Why are we scared to verbalize our multicolor dreams?: Yoko Ono’s “Hell in Paradise” video

By on June 27, 2019

“Yoko Ono — the artist, poet, producer, songwriter and widow of John Lennon — came from Tokyo to attend New York’s Sarah Lawrence College, and left to join New York’s underground movement,” Night Flight’s Pat Prescott tells us during her introduction to Ono’s 1985 video, directed by Polish filmmaker and video giant Zbigniew Rybczynkski.

“Today, she’s credited as founding mother of New Wave, but brings us a more mainstream community in New York, ‘Hell in Paradise.'”

Watch this nearly hour-long ’80s-era “Take Off to New York” — tucked inside a syndicated 1992 episode of “Night Flight” — on Night Flight Plus.

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“Hell in Paradise” was Ono’s second-biggest ’80s hit, topping out at #16 on Billboard‘s Hot Dance Club chart.

It was the first single from Ono’s 1985 album Starpeace – subtitled “An Earth Play for Sun and Air” — a concept album riffing off then-President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), his space-based “Star Wars” anti-missile system.

Lyrically, Ono thought we’d already created “hell” on Earth: “This is hell in paradise, we’re all asleep or paralyzed/Why are we scared to verbalize our multicolor dreams?/When will we come to realize, we’re all stoned or pacified, while the boogeymen organize their multilevel schemes?”

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For the video — shot early one Sunday morning on the streets of Lower Manhattan’s Wall Street financial district — Ono wanted to show that “hell is a human problem, affecting little people and big.”

Choreographer Daniel Chapman (sometimes “Daniel Richards”) is the second tallest here, but considerably shorter than Chris Greener, who stood 7 ft., 6 ¼ inches tall.

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On the other end of the height chart, there’s Peter Risch — just 32-inches high — and Michael J. Anderson (3 ft., 7-inches), probably best known as “The Man From Another Place” in the dream sequences seen in David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” (he also appeared on HBO’s “Carnivàle”).

Rybczynkski’s video won the award “Most Innovative Video” at Billboard Music Video Awards in 1986.

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Read more about Yoko Ono’s Starpeace below.

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Starpeace — produced by Bill Laswell and recorded with reggae superstars Sly & Robbie (bass/drums), the great Bernie Worrell on keyboards and backing vocals from Nona Hendryx and Bernard Fowler — didn’t exactly launch Ono’s solo career into the stratosphere, as her record company Polydor/Polygram had hoped it would.

Critics still weren’t sure whether Yoko Ono deserved to be taken seriously as a pop singer, which is a problem when you’ve got a new album filled with serious songs about war, weapons and killing.

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Album reviews were mixed. Armond White — in the December 1985 issue of SPIN — said Starpeace “addresses the problems of the world and living in the ’80s the way former cult-hero Tom Laughlin did in The Trial of Billy Jack, using a catalog of tendentious aphorisms in a freaky, comic book personification of feel-good wholesomeness.”

White also wrote that the album’s overall “placidity and earnestness make embarrassing claims on our emotions,” and he called “Hell in Paradise” a “discofied sermon of stunning, determined banality.”

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Robert Palmer’s New York Times review was kinder, saying Ono’s early music “can now be seen as prescient anticipations of Diamanda Galas, Lydia Lunch and other avant-gardists and punk rockers.”

He described Starpeace as Bill Laswell’s “most imaginative and accomplished pop production.”

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Ono had decided to tour behind the album, her first tour in twelve years (her last public performance had been with the Plastic Ono Band in Japan in 1974).

She decided to finance the three-month “Starpeace World Tour” herself, and planned to donate some of the profits to various charities, including drug rehab centers and orphanages.

In late February of 1986, Ono kicked off the tour with eighteen shows in Europe — including the Budapest Peace Festival in mid-March — with ten dates planned in the U.S. and Canada, and eight more in Japan.

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Unfortunately, ticket sales were dismal, and the American shows were cut short and concert dates in Japan were also cancelled.

The L.A. Times perhaps said it best: “If Ono was carrying a message of peace on this tour, the press and public seemed ready for war. And, in the end, the public and press won.”

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Starpeace was Ono’s last ’80s album, after which she went on a long hiatus before making another comeback in the ’90s.

In 1992, in the liner notes for her six-CD box set compilation, Onobox, had this to say:

“After Starpeace I was totally discouraged — not as a songwriter or composer, but by the fact that there was no kind of demand for what I was doing, to put it mildly! I thought that it was just impractical for me to focus my energy on getting my music out. I had so many responsibilities with business, and with issuing John’s work. Forget Yoko Ono, there were lots of things I had to do as Yoko Ono Lennon.”

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In 2004, an election year, Ono told Billboard‘s Beat Box columnist Michael Paoletta “[Hell in Paradise] is much more appropriate today. There is a certain chaos in the world today.”

“When I wrote it [in 1985], I wasn’t quite sure what I was writing. The main emphasis, for me, was recognizing that we are able to change things for the better.”

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Night Flight’s “Take Off to New York” also features music videos by Lou Reed, former New York Dolls frontman David Johansen, the Ramones, Blondie, Run-D.M.C., Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, and the “Sun City” video by Artist Against Apartheid, among others.

Watch Night Flight’s “Take Off to New York” — and other “Take Off” episodes, here and here — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.