
Transform the energy to receptivity
And the direction will come to you
Evil feeds on your support
Feed not and it will self-destruct
Bless you for the times
You feel no love
Open your heart to life anyway
In time you’ll find love in you
You are a sea of goodness
You are a sea of love
Bless you, bless you, bless you
Bless you for what you are
The world has all that you need
You have the power to attract what you wish
Wish for health, wish for joy
Remember, you are loved
I love you
Yoko Ono & IMA Live at Itsukushima shrine
Review by Barbara Conrady
Yoko and her band IMA performed an acoustic Hiroshima Memorial concert at Itsukushima Shrine on October 7th 1995. Here is the concert programme, and a beautiful CONCERT REVIEW by my friend Barbara Conrady Takenaka…
Early in the morning on October 7th, my Japanese husband and I took the “Shinkansen” (bullet train) from Tokyo to Hiroshima, then boarded the ferry to Miyajima Island. The concert was organized by “Hiroshima Miyajima Art Meets Executive Committee” for the 50-year-memorial of the bombing and the 1400th anniversary of Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island. Itsukushima Shrine is famous for being one of the most beautiful places in Japan. The shrine is located very close to the sea, so when the tide comes in, the water flows under the halls and corridors so that it looks as if the shrine was floating on the sea.
The small stage in the shrine is usually used for performances of traditional Japanese dance and theatre, but this time it was used for Yoko’s memorial concert. The members of Yoko’s band IMA (which means “now” in Japanese) were Sean, Timo Ellis, and Sam Koppelman. In the shrine, there is room for about 300 or 400 people to sit. Except me, there were only very few foreigners in the audience. We sat on wooden boards with our shoes taken off.
As the sun went down , we waited for the concert to begin. It was incredibly silent. I didn’t feel at all like I was waiting for the beginning of a concert, but rather of some kind of ceremonial event.
Yoko appeared in a purple kimono she wore like a jacket over her clothes. Sean and the other two musicians were dressed in black kimonos. The only instruments were acoustic guitars and percussion. Not only the words Yoko spoke to the audience, but also the songs were all in Japanese. It was very exciting to hear Yoko perform in her native language.
Instead of a greeting, Yoko started with a kind of prayer, chanting it in the way of the traditional Nôh-theatre: “Let’s wish that the souls of the victims of the atomic bomb rest in peace.”
The first song was “Senjou da”, the Japanese version of “Warzone”. The musical background was the same through all the songs: ancient instruments were played, including table and gong, acoustic guitars and percussion, which fitted harmoniously with Yoko’s haunting vocalizing.
“Kurushi” was the next song. In the booklet of the album “Rising”, Yoko mentions that in the script of Ron Destro’s play “Hiroshima”, for which she wrote the song, there is a scene where a little girl tries to fold a thousand paper cranes to make a wish (it’s an old Japanese custom), but dies before she can finish folding them. Actually, this is a true story. There is a statue of the girl, whose name was Sadako, in front of the “Atomic Bomb Dome” in Hiroshima as a symbol for all the innocent victims. Around the statue, there are hundreds of paper cranes which people lay down there to remember the victims. In a soft voice, Yoko told the girl’s story and then sang painfully, “It hurts! It hurts, Mommy!”
Next, Yoko performed “Will I?” in Japanese. (“Koishiku naru kashira?”) As the concert went on, the tide came in, and the sound of the ocean waves was a beautiful background to Yoko’s voice and the music. It was like a dream, a feeling as if we were in a different world.
The following is my favourite: “Oboete-iru yo (I remember everything)”. If I remember correctly, this song was also written for the play “Hiroshima”. Yoko sang, “I remember your eyes, your smile, your warmth… Mom, I remember you! Grandma, I remember you! Sis, I remember you!” While singing this, Yoko turned to each side of the audience and called, “I remember everyone! I will definitely never forget you!” This song was full of melody and harmony, and much more beautiful and touching than the version on “Blueprint For A Sunrise”.
In the next piece, “Tachi-agarou yo (Rising)”, Yoko used a very “male” way of speaking. The Japanese language is spoken differently by men and women: There are, for example, different words for “you” and “I” and different grammatical expressions. In “Rising”, Yoko spoke in a way a Japanese woman normally would never speak. So it was immediately clear that Yoko put herself in the place of a man. Yoko’s voice was very deep, the tone of her voice cynical-desperate-hurt. “We experienced hell on earth. We lost everything. We are stained with blood. Our bones lie beneath the new buildings, our blood is still flowing beneath the new highways.” From time to time, Yoko let out an insane, crazy, perverse, bitter kind of laughter. I think especially this piece proved that Yoko is a magnificent actress, too.
After that, there was a short break, and Yoko said, “We’ll be back in ten minutes,” giving her Yoko-like shy little laugh.
In the second half, Yoko and the band wore “normal” clothes like jeans and jackets. They performed “Hiroshima Sky Is Always Blue”, which is a rather long piece, the lyrics consisting only of this one line.
Finally, Yoko sang once more “Oboete-iru yo (I remember everything)”. Then it was over. The audience loved the show very much, applauding and cheering enthusiastically. It was a very special, unforgettable event.
Yoko’s Rising sleeve notes:
WHEN MOLECULES RISE, THEY CONVERGE
by Yoko Ono
A playwright, Ron Destro, came to me in 1994 and asked me to write a few songs for his play, ‘Hiroshima’. He reminded me that 1995 was the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima tragedy. In his script there is a scene where a little girl tries to fold 1000 paper cranes. In Japan there is a tradition of folding 1000 paper cranes to make a wish. The little girl dies before she is able to fold all 1000 cranes. I was particularly touched by that scene, and went into the studio. I first recorded ‘Hiroshima Sky Is Always Blue,’ and realized that it was too long to be in a play. ‘Never mind,’ I thought. ‘I should just keep recording when I’m inspired.’
”I’m Dying’ was the second piece I recorded.
‘Kurushi’ was the third.
Kurushi, in Japanese, means something like ‘tormented,’ ‘pained’ and ‘suffocating.’ In fact, it’s a very Japanese word, and there is no exact translation in English.
When I was recording ‘Kurushi,’ I felt that the little girl was me. Then at one point I heard myself saying ‘Mommy. Mommy, I’m in pain.’ I couldn’t believe it. I’m still calling for my mother? Where did that come from? Then I remembered my son, Sean, crying ‘Mommy’ in the middle of the night when he was in pain. Probably that’s what we all do. But I haven’t called out to my mother for the longest time. In my mind’s eye, I saw a large projection of my mother’s face on a backdrop, while I, as a little girl, kept folding the paper crane. Mother was a projection. That’s why I gave up calling out to her. I thought. In the dark booth of the studio, I felt my soul-antenna reaching for her and touching only emptiness. It was sad, but it also made my head clear. I felt alright.
Then songs flooded into my head, and I kept writing and recording. The memory of being a young child in Japan during the second World War came back to me. I remember being called an American spy by other kids for not singing the Japanese National Anthem fast enough (it’s a slow song, but they suspected that I didn’t know the Anthem too well since I lived in the United States before the war). I remember the severe bombing in Tokyo, hiding in an air-raid shelter listening to the sound of the bombs coming closer and then going away, and feeling that my mother and I lived another day.
I remember when something that seemed like a piece of a B-52’s fuselage fell in our garden with the words ‘piss on you’ scribbled on it. I remember how Count T., my uncle and a Princeton graduate, laughingly said to my mother that he would not translate such a word in the presence of a lady. I remember sneaking into my father’s library and looking in the dictionary to find the word ‘piss,’ without success.
I remember being evacuated to the country; the food shortage, and starving; going to the next village to find rice for my brother and sister; being stoned by the village kids who hated people from the city; getting anaemic and being diagnosed as having pleurisy; being abused by a doctor, and having my appendix taken out without proper anaesthetics because of the shortage of medicine.
I remember how I cried at the end of the war, how bombed out Tokyo looked when I returned from the country on the back of a truck, and what we went through daily reading about the people in Hiroshima. The ones who died of burns went quickly. The ones who died of leukaemia went through a slow and agonizing death. We lived through their death.
Then I realized that there was a striking similarity in what I went through then and what I am going through now. The city is a warzone. And I now have many friends around me who are facing slow death from AIDS. They are suffering low white blood cell counts exactly as the Hiroshima victims were. I am living amongst my suffering friends, listening to them talk about their fear of death, sometimes jokingly, and other times in anger. I live through their nightmares, not daring to voice my own.
The making of the album served as a purging of my anger, pain and fear. I hope it will for you, too.
©1995 Yoko Ono
from the sleeve notes of the album ‘Rising’ by Yoko Ono / IMA
© Madeline Bocaro 2019. No part of the materials available through the http://www.madelinex.com site may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated or reduced to any electronic medium or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without prior written consent Madeline Bocaro. Any other reproduction in any form without the permission of Madeline Bocaro is prohibited. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Madeline Bocaro.