It's an adage as old as time, not to mix business with pleasure. But if you ask performance artist Yoko Ono, that's not what happened when she agreed to co-produce her latest album with her son, Sean Lennon. "Not exactly mixing business with pleasure. Having a son is not all pleasure," she jokes.
Ono says Lennon was the one who initially encouraged her to record Between My Head and the Sky, so when he proposed that she record it with Chimera, his record label, she agreed. "Afterward, people told me, 'You shouldn't be doing it with your son; that's the last thing you want to do,'" she says. "I said, 'Oooh well, I already said okay.' I was a bit scared, but then, the thing is, it went very well."
In fact, to hear the pride in Ono's voice as she raves about her son's work is a reminder that, whether you're the widow of a beloved music legend or a mom-next-door, there's perhaps nothing as universal as a mother's love. "He's a good pianist and a talented guy, so I didn't want his piano to get buried in the big sound of everybody else," she says. "There's one track we did with only the piano and me called 'Higa Noburu,' which means 'The sun is rising,' and he didn't have to do it over again at all. It's a long song, and he just kept playing and didn't make any mistakes, not even a beat. He's incredible."
Ono and Lennon weren't always so close. "When I first had him, John is the one who really wanted to take care of him. Until he was five, it was mainly John who was looking after him," she says. "Then, after John's passing, of course we hugged each other and it was just terrible, you know? So we were together." But like many children of celebrities, Lennon sought out time away from the spotlight as he grew up. "In his 20s, he just wanted to be himself, independent. So that was a hard time—most mothers go through that."
Despite the warnings that working with Lennon might put a strain on their relationship, Ono says the collaboration brought the two closer than ever. "It's a very hard job, and when you are doing something very important like this, you have to really do it together. It was good because it meant we were together a lot, instead of me waiting for his phone calls," she says. "I was surprised. When we got together and started to do the music, he knew all my songs, all John's songs, and all of the Beatles' songs too. Not in the usual sense, like 'Oh, I know that song.' Not like that. He knew exactly the beat, the intro."
So now that they've conquered working together, what's the next obstacle facing mother and son? Perhaps another age-old conundrum: the mother-son-girlfriend triangle. Lennon's dating model Charlotte Kemp Muhl, but so far so good. "I love her! It's a funny thing: I was lucky in that she's so intelligent and a very agreeable person, so it's not hard to like her. Most people do, really," Ono says. "If you are in a situation where you are stuck with someone that you don't like but you have to be there, that's hard, isn't it? So I think I'm very lucky."