I really don’t know how to begin this posting without sounding like a kid at a Justin Bieber show. There are some people that have real charisma, too many others who manufacture it or have it manufactured for them, and then there are others that just are born with it. Yoko Ono has it, always has and always will.
Saturday night April 23rd, I witnessed the real thing - a once in a lifetime performance by Yoko Ono and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. Yoko was the unannounced special guest before a crowd of 75 sitting and standing in a small corner room on East 2nd and Av C called The Stone. Thanks to a tiny listing in the Village Voice, I thought it would be cool to see Ms. Gordon perform solo for 10 dollars. What I got was worth so much more.
For nearly half a century I have been an unapologetic Yoko fan. Even as a kid, I understood where she stood with her art, films, poetry and music. I listened to side two of Live/Peace In Toronto and enjoyed it. For some strange reason I knew why John was attracted to her. She is mysterious and totally in charge of her life in every way. Some people call it charisma but with Yoko, I believe it is dedication to her art.
At 78 and counting, Yoko is in better form, creating and recreating herself for years to come. Yoko is the same age as my mom and they both have that youthful vigor and strength to stand up to anything that life throws at them. God knows both have had their share of pain and still survive.
I arrived at the address two hours early since the ad said no advance tickets. I walked across the street to buy a soda at a bodega and asked, “Where is a place called, The Stone?” The guy pointed across the street to a corner room with metal shutters and no name to distinguish it from anything on the street. I was soon joined by a young German couple, musicians and artists who learned of the show from their Facebook page only a couple of hours before. We had time to kill so the bonding was welcomed – and now treasured.
The Stone will hold 50, at most, comfortably. 75, including standing room, but there had to be over a hundred in the room. I talked with a Stone regular, a poet named Steve and his wife Yuko, who provided me and my German friends, Bjoern and Linda, with comfortable cushions to sit on in the front of the seated crowd. I had been thinking that the special guest would be Neil Young. He was in town, had the night off, and has been close to the Sonic Youth folks so it made sense.
Just like clockwork, at 8:00 PM, the room lights dimmed and a film was projected on the wall to our right. Someone was trying to make it to the front and a small voice said to me, “Excuse me” and I looked up from my forced lotus position and it was Yoko Ono. Yoko sat in a seat that Bjoern had scored until Thurston Moore politely asked him to vacate to the floor. Kim walked onto the front of the room joined by a young drummer with a mismatched but interesting drum kit. She didn’t reveal her face to the small crowd, covered by her blonde hair. She walked the two or three steps to Yoko and handed her a microphone. For the next half hour the select few were presented with a work of art that cannot be explained but has to be experienced.
Kim did not play the beautiful red Stratocaster. She abused it – knocking it onto the small amp and on the floor, letting it get to the point of unbearable feedback then stopping suddenly, silencing the sound at the point when it was really loud. Well, it was loud to us sitting two feet away at her feet and I imagine people at the back of the room felt it too. She teased the neck of the guitar with the microphone stopping at certain frets and would then just slam it into the pickups.
Yoko presented her fluxus howls that fit perfectly along with the incredibly young drummer who seemed to hold everything together from the beginning of the three pieces to the end of the set. A standout section was when Kim dropped a small metal rod over and over against the strings of the guitar while Yoko went into the small audience putting the microphone to their mouths to get them to howl. My favorite moment was when she stuck the microphone to the mouth of a guy who had short hair and a long beard, like a Civil War re-enactor who remained complacent but let out a low, guttural noise that fit perfectly with the performance. He was not a plant, just someone who scored a chair in front.
At one point Yoko seemed to attack the plastic lawn chair placed backward on the floor. If art is spontaneous, this was art. They had performed two pieces and Yoko prepared to sit down until Kim whispered in her ear to stay. The unexpected third piece was the best. It had the most contact between Kim and Yoko but it was a violent piece where both seemed angry.
Yoko was dressed all in black. Black pumps, tight black jeans and a black lace top with a wonderful black chapeau. She was tiny but in the room she was a presence.
When Thurston Moore went to the microphone to announce that the show was over, I whispered to my friends that I thought this was part of the show since most of the crowd left the building. Yoko, Kim, and the drummer signed a sketch by my friend Peter and I was able to tell her, “Thank you so much.” She replied, “You are welcome so much.”