John and Yoko in Canada: Boosting Peace - Rolling Stone
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John and Yoko in Canada: Boosting Peace

Two major stars in music and their Toronto art “sleep-in”

singer, songwriter, John Lennon, Beatles, Yoko Ono, peace protest

British singer-songwriter, John Lennon, of Beatles fame sings a song, while his wife Yoko Ono lies in bed beside him a hotel as part of a peace protest in Canada in 1969.

Keystone Features/Getty

TORONTO — It started like a pretty normal Sunday. The churches and synagogues were filled, the radio news bulletins beamed out the latest on wars and starving people and sales. From the TV came more news than you needed about the astronauts. Spring was clinging to the trees.

Then it changed. An Air Canada flight from the Bahamas landed at Toronto International Airport and discharged a load of returning holiday makers, including the Lennon family. Literally from out of the blue, John Lennon, wife Yoko Ono, her five-year-old daughter Kyoko, publicist Derek Taylor plus two members of the Beatles’ film crew arrived in this staid, conservative capital of Canada.

Immigration authorities, who were well aware of the difficulty Lennon had encountered in obtaining a renewal of his U.S. visa, were as much (or more) surprised than we were. John Lennon in Toronto! It was astounding.

Twenty-four hours later, the Lennon entourage returned to the airport and flew to Montreal, where they began a week-long bed-in for peace (at midnight on Monday May 26) on the 19th floor of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. To an observer, the 24 hours seemed like a lifetime in the fast-moving 20th century. First of all, Lennon was detained for two hours while immigration officials debated whether he should be allowed into Canada as a desirable alien. After all, Lennon had a conviction for possession of drugs.

Finally, after — in true British spirit — several cups of tea, Lennon was released on his own recognizance pending a hearing the following morning. The entourage headed downtown, where they were booked into a $50-a-day suite in the King Edward Sheraton Hotel.

Later in the evening, news leaked to the press and Toronto woke next morning to find John and Yoko’s picture and story on the front page of the Globe and Mail. That morning, Lennon returned to the airport where in a thoroughly commendable and unexpected piece of sound judgment — Canadian immigration officials granted the most famous couple in the world a 10-day stay in the country. The hearing was adjourned to June 5.

The entourage returned to the hotel, where scores of teenagers had crammed into the corridors, and gave a five o’clock press conference. At 8 PM they once again drove to the airport, and boarded a 9:55 PM flight to Montreal, where the second bed-in got off to a heavily-heralded start.

Police were on duty along the corridors to hold back fans and to scrutinize the credentials of the 50-or-so press representatives who turned up to either gaze in wonder at the couple, or to dismiss the visit as more weird stuff from the weirdest family around.

Inside the crowded suite. John and Yoko sat peacefully holding hands, surrounded by pink and white carnations, record players, film equipment, empty glasses, and busy phones. Two books lay on a table — Vladimir Nabokov’s The Defence and a personally autographed copy of Jacqueline Susann’s latest voyeurist masterpiece, The Love Machine. (Earlier, Miss Susann had dropped by to pass on her good wishes and to cash in on the publicity of the Lennon visit.)

Yoko wore a white blouse and cream slacks with no shoes, and Lennon — feet tucked under his buttocks — had on a white T-shirt with a green stripe on the sleeves, cream trousers, white sox with red and blue stripes, a gold chain which suspended a crucifix on his chest, was also barefoot. A pair of white sneakers lay on the floor beneath his knees. Yoko’s daughter, Kyoko, was ushered off by a friend prior to the press conference.

Both John and Yoko were at ease with the reporters and gave the impression they’d been through similar gruelling numbers several times before. Lennon fielded cynical questions about his peace-making efforts with adroitness and pungent wit. The twosome were obviously sincere in their campaign for peace and non-violence and rather bitter about the United States’ refusual to admit Lennon.

“The whole effect of our bed-ins has made people talk about peace,” said Lennon, toying with a white carnation and licking his thick moustache. “We’re trying to interest young people into doing something for peace. But it must be done by non-violent means — otherwise there can only be chaos. We’re saying to the young people … and they have always been the hippest ones … we’re telling them to get the message across to the squares.

“A lot of young people have been ignoring the squares when they should be helping them. The whole scene has become too serious and too intellectual.”

What about talking to the people who make the decisions, the power brokers? suggested a cynical reporter. Lennon laughed. “Shit, talk? Talk about what? It doesn’t happen like that. In the U.S., the Government is too busy talking about how to keep me out. If I’m a — joke, as they say, and not important, why don’t they just let me in?” he added, bitterly.

Admitting that there may be better ways of promoting peace than lying in bed for seven days, Yoko — looking supremely thin and happy — said: “We worked for three months thinking out the most functional approach to boosting peace before we got married and spent our honeymoon talking to the press in bed in Amsterdam. For us, it was the only way. We can’t go out in Trafalgar Square [the site of many peace demonstrations in London] and join in because it would create a riot. We can’t lead a parade or a march because of all the autograph hunters.

“We had to find our own way of doing it, and for now, bed-ins seem to be the most logical way. We think the bed-in can be effective.”

“Yeah,” said John, “if we were to issue a statement or something to the press, only a part of it would ever get in. But this way everybody will know and understand what we want to get across.”

Students at Toronto’s progressive Rochdale College immediately staged a sympathy bed-in. One student said: “We’d be willing to go even further with a nude-in. We would not only strip our bodies, we would strip our souls.”

Our arrival in Toronto, Lennon had said that he would like to meet Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau and to hand him an acorn (“an acorn is a seed, and seeds are symbolic of life”). Later, Trudeau said, “I don’t know about acorns but if he’s around I’d like to meet him. He’s a good poet.”

Lennon said that he and his family were prepared to go to Ottawa — “or anywhere for that matter” — to meet Trudeau. He also invited the Prime Minister to join him in the Montreal bed-in, and unprecedented invitation (even for Trudeau) on which the country’s leader has still not made a decision.

In Montreal, the Lennons planned to meet anyone from the press — to discuss peace — from 10 AM to 10 PM daily for seven days. “The press is like a postbox,” John said, “and they can reach the people — all the people — who are wandering around the streets.” Added Derek Taylor: “We can do so much for peace with a little help from our friends.”

“People take war for granted,” observed Yoko, “they are conditioned to accept it. So you’ve got to change their thinking. Like TV soap commercials, you have to keep pounding away with the message all the time. It’s a full scale campaign.” “We’re all responsible for war,” said Lennon, “We all must do something, no matter what — by growing our hair long, standing on one leg, talking to the press, having bed-ins — to change the attiudes. The people must be made aware that it’s up to them.

“Bed-ins are something that everybody can do and they’re so simple. We’re willing to be the world’s clowns to make people realize it.” A reporter suggested that it was easy for the Lennons to do it. when they have so much money and so much spare time. “Bullshit,” retorted John. “This is our holiday. All the Beatles are on holiday at the moment. In Amsterdam we chose to give our honeymoon to the peace cause, now we’re giving our holidays. It doesn’t cost anything, so anybody can do it. Give your holidays to peace — just lie in bed bed for a week. It will all help.”

Then, while Derek Taylor commandeered the attention of the offensive reporter with a strong line of philosophical hype, Yoko said: “Eventually we hope to have had more honeymoons than anyone in the world, maybe even 150.”

Lennon is also hoping to stage a bed-in in Russia. He grinned and quipped, “I’ve heard it’s easier to get into there than into the United States.”

Lennon plans, once he has obtained a U.S. visa, to hold bed-ins in New York and Washington, D.C. There are no plans for the West Coast.

The twosome also plan bed-ins in Germany, Ireland and Toyko. London is out. “I’d have to take me prick out to get the attention of the English press. Now we do it outside and the English press come to see it. We need the press very much to get our message across, so we have to go along with all sorts of bullshit from reporters. We answer the same questions over and over. Let me tell you that the Amsterdam gig wasn’t the best way I know of having a honeymoon.”

Lennon has no aspirations for Parliamentary election. “Just look at the people who get in there. I refuse to compromise therefore politics isn’t for me. But we’ll back any peace candidate anywhere who’s trying to get in. We’ll do all we can to help people promote peace. That’s our thing. Today we’ve talked to lots of people, ordinary everyday people, on the phone, telling them what we think.”

John said that the three other members of the Beatles are behind him in his peace-making efforts. “Although we’re all individuals, the music is our communal message,” he said, breaking into the lead lyric of “All You Need Is Love.” Someone mentioned there hadn’t been one mention on peace on the last Beatles album. “Just wait until the next one,” joked John.

Lennon, who once caused a storm of protest and a string of Beatles’ bans (the South African ban is still in effect) when he described the Beatles as being more popular than Jesus Christ, figures that the influence the group has on young people will have a resounding effect on efforts for peace.

“If everybody stayed in bed for a week, there’d be no killing. And if one side lay down their weapons in Vietnam, there’d be no more killing there. It’s no good listening to the Government. All they do is talk about having talks about peace. Then they get hung up on tables.

“Right now, we,” John said, putting his arm around the diminutive Yoko, “right now, we want to stir everybody, the whole world. Leaders can’t exist without a following. We hope we can get the people to do something about the leaders.”

Later, Derek Taylor explained why the Lennons had chosen — Canada for their second bed-in. “Last Friday, we decided that if John wasn’t going to get a visa for the U.S., we would have to get close to the States and create a lot of publicity. We half-decided on Canada, but then we decided on the Bahamas.

“It’s not a good place. It’s not that the hotels are bad, they’re just not hotels. John and I both didn’t like it, but we said, ‘Let’s go to bed and see what it looks like in the morning.’ John called me at 7 and said ‘It doesn’t look any better.’ Then we decided on Canada. Looking back, it was really Canada all the time. Apart from the hotels, it was so damn hot down there, and not close enough to the States. After the Bahamas hassle, we were ready for Russia or even New Zealand.”

The 10-hour stay in the Bahamas cost Lennon a staggering £500 in hotel bills. He paid £25 for a couple of orange juices, people demanded tips before they’d performed any service. It was a case of money-hungry people grabbing for everything they could take from a world-famous personality. Peace says Lennon. Pinch say the pricks.

And so, while Toronto went to church, Lennon and company winged their way northwards. And it had all started out such a normal Sunday morning.

Once in Montreal, Lennon devoted a good portion of his time talking with AM and FM stations all around the United States and Canada from his hotel room phone. It was a non-stop rap, really, one call after another. He was on their air, for instance, happily counselling peace to KSAN-FM’s San Francisco Bay area listeners. The following day — when the big People’s Park march was on at Berkeley — Lennon phoned KPFA-FM in Berkeley twice to inquire how it was going and to advise the demonstrators to use peaceful methods.

“You’ve got to do it peacefully,” he said. Lennon had read all about the People’s Park imbroglio — “when I first go the news it stoned me, absolutely stoned me” — and told KPFA that people around the world were on the side of People’s Park.

“But you can’t do it with violent means. That won’t accomplish anything. Keep it peaceful. Violence is what has kept mankind from getting together for centuries.”

[An Interview]

Before the peace troupe left for Montreal, Ritchie Yorke managed to get an exclusive private interview with John. Yorke describes the setting, as Lennon sat back in the cab and heaved a high of relief:

It was a well earned and long anticipated sigh. Moments before he had been engulfed by a swarm of half-crazed teenagers who had shoved past police and descended on him.

It was meant to be a top-secret exit from the hotel with the Lennon family heading to Toronto airport where they planned to fly to Montreal to start a seven-day bed in. We’d left several phones angrily demanding attention, carnations littered over beds and rugs, unopened letters and telegrams, fans screaming from behind burly policemen along the hotel corridors.

Down some sort of fire escape we had fled, any moment expecting to be deluged by fans. It didn’t happen until we were almost to the car, waiting, motor running, in a quiet back-of-the building tradesmen entrance.

Running out of elevator — Lennon’s two-man film crew letting the film race through the camera — they were suddenly on us. Lennon was seized in a dozen different places. He groaned. Yoko Ono cried out “Quickly John, this way.” Somehow the police regained control, we were shoved into the cab, the garage door opened slowly, too slowly, and they were on us again … kids climbing on the hood and the trunk, even the roof. Derek Taylor, the Beatles’ publicity man, shouted to close the windows, lock the door. It had already been done. The fans either jumped or fell off as we gathered speed.

Lennon looked tired, a quiet figure sinking back into the rear seat, next to Yoko’s five-year-old daughter, Kyoko. Yoko was nonchalant. Lennon, all in white, sighed again and said: “I think Ringo was right about not touring.” And later … “The Beatles are a democratic group of middle-aged teenagers. We just don’t happen to agree on doing concerts. I’ve wanted to do some for a while, but I’m not sure anymore.”

It was an uneventful trip to the airport, a welcome respite from the maddening crowds. We arrived un-announced, but in less than 60 seconds a crowd had gathered; shoving, shouting, pushing, poking. While Taylor took care of the tickets, John and Yoko, John holding on to Kyoko, one of the Lennon cameramen and myself were ushered into a small room, vacant but for three chairs, a desk and a plastic rubber plant.

Air Canada stewardesses locked the door, but later kept coming in for autographs. A crowd of airport staff gathered around outiside the door, while we sat back, sipped on orange juice, and rapped. John, tired of the same old questions doubting the honest intentions of his campaign for peace, seemed pleased to talk of other topics. Yoko occasionally joined in and John constantly held her hand, for more than an hour, while the plane that was to take them to Montreal was prepared and we made yet another fevered, secretive escape through a maze of tunnels.

John, did you anticipate the controversy resulting from the cover of your Two Virgins album (which pictured John and Yoko naked on the front of the jacket), were you upset by it, and how do you feel about the whole thing in retrospect?
Yeah, well I expected some noise about it. [I didn’t, cut in Yoko.] But I didn’t expect as much as we got. I’m sure Yoko didn’t expect it. I’d always wanted to produce Yoko, before we were lovers.

It all started with the producing kick the Beatles got into. Paul was producing Mary Hopkins, George had Jackie Lomax so I decided to produce a record with Yoko. I was in India meditating on the Yoko album and how to present it. [He laughed]. One day I just suddenly thought the best way was to have Yoko naked on the cover. I wrote and told her and I got some static at the other end. She wasn’t too keen.

Finally I had her persuaded. I came back to England and by natural turn of events, I wound up being naked in the picture too. It was all a bit strange. When we were taking the picture, I got a funny feeling when I looked down at me cock. Hello, I thought, we’re on.

When I got the pictures back, I was mildly shocked. You know, I was only mildly shocked, but I thought that if I’m surprised by it, what will others think? Then I looked again and I thought it was great having the Financial Times on the floor and everything.

I’m pleased we did it. For all reasons, I’m glad about it. I wanted people to be shocked. It was all worth it just for the howl that went up. It really blew their minds like right-wing Fascists.

I got long lectures from Paul about it at first. Is there any need for this, he said. What are you doing, said George. It took me five months to persuade them that it was right. That’s why it took so long coming out.

Now I’m planning to resell it. I’m going to promote it with a line saying “It’s still just a record despite all the crap that went on.” I wish more people had sat down and listened to it.

But the thing cleared the air a bit. That’s why I’m glad. Anything that’s headed towards the truth, the people try to trip it up. Their first reaction is to kill it, stop it from escaping. It is really showing them a mirror, showing them they’re all ugly. But the album wasn’t ugly, it was only a point of view.

What did you think of Jim Morrison’s recent alleged masturbation incident in Florida?
I don’t think anything of it really. I suppose the show wasn’t going too well, so Jim decided to pull out his prick and liven it up a bit. If he likes wanking, that’s OK. I don’t think he actually wanked off though; even if he did, I wish he’d done the whole thing and fucked some bird up there. Do the whole scene.

Actually, I’ve got a wanking play opening tonight on Broadway. Yes, four guys are wanking tonight in New York. It’s the Kenneth Tynan play (OH! Calcutta!). They asked us to write a smutty bit for them. I don’t know whether they’ll do it like it was when I wrote it. Ah, it all fucks up their little minds, doesn’t it?

A couple of years ago you made a highly controversial statement about the Beatles’ popularity as compared with Jesus Christ. Right now, do you think the image of bad boys which the press has given the group, especially yourself, has reduced your popularity? Do you still think the same way?
I think I said that the Beatles have more influence on young people than Jesus Christ. Yes, I still think it. Kids are influenced more by us than Jesus.

Christ, some ministers even stood up and agreed with it. It was another piece of truth that the Fascist Christians picked on. I’m all for Christ, I’m very big on Christ. I’ve always fancied him. He was right.

As he said, in his book. You’ll get knocked if you follow my ways. He was so right about that. We got knocked. But I’m all for him. I’m always saying his name, I use it in songs [the new Beatles single, “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” includes several less-than-reverent mentions of Christ], and I talk about him.

Recent reports from London claim that you are going broke, and you’ll soon have to resort to touring to get some money. Is this true?
I did lose a lot of money in Apple. I mean, the company was becoming a joke. We were losing our own money. Apple consists of 80 per cent of Beatles royalties. We had some wrong people in there. Some of the people just came into the office, and called up Los Angeles and made reservations.

But we’ve got some good people now. We had to. It got so bad that Paul and George and I couldn’t even be bothered going into the office. We made a lot of mistakes with it. We promised to help everybody but it couldn’t be done. We gave away a fortune but it was useless. We attracted shit-kickers from all over the world.

In the end, I threatened to pull my money out. Then we hired Allan Klein to come in and take over, and in he came followed by a black cloud. They said he was tough and ruthless, but we found he’s a good guy. So’s David Platz, who’s looking after publishing and recording. It’s all much better now.

What is happening with Beatles records?
We’ve finished the next album. It was like a rehearsal. But we decided to put the rehearsal out. Only one track almost finished and that was “Get Back.” The others are in various stages of completion.

One day we just decided to stop right then or we’d be on it for another four months. So we stopped. It will be called Get Back, Don’t Let Me Down and 12 Others. Remember the cover on the “Please Please Me” album. Well, we went back to the same photographic studios and had our pictures taken in the same positions, except that we look as we do now. It looks great.

So we’ve got that album finished, and another one half done. Oh, and we have a new single, “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” and “Old Brown Shoe,” one of George’s songs.

Have you planned any more records with Yoko?
[The wedding album, suggested Yoko.] OK, let’s give the wedding album a plug. It will be presented like a book, and the record will be all about love and peace. There’s some heavy stuff — halfbeats recorded with terrific machinery. There’ll also be some bits and pieces from our press conference in Amsterdam.

Your film crew has been shooting practically all day, and are even filming our present interview. What do you intend to do with all this celluloid?
Well, we have seven films which we’re producing. We’re looking for a distributor now. If you know any distributors, tell ’em to get in touch with us. We also have two books, one which was written by me, and the other by Yoko and me. Our old publisher has turned them down, but I think we’ll find another publisher.

We don’t compromise, and we therefore get turned down by distributors. No one realizes that, but I’m always getting turned down. People send me in songs, books, films, records, all sorts of things they want to get out. But I can’t even get my own stuff out, so I can’t help them. People think we’ve got it all sewn up, but we haven’t. Look at all the things I’m having trouble getting out.

How long have you known each other?
Two years this time around.

What would you describe as the most satisfying thing that happened to you since the Beatles started?
Meeting Yoko.

You’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to obtain entry into the United States. Aren’t you afraid of the political climate there, and once you have obtained entry, how long do you think it will take before your campaign can have any effect?
Yes, we’re really scared to go to the U.S. because people have become so violent, even our sort of people. Violence begets violence. We want to avoid it. But once we do get into the States, and can do our bed-ins in Washington and New York, I think we’ll start to have some effect. I think it will take five to ten years to change things. Yoko thinks five, I’m for ten. But we can’t do it alone, we must have everybody’s help.

What is the record which knocks you out the most at the moment?
“Oh Happy Day.” It’s the biggest mind-blower I’ve heard since that Procol Harum thing, “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” I have lots of mind-blowers but “Oh Happy Day” is the biggest one.

What do you think of Blood, Sweat & Tears?
OK, but I’m not mad on them. I don’t go for perfect music. The group is competent and the album is well done, but it’s not for me. I like music to be more freer, less restricted. Several people told me about the group and I got the album but it didn’t do much for me. It’s just too competent.

What about Cream?
Yeah, Cream I dug, but it did get a bit samey after a while. Three stars banging hell out of solo numbers. It bored me in the end. Those three excellent musicians playing solo together. I like Eric and Ginger but I got bored with Cream in the end.

What did you think of the latest Beatles’ album in retrospect?
I haven’t heard it for two months. I’m going to try and listen to it in Montreal. You see, some kids came up to me today and told me what they were getting off the album. There were things I didn’t know about. So I’m going to get back to it.

From your peace campaign, can one assume that you are an anti-nationalist
Yes, I guess I’m a bit of an anti-nationalist. But I fancy meself as a bit of an Irishman, and I’m always telling Yoko about some of the battles that Britain won.

When we arrived here in Toronto, we told a cab driver that we were thinking of going to Montreal, and he said “Those fucking foreigners. Why do you want to go there?” You see, people are stupid like that. What could be better than a combination of the English and French cultures in Canada? It would be a unique and a wonderful mixture.

I think anti-nationalism will have to come if we want peace. There’s no room for this fucking-foreigners stuff.

Actually, you know, Yoko and I are foreigners. We’re always kidding each other about that. When we’re in Japan. Yoko’s family think I’m a foreigner, and when we’re in London, Yoko’s the foreigner. I guess in Montreal we’ll both be foreigners. [Yoko laughed, and clutched John’s other hand.]

What do you think were the real reasons why you have had difficulty obtaining a visa for the United States?
Well, there’s obviously more reason than a fucking technicality of possession. I think I’ll get it, though. They’ve already offered me a deal. They inferred that if I did a tape for them — an anti-narcotics tape with Senator McGowan or someone — and copped out, my case would be re-considered. I haven’t told many people that since I’ve been here, but it’s true and that’s what we’re up against.

In This Article: Coverwall, John Lennon


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