Yoko Ono turned 82 on 18 February, and noted the occasion with an open letter titled Don’t Stop Me!, addressed to critics who think it unseemly that she’s still making music at her age. Ono doesn’t often respond to criticism, but whatever has been flung at her lately has evidently flustered her. “I don’t want to be old and sick like many others of my age. Please don’t create another old person,” she begins, going on to defend her singing and the right to wear hot pants in the video for her 2013 track Bad Dancer. “I am afraid of just one thing,” she concludes. “That those ageism criticism [sic] will finally influence me … Because dancing in the middle of an ageism society is a lonely trip.”
Lonely indeed. Ono is one of the oldest artists to have an active multidisciplinary career, and her age has given detractors another weapon to batter her with. Yet a musician needn’t be 82 to feel the sharp end of the ageism stick. Madonna woke the morning after her Brit awards tumble to hundreds of tweets that referenced her age as reason to sympathise with her fall.
Youth is ageist. Madonna was probably just as condescending when she was 23 – I know I was. Nobody can blame young people for seeing age as something to be feared and patronised, when Ono herself depicts it as a landscape of infirmity and decline.
Whatever you think about Madonna and Yoko Ono you have to applaud their energy and vitality to keep going in a world that expects women to just quietly disappear after 50. "Do not go gently into that good night".