Walking On Thin Ice
Documentation: Video still
© Yoko Ono
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Excerpt from The New York Times:
The Pop Life Yoko Ono on Her Own Walking On Thin Ice
By Robert Palmer,
Published: February 4, 1981
The New York Times
"WALKING on Thin Ice," the Yoko Ono single that Miss Ono and John Lennon were remixing the December night Mr. Lennon was murdered, will be released next week by Geffen records.
The couple had originally intended to share their singles, putting a song written and sung by Mr. Lennon on one side and a song written and sung by Miss Ono on the other. They each contributed six songs to "Double Fantasy," the album they released in November after a five-year "vacation" from recording. But when disk jockeys in several of New York’s new-wave rock clubs began playing Miss Ono’s songs from "Double Fantasy" and several critics singled out her work for special praise, the Lennon’s decided it was time for Miss Ono to release a single of her own, with Mr. Lennon relegated to the role of backup musician.
Back in the late 60s, when Mr. Lennon was still a Beatle, his collaborations with Miss Ono were not well received. His background was pop music and rock-and-roll, and that was what his fans expected from him. Miss Ono had been an important member of New York’s conceptual and performance-art avant-garde since the early 60s. She had staged happenings that involved amplifying the sounds made by her body movements with contact microphones, and she had developed a raw, experimental vocal style that operated at an almost hysterial emotional pitch.
But soon after Mr. Lennon and Miss Ono met and fell in love, they began thinking of themselves as a team, and of their lives and careers as an interlocking continuum. Mr. Lennon had an interest in avant-garde art, and Miss Ono had had conventional musical training and had been writing songs since she was a child.
The couples recordings of the late 60s and early 70s blended these interests, though Mr. Lennon’s work still tended to be more pop-oriented while Miss Ono was more experimental. Last October, I spent several evenings talking with the Lennon’s. "Double Fantasy" was already emerging as a dialogue album in which Mr. Lennon’s songs were mostly melodious pop and some of Miss Ono’s contributions were more abrasive. But Mr. Lennon emphasized that he hadn’t lost his taste for experimentation. He said he was proud of the extreme, feedback-laced guitar solos he contributed to some of Miss Ono’s recordings in the early 70s and expected to do more work in that vein. Miss Ono emphasized that her pop sensibility hadn’t developed overnight and praised Mr. Lennon’s contributions to "Double Fantasy" for their craftsmanship and directness.
The Lennons said that they had recorded enough music for at least two new albums since entering the studio in August and that the material they picked for "Double Fantasy" was intended to reach the largest number of people. It was their most accessible music, and they planned to follow it with more challenging fare. Several times Mr. Lennon got carried away while talking about their plans, and Miss Ono interrupted. John, she would say sharply, smiling all the while at his contagious enthusiasm, you’re giving away all our secrets.
Miss Ono’s "Walking on Thin Ice" was the next step. Unlike most of her music from the early 70s, it rocks relentlessly, setting an ominous mood from its opening minor chords. Miss Ono’s lyrics are strangely haunting, with a dreamlike rush of wintry images, and her singing is both eerie and confident. Mr. Lennon’s crashing, distorted guitar solo is brilliant, pulse-quickening rock-and-roll brinksmanship, and Miss Ono follows it with a wordless vocal solo that manages to get under the listeners skin in an almost unnerving manner. "Walking on Thin Ice" is both danceable pop music and bracing experimentation.
The singles B-side is another song by Miss Ono, "It Happened," a lovely, skipping ballad with bittersweet overtones that she originally recorded in 1973. Mr. Lennon found it in an old tape box two weeks before his death and insisted that it be remixed and included on the single. It happened, the song concludes, without ever specifying exactly what it is, and now there’s no return, no way.
It will be difficult for anyone to listen to "Walking on Thin Ice" or "It Happened" without thinking about last Decembers tragedy, but in the long run the record can and should be seen as an important step in Miss Ono’s fascinating evolution as a rock songwriter and singer. In the late 60s and early 70s, her music was almost universally condemned by pop and rock fans. But today’s rock audience is more open to unusual vocal techniques and other innovations than the fans of 10 years ago, and Miss Ono has moved closer to the rock mainstream by choosing to do more of her work within relatively conventional song forms.
Some of Mr. Lennon’s fans still see Miss Ono as a kind of artsy dabbler whose most notable accomplishment was keeping her husband healthy and happy. Mr. Lennon detested that point of view, and rightly so. Miss Ono’s music is adventurous, substantial and utterly distinctive. One hopes she will somehow find the strength to keep making it.
In pop-music iconography, Los Angeles is the Promised Land of sensitive singer-songwriters and country-rock superstars. Mellow pop does tend to dominate the city’s airwaves, but a number of musical currents flow through the Los Angeles sprawl, some of which are as raw and vital as the new rock New York and other cities have to offer. "The Decline of Western Civilization," an album recently released by Slash Records, captures X and several other bands that are associated with Los Angeles’s punk-rock subculture in intense nightclub performances. X has also released an excellent new single on Slash and was in New York recently for a series of performances at the Peppermint Lounge.
"The Decline of Western Civilization," which is distributed by Jem Records and available at stores specializing in new rock and imports, is a soundtrack recording from an independently produced film of the same name. For the most part, the music is regulation punk - relentless guitar attack, thrashing vocals and lyrics that are intended to be provocative. The album’s highlights are three live performances by X, a quartet that combines punks energy and momentum with more traditional musical elements - Chuck Berry-derived guitar and some loose but exquisite harmony singing - and lyrics that are tough but also thoughtfully allusive. The groups new single, "White Girl," even sounds like the Jefferson Airplane at times, though its certainly harder and more visceral.
Xs first album, Los Angeles, was a fine record, but at the Peppermint Lounge the group surpassed it, roaring through "White Girl," a number of new songs and older material with commitment, admirable instrumental precision and energy to burn. X may well be the finest American band that isn’t contracted to a major label, and right now the band is at the height of its powers.
Yoko Ono, Japanese, (1933-)
b. February 18, 1933, Tokyo
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Art in Context - Art for the Day: February 18