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SXSW interview: Yoko Ono

Brian T. Atkinson

Yoko Ono's remixed "Move on Fast" refashions her already ebullient 1972 song with infinite motion. The 78-year-old widow of former Beatle John Lennon has a new single that recently topped Billboard's dance chart and debuts at South by Southwest this week.

"I always wanted to go, but I didn't have the chance," Ono says. "Now I not only (will) do my discussion with (KUT 90.5 disc jockey) Jody (Denberg), but also I have a chance to do my show." We talked to Ono a few weeks before she headed to Austin.

American-Statesman: How did the original "Move on Fast" take shape?

Yoko Ono: Well, "Move on Fast" was just a regular rock song, you know.

Why remix that song in particular?

Because it's a good song (laughs). You want something a bit better than "a good song," is it? Look, it's a song with a lot of energy in it, and it's a little message, too.

Explain the message.

(Sings) "Move on fast." (She laughs.)

This makes six straight No. 1 songs on the dance chart for you.

I know! I'm very thankful. It's not my doing, in a way. I was lucky to get these brilliant, brilliant musicians interested in doing these things. They could be very snobbish and say, "We're not doing Mrs. Lennon's songs" or something. They understood the songs, and I think they liked it. I'm very happy about that.

How has your approach to songwriting evolved over the years?

It didn't change much. I think there was one critic who said, "Ah well, you know, she didn't change much." (She laughs.)

Are you looking forward to your South by Southwest interview?

I'm very happy that I'll be doing it with Jody. I've known Jody for the longest time now. Actually, he's a very intelligent guy, and we can talk about things from a pretty intelligent point of view. So, it's not a waste of time. It's great.

How long have you known Jody?

To be exact, probably from 1980 on. He might say that we knew each other before then, but that's when I recognized him. After John's passing, he was very kind and gentle when he interviewed me. That's how I remember him.

What will be the focus of your conversation?

It will be about music and how it's going to survive and how important music is for the human race and the survival of the planet.

The music business has changed so much since the '60s.

Maybe this is very naïve of me, but to me music is not business. Music is life. People are interested in business, money, all that kind of thing but I'd like to get into what music really is for us.

How do you feel when you're performing?

I usually — and this is from way back, really — feel very nervous before I go on stage. When I'm on stage, the nervousness just goes away.

(Son) Sean (Lennon) performs before you on Saturday. What's most compelling about him as a songwriter?

Well, Sean happens to have been a music director for all of my new concerts so far, (since) the album "(Between) My Head and the Sky." He's a good songwriter. It's a miracle he is a good musician and songwriter when his dad's shadow is so big.

Jody Denberg interviews Yoko Ono at 11 a.m. Friday, March 18 at the Austin Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez St. She performs at the Chimera Music showcase at 1 a.m. Saturday night at Elysium, 705 Red River St.