A Celebration of John Lennon and Peace with Yoko Ono in Iceland

October 12, 2010

By Althea Legaspi

REKJAVIK, ICELAND: Over the weekend people around the world marked what would've been John Lennon's 70th birthday on October 9th with various events. In the States, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame created three time capsules containing Lennon recordings and fan contributions, which will be preserved in Cleveland and two other world locations until they are reopened on Lennon's birthday in 2040. In England, Julian and Cynthia Lennon unveiled a peace monument dedicated to Lennon in Liverpool. And in Rekjav­k, Iceland, Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon and some special surprise guests commemorated the date with a series of events, which included a Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band performance, grant giving and the annual lighting of the Imagine Peace Tower. Friday the documentary Imagine Peace by Ari Alexander premiered and was attended by Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon. While the film's impetus was the making of the tower, at the core was John and Yoko's love story. The overarching theme of the couple's undying love, made vivid through archival footage of their time together, was palpable. The emotional vibes continued on Saturday. The festivities kicked off in Reykjav­k at H¶fdi House (where Reagan and Gorbachev held a summit meeting that eventually led to the INF Treaty) with the LennonOno Grant for Peace ceremony. The organization, created in honor of Lennon's dedication to peace and human rights, bestows a $50,000 grant biannially to recipients. This year's recipients were author/activist Alice Walker, filmmaker Josh Fox (Gasland), best-selling author/food safety advocate Michael Pollan and Barbara Kowalcyk, who became a food safety advocate after her two-year old son died of e coli. Fox discussed the severe implications of natural gas drilling, Pollan spoke about our need for food safety advocacy and called Kowalcyk a "hero," and Walker delivered a moving poem about Lennon and Ono. But it was Kowalcyk's heartfelt story about the loss of her son and the importance of her campaign, which choked up a good lot of the invitation-only audience, including Ono. Each year Iceland's Imagine Peace Tower is lit on the evening of John Lennon's birth (October 9th) and extinguished on the anniversary of his death (December 8th). Ono's tower design, which was erected in 2007 and dedicated to Lennon, had its genesis from an early concept Ono had for a house of light. Early in their budding relationship, Lennon asked Ono if she could construct the house of light in his garden. Some four decades later his request came to fruition. Located on Videy Island, just a five minute ferry ride from Reykjav­k the tower was relit at 8 p.m. local time. Hundreds of fans gathered on the small island, where a group of singers sang Lennon songs at the base of the structure, which is a wishing well with the "Imagine Peace" carved in 24 languages. Buried inside are peace wishes from the world over that were collected through Ono's Wish tree project. Throughout the weekend wish trees were placed around events where attendees tied their hopes for peace to the branches. The night culminated with a rousing performance at H¡sk³lab­³ theatre in Reykjav­k with Yoko Ono and the new incarnation of the Plastic Ono Band. The performance opened with a video montage, which included footage from her 1966 film Bottoms and spanned everything from Lennon and Ono's Bed-In and other footage of the couple together before moving to images of the aftermath of his death, the Double Fantasy GRAMMY win, to the present. Later, images from 1970s Fly, one of the films she and Lennon produced, were also interspersed as a video backdrop. Ono launched with an anguished a capella that melted into 1970s "Why" and was backed by a band comprising son Sean and keyboardist Yuka Honda, among others. Other notable songs included "Rising," which slowly percolated as she sung-spoke the lyrics before bursting into her trademark scream/yodels, which were met with searing instrumentation. "Walking On Thin Ice" inspired a group in the audience to dance along, Ono pointing at them as she sung. The group traversed blues-tipped, avant-garde, and new material from 2009's Between my Head and the Sky, including the jittery, pulsating "Waiting for the D Train." Throughout the show, Ono's vocal yelps served as another instrument playfully mirroring horn and guitar melodies, and rhythmically wound around percussion. A poignant moment arrived between mother and son when Sean was asked to explain the meaning behind the song "Hiroshima." "You should explain it, mom," he said sweetly. While the day's events were centered on Lennon's 70th, it was also Sean's birthday and first surprise guest Mark Ronson played "Mind Train" with the group before the final encore. Anticipation mounted on who might show up, and Ringo Starr and George Harrison's widow Olivia made their way onstage to join Plastic Ono Band and the LennonOno Grant for Peace recipients to sing "Give Peace a Chance," with the entire sold-out audience singing in unison. It was followed by birthday cake for Sean who turned 35. He proclaimed it was his best birthday ever. Indeed. Stay tuned on more from Iceland with coverage from Iceland Airwaves annual music festival, starting tomorrow!
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