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Lions Roar : March 2014
doesn’t even fully score her music, because she wants the musi- cians to make it different, their own, an accurate reflection of the moment, each time. Throughout her career, she has dem- onstrated a remarkable lack of ego, most notably in encourag- ing her listeners/lookers/readers to find whatever they want, not what she wants. Around the same time I first heard Ono, I happened upon a book of Zen koans at the library. At Protestant Sunday school I had been admonished, “Who are you to question the Lord?” So it was hard at first for me to believe that Buddhism really did want me to ask questions, much less decide for myself which answers I believed. Similarly, in my blue-collar upbringing it was accepted, about any art, film, or music that did not conform to formula, “That’s not art!” It amazes me to realize now that in the thousand or so times I’ve been interviewed in the nearly thirty years since then, I’ve never once mentioned Zen Buddhism’s catalytic role in the per- formance art, “unlistenable” music, and “unwatchable” short films I went on to create. What Zen did was remind me to gently ask, “It’s not?” when everyone around me was saying, “That’s not real music you’re making” or “That’s not a real marriage” (my husband and I lived in separate countries more often than we did the same one) or just, “That’s not how people live!” (Like, with no furniture in one of my apartments.) Buddhism whispered, “It’s not?” in my ear and supported my every crazy endeavor. Ono did, too, as I began to read about her unorthodox views on family, women, work. She almost never brought Buddhism up either, though its that’s-not-a -wall-that’s- a-door-why-not-walk-through-it? influence is apparent in just about everything she does. I guess that makes sense: Buddhism doesn’t draw attention to itself as the thing that matters. Rather, it’s a vehicle to get you to the thing that matters. Or back to. At seventeen, I moved to California and at nineteen, I moved to Paris. I sought out any goes-too-far weirdo looking to destroy the current order so they could create, if just for an hour at a show, a new world. As I got to know some of these artists, I realized we all came out of abusive and frightening childhoods, occasional forced psychiatric “care,” hypocritical relationships to religion and status, and lots of sexual exploitation and sub- stance abuse. In short, nothing was as it seemed. With our art, we tried to remove all the “seemed” and spotlight instead the chaos and the ugliness hidden beneath. Some of us did shock operas on stage. We said, and showed, what one doesn’t, shouldn’t, can’t. What we were aiming for, crudely, was to elicit that split-second realization that anything is possible, that anything you were told may be a lie, and that anything you haven’t thought of yet may be the truth. We wanted to shake things up. For us, peace had to come through violence. Emotional, social, intellectual violence would do. It was our native language. We’d never had serenity, so how were we going to learn it from serene art or literature or relation- ships? Those things were unrecognizable to us. They didn’t look real. Gentleness had to be explained to us in the language we already knew, which was a rough one. If you come from a world of repressed and hidden hate, the next step isn’t necessarily to love. Instead, it’s to expose the hate that has always been there, to meet it face-to-face and come to love it, or love it inside you. Then you love you. Then you just love. That’s how messed-up people do it, from what I’ve seen. William Burroughs, that murdering junkie, was a big influ- ence for a lot of us. He said, “We must learn by acting, experi- encing, and living; that is, above all, by Love and Suffering. A man who uses Buddhism or any other instrument to remove love from his being in order to avoid suffering has committed, in PHOTOSBYARNEDEDERT/ZUMAPRESS.COM/KEYSTONEPRESS